In the field of first-wave UK punk rock, The Boys were a true force to be reckoned with. Armed with a knack for infectious hooks, a wry sense of humor, reams of punk pedigree, and even a bit of star quality, The Boys seemingly had it all. But as fate would have it, the band was rife with bad luck. And being constantly at odds with the status quo didn’t help—the band was too pop for the hardcore set, yet too punk for pop purists. Now, a major portion of the band’s canon has been reissued as part of a deluxe box set, and it’s long overdue (more on that in just a few).
Coming together in 1975, the band was formed by singer and guitarist Matt Dangerfield and keyboardist Casino Steel (ex-glam/punk legends, The Hollywood Brats). The pair then soon recruited Dangerfield’s old college friend, guitarist “Honest” John Plain. Auditions were later held for bass and drums respectively, with Duncan “Kid” Reid (bass), and Jack Black (drums), soon joining the ranks.
Dangerfield had been a major player in the early UK punk scene, playing host to many future punk stars, such as members of The Damned, The Clash, the Sex Pistols, and Generation X at his home recording studio. He had also previously played with the band London SS (“SS” for “Social Security”) along with The Clash’s Mick Jones and Generation X’s Tony James.
The band made its live debut toward the end of ’76, armed with a reserve of raucous pop punk numbers and a strong image that made them stand-outs in the blossoming new UK punk scene. In 1977, the band signed a five-year deal with NEMS Records, and became the first British punk band to score and sustain an actual album deal. (At this point, The Damned had a deal with Stiff Records for a single and the Sex Pistols had already been dropped by EMI, so The Boys were actually the first out of the gate.)
The deal would ultimately turn out to be a curse in the band’s career, in part because NEMS was distributed by RCA, which was devoting all of its resources to the back catalog of the recently deceased Elvis Presley. And thus, RCA put little resources into the band, leaving NEMS even more strapped for cash. Then when major label Polydor attempted to purchase the band’s contract, NEMS refused—so the band was stuck in a seemingly dead-end situation. But all was not lost, as The Boys made some great records along the way.
The band’s eponymous debut hit the streets in 1977. A blast of frantic guitar bits, punchy rhythms, and keyboard enhancements, are all embellished by the band’s hook-laden and idiosyncratic melodies—making the album a landmark of early punk rock. Much of the credit should be given to the songwriting flair of Dangerfield and Steel, who demonstrated an obvious knack for crafting sharp three-minute tunes. Featuring the numbers like “I Don’t Care” and a sneering cover of the Hollywood Brats’ “Sick On You,” the album has aged quite well. And upon its release, the record even cracked the British Top 50, which was quite an achievement for any punk band at the time.
The band’s sophomore effort, Alternative Chartbusters came out in 1978, and provided an excellent follow-up to the debut. Opening with the Phil Spector-esque “Brickfield Nights” the album twists and turns through a variety of styles, from straight-up punk to power-pop and Motown. Anthems “Cast of Thousands” and “Neighborhood Brats,” sit well with the sarcastic “Do the Contract Hustle.”
The next year would prove to be a tough one for The Boys. The band’s third album, which was to be titled Junk, was recorded, but NEMS refused to pay the studio bill, so the master tapes were held in limbo. The band would spend over a year getting out of its contract and would eventually sign with Safari Records. The official third album, To Hell With The Boys was recorded in Norway. Considered by many to be the band’s creative zenith, the album kicks off with the energized instrumental “Sabre Dance,” which segues into the reggae-flavored “Rue Morgue.” “Terminal Love,” a knock-off of (or homage to) Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” while “See You Later” is full on glam-pop with the obligatory handclaps, and the epic ballad “You Can’t Hurt A Memory” is not dissimilar to something John Lennon would’ve penned.
In 1980, Casino Steel was deported back to Norway (his native country), and the band carried on as a four-piece. Their final studio offering Boys Only failed to sell and was panned by critics, in spite of featuring the addictive, bubble-punk nugget “Weekend” and the single “Let It Rain,” which would turn out to be the band’s last. Following the commercial failure of the album, Safari dropped the band from its roster, eventually prompting it to pack it in.
The Boys have since reformed a few times with various line-ups, while Plain and Steel have been involved with separate projects and solo outings. Cherry Red Records in conjunction with punk archivist label Captain Oi! have just put out a stellar box set featuring releases from the band’s tenure with Safari Records. The aptly titled The Boys… On Safari, features 71 tracks across five CDs, including original album releases along with a slew of bonuses, and a booklet. It also includes the rare Christmas satire album by the band’s alter-ego, The Yobs, which finds the band poking fun at both the season and itself in true punk fashion. Unfortunately, the band’s first two offerings, its eponymous debut and Alternative Chartbusters but those have been reissued separately, and don’t technically qualify, since they came out on the NEMS label. Pity, that.
For a closer look at early first-wave punk and some of its pop leanings, The Boys are an essential place to start.
For questions, comments, or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. Cheers, Kaz