Buzzcocks, Singles Going Steady (1979)

Growing up as an American suburban kid in the late 70s, "punk rock" was hard to get a handle on.  I spent my early teens wading knee-deep through the classic rock canon, mastering the back catalogs of the Who and Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and all the bands that had preceded my discovery of pop radio.  Occasionally a punk-adjacent album would get some mass-market traction in my neck of the woods, the Clash and maybe some Ramones and the Jam, and show up in the pile of records on my floor.  But mostly punk was represented by the stray novelty track that permeated our consciousness through a shared mixtape or a Saturday Night Live performance.  This gave rise to misconceptions and generalizations -- punk rock as angry and noisy and difficult, maybe best taken in small doses to mix up the monotony of everything else on the radio. 

Which is what made the Buzzcocks so revelatory.  Sure, they were undeniably "punk," one of the original UK bands that cast aside mid-70s rock's focus on musical virtuosity and laid-back slickness in favor of short, punchy bursts of unpolished immediacy, performing alongside the Sex Pistols and the Clash and influencing countless disaffected British youth to start their own bands.  But this was also pop music, hook-laden love songs that just happened to be delivered with untamed energy and enthusiasm.  This is what Top 40 radio back in the suburbs would have sounded like in a fair and just universe, albeit one in which the late great Pete Shelley's off-kilter nasal vocals and the band's blazing riffs and songs about orgasms were more acceptable radio fare.

I realize this album is a bit of a cheat, as I'm trying to avoid greatest hits collections in these writings because they're too damn easy.  But Singles Going Steady is such a singular monument to the nascent pop-punk genre that I think its inclusion is eminently reasonable.  (Which isn't to say the Buzzcocks didn't release great albums as well, but they are ultimately best considered a singles band, and this is the album most reflective of what they meant to the rock landscape.)

As a hits collection, it's silly to pick out favorites, as pretty much every song is great.  "Ever Fallen In Love" has gotten some traction over the years, aided by cover versions and soundtrack appearances, and it's well-deserved attention, a perfect pop song; and "I Don't Mind" and "What Do I Get"? are comparable.  But "Everybody's Happy Nowadays," with the recurring falsetto chorus, is the one that permanently won be over to team Buzzcocks, a song insanely joyous and frenetic, so that gets my nod as a band-defining track.  Later, you can see the band stretch out a bit beyond the raging three-chord formula, most notably on the extended, jammed out "Why Can't I Touch It?" and the moody, minor-key album closer, channeling the Stooges for a shout-out to an early punk rock influence.

FYI, there have been subsequent, more thorough compilations of the band, which add in some album tracks every bit as good as the singles, but I'm going with SGS here as a contemporaneous document of the band's initial run of brilliance.

How about a blurry video for "What Do I Get"?
Or an early live take on "Ever Fallen In Love"?
And, because it's a personal favorite, a live run through "Why Can't I Touch It?"