In the late 1970s, punk laid waste to popular music in the most absolute and devastating terms possible. Razed it to the ground. A complete reboot. Burn down the disco and all that.
So, I don’t actually like punk music, really. Seriously, who actually still listens to the Sex Pistols? They were shit. I guess we all say we like London Calling (the Clash, yo), although I think maybe 25% of it is actually listenable. The Mekons started out as a punk band, but didn’t really become interesting until they discovered Hank Williams and invented cowpunk. (Of the Mekons, much more anon.)
Post-punk is what came after. Well, actually, there was New Wave, which I guess was post-punk that was commercial enough to be played on the radio. (I’ll admit to Heart of Glass by Blondie being the theme song of my coming of age in the early 80’s, playing on the jukebox at the Pizza Hut in Chittenango, NY.) But the defining music of my life was the music that wasn’t played on the radio. The music found on obscure imports from the UK. The music that started over, taking the best from what came before, but heading in utterly unexpected directions.
I’ve been thinking of writing a series about my favorite post-punk songs for a while. So now I’m actually going to do it.
We’ll start off, for no reason at all, with Goodbye by The Sundays. (Well, if we’re going to do this on Sundays, then I guess there can be no better place to start.)
This song is notable for being probably the most straight ahead rocker in the Sundays canon. But is this really rock? We have Dave Gavurin’s utterly precise appeggiated guitar riffs (I rate them as .25 Marrs, which let me tell you, is fucking incredible), Paul Brindley’s curiously circular bass line, and Harriet Wheeler’s vocals that manage to be simultaneously utterly human and yet otherworldly. What else sounds like this?
“Just give me an easy life and a peaceful death.”
I think one sign of greatness in popular music (although we must acknowledge the dissonance of calling any post-punk “popular”) is singularity: an expression that stands apart. A representation whose exemplar can be nothing other than itself. Goodbye is that. But the truest testament of the greatness of the Sundays is that Goodbye is not their greatest song by some distance. (So expect to see more of them as we continue our journey.)
We’ll sign off for now, but imagine the treasures the future holds! The Smiths! Joy Division! For Against! Interpol! The Mekons! Gang of Four! Asylum Party! Sad Lovers and Giants! The Opposition! Comsat Angels! And who knows what else? See ya next time.
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