Why is Sham 69’s Angels With Dirty Faces on my best 1,000 albums ever list?
A delirious blast of UK punk.
Some stats & info about Sham 69 – Angels With Dirty Faces
- What kind of musical stylings does this album represent? Punk, Punk Rock, British Punk, Pub Rock
- Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums ranking – not ranked!
- All Music’s rating – not ranked!
- When was Angels With Dirty Faces released? 1978 (at least according to Spotify!)
- My ranking, the one you’re reading right now – #970 out of 1,000
Sham 69’s Angels With Dirty Faces on Spotify
What does the “best 1,000 albums ever” mean and why are you doing this?
Yeah, I know it’s audacious, a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot cray cray), bordering on criminal nerdery.
But here’s what it’s NOT: a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of All-Time. This is 100% my own personal super biased, incredibly subjective take on what my top 1,000 albums are, ranked in painstaking order over the course of doing research for nearly a year, Rob from High Fidelity style. Find out more about why I embarked on a best 1,000 albums ever project.
What does Sham 69’s Angels With Dirty Faces mean to me? What does it make me feel? Why is it exciting or compelling?
This particular entry on the list is problematic in a few respects, which has nothing to do with the actual music on Angels With Dirty Faces itself. The music, it should be noted and which I’ll get back to shortly, is really strong and well worthy of making my best 1,000 albums ever list.
There are two main problems, one administrative and one more complex and substantive.
The administrative one is about where and how “compilation albums” should fit into the best 1,000 albums list, if at all. I’ve thought about this more than any human reasonably should, and the very short and sweet answer is that I thought it best to be “expansive” rather than “restrictive” when it comes to album consideration. If that makes the list slightly “unfair” in some respects – meaning that one band’s “best of” album might be “better” than another band’s best “individual” album releases – well, then so be it. This is my insanely subjective ranking on the world’s recorded popular music in album form to date – so I’m casting the net as far and wide as I possibly can. There are nerdier and deeper levels to get into, such as original songs and live version of songs that are often packaged with “best of X” and compilation albums, but I’ll just leave it there for now.
The second is specific to Sham 69 and its association with “skinheads.” Here’s what Wikipedia says about this topic with relation to Sham 69:
Sham 69 did not have the art school background of many English punk bands of the time, and brought in football chant backup vocals and an implicit political populism. The band attracted a large skinhead following (left wing, right wing and non-political). Their concerts were plagued by violence, and the band ceased live performances after a 1979 concert at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park was broken up by National Front-supporting white power skinheads fighting and rushing the stage.
In the United States in 2021, I think most people – including me – quickly translate “skinhead” into someone adhering to some kind of white nationalist ideology. However, in reading the description of England at the time, “skinheads” in theory came in the form of the “left wing, right wing and non-political.”
As far as I can tell, the music of Sham 69 doesn’t espouse any kind of racial agenda; it’s anger and power is focused on socioeconomic issues of the day along with your more typical youth days-type angst, United Kingdom in the late 1970s style. If someone can prove to me otherwise, I will absolutely revisit this entry.
Okay, onward to the actual music, thankfully.
“Borstal Breakout” is a delirious blast of UK punk that ranks with the best of the Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, and other comers of the time. And in fact its furious tempo leans more into the territory of the across-the-pond Ramones in the best kind of way.
To borrow a term from the brilliant Rewatchables podcast, my half-a—ed Internet research tells me, via the YouTube comments, that “Borstal Breakout” is Keanu Reeves’ favorite song.
“Hurry Up Harry” doesn’t have quite the pinpointed firepower of “Borstal Breakout,” but has incredible energy that compels you to run, not walk, to your nearest local pub.
I lived and worked in England for six months after I graduated from college. During that time, I bought a three album compilation of UK punk which I wish very much that I still owned. I’m pretty sure that album set introduced me to Sham 69 (along with other punk bands like the UK Subs) by way of “If the Kids Are United,” an anthemic punk song that encapsulates the power of youth and unity in the clean and simple lyrics of the chorus: “If the kids are united, they will never be divided.”
This album also sounds like
The bands I mention above cover this pretty well: Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, and Ramones. If you’re not super familiar with the history of punk rock (excluding proto punk if you want to get super nerdy about it), those bands are likely where I’d start you off. And throw in a few Sham 69 songs for good measure, too? No reason not to.