Punk didn’t just come out of nowhere. This month in The Knowledge follow the trail of broken beer bottles and bodies to find Proto-Punk.
The Foundation of Disorder
Before there was Punk, there was Proto-Punk… Not a genre per se, Proto-Punk is a retrospective term given to bands that laid the foundation for what would ultimately be known as Punk. It’s hard to say when Proto-Punk started, but it’s unanimously agreed that it ended when Punk itself became a phenomenon – around 1975 to 1976. To some Punk historians, Proto-Punk dates as far back as the late 50s with Link Wray, the pioneer of a new glorious distorted electric guitar sound. Wray was also noted for inventing the “power chord”, the holy chord of Punk Rock.
The late 60s were dominated by hippies; Flower Power and a general sense of optimism were everywhere. But not everyone was wearing flowers in their hair. Decadence and the deterioration of the American Dream led a bunch of ambiguous bands to oppose the fake feel-good times. They experimented with noise, speed, energy and attitude to piss in the hippies’ pool of love. And though hailing from different backgrounds with different styles and influences, they shared a jaded, cynical and anti-Utopianism lookout. It was music created by outsiders for outsiders. They held no illusions that they’d ever be absorbed into the mainstream.
A primitive art-form, musically, it was dirty and raw, without any frills. Even if the music was not aggressive, the production was usually unpolished. Lyrical content was often aimed to shock and provoke, dealing with taboos such as hard drugs, S&M, gender-bending, revolution and the degeneration of society. The Ramones’ debut in 1976 would end Proto-Punk and give a new name to all those that followed as simply and purely, Punk.
‘Heroin’ The Velvet Underground
Note: The scraping viola and screeching guitars are supposed to mimic a drug rush
‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ The Stooges
‘Kick Out The Jams’ MC5
‘Louie, Louie’ The Fabulous Wailers
‘Dropout Boogie’ Captain Beefheart
‘Personality Crisis’ The New York Dolls
‘Constipation Blues’ Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Glam Rock Also known as Glitter Rock, it’s characterised by outrageous costumes, heavy makeup, trashy hairstyles and platform-soled boots. Largely a British movement galvanized by David Bowie’s androgynous alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust.
A raw, aggressive and often amateurish form of Rock ‘N’ Roll, popularized from 1963-67 by groups such as The Wailers, The Kingsmen and The Trashmen.
Rock ‘N’ Roll
Where it all started and America’s greatest gift to the world. Ask your mum and dad about this one, but if all they can talk about is Elvis, then look it up.
It wouldn’t have happened without…
Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground Chums of Andy Warhol, they donned sunglasses and wore black. Light-years ahead of their time, they’re acknowledged as one of the most influential bands of the past century.
Iggy Pop and the Stooges All-time favorite madman, Iggy Pop used to shock, mesmerize and command audiences as he performed acts of self-mutilation. Hurling beer bottles back and forth at shows, he once smeared himself with peanut butter and rolled on broken glass on stage. Today, at age 61, he’s toned down on the self-abuse but still puts on stellar live performances.
MC5 were all about guitar noise, speed, and revolution. These sons of Detroit Rock were political conscious, taking on unpopular stances on many of the issues of the day.
How Proto-Punk Changed The World
Three things: NYC Punk Movement at CBGB; the British Punk Explosion of the Sex Pistols and the Clash; the LA Hardcore Scene of the 80s; and now we have countless replaceable pop-punk and emo bands that swarm MTV like cockroaches that won’t die.
Proto-Punk Anti-Poster Boys
Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and David Bowie
The Unholy Trio collaborated often and did more than just songs together. Ahem.
Essential Proto-Punk Albums
The Velvet Underground The Velvet Underground And Nico
Question Mark and the Mysterians 96 Tears
The Stooges Raw Power
MC5 Kick Out The Jams
New York Dolls + Malcom MacLaren + Safety Pins = Sex Pistols
Velvet Underground + Andy Warhol + Magic Mushrooms = Campbell Soup