Song: "West One (Shine On Me)"
Album: Grin And Bear It
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Though the overall list is quite long, there are a handful of bands from music history that stand far above the rest when it comes to the question of "how was this not the biggest band in the world?" With each band having their own special circumstances for being in this category, there are also a number of groups for whom this question has no answer. In many cases, bands that fit this description were making music during one of the periods of great change within music, yet for one reason or another, in retrospect, they stand out so far from their peers, that it simply does not make sense that they remain comparatively unknown. In the overall picture of music history, there is perhaps no band that better fits this scenario than one of the truly amazing and sonically brilliant groups of the late 1970's punk explosion: The Ruts. Taking the attitude of punk and infusing it with a heavy dub feel, as well as bringing a pop sensibility like no other band of the genre, the group only released a pair of records before lead singer Malcolm Owen met a tragic fate, yet every song on these two albums is absolutely fantastic. Responsible for one of the all-time punk classics, "Staring At The Rude Boys," The Ruts took on every aspect of society in their music, and after hearing just one song, anyone can realize that this group was far beyond any of their peers. While each song in their catalog is truly amazing, no song better portrays The Ruts' ability to walk the line between punk, dub, and pop than what would be their final single: the absolutely superb, "West One (Shine On Me)."
In reality, there are actually two rather distinct versions of "West One (Shine On Me)," as one of the biggest differences between The Ruts and most other punk bands was the fact that their songs were musically superior and were rarely the "standard" two-minute punk style. The full version of the song runs nearly six minutes, placing a spectacular musical breakdown about two-thirds of the way through the song, and clearly, a song of this length is rarely "radio friendly." Pulling out this breakdown, as well as other portions of the music, the 7" version of "West One (Shine On Me)" clocks in and just under three minutes, yet still manages to convey all of the power, emotion, and musical brilliance of the song. From the moment the song begins, it is clear that The Ruts are also far beyond their peers in the fact that they are always moving as a single musical unit, and the tone and sound they create is rarely anything short of moving. "West One (Shine On Me)" is no different, and the uniquely-toned guitar from the late Paul Fox is easily one of the most distinctive aspects of the bands' music, and on this song, it also brings an overwhelming sense of urgency. Working in just as powerful a manner, John "Segs" Jennings winds his bass around the guitar and drums and his progressions have clearly influenced countless players in the years that followed. Truth be told, drummer Dave Ruffy rarely sounded as fantastic as he does here, and the amazing pace, combined with his unique fills catapult him high atop the list of punk drummers. The solos, particularly those from Fox, are another way in which the group is like none of their peers, and these breakdowns and solos stand among the finest ever of any musical genre.
Much like the music of his bandmates, the voice of Malcolm Owen is like nothing else in music history, and it stands as one of the most perfect combinations of music and vocals. It is almost impossible to understand without experiencing firsthand, but Owen's voice truly "just fits" with the music over which he sings, and the way he approaches the vocal is also nothing short of musical perfection. Finding an ideal balance between grit and clear singing, Malcolm Owen also conveys all the emotion one can take on every one of The Ruts' songs, and his work on "West One (Shine On Me)" is no different. It is within his singing that one can understand just how intense the live performances of The Ruts must have been, as each word demands the utmost attention, and the tension builds and builds before exploding at each chorus, making the song far beyond "just a punk song." Bringing images of everything from a cold, dark London night to a bar packed full of patrons and bright lights, Owen conveys amazing moods, and when the entire band joins in for harmonies, The Ruts prove to truly be a band like no other in any genre in history. This overall mood that was far beyond anything else at the time, combined with the unmistakable voice of Owen was able to power "West One (Shine On Me)" onto the U.K. singles chart, and the song remains one of the highlights of the bands' extraordinary catalog.
Perhaps one of the reasons that The Ruts remain comparatively forgotten in music history is simply because they did not quite fit properly into any musical genre. While the attitude behind their music was clearly that of punk rock, the music itself was far more rock and roll and every song has an undeniable pop sensibility. Furthermore, the group was leaps and bounds beyond the "three chord" approach, as their songs were far lengthier and more musically complex than nearly anything else that even resembled punk. Each of the three musicians in the band was unquestionably talented, and the fact that on every song, they are each so musically creative is the final piece that makes The Ruts the most "unpunk" punk band in history. Bringing this amazing sound together, and adding in the uniquely fantastic voice of Malcolm Owen, more than three decades after their first album was released, the songs of The Ruts are still just as powerful and refreshing. Truth be told, there has rarely been a band since that brings as much emotion and musical power as The Ruts, and even less are able to do so with as original and consistent a sound. From the extraordinary tone and solos of Paul Fox to the playing of what is unquestionably one of the greatest rhythm sections in music history, few bands from any genre can compare to the awesome power of The Ruts, and everything that makes this band so phenomenal is captured on their final single, 1980's magnificent "West One (Shine On Me)."