Described by one music critic as “Arguably, the greatest rock single ever recorded“, the fame of the Only Ones’ Another girl, another planet has been enduring, to say the least. Fate would not be as kind to the band themselves and their brief catalog, and, we feel this is wholly unfair. Here’s a brief history of the band and their power-pop hit.
The Only Ones
The Chances are that you haven’t heard The Only Ones’ eponymous debut album apart from the hit single Another girl, another planet. If that is the case you are in for a treat and a riddle.
The album’s punk-influenced psychedelic-rock sound still feels fresh and focused. The songs’ lyrics are imaginative, dealing in equal parts with the occult, love, city living, drugs. All the topics are treated with a kind of street hustler humor.
Another girl may not even be the record’s highlight, with that distinction, should I be the one handing it out, going to album opener, the Crowleyeque The whole of the law. It’s a very good, albeit uneven album. It’s the missing link between the Doors and early U.K. punk.
Although included by some publications in all-encompassing lists about the most influential rock records of all time, it’s hardly really been offered its due, has it? How can this be.
Early formation of The Only Ones
Much like Modern English’s I melt with you, the Only Ones were fated to be remembered, by most of the world, for only one great song. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that both bands, while tremendously good upon closer inspection, never knew how to ride the punk wave or market themselves for that matter.
Sure, the Only Ones adapted to punk, but it wasn’t the music that they set out making. The embers of the group’s formation were lit as early as 1972 with guitarist Peter Perrett demoing songs on his own. It wouldn’t be until late 1975 that the songwriter got in touch with the right people to flesh out his ambition to form a band. John Perry, Mike Kellie, and Alan Mair joined Perrett to form the Only Ones.
The group may have owed some of their fashion style to the New York Dolls, but their ambitions clearly lay somewhere beyond those of many of their peers. While the Sex Pistols and the Clash flirted with politics, Perrett seemed more interested in romantic poetry. While the Romanes and the Buzzcocks played fast garage rock, the Only Ones sounded like a dirty psychedelic-rock group sans the elongated solos.
Another girl, another planet
For a while, it might have seemed to the quartet that success was bound to come all too easily. Their singles had made a bit of splash before the time that they released their debut album in 1978. By this time punk rock was morphing into new wave, a perfect setting for a group that resembled the original punks in terms of attire rather than sound.
Another Girl, Another Planet was released as the album’s lead single and became a bonafide hit, so much so that when re-released over a decade later it re-entered the UK Top 60.
Peter Perrett’s songwriting skills were highly praised. The music press focused on him as a writer that could pen power-pop gold just as easily as jazz and psychedelic-tinged kitchen sink dramas.
If there was one thing that makes the Only Ones‘ debut album great is the scope and variety of the ten songs featured on the record. Tunes like The Whole of the law, The Beast, and The Immoral Story hardly hint at the group’s relative immaturity in terms of record-making. The songs are ambitious, the sound is engulfing and their style varies from one composition to another. This would also turn out to be the group’s undoing. New fans of the band found it hard to recognize another song similar to Another girl or to pin down their sound.
The Only Ones were never shy about courting fame. After all, never did they rail against the music industry in full misanthropic fashion like some of their peers. Perrett wanted more hits and had the ability to produce such gems. The CBS record label demanded the same but had less confidence in his powers.
In 1979 the Only Ones released their sophomore album, the Morrisoneque titled Even Serpents Shine. The group double down on its powerpop leanings. Critics applauded the higher level of consistency of this record. The musicianship was as ambitious as before and showed an even higher degree of refinement (coincidentally not a word often uttered in respect to the punk-era). Critics loved it, but the record-buying audience could not help but remark the absence of another single like Another girl, another planet.
The group stayed busy and only one year later released Baby’s got a gun. By this time, CBS had made great strides to promote them in the U.S. Their efforts had worked partly, especially with critics. Robert Christgau noted that Peter Perrett had the making of a great songwriter.
However, for the third record, critics were less quick to extend their support. Allmusic’s Mark Deming remarks that while the album features the band at their poppiest and includes some of the group’s best cuts, it is the weaker of the group’s trilogy of releases.
From hiring a top producer, Colin Thurston, to endlessly promoting their music, the Only Ones had done everything in their power to retain the success of their early single, Another girl, another planet. They’d been unable to retain their fame. And, despite being a beloved and respected group by those in the know, the band came undone and split up shortly thereafter.
The influence of the Only Ones
Unhampered by commercial pressure and endless comparisons to their punk counterparts, the Only Ones’ catalog began being discovered, or reappraised by music fans shortly after their dissolution.
The live sessions recorded for John Peel, a rite of passage for alternative bands in those days, became something of a myth. Another Girl, Another Planet turned into a rock standard and included on almost all compilations and playlists focusing on late 70s UK rock.
The Replacements, blink-182, the Libertines, and countless others have covered the song. Some might even go on to call it one of the best rock love songs of all time.
Better still, their newfound fame meant that group members were able to reunite starting with the mid 2000s for highly celebrated live shows. Their three albums have also been reissued and given a good deal of attention, especially by young indie-rock bands.
The Only Ones could have been bigger. The quality of their writing and of their live performances certainly showed this. But, no regrets should be unearthed here. They remain a cult-act like few others, with three solid albums under their belts, and one of the best singles of all time to their name.