A while back I wrote about the idea of how certain bands immediately come to mind when we think of “punk.” For me, it’s The Clash. (And sometimes it’s The Damned.) And as I’ll explain in a few months, it’s also sometimes X-Ray Spex.
It’s not The Slits, though that’s not a judgment against them. The Slits were, ostensibly, a punk band. They grew out of British punk, or more accurately post-punk, and they’re often mentioned in the same breath as a lot of Class of 77 bands. But here’s the thing: They don’t sound like any of them. (They do sound a little like The Raincoats, but that’s an entirely different story.)
It’s for that reason that The Slits, for a while, proved somewhat elusive for me. I knew they were important, I just wasn’t really quite able to wrap my head around what they were doing, and I think a lot of that has to do with expectations. I expected them to sound like a punk band, and they didn’t. Instead, they were sort of a strange, scrappy, scratchy reggae-punk group with moments of sideways no wave dance punk, and all of it can essentially be summarized as “art.” (Art punk? I suppose that’ll do.)
Then I heard the group’s cover of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and it all fell into place. (Plus every band that James Murphy mentions in “Losing My Edge” deserves as many chances as it takes—these are just the rules.) Covers of soul/R&B songs by punk bands can be a dicey proposition, and a lot of bands entirely botch the execution. But this is how to do it right—the groove of the original Smokey Robinson/Marvin Gaye standard remains, but it gets reworked into a Gang of Four-like abrasive dancepunk jam. If I hear this on the dancefloor, I will dance. If you are on the dancefloor when I’m DJing, there’s a good chance you’re going to hear it. This isn’t just one of the best covers of all time, it’s one of the best songs of all time.
From there it all clicked—”Typical Girls,” “FM,” “Shoplifting.” It still doesn’t really feel like a punk record, but I’ve matured a couple decades since first giving it a go and my perceptions have changed. For a long time I was trying to find an affordable copy of the “Typical Girls” single, since “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was the b-side, but about five years ago Rough Trade went ahead and reissued the album with that cover as a bonus track, and essentially my wish was granted, since I didn’t have a proper copy of Cut, either.
Just a warning: This album cover got removed from my Instagram for being “indecent” or some bullshit, so if Facebook gives me a 24-hour ban for this, you’ve been warned.
Sound Quality: Great