(From the Independent, UK daily, 28 May 2004.)


Rock & Pop:  The Ten Best British Punk Songs


by The Cowboy Junkies



1 ANARCHY IN THE UK The Sex Pistols (1976)

An obvious choice, but this song is the groundbreaker, the summation of an ethos, delivered with so much anger that there is no doubt about the message, nor any question of the messengers' commitment. With Steely Dan on the radio, nobody realised then what the impact of British punk would be, but a year later it was enormous.

2 DOWN IN THE SEWER The Stranglers (from Rattus Norvegicus', 1977)

Jean-Jacques Burnel's crafted basslines drive all of The Stranglers' songs, especially this one. Hugh Cornwell's guitar- work and equally nasty vocals take us to a place where nothing's nice, everything's sleazy and he's quite proud of it. They make rockin' in the gutter feel good.

3 I FOUND THAT ESSENCE RARE Gang of Four (from Entertainment!', 1979)

These guys had a great sense of space and rhythm, which they dirtied up with Andy Gill's harsh guitar tones and Jon King's dry vocals. Their take on capitalist degradation had us dancing to lines like: "See the girl on the TV, dressed in a bikini/ She doesn't know it but she's dressed for the H-bomb." Das Kapital meets James Brown - equal amounts of cynicism and funk.

4 ALBATROSS Public Image Limited (from Metal Box', 1979)

The ultimate high-concept rock music: Jah Wobble's bass is so low you can hardly hear it, Keith Levine's guitar so piercing it's painful, while Johnny Rotten Lydon wails like an impaled banshee.

5 NO XMAS FOR JOHN QUAYS The Fall (from Live at the Witch Trials', 1979)

These guys took the smarty-pants level up several notches - you had to have a college degree to get all of the lyrical references. Musically, it's not too far from Lou Reed via Captain Beefheart, but jaggedly updated with screeching guitars. Intellectual punk at its finest.

6 SEVENTEEN SECONDS The Cure (from Seventeen Seconds', 1980)

Simple, subtle and so effective, this is plaintive in the purest sense. Skirting the edges of punkdom, The Cure appealed to the angry melancholic in all of us.

7 NEW DAWN FADES Joy Division (from Unknown Pleasures', 1979)

What I said about "Seventeen Seconds", to the power of 10. Every element of this song was a revelation: the slowed-down guitar melody, the cavernous drum sounds, the dirty heartbeat of a bassline and Ian Curtis's graveyard vocals. A suicide note set in a beautiful wasteland.

8 CROCODILES Echo & the Bunnymen (from Crocodiles', 1980)

Looking like the Beatles, sounding like Jim Morrison and staying at the Hotel Velvet Underground, these boys were unafraid of the pop song, and had an intensity to match Joy Division's. This song was one of their best live; these bunnymen could rock.

9 REQUIEM Killing Joke (from Killing Joke', 1980)

This song would be a great soundtrack to the outbreak of nuclear war. The first heavy-metal punk band, to whom everyone from Metallica to Nirvana owes a debt. Metal was one of punk's "dinosaur rock" targets, but instead of destroying it, Killing Joke made metal nasty, darkly humorous and powerful.

10 SONNY'S BURNING The Birthday Party (from The Bad Seed EP', 1982)

The end of rock'n'roll. If you could set off an explosive device inside an Elvis Presley song, this is what it would sound like. The opening screamed vocal, "Hands up who wants to die", followed by pulverising guitars, drums and more screaming is a numbing experience. But this blend of pain and poetry keeps you listening - no matter how ugly it gets - for the flashes of post-rock brilliance embedded throughout. It's fitting that, when Nick Cave climbed out of this wreckage, he became something of an Elvis crooner himself.

The Cowboy Junkies are playing the Shepherd's Bush Empire, London W12 on Wednesday