Album: Singles Going Steady – Buzzcocks
Review: Record Collector, May 2019
Author: David Quantick
When this compilation of Buzzcocks’ singles – A-sides and B-sides from Orgasm Addict to Something’s Gone Wrong Again – was released in the US in 1981, most reviewers took the angle that here was a great singles act, best represented by its 45s, whose succinctness and excellence made Singles Going Steady the only really essential Buzzcocks album.
And while this is a perfectly valid viewpoint, based on the complete and utter lack of bad songs contained herein, it’s also a load of rubbish, as every Buzzcocks album – even the patchy Love Bites – is excellent.
That said, you can see where the reviewers were coming from. Ever since its release – both in its original form and the upgraded CD version which features the six songs brought out as singles towards the end of the band’s career – Singles Going Steady has been an ideal introduction to Buzzcocks’ work. You put it on and you marvel at the sheer hurtling rush of their work, from 1977’s Orgasm Addict with its teasing, snarky Howard Devoto lyric, to the brevity and excitement of Love You More (last line “until the razor cuts”), the droll romance and perfect catchiness of the one that should have been No 1, What Do I Get, the absolute pop song perfection of I Don’t Mind (even its opening drum burst suggests that producer Martin Rushent knew it deserved to be a hit)… every song is a step forward, a manifesto and a thrill ride.
No other band at the time was evolving as fast while at the same time retaining its identity: even the wide-eyed brilliance of Ever Fallen In Love was only a little more excellent than Diggle’s daffy Promises, or Everybody’s Happy Nowadays, or Harmony In My Head (and while the Martin Hannett-produced finale singles can be gawky and uncertain, there are moments of brilliance, from Steve’s Why She’s A Girl From A Chainstore to the Rushent return of the brass-powered What Do You Know?).
And that’s just the A-sides: there’s no better tribute to the band’s desire to experiment and change than the flipsides of these amazing singles. Whatever Happened To? and Oh Shit! are almost conventional punk. Noise Annoys is androgynous art-pop. Lipstick is the sexy cousin to its riff sister Shot By Both Sides. Why Can’t I Touch It? is The Hollies doing Krautrock. Something’s Gone Wrong Again is Waiting For My Man via Alan Bennett (“go to the pub/but the bugger’s shut”). And so on, and so on.
Singles Going Steady is a masterpiece, probably the best singles-only collection of all time. It may not be Buzzcocks’ greatest LP, but it would be anyone else’s best album.
I’ve previously shone a light on the various singles with a 13-part weekly series between August-November 2016; my look included the songs on the Spiral Scratch EP which have always been absent from Singles Going Steady as it predated the contract with United Artists.
The above review was celebrating a fresh release on Domino Records. My vinyl copy from 1981 is long missing – loaned out and not returned in all likelihood – and these days I rely on a CD version from 1990 which mirrors the original release with its sixteen tracks consisting of just the first eight singles and their b-sides or a 2001 re-mastered version which has twelve singles and their b-sides.
I think it’s fair to say that the collection provides a ridiculous adrenalin rush from start to finish, although the inclusion of the singles from 1980, with their slight dip in tempo, in the middle of the expanded version does jar a wee bit when the brain is so attuned to the order of songs on the original release. It’s a minor quibble but it does now mean that I always put the album on random shuffle when listening to it these days on the i-pod as this offers up something fresh, and I have a bit of fun trying to guess what song will actually come up next. For what it’s worth, I rarely get two in a row correct!
The above review is a bit sloppy in places, which given that David Quantick is usually an excellent writer, is most likely down to some shabby editing. But……
“Singles Going Steady is a masterpiece, probably the best singles-only collection of all time. It may not be Buzzcocks’ greatest LP, but it would be anyone else’s best album.”
…..is bang on the money.