Sounds – November 8th, 1980

While Ripper #4 was the first fanzine I ever purchased back in 1982, we’ll need to save the fascinating and incredibly captivating story of my very first exposure to the underground press in ‘81 for another day. (But let it be said – it was a copy of the UK’s Sounds that I bought at the Little Professor Book Center in June 1981). From that point forward, I was a rabid consumer for a few years of the three UK music weeklies that I could find in the San Francisco Bay Area back then: Sounds, Melody Maker and New Musical Express.

I found that they reported on a world of bands in an incredibly different manner than our bloated and boring music press did in the US. Punk, post-punk and underground rock was generally greatly emphasized over larger acts, with up-and-comers gathering the lion’s share of debate and attention. Back where I lived, it was corporate drone Rolling Stone and the atrocious Creem, Circus and Hit Parader. Just before I discovered fanzines, these British papers were my lifeline and direct connection to the sounds I was then discovering on local college radio. Since they were weekly, they’d list tons of live shows that week across London; The Fall might be playing with the Teardrop Explodes and Wah! Heat; the Au Pairs might be supporting the Gang of Four; the Specials might be bringing along some Jamaican legends for a tour across the UK. Something called oi was exploding across England, with bands like the 4-Skins, Inra Riot, Cockney Rejects and Blitz. I’d absorb every page in my bedroom and marvel at it all.

By the mid-80s, I’d junked my many copies of all three of them, and I didn’t really look back at that decision until recent times. All told, I’ve mustered almost zero nostalgia for both NME and Melody Maker, and I’ve therefore never really felt compelled to re-buy any of either. Sounds was different. Sounds was considered the also-ran relative to the other two, and it flamed out earlier, in 1991. From my perch in the US, it was also the more diverse, exciting and differentiated magazine, and it looked more DIY and a little sloppier than the other two. 

I bought this frayed November 8th, 1980 issue recently on eBay for a couple of reasons. First, I’d never looked at a pre-1981 Sounds before, and I guess I wanted to see what was going down in late 1980. Second, the cover story on Simple Minds. Seriously. 1981 was the year that they became one of my favorite bands on the planet – please let’s remember that I was 13 years old; I wish I had been paying just as close attention to Damaged – when their albums Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Call came out on the same day. They’d turned into a futuristic mutant dance band who, at the time, did what they did better than anyone else who ever did it. I believed it then, and I believe it now. Listen to the extended version of “Love Song” if you don’t believe me. 

I eventually came to own their complete discography, even their punk Johnny and the Self-Abusers 45, before renouncing them just as I did the UK papers once they hit it big in the mid-80s. When they made their appearance on this cover of Sounds they’d just released their (not very good) LP Empires and Dance and had toured Europe supporting Peter Gabriel. I skimmed the interview last night and it was about as uninteresting as I’d expected it to be. But there were some nice gems in this one. In The Cure interview – and remember that The Cure really weren’t a popular band until quite a bit later – Robert Smith complains that Mark E. Smith of The Fall doesn’t like him. Mo-dettes mania is clearly in full effect; the band gets mentioned many times in this issue of Sounds, including in the letters to the editor section, and their new (and only-ever) album gets a very positive review by Gary Bushell, the writer who’s more famous for being a big proponent of oi and UK82 meathead punk (!). And the cross-pollination of so many nascent and blooming musical styles is self-evident. I know many folks in 1980 thought that their respective music scenes were “dead”, yet just looking at the live listings for mid-November across the UK I found several dozen shows I’d have killed to attend. 

Ultimately the reason I liked Sounds the best is that they picked a few lanes and stuck to them really well. They’re most well-known for championing “The New Wave of British Heavy Metal”, but every issue back then also goes really deep into what we now call post-punk, as well as the aforementioned oi; into dub and reggae; and in later years, the American underground somewhat. Writers are at war with each other, with their readers (especially in response to letters to the editor), and even sometimes with the bands themselves. This was all a very serious business in the UK, and the intellectual contrast with, say, a Flipside letters to the editor section from the exact same era is exceptionally stark. This particular new issue of mine is crumbling as we speak, so I’m gonna put it back into a vinyl sleeve and we’ll carry on with more Sounds ramblings another time.

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