The making of The Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat”

A raw, supercharged blast of punked-up garage rock, recorded live in a tiny studio: “It’s a short, sharp shock on record!” says Captain Sensible

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“It’s pretty simple, really,” explains Brian James, The Damned guitarist and composer of their classic 45 “Neat Neat Neat”. “It’s a rock’n’roll song.” Kicking off with a corrupted Eddie Cochran bass twang, The Damned’s second single throws together bursts of thrilling guitar riffage over an addictively stuttering rhythm, a coolly impenetrable lyric and a chorus that lands like three swift rabbit punches. The result is a supercharged blast of punked-up garage rock.

“Neat Neat Neat” was recorded live in a room once used by British fascist Oswald Mosley, squeezed between a terraced house and a garage, fuelled by cheap cider, copious ciggies and a surfeit of hostile energy. “There’s nothing posh about it,” says Captain Sensible, who played bass on the record. “It’s rough and raw. It was made in this dingy room with four fairly aggressive people shouting at each other! That’s why it sounds the way it does.”

The Damned had formed in 1976. In October, five weeks before the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy In The UK”, they released their debut, “New Rose”, the first British punk single. Shortly afterwards they joined the Pistols, The Clash and Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers on the infamous Anarchy Tour of the UK. “Everyone wanted to be the pre-eminent punk group, especially the managers,” says Captain Sensible. “They had this dreadful rivalry. The bands got on, but the managers were all sneering at each other. It was quite funny, really.”

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They recorded “Neat Neat Neat” less than a month later, at Pathway Studios in north London, during sessions for their debut album, Damned Damned Damned. As with “New Rose”, the producer was Nick Lowe. “We all knew that something was going on and our time had come,” says Lowe. “It all seemed very natural. There was a distinct meeting of minds, which was really exciting.” “Neat Neat Neat” emerged as the obvious choice for the album’s opening statement, as well as the band’s next single. “That was the track where I thought we had something really different,” says drummer Rat Scabies. “I always thought it had a really good groove, with the snaky bassline. It’s kind of slippery. Dare I say it, it’s a proper piece of music!”

The original Damned lineup split within a year of the song coming out. Later in 2022, they will reunite for a series of UK dates. “Obviously “Neat Neat Neat” has to be there and “New Rose”,” says James. “They’re always a pleasure to play. Do we play them as fast as the recordings? Faster!”

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