If 1976 was year zero for punk rock in the U.K. with the Sex Pistols and Clash blowing up and taking over the music press, 1977 was the year record shops were flooded with singles by all sorts of bands capitalizing on the sound, fury, and attitude of punk. Cherry Red's 1977: The Year Punk Broke is a chronologically chosen three-disc selection of singles that touches on some of the biggest releases of the year plus loads of tracks that still sound rough and ready by bands who didn't stand the test of time. It kicks off with the Buzzcocks' "Boredom," which was an influential track sonically and commercially as it gave other people the idea to release their records totally independently. There are certainly plenty of songs here that were released by tiny labels, though quite a few were issued by large entities like EMI and Sony, too. It didn't matter who put the records out -- what really did make a difference was that the loud guitars, snotty vocals, and primitive sounds presented a clear alternative to the overly slick rock sounds of the day.
The selections chosen here are fascinating and show that while many bands did just want to sound as punk as possible -- aka just like the Sex Pistols -- there were even more bands taking the opportunity to do something new and exciting. They amped up their pub rock style like Graham Parker does on "The New York Shuffle," supercharged their boogie rock like the Gorillas do on "Gatecrasher," or covered oldies as weirdly as possible like Chartreuse's take on the Kinks' "You Really Got Me." Some groups crank out super-hooky power pop (the Boys' "I Don't Care") or jacked-up garage rock (the Cortinas' "Defiant Pose"), while others dole out taut and melodic rock & roll (Spider's "Back to the Wall"), and the occasional oddball verged on the avant-garde like John Cooper Clarke with his jaunty street poetry and skronky noise.
Of course, there were plenty of bands making straight punk rock, and 1977 rounds up some of the best. At the top of the pile are the Damned (whose "Neat Neat Neat" is practically a blueprint), but bands like Satan's Rats, the Lurkers, and 999 aren't too far from the top. The collection does a fine job showing how the punk sound wasn't quite monolithic (yet) and there was room for bruised romantics like the Only Ones, old hippies like Larry Wallis, and even a woman or two. X-Ray Spex's brilliantly caterwauling "Oh Bondage Up Yours!" proved that punk wasn't a complete boys club, just mostly. Along with all the solid gold there are some chintzy knockoffs and parodies, but luckily the compilers kept those to a bare minimum just to show they existed. These few tracks are certainly skippable and they don't detract from the raw, rugged, and real history lesson the rest of the collection provides. 1977 was a vanguard year for music, and Cherry Red does a brilliant job excavating and polishing the gems, both obvious and obscure.