NO THANKS! THE '70s PUNK REBELLION - Various Artists (Rhino)
In choosing to document punk rock, whose very boundaries are still blurred nearly 30 years on, it's certainly forgivable to think that Rhino may well have embarked on a mission that was doomed to failure from the start, both from a philosophical and practical standpoint. Time constraints, licensing snafus (John Lydon purportedly refused to permit the inclusion of any Sex Pistols' tunes - Rhino rates the purchase of "Never Mind The Bollocks" as more essential than this one anyway), and a lot of hand wringing were all undoubtedly obstacles to be hurdled in compiling this four-disc box.
Despite such a daunting task, Rhino for the most part manages to come up all aces on "No Thanks! The '70s Punk Rebellion," dancing a razor's edge by adopting an approach which allows for the inclusion of bands that were originally tagged with the more palatable "new wave" label, crusty, true believers in the cause, and record collector geek-fodder alike. In order to buy into what Rhino is selling, you may have to suspend some of your beliefs as to what "punk" actuall is/was.
It's inevitable that most of the attention is paid to the nerve centers of New York and London and except for the Sex Pistols, all of the usual suspects are present and accounted for. The Clash, Ramones, The Damned, The Heartbreakers, The Buzzcocks, Richard Hell, The Stranglers, Television, and Generation X all take a bow (or two) and rightfully so, but kudos to Rhino for looking to other places on the globe, like Ohio (Dead Boys, Devo, and Pere Ubu), Australia (The Saints), Ireland (Boomtown Rats, The Undertones, and Stiff Little Fingers), and Scotland (The Rezillos). Shame on them for including so many songs that were previously available on their "D.I.Y." series back in the early 90's.
"No Thanks!" also lifts a pint to bands without whom this compilation wouldn't even exist, like The Stooges, The New York Dolls, and yes, The Dictators. On the other hand (are you sitting down?), where's the MC5? Another sticking point, for me anyway, is the inclusion of Californians like Black Flag, Fear, Dead Kennedys, The Dils, and The Germs, all worthy of the "punk" brand, but their staunch nihilism is somehow out of place here. I say that disc space would have been better filled with Plastic Bertrand's "Ca Plane Pour Moi," The Professionals' "1-2-3" or "The Magnificent," Chelsea's "Right To Work," or anything by Radio Birdman. Of course I was also fooled by the first few Buster Poindexter albums, so proceed with caution.
Arguing over what rightfully qualifies or doesn't qualify as "punk" may be part of the attraction of a compendium like this. Obvious margin walkers would have to include Nick Lowe, Mink Deville, The Runaways, Blondie, Elvis Costello, The Pretenders, The Soft Boys, and Joe Jackson, all of whom made the cut due to either an abrasive attitude, enduring cult status, a snappy wardrobe, or the right haircut. As for the Talking Heads, I still say the world would have been a better place had they never entered a recording studio.
At the end of the day, though, we should all genuflect to Rhino for their single-minded and undying devotion to their subject matter. And when it comes to packaging and reissues, there is simply no one better. "No Thanks!" contains a 100-plus-page booklet crammed full of essays by producer Gary Stewart and Billboard's Chris Morris, quotes from several of the culprits responsible for the noise, photos galore, and a track-by-track analysis by Ira Robbins and Dave Schulps, whose Trouser Press took up the slack heroically and brilliantly in the late 70's when Creem was going down the shitter.
Add to all of this the fact that this box contains tracks by the likes of the Rich Kids, Subway Sect, The Mekons, Alternative TV, and The Pop Group which are getting harder and harder to find stateside, and what you're left with is a no-brainer. At this point in my life, that's a godsend. - Clark Paull
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