Their first album Inflammable Material released in 1979 is widely considered to be one of the all time classic punk debuts. The second album, 1980’s Nobody’s Heroes, is also widely acclaimed. The most notable thing about them was how their political lyrics were written from direct experience of the conflict in Ireland unlike many of their peers who sang about issues that they were merely aware of.
10. Johnny Was
From debut album 1979’s Inflammable Material, this is an unusually long number from the band, clocking in eight minutes long which is rather long for punk in general! It gradually builds up as it goes along and is played much slower than a lot of their material. One of the many tracks that deals with the troubles, in this particular case talking about a man shot dead in the street simply for his beliefs. A very tragic and sad song, it demonstrates the bands ability to report just how shocking and terrible the conflict was from a first-hand perspective.
9. Bits of Kids
Taken from 1982’s Now Then which was the last album of the band’s original run before they split up for the first time. By this point, many of the band’s fans had lost interest due to the more commercial direction that they were going in, however there are some good songs on this album and this is one of the highlights. It is about kids who come from broken homes and captures the feeling of darkness that was prevalent in Thatcher’s Britain.
This track was never on an album and was in fact released on an ep titled the £1.10 or Less Ep released in 1982. Stiff little Fingers always had a penchant for pop sensibilities and this is a fine example, with the massive chorus being a particular high point. They were never afraid to go beyond the boundaries of punk and this track see’s them almost venturing into arena rock territory. In many ways, it is a true punk statement because they were doing what they wanted to do rather than to please other people.
7. State of Emergency
Another amazing track from Inflammable Material Containing much snottiness and being very energetic, Burns puts in a particularly angsty vocal performance. The guitar riff almost has a metal sound to it. Lyrically it again deals yet again with Ireland and being a teenager growing up in it.
6. Doesn’t Not Make It Alright
A cover of The Specials song from 1980’s Nobody’s Heroes, this version actually does it justice by staying faithful to the original whilst the band also put their own spin on it. They play the riff in more of a rock style as opposed to the ska style of the original. Then, towards the end of the song they introduce their own breakdown into it which does not ruin it and actually adds something to it.
5. At the Edge
From Nobody’s Heroes , this is another classic Stiff little Fingers track that shows them at their most energetic and exciting. With another loud riff that builds up as it goes along, Burns delivers a passionate vocal performance as he sings “Back when I was younger they were talking at me, never listened to a word I said” which is something that any angry teenager can relate to. It was also a successful chart single, reaching number 15 and being performed on Top of the Pops. A truly fantastic song that still has the same effect today.
4. Barbed Wire Love
Another Inflammable Material, track that uses the general topical theme of their early work to write it in the context of a love song. It is a Romeo and Juliet style tale about a Catholic and a Protestant who are in love with each other and how it is forbidden due to them being on different sides of the conflict. To top it all off, it has this 50’s doo-wop style middle section that could come across as silly and cheesy and could potentially ruin the song but is done with enough wit that that is not the case.
3. Alternative Ulster
At number three on this Stiff little Fingers songs list is one of Stiff little Fingers’ most well known and powerful anthems from Inflammable Material. Of all of their songs, it lyrics strike a chord the most, as it talks about the troubles in Ireland and the border and laws put in place as a result of it, with the band spreading the message that no one has to accept things the way that they are and that change is possible.
2. Nobody’s Hero
One of their most classic songs and the title track of the second album. With an in-your-face guitar riff and a performance from Burns that tests the limits of his vocal chords with it’s throatiness. The song lyrically is about not looking to others for answers and going down your own path in life. There are two different versions of the song and the one where Burns sings in a more gravely style is by far the best. All in all a brilliant rabble-rousing punk tune.
1. Suspect Device
The first track from the first album, which makes it the track that introduced Stiff little Fingers to the world. Featuring a brilliant opening riff, it only gets better from there. Yet another poignant song that acts as a first hand account of what going on in Ireland. That’s what the band had over the likes of the Sex Pistols and The Clash: they had actually experienced what they were singing about.
Stiff Little Fingers Studio Albums Discography
- Inflammable Material (1979)
- Nobody’s Heroes (1980)
- Go for It (1981)
- Now Then… (1982)
- Flags and Emblems (1991)
- Get a Life (1994)
- Tinderbox (1997)
- Hope Street (1999)
- Guitar and Drum (2003)
- No Going Back (2014)