Nov 12

The Damned: “Smash It Up, Parts I & II”

The Damned -- Machine Gun Etiquette

Sadly, what defines “machine gun etiquette” is a question largely left unanswered by the album’s track of the same name. I’m guessing that not aiming it at anyone is near the top of the list.

The full — as in Parts I and II — version of The Damned’s “Smash It Up,” from their second album, 1979’s Machine Gun Etiquette, is a true juxtaposition of styles. Part I is an atmospheric instrumental, a sophisticated sign of musical growth in a band previously primarily known for raucous punk raveups. It sounds so relatively mellow that you’d never place it as The Damned if you didn’t know what you were listening to. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t sound great — it’s a fantastic mood piece, measured and completely cool, that could certainly stand on its own as an excellent track. It’s easy enough to imagine it paired with lyrics of its own. But that isn’t what The Damned chose to do with it.

Maybe as a way to make an excuse for the prettiness of the instrumental, they instead chose to pair it with what turned out to be one of their greatest tracks, the party-out-of-control anthem, “Smash It Up.” Note that I don’t say “Smash It Up (Part II),” because I really believe there’s only one song called “Smash It Up.” The instrumental just never got its own title, and became “(Part I)” only by dint of being tacked onto the beginning of the true “Smash It Up.” Musically, the two parts have about as much to do with each other as The Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” or Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla” have to do with their respective long instrumental fadeouts. But somehow, just as in those other songs, the two come together to enhance one another and create a whole that works on a higher level — Part I somehow lends the carefree abandon of Part II a tinge of sadness, as if maybe the smashing up that they’re doing is coming from some deeper place of unhappiness, rather than just being a smashing good time. And maybe the first two lines of the song are intended in some way to point in that direction as well:

We’ve been crying now for much too long
And now we’re gonna dance to a different song

But when you hear Part II on its own, as it often gets played, you miss that possibility, and it becomes simply a great anthemic song about the joys of not giving a damn(ed) about what other people think, and doing what feels good. And “Smash It Up,” Parts I and II, definitely feel good, so I’m pretty sure that either way they achieved what they set out to do.

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