London’s Cherry Red Records has something special for your holiday shopping list. This extraordinary five-disc box set packages up everything you need to know about the influential post-punk scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Complete with extensive notes and a string of licensing agreements the allowed the label to publish a comprehensive archive, To The Outside Of Everything is a must-own.
Punk music was an important cultural force to be sure. But shortly after it reached European shores, it quickly became something of a parody of itself. The Sex Pistols mattered. The Clash even more so. But the music was plainly limited. Once it had disrupted the sleepy prog rock era, its contribution to pop culture was for all intents and purposes spent.
In retrospect, Never Mind The Bullocks was more the end of punk than it was the beginning. What followed was infinitely more creative and diverse. It would also influence musicians – and music lovers – for decades.
Start with John Lydon (a.k.a. Rotten). Shedding his Pistols persona and toxic Malcolm McLaren relationship, Lydon formed Public Image Ltd. with Keith Levene, Jah Wobble and Jim Walker. We hear “Death Disco” on disc two of this collection, a 1979 single that climbed to No. 20 on the U.K. charts. Like a lot of its contemporaries, PiL fused musical styles in ways we’d never heard. In their case, it was dub – powered largely by Wobble’s brilliant bass playing – noise and more conventional rock sounds.
Joy Division was even more influential. The same second disc features the anthem “Transmission,” which landed the same year. The band’s debut 7-inch single was re-released in 1980 as a 12-inch. Pitchfork ranked it No. 10 on “The 200 Best Songs of the 1970s.”
There are other names you’ll recognize. We’re treated to early-career recordings from Ultravox!, Wire, Tubeway Army (featuring Gary Numan), The Fall, Scritti Politti, Gang Of Four, Human League, Echo And The Bunnymen, Killing Joke, The Psychedelic Furs, Adam And The Ants, Modern English, Thompson Twins, The The, The Birthday Party (featuring Nick Cave), Blancmange and Joy Division’s follow-up New Order. Fans of 1980s new wave unacquainted with these early works will gain newfound respect for their heroes.
We also get to hear the bands that figured so prominently in the scene, without reaching for pop star status later on: Magazine, Wire, Throbbing Gristle, The Normal, The Teardrop Explodes, The Slits, The Pop Group, The Durutti Column, Clock DVA, Blurt, 23 Skiddo, This Heat and more. We even get a gem called “Vegas” from former Velvet Underground associate Nico.
I’m going to dedicate tomorrow’s podcast to the five-disc set. What you’ll hear is a wide-ranging, ferociously modern collection of artists who pushed pop music hard in the direction of high art. Understanding the history of alternative music demands a package like To The Outside Of Everything. We’re indebted to Cherry Red Records for pulling this off.