Forty years ago this month a scruffy Australian foursome called The Saints recorded their debut single, “(I’m) Stranded” b/w “No Time” and unknowingly gave birth to the prototype for a movement that would eventually discard them for not fitting in.
That record – which gave title to the band’s debut album, (I’m) Stranded – was likely the first punk single recorded, before the Sex Pistols, The Damned or the Ramones*, yet that fact is constantly disregarded by those who believe (get this!) there’s a certain order to accepted punk rock history and it shouldn’t be messed with.
A quick recap of The Saints’ history shows that Chris Bailey (vocals), Ed Kuepper (guitar), Kym Bradshaw (bass) and Ivor Hay (drums) formed a band in Brisbane, Australia in 1974. There were no clubs featuring bands playing original music (much like today) so The Saints booked halls and created their own gigs. Eventually word got out that there was a hot young band playing gritty, loud, fast songs of their own that spoke to working class youth and with a growing following the band decided to put out a record. That 7″ appeared on their own Fatal Records in Australia and led to an independent UK release that eventually reached the English arm of global EMI Records, who promptly signed them to a deal. By this time The Damned and Sex Pistols had already been signed and released their own debut singles. The Saints relocated to London after recording the album (which the band thought was actually a demo), gigged and got written about, recorded a second album with a horn section (the amazing Eternally Yours), took a cursory shot at playing the game but found it wasn’t for them, and by early 1979 called it quits.
(I’m) Stranded lives on as one of the most brutal, confident records ever released – whether you call it punk, rock or whatever. The snotty, snarly vocals of Bailey were a perfect fit for Kuepper’s totally raw guitar tone and the two’s ability to write songs with attitude – unmatched then and now. Released in February 1977, the album thundered out of the speakers like nothing before it. It bears a bit of a resemblance to The Stooges’ Raw Power, if that record was cranked up to twice the speed. It’s hard to understand the lyrics, but it’s easy to feel the vibe. In fact, if ever you needed a record to epitomize what lo-fi sounds like, this is it. (I’m) Stranded is raw power, alright. It’s a punch in the face, not from some cartoon kid with a mohawk, piercings and de rigeur ripped leather jacket, but from a real guy in a ratty t-shirt with long hair and a chip on his shoulder from years of being fucked with by mom, dad, school, the cops, etc., just for not fitting in.
Sure, the Sex Pistols came from a similar situation, but they were caricatures created by a media-playing egotist. Their attitude was forced on them and their songs were written around their manager’s ideas of what would speak to their chosen audience. The Saints wrote about what they wanted to, unconcerned with adapting any particular stance except their own. They didn’t wear a pre-conceived uniform, they wore what they had. They were true punks. And since they didn’t fit into the media-dictated mold, The Saints were cast off and left behind. Fine by them.
Even against quintessential punk album contenders like Damned, Damned, Damned and The Clash, (I’m) Stranded is the clear champion. Forty years of being overlooked makes it that much more of an outsider’s bible than if it had been consistently hailed as a classic. As Chris Bailey himself says today, “The world needs scumbags like The Saints to exist somewhat outside the pale.”
* It has been pointed out to me that Ramones’ first LP came out in April of 1976, so it is possible that The Saints may have heard it prior to recording “(I’m) Stranded” in June ’76. However, with the speed that underground information got arounnd the world 40 years ago, it’s a safe bet that word (or audio sample) didn’t get down to Oz in time for the already-established Saints to adapt their sound. Way more likely, as Damian Lovelock of the Celibate Rifles points out in the video below – definitely worth watching – the Ramones, Saints and Pistols all came up with their similar approaches simultaneously, independently of each other.
5/5 (Harvest/EMI; now Parlophone)
To learn more about what makes this album so great, check out this documentary.