Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Under the Punk Covers: Love the Damned (Splitting the Dickies)

A few weeks ago I was on that popular social network site, and because at some point in the past I had imprudently confessed a preference for early punk pranksters the Dickies a link appeared in my newsfeed. It was to the video done (clearly on no budget) for their 1979 cover of the theme for the '60s kids show The Banana Splits, "The Tra La La Song" (which featured singer Leonard Graves singing into a banana instead of a microphone; it is best that their success never relied on such visuals on the small screen--see for yourself below).

Clicking through to the hosting site's page I saw videos posted for others, including the Damned's cover of "Alone Again Or" (which, I was vaguely reminded, featured the British punk pioneers dressed in Spanish garb out in the middle of a desert... for some reason).

Their faithful rendition of the classic 1967 Love track still holds up after 26 years, in large part because the song is so good (certainly not from that 1987 video).

The funny thing about that, when I think back to that time, is how when I heard it (on KROQ) I was unaware it was a cover.

Of course, given the original came out before I was born and never got played on oldies radio (that I heard) it's hardly surprising that while still in my teens I had not been exposed to that. Further, at that point I was just starting to get into the punk scene (which had actually come nine years prior but I was too young to have been in on it at the time of hearing the cover), and truth be told I had not heard any Damned material previously (to my recollection). So I first came to appreciate a phenomenal punk band by hearing them cover a phenomenal flamenco-guitar-led folk rock song I neither realized was unrepresentative of their other tracks nor was originally done by the '60s L.A. band called Love.

(There's no actual irony in there, but it is a situation that deserves some sort of term to identify the quirks of how that was my introduction to two great bands that seemingly should have had no crossover.)

I purchased the Damned album Anything on which the "Alone Again Or" cover appeared (one of first to be bought on CD—this being around the time when I started switching from getting vinyl to the at-the-time new format), and very much enjoyed the other tracks (their originals). This led to me getting their previous album (Phantasmagoria, that only available on LP then) and then their double-disc retrospective, The Light at the End of the Tunnel, which turned me on to the full glory of their earlier work ("New Rose", "Smash It Up", "Neat Neat Neat", etc.). Sure, I was getting into them after they'd moved into more of a Goth phase, but having no allegiance to their first few albums it was no issue; I liked it all.

(A couple years later, on one of their reunion tours, I saw them at the Hollywood Palladium, with a room packed so tight with humanity that much of the show I was literally standing on the ankles of those nearby rather than on the floor, and even though I barely moved I got so sweaty that when I got home later I could practically ring out my underwear. I remember it fondly.)

Over the years I filled out my collection with more Damned (as well as other punk stalwarts like the aforementioned Dickies, obviously the Ramones*, and others—plus plenty outside of the genre). I did figure out "Alone Again Or" was not their composition. At some point I did hear the original (I don't recall specifically when, but I know I did), and heard a bit more about Love, but I never really explored their oeuvre. It was just one of those things that never quite rose to a musical priority.

Until I saw the video for the cover recently.

Last week I was inspired to download not only the original but also some other tracks from the album on which it first appeared (Forever Changes) . And I'm definitely digging them, with the intention to go get more in the future.

Sure, it took me 27 years to get around to it, but such is the beauty of timeless tunes: It's never too late to put them in your ears, regardless of how you found them.


* I had heard the Ramones well prior to this whole period; I mean, "I Wanna Be Sedated" was not an obscure song.

I got turned on to the Dickies by a musically well-informed co-worker who made me mix tapes.

Get out there and educate the young.

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