The Only Ones

Another Girl, Another Planet The Only Ones
No Peace For The WickedThe Only Ones
From Here to EternityEven Serpents Shine
You’ve Got To PayEven Serpents Shine
Out There In The NightEven Serpents Shine
Oh Lucinda (Love Becomes A Habit) Baby’s Got A Gun
Trouble In The WorldBaby’s Got A Gun
FoolsBaby’s Got A Gun
My Way Out Of HereBaby’s Got A Gun
Watch You DrownRemains

Alan Mair, John Perry, Peter Perrett, Mike Kellie (l to r)


The Only Ones playlist



Contributor: Alan Haines

Why the Only Ones never broke through to become hugely popular is a bit of a mystery. They seem to be more appreciated now than when their three albums were released between 1978 and 1980. The unconscious desire of their lead singer Peter Perrett to emulate Syd Barrett might have something to do with it. Then again, loads of lesser bands have faced turmoil and upheaval and gone on to achieve fame and fortune. Just ain’t fair. Right, rant over. On with the Only Ones Top Ten (according to me).


Although they formed in 1976 it wasn’t until 1978 they released their first album, the eponymous The Only Ones. Peter Perrett was lead vocalist, with John Perry on guitar, Alan Mair on bass and Mike Kellie on drums. They were associated with the punk era, but they obviously had much more ‘cleverness’ about them than the average punk band. Their lyrical and musical abilities set them apart from anyone else they were initially grouped with. There was a touch of psychedelia about them too, but the drug references and increasing drug use would, unfortunately, come back to haunt them. I read somewhere they are also called a ‘Power Pop band’ a rather meaningless adjective nowadays and one I wouldn’t care to use.


The second track on the album was Another Girl, Another Planet, a song that became a huge hit although curiously it didn’t make the charts. This features an instantly recognisable intense, thundering and crashing 48 second intro, leading you in to what AllMusic described as “arguably the greatest rock single ever recorded”. The paradox here is a song that has been hailed as the greatest ever didn’t even scrape the bottom end of the charts. And this now classic, new wave/punk single has become an automatic for inclusion on any 1970s/1980s compilation album of the genre. Yet it had to wait until a rerelease in 1992 before the song was in the ‘hit parade’ and even then it only made number 57.

The reason for this omission was down to the radio stations rigid playlist policy at the time. The song’s lyrics were thought to be references to drugs – space travels in my blood (space being a word for heroin, or being high, depending which authority on drugspeak you believe) and you get under my skin gave the radio bosses a sleepless night or two, so it was banned. Even Capital Radio gave it a swerve.

And if you weren’t played on the radio in the 1970s, you stood very little chance of being in the charts. Although many years later Peter Perrett, the Only Ones vocalist, said it was actually about a girl he met. Or was it? Maybe it was both, but it would be perverse of anyone not to include this in any Only Ones top 10, hence it’s number one on my list. Strangely there was another bout of interest in the song when Vodafone used it for an advert in 2006. This eventually led to an Only Ones mini-tour and an appearance on Later… with Jools Holland where the band played Another Girl, Another Planet.

No Peace For The Wicked lurks on the second side of The Only Ones album, a cheerful little number about loneliness and alienation – there’s no peace for the wicked, they say no peace for the wicked, loud and clear no peace for wicked, the angels tell me, no peace for the wicked intones Peter Perrett in his trademark languid style. Despite the depressing subject matter and Peter’s low level vocal delivery, it has quite a reasonably light-hearted sound to it, as the catchy chorus manages to drive away any nascent thoughts of despair.


The following year (1979) saw the release of Even Serpents Shine which is still a highly satisfying album to listen to, with a full order of excellent songs that show how different the Only Ones were from the other punk bands of the day. Whereas the Clash and the Pistols were justifiably raging against the system, the Only Ones were more reflective on a personal level, and their songs were mainly concerned about damaged people living dislocated lives. There’s more than a whiff of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground about Peter Perrett’s voice and the destabilising influence drugs had on him.

The first track on side one is screaming for inclusion in this top ten. Lyrically very dark, with enough hellish references, including a serpent, to entice Lucifer Morningstar to give it a play in his Lux nightclub (see it on Netflix if this means nothing to you) – I see a woman with death in her eyes, but I don’t have time to pray, for her salvation or for her soul, she walks her chosen way. This is the song that features the title of the album a little further on, when Peter sings – she’s like a woman whose whole life has dissolved, she’s the living proof that all that glitters is not gold, and even serpents shine. This take on the macabre is reflected in the tongue-in-cheek sinister artwork of the album with the band members posing amongst the ashes and flames of the underground.


Continuing with the theme of death on Even Serpents Shine is the cover of the single You’ve Got To Pay which is also the third track on the album. An open grave reveals a gruesome spirit emerging with the band wrapped in mysterious cloaks looking on. The drugs must have been having a field day here but the song is primarily about the tortures of making a choice between two lovers – I had to choose which one to lose, I couldn’t do it for they each had their views, it was so hard tearing apart, now I know you gotta get it right at the start. Peter Perrett’s customary authorial voice means this is only going to go one way – our flightpath’s a gradual descent from the firmament, I can tell by the tone of the letters you sent, what was once sacred is now filled with hatred, how come such love can be dissipated.


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Out There In The Night, the last track on side one, was also a single. At first glance it might appear that the hellish theme continues, what could it be that is out there? Actually, I always assumed it was about a lost love who has scarpered and ‘he’ is left at home, pining for her – sometimes I think of you, out there in the night, roaming the empty streets, looking for your life. Turns out I was wrong on both counts. It’s neither a scary monster nor is it a departed lover. Apparently, it’s about Peter Perrett’s cat. And if you examine the lyrics closely, that makes purrfect sense! If this is true, and I really hope it is, then I love the Only Ones even more than I did before. The single came in a 12″ blue vinyl version which was very desirable in those days.

It was about this time, as a student in Nottingham, that I heard that the Only Ones were to play somewhere local, and by that I mean either in the city or even up the road in Derby. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, I fell ill with something horrible and couldn’t go. Even now, 44 years later, I get really annoyed about it.


The band’s third and final studio album, Baby’s Got A Gun, was released in 1980. This was a slightly different collection of songs with a more ‘poppy’ approach, but still unmistakably the Only Ones. After all it does feature songs called Why Don’t You Kill Yourself and Deadly Nightshade. It also had some backing vocals from Pauline Murray, formally of Penetration. However, my first choice from this album is the opening track on side two, Oh Lucinda (Love Becomes A Habit). My take on the lyrics are that it’s more optimistic than Peter’s staple fare of melancholy and torpor. It feels like there’s a coaching session going on here with the mentor stating in the song’s opening – I take the crutch away from you, and watch you fall down, it’s a shame about a girl like you, always falling down. And yet … salvation is at hand – it’s good to see you winning, I always did have faith in you. So not all was doom and gloom in the land of Peter Perrett then!


The third track on side two, Trouble In The World, was a single and the sleeve had a moody monochrome shot of the band looking slightly pensive. The single came out in 1979 so preceded the album by a few months. The up-tempo sound and somewhat energetic (by the Only Ones standards) vocal performance belie the futility of life that’s explored here – everybody thinks that they’re the one, everybody thinks they’re stronger than everybody else, they see what happens to their friends, they don’t believe that’s how they’re gonna end, if you do happen to be stronger it only means you’re going to take longer to go under. And that is the trouble in the world.


Then comes a song and the pairing of Peter Perrett and Pauline Murray that still baffles me after all these years. First of all, Fools wasn’t an Only Ones song; it was written by Johnny Duncan and released in 1972. Secondly, it just isn’t anything like their other material, this is a schmaltzy C&W ballad. It always looked to me like the record company hoped they had another Elton John and Kiki Dee on their hands. I saw an article in which it’s claimed John Peel was not a big fan of this song, calling it “a bit of a jape” and I can see where he was coming from, but surprisingly, I like it. And so, for sheer novelty value, it goes into my top ten.

Finally, from Baby’s Got A Gun I pick My Way Out Of Here, the last track on side two. Apparently, the song was written and sung by the band’s bassist, Alan Mair (Peter Perrett is the credited songwriter on the album I have though). Whichever, this is a wonderfully fast moving, catchy song that deserves to be heard again.

The Only Ones supported the Who on tour in the USA in 1980 and appeared to be on the verge of finally gaining some widespread recognition. But it didn’t happen and the Only Ones split in 1982.


There was a bonus for their fans in 1984 when an album of older songs appeared. Called Remains, the material was from 1975-76 and before the release of their first single Lovers Of Today in 1977. My selection from this album to complete the top ten is Watch You Drown, another bitter sweet love song.

A live album was released in 1989 that was apparently recorded at the Electric Ballroom in Camden in 1980, although the sleeve notes state in was 1977. A second live album, The Big Sleep, emerged in 1993, featuring a performance by the band in 1979 in Amsterdam. In 2004, a double CD set of over 40 Only Ones songs was released and this was followed a couple of years later by another compilation, Another Girl, Another Planet, The Best Of The Only Ones. Some new songs appeared following the 2006 Vodafone-inspired revival including Black Operations, Is This How Much You Care and Magic Tablet. The band have reunited sporadically since then, although drummer Mike Kellie died in 2017.

In between these rehashes Peter Perrett formed a band called The One (very amusing) in 1999 and released an album called Woke Up Sticky. They split up due to Peter’s unreliable behaviour. He has since got his head together enough to record a new solo album called How The West Was Won in 2017 and a second Humanworld in 2019. This prompted an Only Ones reunion at the Somerstown Festival that year.

Their three original and classic studio albums are full of great songs, memorable tunes, clever lyrics and delivered with such style and excellent musicianship. They are a ‘lost’ band in many respects but with a devoted following who have long memories.


The Only Ones poster





The Only Ones wikipedia

The Only Ones facebook

Peter Perrett BBC Newsnight interview (2017)

The Only Ones biography (AllMusic)

Alan Haines is now retired and enjoying not going to work but doing things he wants instead, such as reading, listening to music, researching family history and walking the dog.

TopperPost #1,058


  1. Andrew Shields
    Mar 3, 2023

    Excellent piece on a great band. The recent re-emergence of Peter Perrett has also been both a wonder to see and has produced some superb music. Nina Atonia’s book on Peter is also worth checking out – it is very interesting on his creative friendship with Johnny Thunders.

  2. Alan Haines
    Mar 5, 2023

    Thanks for your kind words and for taking the time to read my Only Ones top 10. Peter Perrett’s continued survival is indeed unexpected and very much welcomed . His new stuff shows he hasn’t lost his touch. Nice to learn about the book, will look that one up for sure.

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