Last time around, I offered up 25 vintage 1980’s rap classics. This time I’ll throw out a five part-series of one of my favorite genres: the widely encompassing label known as punk. For what it’s worth, I love punk rock in all its form, really good and totally crappy.
If, as Harlan Howard surmised, country music is simply “three chords and the truth,” punk rock might be two chords and a sneer. Punk, after all, was and is much more about the attitude than the musicality. (“When I saw the Pistols, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t alone in the fact that I couldn’t play too well.” – Joe Strummer) In most cases in rock history, style over substance has made for utterly shite tunes . . . Somehow in this case that ridiculous formula worked masterfully in many cases, with the dirty little secret being that a lot of these guys were/became pretty damn skilled.
Here’s a layman’s recipe for punk rock music. Chuck in equal parts:
Defiantly simplistic lyrics
Defiantly simplistic chords
Nothing pretty at all costs
Short songs, some times startlingly so
A horribly menacing sound
Content that equates a middle finger or two
Your natural accent . . . or a bizarrely affected accent
Or antisocial message
Or anarchic message
Or peaceful message
Or no message
Or whatever the hell you want
Mix together and remember one thing more than the rest:
If it’s worth playing, it’s worth playing loudThe first segment of this playlist series is punk’s heyday, the 1970’s. I have intentionally left out three of the stalwarts of the genre, as they deserve individual playlists of their own. You’ll know of whom I speak right away.
1-2-3-4 . . .
1. The Adverts, “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes”
Gary Gilmore was one of the most interesting murderers of all time, immortalized by Tommy Lee Jones, Norman Mailer, and The Adverts. Gilmore donated his eyes to science. Some poor sucker got them. Yikes.
2. Tom Robinson Band, “2-4-6-8 Motorway”
Dave likes songs that count or say the days of the week (a la “Police on My Back”), and this one does the evens and odds for him. Enjoy, D. Pave.
3. Sham 69, “If the Kids Are United”
Punk anthem. Shouted, not sung.
4. The Undertones, “Teenage Kicks”
This song was known for a couple of things – Feargal Sharkey and his mates were 19-year-olds from Northern Ireland who shot to fame and never really matched it, and famed British DJ John Peel fell head over heels in love with this tune like none before or since. Hype aside, it’s pretty damn good.
5. Richard Hell and the Voidoids, “Blank Generation”
While Billy Idol’s Generation X would see their name plagiarized by lazy twentysomethings in flannel resembling Rob and me in the 1990’s, the blank generation was its punk predecessor. Other than Jello Biafra, John Doe, and Death, Richard Hell is arguably the best punk name.
6. The Only Ones, “Another Girl, Another Planet”
Covered by The Replacements (sloppily) and Blink 182 (crappily), the original one-hitter is one of the great songs of the era.
7. The Damned, “New Rose”
The Damned did everything first and got nearly zero credit, aside from Bob Marley’s song “Punky Reggae Party.” Damned if you do...
8. The Modern Lovers, “Pablo Picasso”
So good, so punk attitude. You know Jonathan Richman from There’s Something About Mary, but long before, he explained the quintessential difference between guys like you and guys like Pablo Picasso. He never got called asshole. Not like you.
9. Wreckless Eric, “Whole Wide World”
A little-seen film (that I heartily enjoy) called Stranger Than Fiction resuscitated this tune a few years back, but it’s another off-kilter song worth hearing or trying to play.
10. X-Ray Spex, “Oh Bondage Up Yours!”
If you think the title or the shouted lyrics are punk, they pale in comparison to whatever the hell that ridiculous instrumentation that comes in about the :20 mark. (Bad sax?) Random Idiots-esque, and somehow they made it popular.
11. Alternative TV, “Action Time Vision”
Lousy band name, lousy song name, but a rock song worth turning up.
12. Blondie, “Hanging on the Telephone”
Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, and Co. went fairly pop before too long, but this is by far my favorite of their early efforts. And she was super-hot, for those that have only seen the latter-day beefy Blondie.
13. The Jam, “Eton Rifles”
Beyond the Pistols and The Clash, you’d probably list The Jam as the next most prolific punk-origined band. Either “In the City” or this one as top early number.
14. Magazine, “Shot By Both Sides”
Good and sinister. Lively punk.
15. Television, “Marquee Moon”
Not terribly punk – the weak singing excepted, but it’s good guitar rock by rebellious bastards with some random cross to bear. Two chords, my ass, I can’t play it.
16. The Ruts, “Babylon’s Burning”
With anxiety. Appropriately wicked.
17. Stiff Little Fingers, “Alternative Ulster”
Made me consult an atlas. And write “Alternative Norfolk,” which never made the charts.
18. The Members, “The Sounds of the Suburbs”
The ultimate pain-in-the-ass middle class kid’s rejection of his surroundings. This is the sound.
19. 999, “Homicide”
In punk songwriting, a one-word chorus is just fine, if that word is “homicide.”
20. The Skids, “The Saints Are Coming”
Given a rebirth by Green Day and Bono on MNF when the Superdome reopened after Katrina, the original featured later Big Countryman Stuart Adamson. Good shit.
. . . and now my 5 favorite punk songs of the 1970’s (not performed by The Clash, Ramones, or Sex Pistols)
21. The Buzzcocks, “Ever Fallen In Love”
Part of what's great about punk rock – just when you start to have it pegged, you’re wrong. Frenzied, guitar driven lover’s lament. The answer is yes.
22. Dead Kennedys, “California Über Alles”
Easily one of my favorite punk acts for its humor-drenched fantastic rock songs. This should be the Cali state song.
23. Wire, “Mannequin”
This is a real rock song, and a great one, while . . .
24. Wire, “I Am the Fly”
. . . this is one of the most menacing songs ever recorded. It exists basically to torment, and is therefore exquisite. The repetition, aggravating sounds, and degenerate lyrics make it almost the perfect punk song. Second only to . . .
25. Black Flag, “Wasted”
Pre-Henry Rollins. 52 seconds. Simple. Rocking. So great. This should be the first song every fledgling band learns. And it won’t take long. Did I mention 52 seconds?
Enjoy. More to come.