The Damned PhotoFORMED: 1976, England

The Damned usurped the Sex Pistols, working behind their backs to become the first British punk band to release a record, the first to have a hit single (the epochal "New Rose") and the first to tour America. That, in a nutshell, is the appeal of The Damned -- they weren't revolutionaries, they were drunken louts who would do anything for a prank. Like many of their first-generation punk peers, the band were rooted in pub-rock, playing simple three-chord pounders, but the group played fast, loose and sloppy, often sounding like everything was about to fall apart. Their 1977 debut Damned Damned Damned epitomized this sound, and they never quite captured it again, partially because of their limited talent and partially because of their defiant, boundless stupidity. Following the debut, The Damned released a pair of similar records that weren't quite as successful before delving into a bizarre affair with goth-rock for several years in the early '80s. By the time that was worked out of their system, several key members had left the band and the group had nothing more than a cult following, yet they still managed the odd hit single in the U.K. until the late '80s, when The Damned decided to call it a day. But that wasn't the end of the story. During the '90s, the band continually reunited in various incarnations, playing concerts across England and functioning as a sort of bizarre punk nostalgia act.

Of course, at the beginning of their career, it would have been unthinkable to consider The Damned a band with a long future. Like many British punks, the group's members had played in a variety of pub-rock and fledgling punk bands, most notably Brian James (b. Brian Robertson; guitar), who had played in London S.S. with Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Terry Chimes, all of whom would later form the Clash. In its last days, London S.S. also featured Rat Scabies (b. Chrill Miller; drums), and once the group disbanded, he and James went on to join NME journalist Nick Kent's Subterraneans which also featured Captain Sensible (b. Ray Burns; bass). After the Subterraneans fell apart, James, Scabies and the Captain formed the Masters of the Backside with vocalist Chrissie Hynde. The group was managed by Malcolm McLaren, and it quickly imploded, with Hynde going on to form the Pretenders and McLaren leaving to manage the Sex Pistols. The remaining trio carried on, hiring vocalist Dave Vanian, a former gravedigger Scabies met at his sister's funeral, and becoming The Damned.

The Damned's rise to notoriety was quick and ridiculous. Performing their first concert in London in July 1976, the group quickly became a sensation due to its drunken, riotous performances which featured Scabies attacking the audience and Vanian dressed as a vampire. Within two months, the band signed with the fledgling Stiff Records and its accompanying management, and the match couldn't have been more perfect. The Damned and Stiff were both pranksters, determined to take a bad joke as far as it could go, and that sensibility made the group the first British punk band to release a record. By the fall of 1976, the Sex Pistols had captured the attention of Britain's rock audience, but they had yet to release a record due to various problems with labels. Stiff decided to steal the Pistols' thunder by rushing The Damned into the studio to record their debut single, "New Rose," with producer Nick Lowe as quickly as possible. "New Rose" appeared in October, a full month before "Anarchy in the U.K.," and while it didn't chart, it was a huge underground hit, leading Stiff towards a distribution deal with Island. The single also began a rivalry with the Sex Pistols that peaked when The Damned were thrown off the supporting slot for the Pistols' ill-fated "Anarchy in the U.K." tour in December of 1976 after the first gig. Undaunted, Stiff booked the band for several concerts in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in early 1977, making The Damned the first U.K. punk band to play the U.S. In the spring of 1977, the band's Lowe-produced debut, Damned Damned Damned, was released, again beating all other British punks to the punch.

Damned Damned Damned was well received and the pulled single, "Neat Neat Neat"/"Stab Your Back," reached the Top 40. The Damned were riding at the crest of their popularity when things began to go wrong in the summer of 1977. James insisted that the band add a second guitarist, so Lu (b. Robert Edmunds) joined just before the band entered the studios with the legendary British Invasion producer Shel Talmy to record their second album. Talmy didn't work out, so the group hired Pink Floyd's Nick Mason to helm Music for Pleasure. Upon its release in November, the album was received quite poorly, and Scabies left the band to work with guitarist Keith Levene and keyboardist Richard Sohl. John Moss replaced him for the subsequent British tour, but by the spring, The Damned had broken up. Captain Sensible formed King and James formed Tanz Der Youth, while Moss and Lu joined a group called the Edge; Moss would later join Culture Club. By the end of 1978, Scabies, Sensible and Vanian had reunited, adding King bassist Henry Badowski, initially playing under the name Les Punks and then the Doomed because James retained the rights to The Damned name. Early in 1979, they regained their original name and added former Saint Alistair Ward as bassist, signing to Chiswick Records. "Love Song" and "Smash It Up" became Top 40 hits later that year, and the accompanying album Machine Gun Etiquette was greeted warmly.

In 1980, Ward was replaced by Paul Gray, the former bassist for Eddie & the Hot Rods, and the group recorded the goth-tinged The Black Album, which became their first album released in America. As The Damned attempted to expand their sound, they added keyboardist Roman Jugg, who was featured on 1982's Strawberries, an unsuccessful record for Bronze Records that same year, Captain Sensible released a solo album, Women and Captains First, which featured the new wave novelty "Wot," a Top 40 hit. Gray left in 1983, and the following year, the Captain had a Top Ten solo hit with "Glad It's All Over," leading him to leave the group for a solo career that summer. Replacing Grey with Bryn Merrick, The Damned signed to MCA and released the full-fledged goth album Phantasmagoria, which entered the UK charts at number 11. The following year, the non-LP single "Eloise," a cover of Barry Ryan's 1968 hit, became the biggest single of the group's career, and the band released Anything at the end of the year. In 1987, the double-disc compilation The Light at the End of the Tunnel appeared.

Although The Damned had a surprising number of Top 40 hits between 1985 and 1987, their audience steadily declined, and in 1989, they decided to split after a farewell tour of the U.K. Two years later, the group reunited for a British tour, the first of several reunion tours occurring sporadically over the course of the '90s; 1999's Eternal Damnation Live captures one of these gigs. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide