That’s Life (Dojo)
by Joshua Brown
Dojo Records, a division of Castle Communications, has reissued the bulk of the Sham 69 catalog onto compact disc. As riders of the “wave” in Britain at the end of the ’70s, Sham 69 were the honest, “nice guy” counterpart to the Sex Pistols and The Clash, but no less punk, by any means. In fact, it was simply music made by punks with an exclusively punk audience in mind, so their short-cropped heads weren’t tailor made for front page sensationalism, nor was the package as easily marketed as a pop culture phenomenon. Their message of unity for the disenfranchised was powerfully succinct and simple, and their songs had more sing-a-long for your buck than anyone before or after.
Sham’s two 1978 releases, That’s Life and Tell Us The Truth, show them at their rawest. Tell Us The Truth is split down the middle between studio recordings and live material which is, in a sense, superior, since the sound quality is surprisingly clear and their excellent rapport with their audience is showcased (the disc opens with fans chanting, “If you’re proud to be Cockney, clap your hands!” [clap, clap]). Issues mainly dealt with are the real-life British sitcom of family life and the fearless struggle for self-determination of punk rocker youth (best exemplified by the anthem “Angels With Dirty Faces” from That’s Life). Politics, internal and external, are handled in a no-nonsense manner that doesn’t dwell on detail.
Sham 69, while possessing an unflaunting sense of humor about life, at the same time took the issues they cared about very seriously. By the time ’79 came around, their point had already been made, and it was time to mature and be more entertaining. The new album, The Adventures of Hersham Boys, was to be far and away their greatest achievement, with songs that rivaled those of Never Mind The Bollocks and X-Ray Spex’s Germ Free Adolescents as definitive documentation of that particular time and place. The title track (“Hersham boys, Hersham boys, laced up boots and corduroys”) was a statement of purpose, and “Mister You’re A Better Man” (whose lyrics were copped by Aerosmith for “Livin’ On The Edge”) was a song about not judging a book by its cover, authoritative enough to make any sixties folk protester jealous. Each of the Dojo reissues contains bonus tracks, and one of the extras on Adventures… is the single “If The Kids Are United,” an undeniably great tune which would later be redone by 7 Seconds in their early days.
The last in this series of Sham 69 reissues, The Game, rang in the ’80s as a warning of the coming decade of greed and myopia. The message was, of course, right on the mark, but unfortunately, The Game also heralded the end of Sham’s greatness. The album musically attempted to sound like their earlier recordings, but the production was too slick for its own good, and they were rapidly losing the innocence which had been their trademark. The Game was a good album, but in hindsight sounds like the death knell for a band on the down-slide. Sham 69 has made intermittent recordings since then, some of which almost fall short of embarrassing, and lead singer Jimmy Pursey has had a solo career with its ups and downs.