I've stepped away from rock music for a little while. I was just getting tired of whatever I was hearing. Every time I'd listen to a 4-piece guitar/bass/drums/vocals rock band I'd think "Heard it already!" and let my attention wander. So I dipped into some jazz for a little while (which isn't generally my thing, but it was pretty palette-cleansing), then electronica (heavily trip-hop), and one of my other loves, heavy instrumental dub reggae.
It was the dub that was critical in leading me back to rock recently. My nominal introduction to quality dub music was Mikey Dread's remixes and productions for the Clash, whose dub works I went back and listened to. Specifically, I wore the grooves out on the second side of the original Black Market Clash EP, which has "Bankrobber/Robber Dub" (not the version that's on the CD version!) into "Armagideon Time" into "Justice Tonight/Kick It Over". There's a fantastic bootleg out there that collects all of the Clash's dub material called "This Is Dub Clash". I won't post it here, but if you're inclined, maybe google it to see what comes up, or you could compile it yourself.
Anyway, dipping back to the Clash, one of my first musical loves, lit the pilot light on my rock-based listening again. Rock music still sounded like tired garbage, except for the purest, most incisive rock music out there, so over the past few days, I've slowly been reloading my wiped iPod with pure rock or punk bands, the bands that have the energy and madness and hooks and drive that seduced me in the first place. While the Ramones are practically a prerequisite for any "Mike's Favorite Music" assessment, it's been the U.K. punk that's really turned me over. My first punk interests were almost exclusively British and late-'70s. What I've found is how my perspective has changed. It would take a miracle for my idealized opinion of the Clash to change, but where I once saw the Pistols as trailblazing heroes, I look at them now as a bunch of peacocking brats whose way of giving authority the finger is recording about two amazing albums of noisy classic rock. I still love them, but the pose becomes more evident to me with each passing year. The Buzzcocks are the band I would most likely be in if I were in that era - classicist, catchy, relationship-obsessed songs, and maybe a little vulgar but not really very offensive. The older I get though, the band that really surprises me over and over is the The Damned.
The Buzzcocks (or even the Undertones, if you want to get all Irish about it) are the band I would most likely be in, but the Damned are swiftly becoming the band I would most like to be in. Unconcerned with politics, always there to undermine the gravity of the situation with a well-placed pie in the face, they weren't afraid to experiment sonically with weird psychy touches and funny effects (although the second album illustrates this well, it sadly wasn't very good), and under all the "we're just here for the beer"/class-clown image, they were a lethally potent rock band.
Listen to "New Rose". Producer Nick Lowe made those drums sound like I want every drum I ever record to sound, the band is flailing with manic intensity and stumbling over itself, there's a little "rock history" nod with the whispered Shangri-Las intro, the hook is enormous, and it's all over in under 3 minutes. Oh, and the b-side of this, their first single, is a Beatles cover. Huh? Even though it's admittedly the best song on the first album, the whole album is great in almost exactly the same ways throughout.
Not only that, but once they moved away from the ramalama Stooge-punk that left with founding guitarist Brian James, their more experimental work is just as good in completely different ways. Machine Gun Etiquette is funny and rocking and silly and colorful, The Black Album pushes punk into gothy psychedelic power-pop, and Strawberries is a backstep into poppy punk, but it may even be the best yet. They got no respect, were constantly shit on by the punk rock elite and those that believed what they were told by said elite (even me - reprints of the Pistols' magazine articles and interviews from the era were taken as gospel by my friends and I in that pre-"everything's on the internet" era), but in hindsight, until their dramatic fizzle in the mid-'80s the Damned were cranking out great-to-better-than-average rock albums, and when they came back in the mid-'90s, they were back to being great. Now that's impressive. "Least likely to"... yeah, right.