WAX ON TRAX
By Sam Schiel
Published Issue 081, September 2020
Two signs of a great record are: if you purchased it when it was released and if it is still a part of your collection 42 years later. For me 999‘s self-titled debut is one of those records. I picked it up at Wax Trax when I was 14 years old during the original punk explosion. It is amazing to think back to those days when Denver was still considered a cowtown. Answering machines, calculators and VCRs were the state of the art in accessible technology. No cell phones, no CDs. A pre-digital paradise that would be so nice to return to. But alas, if if’s and buts were candy and nuts, man would we have a party!
Wax Trax was ground zero for all things punk and was a bustling energy hub and mosh pit for teenagers’ hormones and pheromones. It felt like a bash when you were in the store. Without this world-class record shop Denver’s music scene during this historic time in the latter 70s and early 80s would have been nothing to compare to what it ended up being.
The new arrivals racks were like a waterfall of the most powerful artists and their early albums from the period. Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, The Jam, The Clash, The Stranglers, The Undertones, Ramones and The Damned are just a sample of the goodies offered to the punk hungry masses.
999’s first album was among these tempting titles. I sought out this band after listening to a compilation I purchased a few weeks earlier that featured 20 songs by various bands from the early English punk rock movement. The comp had a song titled “Emergency” by 999. On the first listen of this classic punk anthem, I had to hear more ASAP!
The colorful jacket photo for 999’s self-titled album caught my eye showing the four band members in various wardrobe choices: brightly colored shirts and pants, heavy on the pink side with Guy Days sporting a blond dye job. It was different, to say the least. I snagged it up, went home and slapped it down on my turntable. I was not disappointed.
999 hailed from London and emerged on the burgeoning live club scene in 1976. Nick Cash (Keith Lucas) on lead vocals and guitar, Guy Days (Nick’s brother) on lead guitar, Jon Watson on bass, and Pablo LaBrittain on drums made up the original lineup responsible for the first three incredible records. A slightly underrated band at that time, many critics and contemporaries saw them as a bunch of sillies and coattail riders trying to cash in on the punk rock phenomenon. No pun intended.
999 opens with “Me And My Desire,” a catchy number introducing the listener to the voice of Nick Cash, who’s nasty, snotty, snarling vocals epitomized the whole “feck off!” attitude of early punk rock. “Chicane Destination” follows giving you the first glimpse of their legitimacy as a punk band to be reckoned with. The frenzied, sing-a-long chorus makes you think you’re in the midst of a bunch of ravenous football hooligans cheering on Leeds or Manchester United. Fun stuff.
“Crazy” slows things a bit and is more a straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roller. 999 had its roots in this and you can tell Days and Cash were well aware of the importance of Chuck Berry and company. Gears shift to a down-beat reggae-esque rhythm for “Your Number Is My Number,” taking us back full circle to all things punk for the last two killer tracks on side one. “Hit Me” is a blistering rocker that kicks into overdrive, slamming the listener’s face into the epic “I’m Alive.”
Side two starts with “Titanic, (My Over) Reaction.” Its subdued bassline intro makes way for Days’ screeching, Les Paul Jr. and a hooky chorus line. Second is another straight-up rocker, “Pick It Up,” which brings the listener to the hit, “Emergency.” This song put 999 on the map. Days’ simple, repetitive, single chord strike is joined by LaBrittain’s brilliant tom-tom beat and Watson’s swooping bass slides. Cash chimes in as they lay down the catchiest cut on the record.
The final three tracks are an aggressive, chaotic whirlwind of high energy mayhem, giving this album an atomic ending. “No Pity” — which ended up as the b-side for Nasty, Nasty released as a single a few months later — is your classic hardcore mosh pit mover with Cash spewing his frantic rant with his signature nasal delivery. “Direct Action Briefing” switches gears to more a herky-jerky rhythm reminiscent of T.Rex’s “Solid Gold Easy Action.” Killer catchy chorus ‘ta boot. Last but not least, “Nobody Knows,” Days’ Eddie Van Halen-esque hammer opening blasts the entire band off like a sonic rocket heading for the stars. Two quiet instrumental breakdowns add major dynamics and show how truly talented these guys were as songwriters and musicians.
999: the perfect combo of punk and pop that sounds as good today as it did 42 years ago. Maybe better! Enjoy.
Sam Schiel is a Denver-born and raised writer, DJ and music guru at Wax Trax Records. His hobbies include, but are not limited to, shape-shifting, dousing and knitting. His favorite color is purple, favorite band is The Banana Splits, favorite sport is deep sea curling. He loves Larry Storch, Craig Ferguson, Dr. Strangelove and The Addams Family. When he’s not drinking Zima at Lakeside Amusement Park sporting his ushanka, he’s eating borscht, enjoying the sweet aroma of the Purina Dog Chow Factory, and gawking at 1969 Plymouth GTXs.