“There were only 60 kids in the audience, but every one of them formed a band”
There is only one Ramone’s song and it’s been playing non-stop for 40 years.
Raw energy, 3 chords and a sneer, attitude (in-YOUR-face) and the small stage pressure cookers of British pubs and New York clubs –
The embeded videos in this post (at 8 hours) [here’s a Youtube playlist] are just a sampling. If you only have time for one, the first video posted below, at 40min, is a nice bite and intro; though Punk/New Wave 76-78 is an amazing collection of original video sources.
Some clubs in the 70s were playing Disco, to dance to. DJs were learning to beatmatch and cross-fade to stretch ‘long cut’ 12-inch vinyl records from 6 minutes to 15 or even 20 minute mixes — to keep the beat going, to keep the crowd dancing. Those skills, and the equipment used, eventually led to at least three whole new genres of music (I covered this The Electronic Sound and Post-instrument Music – and disco more recently; no, I’m not linking to disco again).
If we over-simplify things, Punk was everything Disco wasn’t — instead of being lush and orchestrated, Punk was (at most) 2 guitars, a bass, and a drummer. There are no horn lines or string sections. The songs don’t even last 3 minutes — a band could play their whole set in a half hour. It’s just as well there were so many punks and they all formed bands, because you’d need at least 6 acts to fill the play bill.
One did not dance to punk music. You bounced, you screamed, you hit things.
There was some overlap between the working class punk rockers and the art school rock (Velvet Underground, Blondie, Talking Heads) that would go on to inform later New Wave — the thread that ran through the whole decade was experimentation and rebellion. But anger — anger at the older generation, at the ‘establishment’, at the government, at the economy, at the ‘mainstream’ music — Anger is the defining attribute of Punk. Sometimes the anger is just a put-on and an act, but in punk, it’s always there.
Some bands were more interested in experimenting, with finding the possibilities in the media and the technology: the 70s also brought us Prog Rock, Pink Floyd, Synth Roch, rock-and-roll “operas” and Broadway shows, the first wave of Heavy Metal, and Zappa’s impossible-to-classify-WTF. Past the clichéd-disco-jokes it seems like every genre of music was re-inventing and re-defining itself.
In the midst of this 70s mess, the Punks broke down the stage door like a breath of fresh air with three convictions for B&E. Maybe they are the descendants of 50s Rockabilly, or just the latest version of the ‘garage band’ sensibility that seems to infuse every generation (and every decade) of music, but Punk brought vulgarity and grit, street-smart and back-alley wariness, and balls-out-both-hands-flipping-you-the-bird, turn-it-up-to-11-and-fuck-you. (eh, that doesn’t quite capture it all, but it’s a good start for a working definition of Punk.)
We’re overdue for a punk revival, maybe. Is 2014 that different from 1974?
Roots of Punk, BBC Documentary (40min)
“In 1976—first in London, then in the United States—‘New Wave’ was introduced as a complementary label for the formative scenes and groups also known as ‘punk’; the two terms were essentially interchangeable. NME journalist Roy Carr is credited with proposing the term’s use (adopted from the cinematic French New Wave of the 1960s) in this context. Over time, ‘new wave’ acquired a distinct meaning: Bands such as Blondie and Talking Heads from the CBGB scene; The Cars, who emerged from the Rat in Boston; The Go-Go’s in Los Angeles; and The Police in London that were broadening their instrumental palette, incorporating dance-oriented rhythms, and working with more polished production were specifically designated ‘new wave’ and no longer called ‘punk’. Dave Laing suggests that some punk-identified British acts pursued the new wave label in order to avoid radio censorship and make themselves more palatable to concert bookers.” — Wikipedia: Punk
Punk & The New Wave 1976-1978 (1hr8min) [bonus period commercials!]
Another State of Mind, Punk Documentary, 1982 (1hr18min)
but were the 90s really “Punk”?
One Nine Nine Four, documentary on the 90s punk revival, from 2008 (1hr21min)
There were others who came first: the MC5, The Stooges and The New York Dolls — But many of us mark the start of Punk in 1974
“Out in Forest Hills, Queens, several miles from lower Manhattan, the members of a newly formed band adopted a common surname. Drawing on sources ranging from the Stooges to The Beatles and The Beach Boys to Herman’s Hermits and 1960s girl groups, the Ramones condensed rock ‘n’ roll to its primal level … The band played its first gig at CBGB on August 16, 1974, on the same bill as another new act, Angel and the Snake, soon to be renamed Blondie. By the end of the year, the Ramones had performed seventy-four shows, each about seventeen minutes long. ‘When I first saw the Ramones’, critic Mary Harron later remembered, ‘I couldn’t believe people were doing this. The dumb brattiness.’
“The term punk initially referred to the scene in general, rather than a particular sound—the early New York punk bands represented a broad variety of influences. Among them, the Ramones, The Heartbreakers, Richard Hell and The Voidoids, and the Dead Boys were establishing a distinct musical style. Even where they diverged most clearly, in lyrical approach—the Ramones’ apparent guilelessness at one extreme, Hell’s conscious craft at the other—there was an abrasive attitude in common. Their shared attributes of minimalism and speed, however, had not yet come to define punk rock.
“In July 1976, the Ramones crossed the Atlantic for two London shows that helped spark the nascent UK punk scene and affected its musical style—‘instantly nearly every band speeded up’. On July 4, they played with the Flamin’ Groovies and The Stranglers before a crowd of 2,000 at the Roundhouse. That same night, The Clash debuted, opening for the Sex Pistols in Sheffield. On July 5, members of both bands attended a Ramones club gig. The following night, The Damned performed their first show, as the Sex Pistols opening act in London. In critic Kurt Loder’s description, the Sex Pistols purveyed a ‘calculated, arty nihilism, [while] the Clash were unabashed idealists, proponents of a radical left-wing social critique of a sort that reached back at least to … Woody Guthrie in the 1940s’. … This London scene’s first fanzine appeared a week later. Its title, Sniffin’ Glue, derived from a Ramones song. Its subtitle affirmed the connection with what was happening in New York: ‘+ Other Rock ‘n’ Roll Habits for Punks!’”
The Ramones – End Of The Century (1hr48min) [bonus Spanish subtitles!]
Punk´s Not Dead (1hr36min)
I think in some future post I might revisit New Wave (plus a look at how Punk ‘became’ Alternative Rock and Grunge) and of course the 70s is rich music history.
Born To Be Wild – The Golden Age of American Rock | 1970s (58min)