Listen to this track by punk-cum-pub rock BBC-baters The Stranglers. It’s their 1977 single “Peaches”, a lascivious tale of girl-watching (leching?) on a summer’s day, bolstered by one of my favourite musical elements – the tenacious bassline, this time courtesy of bassist JJ Burnel, who plays his instrument close to the bridge, and with a plectrum, for a rattling, trebly sound that makes that bassline one of his best contributions to the band’s oeuvre .
The song was released as a double-A-side with another song – “Go Buddy Go”. But, it’s this one that stands as one of the key tracks from this band, who mixed the snottiness of punk with ’60s garage rock during a time just before punk rock became fodder for the British tabloids at the end of the ’70s. Read more
Here’s a clip of Hamiltonian punkabilly-flavoured rock/pop punk rock trio The Barettas. It’s the video for their single ‘Touché”. You can currently download the single for FREE on their bandcamp page, good people. The single, with an equally excellent B-side in “Black Sheep” was released last month.
The band is made up of three women – Katie Bulley (guitar, vocals), Kate Kimberley (bass, vocals), and Carly Kilotta (drums) – who’s average age is currently 22, yet sound as though they’ve been at this game for twice that time at least. Since their formation in 2009, the trio has rubbed elbows in support slots for acts as critically acclaimed as the Diodes (!), The Fleshtones (!!), The New York Dolls (!!!) and A Flock of Seagulls (!!?) among others.
Among the references you’ll find about this band in the press are comparisons between their hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, and the soul music, blues, and garage rock mecca of Detroit Michigan. Sure, both are industrial, blue collar towns. Both are criminally left behind in comparison to other cities when it comes to accolades of cultural importance where pop music is concerned (although, KISS never wrote about Hamilton – or they haven’t yet). But, do the comparisons end there?
Well, I decided to ask Katie that question, among others including questions about dayjobs, about what a support band can learn from a headliner, and about what it is to be a woman in a 21st Century rock ‘n’ roll band.
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.
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.
Listen 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 Runaways.com
Listen to this song by West Coast Canadian punk institution D.O.A. It’s “War”, a cover version of the 1970 Edwin Starr signature tune (written by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong), and despite a view textural differences, it remains pretty much unchanged. Who’d have thunk it? Good God, eh? The song is taken from the band’s 1982 album War on 45.
As has been roundly proven on this blog of mine, I love the cover version. Not every cover version, of course. But by this I mean I love the idea of the cover version, because the best of them takes a song out of its original context and quite often brings new meaning out of it. And sometimes, as in this case, the stylistic context doesn’t change the meaning at all. War is still good for absolutely nothing (unless you’re an arms dealer or a politician whose favour in the polls is slipping…), whether it’s brassy soul-funk, or crunchy Vancouver punk rock.
The point here is that the heart of the material is pretty intact. War is still nothin’ but a heartbreak. And dare I say that D.O.A lead singer Joey Shithead sounds downright soulful in his delivery here? Punk rock is often held together in people’s minds as associated with a nihilist worldview. Yet, D.O.A is pretty convincing here, respectful of the subject matter where they could easily just have taken the piss. I’ve lost my stomach for ironic cover versions which do nothing but go to prove how ‘funny’ a band can be and without adding anything interesting to the material.
West Coast punk in the early 80s differed from a lot of late-70s UK punk in that there seemed to be a strong political dimension to it, and a spirit of activism which could help to explain the reasons for this cover version. To prove a commitment to furthering the cause of a better world, Joey Shithead would go on to running provincially as a member of the the Green Party of Canada in 1996 and 2001. Of course he would do it under his given name, Joe Keithley.
Who says ‘no future for you’?
Joe Keithley currently runs his own label, Sudden Death Records. Check out the line-up and investigate some of the associated MySpace pages for more music.
The Sound Affects album is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to short, tough songs that are well-constructed and don’t outstay their welcome. And where something like ‘That’s Entertainment’ is something of a British kitchen sink drama, “But I’m Different Now” holds no ambitions about being anything else other than a pop song that really pops. It has everything that makes for classic guitar-driven pop; a punchy rhythmic riff, a straightforward vocal delivery, tight playing, and even a nice little middle-eight section which gives the whole thing a great sense of pace. And everything is under two minutes, people.
A lot of punk-pop these days takes a lot of hard knocks from purists. Yet, in some ways, the Jam were following the same template even in the late 70s and early 80s. They were building on what came before and wearing their colours proudly. Clearly the ’65-’66 Who, The Sex Pistols, and 60s soul music are major contributors to their sound. But even with a song like this under two minutes long, the Jam are proven to be unique. They’ve got something.
It helps that Paul Weller was hitting a stride by 1980, and beginning to think about how to draw his musical interests together a bit more. In some ways, the last few Jam records are a document of this process. Of course, he would soon (in his opinion) outgrow this three-piece punk-rock-pop sound and dissolve the Jam after 1982’s The Gift.
in order to explore other musical avenues with the Style Council. It’s clear that his talent would outlive the punk/new wave trend, and that he would be among the most successful of his musical graduating class.
For more music and information Paul Weller Official Website. His new album 22 Dreams is gaining all kinds of critical praise. It might be worth investigating, people.
And as mentioned previously here on the ‘Bin, Jam bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Bucker have formed a new band with guitarist/vocalist Russell Hastings which incorporates new material mixed in with classic Jam songs.
Listen to this song by Japanese office clerks turned punk-pop princesses Shonen Knife with their 1994 take on the Carpenters’ classic ‘Top of the World’. The tune is taken from the Carpenters’ tribute albumIf I Were a Carpenter, on which the hits of the Carpenters are covered by acts ranging from American Music Club, to Sheryl Crow, to Sonic Youth.
The first time I heard Shonen Knife, it was on TV, a musical segment program we have here in Canada aptly named the New Music. Sadly, no such program has risen to take its place. But, at its peak, it followed some of the most notable bands active, many of which were way off of the beaten track. And Shonen Knife are certainly that. An all-girl punk-pop band, they formed in Osaka in the early 80s, and their initial tour of Japan happened when the members – Michie Nakatani (vocals and bass guitar), Naoko Yamano ( guitar), and Atsuko Yamano (drums) – took their vacation time from their day jobs and used the time to go on the road.
Generally speaking, the band’s material centres around a sound that draws heavily from the Ramones, and because of that from Phil Spectre girl-groups too. But, lyrically the group is akin more to the Shaggs, singing about subjects that most rock songwriters don’t even consider. They write about food a lot, for instance, and not as a euphemism for something else, mind. Just food.
But one thing they put an emphasis on is melody, and with a huge pop sensibilty. Maybe that’s why their take on punk rock is so attractive. It’s not about what they’re saying or how they’re saying it. It’s about the fact that they just are, and have infused their songs with pure, unadulterated fun.
Perhaps this ran contrary to many of their North American contemporaries by the early 90s when they began to make an impact here. A lot of rock bands at the time were writing about weighty themes, and without all of the melodic sunshine that Shonen Knife brought. But, it didn’t stop Sonic Youth, Redd Cross, L7, and a number of other bands from loving them. Kurt Cobain was an enormous Shonen Knife fan, and the band opened for Nirvana on a number of dates during both the Nevermind, and In Utero tours.
One thing I love in great pop music is something of the unexpected. And another thing of course is a song that puts across a sense of fun in writing and playing music because its a fun thing to do. This cover tune of the Carpenters’ countrified hit, played in a pop-punk style and in their own accents takes in both. It’s irresistible, good people!
Although the band has changed personnel since 1999, they remain to be active, having just released their Super Group album in Japan at the end of 2008.
Here’s a clip of Scottish punk-poppers the Rezillos with their 1978 single “Top of the Pops” performed here, as it happens, on the Top of the Pops TV show for that extra level of irony. The song is included on the band’s self-deprecatingly titled 1978 LP Can’t Stand the Rezillos . It would remain to be their sole release, and this their biggest hit.
Punk rock is often associated with iconoclastic images, aggressive stage antics, and abrasive sonic textures that basically approaches the business of rock ‘n’ roll as something of a blunt instrument. Many punk bands justify that perception, of course. Another important aspect of punk is that it involved the audience, not unlike the 60s folk boom did. It reminded the audience that punk could be made by anyone who really wanted to make it, even if you didn’t play, or perhaps more importantly look, like a standard rock star. Among many attributes, the Rezillos embodied this ideal.
In many ways, it’s entirely appropriate that this is their signature tune. This is one of the songs about fame which has a fun, yet biting, edge to it. Punk-pop is an oft-derided form these days, being as it is something of a worn out form thanks to Blink 182, Good Charlotte, and their ilk. This might be because the biting, satirical side to the music isn’t evident in modern punk-pop. It’s costumes without cleverness.
Once upon a time, punk bands were all about conveying the essence of a pop song without the frills, instead of trying to establish credentials as being ‘punk’. In this, being a punk band makes for something of a catch-22 these days. Perhaps more than any other form,punk is defined by what it isn’t, rather than what it is, and the ins and outs of this are regularly debated among music fans. Yet, with the first wave of British punk rock in the late 70s, these distinctions weren’t really that important.
I love this tune, sung in their ownEdinburghaccents (another punk aesthetic: sing in your own voice), and there is a certain self-awareness to be found in this song beyond its seemingly banal lyrics. What this band did on this tune was to put some art school cleverness in and disguise it as knock-off fun about the thrill of being on national TV.
Ultimately, what’s revealed is the basic absurdity of being in a band in the first place, making your name in the world by appealing to a faceless TV audience. But, there’s not to be attention placed on this as the song is playing. If you really get it, you’re too busy having fun to notice the irony.
Here’s a clip of pisstaking Pennsylvanian punks The Dead Milkmen performing their wonderfully hamfisted DIY love song “Punk Rock Girl” from their 1988 album Beelzebubba. The song was an unlikely MTV hit, helped in part by the equally half-baked, yet hilarious video.
If ever there was a time for simple, slightly misbegotten punk rock, it was 1988 and the Milkmen were the johnnies on the spot. They escaped critical praise for the most part, by seeming to care little for craft or for glory. And their cult following was based around their derisive, yet humourous, attitude toward pop culture, and due to the fact that they had the smarts to write songs that speak directly to their audience’s experience. The band’s world is the land of insecure teens, shopping malls, and casual juvenile delinquency, with a bit of young love thrown in. Has rock’n’ roll ever been about anything else?
In this tune we get the young love tale, complete with disapproving parents, and somewhat random and disjointed us-against-the-world sentiments. It barely hangs together musically, and is largely dependent on the cheap laughs to fuel it. This should be awful. I should hate this. But, as it is I always found it kind of endearing. So many bands have tried to strike the balance between tunefulness and ‘wackiness’. Mostly, I find this approach to be pretty repellent – I’m looking at you, Moxy Fruvous. But with these guys, they’ve got such little guile, so little ego invested, and so little technical skill of any kind, you kind of root for them anyway.
My favourite line in this tune? Well, I think it might be:
“We got into her car away we started rollin’
I said how much you pay for this
Said nothin’ man it’s stolen…”
Yes – totally silly. A cheap laugh. I love it. God help me.
1988 was my graduating year of high school, and I can tell you there wasn’t much on the radio that year that had much character. Everybody was pretty busy Wang Chung-ing. Yet this tune on heavy rotation on video channels was like a wonderful, half-cocked balm, a little blip on the sonic landscape that made me remember that pop music could still be about silliness and fun – that it didn’t have to be slick and made for mass consumption. It could still be inconsequential, kind of catchy, yet still divide the room into those who got it, and those who didn’t.