In the late seventies and early eighties, scores of 45s appeared almost weekly on tiny labels by bands who would often never make another. Many would be sold to friends and family, and perhaps at local gigs. Some would be stocked in the major London emporia like Rough Trade and Small Wonder, and some achieved airplay on the Peel show – then the only place that new bands could hope to be heard without major company backing. A select few garnered more than the one spin. One of these was “Let Them Eat Valium” by the Need, released in 1980.
I’ve no idea who the band were. I seem to recall that they hailed from Kent. The label was called Vitriol Products, but as far as I’m aware, this was its only issue. And the band never made another record – at least not under the same name.
Lyrically “Let Them Eat Valium” covers similar terrain to the Fall’s “Rowche Rumble” in that it’s a harsh condemnation of drug companies pushing sedatives – the title, of course, being a pun on Marie Antoinette’s infamous (and probably apocryphal) “let them eat cake” statement. “Let them eat valium, let them eat valium, you can’t change your life but you can change your reality” – it’s a powerful and angry polemic. The singer reminds me a little of a young Jaz Colman of Killing Joke. Musically, the track fits in a space somewhere between the early gothic melodrama of Bauhaus and Wasted Youth, the scratchy politicism of the Gang Of Four and the warped, dark jazz-funk of the Pop Group. It’s dominated by a powerful, reverberating three-note bass riff and sounds fantastic – this is no scratchy lo-fi home recording. The flipside is a song called “Seduction” which is another great tune. The Need certainly seemed to have real potential, like another great lost band of the period, Sheffield’s Past Seven Days (who they resemble to a degree).
“Let Them Eat Valium” has yet to make it to CD as far as I’m aware, but it isn’t so rare that it doesn’t turn up on Ebay or Gemm every now and then. It’s a fantastic record – one of the best from a period when superb sevens were dropping weekly. If anyone has any info about the fate of the band, or some more detail about the record’s genesis, it would be great if they would care to share it.