Listen to this track by New York punk scenesters and Stooges disciples The Dead Boys, fronted by one Stiv Bators. It’s the bird-flipping anthem “Sonic Reducer”, as taken from the band’s 1977 album Young, Loud, and Snotty, a record that pretty much does what it says on the tin.
Chances are, when you think of punk rock in 1977, you’re thinking of images, attitudes, performance styles, and textures as modeled by this band, even if you’ve never heard of them. Along with Richard Hell and Voidoids, The Heartbreakers (featuring Johnny Thunders, that is), and the Ramones, The Dead Boys had a tremendous influence on the trajectory of punk rock.
The band started in New York City where they made their name after splintering from another band, Rocket From the Tombs. Later, they made an impact in England, where the Sex Pistols were just embarking on their media-frenzied concert appearances, and watching every move their New York counterparts, who shared billing with them in the UK and eventually in the US, were making.
It should be said of course that the band did not emerge from out of nowhere. Lead singer Stiv Bators was a dedicated fan of Iggy Pop, particularly during the Raw Power era of the Stooges. It is from Iggy that Bators’ onstage persona is based, complete with the tendency to self-mutilation, and self-exposure, both for which Iggy was known.
Musically, the Dead Boys’ ability to tap into a raw rock ‘n’ roll sound actually betrays quite a debt to the 1950s as much as it does to the late 60s and early 70s. There isn’t a great deal of difference between the sentiment here, and the one in Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues”. Even the word ‘punk’ is derived from this 50s period, featured in the works of William S. Burroughs, who also was on the New York scene by the time the Dead Boys were playing CBGBs regularly. And as such, it’s important to remember that the bands on this scene like the Dead Boys, were not intending to create a new kind of music with punk. They were presenting rock ‘n’ roll as they understood it; visceral, raw, and short. The result was a new incarnation for their times.
Of course, with so much raw energy and intensity happening in such a narrow space and time, the New York punk scene burned twice as bright for half as long. The Dead Boys would put out a second album in 1978, We Have Come For Your Children, on which much pressure was put on them to make their sound more radio-friendly. The live document Night of the Living Dead Boys was to follow. But the involvement of the majors in the punk scene which exposed it to a wider audience, was also an influence in ending its golden age. That, and the drugs of course, which curtailed the ambitions (and in some cases, the lives) of many bands at the time.
By 1979, the Dead Boys fragmented. Stiv Bators formed the more commercially-minded The Lords of the New Church after having moved to England. That band is best known for their 1982 hit “Open Your Eyes”. And later, Bators also moved onto something of a punk supergroup (yes, there is such a thing) after the Lords, with The Whores of Babylon, a very temporary outfit that also featured Dee Dee Ramone on bass, and Johnny Thunders on lead guitar. That band imploded before any recordings were made.
The Dead Boys would reunite for some one off shows during the 80s. But, by 1990, Stiv Bators was dead, the victim of a blood clot to his brain due to an injury sustained by being hit by a car in Paris. But, Bators remains to be a key figure in the New York punk scene in the mid-to-late 70s, and with this tune as one of its strongest anthems.
For more information about the Dead Boys, check out The Dead Boys MySpace page.