Read Hard’s Classic Pop Punk Picks #19: Buzzcocks- Love Bites

Posted: February 16, 2015 in Read Hard's Classic Pop Punk Picks

Back to an old classic from 1978: Buzzcocks’ wonderful Love Bites. Another early pop punk milestone with some post punk mixed in. It’s the band’s sophomore album. Their first was Another Music in a Different Kitchen and had great songs such as “I Don’t Mind” and “Autonomy”. It’s way stranger than Love Bites and way less melodic, and except for the songs mentioned above doesn’t really have the catchy hits the Buzzcocks are known for. Before their debut, the band released a few 7-inch singles, like “Spiral Scratch”, which is known for being one of the first independent punk rock singles and was their only release with Howard Devoto (who later formed the band Magazine). As well as a lot of other classics like “What do I get?”, the explicit “Orgasm addict” and “Oh shit”, these songs became bonus tracks on the special editions of Another Music in a Different Kitchen. They also appear on the band’s compilation Singles Going Steady, which might be the best title for a single’s collection there is. I think, unfortunately, the collection is what they are mostly famous for out in the world, in spite of it not being anywhere near as great as Love bites. Before their first split in 1980, they released their third album A Different Kind of Tension, which might be their most ambitious album (isn’t it always what happens before a band breaks up?), they re-formed in the 90’s and have released a lot of more or less good albums since then. Still nothing touches Love Bites!

The album was released on September 22, 1878. The cover is white with a blue circle in the middle with a picture of the band; the word “love” is in a new red circle within the blue one. The title Love Bites is ambiguous because “love bites” could mean that love hurts but in British English the word “love bite” means what Americans call a “hickey”(in Norway we call it (directly translated) a “suck mark”). This bittersweet ambiguity is perfect for an album that to me has a duality, the album mostly has two themes: unrequited love and philosophizing, philosophizing that often borders on the paranormal. A song could easily be a simple song about unrequited love, but also include various intellectually complex concepts. Similar to what Dr. Frank and Matt Skiba have done later. The music also reflects this, the album like its predecessor has some weird shit, and post-punk bordering on the psychedelic, much like Devoto’s Magazine, but the album also has the sugary Beatle-esque perfect pop music that is Pete Shelley’s trademark. Together the mix can’t be beaten, and makes it different from any other pop punk album about not being loved and any other weird post-punk album about strange concepts.


1. “Real World”: The albums starts with a guitar playing a palm muted intro, and the bass and drums come in like a battleship and then we get to hear Shelley’s beautiful vocals. The lyrics reflect on the contrast between dreams and reality. Shelley claims that in the real world things happen as they do in his dreams. The song describes an infatuation with someone you don’t even know the name of or know at all, but it simply starts with an infatuation with the real world itself, but, unlike his other infatuations, this one is mutual. There’s something weirdly ironic about this as the real world seems to be full of unrequited love and failed crushes, where as in dreams they can be different. There also appears to be some daydreaming about the crush going on in the song, thus making the “real world” different from the dream, because in the real world they don’t even know each other, but that’s where he wants them to meet and he ends with asking the crush their name. The second verse is perfect: “I’m in love with somebody/ I wish somebody loved me too/ You may wonder how this concerns you/ well, perhaps that somebody is you”. I also like the line “we both win when we play the same game”. Shelley’s naïve vocals in the chorus really make the song what it is, and fits the song perfectly. It was one of the first Buzzcocks songs I noticed in 2006 when I checked out their compilation “finest”, but in 2009 I really started loving this song, as well as the entire album. Prior to 2006 I was mostly into three songs, “Orgasm Addict”, “I Believe” and the next song on the track list: “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t Have Fallen in Love With)?”

2. “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t Have Fallen in Love With)?”: The band’s biggest hit by far, and one of the highest charting punk rock songs in music history. It charted nr 12 in the UK in 1978, and the only punk songs I can think of that charted higher are “God Save the Queen”(as well as some of their other hits), “London Calling” “Basket Case” and “All the Small Things”. The song has a pretty simple concept and probably the most common theme in popular music there is, as the title says, falling in love with someone you should not have fallen in love with. This could be either because they are bad for you or because they don’t love you back and feeling that way you do can only bring you down. The music is also very light and poppy and when I first heard it at 14 I thought it was way too poppy for my taste, but now I love it. One thing I noticed studying the lyrics was that in the third verse he sings “you disturb my natural emotions” but in the first sings “Spurn” instead of “disturb”, which is a word I had never heard before and it apparently means “attack” or kick”. When I do my monthly DJ gig on the concept night “Britain calling” in Bergen, the song is a staple and it’s always a song that makes people dance. The song has gotten a huge popularity in Norway due to being on the soundtrack to the hit movie “Mannen som elsket Yngve”(The Man who Loved Yngve) based on the book by Tore Renberg of the same name. The song puts sounds to the moment in the movie where the heterosexual teenage protagonist Jarle Klepp gets a crush on another guy named Yngve. The song is very appropriate for this scene as a common interpretation of the song is that the song has very many homosexual references. Something that isn’t unlikely as Shelley is openly bisexual and later had a hit with the BBC banned homoerotic song “Homosapien”. The homosexual references that are usually mentioned are “We can’t be together much longer, unless we realize that we’re all the same”, “the same” meaning the same sex. In the other verses, he sings that if he starts a commotion, he might lose the person in question. Not only could this refer to the devastating risk telling someone about how you feel about them, but this risk gets even bigger if there’s something taboo about it. In 1978, though more accepted than in for example the 50’s, homosexuality was still more frowned upon than it is today, we can see this in knowing almost 10 years later Shelley’s “Homosapien” would still get banned from the BBC, so making a commotion about this would be quite a risk. Even if it is maybe the simplest idea on the album, there’s so much to look into in the lyrics. The rhyming scheme is very interesting to mention one thing, in the verses the rhyming scheme goes A/B/B/A/B: “You spurn my natural emotions(A)/You make me feel like dirt(A)/and I’m hurt(B)/ and if I start a commotion/(A) I only end up losing you and that’s worse(B). It’s a widely covered song: Fine young cannibals had a huge hit with the song, but also bands like Thursday and Anti flag have made versions of it.

3. “Operator’s Manual”: When I’m writing this I’ve spent the last few days trying to take apart and put together a fucking IKEA bed. I hardly know what a screwdriver is, and definitely not which screwdriver to use when I’ll screw up my bed. It’s just as difficult every time! And what would I do if I didn’t have a manual? “Operator’s Manual” emphasizes the necessity of having a manual. This time the protagonist has an operator’s manual to get instructions on how to deal with emotions and love for another person. The first verse refers to blowing a fuse, making an ambiguous meaning between emotions blowing a fuse and an actual fuse indicator: this time it’s blue, meaning both the color of the indicator and “blue” as a feeling as a result of love. The second verse is maybe the best part “Operator’s manual of page sixty three/tells me what to do when you do these things to me”. I’m not sure if such a manual exists, but I think it’d be a piece of literature that a lot of people would be interested in owning. Still the manual is not enough, the protagonist also wishes to have a mechanic. The lyrics are maybe the most simplistic on the album. Melodically the song is maybe the most Beatle-esque on the album, and to me it sounds like it could fit right in with McCartney’s songs on Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s lonely hearts club band.

4. “Nostalgia”: “Nostalgia” is by far my favorite Buzzcocks track and also one of my favorite lyrics ever written! It’s just a total mindfuck and I notice new aspects of it every time I read it. There’s something sort of science fiction about the song, as well as philosophical and paradoxical. The main hook in this song is about the protagonist bathing in and surfing on a wave of nostalgia for an age yet to come. The word Nostalgia is defined as “a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’slife, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time” by, which makes being nostalgic about the future a strange idea. What might even stranger is being curious about the past as one is curious about the future. In the first verse Shelley sings “I look up to the sky/and wonder what it’ll be like in days gone by”, a lot of the song is just switching “time-idioms” between the future and the past. The second verse is quite interesting, the second line is “like they say yesterday never comes”: here the idiom “tomorrow never comes” is switched from future to past. This verse also offers one kind of an explanation to this curious case “Sometimes there’s a song in my brain/and I feel like my heart knows the refrain” to me this introduces the concept of déjà vu, feeling like you’ve experienced something before when you indeed haven’t. That being said, I don’t think it’s as simple as that (in fact it might be even simpler). I think the song shows that you don’t need to have a TARDIS to travel between the future, the present and the past and be stuck in between. The protagonist is claiming to be “stuck in the middle of time” and that their past and future has presently disarranged. I doubt it’s necessarily meant to be literally, but it’s still a mindboggling idea. This is all caused by the first line: “I bet that you love me like I love you/but I should know that gambling just don’t pay”, this is also the same pun that Shelley used in “I don’t mind”: “I used to think that you didn’t care/but gambling never got me anywhere”. The uncertainty of the crush’s mutual affection towards the protagonist and the protagonist’s unwillingness to find out is what’s causing this uncertainty about the future and the past in the protagonist. It’s continuing the theme of “I don’t mind” and most other Buzzcocks songs and taking it to a weird existentialist level. What a song! The female fronted band Penetration from County Durham also covered the song, and they do a great job as well!

5. “Just lust”: Continuing in the theme of dysfunctional love, “Just lust” is about someone being into someone who is just using them, either as a possession or purely sexually. The opening line is “There’s a bed in your eyes, but there’s nothing there to trust” the last verse’s opening line is “Your driven to possess, it hurts it’s so unjust”, these two lines describes the two types of lust that is referred to in the song. The melody is quite catchy even if the music seems to be somewhat complex! The rhyming scheme in the song mostly goes ABAB, in the Middle eights (I think those are Middle eights) it’s also ABAAB, a good example of that is: “I was slow to catch on/and that just makes it worse/If passion is a fashion/then emotion is a curse”. The last line of the song also reflects the album title’s negative side “love has a reputation it can only lose”. The lyrics were credited to someone named Alan Dial, the band’s ex-manager who’s real name is Richard Boon. He’s also credited to have written the lyrics for “Whatever Happened to?” on “Orgasm Addict”. “Just Lust” was also the B-side to “Ever Fallen in Love”.

6. “Sixteen Again”: In “Nostalgia”, an uncertain infatuation causes the protagonist to lose track of time (if only Keep Track of the Time existed in 1978!!!!) and look back on the future. While in “Sixteen again” the protagonist looks back on the past instead to the carefree adolescent years of being sixteen and doing nothing and counting to ten when angry. There’s something bittersweet about both the melody and the lyrics and even the way Shelley sings it. The lyrics are quite reminiscent of Dr. Frank of the Mr. T experience’s lyrics with its clever wordplay and self-deprication. Some golden moments from the song are “If it makes you happy, it will make you weep” and “If you can’t think once, don’t think twice” and the more morbid “Look at me here I am for your eyes/Mirrored proof of love’s suicide”. Also like “Nostalgia” it plays with the contrast of the future and the past: “Things don’t seem the same the past is so plain/this future is our future, this time’s not a game”. Another cool line is “That’s all that’s on the menu and life’s a la carte” and apparently “a la carte” is a menu you make yourself at the restaurant, I learn so much weird shit from writing these articles!

7. “Walking Distance”: The album’s first instrumental. And it sounds like a regular song so I always expect the vocals to come in, but they never do, and that’s always a disappointment. The guitar leads are very catchy. Bassist Steven Garvey wrote it.

8. “Love is Lies”
: Maybe the song that separates itself the most from the rest as it is acoustic (at least the rhythm guitar) and sung by Steve Diggle rather than Pete Shelley. The song’s lyrics are maybe even simpler than “Operator’s manual” and simply echoes the infamous negative side of the album title. The song is about someone going out to find a girl and start an affair with, but in the chorus comes to the tragic conclusion that love is just lies. The chorus goes “Love is lies, love is eyes, love is everything that’s nice/ love is not as cold as ice, but that’s what love means to me”. I think this is Diggle’s best song in the band.

9. “Nothing Left”:
For some reason this song to me always feels like another instrumental and when the singing comes in it always catches me off guard. This song is about a break up, the protagonist has been dumped and has nothing left at all. The song uses repetition as a dominant force, I guess that’s a device to emphasize that there really, in the protagonist’s mind, is nothing left at all after this relationship is over. A bummer, for sure.

10. “ESP”: Is it so that every pop punk album needs to have a mystical parapsychological song? If so “ESP” is the one on Love bites! ESP stands for Extrasensory Perception. It means having a consciousness beyond the regular senses such as sight and hearing, it is also known as the sixth sense. The opening line of the song is “Do you believe in ESP? I do and I’m trying to get through to you”. In this song, someone is trying to get in touch with their crush through paranormal magnetic brainwaves. Shit like this freaks me out. It’s the last song with lyrics on the album, maybe that’s the last thing a person will try to get through the one they’re in love with. When everything from operator’s manuals, being sixteen again and nostalgia is tried and failed, maybe the sixth sense is all that’s left, which is better than there being nothing left! The song is very post punk, the guitar lead is very strange and it almost sounds like it’s impossible to play, the little pull off in the repeated riff almost sounds like it’s from a science fiction movie. Shelley’s vocals aren’t as wistful and innocent as they have been in other songs, this time they are more like John Lydon’s in Public image limited and the song is almost freaky, almost like you’re in a dream, but what is a dream and what is the real world anymore? Ask yourself that!

11. “Late for the Train”: I think “ESP” could’ve been a song on Another Music in a Different Kitchen. I feel like “Late for the Train” is the sequel to the last song on it: “Moving away from the pulse beat”. They’re both really weird songs, with electronic beats and no vocals and a lot of the music is just noise. I feel like these songs are what lead to bands like Kraftwerk and even noise rock bands. The song goes on for almost 6 minutes, that to me seems sort of unnecessary. It’s a strange way to end the album. I think “Moving Away from the Pulse Beat” is even longer as it stops in the middle and starts again.

Bonus tracks: “Love You More”: When I bought the album, I got the deluxe edition with demos and live versions. On the regular re-issue, there are four bonus tracks, which are from the two singles released around the time of the album (“Ever Fallen in Love” is the only single from the album). “Love You More” is maybe Shelley’s simplest and cutesiest song, both lyrically and melodically. The song reminds me of earlier Beatles and I think it could’ve been a song on Please, Please Me or With the Beatles. The “I Love You” part is clearly a homage to the fab four. The B-side is the Slade inspired “Noise Annoys”.

I bought the “Promises/Lipstick” 7 inch in Manchester in 2008 along with “Orgasm Addict/Whatever Happened to?” They actually took me long to find, as I didn’t know there was a bin just for Manchester bands, it was mostly Oasis and the Smiths, but I found those Buzzcocks singles! “Promises” is along with “Teenage Kicks” and Rudi’s “Big Time” among the first songs that could undoubtedly be labeled as “Pop punk”. The song also echoes the message of the album, even if not on it, that love is just broken promises, claiming “love is strictly made for fools”. The original version of the song was called “Children” and is on the demo side of the deluxe edition, but the band wrote new lyrics for it. “Lipstick” is a strange break up song: the lyrics are very minimalistic and the chorus is just a repetition of the lyrics of the verse. The first verse is about lipstick sticking on the protagonist’s face after being kissed, and is a cute verse, the next is devastation where most likely the same person has been left in the morning only with a card that says the relationship is over. The song has a nice melodic guitar solo, which might be my favorite part of the song.

I still think it’s a shame that Buzzcocks are remembered for their singles collection rather than this album. I’ve learned so much more about it writing about it and it’s made writing this article fun as hell. The Buzzcocks rule! The next pop punk pick is Beatnik Termites’ Bubblecore.

  1. 1878? truly one of punk’s earliest releases 😉

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