The Damned “Machine Gun Etiquette”

The Damned were one of the first British punk bands to release singles and albums. They got a headstart over rivals the Sex Pistols and were a group full of volatile personalities who could explode at any given moment – musically and emotionally! But unlike the much overrated Sex Pistols, The Damned could actually play their instruments and write catchy tunes. They excelled at the art of creating good ole fashion sloppy rock n roll and when they did actually get along with one another, the Damned were capable of making some outstanding music. Captain Sensible, Rat Scabies, and Dave Vanian were all rock n roll wildmen and contributed greatly to the Damned’s unique sound and group concept. Alongside their debut Damned Damned Damned, Machine Gun Etiquette is one of two Damned classics and a must own for fans of popular punk rock.

Machine Gun Etiquette was released by Chiswick in 1979, a year in which many punk artists were simmering down, writing more pop friendly material. The group had briefly broken up only to rejoin again without the help of guitarist Brian James. Saints (another fantastic group) bassist Alby Ward was brought in to fill in the missing gaps and give the group a fuller sound. I think Machine Gun Etiquette is a much stronger effort than 1977’s Music For Pleasure – an album that was produced by Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason. Etiquette seems to pay homage to many of the Damned’s classic rock heroes, most notably the MC5 and the Doors. So in this sense Machine Gun Etiquette has more of a classic rock feel, notable for its strong garage rock and psychedelic influences. They cover the MC5’s Looking At You and while not as good as the original, the Damned’s version still packs a visceral punch to the gut. These Hands has some cool fuzz guitars but also recalls the Doors’ carnival organ sound of Alabama Song – even the vocals sound like a punked up Lizard King. Another track, I Just Can’t Be Happy has that vintage American garage ethic, right down to the cheap organ sound and classic handclaps – great song, should have been a hit. The first two tracks on the album, Love Song (check out that thick, dense bass work) and Machine Gun Etiquette are a bit more original, both being breakneck punkers of the highest order. Vocals and searing guitar solos create a pile-driving intensity, this was some of the most exciting music the Damned had ever laid to wax. Anti-Pope, Melody Lee, the experimental Plan 9 Channel 7, Liar and Noise, Noise, Noise (there’s some nice feedback on this tune) were just as good and furious garage punk-rockers in their own right. The whole album is very consistent and possibly the best disc this group has ever recorded – depending on your point of view. Machine Gun Etiquette has lots of pounding drums, angry vocals, inventive guitar solos and even a few weird experiments. It’s an album that’s bound to please both garage and punk fans.

The 80s were very unkind to the Damned as they suffered a major downward spiral. The group plunged headfirst into the New Wave/Post-Punk scene and while doing so lost all credibility with the underground rock community. Their true forte was rock n roll and during the early to mid 80’s the group released a series of half-baked goth-rock albums. In terms of quality, none of these later albums came close to their 1977 debut or Machine Gun Etiquette. The great thing about Machine Gun Etiquette is that it’s rock n roll pure and simple, hit home straight as an arrow. There are no MTV pop or reggae tracks that plague this album, just straight up rock n roll. Groups like the Clash, the Jam, and PIL were notorious for sticking a few awful reggae or soul experiments on their albums – you could call this branching out but it definitely diluted the impact of a punk record. So it is with these two early albums that the Damned’s reputation rests firmly as one of the most visionary punk rock groups ever. This is a great record similar in style to Wire’s equally good 154 lp – try playing these two scorchers side by side!

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“Machine Gun  Etiquette”

:D CD Reissue | 2007 | Chiswick | Machine Gun Etiquette ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1979 | Chiswick | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

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  • A.J.

    gotta agree with you, this is one of the best albums of all time and the damned are much underrated, although got to take issues with strawberries and the black album being dismissed as goth, although you do have a point with phantasmagoria and especially with anything. For me the black album was always their pinnacle, mixing more experimental styles with full tilt punk rocl, check out the 25th anniversary reissue and you’ll see what i mean. have you heard their new stuff, it’s not too bad, yet to hear their 2008 album so who’s paranoid yet but i’m hoping for good things

  • Ramone666

    I always thought people kinda liked this one just because it was much better than the disastrous 2nd album… It´s doesn´t come close to the debut i.m.o. Plus I don´t really get your comparison to Wire´s great 154. That one´s arty postpunk, and a real departure from their previous albums, where Machine Gun Etiquette is still firmly based in the punk rock tradition, or as you say ´rock and roll pure and simple´.

  • dk

    The Damned weren’t “one of the first British punk bands to release singles and albums” they were THE first. “New Rose” was the first British punk LP, and the title track was the first single. I’ve never been wild about their music, but they deserve their props for being the first to scale those peaks.

    I have to disagree with your assessment of the Sex Pistols. “Overrated” is in the eye of the beholder, so I’m not going to quibble with that too much, but it’s simply not true that the group didn’t play their instruments well. The pre-Sid Vicious version of the group, with Glen Matlock on bass, was a four-headed live monster that influenced nearly every punk group that came in their wake. Vicious was an incompetent joke on bass, but they were a serious band before he joined up. For audio proof, check out the ‘Screen On The Green’ show from 1976 that’s included in the Sex Pistols box set. Powerful stuff…

  • Jason

    Yes, Wire’s 154 is a very different record, post punk art-rock to be sure. But I think it’s a good point of comparison because the group were being influenced by psychedelia at this point – just as the Damned were on Machine Gun Etiquette. I feel that 154 is as close to rock n roll as a group like Wire ever approached.

    The Black Album and Strawberries have their moments, lots of great songs – you make a compelling arguement. Maybe the Black Album could have used some pruning but it’s pretty good.

    As far as the Pistols go, never been a fan. I always felt that Mr. Rotten acted a bit childish, there was nothing punk about him, he was a clown. True, they had their fair share of slashing punk classics but I feel that there were plenty of interesting, more talented groups on the English front. But I don’t think they were really doing anything new, I mean look at the Pretty Things, Crushed Butler, MC5, Modern Lovers, the Monks and so forth.

    There are some cool neglected punk bands worth checking out:

    STIPHNOYDS – Affraid Of The Russians (their only record, an ep but a good one)
    The Dogs – Different (tough punk band from France)

  • Kim

    Another longtime Damned fan checking in to defend Strawberries. I admit I am not a scenester of any stripe so I am not tuned in to what degrades an artist’s cred, all I can say is that this child of the 80s adored the Black Album and Strawberries right alongside M. G. E. Thanks for celebrating this underrated band who has always been in my top ten.

  • jason

    ah, you punk fans are an awefully loyal crowd. I made my bed, so I may as well lie in it too. The Damned are one of my favorite punk bands without doubt and as mentioned before I like Strawberries and the Black Album but feel that the later goth albums haven’t aged as well – ie Phantasmagoria or Anything. Machine Gun Etiquette was the first album I ever bought by them so maybe theres an emotional attachment but from the first few minutes of that album onwards, I was knocked out cold – like a baseball bat to the head.

  • Did not have the opportunity to see The Damned back when they were often mentioned in the same sentence with the Sex Pistols (who made the best rock ‘n’ roll album ever) and the Clash before the dope rot started to set in. Machine Gun Etiquette got a lot of play on my record player, it was little easier on the ears for some people than Cock Sparrer, Their second record has to be one of the worst produced punk rock records ever. They ought to have used Johnny Moped’s producer.
    When I finally did see The Damned it was just after America’s Black September. They were surprisingly good for a bunch of old dudes like me. They still had the whiff of bewildered innocence that sets the best punk apart from the rest. And they got super stoned Dope City rocking that night, never an easy task

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