By MARC McDONALD
From time to time on this blog, I've presented a regular feature called, Progressive Music Classics, which spotlights notable and challenging Left-Wing music. Today, I'm launching a new music feature, Marc's Jukebox, in which I'll occasionally highlight a song or band that I believe has been unfairly neglected over the years.
Today's tune is "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," by British band, The Damned. With a classic horror theme, it's a perfect song for Halloween.
"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," appeared on The Damned's 1980 double album, The Black Album. If that title sounds familiar, it's because it's been ripped off by other artists over the years, most notably by Prince (in 1987) and by Jay-Z (in 2003), among other artists. To my knowledge, The Damned were the first to use this title for a record (in homage, of course, to The Beatles' "White Album").
If you've not heard of them before, The Damned are a long-running British music act that started out as a punk band in 1976. The band was notable early on for being the first U.K. band to release a single, ("New Rose," in 1976). The band went on to release Damned Damned Damned and Machine Gun Etiquette, two of the greatest punk albums ever made.
Unlike critically acclaimed bands like The Sex Pistols and The Clash, the Damned were never about trying to "make a statement," or creating "Art." They were only in it to have a good time. And in this, they succeeded brilliantly. It's impossible for me to imagine anyone with any interest in rock music listening to The Damned's best work and not wanting to get up and dance. This is life-affirming music that is first and foremost fun.
After the Great Punk Explosion of 1977 began to wane, The Damned, like their contemporaries, began to think about what do for an encore after punk. The band still enjoyed three-chord high-energy punk rave-ups, but clearly was eager to explore other styles as well.
Just as The Beatles once embraced a variety of music styles with their 1968 "White Album," The Damned also decided to branch out. The Black Album, which arrived in October 1980, showed a new side to the band. I remember buying the U.K. import and being very impressed at the variety of styles: from punk to garage to psychedelia to cabaret(!). The album showed a new "mature" Damned who were capable, as "Dr. Jekyll" showed, of writing memorable melodies. (For its U.S. release, The Black Album was whittled down to a one-disk release and sank without a trace).
Although I wasn't really much of a Damned fan before, The Black Album quickly converted me. I remember eagerly looking forward to their 1982 follow-up, Strawberries. It was another classic Damned release. The U.K. import arrived in an elaborate package that literally smelled of strawberries. It was a great gimmick (and, of course, gimmicks like this, along with colored vinyl, were one of the things that made the vinyl era so exciting for music fanatics). I suspect it's the sort of thrill that today's music fans would have a hard time understanding, as they go to iTunes and buy sterile MP3 files.
After Strawberries, my interest in The Damned waned. The band went silent for several years and, when they resurfaced, with 1985's Phantasmagoria I wasn't particularly impressed and moved on. By then, there were too many other amazing bands competing for my attention (The Smiths, The Nightingales, Sonic Youth). (Actually, looking back, Phantasmagoria was a worthy release and showed the band further exploring gothic horror themes).
In my opinion, The Damned has been unfairly neglected by the masses over the years. They were never critical darlings, and they never cultivated the respect of bands like Sex Pistols and The Clash. With a few exceptions, they never had much chart success in their native U.K. (and, of course, had zero commercial impact in the U.S.)
Still, The Damned are survivors (they continue to this day) and they still have loyal fans around the world. They should be recognized as one of the true great original punk bands (and well as a great rock'n'roll band, period). Although I'm sure the Hall of Fame will never come knocking, that's probably just fine with The Damned. In fact, as punk heroes, they wouldn't have it any other way.