The Infinite Jukebox: Magazine’s ‘Shot by Both Sides’

Had you asked me, towards the end of the year or at any time since, what was the best single of 1978, I would rave at you cheerfully in favour of ‘Teenage Kicks’. I still will if you don’t run away fast enough.
But had you asked me that question at any time between, say, the spring of that year and the very end of Autumn, I would have had a different answer. I would have said Magazine, and ‘Shot By Both Sides’.
It is still, to me, a massively brilliant song, the single version a giant, dark, compelling sound, it’s failure to spend months at Number One a mystery set to rank with that of the Sphinx. That ‘Teenage Kicks’ was actually better was Howard Devoto and Co’s bleeding hard luck. So it goes, as Nick Lowe and Tony Wilson both used to say.
‘Shot by Both Sides’ was Magazine’s first release. Howard Devoto had left The Buzzcocks because he wanted to do more than the pure punk sound, and in John McGeogh he found a musical partner more than capable of realising his ambitions to incorporate elements of progressive and avant garde music. Devoto envisaged a keyboard player, and between the single and the album versions of the track, he found one in Dave Formula, but in this moment the band were a four-piece, with McGeogh the dominant player, and ‘Shot by Both Sides’ was both introduction and farewell, looking Janus-like to future and past. It wraps itself in the punk sound of angry guitar, but its immediately a fuller, deeper sound, built upon a charging riff full of menace, and an ascending lick, a rising string of notes, written by Pete Shelley and generously allowed to form the keynote of this song.
(The Buzzcocks would record the original song, ‘Lipstick’, late in the year as the b-side to ‘Promises’, and bloody odd it sounds in that context.)
‘Shot by Both Sides’ has muscle and energy, but it’s a focussed, targeted energy, as dark and paranoid as Devoto’s lyrics. Barry Adamson and Martin Gorski lay down a solid rhythm over which McGeogh doubles up on riff and lick. Devoto’s voices twists away from the sound, arch and affected, reminiscent of Steve Harley in its refusal to settle on a straight tone.
He works his way into the heart of the crowd, shocked to find what is allowed, losing himself in the heart of the crowd whilst the song hurtles towards him. The song’s confidence momentarily disintegrates, mimicking the sense of Devoto cracking, the rhythm chopping up, its momentum dispersing before Devoto goes full-on batshit paranoid. There is no safety in the heart of the crowd, no anonymity, no invisibility: Devoto is shot by both sides, his enemies, real or otherwise, must have come to a secret understanding, for how else could they be on him from all directions? Devoto sings to the lick and the chorus pounds that message of shock, horror and fear.
The middle of the song sees McGeogh go off into a high-speed solo, slashing at the notes in piercing fashion, before retreating to allow Devoto to give full reign to his drama: Shot by Both Sides, I don’t ask who’s doing the shooting.
The single couldn’t be what it is without the punk background from which it arises, could not be both single-minded and yet hinting at wider soundscapes to come. It’s a culmination, a threshold before change. Devoto’s ideas were grandiose, but they held a retrogressive element to them. Once Formula was added to provide the scope Devoto foresaw, Magazine would not, could not sound like this again.
And I’m afraid I think that the band was the lesser for it. In time, McGeogh, who was one of the most influential guitarists of his time, would come to the same conclusion, his departure from the band stemming in equal parts from frustration at Magazine’s lack of commercial success and the decreasing amount of space allowed for him and his guitars: he would be both ornament and architecture to Siouxsie and The Banshees’ lush middle period.
With the possible exception of Magazine’s flambuoyant cover of ‘Goldfinger’ on the b-side of their second single, nothing the band did sounded remotely like as good as this. ‘Shot By Both Sides’ was pure, driving, musical ecstasy, power and energy in beautiful balance, taking over your ears until the only thing you wanted to do was to play it again, immediately, and louder! And forty-one years later, like ‘Teenage Kicks’, it hasn’t aged a second. Let the riff pound out and immediately we are trapped, in the middle of the crowd, overwhelmed by fear, shot by both sides.
And still the only response is to play it again.

Not-crap Journalism 2

It’s been a decade or more since I last read Barbara Ellen’s column in the Observer, the once entertaining lady having morphed into a very Daily Mail ‘bitch-hag’ columnist. But a sidebar about Pete Shelley’s death in today’s paper caught my eye, and I want to draw your attention to it.

I can’t link you to it: for some reason, only the main part of her column, about the BBC’s Xmas Ad, is available on-line. But let me quote you the last two paragraphs to show that those writers for whom you have the greatest antipathy can still say the best things.

“Certainly, Shelley could be viewed as a sterling example of a small-town boy with gigantic ideas, about himself, humanity, the lot. For a while, it was as though every backwater in Britain seethed with people like this, and – boy – did the music scene benefit. All those outsiders and freaks (of both sexes), unpolished diamonds, forming in their provincial crucibles of tedium – bored, restless, fizzing with as yet under-utilised excitemet and energy.

This what coming from less obviously groovy areas is all about: you end up becoming very definite about yourself, because, frankly, you’re all you’ve got. And gifted people like Shelley end up doing something about it – something so huge it endures for a lifetime.”

The Infinite Jukebox: The Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever Fallen in Love (with someone you shouldn’t’ve?)’

There’s a case for featuring practically every single by The Buzzcocks on The Infinite Jukebox (the blog series, that is: practically every Buzzcocks single is on the Infinite Jukebox in my head), but despite my abiding love for ‘I Don’t Mind’, it is the band’s fifth single and it’s biggest hit that means the most to me, for a variety of reasons.
Ever since I first discovered music, in 1970, I’ve always had a favourite band or singer. Four times, that’s been a Manchester band. I first discovered The Buzzcocks just before I swapped the punk hotspot of Manchester for the punk-hating environs of Nottingham for two years. It was born of a late-evening recording of their second single, ‘What do I get?’ off Piccadilly Radio. It was the last to feature bassist Garth, before Steve ‘Paddy’ Garvey completed the classic line-up. I loved it from the off: I was losing my original antipathy towards punk the more I heard of it, drawn by the energy and simplicity of the music, its rawness, and The Buzzcocks were a sharper, more precise version of that, bringing back into the rush and tumble the element of melody that was the Sixties’ gift to all time.
An Articled Clerk – i.e., a Trainee Solicitor – who was a punk music fan, and open about it in the office. I remember debates about music, especially about ‘Love You More’, notorious for its brevity, and our student ‘Madrigals’ (her surname was Bell and she sang them) telling me she understood what they were trying to do but that it didn’t work, an opinion I disagreed with in a most patronising manner.
Then one night I’d gotten home, turned on the radio (Radio Trent, probably) and they announced the new Buzzcocks single. And I jumped for the tape recorder (reel-to-reel: my Dad had been an enthusiast and under his influence I was a late and reluctant adopter of cassettes) to capture it, and stayed in the corner, squatting, listening as it poured out. Steve Diggle’s riff and line, John Maher’s didactic drums, leading into Pete Shelley’s falsetto yawp. You disturb my natural emotions, you make me feel I’m dirt, and I’m hurt.
For most bands, for their most commercial single, that would have led into a second line, but the flow was disrupted, the evenness shattered by Diggle and Maher, repeating that sequence from the intro. And if I start a commotion, I’ll only end up losing you, and that’s worse. Then Diggle/Maher again and then this soaring, gorgeous, free-flowing, expansive chorus lifting the roof of, the title line, folding into and out of itself, so utterly compelling that, to my astonishment, when it came round the next time, I joined in, in my toneless tones, the record not having finished and my not having played it back a half dozen times yet, but before the song had even finished. That had never happened before.
Of course, the problem with the singles that grab you immediately is that they’re usually the ones you tire of first, and don’t want to hear again, because they often have nothing more than immediacy, but not so ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve?)’, not so even for forty years.
I remember the song for that immediacy, and I remember it for its title. It was the first of that trilogy of personal anthems that I carried around with me for a decade, along with ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and that one-off Feargal Sharkey and Vince Clarke record as The Assembly, ‘Never Never’ (it never happens to me…). Ever Fallen in Love with Someone you shouldn’t have? Too bloody often and every time.
I remember it for being the single that, after two that had sneaked into the top 40, was the big one, big as in reaching no 13 in the autumn charts, and getting the band onto Top of the Pops more than once. It was the breakthrough, but The Buzcocks would only reach the top 20 once more, with the follow-up, ‘Promises’, and that only just made no 20, at Xmas.
And I remember it for being in Nottingham, in exile in more senses than one, including musically: alone but responsible for myself for the first time. Things like this song, and the fact it had gotten into the charts, was being played on the radio, were victories, victories for a cause that was the greatest fun time in music I ever had, the going-to-be-Solicitor who looked nothing like a punk yet who championed the music and roared on every moment that ‘we’ broke through and ‘you’ had to listen and to admit our music cut it.
The Buzzcocks, with Shelley leaking melody wherever he went, were our scalpel, their music a knife-edge of frustrated romance and realistic emotion, and ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t Have?)’ was the far too late warning for someone who had and who still remembers fondly and who is still drawn into carolling that chorus, even though my voice is not just toneless but cracked and broken. And the music still has a life that belied my best mate of then’s dismissive warning that no-one would remember The Buzzcocks in ten year’s time.
(The above essay was written before Pete Shelley’s recent death).

Oh Shit – Pete Shelley R.I.P.

It doesn’t seem possible that Pete Shelley could be gone. Punks aren’t supposed to die this soon, even if he was the same age as me.

I remember hearing ‘What do I get?’ late one John Peel night, just before moving to Nottingham and away from Punk’s other great centre. I remember it’s b-side when I bought it, one of the most honest break-up songs ever, ‘Oh Shit’. I remember seeing them of Top of the Pops with ‘I Don’t Mind’, which should have been fucking mega. I remember arguing about whether ‘Love You More’ worked or not, and singing along to ‘Ever Fallen in Love (with someone you shouldn’t’ve?)’ the very first time I heard it. I remember the years when it was like a personal theme song, the answer to which was too fucking many times.

I remember playing ‘Love Bites’ and ‘A Different Kind of Tension’ obsessively as soon as each came out. I remember seeing them at the Appollo, the second and last time I saw Joy Division, the night I heard ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ for the first time. I rememeber them finishing with ‘ESP’ as one by one the band laid down their instruments and left until only Steve Diggle was left, playing that incredible spiral riff.

I remember ‘Homo-Sapien’ and ‘XL1’ too.

I remember the Buzzcocks and I remember Pete Shelley and I ain’t never gonna forget and this is why, because you don’t forget perfection.