A Punk Song: how long should it be?

Well,  how long should anything be?

Tonight we’re pondering on the progress in punk that moved from the fifty-nine second Damned song ‘Stab Yor Back’ which appeared on the first full length punk album, Damned Damned Damned – to the nine and a half minutes taken by the Bauhaus punk/goth crossover two years later.

The first punk songs were a swipe at the turgid and overlong progressive rock songs of the era. Genesis, Yes, Rush and the like were producing longer and longer tracks in a move to merge with serious, classical music. There were banks of keyboards; drumkits with 12 tom toms and multiple bass drums. The prog rock thinking went that more is better …. until The Damned came along. The first ever punk single ‘New Rose’ harked back to the generally agreed principle that you can say what needs saying in under 3 minutes. But Stab Yor Back is even better, with no wasteful guitar solos or even a second verse. It makes for a great 59 second spurt of exercise.

However, things don’t stay still for long. By 1979, punk was moving in all directions. Some kids were going the way of ska, rocksteady and towards the Bristolian Pigbag (nearly 6 minutes) era. Others were back on the pop scene with new wave, power-pop and clean-cut tunes (My Sharona 4 minutes). The new romantics took the make-up and dressing up to the electronics counter (and the extended 12″ single format), and the doomy-gloomy punks turned goth.


The generally agreed first goth record ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ was recorded in a nine and a half minute live take in Northampton by Bauhaus. Interestingly, the singing doesn’t start until 2 minutes 50 seconds in – which is just about the sweet stopping point for sensible bands like The Buzzcocks, and most bands with women in them!

But in 1979 and for years after, this long, long song was a sure floor filler, and a chance for vinyl DJs to go and get a pint and a piss. It was a soundtrack to my youth; a great recording, but maybe not a great song.

And where’s the punkgirl link, you ask?

Well, for many years, I thought that Bela Lugosi was a woman.



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