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Tim Palmer: My Punk Top Ten

Tim Palmer at Mountain Studios

Grammy-nominated producer and engineer Tim Palmer reveals the ten punk tracks that rocked his world!

In a new regular feature, we speak to punk-loving celebs and ask them: “If you were only allowed to have ten punk singles in your record collection, which ones would they be?”

Tim Palmer has produced and mixed albums for a huge selection of classic and alternative artists, from Robert Plant, David Bowie and Tears For Fears to Ozzy Osbourne, The Goo Goo Dolls and U2. With the recent success of the Psychedelic Furs album that Tim mixed, he has succeeded in having Top Ten albums in the UK for five decades.

Tim Palmer mixed Ten for Pearl Jam, which is now in the top 50 best-selling albums of all time and the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2021. In 2001, Tim was nominated for a Grammy for his mixing work on U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind.  The album went on to win a Grammy for ‘Best Rock Album’.

Tim Palmer and Bowie
Tim Palmer with Bowie. Tim Produced both Tin Machine studio albums

Now based in Austin, Tim has continued producing and mixing for the likes of Tears for Fears, Jason Mraz, Blue October, The Polyphonic Spree, H.I.M and The Psychedelic Furs.

Interestingly, the first actual success Tim Palmer had as a producer was with a punk band from Sunderland called Red Alert. The EP was recorded at Utopia Studios in an afternoon, and it was Tim’s first credited production. He was super happy when for the first time, he saw his name in Melody Maker after reading it so avidly for many years!

Over the past several years, Tim has also played an active role in The Recording Academy/Grammys. He has been a board member in Texas for three terms and is now serving his second term as a National Trustee.


Written by: Tim Palmer

So, I guess these aren’t necessarily my top ten punk songs, but more of a selection of some of my favorites. They’re not really in any order – as that’s almost impossible to do, but these are ten punk songs that I have some really fond memories about. I hope you enjoy!

Tim.

10. THE PACK – King of Kings (Single)

King of Kings by The Pack! What a great single this was! And in the true spirit of punk, the B-side, Number 12, in my opinion, was as good as the A-side. In fact, I probably preferred Number 12, but both of them are solid songs.

King of Kings is really harsh sounding and thin and wiry, which really brings home the aggro on the songs, and I’ve always loved Kirk Brandon‘s vocals.

kirk brandon

I actually mixed a song fairly recently that Kirk had contributed vocals to. I produced a lot of albums with The Mission, and when the Covid pandemic started to kick in, Wayne Hussey decided to re-record Tower of Strength to raise money for the National Health Service and various charities. In my case, we were raising money for MusiCares, which helps musicians in The States.

Anyway, Kirk contributed to the vocals on it as well as Martin Gore, Gary Numan, Budgie of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Midge Ure and Julianne Reagan. Billy Duffy plays the guitar on it, and Jay and Michael from Gene Loves Jezebel are on it too. It was like a supergroup Goth Band-Aid!

I never did get to see The Pack play a show, but I did see Theatre of Hate at the Marquee when they played their very first gig supporting Spizz. That was a great show; they sounded great, and they looked great. Kurt and Stan Stammers with their bleached white quiffs- yeah, it looked really cool. Boy George was in the crowd too – this was pre him being a pop star – he was just a fan of the music.

King of Kings by The Pack! What a great single this was! And in the true spirit of punk, the B-side, in my opinion, was as good as the A-side.” Tim Palmer, Record Producer


9. The Stranglers – 5 Minutes (Single only)

I think The Stranglers are a really strong group. They’ve put out consistently good records. At first, it took me a while to get my head around Dave Greenfield’s almost prog-rock, very notey keyboards, but in the end, alongside Jean-Jacques Burnel‘s fantastic bass sound and the great vocals of Hugh Cornwall, I realised his keyboards worked and they obviously became a big part of the The Stranglers’ sound.

The Stranglers

The lyrics to 5 Minutes really struck a chord with me. At that particular time, “five minutes and you’re almost dead” seemed to ring very true to an incident that happened to me and my best mate at that time Andy Last (from the Witchdoktors)

We were at a supposed ‘punk rock disco’ that was being held in Morden and we were keeping ourselves to ourselves, but the Mitcham skinheads turned up and didn’t like the look of us.

After a while, we figured it was probably a good idea to leave, and as we were trying to get out of the premises we were cornered by the skinheads and they accused us of calling them wankers. Even though we denied it we were given a severe kicking. There wasn’t really much we could do apart from putting our hands over our heads and try and get the hell out of there, which we eventually did.

Very soon after that, the single 5 Minutes came out, and every time I heard it, it reminded me of that delightful evening spent in Morden.

“The lyrics to 5 Minutes really struck a chord with me. At that particular time, “five minutes and you’re almost dead” seemed to ring very true to an incident that happened to me and my best mate at that time Andy Last (from the Witchdoktors).” Tim Palmer, Record Producer.


8: THE RUTS – In A Rut (The Crack)

The Ruts were another one of the punk bands where, like The Stranglers, the quality of the musicianship was very high. Paul Fox was an excellent guitar player Dave Ruffy a superb drummer, and Malcolm Owen was a powerful vocalist, and I think he would have done many more great albums if he hadn’t succumbed to his addictions.

Their first single In A Rut, was I guess my introduction to the band, so that’s why I picked this one to be on this list. I heard the single on John Peel (like we did in those days). I remember I bought the single at Kingston market from Bullshit Dave’s stall, then I went to see them play at Guilford University.

the Ruts

What was quite shocking about that evening was when we were waiting to go in, the crowd was building and building, and there was only a single doorway with glass windows on either side of it. The people at the back couldn’t see what was at the front and started pushing, and people were getting pushed against the windows. Eventually, two or three people went through the windows and had to be taken off to hospital with quite severe lacerations.

The show itself was really great. As I said, amazing musicians and they went on to produce some incredible singles right till the very end; West One (Shine On Me), Babylon’s Burning – killer songs and killer production too. Their producer Mick Glossop, who also produced The Skids, and many other fantastic records, was really an aspiration to me in the art of production, always great arrangements, great parts and great recording and mixing. Just really inspiring stuff!

The Ruts were another one of the punk bands where, like The Stranglers, the quality of the musicianship was very high.” Tim Palmer, Record Producer


7:  THE SKIDS – Into The Valley (Scared to Dance)

I remember the first time I saw The Skids – it was brilliant. Not only were The Skids songs anthemic, easy to sing along with, but the band were so much fun to watch. I loved the way they got into it and danced around.

Stuart Adamson was one of my first guitar heroes (along with John McGeoch from the Banshees). The way that Stuart approached the guitar and the parts he came up with was so unique.

Later, when I started making records, I produced a couple of songs on Big Country‘s greatest hits album (my mate Steve Lillywhite had done most of the band’s albums). At this point, I finally got to meet my guitar hero Stuart, who turned out to be an amazing guy to work with, super talented, and so, so nice. It was a tremendous loss to everyone and especially to music when we lost him.

the skids

Into the Valley is just a brilliant, brilliant single. A quirky guitar riff to start it off, and into another great anthemic ‘sing-along’ song. I was lucky to get to see them play live quite a lot. One time the show we were at was being recorded for the BBC and during the show, my mate Madman (suitable named) managed to get past the bouncers and he got up on to the stage.

During Woman In Winter, when it got to the quiet part in the song, Madman managed to grab the mic and sang along with Richard Jobson. Stu Adamson told him to ‘ be steady man’. I remember we were glued to the radio when it was broadcast waiting for that song to see whether it had been edited out, but there he was, Madman, busting out during Woman In Winter. (Check out Madman’s wailing at 1 min 09 secs here )

“Not only were The Skids songs anthemic, easy to sing along with, but the band were so much fun to watch. I loved the way they got into it and danced around.” Tim Palmer, Record Producer.


6: THE DAMNED- Stretcher Case (Limited Edition Single)

Another one of my favourite bands of that period were The Damned. The Damned had the spirit, the fun and the recklessness that really epitomised everything that was punk – they really didn’t give a shit.

They had so many great songs, from New Rose (which has the greatest drum intro ever recorded) to Smash It Up, for example. There are just too many great songs to mention. But I have picked the song Stretcher Case (I am attempting to appear cool) as I managed to get a copy of it! It’s extremely rare.

Stretcher Case has an amazing cover with the skull and the lady doing her makeup, and it was given away free on their first-anniversary gig and also members of the fan club got it. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t get it because I was at the gig – I bought it. It cost me about 30 quid back in the day. It’s worth about £750 now.

The Damned Stretcher Case

I recently did some mixing for Dave Robinson the co-founder of Stiff Records, and in conversation, I mentioned to Dave that I still have my copy of Stretcher Case and he admitted to me that unfortunately, he’d let all his go. So, bad move Dave.

The Damned – a great live band and great records. They really managed to capture the craziness on those records. I was very fortunate to see the band play at The Rainbow. The Captain had his long dinosaur tail on, and we managed to destroy pretty much all the front six rows of seats at The Rainbow – just an amazing show, Exciting days!

“The Damned had the spirit, the fun and the recklessness that really epitomised everything that was punk – they really didn’t give a shit.” Tim Palmer, Record Producer.


5: THE SEX PISTOLS – Pretty Vacant (NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS)

The Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant – probably one of the most definitive songs from The Pistols and obviously a huge hit, and a perfectly crafted, played and produced single. My copy of The Pistols Pretty Vacant has Submission on the B-side, which is a little bit of a rarity. I think the original version of Pretty Vacant had No Fun on the back – the Dave Goodman demo. But this version was probably an American import. It was on Warner Brothers and Submission was the B-side – which is an excellent single to get.

sex pistols pretty vacant US

The day I bought the single was a very strange day. My good friend at school, Zig, had been arrested as we left the Ramones concert at The Rainbow. We were leaving the gig and we were part of a huge crowd of people crossing a busy road. A car tried to push its way through the pedestrians and as it pushed past us my mate kicked it. The car pulled over and two big guys jumped out and ran towards us. We assumed that we were just going to be given a mouthful but they turned out to be the police and they grabbed Zig and threw him in the back of the car, then drove him off to spend the night in the ‘nick’ at Holloway police station.

They accused him of breach of the peace. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we had to go to court. We put our side of the story forward, and the judge actually sided with us, and the case against Zig was dismissed. The cops were not happy.

We went to Soho market afterwards and celebrated by buying some new singles, and one of the ones I bought that day was Pretty Vacant with Submission on the B-side!

“My copy of The Pistols Pretty Vacant has Submission on the B-side, which is a little bit of a rarity. I think the original version of Pretty Vacant had No Fun on the back.” Tim Palmer, Record Producer


4: BUZZCOCKS – Spiral Scratch EP (Spiral Scratch EP)

Alongside New Rose, I think that the Buzzcocks Spiral Scratch EP has to also be seen as the beginning of UK punk. My copy of Spiral Scratch isn’t one of the very originals – it was a reissue on the New Hormones label. You can tell that because underneath Buzzcocks it says ‘with Howard Devoto’ because by this time he had departed the band.

It was this EP that was my introduction to the Buzzcocks. I have got (nicely stored away in plastic bags) all of the Buzzcocks’ singles, and they were another band whose B-sides were often better, or at least as good as, the A-sides.

The tracks that really did it for me were Breakdown and Boredom. The production is credited to Martin Zero, who turns out to be Martin Hannett, who later went on to work with Joy Division, who I saw support the Buzzcocks in London in ’79.

Buzzcocks Spiral Scratch EP

As an aspiring guitar player, who couldn’t really play yet, I think the guitar solo in Boredom really gave me the feeling that I could also be a guitar player in a band. I think the guitar solo is just 66 times round two notes – it’s fantastic. Midway into the song where the band stops, I challenge anyone who knows the song not to sing along with Howard when he says ‘bur-dum do-dum’ – classic!

The Buzzcocks were the first band that I saw play during that period. You know what it’s like when you go to a show, you’re standing around waiting, and then finally it goes black, and you hear the guitar leads being plugged in. You are just waiting for that first drum hit or guitar chord! There was just so much excitement on my part as an 18-year-old, and this gig was really the spark for me to start going to see loads more shows. I was very fortunate to get to see so many great bands during that time.

“Alongside New Rose, I think that the Buzzcocks Spiral Scratch EP has to also be seen as the beginning of UK punk.” Tim Palmer, Record Producer


3: TELEVISION PERSONALITIES – Where’s Bill Grundy Now? EP (Where’s Bill Grundy Now? EP)

This EP is a perfect example of DIY punk. Just really simple. It sounds like a bunch of guys just playing in a tiny room together, recorded in about four hours, for about 22 quid! And that’s exactly what it was – according to the sleeve notes.

Televisions Personalities

Being a grammar school kid growing up in Surrey, in the suburbs, I guess I could relate to the concept behind ‘part-time punks’ because during the week I had to wear my school uniform and it was only at the weekends or after school that we could take the bus, for about two pence, up to the Kings Road.

We loved walking up and down, looking in the windows and going into shops like Boy and Seditionaries, but the truth is that we preferred to spend our money on the records rather than the trendy clothes – we were not Chelsea fashionistas by any stretch of the imagination! We just loved the music

Probably the most famous song on this EP is, of course Where’s Bill Grundy Now? which is referencing the infamous live on TV Pistols interview that “shocked a nation”, and funnily enough, my dad worked for Thames TV at that time and often used to see that chap, Bill Grundy.


2: THE JAM – In The City (In The City)

The Jam were one of my favourites. I think I saw The Jam play more than any other band. They just had so much raw energy, and being a successful three-piece is quite a hard thing to pull off. I guess at the time, being a non-musician, I didn’t realise how good they were as players.

They weren’t quite as punk as many of their counterparts, but to me, The Jam were just so important, from the early singles, In The City and All Around The World and right through their career.

I really grew with this band, and I kept a scrapbook from all the gigs and interviews from NME and Melody Maker – I was a massive fan. Later in my career as a record producer, I worked with the band Ocean Colour Scene and the guitar player in that band was Steve Craddock, who also works with Paul Weller and has worked alongside him for many years now.

The Jam In The City Photoshoot

There’s an amazing video, if you haven’t seen it, of The Jam in 1977 at the Electric Circus playing In The City, and you can really see the power and how they were such a successful trio, which is quite a hard thing to pull off, especially with all the harmonies. I can’t even imagine how pissed off Foxton and Butler were when Paul decided to split the band up ’cause they were really just something special.

For some reason, whenever I went to see a lot of these bands like the Ramones or The Jam we never got seats that were close enough to the front, and of course, the aisles were always blocked off by the bouncers. It was a case of waiting until the lights went off and when the band came onto the stage everyone would make a run for it and climb over the seats. It was so fun – well it was for us – but I don’t think the concert venues enjoy putting the seats back together after every gig.

“I saw The Jam play more than any other band. They just had so much raw energy… I can’t even imagine how pissed off Foxton and Butler were when Paul decided to split the band up ’cause they were really just something special.” Tim Palmer, Record Producer.


1: THE CLASH – White Riot (The Clash)

I couldn’t get through my top ten singles without including one song from The Clash. There are so many of the early singles that I could have chosen to be on this list, so I sort of randomly pick one. And why not start at the very beginning with White Riot?

There are two versions of White Riot, the album version and the single version. The single version is the one with the police siren at the front, and the other version has the count-in. I actually like the version with the count-in best; I think it’s got more attitude.

White Riot has everything that a punk single should have, starting with a really great cover. I think it’s a photo taken by Caroline Coon. Again, it had a really strong B-side with 1977. I think I actually prefer 1977 or at least I like it as much. A great song.

Lyrically, of course, The Clash was definitely hitting the mark. Joe typically speaking up for the working class and against the establishment. The sound was aggressive, punchy, just a great performance from the band.

The Clash

When I got my very first job in a recording studio, it was at Utopia Studios in Camden Town. I basically swept up, made tea and did the switchboard. I was doing reception one day in about 1981 and remember seeing in the bookings that The Clash were coming in to ‘master’ a single (which turned out to be This Is Radio Clash). I was super excited to see that they were coming into the studio,  but unfortunately, I had already got a holiday booked, and I was not going to be there. I was gutted.

When I got back from my holiday the lady who worked at the studio had told the band how much of a fan I was, and being the good guys that they were they’d left a T-shirt for me and also a little note that said, ‘Dear Tim, here’s a present from The Clash.’ And they signed it and that was pretty special to me.

I didn’t get to see the band play live as much as I’d like to. I saw the first night of the London Calling tour at The Hammersmith Palais, which was a fantastic gig. I managed to push my way to the front to find myself situated right in front of Mick Jones looking up his guitar.

I was fortunate to have all these fantastic moments during the punk days, I really was. It also sort of cemented the idea in my head that I really really wanted to work in the music business.

“I didn’t get to see the band play live as much as I’d like to. I saw the first night of the London Calling tour at The Hammersmith Palais, which was a fantastic gig. I managed to push my way to the front to find myself situated right in front of Mick Jones looking up his guitar.” Tim Palmer, Producer


Follow Tim Palmer on his Socials


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