Spiral Scratch is an EP and the first release by the English punk rock band Buzzcocks. It was released on 29 January 1977. It is one of the earliest releases by a British punk band (preceded by The Damned's "New Rose" in October 1976, and both the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the U.K." and the first two singles by The Vibrators in November 1976). The EP is the only Buzzcocks studio release with original singer Howard Devoto, who left shortly after its release to form one of the first post-punk bands, Magazine.
|Released||29 January 1977|
|Recorded||28 December 1976 in Manchester, England|
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|
|Spin Alternative Record Guide||9/10|
When reissued in 1979, it reached number 31 in the UK Singles Chart. In 2017, it was at the top of the UK Physical Singles Chart after being re-issued on its 40th anniversary.
Recording and release
Buzzcocks recorded the tracks on 28 December 1976 at Dave Kent-Watson's Indigo Sound Studios in Manchester on 16-track Ampex tape. According to Devoto, "It took three hours [to record the tracks], with another two for mixing." Produced by Martin Hannett (credited as "Martin Zero"), the music was roughly recorded, insistently repetitive and energetic.
The band, having no record label support, had to borrow £500 from their friends and families to pay for the record's production and manufacture. The EP was released on 29 January 1977 on the band's own New Hormones label, making Buzzcocks the first English punk group to establish an independent record label. Despite this, the disc quickly sold out its initial run of 1,000 copies, and went on to sell 16,000 copies, initially by mail order, but also with the help of the Manchester branch of the music chain store Virgin, whose manager took some copies and persuaded other regional branch managers to follow suit.
"Boredom", probably the EP's most well-known song, announced punk's rebellion against the status quo while templating a strident musical minimalism (the guitar solo consisting of two notes repeated 66 times, ending with a single modulated seventh). At the same time, the lyrics already showed boredom with the movement itself ("You know the scene is very humdrum" and "I'm already a has-been!") Indeed, Devoto left the band on the eve of the record's release, saying, "I get bored very easily, and that boredom can act as a catalyst for me to suddenly conceive and execute a new vocation." He added that punk rock had already become restrictive and stereotyped. Richard Boon, the band's manager, says that "Boredom" was a satirical song.
Simon Reynolds, in his book Rip It Up and Start Again, writes that some consider Spiral Scratch to be a more important record than the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the U.K." because, whereas the Sex Pistols' single showed that anyone could be in a rock band (a novel idea at the time), Spiral Scratch proved that anyone could release a record without needing an established record label. Reynolds also contends that the EP was "a regionalist blow" by the Manchester band against the London-based music industry. Jon Savage says that it was instrumental in helping to establish the small labels and scenes in both Manchester and Liverpool.
The EP was also an exercise in the demystification of the record-making process (for example, its title was taken from the music's being recorded literally as a spiral scratch on each side of the vinyl; also, the listing of take numbers and overdubs on the record sleeve). This was a landmark event for many, Reynolds adds. "People were buying Spiral Scratch [...] for the sheer fact of its existence, its existence as a cultural landmark and portent of revolution."
Bob Last founded the Fast Product record label after Spiral Scratch came out. "I had absolutely no idea there'd been a history of independent labels before that. Spiral Scratch turned my head around."
"Boredom" was placed at number 11 in Mojo magazine's list of "100 Punk Scorchers" in 2001.
The self-publication of Spiral Scratch is cited as an event which led to the rise of independent record labels and ultimately resulted in the name "indie" being used to describe a style of music as well as a publishing model.
Reissues and alternative versions
The EP was reissued in the United Kingdom in 1979, having been deleted when Buzzcocks signed to United Artists in 1977. Remaining on the New Hormones label, but credited to "Buzzcocks with Howard Devoto", the record was distributed by Virgin Records and reached number 31 in the charts, staying in for six weeks. As a consequence of the Buzzcocks' signing to UA, and later EMI, none of the tracks on Spiral Scratch appeared on subsequent EMI compilation albums Singles Going Steady, Product or Operator's Manual: Buzzcocks Best.
In 2017, Spiral Scratch was reissued on vinyl by Domino Records to commemorate its 40th anniversary. On the week of 3 February the EP entered the top spot on the UK physical singles chart.
All songs written by Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley.
- Side one
- "Breakdown" – 1:58
- "Time's Up" – 3:07
- Side two
- "Boredom" – 2:51
- "Friends of Mine" – 2:15
- Howard Devoto – vocals
- Pete Shelley – guitar, backing vocals
- Steve Diggle – bass guitar
- John Maher – drums
- Martin Hannett – production
- Phil Hampson – engineering
- Ogg, Alex. "Spiral Scratch – Buzzcocks". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 August 2012.
- Flaherty, Mike (24 March 2000). "Spiral Scratch". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 19 October 2020.
- Savage, Jon (February 2017). "Howard's end". Mojo. No. 279. p. 102.
- Wolk, Douglas (14 March 2017). "Buzzcocks: Time's Up / Spiral Scratch". Pitchfork. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
- "Buzzcocks: Spiral Scratch". Q. No. 405. December 2019. p. 117.
- Gross, Joe (2004). "The Buzzcocks". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 124–25. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
- Walters, Barry (1995). "Buzzcocks". In Weisbard, Eric; Marks, Craig (eds.). Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books. pp. 65–66. ISBN 0-679-75574-8.
- "Buzzcocks: Spiral Scratch". Uncut. No. 34. March 2000. p. 74.
- "Spiral Scratch by Buzzcocks". The Official Charts Company. 6 May 2013.
- "UK Official Physical Singles Chart Week of 3 February 2017". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
- Savage 2001, pp. 296–297.
- Perry, Andrew (October 2001). "Spiral Scratch". Mojo. No. 95. p. 90.
- Reynolds 2006, p. 92.
- Sharp, S (2007). Who Killed Martin Hannett?. Aurum. p. 27.
- Reynolds 2006, pp. 17–18.
- Reynolds, Simon (2005). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. London: Faber and Faber. pp. 92-93. ISBN 0-571-21569-6.
- Savage 2001, p. 298.
- Harvell, Jess (23 September 2002). "Rhythm of Cruelty: Howard Devoto, Magazine, and the Post-Punk Revival". Stylus Magazine. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 31 August 2012.
Spiral Scratch helped to codify the DIY-or-die fervor that resulted in so many scrappy English 7"s over the next few years
- Reynolds 2006, p. 93.
- Reynolds 2006, p. 94.
- Savage, Jon; Perry, Andrew (October 2001). "100 Punk Scorchers!". Mojo. No. 95. p. 90.
- Hutlock, Todd (25 August 2004). "Buzzcocks: Boredom / Orange Juice: Rip It Up". Stylus Magazine. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 31 August 2012.
- "A definition of indie music". www.23indie.com. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
- Brown, T. (2002). The Complete Book of the British Charts. Omnibus Press. p. 178.
- Shirley, I., ed. (2008). Rare Record Price Guide. Diamond. p. 187. ISBN 978-0-9532601-5-7.
- Savage, Jon (2001). England's Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock. Faber and Faber.
- Reynolds, Simon (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984. Faber and Faber.