The Stooges Play “Search and Destroy”

Listen to this track by garage rock, glam, and proto-punk champions from Ann Arbor Michigan, The Stooges, aka Iggy & The Stooges. It’s “Search and Destroy”, a landmark cut off of their monumental third LP, Raw Power released in February 1973 . The song was a single, with album track “Penetration” as a b-side, kicking off the album like the sound of an exploding munitions dump. This was the sound of a fully realized Stooges, a band brought back from the dead by the time the album was recorded, produced by lead singer and creative head Iggy Pop, and David Bowie.

By the time this song was laid down and the band was reassembled after breaking up, changes had been made to The Stooges’ line-up. Drummer Scott Asheton remained behind the kit. But bassist Dave Alexander was gone, sidelined by substance abuse and addiction. Guitarist Ron Asheton took his place on bass, while lead guitar duties were handed over to newcomer James Williamson, co-writer of this song. His parts are brought well to the foreground throughout, although the approach to production and mixing of the record didn’t leave too much room for nuance initially. The history of how the record was recorded and mixed is an elaborate and intricate one even before it was transferred to CD format in the late-nineties under the guidance of Bruce Dickinson (Mr “more cowbell” himself). One of the notes on the CD version I have includes Iggy’s assurance that “everything’s still in the red”. Thank goodness for that!

All the while, this song has taken on a life of its own, being a go-to track when compiling lists of best hard rock, punk, glam, whatever, songs ever recorded. It certainly one that demands attention, and one of the high points of Iggy Pop’s career all around. A good portion of the reason for that in my mind is that despite the seeming lack of nuance happening in the music, there are definite layers of meaning to be found in its text that belie the blunt force of its delivery. Read more

Patti Smith Group Play “Gloria”

PattiSmithHorsesListen to this track by proto-punk poet and her merry band of garage rock enthusiasts The Patti Smith Group. It’s “Gloria”, the opening track to their 1975 record Horses. That album would be a reflection of their work that melded fifties beat generation poetry with sixties garage rock music.

This song is the embodiment of that mix, taking a poem that Smith had performed for years called “Oath”, and fusing it to the 1965 garage rock classic by Them, which makes this a quasi cover version of sorts. It’s almost as though, in a time before sampling was formalized in the way we know it today, this piece was manually sampled. It was an effort at trying to tie the deeper questions of life to something that was just as common; a love of rock ‘n’ roll radio. It was also a way to tie it directly to the experiences of her generation.

Where is all of this pointing toward? Something that looks at lot like a search outside of that which had always been accepted as fact by the generation that came before. That’s what makes this so punk rock. Read more

MC5 Play “The Motor City’s Burning”

MC5 Kick out the jamsListen to this track by Detroit proto-punk progenitors MC5. It’s “The Motor City’s Burning”, a song that appears on their 1969 album Kick Out The Jams. The song was written by Al Smith, and previously recorded by no less than John Lee Hooker, making an appearance on Hooker’s Urban Blues live album in 1967.

That was the year that the riots which inspired this song occurred, in July and indeed at the corner of Clairmont and 12th street in Detroit. Given that both Hooker and The MC5 called Detroit home, this was more than just a blues tune full of violence and sadness, which it certainly is. It’s not even a protest song as such. It’s more like simple a view of the action, with no sides taken, but with a personal stake in the outcome all the same.

What is that personal stake? Well, it’s all tied up in the value of home, and from a band who are not only from Detroit, but who had attached their identity to it. Read more

The Modern Lovers Perform “Roadrunner”

The Modern LoversListen to this track by Massachusetts quartet tagged by many as “proto-punk” and fronted by one Jonathan Richman, The Modern Lovers. It’s “Roadrunner”, a song about driving with the radio on featured on the band’s 1976 eponymous debut record. It was released as a single, and would be recorded over Richman’s career a few times with the band and without. There are a few versions floating around, but  this one is my favourite, produced by John Cale in 1972.

Besides that, the song is pure magic to the point that it is amazing to me that it even exists. In some ways, it’s totally amateurish. But, that’s a big part of its charm. When Richman counts off “1,2,,3,4,5,6 …” you know you’re in for something eccentric and cool all at once. Unlike a lot of Jonathan Richman songs, this one is aligned with an expected rock ‘n’ roll subject; driving at night with the radio on, in love with rock ‘n’ roll and being out all night. But, it’s also about being in love with the place you’re from. In Richman’s case, that’s the state of Massachusetts, and the scenery along the way.

This is a song that’s been hailed by many as the first punk song. Where I don’t think I can agree with that (I personally think it was “Louie Louie” myself …), I can understand why people think that. This song has roots that are well known.  Read more

Richard Hell & the Voidoids Perform ‘Blank Generation’

Richard Hell was the template for how punk rock was to be presented in a visual sense. His penchant for ripped t-shirts and use of safety pins inspired a visiting Malcolm McClaren to appropriate that look, sell it to the punters in London’s King’s Road, and eventually package his own British musical act – the Sex Pistols. [Richard Hell image courtesy of Nesster
Listen to this track, a proto-punk explosion by a band started by former Television founder and bassist Richard Hell.  It’s the era-defining “Blank Generation” by Richard Hell & the Voidoids, a flagship song of the 70s New York punk scene, even before the word punk was applied to it.  It is taken from the group’s 1977 album of the same name, Blank Generation.
Richard Hell was a key mover and shaker in the New York club scene, a regular at Max’s Kansas City with the New York Dolls and Patti Smith, and later at CBGBs with Blondie, the Ramones, and Talking Heads. Hell, born Richard Meyers, inspired a look and a sound that helped to kick off a punk scene across the pond in England, while adding a kind of literacy and fierce intelligence to rock music that would transcend any one scene.

When Malcolm McClaren visited New York City on an extended trip that had him briefly managing the New York Dolls, Hell’s fashion sense and general presence was the model on which McClaren would base his line of clothing back in London as sold in his and wife Vivienne Westwood’s boutique Sex, and  his next music management project, the Sex Pistols. Having said this, Hell’s band the Voidoids, formed after he’d played with a pre-recordings Television and Johnny Thunders’ The Heartbreakers, offered something that the Pistols were not generally known for – lyricism.

While with Television, Hell had taken a different approach to rock ‘n’ roll, compared to his bandmate Tom Verlaine’s. Hell wanted to be in a gritty rock ‘n’ roll band, even if Verlaine wanted to take the group in an artier, and more “serious”, direction. The tension between the two eventually inspired Hell to stretch out on his own and leave Television, who would later go on to record a classic of their own – Marquee Moon.  Yet despite the differences in opinion about what rock ‘n’ roll should be, the two were both fans of Bob Dylan, and of Dylan’s skill at infusing rock music with a sense of poetry as well as sheer attack.

You can hear it in this song; a barrage of words that fall into each other, yet push the song along while they’re doing it. Guitarist Robert Quine’s irregular chording at the beginning of the song, and the chaotic shards of sound that pull together some classic rock ‘n’ roll soloing bordering on a kind of rockabilly feel are real stand outs  too.  The  result is a tune that stands as a cornerstone of back-to-basics rock ‘n’roll, inspiring the Sex Pistols ‘Pretty Vacant’ and the Stray Cats ‘Stray Cat Strut’ all in one explosion of sound.

But, it’s also a song that demonstrates that even if you’re playing basic rock ‘n’ roll, it doesn’t mean you have to write basic, just-functional lyrics.  Hell, like Patti Smith, was interested in putting across lyrical imagery, as well as visceral energy on a musical level.  And this song has both, a veritable microcosm of what was going on in the minds of the audiences of those sweaty clubs out of which Hell and his contemporaries made their names.  Despite high-profile appearances at CBGBs, and later in England opening for the Clash, the group would never be a household name.  Yet, this song, and also Hell’s “Love Comes in Spurts” would be immortalized as punk classics among the bands coming up behind them.

Richard Hell’s career turned to more literary concerns by the end of the 1980s.  You can visit the official Richard Hell website to get a list of his literary works, and of his subsquent musical projects.


The Runaways Perform ‘Cherry Bomb’

cherry_bomb_coverListen to this track by proto-riotgrrls The Runaways, featuring Joan Jett , Lita Ford, and Cherie Currie, all  of whom would enjoy solo careers after the band folded by the end of the 1970s.  It’s their low-charting single “Cherry Bomb”, which was not so low charting in Japan where, like fellow hard rockers Cheap Trick, they had an enormous audience.

The story of the Runaways is a curious tale, in that they started off as something of an exploited act, a gimmick, with the veneer of streetwise authenticity.  Imagine this: teenaged girls playing ballsy rock music on their own, with songs about boozing, partying, and shagging.  Who would buy that?  Manager Kim Fowley thought everyone would.   But, to make sure, he kept the band on a short leash, with the illusion of independent and streetwise women tempered by male marketing prowess behind the scenes. This model produced two studio albums, one live album, a number of singles, performances at CBGBs, and a following abroad.


The Runaways are soon to be the subject of a feature film starring actors Kirsten Stewart (as Joan Jett) and Dakota Fanning (as Cherie Currie), a typical tale of a band on the rise, with internal pressures eventually breaking it up.  The heart of the drama of course is that the band members were teenaged girls, pursuing a path that popular culture had not yet fully understood or embraced.  This is reflected perhaps in the poor sales of their records in North America, and in the fact that the influence they had can largely be understood in retrospect.

And this is the curious part of the tale.  What this band eventually helped to inspire and empower was a number of other bands that came up behind them.  These include the Bangles and the Go-Gos, and later the Donnas, L7, and Le Tigre among many others, who wrote their own material and played their own instruments, but otherwise did so without a male puppeteer pulling all the strings. Yet, the Runaways themselves would not see the fruits of this until Joan Jett had formed the Blackhearts, scoring an enormous 1982 hit in “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”, when Lita Ford established herself as a heavy metal pin-up singer, and when Cherie Currie established herself  intially as solo singer,  and later as an accomplished actor.

Where the Runaways was built on the idea that women playing rock music was a novelty, they transcended that novelty by putting guitars and drumsticks into the hands of other women. By the 80s and 90s, that novelty was no longer a novelty at all.  And as a result of their eventual impact on others, hard rock, metal, power pop, and punk were no longer boy’s clubs, expanding the cultural significance of the music, and making male svengalis into anachronisms.

For more information about the Runaways, check out


Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers Perform ‘Rockin’ Shopping Center’

jonathanrichmanandthemodernloversListen to this track by rock ‘n’ roll throwback eccentric Jonathan Richman and his band the Modern Lovers with their ode to the symbol of suburban gentrification.  It’s ‘Rockin’ Shopping Center’,  as taken from the band’s 1977 self-titled LP Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers.

There is perhaps a fine line between earnest songwriting and ironic songwriting.  The great thing about Jonathan Richman is that you’re never really sure.  With this tune, Richman asserts his approach that anything can be a subject of a song if you choose to write about it.  And there is something innately endearing about this, and a lot of his other work that often sounds like wacked out children’s music written on the spot more so than planned out beforehand.

Yet, Richman’s music is clearly in the traditional rock ‘n’ roll tradition, with a stylistic nod to the Velvet Underground too, which makes Richman something of a forerunner to both punk and post-punk.  Richman’s ‘Roadrunner’ would be a touchstone for punk rock bands from the mid-70s and onward.

I personally love this tune, perhaps because it evokes a landscape of my childhood, the ‘burbs where shopping malls were like little cultural Meccas, characterized as they are by little details that are not really noticed on any conscious level.  Yet, Richman is able to connect just by bringing those details out.  Much like kindred spirit Robyn Hitchcock, Jonathan Richman’s strength as a writer lies in his ability to avoid cliches, simply by writing about subjects that other songwriters don’t generally identify as topics for songs.

And often what comes out are statements that make a point, without necessarily being the intention of the song on its surface.  On this one, the shopping center represents (maybe) the homogeneity of shopping malls, and the death of the main street in America.  Or, maybe he’s just talking about a specific day he spent thinking about malls.  Or, maybe one day he went shopping and this song popped into his head.  And of course, it could be all three.  His almost childlike approach to songwriting and performing is so disarming, that it almost pays better dividends not to worry too much about what the songs are supposed to mean, or what he intended when he wrote them.


Goodbye, Stooges Guitarist Ron Asheton

Ron Asheton, original lead guitarist of the Stooges has died, found in his home in Ann Arbor Michigan.  His guitar work in the late 60s and early 70s was instrumental in the development of punk rock, and in inspiring other bands to follow his lead.
RIP, Ron.
Listen to the Stooges with their 1969 track ” I Wanna Be Your Dog”.

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