1977 is commonly known as the year Punk exploded, with genre defining records from The Sex Pistols, Ramones and The Clash along with the formation of classic acts such as Bad Brains, Fear, The Germs, Crass, The Dickies and X. Amidst all the noise, there are a handful of bands that, despite helping define what punk could be, are often overshadowed by their more popular counterparts.
Here’s a chance for us to remember some of the most forward thinking hooligans of ’77.
The Damned – Neat Neat Neat
“New Rose” made The Damned responsible for the first punk single released in the UK, but it’s “Neat Neat Neat,” the opening track of their debut record that really gets me going. It’s an energetic, surprisingly dynamic bass driven track that set a structure for the developing genre. The record cover, which shows the band relishing the aftermath of a particularly brutal pie-fight, is almost as timeless as the album itself. It’s fun punk rock before the genre started to take itself too seriously.
X-Ray Spex – Oh Bondage, Up Yours!
At the age of 19, the British/Somali Poly Styrene confidently took on the burgeoning punk scene with a mouth full of braces and Day-Glo uniform. The aggressive anthem “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” manages to discuss feminism, consumerism and punk fashion in under three minutes while featuring a killer sax part from the 16 year old Lora Logic. While X-Ray Spex didn’t get to enjoy a lengthy career, they left an indelible mark on punk’s collective conscious, with many bands struggling to meet the politically conscious excitement of the group’s first single.
Richard Hell & The Voidoids:
Richard Hell (who played with Television and The Heartbreakers, both featured later in the list) is directly responsible for not only the spiked-hair, ripped jeans and safety pinned look of punk, but also for the nihilistic outlook of the entire genre. “Blank Generation” captured the angsty, empty and hopeless perspective of the youth in both America and Britain during the late 70s, painting a far bleaker picture than anything The Ramones were putting out at the time. Paired with crunchy guitars, a swinging beat and Hell’s snarling poetry, the song struck a chord with the youth, giving a name to the disenfranchised kids of the day. Despite this, Hell has recently described it as a rather positive song, noting that “blank” could be anything you want it to be.
Ian Dury – Plaistow Patricia
Another classic from Stiff Records (responsible for The Damned’s debut, Elvis Costello’s first few records and a whole string of classic punk and new wave albums), Ian Dury holds a strange place in the history of punk. Musically, he dabbled in everything from classic rock n roll to reggae and music hall, but it was his perverse caricatures and shocking (even for punk) lyrics that put him on the map. Having a great band and brilliant, middle class stories didn’t hurt his career much either. He opens “Plaistow Patricia” with the words “Arseholes, bastards, fucking cunts and pricks” before the kick drum, a gritty guitar riff and a squealing glam rock saxophone come in to make for an astoundingly unique punk song.
The Vibrators – I Need A Slave
Punk rock is equal parts attitude and sensationalism, and if the band’s name weren’t enough, they managed to write a punk classic with acoustic guitars and a chorus that reads “I need a slave tonight.” The song doesn’t do much else, but at under 2 minutes (short songs are another staple of the genre), it a boisterous, chanty little tune that provides a fun way to break up their debut album. Fun Fact–Irish punks Stiff Little Fingers (formed in ’77) lifted their name from a song off of The Vibrators first record.
Television – Friction
Debuting with “Marquee Moon,” Television managed to make a heady blend of garage rock, art punk and avant-jazz, proving that punk didn’t have to revolve around adolescent complaints and barely competent musicians to have attitude. Their experimental, duel guitar approach, out there lyrics and expansive textures made them a regular fixture at the scene that was developing at CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City, home to New York punkers, poets, weirdos and artists.
Elvis Costello & The Attractions: Welcome To The Working Week (Live!)
Some may argue that Costello doesn’t count as punk, but he had the same energy, angst and attitude as the best of them. The only difference is that he had the vocabulary to mask his vitriol with wit and the business savvy to write songs that had a chance breaking into the mainstream. “Welcome To The Working Week” opens his debut album with clever lyrics portraying the hopelessness of a 9-5 and the follies of a blind “do-as-you’re-told” society. While “My Aim Is True” had a classic 50’s rock and roll flavor, when played live, the band ramped up the tempos and aggression, creating a frenzied, sarcastic tune jam packed with hooks and one liners, saying more than it needs in just over a minute.
The Dead Boys – Ain’t Nothin’ To Do
Many argue that The Dead Boys were the forerunners of hardcore, which isn’t exactly a stretch given their aggressive sound, which matched their raucous live shows (it wasn’t uncommon for singer Stiv Bators to slash his stomach with his mic stand). The subject matter, phrasing, chanting gang vocals and beefy guitars are all mirrored in early Black Flag, and the song is far more combative than many of the other tracks on this list. Recurring themes in punk are angst, apathy and boredom, and “Ain’t Nothin’ To Do” has all three in spades. Lines like “I’m so sick of romance/And I’m gettin’ real sick of you,” not to mention the chorus, capture the violent, restless energy of the developing punk scene before it became overtly political.
Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers – Born To Lose
When the glammy, proto-punk masters New York Dolls disbanded, Johnny Thunders went on to form The Heartbreakers, who only managed to record one album before they went their separate ways. Thankfully, it’s a classic that injected the punk attitude into classic, anthemic rock n roll. Musically, “Born To Lose” isn’t particularly punky, but its hopeless chorus and squealing guitars place it alongside “Blank Generation,” “Pretty Vacant” and “Ain’t Nothin’ To Do” in describing the demoralized urban discontentment of the youth in New York and England.
Wire – Ex Lion Tamer
Wire are one of the most innovative punk bands of the 70s, with witty lyrics, super short songs, memorable hooks and a minimalist attitude that helped shape Post-Punk before punk had even run its course. Unlike many of their counterparts, Wire eschewed the common rock and blues song structures to come up with something fresh that still sounds ahead of the game. “Ex Lion Tamer” isn’t particularly aggressive compared to many of their other tracks, but it’s sarcastic, catchy chorus of “stay glued to your TV set!” was a sentiment felt through the punk movement, repeated in The Dead Boys’ “Ain’t Nothin’ To Do” and The Clash’s “Remote Control.” Wire have a solid, diverse discography are still up and running, sounding fresh as ever. They released their first self titled record just last month, which I reviewed here. (http://www.monstersandcritics.com/review-wire-the-band-has-aged-gracefully/)