When The Damned burst on to the scene in a flurry of three-chord riffs and jet-propelled rhythm they did so with a backing of London’s cultural elite. They were another punk band chomping at the bit to reach a national audience.
They finally reached a national, and quite possibly global, audience with the release of their single ‘New Rose’—a track that would influence thousands of musicians after it’s release in 1976. But perhaps more important was the band’s cover of The Beatles’ classic ‘Help!’.
It may well be considered a classic, it’s even one of John Lennon’s favourite songs the band ever did, but that didn’t stop it, or The Beatles, from being caught in the burning lasers vision of punk’s arthouse elite. The track would go on to be eviscerated by the new intensity bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned were getting out of the reduction of music as an expert craft.
The Fab Four for many punks may well have been a secret inspiration but the group, along with Elvis Presley, were a part of the old generation and were therefore open hunting. For example, when Johnny Rotten was asked for a comment on Presley’s then-recent death, he replied: “Fuckin’ good riddance to bad rubbish. I don’t give a fucking shit, and nobody else does either. It’s just fun to fake sympathy, that’s all they’re doin’.”
The Damned were a similar sneering advisory to the past when they took to the stage or studio. The group were charged with distinctly more post-modern lunacy than most other acts. The Clash were political, Sex Pistols had pure aggression at their beckoned call, The Damned were just a bit manic—and it worked.
It was an enticing proposition encapsulated in the LP cover for their debut record Damned, Damned, Damned. The album would include the group’s lead single and arguably one of the greatest punk rock songs of all time, ‘New Rose’. With Dave Vanian’s introduction mirroring The Shangri Las song ‘Leader of the Pack’ perhaps we all should have expected the B-side to be another homage.
Homage may be a bit strong. In fact, rather than pay tribute to The Beatles’ 1965 song that adorned the B-side, The Damned totally torched it. A complete amalgamation of the song Vanian and co add a powerful vibrancy that the original certainly missed. It’s not the cleanest recording you’ll ever hear—it wasn’t meant to be.
The performance is a perfect tableau of punk at the time of recording. In 1976, as the genre began to find its feet outside of the capital, the band may well have been reaching for a way to explain their act (and punk in general) the simplest and purest way possible.
For that, there’s no better than The Damned’s cover of The Beatles’ 1965 classic ‘Help!’