Monday, September 14, 2009

September 14: The Saints, "(I'm) Stranded"

Artist: The Saints
Album: (I'm) Stranded
Year: 1977
Label: EMI/Sire

While many feel that the argument for "who" was the first contemporary punk band is only between The Ramones and The Sex Pistols, the truth of the matter is, there is a third band in the equation who are rarely factored into the conversation. Coming close on the heels of the debut record from The Ramones and easily beating The Sex Pistols to the streets, Australian punkers, The Saints, remain one of the few acts of the era that still play to this day. Bringing just as much simple, angst fueled music as their contemporaries, The Saints gradually transitioned into a more rock based band as the years passed. However, their early singles and first three albums are absolute punk classics, and easily hold their own with the more commercially successful punk albums of the time. Though they may have seemed like "just another punk band" in the U.S. and the U.K. at the time, the truth of the matter is, in the late 1970's, there were simply no bands in Australia making the story of music that was being played by The Saints. Perfectly fusing together the sounds of The Stooges and Velvet Underground, The Saints present a punk sound that is clearly at home among the music of the more well known bands of the genre. Providing all of the energy and volume that one could want, The Saints not only began the punk explosion on their own country, but, from a more modern view, can clearly be seen as one of the most important acts that moved the genre forward. Led by the hit single of the same name, The Saints 1977 full length debut, (I'm) Stranded, remains one of the finest and most important albums ever recorded.

Easily one of the most influential songs in the history of the punk genre, the single, "(I'm) Stranded" was released in September of 1976, months before anything would be heard from the likes of The Sex Pistols, The Clash, or any other of the seminal punk bands. It is from this single that one can make the argument for The Saints place among the greatest punk bands ever, as the speed and spirit behind the song represents everything that those later bands made famous. The single is easily one of the greatest ever, and at the time, Sounds magazine writer, John Ingham wrote of it, "...for some reason, Australian record companies think the band lack commercial potential. What a bunch of idiots. You like Quo or The Ramones? This pounds them into the dirt. Hear it once and you'll never forget it." His comments are amazingly accurate, as the song has a brilliant hook, no dead space, and a sense of urgency that would define the entire punk movement. However, the band has their own unique sound, and it is a sound that evokes memories of an earlier, equally important Aussie band, The Easybeats. The chorus screams of their influence, and it is one of the many aspects that makes this song so fantastic. Along with the perfect vocal delivery, each of the four band members play flawlessly, and one cannot deny their place among the finest punk musicians in history.

Sticking to the time tested, simple four man lineup, the group creates more noise and energy than groups with far more members. Easily the most important piece of the bands music, guitarist Ed Kuepper's crunching and crushing playing truly embodies everything that make spunk rock great. Truth be told, few punk guitarists were able to bring the controlled ferocity that Kuepper brings on every song, and it is also Kuepper who served as the groups' primary song writer. Due to his massive importance and role within The Saints, in the end, it would be Kuepper's departure from the band that served as the catalyst for the bands' transition into a more rock based group. Drummer Ivor Hay plays brilliantly throughout (I'm Stranded), doing all he can to keep up with the breakneck pace set by Kuepper. Hay succeeds on every track, and he is clearly more musically inclined than a majority of his contemporaries, and this helps the songs of The Saints to have more latitude in the music which they play. With songs like the wonderfully bluesy, "Messin' With The Kid" (which is strangely reminiscent of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door") to the beautifully written "Story Of Love," The Saints proved that they were far more than "just another punk band." Bassist Kym Bradshaw rounds out the band musically, and the manner in which he interacts with Kuepper and Hay perfectly completes their sound, as he is able to work in and around them on every song. After hearing (I'm) Stranded, one simply cannot deny just how important The Saints were as a band, as they remain one of the only punk acts of the era who were able to present songs beyond the standard "fast, three note" style.

Though the music found on (I'm) Stranded, is everything one could want in a great punk record, it is the vocal work of Chris Bailey that takes the music to the next level. The only member of the band to still be active, Bailey possesses one of the greatest "rock star" voices anywhere in music history, and his influence on later singers like Tex Perkins and many others cannot be denied. With a fantastic combination of gritty, snearing singing and a high energy spoken vocal that is truly the perfect balance between Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, there are few punk frontman who sound as amazing as Bailey. It would be a later incarnation of the band, still led by Bailey, that would make their comparison to The Easybeats even more apparent, as the 1988 lineup of The Saints covered The Easybeat's classic, "The Music Goes Round My Head," which would be featured on the soundtrack to the film Young Einstein. Lyrically, The Saints were again similar to a majority of punk bands, as they sang angry anthems about girls, love, and the general frustration of being young. While some of the songs are as straightforward and "standard" as possible, like "Wild About You," there are other songs that are, for lack of a better word, strange. The title is not just a clever name, as the song "Kissin' Cousins" is one of the more amusingly odd songs anywhere within the punk genre. It is moments like this, as well as the previously mentioned blues based numbers that further set The Saints aside from their contemporaries and solidify their standing as one of the most important bands in music history.

Whether it is the stunning, crushing guitar riff on "No Time" or the almost Mick Jagger-like vocals found on the same song, Australian punk pioneers, The Saints, were far more than "just another punk band." With far more musical talent and vision than an overwhelming majority of their peers, the band constantly pushed to move beyond the simple conventions of the punk genre. The combination of Ed Kuepper's fantastic guitar playing and the sensational vocal delivery of Chris Bailey give The Saints a sound like no other band in music history. Kuepper proves to be one of the finest writers as well, as both his music and lyrics remain some of the finest and most diverse ever. Able to execute standard punk as well as more soulful blues, The Saints sound is often stunning and was clearly a massive influence on countless bands that followed. Beaten to the punch only by The Ramones, The Saints stand as one of the earliest, and finest examples of the sound that became the "punk explosion" of 1977 and the impact of the bands' music was felt all around the world. Containing some of the most original and amazing music of the era, The Saints 1977 full length debut, (I'm) Stranded is an undeniable musical masterpiece and remains one of the tragically lesser known, yet absolutely phenomenal albums ever recorded.

Standout tracks: "(I'm) Stranded," "Messin' With The Kid," and "Story Of Love."

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