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jason on 07/07/2010 at 02:00PM

Single Bullet Theory: 1970's DIY power-pop vs. the 80's new wave music industry

Single Bullet Theory hanging out with The Ramones

Single Bullet Theory were a DIY-punk-inspired power-pop group with a true shot at new-wave stardom in the late 70s and early 80s. They were certainly worthy; the songs were there and the energy was too. But after gigging with artists like The Ramones, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, and even finding their way onto MTV and the Billboard charts, the music industry bottleneck pressured SBT to sacrifice their pure vision for potential mass-marketability. In the process, the group lost the sense of purpose that drove them to play music in the first place, and disbanded before they could record their elusive breakthrough.

SBT: 1977-1980 compiles Single Bullet Theory's self-recorded material, and the 11-song collection offers an unfiltered vision of a band at their prime. It's compiled by Artifacts/yclept, which is both a musicians' collective from SBT's hometown of Richmond Virginia, as well as the imprint that originally released this material on 45rpm 12'' in an edition of 1000. We've previously documented the more experimental tendencies of Richmond's fertile arts scene with features on Karen Cooper Complex and Bomis Prendin, but there is much more to dig into over at the Artifacts/yclept FMA page.

The core of Single Bullet Theory -- Frank Daniel, Dennis Madigan, and Michael Maurice Garrett -- had been playing in Richmond bands since 1971 in groups like Big Naptar and X-Breed (pictured L), putting on warehouse parties and fostering a healthy music community. Both of these bands appear on the first Artifacts compilation, originally released as a flexi-disk in 1976 (they love those flexis!). X-Breed's version of "Miss Two Knives" was later recorded as Single Bullet Theory, who formed in 1976 to further refine a sound that had started by covering bands like the MC5, Velvet Underground, and the Troggs.

One of the songs below, "Keep It Tight," would be re-recorded for Single Bullet Theory's first (and only) official album, released in 1982 on Nemperor Records, a subsidiary of CBS Records. The song charted, a music video (after the jump) appeared on MTV two years later just as the label stopped promoting the band.

In 1994, the re-recorded "Keep It Tight" appeared on Rhino Records' New Wave Hits of the 80's Volume 9 compilation, securing Single Bullet Theory a legacy in 1980s music alongside artists like Modern English, Duran Duran and the Violent Femmes, and more royalties than they'd ever received from CBS Records. You can buy a copy here, and hopefully this net-release will rouse enough interest in a vinyl reissuing of SBT's early material.

You can read more about SBT at their Free Music Archive profile, which also links to an excellent article on "The Trajectory" of the band over at Mad Dog Productions.

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JoeMc on 07/08/10 at 02:36AM
Excellent post, Jason! Thanks for spotlighting this great band.
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