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Rock in the 1970s: Punk Rock

Updated on September 25, 2011

Punk is an interesting sub genre because for one thing, its origins are somewhat unclear.  Punk rock either came from America or England.  It’s a pretty heated debate because some believe that punk was a product of 1970’s British working-class youth culture.  On the other hand, American punk participants strongly feel that it is of American origin.  Although it is agreed that punk music came from the start of a reaction against mainstream forms of rock and roll in both England and the United States.  Punk was an international movement, especially in London, New York and Los Angeles.    There were two events that can argue on behalf of both sides.  First, there was the New York bands’ tour through the UK in 1976.  There is evidence that indicate US’s influence on British punk.  US punk bands made the first physical contacts between bands and subcultural participants from both the USA and UK.  This brought punks throughout the UK together for a significant event that greatly influenced the establishment of a publication focused on UK punk and giving the movement a sense of national coherence.  However the second event, the Sex Pistols’ tour through the US in 1978, argues differently regarding influence.  It’s believed that this tour drastically changed American perceptions about punk and its performance styles.  American punk became much more popular, but also more violent after the Sex Pistols’ and British punk’s exposure.  Soon, many American musicians modified the music and styles of British working-class rage into anthems of American suburban boredom and estrangement.  American punk was altered as a result of British interpretations.  In the end, it can be argued that both countries helped punk develop into what it really is.  Punk in New York leaned more towards fun, artistic, or self-reflective themes, while punk in England was more socio-political.  New Yorkers invented the musical style while the British popularized the political attitude and colorful appearances.  Another conclusion one can draw from this is that punk’s roots came from an American underground scene dating back to the mid 1960’s and was mostly in New York.  It was then exported from the United States to the UK, later to return and be reintroduced as new wave.

What made punk so appealing to musicians was that the music was simple.  Musically, punk was the music of teenage “garage bands”.  These bands had little musical skill but had lots of energy and attitude, most of which was negative.  Punk revolutionized rock’s image with its simplicity.  Punk fashion attacked the status quo and punk lyrics mostly encouraged social or political change.  The music was mostly conventional in its structure, partly because of it’s “return-to-simplicity” aesthetic. Psychedelic rock was complex and evasive, and punk rock tore that down.  Punk’s goal musically was to restore old rock ‘n’ roll and rebel against “The Man”, or better known as the government.  Punk was very different from psychedelic rock because punk was about aggressive action, whereas psychedelic rock stuck with mild action.  It’s interesting to consider punk’s real origins. The root of punk music was developed by reggae (that’s right, reggae).

Reggae is a very diverse genre that goes with everything, particularly punk.  In England, reggae spread like wildfire as their songs reflect on rebellion against white people.  The British people were so taken with this; they formed their version of punk.  Reggae inhabited a wide range of influences which bore upon punk.  Some British punk bands were not only influenced by reggae, but also the image. Punks started to wear Ethiopian colors and the Rasta style began to force its way into the repertoires of some punk groups.  Punk became a link between rock and reggae.  The basic lack of fit between these two languages exposed in the surfacing of black ethnicity in reggae generates a curiously unstable dynamic within the punk subculture.  So, punk uses the principals of reggae and applies them with rock.

Reggae comes from the Caribbean and had a strong influence on rock.  The lyrics of many of the songs show concern for the poor and oppressed but usually without the angry tone of heavy metal, and usually in a storytelling form of the ballad.  The music was such an influence in British culture; many British youths supported the reggae bands that regularly played with British punks.

The Ramones
The Ramones
The Clash
The Clash

Great Punks


The Ramones:  It can be argued that this band started punk rock, period.  The Ramones changed the rock sound with a fresh approach.  This band aspired others to be rebellious bad boys of the 1970’s.  Their tough guy image really shaped the reflection rock had now portrayed on the audience.  They captured people with their fast, repetitive, power chords and their lyrics of deformity and anti-society.  The song “Blitzkrieg Bop”, is an early and still very popular Ramones song.  When people think Ramones, they think of this song.  This song truly paved the wave of punk rock not only in the US, but also in the UK, and eventually, around the world.  The song mostly features three power chords that played loud and fast.  Blitzkrieg Bop, interesting enough, is German for Lighting War.  This was a tactic the Germans used during WWII to strike their enemies fast and lethal.  Anyway, the image of leather jackets, sunglasses, fast power chords, and the “badass” attitude not only represents The Ramones, but also punk in general.


The Clash:  Now there were many other British punk bands, but I chose The Clash.  This punk band may not have been the first punk band to rise in England, but they do represent English punk music well.  Compared to the American Ramones, The Clash focused more on political issues and speaking their minds.  Also, unlike the Ramones, The Clash’s music seemed to have developed in their active years.  Compare their first song on their debut album, “Janie Jones” with “London Calling”.  In three years difference, they go from screaming, power chords, and fast tempo to more organized, complex playing (not in general, just compared to their early days), and meaningful lyrics.  “Janie Jones” sings of a man that likes to smoke pot and listen to rock music, but none of it compares to being with Janie Jones, a girl he likes.  However, “London Calling” speaks of the end of the world coming near, or at least, how much the world has changed over the years.  The Clash maintained a bad boy image that really appealed to England and helped make punk music what is it in both England and the US.   

Personal Philosophy

 Hands down, one of my favorite forms of rock.  I love the raw energy and certain intensity that is put into this music.  I think that the power chords and loud screaming are great because it's simple, but highly appreciated.  Anyone can pick up a guitar, bass, or drums and start playing this.  In fact, if I was teaching rock music to people, I would start with punk music.  It's easy enough to play, plus it's gets people to want to play more and encourages them to expand thier talent. 

I am amazed at this music's history and origins.  It's filled with conflict and complexed influences and messages.  I really like it when music can travel overseas because it's interesting to see how certain countries view the music.  So much has came this music, I felt that a lot of people became overwhelmed with what to believe in.  All in all, punk was and still is a great form of rock music


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    • Artois52 profile image


      4 years ago from England

      Nice hub. We English punk rockers would like to think that punk originated in London with the Pistols but, if we are honest, punk rock did start in the US and we adopted it and made it our own (and better!)


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