Ronco’s Street Level was marketed under the “20 New Wave Hits” tagline. I vaguely remember the television advert sometime during the middle of 1980. They didn’t mention the slight drop in volume 30 seconds into No More Heroes. Or the slightly muffled edge to Brass In Pocket. Or the edits to a selected number of tracks:
“To ensure the highest quality reproduction the running times of some of the titles as originally released have been changed“.
All things I didn’t notice at the time.
Back then I found punks scary and intimidating. But I was curious about the aggressive music and why it annoyed my parents and other adults. I wore badges from Madness and The Exploited to my weekly badminton session. People get sniffy about Street Level now – you see hipsters with raised eyebrows being condescending and referring to it as “edgy”. But back in early 1983, this was a gateway drug, a way into the forbidden punk and new wave sounds. Naturally I had to make do with a third generation taped copy; it would be some years before I finally picked up the vinyl. Or was it fourth generation?
It starts with an assault; the nihilistic war cries of Pretty Vacant. The Sex Pistols were finished before I knew them; deader than Bambi’s bloodied corpse. The uneasy menace of the Stranglers’ No More Heroes – big and bouncy like the soft- porn magazines on the top shelf of Moran Brothers. Brass In Pocket, the first new number one of 1980 – all tough on the outside, heart-breaking within. And a lovely jazzy vibe on Reasons To Be Cheerful Part III before the desperate yet doomed melody of The Skids’ Circus Games. Meanwhile Ever Fallen In Love gatecrashes in; a furious and fast slice of pop thrash.
Things get deep with Magazine’s brooding Sweetheart Contract before the wild squall of Wendy O. Williams and The Plasmatics on their 1978 pounder Butcher Baby. Also from the Year of the Three Popes comes the caustic Public Image and Blondie’s sarky Denis. “Public image
Two sides to every story
Somebody had to stop me
I’m not the same as when I began
I will not be treated as property”
Side 2: try a little tenderness on the Boomtown Rats’ thoughtful Someone’s Looking At You, all Bruced-up where anything goes but phone wreckers are idiots. By 1983 War Baby was a favourite of mine but 2, 4, 6, 8 Motorway was Tom Robinson’s Band at full tilt. It’s a synth selection to spoil us: Gary Numan and the hypnotic We Are Glass followed by ex-Ultravox man John Foxx’s Underpass. Side by side and played together in Sweeney’s earlier this year.
What makes Street Level so memorable is the next tune; A Walk In The Walk from the Nick Straker Band. In cahoots – former roadie, Tony Mansfield from New Musik. Have a look at last week’s Star Traks for more about them. It’s an electronic drum delight; a misfire in 1979, a top 20 hit the following year. The home stretch continues with XTC’s angular Making Plans For Nigel and Generation X’s snotty-nosed Valley Of The Dolls.
The Members’ Sound Of The Suburbs lent its name to a famous compilation for a slightly younger generation – Columbia’s fine effort from 1991 with shares a number of common tracks. Sound… was produced by Steve Lillywhite and is a slammer. There’s just time for the manic / thrilling cover of the Banana Splits theme by The Dickies. And lastly it’s Jona Lewie with the shimmering shuffle of You Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties.
“Then I met this debutante, I said that I like new wave rock
She was into French cuisine but I ain’t no Cordon Bleu”
The Members – The Sound Of The Suburbs
The Skids – Circus Games
Boomtown Rats – Someone’s Looking At You
Lest we forget
Nick Straker Band – A Walk In The Park