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50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #13: The Saints

The Hoodoo Gurus’ Dave Faulkner takes a look back at The Saints, one of the most influential punk bands in not just Australia, but the world.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time - The Saints

Courtesy of The Saints; Christopher Ferguson*

In December of 2020, Rolling Stone Australia released a special edition issue which looks at the 50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time, paying tribute to the best and most impactful artists in Australian music history. While it would have been easy for the editors and writers of the publication to profess their love of the listed artists, the decision was instead made for those who found themselves inspired by these world-renowned names to share their own testimonials of why these artists deserve to make the list.

In celebration of the issue’s release in December, we’re counting down the full 50 artists and their accompanying testimonials in this ongoing online feature. If you want to get your hands on an physical copy of the magazine, be sure to subscribe now to experience the double-length edition featuring some of Australia’s best and brightest discussing the finest names in local music.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #13: The Saints (by Dave Faulkner of the Hoodoo Gurus)

The Saints were always a band of misfits, a musical slap in the face to the bland conformity of Brisbane in the Seventies. Inspired by The Stooges and the MC5, Ed Kuepper developed a pummelling, explosive guitar attack that was made even more vitriolic by Chris Bailey’s snarky vocals. Gathering a motley assortment of die-hard followers around them, by 1976 The Saints were a revolution waiting to happen. 

Unbeknownst to them, there were plenty of other disaffected music fans around the world who were also looking for some hard-edged thrills after the collapse of rock’n’roll into pomposity and self-parody in the early Seventies. When Kuepper heard the Ramones album, he was crestfallen to discover that someone else had beaten The Saints to the punch. Chris Bailey told one UK blogger about getting a call from the guitarist saying, “the Ramones have stolen our sound”. Kuepper told the same interviewer, “I was surprised at the way it sounded. But their only influence was that I decided never to wear a leather jacket onstage”. 

The Ramones may have gotten the jump on The Saints but after a gushing review in the UK’s Sounds Magazine in October 1976, The Saints’ independent single, “(I’m) Stranded”, became the shot heard around the world. EMI Australia were nonplussed at being ordered by their head office to sign up this band of musical malcontents. They were even more mystified when they finally got to see the band perform in Sydney.

“By 1976 The Saints were a revolution waiting to happen.” 

Notably, at one of those performances Kuepper even changed a guitar string during a song without missing a beat. The caterwauling sound of a string being slowly tuned up to pitch as he continuously flailed away only added to the din – and to the lack of comprehension among the gathered execs. Forget Brisbane, The Saints couldn’t have appeared more alien if they had flown in from Alpha Centauri.

In May 1977, The Saints left an indifferent Australian music industry far behind and decamped to London where they were initially greeted as punk saviours. Of course, The Saints weren’t having a bar of that. Their defiantly anti-style of dress was sharply at odds with the post-Glam revolutionary chic of punk fashion and, horror of horrors, some of the band even had long hair! For The Saints, UK punk presented another set of rules to be flouted and they soon found themselves in their familiar role of outsiders once again.

In a way, that first lineup of The Saints reached its zenith with ‘“(I’m) Stranded”, both the single and the album. There were many brilliant songs on the next two albums and, for my money, the single “This Perfect Day” was the most explosive the band ever sounded on record but, musically, they appeared to lose cohesion. Australia had been hostile but, in the end, London was equally unwelcoming. Somehow the anger and energy that had been turned outwards against an unfriendly world now began to turn inwards.

In September 1978, just after releasing their third album, Prehistoric Sounds, The Saints dissolved in ignominy and acrimony. History has been kinder to the band than the world was when they were around. In some ways, the only musical revolutions that matter are the ones the vinyl makes as it spins around the turntable. That’s a revolution where The Saints will always come out ahead of most of their contemporaries.