The 101'ers never released a proper album while they were together, only turning out one single, a terrific pub rocker called "Keys to Your Heart." They probably would have remained a pub rock footnote for much longer if it hadn't been for lead singer Joe Strummer, whose massive success with the Clash led to an independent release (spearheaded by Strummer and 101'ers drummer Snake Hips Dudanski) of Elgin Avenue Breakdown in 1981. This release wasn't quite an album proper: it contained the remnants of three demo sessions, including one recorded at the BBC, and a live audience tape, all shuffled and spit out seemingly at random. It was a chaotic mess, but since the 101'ers never recorded a proper album, it was loved by Clash diehards and pub rockers alike, and it was all the more cherished because it was hard to find. Outside of its original brief appearance on vinyl in 1981 it drifted in and out of print on CDs of questionable legality over the next two decades, before Astralwerks buckled down and issued a greatly overhauled and expanded version of the album called Elgin Avenue Breakdown Revisited in 2005.
Astralwerks used the original running order as a mere guideline, adding previously released and unreleased tracks to the mix, bringing it up to a grand total of 20 tracks, representing the great majority of all the known recordings the band made during its brief existence (there are new live versions of "Shake Your Hips" and "Junco Partner" that differ from those on the first version of Elgin Avenue Breakdown). Since this album was a hodgepodge of demos, studio recordings, BBC sessions, and live audience tapes, having the sequencing shifted around so much doesn't matter much because it always was a ragged collection -- and that raggedness fit a band a loose as this. The 101'ers were a down and dirty rock & roll group, but that doesn't mean they were a punk band, despite Strummer's presence as a leader. They were a pub rock band, firmly within the tradition of such high-energy, ballsy pub groups as Ducks Deluxe, Eddie & the Hot Rods, and Dr. Feelgood. Like those groups, at the foundation of the 101'ers sound were Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones, classic American blues and R&B, and garage rock. In concert, they kicked out a lot of covers -- represented here by Chuck Berry's "Maybelline," Bo Diddley's "Don't Let It Go," Them's "Gloria," the New Orleans standard "Junco Partner" (later revived by the Clash), the Stones' "Out of Time," and Slim Harpo's "Shake Your Hips," which owes a great deal to the Stones version on Exile on Main St., even in this live version -- and they wrote new songs in the same vein. Even when their originals were generic, they were endearingly so, and some of Strummer's songs were quite excellent, particularly "Letsagetabitarockin," "Silent Telephone," "Sweety of the St. Moritz," and "Keys to Your Heart," which is included here in both its Chiswick single and BBC version. Revisited features several previously unreleased original tunes, too, and they're all good: the churning "Hideaway," the piledriving "Steamgauge 99," and the tense Dan Kelleher-sung "Keep Taking the Tablets" are standouts among these, and Clash fanatics will be thrilled by hearing the chorus of "Jail Guitar Doors" as the chorus for "Lonely Mothers Son."
Again, it must be stressed that this is not punk rock -- it's the roots of punk, and it's possible to hear germinations of the Clash's debut here, but this is for die-hard rock & rollers who love everything from Chuck Berry to the Stones to the Shadows of Knight to the MC5 to Eddie & the Hot Rods (which makes it especially puzzling why Astralwerks, a label not known for its love of pure rock & roll, put this out, since it's pretty much the opposite of their entire catalog). For that group, this is pretty close to essential listening -- it may be rough, but it's right. It's as close to a definitive 101'ers retrospective as you'll ever get, and it's as easy to love in all its ragged glory now as when it first sneaked out on vinyl in 1981.