Song Of The Week: “New Rose” by The Damned

You may find yourself in a pub quiz one evening when the question “What was the first UK punk single?” arises. While your competitors smile to themselves and write down “Anarchy In The UK” by The Sex Pistols, you can confidently (and correctly) answer with “New Rose” by The Damned, and then laugh obnoxiously and give the rest of the room two fingers up, because that’s what a true punk would do.

(Actually, a true punk wouldn’t participate in a pub quiz in the first place. A true punk would probably spit on someone, start a fight, and then possibly set the pub on fire.)

The Damned sprang to life in London in early 1976 playing raw, fast, and snotty rock ‘n’ roll, the very antithesis of every form of popular music at the time. Unlike their rockin’ 1950’s forebears — who were also accused of making something less than actual music —  the UK punks owed no debt to R&B, and showed even less regard for production and melody. The earliest wave of punks didn’t believe in the groove. They preferred a direct attack, a quick and dirty shout over a rough cacophony of buzzsaw guitars and clattering drums.

After a few months of gigging around the city with other up-and-coming punk bands, The Damned entered the studio with pub rock veteran Nick Lowe (who would soon produce Wreckless Eric, The Pretenders, and a slew of early Elvis Costello albums) to record their debut single for Stiff Records (who cheekily advertised, “If it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a f***”). They whipped up “New Rose” in less than a day, mixed it the day after, and the opening salvo of the punk revolution was ready to assault the shops.

Released as a single in October of 1976, “New Rose” gained more attention than sales, but it primed the pumps for the punk explosion which followed five weeks later when The Sex Pistols released their debut single and took the country by storm. Apropos of their name, The Damned would find greater commercial success in the 1980’s as one of the founders of the goth genre.

So stop and smell the roses …. with The Damned.

The opening question in the song (“Is she really going out with him?”) was lifted from the 1964 hit “Leader Of The Pack” by The Shangri Las, and two years later Joe Jackson was inspired to write his debut single around the same question.

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