Retro Action #20: Proto-Punk & Goth Pioneers: The Doctors of Madness and More

Retro Action #20: Proto-Punk & Goth Pioneers: The Doctors of Madness and More

Doctors of Madness. The name could go a few different ways. It’s either a maniacal moniker that conjures imagery of burning psychosis, a goofy attempt at sounding dark and ominous, or an ironic, post-modern statement of the times. Judging by the overall work of bandleader Richard “Kid” Strange, the answer probably lies somewhere in between.Retro Action #20: Proto-Punk & Goth Pioneers

The lyricist and guitarist formed The Doctors in 1975 as a platform for his reams of curious poetry. After assembling a clutch of like-minded musicians—Urban Blitz (electric violin), Stoner (bass and vocals) and Peter DiLemma (drums)—the Doctors were born and set about crafting their signature sound. A strange hybrid of ’70s rock—glam and prog to be precise—the music goes from flashy and in-your-face to sullen and introspective in a matter of minutes. While Strange’s sardonic delivery and abstract lyrics are a defining factor of the sound, it’s Blitz’s apocalyptic violin riffs that truly set it apart. And it’s this caustic combo that makes this band so hard to pigeonhole.

Doctors of Madness

Songs like “Waiting” and “B-Movie Bedtime” have a swaggering Roxy Music feel, which hits on the glam thing happening at the time. While “The Noises of the Evening” is proggy hard rock, and comes complete with a jammy refrain and off-kilter effects. But again, it’s the eerie violin embellishments that tie it all together, and ultimately give it that proto-goth sound. Coupled with its elaborate fog-drenched stage shows, the band’s presentation was unstoppable.

The Doctors would release three albums before splintering and calling it a day. In 1978, Blitz would leave and be replaced (kind of) by Damned singer Dave Vanian, who had split from his band for a short spell. Vanian’s pedigree as a punk/goth pioneer is iron clad, so having him as a brief addition certainly helps in cementing the band’s place in the goth lexicon. But ultimately, the band lacked the dark visual aura of later goth merchants like Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees to get mentioned in the same breath. The same would be true for its punk status, as it inhabited this ambiguous gray area between glam and punk during the mid ’70s, before anything was clearly defined.

Doctors of Madness

Recently, ace reissue label Cherry Red has reissued the band’s three studio albums in a stealth little box set, Perfect Past: The Complete Doctors of Madness. The band’s debut Late Night Movies All Night Brainstorms (1976) still stands out as its best, showcasing Strange’s idiosyncratic melodies and introducing to the world the sounds of pre-punk mixed with dashes of prog. Figments of Emancipation (1976) and Sons Of Survival (1978) are also included and come complete with a bevy of bonus tracks. The packaging also includes each album in mini-LP style sleeves that replicate the vinyl artwork.

While The Doctors of Madness may have been a little too much, too soon, their distinctive delivery and anti-establishment stance make this release a must-have for collectors in this space.

Another band that tends to get glossed over in goth circles is Alien Sex Fiend. A product of the early ’80s UK scene at the infamous Batcave club, these deviant freaks took the goth imagery of the original scene to new heights with horror-drenched makeup, androgynous threads and an Armageddon-like sound set to a dance beat. Led by mastermind and resident mad man Nik Fiend, the band released several industrial-ish LPs laden with an eerie mix of samples, special effects and twisted guitars, all stitched together by Fiend’s slithery vocals.

Alien Sex Fiend

The band has now released the new comp, Fiendology: 35 Year Trip Through Fiendish History, a 3-CD set that provides a broad overview of the band’s career, and includes faves such as “Smells Like,” “Dead and Re-Buried,” and “Instant Karma Sutra.” The album is comprised of singles, deeper LP cuts and alternative mixes, all for one very low price, making it the perfect intro for the uninitiated. (Cherry Red)

Alien Sex Fiend

For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a note at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. Cheers, Kaz

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