Academics should have hobbies, part two.

The cool part about punk rock is that the songs are short, so you can get through fifteen of them in well under an hour. Also, they’re fast (except when they aren’t), angry (except when they’re happy), and heavily political (except when they’re about sex or something else entirely).

Do bear in mind that the following was also the era of glam, of folksy melodies, and of disco. Saturday Night Fever was released the same year as The Clash. We’re all lucky that the world didn’t come to an end.

Anyway. Moving on from protopunk (not without regret for the bands we skipped, but you all know how to use Google. I’d start with T. Rex, The Kingsmen, MC5, and The Bay City Rollers, personally) to the birth of punk as a genre and a movement. In this installment, we’re going to cover three continents, twelve bands, and four years: the first wave of punk.

As always, I encourage you to spend some of your hard-earned salary on the albums and bands found here. Really. Punk is all about DIY, and that requires a certain amount of audience commitment.

(xx to tt; download and unzip. 15 tracks, 50mb total)

The Songs

“Born to Run” Bruce Springsteen (1975)

in the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway american dream
at night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines

The first wave of punk rock was initially a scene, not a movement. Punk was the music produced by a group of artists who played in the same area (New York City), knew each other (including swapping tracks and filling in during concerts), and created music that fed off a limited number of other bands. CBGB’s wasn’t just a place that happened to get a lot of punk bands—for a while in the late 70s, it was the scene. It was how punk defined itself. Punk rock was a conversation, and the conversation didn’t require that everyone sound the same.

And so Bruce Springsteen sounds little like the Clash. But before the Clash, he was called punk. And maybe he still should be.

“I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” The Ramones (1976)

do you love me back what do you say
do you love me back what can i say

The Ramones. Possibly the first obvious “punk” band on the list, or at least the first one to be generally recognized as being part of the punk movement by people who didn’t care that much about it.

So they were definitely Punk. And stayed that way for a long time. And they’re absolutely necessary for understanding punk rock (more about that in a minute) but in this particular track, there’s something else going on.

The funny thing about the Ramones (well, one of them, anyway. Honestly, if the antics of artists freak you out, don’t ever research the lives of punk musicians) is that while a lot of the songs from their first LP sounded like punk, the ones that didn’t sounded like something out of a 60s girl group. This track, for instance.

“Blitzkrieg Bop” The Ramones (1975)

they’re forming in a straight line they’re going through a tight wind
the kids are losing their minds the blitzkrieg bop

This is the first single by the Ramones. It didn’t do so well, but everybody knows it now. Really. Give it to 0:22, and then sing along.

“Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World” The Ramones (1976)

i’m a shock trooper in a stupor yes I am
i’m a nazi schatze you know i fight for the fatherland

Okay, this may not be the greatest Ramones songs ever. But it has a few things of note. First, there's the 1-2-3-4 count at the start, which was central to Ramones live shows for over twenty years (and shows up again in a lot of the bands that came after them).

Second, there’s a certain difficulty in pinning down punk music to any particular political stance. And that difficulty starts right here, with a group using imagery for shock value and humor. In punk rock, you can’t take anything at face value, you need to assume that somebody’s trying to yank your chain, and the bands? Usually smarter than they seem.

This does, in fact, have to do with the initial reason for this series. So keep it in mind.

Does everyone get it? Given the airplay this track didn’t get, and the real existence of Nazi punk, I’m thinking no.

Third…well, there isn’t a third. But Ramones is a great album, the extended version has some interesting added demos and such, and when you’re finished buying that, go out and find some stuff by Television.

“Because The Night” The Patti Smith Group (1978)

take me now baby here as i am
pul me close try and understand

Horses was one of the first albums definitively labeled as punk. This song is not off that album. And it doesn’t sound the way people expect punk to sound.

It is, quite possibly, my favorite track by Patti Smith. And it was written by Bruce Springsteen for his own album. Didn’t work out, but in the exchange of tracks and samples between the band (they were recording at the same studio) it turned out that it did work for Patti Smith.

“Heart of Glass” Blondie (1978)

lost inside adorable illusion and i cannot hide
i'm the one you're using please don't push me aside.

Last one from the early New York scene; again, it doesn’t sound like early UK punk. But like everything, punk came from something else—glam, and garage rock, and a dozen other influences. The first wave wasn’t about who you sounded like, it was about who you knew and what you thought the point of music was. I actually sort of really dislike Blondie. A lot. But here it is anyway, one of their tracks from the late 70s.

The thing to remember is that punk music came from somewhere, and was going somewhere else. Right. Now let’s talk about what happened when the earliest punk bands started to spread.

“Let The Kids Dance” Radio Birdman (1977)

told grandpa just last year
watch out man she’s gonna strip your gears

Radio Birdman is a hard group to classify. On the one hand, they were influenced by MC5 and the Stooges, just like a lot of early punk bands. On the other, they were in Sydney and had a lot more influence on Australian indie rock than they did on later punk bands. So here’s a live track, and I’ll let you make up your own minds. Just don’t get used to it.

“Peaches” The Stranglers (1977)

strolling along minding my own business
well there goes a girl and a half

The Stranglers opened with the Ramones on their first UK tour. Both bands opened for the Flamin’ Groovies, who were most assuredly not a punk band by any definition of the term.

The Stranglers were…not quite punk, but not really anything else, either. They were close enough for the musicians who would later become the UK’s first punk rock wave, even though their lyrics were more intellectual and sexual than political and a lot of their hooks were slowed down.

This is not the radio edit. And it is not the sort of thing that was played in polite company. It is meant to piss people off. Fair warning.

“New Rose [Live]” The Damned (1976)

see the sun see the sun it shines
don’t get too close or it’ll burn your eyes

“New Rose” was the very first single by a British punk group. This is where it started in the UK, at least when it comes to selling records. And even though most of the music by The Damned isn’t quite this close to traditional punk (Dave Vanian actually likes to sing most of the time, and various incarnations of the band went on inspire the West Coast hardcore movement and play goth rock) it’s an important milestone.

This particular track is a live version of the song. In case you were wondering what a concert sounded like.

“Anarchy In The UK” Sex Pistols (1976)

i am an antichrist i am an anarchist
don’t know what i want but i know how to get it

Okay. We had to get there eventually. Here you go, the Sex Pistols, with the second UK punk single. And keep in mind that this was an alternative to synth rock and folk music and it wasn’t the way everyone sounded. When this came out, it had only been five months since the Ramones played London. This was new, and it sounded like something that was going to change the world.

And, although I’ve been avoiding the topic, as this goes on it’s going to be harder to ignore that punk rock was also the center of a political standpoint, a claim about the way the world worked and the ways that the political and social system failed people. It was a system of identity as much as a musical innovation.

(Also, please note that despite the unfounded assumptions of many people who criticized the punk movement, the Sex Pistols could play their instruments just fine. So could The Clash, and any number of other bands. As with any other genre, you just have to stop and listen to figure that out.)

“White Riot” The Clash (1977)

all the power in the hands of people rich enough to buy it
while we walk the street too chicken to even try it

Let’s talk about The Clash. Third out of four bands on the ill-fated Anarchy Tour, The Clash are another of the big names of punk rock, a band everyone knows and to some extent recognizes. They played their first gig (opening for the Sex Pistols) on the same night the Ramones opened in London. They saw a later show from the same tour, and this track, their first single, owes a lot to the Ramones and the music played in the early years of punk.

The Clash are important to understanding punk, and this is where they start. Class and race and fast, hard beats. And, although this is the 1979 re-recording that was released in the US, you should still get the idea.

“Police & Thieves” The Clash (1977)

police and thieves in the street
fighting the nation with their guns and ammunition

Right from the start, The Clash were doing interesting stuff—sampling reggae, stretching the boundaries of punk, pissing people off at every available opportunity. They were also quoting Ramones lyrics, but that’s not so surprising.

The key thing about the UK punk movement is that it had a generally accepted political intent, a point of view that worked, almost as must as the musical style itself, to identify the members of the scene. The Clash were actually less revolutionary than most, and as punk became more popular (due in large part to The Clash and bands like them) this political identity started to fracture. The first wave of UK punk was about as cohesive as punk rock got. And more than anything else, that unity may be why thirty years later it’s these two years of punk rock that people identify as the core of it all.

“Orgasm Addict” Buzzcocks (1978)

sneaking in the backdoor with dirty magazines
and your mother wants to know ‘what are those stains on your jeans’

Oh, the Buzzcocks. I sort of think of them as my ultimate first wave punk band. Because they weren’t as overwhelmingly popular as the Sex Pistols, or The Clash, and they were having fun with the music in addition to playing politics. Pushing boundaries, and putting out some really strong rock and punk beats, all while thumbing their noses at most of the mainstream music scene and a substantial chunk of their fellow punk rockers.

Seriously, do not talk to me about the mind-blowing originality of NIN. These guys have them beat when it comes to pissing people off by talking about sex.

“Overground” Siouxsie & the Banshees (1978)

this limbo is no place to be a digit in another space
in another crowd i’m nameless bound

This is not the punk version of “Overground.” It’s the post-punk, orchestral, years later re-recorded version, because we’re about to hit the second wave of punk, when it all splintered into dozens of smaller movements and everything got confusing.

No, really. This has been the simple part. Siouxsie and the Banshees were one of the last of the first wave punk bands, and they were one of the few who made a transition into other genres successfully.

I’ve left out a ton of great bands, and some fantastic songs. But I think you probably get the idea from what I have included.

”Shadowplay” Joy Division (1979)

i did everything everything i wanted to
i let them use you for their own ends

Joy Division. Um. Okay, sticking to the musical points: play this, and then replay “Born to Run” or “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Because within four years, this is how far punk came. From a group of New York bands that had the sort of underground, incestuous musical experience that starts almost every real breakthrough, to a band that was on the forefront of an international, popular, rapidly splintering new genre.

Joy Division were the start of the post-punk movement, and we’re going to talk about them again. For the moment, let’s leave it at this song, which is one of their more traditionally punk tracks.

Next time: the second wave of US punk. Along with some other stuff.

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