The Damned: The Most Underrated Artist of Our Time?

IN the current issue of long-standing American indie music Bible The Big Takeover, Tim Sommer embarks on the quest for the Most Underrated Artist of Our Time. His criteria includes said Artist being “capable of universal greatness and acceptance” and having “a catalogue large/long enough to allow the listener to distinguish differing stages.” (I.e. no one-album wonders.) Perhaps because he’s American, writing for a famously Anglophile magazine (Johnny Marr is on the cover), Sommer’s two finalists are both British. One of them I would disallow on the basis that they had plenty acceptance in the UK, to the point of number one hit singles, before breaking up and individually going on to further greatness. That would be The Small Faces.

His “winner,” however, if that’s the right choice of word, I might well agree with, for Sommer elects as THE MOST UNDERRATED ARTIST OF OUR TIME, The Damned, stating as follows:

They were full of power and subtlety and absolute genius songwriting, and a diversity that ranged from the unsubtle frantic burps of punk to delicate and orchestrated mood pieces that would have made The Moody Blue proud. With their predilection for both massive power and chaos AND highly developed and subtle songwriting. The Damned were the natural and logical successors to The Who.

Writing about The Damned in Boy About Town, specifically our hilarious night-time interview encounter with Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian in a back-room recording studio in Crystal Palace, I came (back) to many of the same conclusions. Except I also honed in on the reasons they were, to some extent, their own worst enemies – and therefore, as Sommer rightly notes, historically Underrated.

The Damned offered no explanations, asked for no expectations. They left not just the music to what they called ‘zeroes,’ but all the politics, posturing and posing that went with it. That made them the most honest group out there. It also guaranteed they would never become any more popular than they already were.

Below: The Damned in 1979, shortly after they (first) reformed, with ‘Smash It Up.’

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October 2021