Drogas, Sexo, Y Un Dictador Muerto: 1978 on Vinyl in Spain
One of my favorite discoveries of recent years, Zarpa Rock as well could not be properly labeled punk, but these teenaged outcasts deserve far more respect than the lamentable cock-rocker Ramoncín. From a small town near Valencia, they were another outside-the-mainstream aggressive hard rock/heavy metal band to release a record in 1978. Zarpa Rock (meaning “claw rock”—it makes sense when you view the sleeve art) recorded their LP, “Los 4 Jinetes del Apocalípsis,” in a single take, live in the studio—that alone puts them far closer to punk than heavy metal. The five songs on the record, which was reissued on CD last year, revolve around the theme of the apocalypse, with graphic and morbid lyrics that one might associate with hardcore or metal of the mid 80s. Unsurprisingly, the record was a poor seller and had limited distribution; now, it’s impossibly rare. The music combines the slightly bluesy mid-70s Spanish hard rock sound of bands like Storm, which channeled Sabbath and Deep Purple, with a just-this-side-of-NWOBHM early heavy metal sound, before the flourishes of psych totally gave way to the technicality of metal. “Los 4 Jinetes del Apocalípsis” is dirty and driving. “La Contaminación,” about a nuclear holocaust, feels a little like early Motörhead, though not quite as direct—same foot-tapping, insistent backbeat—with fuzzed-out guitars throughout. These longer tracks have extended periods with no vocals, just guitars on top of guitars, though not in a flashy way, with restrained and, dare I say, tasteful drumming, all of which get to the heart of what I want from this type of music. The slow, acoustic three-minute, build-up introduction to “La Guerra Cruel” is a (slightly unwelcome) reminder that this band was not punk rock—but the song does really get going once it gets going. Otherwise, the cheap recording is just perfect, with echoes galore on the vocals and guitar solos overtaking the rhythm and then dropping out again without any studio trickery. You can nearly feel the sweat pouring from their brows (or, brow, in the case of drummer Jesus). The CD was mastered from the original tapes (with at least one lovable tape defect), and I actually wish their were some vinyl surface noise to add to the atmosphere. I’ve never seen an original of the album, but I can almost smell a dusty, smoke-stained, laminated sleeve, of a dodgy paper quality rarely seen on albums today—yet with scuffed and scratched vinyl that feels sturdier than that of today’s new records and certainly with better mastering than could be achieved even by the deepest of today’s pockets. The echo effects make the record sound like it can be best appreciated cranked up on a shitty stereo in a high-ceilinged, stone-walled, hash-smoke-filled apartment in a dirty backstreet of Cádiz with your moustachioed metalhead friend, who secretly dates his second cousin because no other girls in town will talk to him. The last two tracks of the album are slower than the first three (though both get rolling after some time); their melancholy subjects have been depicted by Spanish artists like Goya better than anyone else: the cruelties of war and famine. If I may bloviate for one (more) moment: though the line between punk and metal historically became more ethical than sonic, nearly everything about this album, as I listen and read the lyrics in 2007, feels “punk” except the sinuous songwriting. Still, punks who don’t listen to metal are today about as rare as the original Zarpa Rock LP, so I imagine any punker with even a slightly developed palate will love this record. As for the ‘bangers, this LP might be too primitive for them. That’s okay. We’ll file it alongside Parabellum’s “Sacrilegio” 12" and White Hell’s single as a perfectly primitive metal record that, by rights, should belong to the punks.
“Los Exitos de Sex Pistols por Los Punk Rockers” is perhaps the finest shit-fi record of all time (forget that mention of “Sacrilegio” one sentence back). It simply does not get any stupider, stranger, more poorly played, funnier, or nigh-psychotic (and possibly -psychedelic) than this record. Even the most humorless sad-sack must crack a smile when the singer growls and caterwauls incoherently, and in-the-red, in no language known to even the most ardent linguistic anthropologists during “Problems.” So what exactly is this fine piece of shit? Not much is known about the origin of the record, but it seems to follow a pattern that was once relatively common, especially in the, uh, less developed nations of the world: rather than trying to license a hit record for sale in, for example, Spain, a record company paid a studio band to record their own version of it—a covers record, essentially—that would be sold profitably to fans hungry for the real thing, which was completely unavailable. The record didn’t pretend to be the real thing, but if the fans were confused and thought it was, well, no harm in that. The records, and cassettes too, were sold in supermarkets and on roadsides, though not necessarily outside the normal distribution channels of legally manufactured records. (The original LP jacket mentions a cassette version, catalog # NC. 1276, but it was supposedly released under a different band name.) “Los Exitos de Sex Pistols” was released, in two different pressings (!), on Dial Discos, under its Nevada series. The back of the sleeve of one version depicts, as many mainstream 70s records did, various other records available on the imprint, a few of which are possibly in the same style, such as “Los Exitos de Julio Iglesias.” The difference is that Los Punk Rockers managed to outdo the Pistols at their own game, whereas I doubt Mr. Iglesias blushed before phoning his lawyer if he ever learned about the album sold under his name (the cover of which archly includes a silhouette of him, rather than his actual likeness). The back of the sleeve includes Dial Discos’ address, the printer’s address, legal information (ha), and the release date. Every record pictured from the Nevada series includes the reference number for the LP and the cassette. I don’t know what the other sleeve variation has instead of the pictures of the other Nevada releases.
The bootleg of the LP, which is what you’re likely to encounter when you see this record for sale on eBay, has a few obvious differences from the original. It used the version of the sleeve with the other releases on Nevada, but deleted the catalog numbers. Also, on the back in the top right, it says “1978,” but the original does not. The bootleg sleeve, which is also larger than the original, has a printed spine unlike the original (and the cardstock differs, with the original laminated and bootleg varnished). The front of the boot’s sleeve lacks the Nevada logo in the bottom right and the catalog number, ND-1276 ESTEREO, along with the label name. Finally, the colors of the boot’s sleeve are slightly brighter, with the punk woman’s face more ruddy. The vinyl is clearly different (original matrix: ND-1275 A / ND-1276 B followed by a diamond-shaped glyph; bootleg matrix, in Czech Republic pressing style: AE 12759/A / AE 12760/A). The original label is brown and beige, whereas the bootleg is pink and magenta and includes songwriting credits instead of only the song names. As I mentioned, the original LP is extremely rare. When one sold in 2007 at the incredible Wah Wah Records store in Barcelona, it was the first the shop’s owner had seen in something like 15 years. I’ve heard of an insane trade: Opus single for Los Punk Rockers LP. Presumably, both traders thought the other was a complete idiot.
“Los Exitos de Sex Pistols” was obviously recorded in a flash, before the next trend could take hold. The musicians more-or-less learned the songs from “Never Mind the Bollocks,” but the singer must not have spoken much English, because his approximations of Johnny Rotten are complete nonsense. (Here are “Holidays in the Sun” and “Pretty Vacant”.) Even when singing the song title, as in the chorus of “Seventeen,” he seems to be making words up: “I’m a lazy seven.” He does have the snottiness down pat, though. The vocals are clearly the best part of the record, simply because they’re so hilariously terrible. The guitar sound is thin and fuzzy, quite unlike the multitracked wall of guitars on “NMTB”—actually, it’s a lot closer to what one associates today with DIY punk of the late 70s than the Pistols’ sound. Few punk sleeves are as iconic as that of “NMTB,” but this album’s sleeve does fit the music well. It’s dumb. The woman on the sleeve appears to be some random person a photographer pulled off the street and dressed in moderately “punk” duds. (A friend of mine coined the term “calzone” to describe an unfortunate effect extremely tight pants have on luscious hips—check the model’s jeans pockets to see an example.) Some time ago, one of the guys behind Munster Records saw this woman walking down the street in Madrid; he recognized her but didn’t know what to say and she escaped. Me, I would’ve followed her home, in the hopes that she had a stash of LPs under the bed.
When I was in Spain last year, someone told me of gossip that the popular Spanish prog-rock band Asfalto was responsible for this recording. Their legit records, I noticed, are easy to find in Spain. I wonder if the members of the band would admit to having recorded this abomination. Maybe the gossip is not true. I did find, in my research, that Asfalto played London’s Marquee in October 1978, which would’ve been the perfect place to learn about the Pistols. The early-for-the-trend Vibrators, who collaborated with Chris Spedding, the producer of the Pistols’ 76 demo (Spedding may have actually played guitar on it), played the Marquee the following day.
This LP could demonstrate one way that the transitional period of the first few years after Franco’s death perfectly coincided with the worldwide punk explosion to create music in Spain that stood apart from that of its peer nations. The uneven development of the worldwide capitalist economy is clearly due to factors like dictatorships, which, however market-friendly they were, as Spain’s started to become in the last half of Franco’s rule, still stifled innovation in the introduction of cultural commodities. Unscrupulous business practices have been endemic to popular music since its early days, but they are aided by local economic situations that bear attitudes toward legality out of joint with the larger global system. Thus, bootlegs have flourished in countries with lax regulations of intellectual property. In this LP’s case, however, not only did some apparent legal loophole create the space for it, so too did Spain’s rush to catch up with the rest of Europe culturally after Franco’s death, which included the explosion of subcultures as resistance—a sea change from the types of resistance that flourished before and during the civil war, in the era before the society of the spectacle commodity. The major difference between this record and the “real” punk records from Spain in 1978 is that Los Punk Rockers were not members of a movement. They took from the movement, however loosely constituted it may have been, but they did not contribute to it. Indeed, I am sure the “true” punks, such as members of Kaka De Luxe, if they were aware of this record would have considered it an insulting joke. Some aspects of punk rock, Los Punk Rockers showed, were easy to fake on record, but being a member of an oppositional subculture in a repressive society was not one of them. The Sex Pistols obviously serve as an introduction to nearly everyone’s understanding of punk rock, but I believe a far more accurate representation of the silliness and lack of pretense of punk as it was and is lived by the majority of its practitioners can be found on Los Punk Rockers’ LP. The stakes were far higher for the Pistols or La Banda Trapera Del Río than they are for me and my friends today, as we sit around laughing our asses off while listening to Los Punk Rockers.
I believe an entire book could be written about “Los Exitos de Sex Pistols por Los Punk Rockers,” perhaps in the 33.3 series. But I’ll stop here. This record is essential. It is probably the finest example of accidental greatness in musical history—and punk’s history is littered with examples of accidental greatness, or else the Shit-Fi project wouldn’t exist.
Relatively unknown today outside collector circles, Basura and Mortimer both released 45s in 1978. (Peligro was another band of the era, from Barcelona, which did not release a record.) Not to be confused with the later Basque hardcore punk band of the same name, Basura released a 45 whose four-minute tunes would not be considered punk, or even proto-punk, by any standard. They’re basic up-tempo boogie-rock. I suppose the sleeve art veers toward punk rock but only because the artist apparently thought the punk aesthetic was just more angular version of the hippie aesthetic (and maybe before all the black-and-white artwork of the 80s it once was); Basura’s sleeve is pretty much pop-art. The band name is punk enough. But Basura was mainly transgressive insofar as the lyrical concerns included—cara A—lesbianism and—cara B—waiting for the WC (detect a theme yet?). Maybe there’s another dissertation topic lurking here: coprophilia in post-dictatorship societies. “No Seas Lesbiana Mi Amor” is a piss-take of the archetypal pop love song except that the narrator worries his love will go unrequited because the object of his affection, shall we say, doesn’t view the world in quite the same way he does. Not only does my college-age self relate deeply to the lyrics, I actually find the song quite catchy and compelling. It’s constantly stuck in my head. One thing becomes clear listening to these punk records from Spain 1978: glam had a deep effect on those would become punk rockers. Whereas London and New York 77 punk contained a current that rejected the gender-bending sexual openness of glam, outlying scenes that were not quite on the leading edge left more room for experimentation. There was no been-there, done-that attitude in Madrid or Barcelona when it came to guys dressing effeminately and stealing a kiss while the flash bulbs fired as there would have been in the post–NY Dolls Lower
East Side scene. Glam, clearly, was novel and exciting (and remains so for Pedro Almodóvar, Spain’s most important filmmaker). It’s true that, in its own way, Basura’s is an ode to heterosexuality, but one imagines that even the acknowledgment that out there among the chicas lurked something other than the desire to be a groupie or a wife was enough to piss off legions of Falangists skimming the music pages over their morning cafecito. Indeed, schooling for women did not become compulsory in Spain until the 60s! The sexual revolution that swept most of the world beginning in the mid-60s did not land in Spain until the late 70s, after Franco’s death. Needless to say, Basura’s 45 on Belter Rec (which also released La Banda Trapera Del Río’s single and LP in 1978) pretty much didn’t make it out of the basura-bin of history, and it’s now a rare piece. I do get a good chuckle from seeing it on wantlists of strict punk collectors, as I imagine them going from “Loner with a Boner” to “Love Lies Limp” after throwing this m-/m- just-won-on-eBay slab on the turntable. Don’t even get said scum started on Paypal’s dollar to euro exchange rate! Speaking of m-/m-, I give Munster credit for using a “German ex-” copy for the sleeve of their reissue without any Photoshoppery interfering with an authentic reissue experience.