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The Origins of Punk Rock

Updated on October 1, 2019
spartucusjones profile image

CJ Baker is a published writer who is currently writing a book on the historical developments of protest music.

Patti Smith

Patti Smith, commonly referred to as the "Godmother of punk" was very influential in the development of punk rock.
Patti Smith, commonly referred to as the "Godmother of punk" was very influential in the development of punk rock. | Source

1977: The Year Punk Broke

1977 has been referred to by music critics as the year punk broke into the mainstream consciousness. In the UK, that was the year that the Sex Pistols and The Clash released their debut albums. Other UK punk acts such as The Damned, Alternative TV, Elvis Costello and Sham 69 all released their first recordings between late 1976-77.

In the States, you had the Ramones (who are commonly referred to as the first punk group) who released their debut album in 1976, and they released two more albums in 1977. They were the leaders of the New York punk scene, and along with acts such as Richard Hell & The Voidoids, Patti Smith, The Talking Heads & Blondie they helped established CBGB as a legendary venue in the formation of Punk and New Wave.

As with any genre of music, it doesn't just appear overnight, fully formed. The musical evolution takes place over many decades (sometimes even centuries). The same is certainly true with the evolution of punk rock. We will analyze the developments which lead up to the formation of punk rock. We will also look at some of the influential protopunk bands which contributed to the development of the genre.

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare used the expression punk in a few of his plays. The meaning of the expression has evolved considerably since then.
William Shakespeare used the expression punk in a few of his plays. The meaning of the expression has evolved considerably since then. | Source

Origins of the Word Punk

From the 16th century right up to the 18th century, the expression punk carried the idea of being a prostitute. This was the context that William Shakespeare used it in a couple of his plays. But the expression of the punk evolved to denote a male hustler, hoodlum, ruffian or gangster.

The first known use of the expression punk to describe a band or a form of music was on March 22, 1970, Chicago Tribune when Ed Sanders of the band The Fugs referred to his debut solo album as "punk rock—redneck sentimentality". Back in November 1970, electronic protopunk duo Suicide was the first group to refer to their music as being "punk music" on their promo flyers. In a December 1970 issue of Creem, critic Lester Bang referred to Iggy Pop as "that Stooge punk".

The first critic to coin the expression "punk rock" is believed to be David Marsh, who in a May 1971 issue of Creem, described 60's garage rock band,? and the Mysterians as giving a "landmark exposition of punk rock"

During the 70s music critics continued to throw around the label punk applying it to a diverse group of different types of rock acts (many not generally considered punk by today's standards) such as The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen and even the Bay City Rollers.

In late 1975, a popular fanzine called Punk was formed. It featured music that was inspired by MC5, The Stooges & The New York Dolls. The music featured was more indicative of what would become known as "punk rock".

I Wanna Be Your Dog by The Stooges (Video)

New York Dolls

The New York Dolls were an important protopunk band which helped developed what became known as glam punk.
The New York Dolls were an important protopunk band which helped developed what became known as glam punk. | Source

What Is Protopunk?

Protopunk is a reference to musicians and music which was considered to be an important precursor in the development of punk rock. This classification is not restricted to any specific genre.

1963: The Punk Evolution Begins

So we just focused on the terminology of the word punk. But more importantly, it is now time to focus on the musical evolution of punk. Since punk is a form of rock music it really has the same DNA of rock & roll. So if you wanted to you could trace the development of the punk family tree way back. But for argument sake, we are going to take the year 1963 as our starting point.

In the 60s "garage rock" was starting to breakthrough. The raw & minimalistic musical approach of "garage rock" bands was considered an important precursor to punk. One song in particular which contained the blueprint of the punk sound was The Kingsmen 1963 hit, "Louie, Louie". Other important "garage rock" tunes which contained the three-chord structure of punk, combined with the raw energy includes "You Really Got Me" by The Kinks and "Wild Thing" by The Troggs.

Along with "garage rock", "mod rock" was considered an important precursor. Early songs by The Who such as "I Can't Explain" and "My Generation" were very similar to the early punk sound that would later develop.

From there we have the protopunk bands that were influenced by the "garage rock" and "mod rock" of the 60s. The Velvet Underground, is widely considered to be the first "alternative band". Even though their esthetic isn't necessary punk in itself, they were a tremendous influence on a number of individuals who were instrumental in the development of punk rock.

In 1969, two extremely influential protopunk bands emerged from Michigan. The MC5's and The Stooges. The MC5's released their debut album, Kick Out the Jams, which also featured the legendary title track, while The Stooges released their debut self titled album. Iggy Pop of The Stooges would go on to be widely known as the "godfather of punk".

The New York Dolls developed a style of music which would be labelled as "glam punk" and David Bowie had many stylistic elements (both musically and in the visual presentation) which would further contribute to the evolution of punk.

Louie, Louie by The Kingsmen (Video)

CBGB and the UK Punk Scene

By 1974 a new "underground rock" scene was developing in New York. The focal point was a venue called CBGB. Television and the "Godmother of punk" Patti Smith were two of the central figures of the emergence of CBGB and the New York punk scene. CBGB helped give the Ramones their start.

Over in the UK, Malcolm McLaren who had a brief stint managing The New York Dolls, was inspired by the CBGB scene. He operated a clothing store called Sex, which was known for its anti-fashion. McLaren help formed The Sex Pistols, which help popularized the anti-fashion that McLaren store was known for.

While this was going on, an associate of McLaren, Bernard Rhodes was managing the band London SS. London SS ended up disbanding before ever performing in public, but the band ended up merging into two different influential punk bands: The Damned and The Clash. The rest as they say is history.

These developments now take us to 1977, the year punk broke. Of course punk has continued to evolve since then. Who knows, that may just be a subject for a future article.

Live Concert Performance of the Ramones (Video)

Origins Of Punk Rock Quiz

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© 2012 CJ Baker


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    • profile image

      jason bouskill 

      7 years ago

      you can hear that dolls and richard hell sound in the kingsmen,s garage punk sound

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      The pioneers of Punk Rock are Los Saicos. Look them up.

    • spartucusjones profile imageAUTHOR

      CJ Baker 

      8 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Thanks for the comments! I'm glad that punk rock saved your life (or at least your finances).

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      solved my disco debt problem. 7 bands $2 at the "people's temple".

    • spartucusjones profile imageAUTHOR

      CJ Baker 

      8 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed reading. It was definitely a subject that I enjoyed writing.

    • profile image

      Olde Cashmere 

      8 years ago

      Excellent hub on the formation of punk and how it all began. Great writing and entertaining read. Voted up, awesome, and interesting :)

    • spartucusjones profile imageAUTHOR

      CJ Baker 

      8 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Thanks for the comments! I agree that good music is good music. The labels are generally marketing terms. That being said if the only category of music was good and bad that may leave things too broad and too subjective. So as you said giving a name to the genre does help to distinguish it (even though I do feel it sometimes get a little bit crazy with all of the genres and sub genres).

    • dmop profile image


      8 years ago from Cambridge City, IN

      This was an interesting article documenting the course and development of Punk Rock. To me good music is just good music it doesn't matter what you call it. I guess everything needs a label to distinguish it from something similar but different in varying degrees though. Good job on this, I gave it a vote up and interesting.

    • spartucusjones profile imageAUTHOR

      CJ Baker 

      8 years ago from Parts Unknown

      I guess we are a group of old people with great musical taste. I think we should work on schooling the young ones.

    • profile image

      Chris Hugh 

      8 years ago

      I still love this music. I guess I'm old too.

    • spartucusjones profile imageAUTHOR

      CJ Baker 

      8 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Thanks, glad you enjoy! As someone who is into the historical development of music, I feel that I can't enjoy newer music without having an appreciation for what came before. But it is too bad that many young ones lack an appreciation for the historical developments of music. But maybe that is just my old guy rant.

    • denisemai profile image

      Denise Mai 

      8 years ago from Idaho

      I still love punk rock. I guess it shows my age, though. My kids consider it mom's weird old music. Another great article. Up and awesome!


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