ON BY DAVE
If 1967 was dubbed “The Summer of Love” and made a mark in music history with the emergence of The Doors and the new psychedelic-sounding of The Beatles, a decade later was big too. Some dubbed 1977 “The Summer of Hate”, since even though the soft rock stylings of The Eagles and Andy Gibb were dominating sales charts, a whole new breed of rockers were making their mark. ’77 was the year punk left the grimy bars and hit the streets.
One of the more impressive acts to come from that scene made their debut on this day. Not quite as audacious or outrageous as the Sex Pistols, not as politically-driven as The Clash, The Stranglers always marched to the beat of their own drummer (a very old one at that!) and amazingly, are still going to today. They put out their debut album, Rattus Norvegicus 41 years ago today.
By that time, they’d been around for three years and were a popular act in the London underground scene, at times sharing the stage (and fisticuffs) with the Pistols. Although they had their legion of fans, not all “punkers” adored them. Some found them too old to be real punks, others noted that their bassist had a degree and the drummer – Jet Black, who was already pushing 40 -had a successful alter-ego as a businessman. But that made little difference to the record-buying public in Europe who loved the brash, in-your-face sound. They’d recorded it quickly at the prestigious Olympic Studios in London (a studio used by the Who’s Who of British rock stars of the ’60s and ’70s including The Beatles, Stones, Eric Clapton and Moody Blues) , trying to make a record that came close to the energy and raw sound of their stage show. They succeeded.
It might have been hard to tell if they were genuinely angry and disillusioned or satirically mocking their fellow punkers with songs like “Grip” (the first single) or “Down In the Sewer” ,but there was no denying the infectiousness of the bass-heavy sounds with the swirling keyboards, or the new dimension they added to the sounds of the day by mixing the primitive energy and anger of then-current punk with the musicianship of some of the better prog rock or psychedelic bands. “Grip” charted in their homeland and was a top 40 in New Zealand, but the record’s real showpiece was the tongue-in-cheek, if a bit sexist “Peaches.”
Journalist Chris Bryans relates how singer Hugh Cornwell told him he got the idea, while, yes “Walking on the beaches, looking at the ‘peaches’” Meanwhile, bassist JJ Burnel said he heard reggae over a powerful PA and thought” ‘I’d never heard bass so dominant…I’m going to write a song like that.” He succeeded. The bassline is one of the greatest, and most well-known of the ’70s and helped the song become a top 10 hit in the UK, despite being banned on the BBC for the use of the word “clitoris” in the lyrics. It would be their biggest-hit until the decidedly more soothing-sounding “Golden Brown” five years later.
When all was said and done, the album named for a rat got to #4 in Britain and earned them a platinum record right off the bat. Time has treated the release quite kindly. In 2009, the BBC said it was a “distinctive combination of lyrical anger and organ-driven sleaze (which) was both deeply confrontational and musically accomplished.” Meanwhile, Allmusic retroactively graded it 4-stars, noting they were “more polished than some of their rawer brethren” and they dished up “stripped down power pop played with a hardcore sensibility.” To put it simply over four decades later, as the seemingly prophetic Cornwell did in the lyrics “We’ll be called the survivors…y’know why? ‘Cause we’re going to survive!”