Punk was singles music before it was anything, and the Buzzcocks were its avatars. Initially formed by singer Howard Devoto and guitarist Pete Shelley, who took over the singing duties when Devoto left early in 1977, the Buzzcocks cut the Spiral Scratch EP, the first British punk 7-inch, and put it out themselves in late 1976. With the lineup eventually coalescing to the classic quartet of Shelley, guitarist-singer (and sometimes songwriter) Steve Diggle, bassist Steve Garvey and drummer John Maher, then they signed to United Artists and released a fusillade of brilliant hits and (mostly) misses that defined, and helped to stretch, the form the band called home. Singles Going Steady was put together programmatically: eight consecutive A-sides for the first half, eight more B's for the second. Almost as if they'd planned it all along, the results sound like an album-qua-album; certainly it has become one that serious rock lovers live by.
Much of the pleasure here, beyond songs that lodge and stay in your head for days (the B-sides as much as the A: That little stop in "Noise Annoys" is one of the catchiest things on an album as melodic as any in rock), is hearing a band grow and progress, from the saw-oothed early stuff ("Orgasm Addict" and "What Do I Get?" in particular), to the richer later material. Garvey and Maher were one of the skin-tightest rhythm sections punk sired, with few better examples than both sides of "Everybody's Happy Nowadays"/"Why Can't I Touch It?" The A jangles like a bell, bright and tense; when the guitars exit the mix, it's the bass and drums that keep you hooked. The same is true of the B, one of the great unsung punk-funk tracks, Garvey's bass strut like a yowling-angst version of Chic's Bernard Edwards on the prowl.