This week, we delve back into the mid-70s to take a closer look at the best albums of first wave punk.
We almost always refer to 1977 as ‘the year punk broke’. Most probably infer from that statement that 1977 was the beginning of the punk rock movement. In truth, it was only the beginning of punk’s second act. The first known use of the phrase punk rock appeared in the Chicago Tribune on March 22, 1970, attributed to Ed Sanders, cofounder of New York’s anarcho-prankster band The Fugs. Sanders was quoted describing a solo album of his as “punk rock—redneck sentimentality”. In the December 1970 issue of Creem, Lester Bangs, mocking more mainstream rock musicians, ironically referred to Iggy Pop as “that Stooge punk”. Dave Marsh was the first music critic to employ the term punk rock: In the May 1971 issue of Creem, he described ? and the Mysterians, one of the most popular 1960s garage rock acts, as giving a “landmark exposition of punk rock”. In May 1974, Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hilburn reviewed the second New York Dolls album, Too Much Too Soon. “I told ya the New York Dolls were the real thing,” he wrote, describing the album as “perhaps the best example of raw, thumb-your-nose-at-the-world, punk rock since the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street.” There is no clear starting date for the beginning of any genre. They evolve like anything else; gradually over time. But, if an album has been called the best of a particular genre, I think it’s safe to say the thing has officially started.
So, we know our timeframe (1973-1976), but what about a definition of punk? That’s a bit tougher. To begin, this first wave of punk is defined by the fact that it existed before there was a calculation to create a punk band; before there was a fashion and trademark sneer. Secondly however, I’ve discussed before that I believe the real punk movement was not about any particular sound but the absence of one. I feel like there was a lot more going on during this period outside of spitting and safety pin jewelry. To me, punk was more about a deconstruction of genre identity. If you assume the goal of the music is to obtain radio play and sell records, then you have to adhere to a fairly strict set of rules prior to 1977. If you don’t fit easily into a specific genre that was easy for mass consumption, then you lose the game. In my mind, punk turns all of that on its ear by bucking the idea that the goal is getting on the radio. Once you do that, everything becomes fair game. You want to mix reggae and rock music? Why not. You want to write a song that is just three minutes of droning noise? Do it. That’ll teach ‘em! With this understanding, the idea of punk rock becomes a little more amorphous, but also a little easier to capture during this first wave period. Furthermore, we do have a few signposts for sound. Prior to the first wave, there were a group of musicians that most critics often refer to as ‘proto-punk’. These were the artists that were simply too hard to define before punk planted its flag. Artists like Iggy and the Stooges, MC5, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, The New York Dolls and John Cale were already established and making music that would have probably been lumped in with The Clash, Buzzcocks, and Sex Pistols without batting an eye, had they debuted in ’77 or ’78. Going in my favor, I have the fact that this is my column and I can call whomever I want punk and get away with it. So, there. Mostly, I’m including albums here because I can clearly draw a line between what they were doing during these two years and what would follow during the ‘explosion’ years. It’s not really that hard. Anyhow, let’s just get to it.
a notable exclusion.
This week’s notable exclusion is one I had to make for a few reasons. I’m taking The New York Dolls’ seminal 1973 self-titled debut out of the running. To begin, I think it’s too easy of a choice. A lot of people would argue that this was the first purely punk record (assuming you don’t count the Stooges first two records as punk). Most would argue it was the first important punk album. I love this record, but I can’t include it this week for a reason I will make more apparent later. Suffice it to say that The New York Dolls’ debut will always be one of the great albums in punk (and rock) history. I’m just leaving it out this week. I have a feeling there will be plenty of time to offer up love to the Dolls in later columns.
10. Bryan Ferry – Another Time, Another Place
Oh, your damn right I’m putting Bryan Ferry on a list of punk albums. Let’s have a short conversation about the link between glam rock and punk. One of the things I find utterly frustrating about conversations on the history of punk is the way in which most authors give a complete snub to the way that glam rock led into punk. As if punk just came out of nowhere. In truth, the development of glam into punk was an easy one. The link goes beyond the Dolls’ cross-dressing and taps into a lot of the sound that helped define the ‘punk movement’. I don’t really need any proof beyond the lead singer of legendary glam band Roxy Music. Another Time, Another Place was Bryan Ferry’s second studio album as a solo artist. The album reached #4 in the UK charts in 1974. Recording took place in London at Island, Ramport and AIR studios. Like Ferry’s previous solo album, it consisted mainly of covers, with this time the exception of the last song, which gave its title to the album and was written by Ferry.
Like These Foolish Things, Another Time, Another Place is essentially a cover album, featuring a Bob Dylan song (“A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” on the former LP, “It Ain’t Me Babe” on the latter) and a standard (the title track of These Foolish Things, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” on Another Time, Another Place) but while These Foolish Things emphasized an early-’60s girl-group repertoire, Another Time, Another Place turned to soul music (Sam Cooke, Ike & Tina Turner) and country music (Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Joe South). This choice of repertoire, together with the more sophisticated settings and production, gave the album a more “grown-up”, serious and even reflective quality than Ferry’s previous album, which sounds more fun and at times hectic. Nonetheless, Another Time, Another Place is still as wildly off-kilter as anything made since and though he may wear a suit, Bryan Ferry has always had the spirit of punk.
9. The Dictators – Go Girl Crazy
The Dictators are an American proto punk and punk rock band formed in New York City in 1973. Critic John Dougan said that they were “one of the finest and most influential proto-punk bands to walk the earth.” The Dictators are represented in the “Punk Wing” of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in Cleveland, Ohio. Steven Van Zandt called them “The connective tissue between the eras of The MC5, Stooges, NY Dolls, and the punk explosion of the mid to late 1970s”. The Band released their debut record Go Girl Crazy! in 1975, making them one of the first groups to release an album I would consider ‘classic punk’ and are the first I know of that successfully integrated humor into their music.
In its retrospective review, Allmusic notes that while Go Girl Crazy! was confusing to audiences at the time of its release, it became inspirational for dozens of groups to follow, with its blend of punk and heavy metal. Trouser Press also enthuses that the band deserves “scads of credit” for “blazing a long trail, melding the essentials of junk culture…with loud/hard/fast rock’n'roll and thus creating an archetype”. According to a 2001 article in the Village Voice, the album’s “blueprint for bad taste, humor, and defiance” has been replicated in the work of such bands as the Ramones and Beastie Boys. Trouser Press lauded the album a “wickedly funny, brilliantly played and hopelessly naïve masterpiece of self-indulgent smartass rock’n'roll”. Entertainment Weekly wrote “Go Girl Crazy‘s junk-generation culture and smart-aleck sensibility did provide an essential blueprint for ’70s punk. With its TV references and homely vocals, this ground-breaking and long-unavailable album continues to inspire underground groups everywhere.”
In addition to musicians, the album was also one of two factors influencing the creation of Punk magazine by John Holmstrom and music journalist Legs McNeil. In Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, McNeil said that the album so resonated with him and his friends that they started the magazine strictly so they could “hang out with the Dictators”. The band would come back together every so often up until the mid-2000′s, resulting in seven official releases, though none would hit with the same power and humor as Go Girl Crazy!
8. Blondie – Blondie
Inspired by the burgeoning new music scene at the Mercer Arts Center, Chris Stein sought to join a similar band. He joined The Stilettos in 1973 as their guitarist and formed a romantic relationship with one of the band’s vocalists, Deborah Harry, a former waitress and Playboy Bunny. Harry had been a member of a folk-rock band, The Wind in the Willows, in the late 1960s. In 1974, Stein parted ways with The Stilettos and Elda Gentile, the band’s originator. Stein and Harry formed a new band with drummer Billy O’Connor and bassist Fred Smith. By 1975, after some personnel turnover (including sisters Tish and Snooky Bellomo on backing vocals), Stein and Harry were joined by drummer Clem Burke, keyboard player Jimmy Destri and bass player Gary Valentine. Originally billed as Angel and the Snakes, they renamed themselves Blondie in late 1975. The name derived from comments made by truck drivers who catcalled “Hey, Blondie” to Harry as they drove by. Blondie became regulars at Max’s Kansas City and CBGB.
Their debut album Blondie was issued in December 1976. After disappointing sales and poor publicity, Blondie bought back its contract with Private Stock Records. Chrysalis Records then signed the band in 1977 and re-released the album, along with the new second album Plastic Letters. On this second bite, Blondie started picking up steam. The album peaked at number 75 in the United Kingdom and number 14 in Australia in late 1977. Rolling Stone‘s review of the debut album observed the eclectic nature of the group’s music, comparing it to Phil Spector and The Who, and commented that the album’s two strengths were Richard Gottehrer’s production and the persona of Deborah Harry, saying she performed with “utter aplomb and involvement throughout: even when she’s portraying a character consummately obnoxious and spaced-out, there is a wink of awareness that is comforting and amusing yet never condescending.” It also noted that Harry was the “possessor of a bombshell zombie’s voice that can sound dreamily seductive and woodenly Mansonite within the same song”.
“Ahh, New York. I remember Debbie Blondie when she was singing with nursery-rhyme breathiness for a group called the Wind in the Willows. Now she sounds flatly cynical against a very funny aural montage of girl-group and original-punk usages from the prepsychedelic era–less blithe, certainly, but more, you know, together. Which is what new-punk posturing is all about. Special award: best use of trash organ since “Light My Fire.””
The band’s first commercial success occurred in Australia in 1977, when the music television program Countdown mistakenly played their video “In the Flesh”, which was the B-side of their current single “X-Offender”. Jimmy Destri later credited the show’s Molly Meldrum for their initial success, commenting that “we still thank him to this day” for playing the wrong song. In a 1998 interview, drummer Clem Burke recalled seeing the episode in which the wrong song was played, but he and Chris Stein suggested that it may have been a deliberate subterfuge on the part of Meldrum. Stein asserted that “X-Offender” was “too crazy and aggressive [to become a hit]“, while “In the Flesh” was “not representative of any punk sensibility. Over the years, I’ve thought they probably played both things but liked one better. That’s all.” In retrospect, Burke described “In the Flesh” as “a forerunner to the power ballad”. Both the single and album reached the Australian top five in October 1977, and a subsequent double-A release of “X-Offender” and “Rip Her to Shreds” was also popular. A successful Australian tour followed in December, though it was marred by an incident in Brisbane when disappointed fans almost rioted after Harry cancelled a performance, due to illness.
In March 2006, Blondie, following an introductory speech by Shirley Manson of Garbage, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Seven members were invited to the ceremony, which led to an on-stage spat between the extant group and their former band mates, Nigel Harrison and Frank Infante, who asked during the live broadcast of the ceremony to be allowed to perform with the group, a request refused by Harry who stated that the band had already rehearsed their performance. On May 22, 2006, Blondie was inducted into the Rock Walk of Fame at Guitar Center on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard. New inductees are voted on by previous Rock Walk inductees. Blondie will forever be remembered for the genre bending band that created hits like “Heart of Glass” and “Rapture”, but my fondest memories of the band will always be the rough and dirty music of their first three LP’s and particularly the self-titled debut.
7. John Cale – Helen of Troy
John Cale is yet another artist that was so idiosyncratic throughout his career that lumping him into any genre just never seems to fit. In discussions about the musicians that led the charge in punk rock, it is much more likely that you’ll see mention of Cale’s former Velvet Underground bandmate Lou Reed. I however think that Cale was actually doing during this time period to bring the first wave of punk about and his seventh solo studio album is the best reason why. Helen of Troy is the last of three albums Cale would record for Island Records. Brian Eno and Phil Collins both played in the backing group on this album as Cale had been working with Eno regularly after his departure from Roxy Music.
This album came out without the consent of Cale, who considered that the tapes were not finished. After shipping the first pressings, Island Records replaced the track “Leaving It Up to You” with “Coral Moon”, because the former song mentioned Sharon Tate, wife of film director Roman Polanski, who was murdered in 1969 by the Charles Manson gang (Island never updated the cover or label). Things turned sour, and Cale and Island went their separate ways. The CD version contains both tracks.
“It could have been a great album. I came back from finishing Patti Smith['s Horses] and had three days to finish Helen of Troy before I went on Italian tour. I was spending eighteen hours a day in the studio. When I got back, I found the record company had gone ahead and released what amounted to demo tapes. The trouble was that Island had their own ideas of what that album should sound like. They wanted to include songs I don’t particularly like, but it was also an impertinent assumption on my part that I was capable of managing myself. My determination to have Helen of Troy the way I did was not really fair to Island or my management, especially at a time when Island was losing its percentage of the market, which was making everybody very paranoid.”
Even though the other Island albums were issued in the US (June 1, 1974, Fear, Slow Dazzle, Guts), Helen Of Troy was not. It was commonly sold as a UK import all over the US.
Though I selected this record because it seems more raw than anything Cale released to this date, there was another reason as well. This would be the world’s introduction (in a roundabout way) to The Modern Lovers. The album features a cover of “Pablo Picasso” by The Modern Lovers, a song which Cale had produced for the band’s debut. In 1972, they recorded a series of demos with Cale producing. Among these songs were the seminal “Roadrunner” and “Pablo Picasso” which were eventually released on the group’s post-breakup album, The Modern Lovers. But, as it seemed at the time that these demos wouldn’t ever be released, he included his own version of “Pablo” here. More on the Modern Lovers later. For now, just check out what Cale was offering on Helen of Troy
6. Eddie & the Hot Rods – Teenage Depression
Right, so we’ve discussed how glam rock helped pave the way for punk. Now onto the second prong in that attack. It was a genre not typically celebrated in the United States, but well known to rock fans in the U.K. called pub rock. A back-to-basics movement, pub rock was a reaction against progressive and glam rock. Although short-lived, pub rock was notable for rejecting stadium venues and for returning live rock to the small pubs and clubs of its early years. Pub rock groups disdained any form of flash. Scene leaders like Dr. Feelgood, Kilburn & The High Roads and Ducks Deluxe played simple, “back to mono” rhythm and blues in the tradition of white British groups like the Stones and the Yardbirds, with fuzzy guitars and whiny vocals. As far as attitude was concerned, the move from pub rock to punk rock was barely a movement at all. To me however, the clearest link to the genre transformation came in the form of Eddie & The Hotrods. The band was formed in Southend on Sea during 1975 by guitarist Dave Higgs (who had previously played in The Fix with Lee Brilleaux), with drummer Steve Nicol, bassist Rob Steel, and singer Barrie Masters. Before rising to semi-stardom in 1977, the Hot Rods underwent several changes in personnel: One of the first members to leave the band was Eddie himself, a dummy that featured prominently in the Hot Rods’ early gigs and was discarded as the joke had worn thin. Otherwise, the band consisted of Barrie Masters on vocals, Pete Wall and Dave Higgs on guitar, Rob Steel on bass and Steve Nicol on drums. Ed Hollis (brother of Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis) became their manager. In May 1975, after building a live reputation, they secured a Saturday-night residency at The Kensington in London. This was followed in October by a joint residency with The 101ers at The Nashville, playing alternate headline sets. In November, after positive press reviews of their live shows, they were signed by Island Records.
By 1976, Lew Lewis (harmonica) and Paul Gray (bass) had replaced Wall and Steel. Lewis’s tenure in the group lasted for the release of their first two singles before he too left. With this new line-up, the Hot Rods played a set at London’s famous Marquee Club – their opening act was a young band named The Sex Pistols playing their first London gig, which descended into chaos with the Pistols smashing the Hot Rods’ gear; During a residency at the club in the summer of 1976 they duelled for alternate weeks with AC/DC, to see who could cram more bodies into the Marquee during one of the hottest summers on record. They first appeared in the UK Singles Chart the end of that year with the Live at the Marquee EP and the single “Teenage Depression”, an energetic rock and roll song.
Capitalizing on the success of that first single, the band decided to record their first LP with it as the title track. Eddie and the Hot Rods’ debut album Teenage Depression was released on Island Records in 1976. The album contains three cover songs, The Who’s “The Kids Are Alright”, Joe Tex’s “Show Me” and Sam Cooke’s “Shake”. Teenage Depression is often cited as being one of the albums that is the missing link between pub rock and punk rock because of the album’s fast and hard-hitting R&B sound showing the attitude of a punk band. Teenage Depression stands as a shining example of this brief moment before punk was actually a ‘thing’ and anything was still possible. The record sounds like this magical amalgamation of perfect sound and don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. In other words, the heart of what rock music should be.
5. The Modern Lovers – The Modern Lovers
If things had turned out just a little differently, there is every chance that we would all be saying it was The Modern Lovers that were the truly first punk rock band instead of The New York Dolls. But, it was just in the cards that this Boston band’s debut record was put off by a few years. In truth, we were lucky this classic album was released at all. The Modern Lovers were an American rock band led by Jonathan Richman in the 1970s and 1980s. The original band existed from 1970 to 1974 but their first recordings were not released until 1976. It featured Richman and bassist Ernie Brooks with drummer David Robinson (later of The Cars) and keyboardist Jerry Harrison (later of Talking Heads). The sound of the band owed a great deal to the influence of The Velvet Underground, and is now sometimes classed as “proto-punk”. It pointed the way towards much of the punk rock, new wave, alternative and indie rock music of later decades. Their only album, the eponymous The Modern Lovers, contained stylistically unprecedented songs about dating awkwardness, growing up in Massachusetts, and love of life and the USA.
Richman grew up in Natick, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, and began playing guitar and writing songs in his mid teens, first performing solo in public in 1967. He became enamored of the Velvet Underground while he was still in high school, and after graduating in 1969, he moved to New York City where he became personally acquainted with the band and on one occasion opened the bill for them. Richman spent a couple of weeks sleeping on Velvets’ manager Steve Sesnick’s sofa before moving into the Hotel Albert, a residence known for its poor conditions.
After nine months in New York, and a trip to Europe and Israel, Richman moved back to his native Boston. With his childhood friend and neighbor, guitarist John Felice, he organized a band modeled after the Velvets. They quickly recruited drummer David Robinson and bass player Rolfe Anderson, and christened themselves “The Modern Lovers”. They played their first date, supporting Andy Paley’s band The Sidewinders, in September 1970, barely a month after Richman’s return. By this time their setlist already included such classic Richman songs as “Roadrunner”, “She Cracked” and “Hospital”. Richman’s unique character was immediately apparent; he wore short hair and often performed wearing a jacket and tie, and frequently improvised new lyrics and monologues.
In early 1971 Anderson and Felice departed; they were replaced by Harvard students bassist Ernie Brooks, and keyboardist Jerry Harrison, completing the classic lineup of the Modern Lovers. This new configuration became very popular in the Boston area, and by the fall of 1971, enthusiastic word-of-mouth led to the Modern Lovers’ first exposure to a major label when Stuart Love of Warner Bros. Records contacted them and organized the band’s first multi-track session at Intermedia Studio in Boston. The demo produced from this session, and the group’s live performances, generated more attention from the industry, including rave reviews from critic Lillian Roxon, and soon A&M Records was interested in the band as well.
In April 1972, the Modern Lovers traveled to Los Angeles where they held two demo sessions: the first was produced by the Velvet Underground’s John Cale for Warner Bros. while the second was produced by Alan Mason for A&M. The Cale sessions were later used on the band’s debut album. While in California the band also performed live, and one gig at the Long Branch Saloon in Berkeley was later issued as a live album. Producer Kim Fowley courted the band, traveling to Boston to produce some poor-quality demos in June 1972. Felice rejoined the group for a few months after his graduation, and the band moved together to live at Cohasset, Massachusetts. The Modern Lovers continued to be a popular live attraction, and on New Year’s Eve 1972 supported the New York Dolls at the Mercer Arts Center on a bill which also included Suicide and Wayne County. Early in 1973 they were finally signed by Warner Brothers. However, before returning to the studio in Los Angeles to work with Cale, the group accepted an offer to play a residency at the Inverurie Hotel in Bermuda. While there, Richman heard and became strongly influenced by the laid-back style of the local musicians, as documented in his later song “Monologue About Bermuda”. There were also growing personality clashes between the band members.
Although on the band’s return Richman agreed to record his earlier songs, he was anxious to move in a different musical direction. He wanted to scrap all of the tracks they had recorded and start over with a mellower, more lyrical sound. The rest of the band, while not opposed to such a shift later, insisted that they record as they sounded now. However, the sessions with Cale in September 1973 also coincided with the death of their friend Gram Parsons (a former Harvard student, like Harrison and Brooks), and produced no usable recordings. The record company then recruited Kim Fowley to produce more sessions with the band, this time at Gold Star Studios, with better results. Recordings from these sessions with Fowley were later released in 1981 on an album misleadingly titled The Original Modern Lovers.
Following the failure to complete a debut album, Warner Brothers withdrew their support for the Modern Lovers, and Robinson left the band. They continued to perform live for a few months with new drummer Bob Turner, but Richman was increasingly unwilling to perform his old (although still unreleased) songs such as “Roadrunner”, and after a final disagreement between him and Harrison over musical style the band split up in February 1974. In late 1974, Richman signed as a solo artist with Matthew “King” Kaufman’s new label, “Home of the Hits”, soon to be renamed Beserkley Records, and recorded four tracks with backing by the bands Earth Quake and The Rubinoos, including new versions of both “Roadrunner” and “Government Center”. These tracks were first issued as singles and then on an album Beserkley Chartbusters Vol.1 in 1975. In 1976, with a new version of the Modern Lovers, Richman began recording what he would regard as his debut album, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers.
However, in the meantime, Kaufman also put together the album The Modern Lovers from remixed versions of the tracks recorded four or more years previously for Warner Brothers and A&M, and released it in August 1976. “Hospital” was credited as being ‘donated by Jerry Harrison’ because he had the original 1971 session tapes. The Modern Lovers was immediately given an enthusiastic critical reception, with critic Ira Robbins hailing it as “one of the truly great art rock albums of all time”. It influenced numerous aspiring punk rock musicians on both sides of the Atlantic, including the Sex Pistols, whose early cover of “Roadrunner” was placed on The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle. In the UK, the versions of “Roadrunner” produced by Cale and Kaufman were released as two sides of a single, and became a chart hit in 1977.
4. Patti Smith – Horses
Patricia Lee Smith was born in Chicago. Her mother, Beverly, was a waitress, and her father, Grant, worked at the Honeywell plant. The family was of Irish heritage. She spent her early childhood in Germantown, Pennsylvania, before her family moved to Woodbury Gardens, Deptford Township, New Jersey. Her mother was a Jehovah’s Witness. Patti had a strong religious upbringing and a Bible education, but left organized religion as a teenager because she felt it was too confining; much later, she wrote the line “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine” in her cover version of Them’s “Gloria” in response to this experience. She has described having an avid interest in Tibetan Buddhism around the age of eleven or twelve, saying “I fell in love with Tibet because their essential mission was to keep a continual stream of prayer,” but that as an adult she sees clear parallels between different forms of religion, and has come to the conclusion that religious dogmas are “…man-made laws that you can either decide to abide by or not.” At this early age Smith was exposed to her first records, including Shrimp Boats by Harry Belafonte, Patience and Prudence doing The Money Tree, and Another Side of Bob Dylan, which her mother gave to her. Smith graduated from Deptford Township High School in 1964 and went to work in a factory. She gave birth to her first child, a daughter, on April 26, 1967, and chose to place her for adoption.
In 1967, she left Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) and moved to New York City. She met photographer Robert Mapplethorpe there while working at a book store with a friend, poet Janet Hamill. She and Mapplethorpe had an intense romantic relationship, which was tumultuous as the pair struggled with times of poverty, and Mapplethorpe with his own sexuality. Smith considers Mapplethorpe to be one of the most important people in her life, and in her book Just Kids refers to him as “the artist of my life”. Mapplethorpe’s photographs of her became the covers for the Patti Smith Group LPs, and they remained friends until Mapplethorpe’s death in 1989. In 1969, she went to Paris with her sister and started busking and doing performance art. When Smith returned to New York City, she lived in the Hotel Chelsea with Mapplethorpe; they frequented Max’s Kansas City and CBGB. Smith provided the spoken word soundtrack for Sandy Daley’s art film Robert Having His Nipple Pierced, starring Mapplethorpe. The same year Smith appeared with Wayne County in Jackie Curtis’ play Femme Fatale. As a member of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project, she spent the early 70′s painting, writing, and performing. In 1971 she performed – for one night only – in Cowboy Mouth, a play that she co-wrote with Sam Shepard. The published play’s notes call for “a man who looks like a coyote and a woman who looks like a crow”. She wrote several poems, “for sam shepard” and “Sam Shepard: 9 Random Years (7 + 2)” about her relationship with Shepard.
At the time she recorded Horses, Patti Smith and her band were favorites in the New York club scene along with Blondie and The Ramones. The former’s influence can be best heard in the track “Gloria”, a radical retake on the Them song. “Birdland”, in particular, owed more to the jazz which Smith’s mother enjoyed than to the influence of punk. When recording this song, which was improvised by the band in Electric Lady Studios, Smith has said she imagined the spirit of Jimi Hendrix watching her. The lyrics of “Birdland” are based upon A Book of Dreams, a 1973 memoir of Wilhelm Reich by his son Peter. Several of the album’s songs — “Redondo Beach”, “Free Money”, “Kimberly” — were inspired by moments with members of Smith’s family, while others — “Break It Up”, “Elegie” — were written about her idols. “Land” was already a live favorite and featured the first verse of Chris Kenner’s “Land of a Thousand Dances” and contains a tribute to her long-time idol Arthur Rimbaud.” Guest musicians included Tom Verlaine of Television and Allen Lanier of Blue Öyster Cult.
Smith has been called an early pioneer of punk rock. Allmusic’s William Ruhlman said that it “isn’t hard to make the case for Patti Smith as a punk rock progenitor based on Horses” while David Antrobus from PopMatters chose Horses as his favorite album and considered it a life-changing classic. Siouxsie and the Banshees have said that “Carcass”, of the first songs from The Scream, was inspired by Horses. Michael Stipe bought the album as a high school student and says it “tore my limbs off and put them back on in a whole different order.” Morrissey and Johnny Marr shared an appreciation for the record, and one of their early compositions for The Smiths, “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle”, is a reworking of “Kimberly”. Courtney Love has stated that this album helped inspire her to become a rock musician. The Libertines’ song “The Boy Looked at Johnny” is named after the line in the title track of the album. In 1977, Sammy Hagar released a cover of “Free Money” on his self-titled second album.
Horses is often cited as one of the greatest albums in music history. In 2003, the album was ranked number 44 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. NME named the album number 1 in its list “20 Near-as-Damn-It Perfect Initial Efforts”. According to a list released by Time magazine in 2006, Horses is one of the All-Time 100 Greatest Albums. In 2005, Patti Smith was named a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture, and in 2007, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On November 17, 2010, she won the National Book Award for her memoir Just Kids. She is also a recipient of the 2011 Polar Music Prize.
3. Ramones – Ramones
1976 was the debut year of a band of misfits from Forest Hills, Queens that would change the world in their wake. 1977 may be cited as the birth of punk. As would become their legacy, The Ramones were there first. If punk wasn’t born when they showed up, it sure as hell was after. John Cummings and Thomas Erdelyi had both been in a high-school garage band from 1966 to 1967 known as the Tangerine Puppets. They became friends with Douglas Colvin, who had recently moved to the area from Germany, and Jeffry Hyman, who was the initial lead singer of the glam rock band Sniper, founded in 1972. The Ramones began taking shape in early 1974, when Cummings and Colvin invited Hyman to join them in a band. The initial lineup featured Colvin on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Cummings on lead guitar, and Hyman on drums. Colvin, who soon switched from rhythm guitar to bass, was the first to adopt the name “Ramone”, calling himself Dee Dee Ramone. He was inspired by Paul McCartney’s use of the pseudonym Paul Ramon during his Silver Beatles days. Dee Dee convinced the other members to take on the name and came up with the idea of calling the band the Ramones. Hyman and Cummings became Joey Ramone and Johnny Ramone, respectively.They performed 2,263 concerts, touring virtually nonstop for 22 years. In 1996, after a tour with the Lollapalooza music festival, the band played a farewell concert and disbanded. Little more than eight years after the breakup, the band’s three founding members—lead singer Joey Ramone, guitarist Johnny Ramone, and bassist Dee Dee Ramone—had died.
Their only record with enough U.S. sales to be certified gold was the compilation album Ramones Mania. However, recognition of the band’s importance built over the years, and they are now cited in many assessments of all-time great rock music, such as the Rolling Stone list of the 50 Greatest Artists of All Time and VH1′s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. In 2002, the Ramones were ranked the second-greatest band of all time by Spin magazine, trailing only The Beatles. On March 18, 2002, the Ramones—including the three founders and drummers Tommy and Marky Ramone—were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2011, the group was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
“We didn’t sell a lot of records, but somehow we left an impression.”
Prior to the band signing to Sire, they were seen by Lisa Robinson, an editor of Hit Parader, during an early 1975 performance. Robinson began popularizing the band by writing about them in the magazines she edited. Robinson contacted Danny Fields and asked him to manage the band, which he agreed to in November 1975. A Marty Thau-produced demo album was recorded at 914 Sound Studios and included “Judy Is a Punk” and “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”. Soon after the demos were presented to Sire A&R co-ordinator Craig Leon the band was signed to Sire Records.
The Ramones recorded their debut album, Ramones, in February 1976. The album features a number of themes including Nazism, violence, male prostitution and drug use, as well as lighter fare such as horror movies and teenage romance. There is a version of the Chris Montez song “Let’s Dance”. A number of the tracks have backing vocals which were sung by Mickey Leigh (Joey Ramone’s younger brother), Tommy Ramone, and engineer Rob Freeman. Of the fourteen songs on the album, the longest, “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement”, barely surpassed two-and-a-half minutes. While the songwriting credits were shared by the entire band, Dee Dee was the primary writer. Ramones was produced by Sire’s Craig Leon, with Tommy as associate producer, on an extremely low budget of about $6,400 and released in April. The now iconic front cover photograph of the band was taken by Roberta Bayley, a photographer for Punk magazine. Punk, which was largely responsible for codifying the term for the scene emerging around CBGB, ran a cover story on the Ramones in its third issue, the same month as the record’s release. The cover art was ranked number 58 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 100 Greatest Album Covers.
The Ramones’ debut LP was greeted by rock critics with glowing reviews. The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau wrote, “I love this record—love it—even though I know these boys flirt with images of brutality (Nazi especially)…. For me, it blows everything else off the radio”. In Rolling Stone, Paul Nelson described it as “constructed almost entirely of rhythm tracks of an exhilarating intensity rock & roll has not experienced since its earliest days.” Characterizing the band as “authentic American primitives whose work has to be heard to be understood”, he declared, “It is time popular music followed the other arts in honoring its primitives.” Newsday‘s Wayne Robbins simply anointed the Ramones as “the best young rock ‘n’ roll band in the known universe.”
However, despite Sire’s high hopes for it, Ramones was not a commercial success, reaching only number 111 on the Billboard album chart. The two singles issued from the album, “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”, failed to chart at all. At the band’s first major performance outside of New York, a June date in Youngstown, Ohio, approximately ten people showed up. It wasn’t until they made a brief tour of England that they began to see the fruits of their labor; a performance at The Roundhouse in London on July 4, 1976 (second-billed to the Flamin’ Groovies), organized by Linda Stein, was a resounding success. Their Roundhouse appearance and a club date the following night—where the band met members of the Sex Pistols and The Clash—helped galvanize the burgeoning UK punk rock scene. The Flamin’ Groovies/Ramones double bill was successfully reprised at The Roxy in Los Angeles the following month, fueling the punk scene there as well. The Ramones were becoming an increasingly popular live act—a Toronto performance in September energized yet another growing punk scene.
Charles M. Young, an employee for Rolling Stone, praised the album saying that the album is “one of the funniest rock records ever made and, if punk continues to gain momentum, a historic turning point.” Jeff Tamarkin of Allmusic said that the album began the punk rock era and also proclaimed “rock’s mainstream didn’t know what hit it.” In 1999, Collins Gem Classic Albums wrote that “They stared from the cover of this magnificent debut album with dumb defiance written all over them. The songs within were a short, sharp exercise in vicious speed-thrash, driven by ferocious guitars and yet halting in an instant. It was the simple pop dream taken to its minimalist extreme. There just couldn’t be anything faster or harder than this. The Ramones was the starting gun for English punk.” Joe S. Harrington declared that the album “split the history of rock ‘n’ roll in half”. Theunis Bates, a music writer for Time magazine and an editor at worldpop.com, composed that “Ramones stripped rock back to its basic elements,” and noted that its “lyrics are very simple, boiled-down declarations of teen lust and need.” Bates later went on to say that it “is the ultimate punk statement”.
“To me, punk is about being an individual and going against the grain and standing up and saying ‘This is who I am’.”
The album was included in Spin‘s List of Top Ten College Cult Classics, noting that “everything good that’s happened to music in the last fourteen years can be directly traced to the Ramones.” The band’s debut album was ranked 33 in Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 2003 Ramones was considered by Spin magazine’s Chuck Klosterman, Greg Milner, and Alex Pappademas to be the sixth most influential album of all time. They noted that the album “saved rock from itself and punk rock from art-gallery pretension, bless their pointy little heads,” and also said that the their songs had, “one lightning-bolt riff.” In Spin‘s 1995 Alternative Record Guide the album is listed in the top spot of their Top 100 Alternative Albums.
Ramones is considered to have established the musical genre punk rock, as well as popularizing it years afterward. Nicholas Rombes, author of the 33⅓ book Ramones wrote that it offered “alienated future rock,” and that it, “disconnected from tradition.” Since it is their debut album it began the Ramones’ influence on popular music, with examples being genres such as heavy metal, thrash metal, indie pop, grunge, and post-punk. In 2001, Spin included it in its special issue 25 Years of Punk with a list of The 50 Most Essential Punk Records, where it was number 1 in the list. Tony James said that “Everybody went up three gears the day they got that first Ramones album. Punk rock—that rama-lama super fast stuff—is totally down to the Ramones. Bands were just playing in an MC5 groove until then.” The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the 2002 Induction Ceremony. The web-site said that “When the [Ramones] hit the street in 1976 with their self-titled first album, the rock scene in general had become somewhat bloated and narcissistic. The Ramones got back to basics: simple, speedy, stripped-down rock and roll songs. Voice, guitar, bass, drums. No makeup, no egos, no light shows, no nonsense. And though the subject matter was sometimes dark, emanating from a sullen adolescent basement of the mind, the group also brought cartoonish fun and high-energy excitement back to rock and roll.” Well put.
2. New York Dolls – Too Much Too Soon
Okay, so I had to take The New York Dolls’ self-titled debut album out of the running this week because I plainly think their sophomore album, 1974′s Too Much Too Soon, is a far superior album. Before that however, let’s take a proper look at the boys themselves. Sylvain Sylvain and Billy Murcia, who went to junior high school and high school together, started playing in a band called “the Pox” in 1967. After the frontman quit, Murcia and Sylvain started a clothing business called “Truth and Soul” and Sylvain took a job at “A Different Drummer”, a men’s boutique that was across the street from the New York Doll Hospital, a doll repair shop. Sylvain claimed that the shop inspired the name for their future band. In 1970, they formed a band again and recruited Johnny Thunders to join on bass, though Sylvain ended up teaching him to play guitar. They called themselves the “Dolls.” When Sylvain left the band to spend a few months in London, Thunders and Murcia went their separate ways. Thunders was eventually recruited by Kane and Rick Rivets, who had been playing together in the Bronx. At Thunders’ suggestion, Murcia replaced the original drummer. Thunders played lead guitar and sang for the band known as “Actress”. An October 1971 rehearsal tape recorded by Rivets was released as Dawn of the Dolls. When Thunders decided that he no longer wanted to be the front man, David Johansen joined the band.
Initially, the group was composed of singer David Johansen, guitarists Johnny Thunders and Rick Rivets (who was replaced by Sylvain Sylvain after a few months), bass guitarist Arthur “Killer” Kane and drummer Billy Murcia. The original lineup’s first performance was on Christmas Eve 1971 at a homeless shelter, the Endicott Hotel. The band was influenced by vintage rhythm and blues, the early Rolling Stones, classic American girl group songs, and proto-punk bands such as the MC5 and The Stooges, as well as glam rockers such as Marc Bolan. In synthesizing this wide variety of influences they created something which critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote “doesn’t really sound like anything that came before it. It’s hard rock with a self-conscious wit, a celebration of camp and kitsch that retains a menacing, malevolent edge.” The band’s sound was also influenced by blues and soul, as evidenced by Johansen’s blues harmonica and their choice of cover versions. Their two Mercury albums contain their covers of songs originally performed by Bo Diddley, The Drells, Sonny Boy Williamson, The Coasters and the Jay Hawks. The jazz influence was particularly important for Johansen, whose subsequent career included work with jazz man Big Jay McNeely and blues man Hubert Sumlin. Johansen is an accomplished trumpet player.
After getting a manager and attracting some music industry interest, the New York Dolls got a break when Rod Stewart invited them to open for him at a London concert. Shortly thereafter, Murcia died of accidental drowning, at age 21, after he passed out from drugs and alcohol. Once back in New York, the Dolls auditioned drummers, including Marc Bell (who would go on to play with Richard Hell and Ramones under the stage name “Marky Ramone”) and Jerry Nolan, a friend of the band. They selected Nolan, and after US Mercury Records’ A&R man Paul Nelson signed them, they began sessions for their debut album. New York Dolls was produced by former Nazz guitarist Todd Rundgren, who had become a successful pop singer and producer later in his own right. In an interview in Creem magazine, Rundgren says he barely touched the recording; everybody was debating how to do the mix. Sales were sluggish, especially in middle US, and a Stereo Review magazine reviewer in 1973 compared the Dolls’ guitar playing to the sound of lawnmowers. America’s mass rock audience’s reaction to the Dolls was mixed. In a Creem magazine poll, they were elected both best and worst new group of 1973. The Dolls also toured Europe, and, while appearing on UK television, host Bob Harris of the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test derided the group as “mock rock,” comparing them unfavorably to the Rolling Stones.
For their next album, Too Much Too Soon, the quintet hired producer George “Shadow” Morton, whose productions for the Shangri-Las and other girl-groups in the mid-1960s had been among the band’s favorites. Mercury dropped the Dolls not long after the second album. In 1975, foundering in drug abuse and interpersonal conflicts, the band split up. During their last weeks together Malcolm McLaren helped with management. He got the band red leather outfits to wear on stage and a communist flag as backdrop. The Dolls did a 5-concert tour of New York’s five boroughs, supported by Television, which included Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell. Their last show in New York State was at The Shoram, in Quogue, New York, with Spider on drums.
Allmusic gave Too Much Too Soon five stars out of five, writing “Three years later, the Sex Pistols failed to come up with anything as musically visceral and dangerous.” In his Decade Personal Best, Robert Christgau said the album was the 4th best of the 70′s. While any conversation about the Dolls invariably turns your mind to “Trash” or “Personality Crisis”, I’ve always thought the lesser known tracks on Too Much Too Soon are simply better. Because they simply weren’t around long enough for us to realize it, Sylain and Johansen were quickly growing by leaps and bounds as songwriters (something that would be all too apparent on Johnasen’s first two solo records). We remember the Dolls as this force of nature, barreling through songs like a hurricane. While that was certainly true of Johnny Thunders, these guys were evolving into great musicians as well. I can’t help but think that if they could have stayed together for only a few more years, the growth this band could have made together would have changed rock music all over again.
1. Iggy & the Stooges – Raw Power
They often get lumped into that dreaded genre title of ‘proto-punk’, there isn’t a punk band I can possibly think of that doesn’t immediately point to The Stooges as their most important influence. While I think you can make some arguments about the group’s first two albums not being pure ‘punk’ records, there isn’t an album on the planet Earth that qualifies more than Raw Power. After their first two albums, The Stooges (1969) and Fun House (1970) were released to little commercial success, The Stooges were in disarray: they had officially broken up, bassist Dave Alexander was fighting alcoholism, and singer Iggy Pop’s heroin addiction was escalating prior to the intervention of David Bowie. Iggy later recalled, “Very few people recognized the quality of the Stooges’ songwriting, it was really meticulous. And to his credit, the only person I’d ever known of in print to notice it, among my peers of professional musicians, was Bowie. He noticed it right off.” Iggy relocated to London, having signed on as a solo artist to MainMan Management (who also handled Bowie) and Columbia Records. In London, Iggy was to write and record an album with James Williamson, who had joined The Stooges as a second guitarist in late 1970. After they couldn’t find a suitable English rhythm section, Williamson suggested that former Stooges Ron Asheton and Scott Asheton fly over and participate in the recording sessions. With Williamson already on guitar, Ron, the group’s founding lead guitarist, was relegated to bass, while Scott took up his usual position behind the drum kit.
Iggy said that Columbia executives insisted on two ballads, one for each side of the record; these two were “Gimme Danger” and “I Need Somebody”. The album was recorded in London’s CBS Studios, from 10 September – 6 October 1972. Iggy produced and mixed the album by himself; unfortunately, his botched first attempt mixed most of the instruments into one stereo channel and the vocals into the other, with little regard for balance or tone quality. Tony DeFries, the head of MainMan, informed Iggy that the album would be remixed by David Bowie. Iggy agreed to this, claiming that “the other choice was I wasn’t going to get my album out. I think DeFries told me that CBS refused to release it like that, I don’t know”, but insisted that his own mix for “Search and Destroy” be retained. Due to budgetary constraints, Bowie remixed the other seven songs in a single day in an inexpensive Los Angeles studio, Western Sound Recorders, in October 1972. The production of Raw Power has been a bone of contention ever since, with some fans blaming the record’s ‘flat sound’ on Bowie and most critics taking issue with Pop’s original mix. Both versions have been issued, and they’re both still too damn good for the production to particularly matter.
To the best of my recollection it was done in a day. I don’t think it was two days. On a very, very old board, I mean this board was old! An Elvis type of board, old-tech, low-tech, in a poorly lit, cheap old studio with very little time. To David’s credit, he listened with his ear to each thing and talked it out with me, I gave him what I thought it should have, he put that in its perspective, added some touches. He’s always liked the most recent technology, so there was something called a Time Cube you could feed a signal into — it looked like a bong, a big plastic tube with a couple of bends in it — and when the sound came out the other end, it sort of shot at you like an echo effect. He used that on the guitar in “Gimme Danger,” a beautiful guitar echo overload that’s absolutely beautiful; and on the drums in “Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell.” His concept was, “You’re so primitive, your drummer should sound like he’s beating a log!” It’s not a bad job that he did…I’m very proud of the eccentric, odd little record that came out.
Raw Power was released in America in May 1973 and in the UK the following month as an album by “Iggy and the Stooges”, contrasting with the group’s first two albums, credited to “The Stooges”. The album sleeve comprised a photograph of Iggy taken by rock music photographer Mick Rock. The songs “Search and Destroy” and “Shake Appeal” were both released as singles (the album’s title track was released as a single in Japan). Despite rave reviews, sales of Raw Power were weak, and the album peaked at No. 182 on Billboard’s Pop Albums chart. The group continued touring for about a year, but Columbia dropped their contract. The Stooges were also dumped by MainMan – Tony DeFries lost patience with the band after the large sum of money he advanced to them was bankrolled on drugs. The Stooges broke up in February 1974. After spending time in a drug-fueled stupor in L.A. – and later rehab at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute – Iggy Pop re-joined Bowie’s entourage, and emerged as a solo artist in 1976.
Despite its weak initial reception, the reputation of Raw Power grew tremendously in subsequent years, and the album’s volume and ferocity became benchmarks against which later albums were measured. Singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain of the band Nirvana wrote in his journals numerous times that Raw Power was his favorite album of all time. Johnny Marr of The Smiths has also spoken highly of the record, commenting on James Williamson’s guitar playing on the album: “I’m his biggest fan. He has the technical ability of Jimmy Page without being as studious, and the swagger of Keith Richards without being sloppy. He’s both demonic and intellectual, almost how you would imagine Darth Vader to sound if he was in a band.” Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols once claimed that he learned to play guitar by taking speed and playing along to Raw Power. Cee Lo Green cited Raw Power as one of his favorite albums. “The album seems like it’s all done in one take. ‘Let’s do that one, leave it, just try something else’. With his energy on stage, it seems as if the studio was just destroyed after that album – or at least you’d like to believe that”.
“…the most absurd situation I encountered when I was recording was the first time I worked with Iggy Pop. He wanted me to mix Raw Power, so he brought the 24-track tape in, and he put it up. He had the band on one track, lead guitar on another and him on a third. Out of 24 tracks there were just three tracks that were used. He said ‘see what you can do with this’. I said, ‘Jim, there’s nothing to mix’. So we just pushed the vocal up and down a lot. On at least four or five songs that was the situation, including “Search and Destroy.” That’s got such a peculiar sound because all we did was occasionally bring the lead guitar up and take it out.”
Mojo placed Raw Power in its list “70 from the 1970s: Decade’s Greatest Albums”. Kerrang! named it 36th most influential album of all time. Pitchfork named it the 83rd best album of the 1970s. In 2003, Raw Power was ranked number 125 on Rolling Stone‘s “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list. I spent about three years as a radio DJ in college. When given two rooms full of CD’s, the title track to this album was the only song that I could think of using to start my very first show. Through my entire time there, it was the only song that brought every level into the red for the entire duration of the track. That is the only way punk could have possibly taken off.
Think I got something wrong? Want to add your own list or nominations? Make sure and leave a comment below.
No synthesizers whatsoever were used during the writing of this column.
Read previous ‘a list obligatory’ columns here.