The Damned was formed in London in 1976. The band was made up of Dave Vanian on vocals, Brian James on bass, Rat Scabies on drums, and Captain Sensible on guitar. They got together at the height of the UK Punk era, and it is fair to say that this was very much a Punk outfit.
I was lucky enough to see them in 1979 and have also bought some of their records, so I count myself as a fan. Looking back at the Top 10 songs of The Damned, therefore, brings back a lot of fond memories. I hope you enjoy the musical journey down memory lane.
Let’s get started and look at the first record…
Top 10 Songs of The Damned
It only seems right to go back right to the beginning with the release of The Damned’s debut single, “New Rose.” It was taken from The Damned’s debut album, Damned Damned Damned, which came out in 1976.
The song was fast and furious…
The drumming felt like it was going to run away from Rat Scabies. Plus, the lyrics came so hard and fast that I’m surprised that Dave Vanian could keep up and that he even had the time to draw breath.
“New Rose” laid down the gauntlet and told you instantly what this band where all about. Back in 1976, they were a hard Punk Rock band and bang in the middle of an era with emerging bands like The Sex Pistols.
I first heard “New Rose” while listening to late-night radio and liked it enough to buy a copy the same week. Later, I went out and bought the album a couple of months later. You’re welcome, guys! Despite my support, the song failed to chart anywhere in the world, and the album only managed to get to #34 in the UK.
The very first…
A final interesting fact about the song is that it was the first ever British punk single released, beating the Sex Pistols or any other UK punk band by months; well done, The Damned!
“Neat Neat Neat”
This was their second single and was released in 1977, again from Damned Damned Damned. It’s hard to believe, but it was even more frantic than “New Rose.” Equally impressed, though; I bought this as well. However, it would be the last single I bought from the album. Not difficult since they only released the two. The song was one of their few to chart, but it still only managed a lowly #52 on the UK charts.
Like many songs by The Damned and many other Punk songs in the same period, this was a protest song. In this instance, it was about police brutality and the futility of wars fought on foreign soil where we had no right to be in the first place. It is sad that the lyrics still have so much relevance today.
Like a lot of their tracks, it was relatively short at just 2 minutes and 44 seconds. That was Punk for you!
The Damned continued to release songs, but it wasn’t until 1979 that I think they came up with their next decent song. At the time, Punk was slowly winding down, and we were entering the era of Post-Punk and New Wave. “Love Song” mirrored this transition quite well.
The song lost some of their previous music’s urgency. But, in its place, we got something altogether more musical. The tune was catchy, and without the crazy fast tempo, we got a better chance to focus on Dave Vanian’s surprisingly good vocals.
The British public liked it too. It reached #20 on the UK charts, which I think we can chalk up as a hit. It was the lead single from the fantastic album Machine Gun Etiquette. This peaked at #32 in the UK and earned them their first silver disc.
So, what is it all about?
As the title suggests, it is a love song! I think the lyrics are far from their best and a little simplistic. But it is still a great song by The Damned, and good to see some diversity in their music. However, more anarchy and mayhem were still left in the band, and there were plenty of angry songs still to hit the stores.
“Smash It Up”
“Smash It Up” was the second single released from the album Machine Gun Etiquette. It also came out in 1979 and made a chart appearance at #35. Like the rest of their songs to this point, there were no international chart entries.
“Smash It Up” was back to anarchy and angst. This time, the anger was forcefully thrown at Glastonbury Hippies, and a new generation coming through that would usher in New Wave and 80s music. With that would come a much more affluent lifestyle, bright clothes, shoulder pads, and TV shows like “Dallas” and “Dynasty.”
A new era was coming, and The Damned didn’t like it. They saw it all as shallow and pretentious. They might have been right, but the writing was on the wall, and maybe, deep down, they knew their style of music was heading into obscurity. However, The Damned were going to go out with a whimper.
“I Just Can’t Be Happy Today”
This was the last and third single from Machine Gun Etiquette. I also feel that it kind of marked the beginning of the end for the band’s more aggressive and in-your-face style of music. In many ways, it was quite appropriate, since this would be The Damned’s last song from the 70s.
So, what was it about?
The song is a rant and almost a throwing in of the towel against all the wrongs of the world. It is hard to say if it was an acceptance of not being able to put societal injustices right. Maybe it was a final admission that the governments and people in power had finally won, and anarchy and revolution were a waste of time. And, maybe, this really was the last proper Punk song of The Damned.
“The History of the World Part 1”
When I first heard this in 1980, I hardly recognized the band. Musically, things had changed. A lot. Their music had slowed down, and keyboards could be heard prominently in the mix. Finally, Dave Vanian could truly shine and demonstrate his true talent as a vocalist.
“The History of the World Part 1” was released as the lead single from their epic album, The Black Album. The single only got to #51 in the UK, but that belies its quality. It got to #29 in the UK, although I think it had #1 hit written all over it.
This was another of their albums I bought and, frankly, nearly wore out. The single and the album saw Dave Vanian moving more toward a Goth kind of image. He had always performed in all-black smart clothing with slicked-back hair. But, he increasingly whitened out his face with makeup to enhance the vampire look.
“Wait for the Blackout
This was released at the same time as “The History of the World Part 1”. However, “Wait for The Blackout” was only ever released in Spain as a single. It was done so in preference over “The History of the World Part 1” as a promotional tool for The Black Album. Frankly, this made more sense to me as a lead single.
So, why is that?
Because it better leads you into the darker, newer, and more complex material that they were writing. This was a window into the occult, mortality, and the afterlife. The musical direction, as well as the lyrical direction, had changed radically. And I think that “Wait for the Blackout” was the perfect vehicle to usher in their new direction.
This is The Damned’s best-ever song, which, ironically, never even got to be released as a single. In fairness, it was over 17 minutes long, so it would probably have been impossible anyway.
“Curtain Call” took up the whole of side three from The Black Album. I know this track so well. That’s because, for a period that seemed to go on forever, I would put on the track first thing in the morning as I came downstairs and made breakfast. It was vinyl, so I played it on a turntable, and it was just long enough to quickly get ready and get myself off to work. Those were the days!
The song will come as a surprise to many as it was like Prog Rock meets Goth rather than Punk. I can remember the haunting start to the track as the organ slowly built intensity and then the long musical interlude in the middle. Brilliant. Finally, it’s worth noting that around this time, Dave Vanian appeared to be going full vampire.
“Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde”
This is the last of the songs I will be looking at from The Black Album. It was released in 1982 but was only released in the US. Again, it was to promote the album, and again, the single failed to impress the Americans.
“Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” was the first single on the second side of the album. And, like much of their music around this time, it was a song that probed hard into the darker nature of man. Musically, it was relatively restrained by The Damned standards and was indicative of the new direction they had chosen to go in.
I have chosen to round off the list of my Top 10 songs of The Damned with “Grimly Fiendish.” It was released in 1985 from the album, Phantasmagoria. The single got to #21 in the UK, and like just about all of their other songs, it was pretty much ignored elsewhere.
The album performed better, reaching #11 in the UK, #95 in Australia, and #32 in New Zealand. It was also one of their rare records that earned a silver disc in the UK. Given the title, it will come as no surprise that this was another occult and dark-themed song. Again, it was much slower and more frantic than their earlier music, as had been the case for more than five years.
The Damned are still around today and still put out records, although a lot are anniversary and compilation albums. So, I decided that 1985 was the final point at which they made their best music. That is why all my choices have come from the period 1976 to 1985.
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Top 10 Songs of The Damned – Final Thoughts
The Damned were never hugely successful as a global band. Nevertheless, they were an integral part of the Punk and subsequent Post-Punk era in the UK. It would be hard to think of that time without them. That’s because they made such an important contribution to the music of the era.
Without a doubt, they had a big influence on me. And I have enjoyed the opportunity to share what I think are the Top 10 songs by The Damned. I hope you enjoyed my selections. But let me know in the comments below if you think I have made any glaring omissions.
Until next time, happy listening.