The Roxy, London's first live punk venue, played a crucial role in The Adverts’ early career. They were one of the pioneering bands who played at the club during its first 100 days. The Adverts played at the club no less than nine times between January and April 1977. In January 1977, after their first gig supporting Generation X, the band impressed Michael Dempsey so much that he became their manager. Their second gig supporting Slaughter & the Dogs was recorded, and their anthem "Bored Teenagers" was included on the UK Top 30 album Live at the Roxy WC2. In February, shortly after the band's third gig supporting The Damned, they signed a recording contract with Stiff Records. In March, the band supported The Jam at the Roxy.
In April, The Adverts recorded the first of four sessions for John Peel at BBC Radio 1. Days later, their debut single, "One Chord Wonders", was released. The single, "a headlong rush of energy", was recommended by both Melody Maker and Sounds. Understanding the band's limitations, the song's lyrics, composed by TV Smith, were likeably self-depreciating:
I wonder what we’ll play for you tonight
Something heavy or something light
Something to set your soul alight
I wonder how we’ll answer when you say
‘We don’t like you – go away
Come back when you’ve learnt to play’
The Adverts were a prolific live act. Their first nationwide tour was with Stiff label-mates The Damned. The tour poster read, "The Adverts know one chord, the Damned know three. See all four at…" Later they would support Iggy pop on tour, as well as conducting their own headlining tours in Britain, Ireland and Europe.
In August, the band released the first of their two UK Top 40 hit singles. Lyrically, "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" was a controversial song based on the wishes of an American murderer that his eyes be donated to medical science after his execution. The Sounds described it as "the sickest and cleverest record to come out of the new wave". Years later, it was included in Mojo magazine’s list of the best punk rock singles of all time.
After the tabloid fuelled controversy surrounding the single, and an appearance on Top of the Pops, the Adverts became big news. Observers focused on frontman TV Smith and bassist Gaye Advert. Reviewers noted TV Smith's song-writing ability. This something which continued long after the band's demise. He was said to have "captured the spirit of the times few contemporaries could match". Another reviewer described Smith as the band’s "raging heart, spitting out the failsafe succession of songs which still delineate punk’s hopes, aspirations and, ultimately, regrets". In contrast, Gaye Advert's reputation was more fleeting. She was "one of Punk’s first female icons". Her "photogenic" looks, "panda-eye make-up and omnipresent leather jacket defined the face of female punkdom until well into the next decade".
Surprisingly, the band’s follow-up single, "Safety in Numbers", did not chart. Nevertheless, the song is well regarded and was included in Steve Gardner's all-time best list. . The Adverts fourth single, "No Time To Be 21", scraped into the UK Top 40. A month later, the band’s debut album Crossing The Red Sea was released. Today it is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest punk albums of all-time.
Unfortunately, despite releasing some more well-regarded singles, The Adverts were not able to maintain the momentum and their career stalled after the release of their second album. They split up shortly after the accidental death by electrocution of their manager, Michael Dempsey. Their last gig was at Slough College on 27 October 1979. After the band split up, T.V. Smith continued with Tim Cross forming as TV Smith's Explorers, then Cheap, and finally from the 1990s to date performing as a solo artist.
In conclusion, considering they only released seven singles and two albums, the legacy of The Adverts is pretty astonishing. Critic and author Dave Thompson argues that "nobody would make music like The Adverts and nobody ever has. In terms of lyric, delivery, commitment and courage, they were, and they remain, the finest British group of the late 1970s".