Do They Owe Us A Living?The Feeding Of The 5000
MotherStations Of The Crass
Big Man, Big M.A.N.Stations Of The Crass
DarlingStations Of The Crass
Bata MotelPenis Envy
Systematic DeathPenis Envy
What The Fuck?Penis Envy
Dry WeatherPenis Envy
Have A Nice DayChrist - The Album
Big A Little ABest Before 1984




Contributor: Rick J Leach

What do you know about Crass? Circles with A in the middle? Shaved heads? Scary looking band members with daft names? Unlistenable racket? Some sort of weird anarchist/hippy/punk mixture from the late 70s/early 80s? The group who were responsible for Napalm Death, Discharge and countless dodgy U.S. ‘hardcore’ outfits? A bunch of free-festival, lentil-munching veggies? The band whose fans you were slightly scared of?

Crass were all this and yet more.

Crass were one of the few bands, along with The Fall, where I bought everything they released – singles, 12″ vinyl, albums, the lot. I even had a Crass badge, which I’ve still got somewhere. Last time I saw it, Amy, my 19-year old daughter, was wearing it. I don’t think that she is a Crass fan though, probably more of a fashion statement. Somehow I don’t think that Crass would approve.

I remember precisely when Crass entered my consciousness. There was a polemical piece in Sounds, written by Dave McCullough, ripping Crass to pieces but praising their – and it’s strange that I can recall this phrase after so many years – “taut mysticism” and comparing that aesthetic/artistic approach to that of The Fall. McCullough was from a very early stage, an enthusiastic advocate for The Fall (even though he fell out with the band massively before the release of their third album). While he had mostly harsh words for Crass, something struck a chord with me, probably because he considered they had an oblique commonality with The Fall. Well, that was it for me. Off I went to Probe Records to get some Crass.

There is so much about them that I admired – and still do. The fact that when playing live they didn’t have any stage lighting but played under naked 40 watt bulbs; that all their records cost no more to buy than it cost them to make – no profiteering on their part. The fact that they had no stage clothes and all dressed the same, all in black, in order that there would be no stars in the band. Their visceral opposition to all forms of authority – business, church, state. The graphics and record sleeves – which handily doubled as fold-out posters – very apt in the 80s. Their no drink/no drugs hardline policy. That they were clearly fairly intelligent – their Christ – The Album box set came complete with a full length book which gave an in-depth look at the history of anarchism in relation to Crass and the rationale behind the band. That they were the only truly punk band; independent label (their own), no profit, no barrier between audience and band, and that they had thought about it all. Their Situationalist ideals – the giving away of a free flexi of a hidden MOR track from Penis Envy to a teenage girls’ magazine under the auspices of Creative Recording And Sound Services (i.e. Crass) caused a minor furore when the publishers of the magazine realised they, and all their readers, had been duped by a bunch of anarchist punks living in a squat. Their constant refusal to partake in any acts of violent reaction despite intense provocation. They were prosecuted and investigated by the police and MI5 throughout their existence and didn’t compromise or bend under pressure.

But the music, that’s another matter. More than any other band, the idea of Crass is sometimes better than the music. Although there is much that is worthwhile, you have to work through their early albums to find the buried gems. Great ideas are occasionally poorly executed but they did hit their stride with Penis Envy, an album that is a perfect mix of righteous feminist indignation and anger, dark humour, and surprisingly good musicianship. Their Best Before 1984 singles compilation is a good way to dip your toes into the waters of Crass.

Oh, and they are quite funny as well.


Crass: A History – A Guide to Crass Records

Crass biography (iTunes)

Rick’s topperlist is in chronological order, you can read more about his Crass completist thing in his book Totally Shuffled: A Year of Listening to Music on a Broken iPod which is available in e-book and paperback.

TopperPost #257

1 Comment

  1. Keith Shackleton
    Apr 22, 2014

    Tammy, then a Martin Carthy mega-topper, now Crass… I like it! I’ll be giving this a good going over today. Nice one, Rick.

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