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Music Review: The Only Ones – All Three Albums Re-Released

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It's a fact of life that you have to wait for most good things. Perhaps it is also true that good things always seem to come in threes. To prove the point, The Only Ones have, at long last, had their three original studio albums re-mastered, re-released, and sent out into the world with sparkly new packaging.

Okay, it may have taken about thirty years to really do them justice but believe me, in this case, it was well worth all that patience. Those in the know, that can still remember, will be aware that the opening statement in the album notes for this re-released self-titled debut album is spot on. It says simply, ‘The Only Ones were the best British rock band of the 1970’s and maybe since’.

As statements go, this one is 'in your face' huge. Everyone has opinions of course and many will disagree. However, many more of us who were actually there and experienced the near frenzy caused by an Only Ones gig might well be knowingly nodding in partial middle aged agreement.

Sadly their sales and subsequent reputation both paled next to many of the other bands that emerged during that time. Having said that, the albums they left us are a different matter and a quick blast through this particular time warp shows that they really could rock. By that I mean timeless rock, and not only that, their albums most definitely stand the test of time.

It was 1976 in south London when The Only Ones began to get together. This was, of course, the year of the punk explosion a movement that literally kicked the pompous overblown butt of many a major band and changed the rock world for just about ever.

Despite this, The Only Ones weren’t really punks. The album notes tell us that, ‘they were too clever, too musically literate to be punks – although that is how they were sold at first.’ They add, ‘they were too acidic to be hippies, and too disillusioned with what rock had become to be the conventional Brit hard rock band’.

I like to think of The Only Ones as a sort of Brit cousin of Television. Yet they were horribly overlooked and sadly almost forgotten. Until 2006, that is. That was the year that the band rose from its grave when one of their best known tracks, “Another Girl, Another Planet” was resurrected by an ageing adman and appeared on a television mobile phone advert.

Suddenly, we all woke up from our slumbers and remembered one of the ‘best British rock bands of the 1970’s’. What followed was a reunion, a brief tour of the UK, a couple of festival appearances, and some substantiated rumours of a new album.

Then came the release of a new DVD recorded during a gig at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire. Finally, Sony BMG gave these three original albums a very welcome work over. It has to be said they have made an excellent job of them. Each ones comes with additional long lost goodies in the form of bonus tracks and informative background notes.

All this good stuff is now topped off with news, on the bands' official website, that they are due back in the studio to record a new album. In the meantime, these superbly produced re-masters will act as the perfect appetizer for those that were there and have scratched their vinyl copies to death, or even those that want to hear some great rock music played by one of the very best.

The Only Ones was their debut eponymous album. It escaped into an unsuspecting world in 1978. Remembering that this was a time that Punk was in full spit, they instead opened with a smooth acoustically driven ballad “The Whole Of The Law”. It even had a saxophone solo and words of love rather than anything obviously anarchic.

Its very unpunkness shows the band's tendency to buck trend and separate it from the pack. Dig a little deeper though and you see that the title comes from a quote from 'the wickedest man in the world’ himself, satanist Aleister Crowley. They even include a track “The Beast” which appeared later on in the album. 

The Only Ones had announced their arrival and underlined it with the excellent “Another Girl, Another Planet” the song that was to prove pivotal years later when the advert had people saying ‘who the hell is that?’

The re-mastering adds even more edge and with three bonus tracks, you just can’t go wrong. “Breaking Down”, with its jazzy bass and electric piano solo is yet another standout. Two punkish tracks do appear with “Language Problem” and “City Of Fun”, but they are blended in with say, “It’s The Truth” a track that is almost Americana in contrast.

The following year saw the release of Even Serpents Shine. It featured a guest role from John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick on keys and even had UK Sounds magazine brilliantly describing it as ‘very superb’.

By now the so called New Wave of British Heavy Metal was giving rise to the likes of Judas Priest, Witchfynde, and Iron Maiden. Once again The Only Ones were, err the only ones seemingly able to produce something altogether more eloquent, more articulate, more meaningful, and even now thirty years on, more memorable. They were really living up to the UK Television tag.

Unfortunately, not everyone agreed with Sounds magazine and with half the world being swept along into such ongoing horrors as disco, and mainstream chart fodder, The Only Ones suffered to get their due recognition. Even Serpents Shine is, I feel, their finest hour. It has aged extremely well especially as they had ditched the occasional punk forays displayed on the first album. By doing so they ensured its timelessness.

Sadly, despite so much to recommend it, sales were disappointing. Listening to it now, it's hard to understand, but I guess the mainstream music world was suffering from some kind of virus in 1979 threatening to leave some of the real quality behind.

Many have drawn their inspiration in part from The Only Ones. Consciously, in the case of Echo And The Bunnymen, or unconsciously, as was often the case, for The Libertines. For one random stab at an example of this, check out “In Betweens”.

Again the album notes sum it up well by saying, ‘they were both ahead of their time and in a way behind it’. Certainly they were cool, clever, and single minded. Three more bonus tracks make this album even richer.

1980 saw the last album Baby’s Got A Gun. This really was a make or break as far as the suits at the record label were concerned. It’s artistic merit was unquestionable but unfortunately money makes the vinyl go round and in this case it didn’t go round far enough. I still love “Me And My Shadow” and it remains as fresh as ever.

Sadly, the band split up in 1981 and it proved the last of a trio of albums that were long overdo a proper makeover. At last this has been put right and to get the real story log on to the bands website to read interviews from the inside.

Sony have done justice to these gems. If the sales were as disappointing as the album notes state then even I can work out that many of you won’t have bought them. Well, it's time to put that right. You won’t be disappointed.

Follow the links above to catch up that new album from The Only Ones.

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About Jeff Perkins