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Punk rock

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Punk rock

Timeline of punk rock

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Punk rock
Stylistic origins: 1950s R&B, rock and roll, country, and rockabilly, 1960s garage rock, frat rock, psychedelic rock, pub rock, glam rock, and proto-punk
Cultural origins: Mid 1970s United States, Australia and United Kingdom.
Typical instruments: Vocals Guitar BassDrums
Mainstream popularity: Chart-topping in the UK, less success elsewhere. Some success for pop punk, especially ska punk and Two Tone
Derivative forms: Alternative rock Emo Gothic rockGrunge Math rock New Wave Post-punk post-punk revival
Anarcho-punk Christian punk Crust punk Garage punk Hardcore Horror punkOi!Pop punk
Fusion genres
Anti-folk – Chicano punk – Death rock Funkcore Jazz punk Psychobilly QueercoreSka punkTwo Tone
Other topics
History Cassette culture Fashion

Punk rock is an anti-establishment rock music movement which began around 1974-1975 (although transitional forms can be found several years earlier), exemplified by The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, Moderatto, The Damned, and The Clash. The term is also used to describe subsequent music scenes that share key characteristics with those first-generation "punks," and it is often applied loosely to mean any band with "attitude" or "youthful aggression." The term is sometimes also applied to the fashions, ideology, subculture, or irreverent "DIY" ("do it yourself") attitude associated with this musical movement.



Punk bands often emulate the approach of sixties garage rock bands. Punk rock emphasizes simple musical structures and arrangements. The early UK punk fanzine Sniffin' Glue in 1977 famously included drawings of three chord shapes captioned, "This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band". Most punk songs have a verse-chorus structure and 4/4 time. Short songs are also a staple of punk rock. Songs are normally about two and a half minutes in length, but sometimes are less than thirty seconds, and on very rare occasions, a punk rock band will release a song that exceeds four minutes in length; this is common feature of songs by The Clash and the Dead Kennedys. Punk rock usually has fast tempos, especially hardcore punk.

Typical punk instrumentation includes a drum kit, one or two electric guitars, an electric bass, and vocals. The drums typically sound heavy and dry. The guitar parts are made up of highly distorted power chords similar to Link Wray, though some bands, especially California punk rock bands, take a surf rock approach, with lighter, "twangier" guitar tones. Punk vocals often sound nasal, gravelly, or throaty. Production is minimalistic, with tracks sometimes laid down on tape recorders in garages. More often than not, the band themselves produce, record, and distribute the album.

In the mid-1970s, punk lyrics introduced a confrontational frankness of expression and social and political relevance that had been missing from contemporary music. Songs like The Clash's "Career Opportunities" and "London's Burning" dealt with unemployment, boredom and other grim realities of urban life; some were openly disparaging of governments and monarchies, as in The Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” and “Anarchy in the UK”; and still others were decidedly anti-romantic in depictions of sex and love, such as Dead Kennedys' "Too Drunk to Fuck" and Richard Hell and the Voidoids' "Love Comes in Spurts". Other themes associated with punk rock lyricism include anti-conformity, such as in Bad Religion's "Automatic Man."



UK Punks, circa 1986 UK Punks, circa 1986

The phrase "punk rock" (from "punk", meaning a beginner or novice[1]) was originally applied to the untutored guitar-and-vocals-based rock and roll of United States bands of the mid-1960s such as The Standells, The Sonics, and The Seeds, bands that now are more often categorized as "garage rock".

The term was coined by rock critic Dave Marsh, who used it to describe the music of ? and the Mysterians in the May 1971 issue of Creem magazine[2], and it was adopted by many rock music journalists in the early 1970s. For example, in the liner notes of the 1972 anthology album Nuggets, critic and guitarist Lenny Kaye uses the term "punk-rock" to refer to the Sixties "garage rock" groups, as well as some of the darker and more primitive practitioners of 1960s psychedelia. Shortly after the time of those notes, Lenny Kaye formed a band with avant-garde poet Patti Smith. Smith's group, and her first album, Horses, released in 1975, directly inspired many of the mid-1970s punk rockers, so this suggests one path by which the term migrated to the music we now know as punk.

In addition to the inspiration of those "garage bands" of the 1960s, the roots of punk rock draw on the snotty attitude, on-stage and off-stage violence, and aggressive instrumentation of The Who; the snotty attitude of the early Rolling Stones, which can be traced back to Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent of the late 50's; the abrasive, dissonant style of The Velvet Underground; the sexuality, political confrontation, and on-stage violence of Detroit bands Alice Cooper, The Stooges and MC5; the UK pub rock scene and political UK underground bands such as Mick Farren and the Deviants; the New York Dolls; and some British "glam rock" or "art rock" acts of the early 1970s, including David Bowie, Gary Glitter and Roxy Music. Influence from other musical genres, including reggae, funk, and rockabilly can also be detected in early punk rock.

Punk rock was also a reaction against tendencies that had overtaken popular music in the 1970s, including what the punks saw as superficial "disco" music and bombastic forms of heavy metal, progressive rock and "arena rock." Punk also rejected the remnants of the hippie counterculture of the 1960s. Bands such as Jefferson Airplane, which had survived the 1960s, were regarded by most punks as having become fatuous and an embarrassment to their former claims of radicality. Eric Clapton's appearance in television beer ads in the mid-1970s was often cited as an example of how the icons of 1960s rock had literally sold themselves to the system they once opposed.

Cover of the Sex Pistols album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. Cover of the Sex Pistols album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols.

The cultural critique and strategies for revolutionary action offered by the European Situationist movement of the 1950s and 1960s were an influence on the vanguard of the British punk movement, particularly the Sex Pistols. Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren consciously embraced situationist ideas, which are also reflected in the clothing designed for the band by Vivienne Westwood and the visual artwork of the Situationist-affiliated Jamie Reid, who designed many of the band's graphics.

The British punk movement also found a precedent in the "do-it-yourself" attitude of the Skiffle craze that emerged amid the post-World War II austerity of 1950s Britain. Punk rock in Britain coincided with the end of the era of post-war consensus politics that preceded the rise of Thatcherism, and nearly all British punk bands expressed an attitude of angry social alienation.

Early emergence

The first ongoing music scene that was assigned the "punk" label appeared in New York in 1974-1976 centered around bands that played regularly at the clubs Max's Kansas City and CBGB. This had been preceded by a mini underground rock scene at the Mercer Arts Center, picking up from the demise of the Velvet Underground, starting in 1971 and featuring the New York Dolls and Suicide, which helped to pave the way, but came to an abrupt end in 1973 when the building collapsed[3]. The CBGB and Max's scene included The Ramones, Television, Blondie, Johnny Thunders (a former New York Doll) and the Heartbreakers, Richard Hell and The Voidoids and the Talking Heads. The "punk" title was applied to these groups by early 1976, when Punk Magazine first appeared, featuring these bands alongside articles on some of the immediate role models for the new groups, such as Lou Reed, who was on the cover of the first issue of Punk, and Patti Smith, cover subject on the second issue.

At the same time, a less celebrated, but nonetheless highly influential, scene had appeared in Ohio, including The Electric Eels, Devo and Rocket from the Tombs, who in 1975 split into Pere Ubu and The Dead Boys.

During this same period, bands that would later be recognized as "punk" were formed independently in other locations, such as The Saints in Brisbane, Australia, The Modern Lovers in Boston, and The Stranglers and the Sex Pistols in London. These early bands also operated within small "scenes", often facilitated by enthusiastic impresarios who either operated venues, such as clubs, or organised temporary venues. In other cases, the bands or their managers improvised their own venues, such as a house inhabited by The Saints in an inner suburb of Brisbane. The venues provided a showcase and meeting place for the emerging musicians (the 100 Club in London, CBGB in New York, and The Masque in Hollywood are among the best known early punk clubs).

While the London bands may have played a relatively minor role in determining the early punk sound, the London punk scene would come to define and epitomize the rebellious punk culture. After a brief stint managing the New York Dolls at the end of their career in the US, Englishman Malcolm McLaren returned to London in May 1975. He started a clothing store called SEX that was instrumental in creating the radical punk clothing style. He also began managing The Swankers, who would soon become the Sex Pistols. The Sex Pistols soon created a strong cult following in London, centered on a clique known as the Bromley Contingent (named after the suburb where many of them had grown up), who followed them around the country.

Cover of The Clash album London Calling. Cover of The Clash album London Calling.

An oft-cited moment in punk rock's history is a July 4, 1976 concert by the Ramones at the Roundhouse in London (The Stranglers were also on the bill). Many of the future leaders of the UK punk rock scene were inspired by this show, and almost immediately after it, the UK punk scene got into full swing. By the end of 1976, many fans of the Sex Pistols had formed their own bands, including The Clash, Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Adverts, Generation X, The Slits and X-Ray Spex. Other UK bands to emerge in this milieu included The Damned (the first to release a single, the classic "New Rose"), The Jam, The Vibrators, Buzzcocks and the appropriately named London.

In December of 1976, the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned and Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers united for the Anarchy Tour, a series of gigs throughout the U.K. Many of the gigs were cancelled by venue owners, after tabloid newspapers and other media seized on sensational stories regarding the antics of both the bands and their fans. The notoriety of punk rock in the UK was furthered by a televised incident that was widely publicised in the tabloid press; appearing on a London TV show called Thames Today, guitarist Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols was goaded into a verbal altercation by the host, Bill Grundy, swearing at him on live television in violation of at the time accepted standards of propriety.

One of the first books about punk rock — The Boy Looked at Johnny by Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons (December 1977) — declared the punk movement to be already over: the subtitle was The Obituary of Rock and Roll. The title echoed a lyric from the title track of Patti Smith's 1975 album Horses.

During 1977, a second wave of bands emerged, influenced by those mentioned above. Some, such as The Misfits (from New Jersey), The Exploited(from Scotland), GBH (from England) Black Flag (from Los Angeles), Stiff Little Fingers (from Northern Ireland) and Crass (from Essex) would go on to influence the move away from the original sound of punk rock, that would spawn the Hardcore subgenre.

In the UK, punk interacted with the Jamaican reggae and ska subcultures. The reggae influence is evident in much of the music of The Clash and The Slits, for example. By the end of the 1970s, punk had spawned the 2 Tone ska revival movement, including bands such as The Beat (The English Beat in U.S.), The Specials, Madness and The Selecter.

Gradually punk became more varied and less minimalist with bands such as The Clash incorporating other underground musical influences like ska and rockabilly and even jazz into their music, but the message of the music remained the same; it was subversive, counter-cultural, rebellious, politically incorrect and often anarchist. Punk rock dealt with topics such as problems facing society, oppression of the lower classes, the threat of a nuclear war, etc. Or it delineated the individual’s personal problems, such as being unemployed, or having particular emotional and/or mental issues, i.e. depression. Punk rock was a message to society that all was not well and all were not equal.

Genres of Punk

The Swedish punk band Ebba Grön, a poster from 1981 The Swedish punk band Ebba Grön, a poster from 1981

While it is thought that punk had a decline in the 80s, many sub-genres branched off playing their own interpretation of “punk rock”.

The United States saw the emergence of hardcore punk, which is known for fast, aggressive beats and political lyrics. Early hardcore bands include Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Bad Brains, The Descendents, early Replacements and The Germs and the movement developed via Minor Threat, Minutemen and Hüsker Dü, among others. In New York, there was a large hardcore punk movement led by bands such as Agnostic Front, The Cro-Mags, Murphy's Law, Sick of it All, and Gorilla Biscuits. Other styles emerged from this new genre including skate punk, emo and straight edge.

In the UK, meanwhile, diverse post-punk bands emerged, such as Joy Division, Throbbing Gristle, Gang of Four, Siouxsie & the Banshees & Public Image Ltd, the latter two bands featuring people who were part of the original British punk rock movement.

Although most the prominent bands in the genre pre-dated the 1980s by a few years, it wasn’t until the 1980s until journalist Garry Bushell gave the sub-genre “Oi!” its name, derived from the Cockney Rejects song “Oi! Oi! Oi!”. This movement featured bands such as Cock Sparrer, Cockney Rejects, Blitz, and Sham 69.

Bands sharing the Ramones' bubblegum pop influences formed their own brand of punk, sporting melodic songs and lyrics more often dealing with relationships and simple fun than most punk rock's nihilism and anti-estalishment stance. These bands, the founders of pop punk, included the Ramones, Buzzcocks, The Rezillos and Generation X.

Legacy and recent developments

The underground punk movement in the United States in the 1980s produced countless bands that either evolved from a punk rock sound or simply applied its spirit and DIY ethics to a completely different sound. By the end of the 1980s these bands had largely eclipsed their punk forebearers and were termed alternative rock. As alternative bands like Sonic Youth and the Pixies were starting to gain larger audiences, major labels sought to capitalize on a market that had been growing underground for the past 10 years.

In 1991, Nirvana achieved huge commercial success with their album, Nevermind. Nirvana cited punk as a key influence on their music. Although they tended to label themselves as punk rock and championed many unknown punk icons (as did many other alternative rock bands), Nirvana's music was equally akin to other forms of garage or indie rock and heavy metal that had existed for decades. Nirvana's success kick-started the alternative rock boom that had been underway since the late 1980s, and helped define that segment of the 1990s popular music milieu. The subsequent shift in taste among listeners of rock music was chronicled in a film entitled 1991: The Year Punk Broke, which featured Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr, and Sonic Youth; Nirvana also featured in the film Hype!

The resurgance of punk's mainstream visibility in the early and mid-1990s was characterized by the scene at 924 Gilman Street, a venue in Berkeley, California, which featured bands such as Green Day, Operation Ivy, Rancid and later bands including AFI, (though clearly not simultaneously, as Rancid included members of the defunct Operation Ivy). This scene emphasized a return to punk's melodic roots with a strong adherence to punk principles in its lyrical messages. Epitaph Records, an independent record label started by Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion, would become the home of the "skate punk" sound, characterized by bands like The Offspring, Pennywise, NOFX, and The Suicide Machines, many bands arose claiming the mantle of the ever-diverse punk genre -- some playing a more accessible, pop style and achieving commercial success. The late 1990s also saw another ska punk revival. This revival continues into the 2000s with bands like Streetlight Manifesto, Reel Big Fish, and Less Than Jake.

The early commercial success of alternative rock also gave way to another style of punk success in the mainsteam called punk pop. Examples of pop punk bands include Simple Plan, Good Charlotte, and Sum 41. By the late 1990s, punk was so ingrained in Western culture that it was often used to sell commercial bands as "rebels", amid complaints from punk rockers that, by being signed to major labels and appearing on MTV, these bands were buying into the system that punk was created to rebel against, and as a result, could not be considered true punk (though clearly, punk's earliest pioneers also released work via the major labels). This debate continues among young punk acolytes (who, as do most new generations, seek a sense of originality or authenticity) amid the popularity of modern punk in the early 2000s, including the emo trend of recent times, and the Grammy success and superstar status in 2005 of pop-punk band Green Day.

There is still a thriving punk scene in North America, Japan and Europe. The widespread availability of the Internet and file sharing programs enables bands who would otherwise not be heard outside of their local scene to garner larger followings, and is in keeping with the DIY ethic championed by some earlier punk bands. Many punk bands retain the political streak of their forebears. The political ascendency of George W. Bush and Tony Blair have inspired both songs and political action, such as the Rock Against Bush movement, that can be compared to the original rage at Reagan and Thatcher.

There is a new brand of punk called "Lo-Cash" or "Crack Rock Steady." With bands from New York such as Leftover Crack, the main band, Choking Victim, INDK and No Cash. These bands combine elements of punk, ska, death metal, hardcore and rap into their songs.

See also

Sound samples


Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs, ISBN 0679720456
The Boy Looked At Johnny: The Obituary of Rock and Roll by Julie Burchill & Tony Parsons, 1978, Pluto Press, UK, ISBN 0861040309X
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain, 1997, Penguin Books, ISBN 0140266909
England's Dreaming by Jon Savage, 1991, Faber and Faber, UK, ISBN 0312069634
Burning Britain - A History Of UK Punk 1980 to 1984 by Ian Glasper, Cherry Red Books, ISBN 1901447243


  1. ^ Punk, Merriam-Webster online. Accessed 22 March 2006.
  2. ^ Will Success Spoil The Frut? by Dave Marsh, Creem magazine, May 1971
  3. ^ From the Velvets to the Voidoids: A Pre-Punk History for a Post-Punk World by Clinton Heylin, 1993, Penguin Books, ISBN 0140179704

External links

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Band Databases



Punk rock
Anarcho-punk - Anti-folk - Crust punk - Garage punk - Hardcore - Post-hardcore - Horror punk - New Wave - No Wave - Noise rock - Oi! - Pop punk - Post-punk - Psychobilly - Deathcountry - Riot grrrl - Ska punk - Streetpunk - Two Tone
Other topics

Home | Up | List of musical punk genres | Punk blues | Punk fashion | Punk rock | Queercore

Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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