Drogas, Sexo, Y Un Dictador Muerto: 1978 on Vinyl in Spain
So punk reared its unkempt head in Spain in 1978. Though the bands started earlier (La Banda Trapera Del Río in 1976), five punk records were released that year, all by bands from Barcelona or Madrid, along with one fake punk record, which may surpass the others, or, indeed, all other punk records. At the same time, vestiges of the pre-punk era of Iberian rocknroll appeared on vinyl, revved-up and seemingly also influenced by the punk explosion. The sound of the earliest Spanish punk records shared much with punk’s precursors, from old-fashioned 50s rocknroll to glam to early metal to Detroit’s hard proto-punk. Punk in Northern Europe or England certainly did have similar influences, but the classic 77 punk sound, with a few notable exceptions, did not have Spanish punk’s affinities with hard rock from earlier in the decade. It could be that Spain’s countercultural period was compressed because it did not start as early as that of England or the United States, and so the evolution that occurred in rocknroll’s sound over the decade from 1965 to 1975 outside Spain had to span a period half as long, which thus butted up against the early moments of the punk revolution. Proto-punk therefore was simultaneous with punk rock proper. The continuum of Spain’s punk rock and hard rock, sound-wise, has become clear in the last few years for those outside Spain (particularly noncollectors) because, with the exception of the EP by Kaka De Luxe, all of Spain’s punk records from 1978 have been reissued, along with previously un-issued live songs from that year by La Banda Trapera Del Río. The bootleg of Los Punk Rockers LP appeared several years ago and is tough to find nowadays—though not as tough as the original LP, which is one of the rarest European punk records. Of the punkish metal and hard rock of 1978, Zarpa Rock’s first LP was recently reissued on CD, and a track from the extremely rare Ciclón 45 appeared on the compilation LP “Andergraun Vibrations” Vol. 2, released late in 2005. Red Box El Rojo, an obscure, aggressive hard rock band, whose 45 was released on the same label as Kaka De Luxe’s EP, has not been reissued, nor has Almen TNT’s 45 from early 1979, or Rockcelona’s “La Bruja” LP. Finally, Ramoncín y WC? was a band peripherally related to punk, but their 1978 LP (a single from it was also released) has apparently been reissued on CD by EMI. There were many other records released in Spain in 1978, but none I have encountered fits the self-imposed criteria (punk/pseudo-punk/proto-punk) of this article. I am sure I will learn of other records in the future that I should have included. C’est la vie.
Ciclón’s six-minute hard rocker “Mr. Mague” shares little with punk except that it is comparatively quite aggressive for pre-punk rocknroll. The riff is a monster that’ll get stuck in your head instantly. Nearly all the other material on the two great volumes of “Andergraun Vibrations” (75% of the LPs are on a single CD reissue) is underground hippie rock—good stuff, often with cool fuzz guitars, but with Hendrix, the Doors, or Love as primary influences, rather than Sabbath or Stooges. “Mr. Mague” is not a straight Sabbath rip by any means, but it is heavy and centers on that powerful riff. The vocals edge into upper ranges at times, though not as extremely as Ozzy’s. Ciclón hailed from Burgos, in the far northwest of Spain. Their independently released single achieved little distribution outside their hometown because it eschewed major-label networks and is now one of the rarest and most obscure Spanish rock records. (Therefore, I do not intend to give the impression that its status as proto-punk was a direct influence on the explicitly punk bands that came after it, which almost certainly never heard it.) The picture sleeve, more so than the music, is what screams punk to me. It depicts a dilapidated, dirty, and broken toilet, with the band named spray-painted next to the door. Apparently the band saw this WC at the side of the highway while touring and realized immediately that a photograph of it had to appear on their record. In comparison, other sleeves of records on “Andergraun Vibrations” depict flowery band logos or photos of the band. The liner notes of the compilation include a quote from the lead guitarist of Ciclón: “We were in Alicante, the day after a gig, walking near the beach and saw that abandoned place with the filthy WC … we thought it was fantastic, we took a photo and then added that ugly color to the sleeve. We tried to be as obnoxious as possible, it was our way to tell the world to fuck off!!” That is an ethos any punker could support. Their location far from the major cities of Spain and independent release contributed to Ciclón’s obscurity, but one can see that these attributes, along with Franco’s death and the birth of punk rock, created the space for their aggressive sound and attitude.
Ramoncín y WC? appeared on bills with punk bands at the end of the 70s, but although he appropriated punk imagery, the music on his eponymous LP (and a single) on EMI from 1978 could not be construed as punk. It’s histrionic mainstream 70s heavy rock (cock rock) with wild guitars that would likely appeal to fans of the genre. (This record has not been reissued, but it is available online.) I’m sure non-Spanish speakers will get more out of it than those who can understand the presumably dumb lyrics. Even though the song entitled something like “The King of Fried Chicken” seems like it might be laden with innuendo, its lyrics include oh-so-subtle gems like “Hear me fart, smell my shit.” Maybe Franco’s death obviated the need to speak in code and cleared a space for quite literal rendering of popular sentiment. Pretty much every country seems to have had some tight-pantsed rocker who attempted to cash in on punk. Italy’s formidable, Fellini-esque contribution to the pseudogenre was Andrea Mingardi Supercircus—punker than Ramoncín ever was but not very. Listening to “El Rey de Pollo Frito” back to back with “Cuitat Podrida” by La Banda Trapera Del Río is instructive. Because he aimed for the lowest common denominator, Ramoncín’s bluster is calculated, rehearsed, and not at all threatening. In comparison, La Banda Trapera Del Río’s take on hard rock is far more snotty, aggressive, and unprofessional—in a word, punk. For those preparing for the quiz, Ramoncín (née José Ramón Julio Martínez Márquez) now campaigns on behalf of a Spanish organization like the RIAA, defending artists’ copyrights or whatever. In the 70s, punks would spit on him and throw garbage when he played. I’m sure he told himself it was part of the act, the audience really getting into the antisocial tendencies his music radiated. But the punks, of course, were smarter than him. I’ve heard that recently when he has tried to play, as a result of his work for intellectual property rights, audiences have greeted him with flying bottles. Wonder what he tells himself now.
What is interesting today about Ramoncín then is that he offers proof how quickly the machinery of recuperation (ie, co-opting) could mesh its gears and churn out a fictitious punk product. One contemporaneous punk-rock critic accurately assessed Ramoncín, who, he wrote in a UK fanzine, “has been given mucho backing and has turned in a transparent product of cultural marginalia.” Spain was not completely living in the dark ages completely under Franco, and the dictatorship did allow (certainly with multifarious US aid) the creation of sophisticated modern corporations, but I would argue that one difference between dictatorship and capitalist, liberal democracy is that the latter co-opts its discontents and antagonists whereas the former jails or kills, disappears, them. Anyone fishing Shit-Fi for dissertation topics, please prove me right (or wrong). So if Chevy Chase’s mantra during the first season of Saturday Night Live—“This breaking news just in, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead”—was not enough, along came the fake punker Ramoncín to prove it.
Rockcelona’s “La Bruja” LP is an extremely rare and obscure piece of fuzzed-out hard rock. It has never been reissued, and published information about it is scant. The LP was released on the Columbia label and apparently most copies that have turned up in recent years are marked promotional. I wonder if it sold any copies when it was released! (In the last three years, copies have sold for prices from ~$100 to ~$400 on eBay.) Both 1978 and 1979 appear online as the year of the album’s release. The only MP3s of the album I have found online have sound glitches throughout. Beyond a thick, jagged guitar sound and relatively fast tempos—which are themselves notable because none of the five Spanish punk records from 1978 is particularly fast (La Banda Trapera Del Río was definitely the fastest)—the record is notable for being the only one in this article, aside from Los Punk Rockers, to have lyrics in English. Charmingly, the English are broken. Incidentally, with its voluminous slang, Spanish seems an appropriate language for punk rock: there are 800 ways to say “penis” according to Camilio José Cela’s Diccionairo Secreto. On the other hand, I can’t decide if Rockcelona is the stupidest band name ever or only in the top three. If it is the winning loser, perhaps that gives it some cache from the shit-fi perspective—which is certainly the only perspective from which one could appreciate the cover artwork. Because Rockcelona was a hard rock outfit, however, one is unwilling to give them the benefit of the doubt: they probably were just a bunch of blockheaded hair farmers imbued with mislaid Catalan pride. Still, I must say that I enjoy this record. Of the records in this article, it’s my most recent discovery, so I could grow less fond of it with time. But “La Bruja” (“The Witch”) could be one of those uncommon punky hard rock records that so many collectors seek but never quite find. Here’s the title track. Not that Rockcelona sound quite like the celebrated, uber-obscure Stonewall—I hear no organ herein—the snotty, driving vibe of “La Bruja” nevertheless confers a similar feeling. (I hope I didn’t drive the record’s price up by saying that, because I’d like to cross it off the old want-list sooner rather than later.) It’s not punk, or even proto-punk. But it’s hard to imagine that Rockcelona could have existed even two years earlier, before the music magazines of the world were discussing the new sound and attitude that was killing off the dinosaurs of rock.