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'O' Level: The Malcolm 7"

'O' Level: The Malcolm 7"

Tags: · 70s · 77 & KBD · hcpmf · melodic · punk · UK
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'O' Level was created in 1976 by London guitarist Ed Ball along with two friends from school, the Benett brothers (John on drums and Gerard on bass), who would leave the band in March 1978.
That same line-up plus Dan Treacy (another school friend of Ball's) recorded the first Television Personalities single in 1977, titled '14th Floor'.
'O' Level self-released that same year a first single which included three tracks strongly influenced by punk's energy (Buzzcocks and Undertones guitars and melody on 'East Sheen') and attitude (with ironic comments about fake punks on 'Pseudo Punk'), but all of as if seen from a distance, outside a decadent scene which had already been absorbed by the establishment.
The single also features a sort of homonymous anthem called ''O' Levels'. As a record collector anecdote, there are two versions of the single with different covers, which go for very high prices.

Ed Ball, DIY superhero, returned in late 1978 with four more hits, displaying a sound more oriented towards 60s pop but with the new wave spirit of the time. On this occasion he was accompanied on bass, drums and backing vocals by… himself, Ball played everything! The
single, titled 'The Malcolm EP', contains a new hit in "homage" to Malcolm McLaren, 'We Love Malcolm'; a portrait of the scene, 'Everybody's On Revolver Tonight' (where the pseudo punks and part time punks make another appearance); and two tracks with 60s melodies: 'Leave Me Alone' (with a very Love-esque chorus) and 'Stairway To Boredom' (pure new wave sound).

Our take: Breakout Records brings us a killer repro of this all-time UKDIY banger from 1978. Do you like idiosyncratic pop songs recorded in cheap studios by young British men in the late 1970s who couldn’t play their instruments very well? If so, you should know ‘O’ Level. If you’ve dipped your toe into the UKDIY scene at all you probably already do, since their credentials are impeccable. The first lineup of ‘O’ Level was the same musicians as the lineup of Television Personalities that recorded that band’s first single, 14th Floor, and ‘O’ Level even gets a name check in the Television Personalities song “Part Time Punks” (though the titular anti-heroes don’t buy the ‘O’ Level single, passing it over in favor of the Lurkers). If you’re a TVPs fan, it’s hard to imagine you wouldn’t love ‘O’ Level too, since their approach is essentially the same, writing hooky pop songs that would be saccharine if they didn’t slather them in rawness and grit. There’s also wit and humor. Take, for instance, the title track, which adopts the contrarian stance of celebrating Malcolm McLaren’s contribution to the burgeoning punk scene. All four tracks are essential if you like this style, and The Malcolm EP stands alongside the first several Television Personalities records and the Times’ Red with Purple Flashes as certified UKDIY canon.