Punk rock began in the early '70s,like 1974 to 1976. Depending on what one personally considers "punk". In the beginning, it was made up of bands that could be considered many different rock sub-genres, but what they all had in common was that they were stripped down to basic vocals, guitar, bass, and drums, as opposed to the progressive rock of the day. As the music became more and more popular, an entire counterculture built up around the anti-establishment views of some (and in current times, most) punk bands. While the counter-culture shared and still shares many similarities to the radical leftist counterculture of the 60s, it is often much more nihilistic and angry in attitude, and therefore antagonistic towards what remains of that particular counterculture.
Punk, as defined in the dictionary, means "meaning a hoodlum or ruffian, or a worthless person", and the phrase "punk rock" was originally applied to the untutored rock bands of the US in the 1960's, which are now known as garage rock.
Punk rock was used as a derogatory phrase. It was used by critics to describe the garage rock bands all over, and some of the darker psychedelic bands. Though punk rock's origins date back to the early sixties, the first punk "scene" to come about was arguably in the Bowery, a street and small community in New York City, at a former Hell's Angels bar called CBGB & OMFUG, when the band Television began playing there. Patti Smith, who had written one of the first reviews of a Television performance, also formed a punk band around this time, and was followed by many others, including the Talking Heads, The Ramones, The Dictators, The Voidoids (after Richard Hell's departure from Television) and The Heartbreakers, and Blondie. Later, a magazine called Punk emerged and it was dedicated to "The Dictators, The Stooges, New York Dolls, TV reruns and beer." The magazine helped change the meaning of the word.
Punk rock took many influences. From the snotty attitude, on- and off-stage violence, aggressive instrumentation, overt sexuality and political confrontation of artists such as The Who, the Rolling Stones, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, The Velvet Underground, Alice Cooper, The Stooges, the MC5, The Deviants, and the New York Dolls to English pub rock scene and even British glam rock and art rock acts of the early 1970s, including David Bowie, Gary Glitter and Roxy Music. Also, very early punk rock was heavily inspired by many different poets. For instance, Thomas Miller's stage name, Tom Verlaine, was taken from the poet Paul Verlaine, and Richard Hell's appearance (which was later copied by the The Sex Pistols and therefore became regular punk dress) was based on a picture of Arthur Rimbaud. Early punk rock also displays influences from other musical genres, including ska, funk, and rockabilly.
Punk was a counterculture to 1970s popular music. It was against everything popular. In some cases, this was intentional, in others (like The Ramones) it was because the band couldn't play well enough to be a "regular" band, and more often than not it was a combination of the two.
Punk Finds Its Sound Edit
Up until 1976, punk rock could still be used to describe many different genres. While more and more bands were copying The Stooges inspired punk rock of The Ramones, there were still a good number of bands being called punk that played much more avant garde, yet still stripped down, rock (these bands would later be known as New Wave, though must people think of the more "pop" bands of the era upon hearing the word new wave). It was in 1976, when The Ramones toured England for the first time, that punk rock started being used the way we use it today.
On July 4, 1976, The Ramones played a show at The Roundhouse in London, which led to the punk explosion of the mid-late '70s in the UK. Members of soon-to-be seminal UK punk bands were present at the concert, and many played their first shows directly after and because of The Ramones. Some punk bands, such as The Sex Pistols and The Buzzcocks, had already been performing, but gained widespread popularity as a result of the success of the Ramones show. The Clash had already been rehearsing for some time, but were afraid to play a show because they didn't think they were good enough yet. After the Ramones concert, the band hung out with members of The Clash and The Sex Pistols, and when Clash bassist Paul Simonon mention his band's situation, Johnny Ramone replied, "We stink. You don't have to be good, just get out there and play." The Clash played their first show later that day. It was at this point that punk rock became nearly synonymous loud, angry, bands playing 3-power chord songs. It was also at this point that punk rock became associated with politics. This is mainly due to the Sex Pistol's single Anarchy In the UK. However, in retrospect, the Sex Pistols seemed to believe in anarchy both as chaos and a way to cause controversy, leading to better record sales, as opposed to an actual political theory. On the other hand, bands such as The Clash and Crass showed a true commitment to Far Left politics, similar to (and precursors to) the anarcho-punk hardcore bands of the '80s.
The English Punk Explosion Edit
Although there is some debate as to whether The Ramones' July 4 show or The Sex Pistols' June 4 show was what caused the punk explosion in the UK, it happened regardless of which side is correct. As 1976 went on, punk became more and more popular, with a good number of new bands forming, including Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Slits, Sham 69, Generation X, etc. In October, The Damned released New Rose, widely considered to be the first punk single released by a British band. The Sex Pistol's controversial Anarchy in the UK was released in November. The "official" beginning of both punk rock's British Explosion and its infamy among society occurred on December 1, when The Sex Pistols appeared on the television show Thames Today. Guitarist Steve Jones referred to host Bill Grundy as a "dirty sod", to which Grundy suggested he say something "outrageous" with his five seconds left on live broadcast, so Jones went on to refer to him as a "dirty fucker" among other things.
1977 is generally considered to be one of the most important years in the history of punk rock. It was when punk rock officially began kicking out popular music in England. As the Clash song named after the year goes:
You're on the never never
You think it cant go on forever
But the papers say its better
I don't care 'cause I'm not all there
No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones
This year saw the release of Damned Damned Damned by The Damned, The Clash's self-titled debut LP, and Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. The Buzzcocks also released their first EP, Spiral Scratch, in DIY fashion, inspiring many more bands to do the same to the point where releasing records by oneself has become commonplace in the punk rock community. In addition to all of the new bands formed in 1977, this year also saw the creation of many subgenres, including ska punk, noise rock, streetpunk, and post punk, as well as bands such as Wire who began taking punk's minimalist stance to its limits.
Though punk and its many subgenres remained popular in England for some time, things began winding down by the early 80s. However, across the pond, things were just starting up.
Back to the US Edit
By the late 70s, many of the original punk bands in New York had broken up. Some, however, such as The Ramones and The Voidoids continued to perform and release albums. 1978 saw the release of Road to Ruin by The Ramones, Young, Loud, and Snotty by The Dead Boys, and L.A.M.F. by The Heartbreakers. One trend that gained mild popularity at this time, then disintegrated just as it did, was No Wave. Jokingly named after punk's more mainstream cousin, New Wave, No Wave was anything but accessible. This fact was intentional on the bands' part. No Wave was different from regular punk in that it took very little influence rock 'n' roll other than the energy and rebellion, and this was often taken to the extreme by No Wave. In fact, it took very little influence from punk itself other than the minimalism. This, too, was taken to the extreme. The Brian Eno produced compilation No New York, featuring Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, DNA, Mars, and The Contortions, is often considered the defining album of No Wave. Although No Wave was incredibly shortlived and only received popularity from certain circles, it was incredibly influential on many noise rock and alternative rock bands, including Big Black and Sonic Youth.
It was also about this time that the scene in California was taking shape. X, The Avengers, The Germs, and a variety of other influential bands were being formed in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Among these was the Dead Kennedys. While they are now considered by most former fans to be "sellouts" due to having a reunion without the band's main songwriter, Jello Biafra, among other things, there were originally famous for bringing anarchist politics to American punk, though they had already been present for some time in Europe. In South California, a new genre of punk, with which the aforementioned Dead Kennedys would come to identify with, was forming. Known as hardcore punk, it took the already incredibly fast tempos of the punk rock and made them that much faster. Even less emphasis was put on skill and melody than before, and instead on speed. Early and highly infulential bands of this genre that were present in California include the Circle Jerks, Black Flag, and TSOL.
The early 80s saw a rise in the popularity of hardcore punk, mainly in California and Washington, D.C., the formation of several new record labels, including Dischord, Epitaph, and SST (was actually formed in 1978, but released many of its most famous records throughout the 80s), and new bands, such as The Minutemen and the Meat Puppets, who pushed the boundaries of punk rock by incorporation elements of vary different genres, such as funk, jazz, country, and psychedelia. There were some bands, most famously Hüsker Dü, who incorporated those genres not into punk, but into hardcore punk, something unheard of at the time.
As punk rock became fused more and more with other styles of music, noise rock and post-punk began to receive minor popularity with punk circles. Noise rock was similar to hardcore in speed and power, but was even more raw and aggressive. Guitars would oftentimes have effects used on them in addition to distortion, such as delay pedals with the delay turned up but the feedback down, to create a distinctive cacophonous sound, hence "noise" rock. Some alternative rock bands, such as Sonic Youth, began as noise rock bands and will still incorporate parts of it into their music today. Post-punk is a broader subject than noise rock. It encompasses all of the avant garde punk bands that went so far with their experimentation that they crossed the boundaries of what could be considered punk. One cannot nail down any specific characteristics that all post-punk bands shared, but some semi-common themes were dub influenced basslines, echoing drums, alternately tuned guitars, and the occasional use of synthesizers. Some famous examples of post-punk bands are Public Image Ltd., Magazine, Gang of Four, Joy Division, Killing Joke, and The Cure. Some mainstream rock bands, U2 for instance, are considered to be post-punk in style, and even admit direct influence from bands of that type.
The Rise of Alternative Rock Edit
As the 80s went by, more and more punk bands began signing contracts with major labels, a trend that had mostly died out by '78 or '79. These bands usually began playing more mainstream music, either because their record labels demanded it, or because they had been experimenting with pop music of their own free will, and that was why they got signed in the first place. Punk had always been popular with college radio stations, but as of late the college rock scene was dominated by more technically advanced bands, such as R.E.M., known as Punk Rock]] bands. However, these bands often retained the raw energy of punk. This style of music had already been moderately successful in England, but was just catching on in the States. An obscure subgenre of alt-rock known as grunge was enjoying mild success in Seattle, and would soon prove to be incredibly important in the world of rock music.
Grunge was a genre with many influences. Most bands had the energy and attitude of punk bands, but played their riffs in a much slower Black Sabbath inspired way. Several grunge bands also displayed simultaneous interest in The Beatles and The Velvet Underground. In short, grunge was metal-inspired punk with a pop sensibility and roots in the avant garde noise of the Velvets. There were obviously exceptions to the rule, but in general, grunge can be fairly well described by it.
Nirvana was a band from Aberdeen, Washington that were lumped together with the grunge movement, though they were not incredibly similar to other bands of the genre (oddly, they fit the aforementioned "rule" perfectly). They released their second album, first on a major, Nevermind, in late 1991. The album was an unexpected success, due to heavy airplay of the music video for the single Smells Like Teen Spirit on MTV. The success of Nevermind launched national interest in alternative rock and punk rock, an interest that was not well received by many bands of the type. Even Nirvana themselves didn't care at all about Nevermind's sales, and were extremely uncomforted by all of their new fans, few of whom resembled those who they used to play for at underground rock shows.
In addition to Nirvana, there were three other bands considered to be leaders of the grunge movement, none who seemed much more interested in the fame than Nirvana was. First was Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam had the most mainstream sound of the "Big Four" grunge bands, combining 70s hard rock with a darker and slightly more experimental edge. Next was Alice in Chains. Many critics today actually cite AiC as a metal band, but their role in popularizing grunge rock cannot be denied. Finally, there was Soundgarden. Soundgarden perhaps had the closest relationship with Nirvana, having been on the same Seattle label, Sub Pop, a the beginning of their careers, and Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain being an acknowledged fan of Soundgarden's early work (it is unknown if he liked their major label records). Soundgarden combined their punk and metal roots with a strong influence from psychedelic bands from the 60s.
Grunge came to an abrupt end in 1994 with the suicide (some say he was murdered; it has led to a controversial debate) of Kurt Cobain. While some grunge bands stayed together a few more years, some are even around today, the genre's popularity went in the gutter without Nirvana. Coincidentally, punk would come popular at this exact same time.
Punk Finally Hits it Big in the US Edit
In 1994, punk rock band Green Day released their third album and major label debut, Dookie, to immediate success. This was the first time in history that an American punk band had become so popular. After this, several more pop punk bands began releasing records to equal fanfare. Semi-underground bands like NOFX, Bad Religion, Screeching Weasel, and The Queers gained similar, albeit somewhat smaller, success. For better or for worse, and most would say worse despite the good quality of some of these early releases such as Dookie itself, punk had gone mainstream.
Ever since then, punk and alternative rock have become two of the most successful genres in North America. While some bands are still respected by some in the punk community, most are despised by fans of punk rock, due to a complete lack of punk rock values and because the music has become dull as a result of bands giving in to pressure from their labels to write hit singles. While bands such as Green Day are still occasionally respected for their musical ability, they are still hated for selling out to corporations. In recent years, a mixture of punk rock and alternative rock known as emo has become incredibly popular. Emo began as a more emotional form of hardcore, led by Rites of Spring (though they resent any connection to emo music). It was originally considered a legitimate form of music, but most punk rock fans today find it to be fake and commercial. Because of this, most bands that play music similar to that of 80s emo are looked down upon because of the negative connotations of the word emo.