THIRTY YEARS OF BOREDOM
I usually don't care much for anniversaries, but this week I'd like to celebrate the fact that on December 28, 1976, one of my all-time favourite bands the Buzzcocks recorded one of my all-time favourite records, the Spiral Scratch EP. That's 30 years ago today!! (O.K., yesterday.) The third or fourth UK punk record ever, and the first real Do-It-Yourself record at that, it still sounds as witty, spiky and exciting today as it did when I first heard it, and when I say "it", I actually mean just the EP's most famous track, Boredom (opening track of the great Burning Ambitions comp which I bought around 1982).
While Anarchy In The UK, New Rose and White Riot were flag-waving celebrations of a new dawn, Boredom was already one step ahead by being... well, bored. Actually it was a song about boredom and a send-up of songs about boredom at the same time; not bad with the only notable predecessor being the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band's "I'm Bored"! Another contradiction lied in the fact that the music itself was actually very exciting; John Maher's stuttering drums, Howard Devoto's pre-Rotten sneer, Pete Shelley's sawn-off guitar (sounding more like the saw than the guitar) and of course, the Legendary Guitar Solo! Two notes, repeated in exactly the same way throughout the instrumental break with no regard for the underlying chords, creating a beautiful (well, that's what I think) jarring effect, it's probably the single most famous punk solo ever. The nearest comparison I can come up with are the out-of-sync guitars in Captain Beefheart's "Pachuco Cadaver"; Pete Shelley himself claimed, on two separate occasions, to be either influenced by the clarinet solo in (again!) the Bonzo Dog Band's Jazz, Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold or John Lennon's atonal slide guitar in Yoko Ono's 1970 track Why (I've posted that one in its entirety, because it's a brilliant - and very irritating! - piece of protopunk; John Lennon's playing sounds slightly Boredom-ish around 4:30).
Not being part of London's fashion incrowd, the Buzzcocks were a big influence on punks from the more remote parts of the UK, like Edwyn Collins from Scotland who name-checked his "favourite song" in Orange Juice's 1982 hit Rip It Up (even reprising the guitar solo, although they're playing it wrong using octaves instead of fifths!). I always thought the guitar solo in Elvis Costello's 1986 I Want You is way too similar to be coincidence, so another tribute? Upon hearing Slaughter and the Dogs' Cranked Up Really High (the second Manc punk record, hot on the heels of Spiral Scratch), I immediately noticed Wayne Barret's singing the Boredom solo during the ride-out part (around 2:00)!
By the time their EP was released Howard Devoto'd already quit the Buzzcocks, to return to the limelight a year later with the sophisticated art-punk of Magazine. Buzzcocks, of course, continued and sandblasted their scruffy noise into the powerful pop punk that became the template for every Green Day on this planet. Both bands would keep playing the song, Magazine turning it into a widescreen Rock experience almost a la the E Street Band on this 1978 Peel Session, while on this Buzzcocks live recording from 1979 they're getting the job done as fast as they can, presumably because they've gotten a bit (insert Beavis and Butthead-type chuckle here) bored with it... Well, even after thirty years (or 24 in my case), "Boredom" still doesn't bore me!