“In the wake of punk, small record labels began to spring up, as an outlet for artists that were unwilling to sign contracts with major record companies, or were not considered commercially attractive to those companies. By 1978, labels like Cherry Red, Rough Trade, and Mute had started up, and a support structure soon followed, including independent pressing, distribution and promotion. These labels got bigger and bigger, and by 1980 were having top 10 hits in the UK Singles Chart. Chart success was limited, however, since the official top 40 was based on sales at large chains and ignored significant sales at the scores of independent record shops that existed. Iain McNay of Cherry Red suggested to the weekly trade paper Record Business the idea of an independent record chart to address the problem, and the first independent chart appeared in 1980, published in Record Week, and later licensed to Sounds.
To be included in the indie chart, a record had to be distributed independently of the corporate framework of the major record companies; the genre of music was irrelevant.
The first weekly independent chart was published on 19 January 1980.”
What I’m intending to do is feature many of the songs that went to #1 in the indie singles chart in the 80s, but not in any sort of series as doing so would require a degree of discipline that I don’t think capable of providing. But it does make sense to begin at the beginning with the first ever 45 that made the top of the chart.
It does somehow seem apt that this particular 45 was on Rough Trade as it was, without any argument, the best-known indie label in the UK during the late 70s and 80s. There’s also something reassuring by the fact that the band involved had an annual name change policy that was seen by some as a mere marketing tool but by others as a way of continually confirming the most indie of credentials.
I haven’t ever owned own anything ever released by Spizzoil in 1978, Spizzenergi in 1979, Athletico Spizz 80 in 1980, The Spizzles in 1981 or Spizzenergi in 1982. I don’t ever recall seeing them play live and so what follows is a short tale pulled together from a few different sources.
Spizz was vocalist/guitarist who founded the band in August 1977. His real name was Kenneth Spiers. He had started out as a solo act By the following year, he had recruited Pete Petrol (real name Pete Hyde) and the duo, having supported Siouxsie & The Banshees and recorded a Peel Session, were signed to Rough Trade and issued two 7″ EPs as Spizz Oil.
The following year, the name was changed to Spizzenergi; Petrol left after falling out with Spizz but three new musicians were recruited. Two more singles followed including this in December 1979:-
It’s 2:15 of superbly silly, atypically enjoyable post-punk that no doubt got the musos shaking their head in complete disbelief. It was released at the same time as the first Star Trek movie which no doubt helped raise its profile, and as mentioned was #1 in the first ever UK Indie Singles Chart when that was published on 19 January 1980, a position it proudly held for 8 weeks before being replaced by UB40‘s debut double-A side single Food For Thought/King.
By this time of course, Spizzenergi were, on the face of it, no more but as Atletico Spizz 80 they added a fifth member and released a further single on Rough Trade before being snapped up by A&M Records for whom they released two singles and an album; in 1981 as The Spizzles, it was two singles and an album.
The only commercial success while at A&M was the debut LP Do A Runner reaching #27 in July 1980, and come 1982 they had been dropped and were back at Rough Trade, again as Spizzenergi with a further two singles.
The group then disbanded but in 1987 Spizz came back as a solo artist with a re-working of his most famous single.
There’s lots more over at this wiki page.
Incidentally, R.E.M. recorded a fairly faithful cover version of the song to give away free as the Fan Club single in 1992.