What constitutes punk rock? Is it a squad of Beach Boys fans donning leather jackets and crooning about drugs and fascists? A bunch of shabbily dressed sods cribbing their poorly executed licks from the New York Dolls catalogue? Sound? Attitude? Timing? What is that indefinable property of punk rock that generates reams of pointless, often drunken debates as to who is and who isn't a punk?
Whatever that mysterious essence actually is, the Vibrators have it in spades. Their brilliant debut album, Pure Mania (1977), was one of the first and brightest releases in the flood of punk rock that followed, and it inspired others to ride the wild surf with them. (Stiff Little Fingers even named themselves after a song. If you don't know who they are, just ask Green Day.) The tunes were catchy with an urgent beat and lyrics concentrating on the usual transgressive subjects that amused nihilist punk rockers to no end.
But if you happen to chat with Vibrators' singer and guitarist Knox (Ian Carnachan) after a show, this personable fellow will quickly set you straight that the Vibrators weren't really punkers. First, the members were too old (Knox is now 61) and already fixtures on England's pub rock scene. They also knew how to play their instruments and craft songs. (If it weren't for their association with punk and the obvious problem with their name, the Vibrators' brand of quirky pop might have found its way onto Top 40 playlists.) More important, they were way ahead of most of England's illustrious Class of '77.
Nevertheless, whether as bridge or catalyst, the Vibrators stumbled across the spirit of the time and mined it for all its glory. Thirty years down the pike, original members Knox and drummer Eddie (along with Pete from Finland's No Direction) still tour extensively and play with more vigor than many of their musical descendants are willing to do. If that ain't punk rock, then nothing is. Margaret Griffis
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