It’s a long way from “(I’m) Stranded” to “Just Like Fire Would.”
For starters, the first one’s punk; the latter’s maybe cowpunk. “Stranded,” The Saints’ first single in September 1976, will be forever known to have dropped before The Sex Pistols had any product to show for its trouble — as well as the fact The Saints had been playing out in unskilled, fast and loud fashion since 1973.
This is because The Saints hail from Australia, which translates to “penal colony” in British. It just doesn’t do to have an island seeded by convicts beat you at what you think is your own game. In America, these sorts of things are not a concern: A) because The Ramones won the race to acetate by a long shot, and B) many of our most revered musicians are or have been in jail. It’s called street cred.
The latter song, “Just Like Fire Would,” was off 1987’s “All Fools Day,” Saints’ attempt to cross into the mainstream by dabbling in what is now referred to as “jangle pop.” To say it sounds like an R.E.M. rip-off is too harsh, because singer/songwriter Chris Bailey, snarl dialed down, exhibited a soulful voice that carried the album. It really deserves to have done better in the States — at least better than the BoDeans.
It’s not surprising that The Saints’ sound was so much changed nine years after “Stranded” (“Fools” was recorded in 1985). Its roster of former members could fill a Greyhound — which is still nothing compared to Aztec Camera. According to Wikipedia, everybody but your mom did time in that band.
When they write the obit on The Saints, it will be remembered as The Punk Band That Beat The Sex Pistols Into The Studio. Which is fine, but does it really matter anymore? When I hear a song like The Stooges’ “T.V. Eye” off 1970’s “Fun House,” I see no real difference between that and anything in the traditional punk realm until you get to something that’s almost thrash, like Black Flag or Youth of Today.
In any case, back in 1976 The Saints were just dipping their toes in the punk stream. Within two years, it was playing blues, and had shed much of its audience. The band was probably sick of all that gobbing anyway. After guitarist Ed Kuepper left in 1979, the band moved into folk and jazz territory.
But about that original crew — the three lads who started out as Kid Galahad and the Eternals in 1973, later joined by Kym Bradshaw on bass — and the best song they ever created (and the point to all this pontification), “Wild About You.” The song, off its 1977 debut album, is a cover of a song by The Missing Links, an Australian R&B band from the mid-1960s.
Bailey’s sneer is in evidence, but the star is Kuepper on guitar, particularly the breakdown in the last minute (basically, half the song) that I would argue was more fierce than anything else on record up to that time. And it matters, because it still sounds dangerous — just like young Iggy.