Every current genre of music has its origins and its influences. In this three part feature, we will discuss the brief history of punk music. This first piece will cover its beginnings in the 1970’s and run through 1984. We will throw a lot of key bands and albums at you, so you’ll have plenty of music to revisit or discover.
It’s always difficult to know exactly where to start. Several bands popped up in the ’70s to fuel the punk rebellion. New York and the U.K. became the punk hubs of the world. Rapidly, bands like the Ramones, the Clash, and the Sex Pistols sprung into existence. In New York, a venue known as CBGB became the go to place to see the latest punk bands. Quite ironic for a place that stood for country, bluegrass, and blues, isn’t it? It would be easy to write an entire book about what all went on at CBGB, but then this wouldn’t be a brief history at all.
Let’s back track for a second to protopunk in the 60’s. Bands like The Stooges, MC5, and The Velvet Underground paved the way for punk music. In 1967, we get the classic album art that comes with The Velvet Underground & Nico. Then, in 1969, we get Kick Out The Jams by MC5 and The Stooges’ self-titled album. These albums lead into the early punk era starting in the 70’s. New York Dolls were one of the first punk bands to form in 1971. It takes until 1973 for them to release their first album. “Looking For A Kiss” is just one example of how catchy their songs are on the self-titled album. They then go on to release a second album in 1974, which is when the Ramones, Patti Smith Group, Blondie, and The 101ers form. These groups started what would become an avalanche of new punk bands.
Punk wasn’t just its music, though. It was an entire subculture that started because teens and 20-somethings decided that they had things that needed to be said. Many of these things were anti-establishment and had political motives. DIY was key for the beginning of punk. It was boot-strapped before we were using that term to talk about tech startups. The music was often loud and fast. Many people found it obnoxious but it was the only way these people would be heard. They also needed something to spice up rock music, which had become less rebellious and had a tame feel to it. It was the exact opposite of the hippie culture we had seen in the 60’s.
Before we dig back into the bands and albums that are key to the punk culture, I want to take a moment to discuss the term “poseur” as the spelling would be in the U.K. The term became prominent in the punk subculture. It would be directed at people who participated, but didn’t really understand what being punk meant. Punk was full of values and philosophies despite most people just thinking about the music style when they hear the word “punk. ” If you were a true punk, you were accepted into a huge subculture that spread from the U.K. and Europe to the States. Punk was meant to be real and it was meant to be gritty and anyone who wanted to be a part of it, had to embody all of it.
Back to the music now. We had a major album in 1975 with Horses by Patti Smith. The album includes two songs that are over nine minutes long, which wasn’t a common occurrence in early punk music. So if you’re looking for a punk ballad to check out, “Birdland” would be the song for you. Also in 1975, the Ramones released “Blitzkrieg Bop,” which is a fast-paced song with catchy lyrics that you can still find being used in sports arenas today. Don’t tell me you haven’t yelled “Hey! Ho! Let’s go!” at least once in your life. The Ramones knew how to use those three-chord songs to their advantage and they released a hell of a first single. The Adicts and Sex Pistols are a couple of major punk bands formed in ’75 and then started the insanity of ’76. If I listed all of the bands that formed in ’76, we’d be here for a while. To name a few, though, we have The Clash (after Strummer disbanded The 101ers earlier in the year), Black Flag, The Damned, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Blondie and the Ramones each release their self-titled albums. The Sex Pistols shake the U.K. with “Anarchy In The U.K.” as their first single and they go on tour with the Clash and the Damned. Talk about a rowdy tour lineup.
After a year like ’76, you’d think that maybe things would have calmed down a bit. You’d be wrong. Extremely wrong. In 1977, just as many, if not more, punk bands formed to take the world by storm. Albums are being cranked out like nobody’s business. Wire graces the public with Pink Flag, the Ramones release two albums, the Sex Pistols leave us with their one and only studio album, and The Clash get their self-titled album out. The Misfits, X, and Bad Brains are some big name bands that form. “God Save The Queen” might be the highlight song of the year just because it enraged so many people in England. Although, the band wouldn’t last long because they disbanded the next year. Johnny Rotten ditches the Sex Pistols for Public Image Ltd in 1978 and the year also brought us Dead Kennedys and Social Distortion. Siousxie and the Banshees release their debut album The Scream, while we received releases from a ton of bands. What is possibly my favorite punk album. London Calling, is one for the history books in 1979. Bad Religion, a band that will stick around longer that most, formed along with Agent Orange and The Replacements. There was just no slowing down in the mid-late ’70s for punk music, but I’m going to slow it down here.
I’ve thrown a ton of information at you and we aren’t even to the ’80s just yet. Punk bands came and went almost as quickly as some played their songs, so that leaves a lot to cover. With some bands only having one release, there are also other who have releases in the double digits because they stuck around even though punk music phased in and out over the years. Now, all of the albums I’ll mention in this piece are way older than I am, but I acquired an appreciation of the genre and have read books upon books about punk music. While I may throw out a lot of bands, albums, and songs in this. It’s a brief, but packed, history. Let’s continue on to the 80s now.
Typically when people talk about 80s music, they mean the likes of Tears For Fears, Rick Springfield, and the like. Punk music, however, still pushed it’s way through the decade and started it with a bang. In 1980, The Clash released a triple album on vinyl, Sandinista, and other greats were released like Los Angeles by X, End of the Century by Ramones, and Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables by Dead Kennedys. In 1981, a little more happens that will change the LA punk scene. Henry Rollins joined Black Flag and became their lead singer. Epitaph Records opened it’s doors. Social Distortion released their debut single. The 101ers had a compilation album released despite only releasing one single previously and Bad Religion released a self-titled EP. The Vandals and The Pogues are the highlight punk bands that formed in 1982. The Misfits released Walk Among Us and was just one of the albums that stood out in the punk realm. Minor Threat splits up in 1983, as do the Misfits (spoiler alert: they’ll be back). We also see the formation of NOFX and Dead Milkmen.
Now, to wrap it up with 1984, we’ll start with Black Flag. The band had four releases in one year. Yes, you read that right: four. To be fair, one was a live album, but we’l still count it. The Offspring are the notable band that formed that year. And we get the classic album, Let It Be, by The Replacements. Bad Religion hit a rough patch as a band, but as we well know, they’re still around. This is a lot of territory to cover in roughly 1200 words, but these are some important bands and releases of the time. So go take some time to listen to them in all of their likely remastered glory. We’ll be back with part 2 soon to cover 1985–1999.