Punk: A Beginner’s Guide

Joe Strummer, of the Clash

Joe Strummer, of the Clash

Well Joe, you called it.  The suits did their best to turn your rebellion into money.  To a great deal of people living in the post Hot Topic world, the very idea of punk is viewed as little more than a cute “phase.”  It’s part of life, right?  Infant, toddler, kid, punk, adult?  Oh they grow up so fast!  In all fairness, if all you knew of the genre was green hair, ripped t-shirts and pissy snarls then such a dismissive eye roll might indeed seem fitting.  However, to those who are willing to discover it, punk’s first wave was as much a fiercely intelligent, unapologetic call to arms as it was sarcastic, bratty and crude.

Read on to discover some of the seminal tracks of this often under-appreciated movement.

The Sex Pistols – “God Save The Queen”

For a band that was only together for 26 months, they certainly inspired their fair share of controversy.  There wasn’t much about this song in particular (the band’s second single) that didn’t outrage the conservative order.  The single’s cover art displaying a defaced Queen Elizabeth and lyrics that compared her rule to “a fascist regime” were too much for the ruling class to accept.  The song technically reached the number one spot on the UK singles chart, but its controversial content censored it into a blank line on the official chart record.

The Clash – “Clampdown”

The famously dubbed “The Only Band That Matters” paired some of the most savagely smart, politically conscious lyrics of the era with unique, exciting sounds that were influenced by everything from rock and soul to reggae and pop.  This song, from 1979’s London Calling, urges listeners to reject the waste and banality of slaving away in 9-5 life.  “The voices in your head are calling/Stop wasting your time, there’s nothing coming/Only a fool would think someone could save you/The men at the factory are old and cunning/You don’t owe nothing, so boy get runnin’/It’s the best years of your life they want to steal…”

The Buzzcocks – “Promises”

Pete Shelley and Co. were arguably a power pop band in punk clothing.  In addition to creating a legacy of fast and fun dance-friendly rock, The Buzzcocks exercised punk’s DIY  ethos by becoming one of the first bands to establish their own independent record label.

The Damned – “Smash It Up”

When your frontman insists on playing vampire and band members include grown men who call themselves Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible, it’s pretty obvious that your group has a pretty healthy sense of humor.  The Damned played up the loveable goth clown look, but their sound was ferosiously raw, unmistakeable punk.  Lines like “I don’t even care if I look a mess/Don’t wanna be a sucker like all the rest” exploded with the genre’s rebellious spirit.

The Ramones – “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment”

What punk list would be complete without NYC’s beloved Ramones? Theirs was an empire built on the endearing simplicity of 3-chord power pop sprints.  Though they were in many ways very much the glue sniffing “pinhead” cliches that we’ve come to associate with punk, The Ramones also posessed a sweet charm that few other bands of the time could rival.  (See: “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and their cover of “Needles And Pins”)

The Slits – “Typical Girls”

Punk was a vehicle for a variety of social movements, and The Slits were essentially poster women for the feminist cause.  They refused to accept the tired expectations of how women should look and behave, and did so with a rough reggae/ska sound that no group has even come close to duplicating since.  One listen to their performance of “Typical Girls” and it’s clear that they were anything but.

Check out these other punk rock staples…

X-Ray Spex – “Oh Bondage!  Up Yours!”

Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers – “Chinese Rocks”

The Undertones – “Teenage Kicks”

The Jam – “In The City”

Stiff Little Fingers – “Alternative Ulster”

Gang Of Four – “To Hell With Poverty”

-Shelley Peckham

One Response

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