Rock Photographer Steve Rapport spins his Top 10 Punk Tracks for Punktuation
In the late ’70s and throughout the ’80s, rock photographer Steve Rapport worked freelance for some of the biggest music publications, including Rolling Stone, NME and Sounds, where he documented the exciting U.K. music scene of that time.
Over the years, Steve captured many iconic photos of pop and rock icons, including The Clash, The Jam, Iggy Pop, The Cure, The Slits, David Bowie and John Lee Hooker, to name but a few. Music has always been Steve’s passion, but punk, particularly The Clash, was and remains Steve’s, first love.
In June 1992, he left the U.K. and headed for the San Francisco Bay area and has lived there ever since. Steve now owns the (Mostly) Rock ‘n’ Roll Gallery in his home town of Pacifica and says that if you’re in the Bay area, you’re more than welcome to go and visit him.
Every picture tells a story, and Steve says he is more than happy to share the story behind your favourite photo if he can remember it!
About My Top Ten
“To be honest, I was just going to do ten Clash songs. You know, ‘Bank Robber‘, ‘White Man‘, ‘Rudy Can’t Fail’, ‘Spanish Bombs’, maybe a few more obscure ones like ‘Washington Bullets’. However, I thought I should broaden my choices for the readers, so I’ve only got two Clash tracks in my Top Ten now.
“I spent the summer of ’77 in the U.S. So, while I was away, my sister saved me all the NME’s and when I returned home and read what had been going on while I was in America, my eyes almost popped out of my head! I read about Elvis Costello, The Clash, The Jam, The Sex Pistols, and it was all so exciting.
“In the States that summer Meatloaf, Billy Joel, Stealer Wheels, Gerry Rafferty were on heavy rotation on FM. radio, so I couldn’t believe how cool the U.K. music scene was in comparison to America. It was incredible.
“At that time, me and a mate had a secondhand record store that we would run a couple of lunchtimes every week at university, and Gary McManus, who became the bass player for The Specials AKA, ran the Student Union’s record shop. He turned us on to Blondie and Talking Heads and Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers – all them New York punk bands – then The Clash and The Jam, which soon become my main bands.
“As I said, I could have done all Clash songs, but here’s my ‘alternative’ Punk Top 10.”
10: Shake Some Action – The Flamin’ Groovies (Shake Some Action)
Ok, I know this is not really classed as punk. The Flammin’ Groovies harken back to psychedelia, and they have harmonies and maybe sound a bit Doorsie, but‘Shake Some Action’ was a track that was played a lot at Psychedelic nights at the Groovy Cellar in Soho, London, in the very early ’80s. Siouxsie and Steve Severin used to come down and hang out there all the time.
Before leaving university and becoming a photographer, I used to do the psychedelic slide shows there. I took all these psychedelic style photos and projected them on the walls. So ‘Shake Some Action’ by The Flamin’ Groovies had to be on my list, even if it’s just because I love this song, and it brings back great memories of that time.
“Shake Some Action’ was a track that was played a lot at Psychedelic nights at the Groovy Cellar in Soho, London, in the very early ’80s. Siouxsie and Steve Severine used to come down and hang out there all the time.” Steve Rapport, Rock PhotographerTweet
9. New Rose – The Damned (Damned Damned Damned)
I had to put The Damned in my Top Ten because I worked with them a few times. I went on the road with the band. I was a bit terrified ‘cos it was ‘up north’ in Leeds, and we went up the Anti-Nowhere League, who turned out to be a sweet bunch of blokes, and so were the Damned, it was a great laugh.
I took photos of them at Christmas on Earth Festival in Leeds (Queens Hall December 20th 1981). I called it Hell on Earth because I remember the floor was a sea of piss and beer. At the time, I remember thinking, what am I doing here? It was cold and hard to photograph, but looking back, it was a fantastic day. The Damned, Anti-Nowhere League, The U.K. Subs, Vice Squad, Exploited, Outcasts, Chelsea, GBH, Black Flag all played – it was a ‘who’s who’ of punk at that time.
What I liked about the Damned is that they had a bit of ‘cartoon’ about them, what with The Captain wearing a dress and what looked like a nappy. I got loads of good shots of the gig, and I even did a little book about the Damned – a kind of mini photo-zine. The Damned really stole that show, and I still have a lot of affection for them.
“What I liked about the Damned is that they had a bit of ‘cartoon’ about them…The Damned really stole that show and I still have a lot of affection for them ” Steve Rapport, Rock PhotographerTweet
8. Blondie – In The Flesh (Blondie)
In The Flesh was a great song. I think I had my version of that song on a three-track 12″ that had ‘‘Rip Her To Shreds’ on The A-side, and on the B-side were “In the Flesh” and “X Offender“.
Rip her to Shreds was quite controversial when it first came out, but I’ve chosen In The Flesh ‘cos it’s pretty sexy because… well, hey, Debbie Harry wanted to “see you in the flesh.”
I went to see Blondie, who were supported by XTC, at Tiffinays in Coventry. There were only about 200 people at the gig, and I was up at the front, leaning on the stage. Chris Stein was right in front of me and Debbie Harry on my right. I was in heaven.
I remember having this really ugly big blue Ramones badge on; the small ones were way cooler. And Chris, on his lapel, had a little black and white Ramones badge. During a song, Chris Stein saw mine, and he did swapsies with me. Of course, I don’t still have it – which is a shame, but what a memory for me.
My university was offered Blondie to play there, but the guy who booked the shows was a wanker. He was offered Blondie for two hundred quid, but he said no because he had never heard of them! And when they would have played, Feb 1978, I think “Deni” was number two in the charts. I still can’t believe he turned them down!
Anyway, Blondie have a special place in my heart, and I am seeing them again in May with The Damned and Echo and the Bunnymen and The Beat – I can’t wait.
“In The Flesh was a great song. I think I had my version of that song on a three-track 12″ that had ”Rip Her To Shreds’ on The A-side and on the B-side were “In the Flesh” and “X Offender.” Steve Rapport, Rock PhotographerTweet
7: Stiff Little Fingers – Alternative Ulster (Inflammable Material)
I chose “Alternative Ulster” because it’s political, it’s such a great vocal, and it has such great energy. Musically, Stiff Little Fingers were like a shot in the arm – and nice blokes too. Today is, in fact, the anniversary of a shoot I did with them at a rehearsal studio in Smithfield. I worked with Jake when he was in the Big Wheel, too, and I have a lot of time for him and Stiff Little Fingers.
They came out of The Troubles and made a statement, and they are still doing it. While it must have been bleak in Belfast during the height of The Troubles, the pubs and clubs were thriving because people just wanted to hear music. There may be explosions going on, but life went on.
You compare bands like Stiff Little Fingers and U2, and Bono never took a stand -you know, “this is not a rebel song”, and then there was Jake, out there with “Alternative Ulster” telling it like it was. SLF had attitude.
“You compare bands like Stiff Little Fingers and U2, and Bono never took a stand -you know, “this is not a rebel song”, and then there was Jake, out there with “Alternative Ulster” telling it like it was. SLF had attitude.”Tweet
6: The Undertones – Teenage Kicks (The Undertones October 1979 LP re-release)
I love Teenage Kicks. I think Feargal’s voice is amazing and another smashing bloke too. I have some incredible photos of him; I believe taken in Kilburn at The National Club. I posted them on Instagram recently, and Feargal commented that it was one of their best gigs ever. A lot of Irish live in Kilburn, and The National was very Irish, so the night went off – such great energy.
5: Television – Marquee Moon (Marquee Moon)
I don’t know if Television is considered punk, but they were out of that New York CBGB scene, and their attitude was great. The album Marquee Moon is in my top 5 albums of all time. It’s definitely one of my most played albums of the last few months- it is so good.
I now live in Pacifica, and there was a punk rock flea market at a punky bar called Winters Tavern, and I bought a copy of Television’s ‘other’ album “Adventure” there (I thought they only had the one L.P.) and I’ve been playing that recently. It’s great. It’s not Marquee Moon, but it’s really good.
To be honest, I couldn’t think what song to add from Marquee Moon into my top ten; there are so many great tracks to choose from, so I just went with the title track. It’s quite a long song too – so certainly not punk length.
4: The Jam – The Modern Word (This Is the Modern World)
I’ve addedThe Modern Word because I love the way Paul sings it and because The Jam is one of the other most important bands in my life, along with The Clash.
I published a book called The Mod Father, and I’ve worked out that I photographed Paul over 14 times, and this was only between 1981 up to 86 when I took photos of him in the Style Council.
To be honest, I never got to know Paul very well. He was never rude, he’s just a very shy guy, and I always got the feeling that Paul’s dad didn’t like me very much. But everyone I know loved John Weller.
I think John was more conservative than socialist, and he didn’t like the fact that me and Billy [Bragg] were getting Paul involved in Red Wedge. He saw us as trouble makers. Maybe I got the wrong end of the stick, but I got the feeling that John purposely kept us away from Paul a bit.
“I think John (Weller) was more conservative than socialist and he didn’t like the fact that me and Billy [Bragg] were getting Paul involved in Red Wedge. He saw us as trouble makers.” Steve Rapport, Rock PhotographerTweet
3: The Ramones – Rockaway Beach (Rocket To Russia)
So, my gallery is on Rockaway Beach Avenue, in Rockaway Beach, Pacifica, so I thought I should include Rockaway Beach by The Ramones in my Top 10. It’s a different Rockaway Beach they are singing about – it’s on the other side of the country, but still.
New Year Eve 1977 at The Rainbow – the Ramones gig that became the “It’s Alive” album. I was there. And it was, according to Johnny Ramone, the best Ramones gig ever. I recently saw the 20-minute film of the gig, and every song was one minute 20 seconds because the Ramones were so amped and playing double speed. It was 1..2..3..4… Bam 1…2…3…4… Bam. One song after another, it was relentless. So much power, so much energy. What an experience.
I remember on every seat were these little ‘Gabba Gabba Hey’ signs on a stick that everyone waved about. Sadly, I don’t have that anymore. I also remember being upstairs before the gig and seeing John Lydon and Chrissie Hynde smoking a joint, which stuck with me, because at that time punk was meant to be very anti-drugs, well, anti-hippy drugs, anti-weed. But now, as we all know, Joey and all the boys were big-time tokers.
“The Ramones were so amped and playing double speed. It was 1..2..3..4… Bam. 1…2…3…4… Bam. One song after another, it was relentless. So much power, so much energy. What an experience.” Steve Rapport, Rock PhotographerTweet
2: The Clash – White Riot (The Clash)
A great fucking song. I chose “White Riot” as my number two because “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” is simply the best song of all time. However, “White Riot” is really up there with it because this is the quintessential punk song.
I didn’t put any Sex Pistols in my Top Ten because I feel they were never as authentic as The Clash. The Pistols felt contrived. It was like they were trying too hard to be controversial. The Clash, on the other hand, didn’t have to try to be anything; they just did what they did.
This song was misconstrued at the time too. People thought it was racist, and I was like, ‘do you actually listen to the lyrics?’ And here we are 44 years later and still ‘all the power’s in the hands of the people rich enough to buy it, while we walk the street, too chicken to even try it.’
Then, as we’ve seen from Black Lives Matter that ‘black people gotta lot a problems, but they don’t mind throwing a brick’, and all the whites are still afraid of going to jail – you know, it’s still going on today. I can see on the T.V. now, they’re talking about the black officer at the Capitol insurrection. This is why Joe and The Clash are still relevant today.
“The Pistols felt contrived. They were trying too hard to be controversial. The Clash on the other hand didn’t have to try to be anything; they just did what they did.” Steve Rapport, Rock Photographer.Tweet
1: (White Man) In Hammersmith Palaise – The Clash (Single only UK. American release of The Clash LP)
As I mentioned just before (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais has got to the best song ever. There are occasionally a few songs that you hear, where when the first few notes play, it really gets you riled up. And the intro to this song is just fucking amazing.
Again, everything that Joe wrote is still relevant today. If someone like Martin Luther King Jnr. could see what was going on in the world today, he would be, “shit, didn’t we do all this 60 years ago?”
I think we’re going backwards rather than forwards. Racism is rife here in the States, and it’s rife in the U.K. and across Europe too, and 45 years ago, Joe sang:
“All over people changin’ their votes
Along with their overcoats
If Adolf Hitler flew in today
They’d send a limousine anyway.”
And yes, if Hitler turned up today, they would send a fucking limousine, and the media would be turning to him to see what he thinks about a current situation.
I think that Joe and his songs also have this ability to cut across racial lines. He was able to get people into reggae. Punks and even skinheads got into ska and reggae ‘cos of Joe, and the black community respected Joe too.
He was from the Ladbrook Grove area, and he was always at the Notting Hill Carnival and probably knew all the guys there who ran the sound systems on each street corner. As Joe sang: “If they got anything to say, There’s many black ears here to listen.” Joe knew what was going on.
He also has a dig at the punk scene, which was becoming more mainstream at the time with the lines.
Punk rocker in the U.K.
They won’t notice anyway
They’re all too busy fightin’
For a good place under the lightin’
And I think he even took a shot at The Jam with the lines;
They got Burton suits, huh, ya’ think it’s funny
Turnin’ rebellion into money
I think Joe was great at uniting people and making them think. And 20 years after his death he’s still fucking doing it. I think later in life, as can be seen with his output with The Mescaleros, his humanism became part of who he was too. As he got older and more reflective, Joe became very approachable and human, and White Man is a preview to that. Just a brilliant track.
“Joe was great at uniting people and making them think. And 20 years after his death he’s still fucking doing it.” Steve Rapport, Rock PhotographerTweet
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Like This Top Ten? Then Check Out These…
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- Steve Lillywhite: My Top Ten Punk Tracks
- Ginger Wildheart: My Top Ten Punk Tracks
I’m a London born and bred music journalist, a mediocre bass player and the occasional strummer of the guitar. In the ’80s I worked in recording studios and made a few records you’d probably recognise. I have written a couple of books and made the odd media appearance as a music commentator. I now call Brisbane home.