The second single to be released from The Damned’s Machine Gun Etiquette album, this was banned from BBC Radio 1’s playlist because of its perceived anarchic lyrics. However, the song still managed to become a minor hit in the winter of 1979, and subsequently, the band’s unofficial anthem.
The song is in a two-part form: an instrumental segueing into an energetic pop-punk song that criticized hippie culture. Guitarist Captain Sensible originally conceived the tune as one half of a four part suite and although the first two sections appeared on the Machine Gun Etiquette album, the last couple didn’t surface until the release of 2004’s Smash It Up: 25th Anniversary Edition EP.
On the Machine Gun Etiquette album the two sections are listed separately as “Smash It Up (Part 1)” and “Smash It Up (Part 2).”
The instrumental first part served as a tribute to the late T Rex frontman Marc Bolan, with whom The Damned toured in 1977. Captain Sensible recalled to Uncut magazine May 2014: “I was in a deck chair in my parents garden catching up on some sleep. When I was awoken by my mum saying, ‘Your mate, what’s his name, Roley, Boley? He’s died in a car crash.’ I hope she didn’t mean Marc Bolan.”
“I locked myself in my room and picked up the guitar,” he continued. “The sad Part 1 of ‘Smash it Up’ pretty much wrote itself, and is a tribute to Marc. While other old-guard rockers like (Phil) Collins and (Keith) Richards loathed punk, he actually really dug it.”
The irony of the title only hit Captain Sensible years after he wrote the song. He told Uncut: “Part 1 is the calm before the storm. It creates a dreamy, vibe that would be shattered by Part 2’s mania. Bolan died in a car crash and Part 1 is written for him. Part 2 wasn’t, but with a title like ‘Smash it Up’ it seems incredible that it wasn’t intended to be about his car crash. I only realized this a few years ago. It was subliminal songwriting.”