If impact and influence are true measures of a band's lasting greatness, Manchester's legendary Buzzcocks should already be in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. Three bands from the now mythical 1976/77 British punk explosion set the benchmarks for everything that was to follow - Sex Pistols, the Clash and Buzzcocks. Practically inventing the independent record scene with their seminal self-released EP Spiral Scratch, Buzzcocks instantly forged a unique relationship with their fans. The band went on to break away from the Pistol's anarchy and the Clash's overt politicism, signing to United Artists (on the day Elvis died) and producing a string of hit singles that melded high-octane guitar, bass and drum power with heartrending personal statements of love won and lost, and dismay with the modern world.
Three classic albums - Another Music in a Different Kitchen, Love Bites, and A Different Kind of Tension - were released in '78/79, charting the progress of a band in top form and not afraid to mix the experimental with the instant, or of being constrained by their punk rock roots. In 1981, in the process of preparing their fourth studio album, the Buzzcocks machine suddenly went off the rails. The band split at the height of their acclaim.
Throughout the 80s rumors that Buzzcocks were to reform were common. In 1989, these rumors indeed became fact. The band reformed for a world tour. The public - or in Buzzcocks lore, the Secret Public - were still eager and waiting. In 1993, a new line-up, fronted by original songwriters Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle and joined by new rhythm section Tony Barber (bass) and Phil Barker (drums), emerged from the studio with the critically acclaimed Trade Test Transmissions album, their first recordings in 14 years; the game was on again. In the meantime, waves of musicians had discovered the Buzzcocks methodology and made their own variations on it. Most were generous in their acknowledgement of their debt to the band who started it all. All Set (1996) and Modern (1999) reaffirmed Buzzcocks' position as a band deeply loved and revered by a global audience, simultaneously true to their original ideals and open to new ideas.
Those impressed by the current generation of 'new punk' bands would do well to spend an afternoon with Buzzcocks' seminal pop treasure Singles Going Steady. Released in 1979 by IRS records, Singles Going Steady is a compilation of the band’s first UK Top 40 hits; a classic album in every sense, featuring stunning and genre-defining moments such as “Orgasm Addict,” “What Do I Get?,” and the anthemic “Harmony In My Head.” These songs have been covered by dozens of groups in many styles, a testament to the originals' strengths not only as slices of punk rock history but as examples of expert songwriting craft. Just recently bands such as The Offspring, Anti-Flag and Ash have all covered Buzzcocks songs.
Buzzcocks are the true godfathers of punk-pop, having laid down an infinitely superior archetype, a blueprint for others to follow. The band remains humble and unfazed by their explosive impact on younger bands, both famous and underground, from pop to punk and all in between.
In September, 2002, at KROQ/Levi's Inland Invasion 2 festival in southern California, Buzzcocks played a blistering set in front of 60,000 fans. Joining Buzzcocks on the bill this day were a collection of the finest artists punk has to offer: Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Offspring, X, The Distillers, Social Distortion, Bad Religion, T.S.O.L., Circle Jerks and many many more. It was a stunning testament to the power of punk rock across generations of musicians and fans. The Buzzcocks’ new album promises to provide a learning experience yet again for many a would-be punk-pop outfit. With superlative production by Tony Barber, the band has recorded an album that matches the power and prowess of their legendary live performances. Songs such as “Keep On,” “Friends,” “Sick City Sometimes,” and “Useless” demonstrate unparalleled passion and power framed in typically catchy pop melodies.
Buzzcocks are a band with a past, present, and future. Theirs is a legacy that the group's members could never have imagined back in the hot punk rock summer of '76. Pete Shelley reminisces: "Looking back on it now, what's going on is like echoes of the Big Bang. You look around you in society and the culture; so many things would not have been the same if there never was punk rock. It's strange; it's like a science fiction novel. But to us at the time, it just sprung naturally."
Here they are 25 years later, still going strong; still doing it arguably better than anyone. Sometimes the archetype is clearly the best.