June 1977: American DJs are spinning Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” KC & the Sunshine Band’s “I’m Your Boogie Man,” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” Leo Sayer, Glen Campbell, and David “Hutch from Starsky and Hutch” Soul are in the rotation, too.
That’s the playlist at some unnamed U.S. radio station the day that a long forgotten program director wearing aviator glasses and an Eagles baseball jersey thumbed through the new promotional copies, or “promos,” from Columbia Records. First he checked all of the sleeves for the three c’s–cash, concert tickets, and coke–and then he set aside the free copies of James Taylor’s JT and Barb’s Streisand Superman for his special lady, whom he hoped to bed that evening after a big meal at Steak & Ale.
What the hell is this? he probably thought. The cat on the cover is dressed like a greaser. Maybe this is some kind of oldies nostalgia trip, like Sha Na Na or American Graffiti.
He tucked the album under his arm and headed to his office, where he ripped the pull tab off a Schlitz, pulled the vinyl from the dust jacket (which he checked one more time for the three c’s, just in case), and dropped the needle on this:
What must that moment have been like? That poor bastard couldn’t have known what hit him. The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks wouldn’t drop until October of that year, and while Damned Damned Damned had been out for a few months prior to the Vibrators’ Pure Mania, the Damned weren’t getting airplay in most U.S. markets at the time. Unless this promo landed in a big market like New York, L.A., or San Francisco, “Into the Future” must have sounded like exactly that–the future.
This is a big part of what makes collecting white label promos so fun. Sure, there’s the fact that they’re rarer than their mass distributed cousins and thus worth a little bit more, but for me it all comes down to the story. Somebody was handed this promo, be it a radio station employee, DJ, or booking agent. Somebody spun this for the first time and was blown away. Somebody vowed never to listen to the fucking Eagles again and became an evangelist for the punk apocalypse that was just months from invading the very same country that gave the Starland Vocal Band its own variety show.
Somebody’s life was changed because of this very copy, and if that’s not why it matters then I can’t explain to you why it does.
You can pick up a nice copy of Pure Mania for around ten bucks, but expect to pay twice that if you come across a white label promo version. More importantly, the Vibrators are still kicking, and they’re coming to the U.S. this fall.Here’s you chance to see true first wave punk legends up close and personal. You can even wear your Eagles baseball jersey if you want.
Whether you’re looking for your own vinyl copy of Pure Mania or you’re looking for tour dates near you (click on the poster below), happy hunting.