If you know that stuff, this annotated listicle should ring a bell you won’t mind hearing again. If you don’t, discovery awaits. It’s a trip back in time to one of the most fertile – and some would say proudly fetid – times in rock ‘n’ roll. And how can disagreement not arise?
What is punk? A sound, a DIY attitude, a return to basics with a growl? A reaction to the stuffy arena rock sounds of the mid-70s? An injection of politics in the midst of a period of great discontent? An attempt to cover topics previously untouched by rock ‘n’ roll?
You may have heard one or two cbgbwhich closed its doors on October 15 and 16, 2006 following a set by Patti Smith.
20) “X Delinquent” by Blondie
Their label, Private Stock, rejected the original track (“Sex Offender”), earning it The Rolling Stones/Ed Sullivan Show “Let’s Spend Some Time Together” award. But with its chiming melody and Deborah Harry’s deceptively soft vocals, their 1976 debut album laid the foundation for a punk-pop group that later expanded its lineup and made deep inroads into the mainstream.
19) “On the Run” by Eddie and the Hot Rods
The final song from their debut LP, “On the Run,” is over six minutes long (for punk), and is a gripping, heartbreaking story of being pursued (paranoia or reality?), of being young and misunderstood ( crazy? dangerous?) and eventually locked up for it. Barrie Masters sings: “I should be sorry/But they hired me” echoing “I’m not a number!” ricochet approx. Note: A lot of people put Eddie and the Hot Rods in the pub rock genre (Dr. Feelgood, Ducks Deluxe) and there’s definitely a connection there, but to me they were part of the Pistols explosion- Damned Clash.
Related: The band’s Barrie Masters died in 2019
18) “Jocko Homo” by Devo
Sure, kids raised on ’80s MTV saw Devo’s yellow junkyard jumpsuits and thought that was “new wave” – madness – but pre-“Whip It” Devo was more punk. rock than synth-pop or new wave. (Although “Jocko Homo” was a punk rock song that initially started in an unorthodox time signature, 7/8). ‘n’ roll with spirit that carried the very real message: this evolution is over and we are now de-evolving. Plus, there was the classic chant: “Aren’t we men? / We’re Devo!” We were all Devo for a while.
17) “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” by X-Ray Spex
One of punk’s best opening lines by teenage Poly Styrene – “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard, but I think… Oh bondage! Turn yours up!” An S&M fantasy? A feminist rant? The sexual implications of the first verse give way to anti-consumerism in the second; it’s both happy and restless, a flurry of messy noises, with the moans of Styrene matched by the howling sax of Lora Logic.
16) “Your Generation” by Generation X
We’re all fans of The Who, of course, and I took “My Generation” to heart when I first heard it. But to be honest, I didn’t hear it when it came out. I was a generation younger than Pete Townshend and heard it after the fact. So when Gen X came in with that kiss to The Who and his brethren with “Your generation means nothing to me!” it made (temporary) sense for young punks coming back to life with this confrontational broadside in the face. Staking a claim. It was really good. “I might make enemy friends / But I gotta take this chance,” Billy Idol sang.
15) “Alternative Ulster” by Stiff Little Fingers
Some of the best rock ‘n’ roll has strong local roots…and then that local concern, through the magic of music, becomes something universal. (We knew Liverpool through the Beatles and London through the Kinks.) This is the case of Stiff Little Fingers, often nicknamed “Northern Ireland’s Clash”. Henry Cluney’s most bracing guitar hit, then comes Jake Burn’s barking lead vocals, exposing Belfast’s bleak landscape and, at the end, striking the eternal chord to rebel and run away: “They say that they have control over you/But it’s not true you know/They say they’re part of you/And that’s a lie you know/They say you’ll never be free…free …free!” Of course, “The Troubles” was at the heart of the song; but wherever you are, it has become a hymn against repression and for living the only life you have.
14) “Teenage Kicks” by The Undertones
No track captured the joy of being young and alive in those times better than this song by the authentically teenage Irish band, The Undertones. I saw them at Paradise in Boston where it was a 21+ show so legally (if not actually) the only teenagers in the house were on stage. “Teenage Kicks” is the flip side of punk anger or nihilism. It had a medium-fast tempo – quite punk – but there was also hope, hope that a girlfriend would hold on “all night.” And in a larger scheme, clinging to adolescent idealism, to seize the moment… and prolong this moment. “I need some excitement/Oh, I really need it/And this is the best I ever had,” Feargal Sharkey sang. (It was one of famous British DJ John Peel’s favorite punk songs, the one he played at his memorial service and engraved on his gravestone.)
13) “So What” by Anti-Nowhere League
I’m bending my own rules here by including this nasty, crusty 1984 work from the Anti-Nowhere League of England, examples of a mid-’80s throwback-punk attitude and style. This song, cover later by Metallica (they started the Lollapalooza show I saw with), is accusatory, vicious, and completely antisocial. Except… well, it’s also so over the top that it’s also very funny. Singer Animal also directs vitriol against the boasters among us. Animal’s show-off punk villain yells, “I’ve been here and I’ve been there/And I’ve been everywhere,” followed by Animal’s line, “So what, so what/So what… “, you annoying little prick! Who cares? Who cares what you do? / And who cares? Who cares what you do? You! You! You! You!”
12) “Earth” by Patti Smith Group
The tour de force in three parts of nine and a half minutes that anchors the first album of the godmother of punk. Always breathtaking in its poetry, rhythmic beat and longing – the opener to Smith’s composition, “Horses”, which turns into guitarist Lenny Kaye’s garage riff-rock, when they follow up on the smash hit 60s “Land of a Thousand Dances”. .” Patterns and vocals that float in and out and “Land” is a mix: whispers and exhilarating screams and whoops. A tense, yet expansive textbook example of tension and release.
11) “New Rose” / “Neat Neat Neat” by The Damned
A one-liner by Stiff Records’ resident punk band The Damned, produced by resident jack-of-all-trades Nick Lowe, and the first-ever UK-released punk single The Damned managed to be both fierce and comedic – the first the album cover with them all lapping up whipped cream suggested they weren’t hairy-faced punks. These two feature moon-like drum attacks from Rat Scabies (still punk’s best misnomer) with a dizzying melodic lift from future ex-guitarist-songwriter Damned Brian James.
Related: Which songs are in our Top 10? Click to read part 2!