The first British magazine devoted exclusively to rock was called ZigZag, and was first published in 1969. A man by the name of Pete Frame was the editor, and he later became famous for his “Family Trees,” with which he chronicled the evolution of bands and individual artists. ZigZag had a troubled history, mostly due to financial woes caused by their focus on obscure underground artists. Unfortunately, putting Captain Beefheart on the cover did not move many copies off the newsstand.
Kris Needs took over as editor in 1977, and focused completely on the burgeoning punk scene. With covers such as the February 1978 one featuring an unbelievably hot Debbie Harry, the magazine actually became successful. More importantly – his wit, intelligence, and devotion to all things punk brought him the type of respect money cannot buy.
So when I came across Kris Needs Presents…Dirty Water: The Birth Of Punk Attitude, I was immediately intrigued. And sure enough, he got it right. Do not be fooled by the use of the word “Punk“ in the title. This is not a punk rock collection at all. Rather, the 33 songs on this two-disc set are filled with what one might term “outsiders.” Various artist collections are typically hampered by licensing issues, and there probably were difficulties in getting clearance to include certain tracks. But as something of an ultimate “mix-tape,” Kris Needs shines a bright light on loads of brilliant material.
For example, there is no way in hell The Last Poets could ever be considered punk. But their song “On The Subway” brings the noise in a way that had a profound impact on a young Chuck D – before he formed Public Enemy. Without The Last Poets, there may not have been a Hip-Hop Nation. The point is arguable, to be sure. The one thing that there is no argument about is just how potent this piece was, and still is.
Let’s face it though, the majority of people who will pick up Dirty Water will do so because of the use of the word “Punk” in the title. After reading the book I Slept With Joey Ramone by Joey’s brother Mickey Leigh, I know for a fact that the song “Dirty Water” by The Standells had a huge impact on him.
For such a collection of obscurities, there are actually quite a number of famous names included. T. Rex is represented with a live version of “Elemental Child.” The MC5, Sun Ra, New York Dolls, and even Gene Vincent are also present. The real fun comes with wonderful weirdos such as Jook, David Peel or The Pink Fairies though. These are the type of cuts that illustrate the point Needs is making. Specifically, it is that the attitude of anti-authoritarianism (which we now call punk) has been around for a very long time.
The final two songs both hail from 1977. Both were hugely influential in their own right. We get The Saints’ “I’m Stranded,” which just kicks ass. But I like the way Needs signs off. He uses what has become something of a Rasta anthem: “Two Sevens Clash” by the reggae band Culture.
In Rastafarian literature the number seven is not good. In fact, it is analogous to six for the Christians, as in 666. When Culture wrote and sang “Two Sevens Clash” in 1977, it was written in apocalyptic terms. Not only is the tune one of the finest the genre ever produced, you know these guys absolutely believed every word of it.
A great deal has occurred in the world during the 34 years since “Two Sevens Clash.” Punk as a genre mutated into new wave, hardcore, and later grunge. Dirty Water reminds us of where it all began. One could make a pretty valid argument that punk attitude goes all the way back to Robert Johnson, or even earlier. Does not matter. This is a great collection of music, and the 76-page book that accompanies it is insanely informative, and totally makes Needs’ case. Dirty Water: The Birth Of Punk Attitude is one of the coolest sets it has ever been my good fortune to stumble across.