How The Biggest Bands In the World Reacted Musically to Punk Rock in the 70s

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I don’t know why, but I’ve been thinking a lot about that whole Grunge era in the 90s lately. I think the whole Grunge thing was the last musical movement that I actually got caught up in. On my first date with the Rock Chick, back in my swashbuckling bachelor days, we actually talked about music and she said, “I hate that Kurt Cobain destroyed everything that came before him.” That was sadly a very true statement. When Cobain came along – and lets face it, it wasn’t just him, there was an army of bands who came with him & Nirvana, like Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, the Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgarden (to name a few of my favorites) – he laid waste to everything that came prior.

The Rock Chick went on to say that day, “I liked some of those hard rock, hair-metal bands like Motley Crue, Van Halen and Cinderella. You just don’t hear that kind of music any more.” Talk about love at first conversation. This was our first date! My heart throbbed, but enough of that mushy stuff. It wasn’t only those “hair bands” who bit the dust in the wake of Grunge, everybody went down. Billy Joel crawled off to write symphonies. Bruce Springsteen decided he was John Steinbeck with a guitar. Grunge shook rock and roll to its foundation. Grunge was rock and roll stripped of its artifice, more primal and visceral in nature. Gone were drum machines and synths… enter guitar, drums and a whole lot of angst. No hair spray or frankly, bathing needed.  The Rock Chick, ever adaptable, did morph into a huge “alternative” rock fan, the offspring of Grunge if you will. One door closes, another opens as the saying goes.

Of course, this isn’t the first musical wave to rise up and challenge the established order. Punk rock, which one could describe as the pierced, demented grandfather of Grunge, was just as primal and visceral, if not way more so. Both punk and Grunge, to my uneducated ears at least, seem to strip away layers of polish that had accumulated on rock and roll and get it back to that four or five guys (or gals) in a garage bashing out tunes kinda vibe. Punk, rather than express the angst of Grunge, had more of a social protest angle to it. Punk bands, especially out of England were protesting the economic and social conditions they found themselves in and it challenged the somewhat complacent rock establishment. There was an almost nihilistic bent to it that made it dangerous. Of course, I was really, really late getting on the punk bandwagon…

Here in the middle of America, we didn’t hear a lot of punk music on the radio… Not even American punk from New York like the Ramones made it on the radio here. I can remember in the late/mid-70s sitting on the couch at the house one Sunday night and my dad was watching 60 Minutes. They did a segment on the English punk movement. They showed a bunch of young kids, a little older than I was, with safety pins piercing their nose or cheeks. They had Mohawk hair cuts and wore a lot of leather. They were all slamming violently into each other on the dance floor, not unlike a rugby scrum. My father, whose sensibilities on everything are firmly rooted in the 50s, looked over at my brother and I with a look that I now realize can only be described as… fear. I felt that he had the strong urge to jump up and cover my brother’s ears and perhaps backhand me… Looking at me, in his mind’s eye, he probably saw my hair morphing into a Mohawk… a safety pin springing magically out of my cheek. He knew how drawn I was to rebellion.

For my part, I was just as terrified. The 60 Minutes crew shot the live footage at the punk concert – a Sex Pistols’ show – and didn’t do anything to mix the sound. It sounded like harsh, frightening noise with a crazed singer screaming at people. They didn’t play any studio stuff. The old farts on that show just marveled at Johnny Rotten singing “God Save the Queen.” They actually had subtitles to highlight what I’m sure they considered subversive lyrics. This was a sign of the coming apocalypse… To me, it just sounded awful. I need a little melody. It took me years – like 20 years – to finally buy a Clash album. It was a revelation. I quickly picked up the Ramones and the Stooges. Those are some of my favorite punk rock bands. At last, I finally picked up Never Mind the Bollocks, from the once scary (to me) Sex Pistols only about 10 years ago and it’s awesome. Very simple, straight forward guitar rock. As Lou Reed said, “One chord is fine. Two chords is pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.” But as my friend Doug told me once, “Every punk rocker knows Lou Reed is an asshole.”

Punk rockers challenged the established rock acts that were already ensconced on the top of the world, the Rock Stars. Rock n roll had gotten bloated. There were Art Rock bands doing 15-minute, multi suite tracks like Rush or Yes, that almost had more in common with classical music than rock and roll. There were strings and overly polished production. Rock had gotten fat and comfortable. Along came punk to shake things up, and thank God it did. Instead of destroying everything that came before it like Grunge, a curious thing happened… the established rock bands, for lack of a better word, absorbed the energy and vibe. Although I’ll admit some of the artists ignored punk: Dylan had found Jesus, Bowie was over in Berlin doing his thing, Steely Dan’s jazz-influenced bubble never burst and hard rockers like Black Sabbath and AC/DC didn’t change a thing. But so many rockers were influenced by punk.

I’ve compiled the following list of some of my favorite band/artist reactions to the punk movement. At the time I’d have hardly known the stylistic change in music came from punk rock, but you live and learn.

  1. Queen, News Of The World – Queen was just coming off two albums of long, complicated music (A Day At the Races, Night On the Town) and were already considering a shift to shorter, more stripped down tracks. While recording News, the Sex Pistols were in the next studio… Freddie Mercury ran into Sid Vicious (who he had been calling Sid Ferocious) and Sid asked, “Have you succeeded in bringing ballet to the masses yet?” Queen, and Freddie especially had been the target of the punk’s ire, and he replied, “We’re doing our best, dear.” Queen went into the studio and delivered a stylistically adventurous LP with tighter, shorter tracks. Sure, “It’s Late” was six and a half minutes long, but what a guitar riff. The crowning glory was Freddie and Brian May’s double-single response to the punks – “We Will Rock You” (their statement of purpose) and “We Are the Champions” (Freddie’s fuck you to them). The lyrics, “no time for losers, ’cause we are the champions” were pretty clear.
  2. The Rolling Stones, Some Girls – The Stones totally absorbed the punk ethos on this album. Of course on tracks like “Miss You” they also absorbed the disco thing too. Mick always picked up on what was now, and Keith keeps them centered and connected to their roots. Songs like “Lies,” and especially “Shattered” were stripped down with rocking guitar. No strings, no fat, just awesome. On “Respectable,” they even mocked the punk’s criticism, “Well now we’re respected in society, We don’t worry about the things that we used to be.”
  3. The Who, Who Are You – No one was more disturbed by the punk’s criticism than Pete Townshend, who saw a lot of the early Who in the punks. Who Are You was seen as a return to form for them, with loud guitars and bombastic drums. Townshend’s title track was directly addressed to the punks, “who the fuck are you?”
  4. Pete Townshend, Empty Glass – So obsessed with the punks was Pete, he continued to write songs about them on his first “proper” solo album. “Rough Boys” sounds like he wants to be friends with them. On “Jools and Jim” he complains, “they don’t give a shit Keith Moon is dead.” From his interviews lately, it sounds like Pete doesn’t care either…
  5. Neil Young, Rust Never Sleeps – Nobody dug the punks as much as Neil Young did. The punks seemed to wake Neil from the torpor he was under at the time. The first half of this album was acoustic but the second half is a bunch of blistering guitar workouts. He revamped a heavily bootlegged “Sedan Delivery” and speeded it up so it was very punk. Both the opening and closing, variations of the same song, “Hey Hey, My My” were addressed to Johnny Rotten.
  6. Iggy Pop, New Values – Iggy’s first band, the Stooges was highly influential on the punks… not as much as the Ramones as I understand it but even now hard rock guys from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Guns N Roses cite Raw Power as an influence. I didn’t hear it until a few years ago and yes its great. I wouldn’t have understood it at 13. With all that adulation how could Iggy not jump on the punk bandwagon and release this album, collaborating with old Stooge, James Williamson and Scott Thurston who believe it or not ended up in the Heartbreakers. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em Iggy.
  7. Bruce Springsteen, Darkness On the Edge of Town – Springsteen had been locked in a legal battle with his first manager since Born To Run. He was already pissed off so the punk ethos probably fit the songs he was writing. If you listen to The Promise, the box set for Darkness, many of the tunes sound like the natural progression from Born To Run, but Springsteen opted to only include dark, guitar-centric tracks here. Sonically it’s miles away from his breakthrough album and remains one of my favorites… well, it remains amongst almost every Springsteen fan’s favorites.
  8. Billy Joel, Glass Houses – Like Springsteen, Joel coopted the punk energy and took a stylistic left turn from his previous album, the E-Street-ish 52nd Street. Punchy, guitar-driven tracks like “You May Be Right” and “Sleeping With the Televison On” dominate the album. Like Iggy, if you can’t beat them, absorb them!
  9. Fleetwood Mac, Tusk – Lindsey Buckingham was so afraid of repeating himself after Rumors, and so enamored with the “fuck it” attitude of the punks he decided to take Fleetwood Mac in a totally different direction. I love Tusk, although it was seen as a failure at the time. I’m sure the band struggled as Stevie was delivering songs like “Sara” and Christine McVie with “Over and Over” and Lindsey countering with the punky “It’s Not That Funny,” or “What Makes You Think You’re the One.” Buckingham took a lot of liberties with the record and it makes it all the more interesting.
  10. Paul McCartney & Wings, Back To the Egg – McCartney is the most confounding entry here. I really liked Back To the Egg, McCartney’s attempt at doing more upbeat rock and roll again. I think he really wanted to absorb some of that punk energy but he just couldn’t commit to it through an entire album. I thought “Old Siam Sir” was rocking. But Macca just can’t help himself, he’s gotta go with soft, gauzy ballads like “Arrow Through Me.” I look at this one as a lost opportunity. But hey, it’s McCartney, he can do what he wants.

As I sit here, only 1/3 of the way through the annual “Dry January” I can’t help but think I need a little punk energy to get me going… If you feel that way during the doldrums of winter, put one of these albums on and see where it takes you.

Cheers!

New Band Alert: Starcrawler – Edgy Punk Rock From Los Angeles

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“Out of the mouths of babes…” – From, surprising to me, Psalms 8:2. Who knew?

As most of our intrepid, regular readers know, here at B&V we tend to focus on older, more established artists who are still putting out new, vibrant rock and roll. Admittedly, we’re also fond of “vault” releases from those same older artists. But every now and then we need to get out of our comfort zone and explore some of the new and sadly, increasingly rare rock and roll out there. I might be pushing some of you to an uncomfortable edge here, but this is a band you need to hear, much like Greta Van Fleet (for very different reasons and very different music).

In my life of musical spelunking, it’s become apparent that I discover music in the weirdest ways… Earlier in the year, the Rock Chick bought us tickets with our daughter to see Beck, Cage the Elephant and Spoon at Fiddler’s Green in Denver in late July. Because I’m a neanderthal, I wrote that down on my calendar instead of posting it on my work calendar. At the time I had months and months to worry about July, it was a lifetime away. Sigh. I ended up scheduling a very important meeting on the day of the concert. There was no way around it, I had to skip the show.  I haven’t been to a concert all year, so there was deep anguish associated with this decision. Not to mention my family was not pleased.

When the Rock Chick got back from Denver and I returned from my business travails, she told me the highlights of the show. Spoon rocked, Cage the Elephant was great and Beck was well, Beck. She even put a Spotify playlist together featuring the combined setlist for each band together. In the arc of the story about the show she mentioned the opening act, Starcrawler. She mentioned they rocked and were fronted by a woman, two things that were bound to pique my interest. She said the performance was “something else.” At one point, the lead singer, Arrow de Wilde spit out fake blood. She crawled around on the stage. At the end she collapsed and had to hold onto the railing to crawl backstage again. She said, “You know, I’m not sure if their set was any good, it was kind of overwhelmed by the spectacle.”

She immediately went to YouTube and started pulling up their videos. As I sat there, mesmerized by the physical appearance and performances of the show, I started focusing on the music. And damned if I didn’t hear the Runaways. As I’ve admitted previously on this blog, I was late to getting into punk or punk-influenced rock. I live in the American midwest, where we didn’t discover punk until 10 years later, like we were encased in amber. The Clash and the Ramones were my gateway punk bands. After that I was in – the Stooges (and Iggy solo), X, and The Sex Pistols, I love all of them. The more of the Starcrawler videos I watched the more I knew I had to check this band out.

Formed in L.A in 2015 by literally children, Starcrawler is a foursome consisting of Tim Franco (bass), Austin Smith (drums), Herni Cash (on nasty guitar) and Arrow de Wilde on lead vocals. Arrow’s mother is a photographer and is friends with Beck… that’s his daughter on their debut album cover (pictured above). They have, according to Wikipedia, the funniest origin story since Hendrix founded the Experience and hired Noel Redding because he liked his hair. From Wikipedia:

“In the summer of 2015, Arrow de Wilde and Austin Smith came together to collaborate in making music. When the school year began in 2015/2016, the two decided to recruit new members, a guitarist and bassist. One day during school Wilde saw Henri Cash and asked: “You look cool, do you play guitar?” Cash was actually carrying a tuba. Wilde later recruited bassist Tim Franco.[7]” 

“You look cool, do you play guitar?” may just go down in the annals of rock and roll. The fact that he was holding a tuba is the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.

I immediately started crashing through their entire catalog of recorded music. I love this band. They’re punky and edgy. They can be vulgar and in your face. They conjure up the Runaways, or at least that was my first impression, but I also hear some Ramones and a lot of Hole in this music. I am not suggesting in any way they’re derivative like Greta Van Fleet, these are just the bands they remind me of. This is elemental, primitive rock and roll played extremely well. It’s visceral music. There’s not a lot of solo’ing or really any solo’ing on guitar it’s all just big riffs, played fast and aggressively.

Their first single from 2017 was “Ants” backed by “Used to Know.” Both tracks are that nasty, fast guitar rock that I just fall for. “Ants” kind of reminded me of the Ramones. From 2018, the had the single, “Hollywood Ending” and “Tank Top” both of which reminded me of Celebrity Skin-era Hole.

Their first LP, eponymously titled, is harder and has less obvious influences. There is a lot to like here. “Loves Gone Again” has a desperate, edgy riff. “I Love L.A.” (no, not the Randy Newman song), reminds me of Missing Persons with guitar. I’ve heard this first album compared to Sabbath, and I don’t particularly hear that except maybe for the big, monster riffs that drive “Chicken Woman,” another highlight here. I love the song “Pussy Tower,” but with a chorus that begins, “She gives me head,” how could I not love it. “Full of Pride” is another vulgar putdown, “‘Cause you’re a pretty little bitch, no matter how I word it, You’re always full of shit and everyone has heard it.” I like where these kids are coming from. Total punk attitude. The album ends on “What I Want” a declaration, “I don’t wanna be anyone but me.” At almost 4 minutes long, this amounts to an epic for this band. There are 2 songs on here that clock in under 2 minutes. Keep it up!

They followed up in 2019 with three new singles, “She Gets Around,” “Pet Sematary” (which has to be from the movie I’d guess), and the pick of the litter, their latest, “Bet My Brains.” “Brains” has a loping gait and I dare you not to become addicted to Arrow singing “Bet my brains, I’ve gone insane.” I have to say, “Pet Sematary” is catchy as hell and probably the most polish thing they’ve done… it almost sounds like arena rock.

I’m not sure where this band is going, they’re still awfully young, but I like where they’ve started this journey. Hopefully all of the singles released this year are pointing to another LP, I can’t wait to hear what they do next. Check this music out and keep an eye on this band.

Cheers!

Editor’s Note: It came to my attention that Starcrawler indeed have a new album coming out, ‘Devour You,’ on October 11th. We’re all looking forward to that here at B&V! 

 

 

Album Lookback: The Godfather’s ‘Birth, School, Work, Death’ – How’d I Miss This?

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“And I been high and I been low, and I don’t know where to go, birth, school, work, death…” -“Birth, School, Work, Death,” The Godfathers

The late 80s have always been a bit of a musical void for me. In 1987, much to family’s joy, I graduated from college and took employment with a multi-national corporation. When I interviewed with them in May, they agreed to hire me but they didn’t need me until September 1st… A summer off, perfect. Oh, and then they added rather quickly, you’ll be stationed in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. They told me if I wanted to go down to “check it out,” they’d pay for me to drive down and scout around. All I heard was “you’re hired” and “summer off.” I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I was taking a job at one of the most remote outposts this company had. It was a disaster.

In 1301 Dante Alighieri, mostly just known, like Prince, by his first name, was exiled from his beloved Florence, Italy. Dante was never to set foot in his home town again. Florence’s politics and his exile from there is one of the major themes in his beautiful, epic poem The Divine Comedy. Now, I’m not Dante and Kansas City is no Florence but I felt as badly about living in Fort Smith, which I unaffectionately called Fort Hell, as Dante did about living in Verona. Hell, Fort Smith wasn’t even Verona… I consider those years in Arkansas to be my years in exile. It was a grueling, awful three years.

One of the worst things about that town was that they had no rock and roll radio station. They had one, maybe two (if memory serves me) pop stations. MTV still played a few music videos but the ascendence of pop music had taken over their programming as well. So my memories of that era, 1987 to 1990 are a bit tilted toward pop. Madonna, Michael Jackson (especially Michael Jackson) and gads, Paula Abdul were the only kind of music I heard on the radio. Hip Hop was starting to conquer the world but I’ve just never developed a taste for that music outside of Jay-Z or Dr Dre who wouldn’t come along until years later. I have this vague memory that there were also a lot of hair bands around – Bon Jovi’s New Jersey or Poison’s Open Up and Say Ahh… seemed to get a lot of airplay. I also have a vague memory of synthesized, mopey alternative rock like say, Morrissey or the Pet Shop Boys. I remember a lot of drum machines. Needless to say, these memories make me feel like that was a really shitty time for music. I spent a lot of time making cassettes from my vinyl to play in the car so I wouldn’t be caught having to listen to the local radio. Yes, the dreaded “mix-tapes” got me through the barren years.

Although, in retrospect, I’m not sure that’s really a fair assessment of that era, that it was all awful. I’m the first to admit the Ft Smith pop-music lens has distorted my view of things. Metallica came out with …And Justice For All in 1988, so there was good metal coming out. U2’s underrated Rattle And Hum came out that year as well. Many of the bands who would later find success in the 90s were putting out their early records in that time frame, like say Jane’s Addiction. And yet all I can seem to think about is Steve Winwood’s creative nadir Roll With It. In my defense, living out in the middle of nowhere, I just never heard the good stuff that was coming out. Even though I usually spent every weekend away from Arkansas, I still never kept current (in 1988, of 52 potential weekends I only spent 2 in Ft Smith, and 1 of those weekends I had my wisdom teeth out).

My muse, the Rock Chick, strolled into the B&V labs a couple of weeks ago and said, “I bought a new album, you’ll probably remember it…” The next thing I know, this fabulous punk anthem, “Birth, School, Work, Death” is blasting over the speakers. I wanted to throw a chair, in a good way! I was dumbfounded. I’d never heard this song. When it was over, I had to ask, “Honey, who was that and when did you get into punk music?” I’ve tried to turn her on to the Sex Pistols a few times to no avail… Lo and behold, it was a band I’d never heard of, The Godfathers. And to my greater astonishment, the album Birth, School, Work, Death had come out in 1988, over a decade after the zenith of punk rock. When I heard the album came out during my exile years, it all began to make sense to me… why I knew nothing about these guys. The more I poked around, the more I realized, I’m not sure anybody knew who these guys were.

The Godfathers were formed in London in 1985 by brothers Peter Coyne (vocals) and Chris Coyne (bass). Joining them were Mike Gibson and Kris Dollimore on guitars and George Mazur on drums. Apparently, to go with the “mobster” name, the band would dress like they were members of Al Capone’s Chicago crime gang on stage. I’ve seen the pics, they were all slicked back hair, double-breasted suits and ties. That must have been something to see on stage… That look, along with the sound of this music, must have been slightly out of place out in the real world in 1988. (How would I know, I was exiled to Arkansas).

Birth, School, Work, Death is just a kick ass album full of crunching guitars, urgent drumming and desperate singing. The lyrics are snarling and borderline nihilistic. The title track is my new anthem when I think about how my career has gone but thats another story. “If I Only Had Time,” “Obsession,” “Tell Me Why” are all great, punky, riff-y rock songs. While the songs have a punk vibe and some great guitar playing they also have big, sing-along choruses (which, yes I know, is not very punk) and hooks galore. I find myself humming these tracks to myself. I love the way “Tell Me Why” ends – the lead singer says, “I told her I love her more than myself… and that’s saying something…” followed by a ferocious guitar solo. What a great track. “Cause I Said So” captures the angry young man vibe in a quintessential manner. It’s one of the harder, rockier tracks here.

“When I Coming Down” is a harrowing, almost psychedelic song about a drug trip gone terribly wrong. When the singer breaks into a spoken word passage near the end, I almost want to call for an ambulance. It reminds me of a story I heard about some friends of mine in college who did shrooms for Thanksgiving. One of them said he just curled up in a ball, staring at his digital clock hoping the numbers would turn and it would all be over. Another just wandered around all night saying, “Phyllis knows…” Phyllis was the elderly landlady who lived in the basement flat. This song could be the soundtrack to that evening. Thank God I stick to dark, murky fluids. “The Strangest Boy” is another song that’s guitar fueled, with a psychedelic vibe, although I might be getting that feeling from the bizarre, high pitched backing vocals. It’s just another sonically nuanced track that shows these guys could do more than three-chords and a chorus.

The only hint I get this music was from the 80s is the keyboards on the mid-tempo “It’s So Hard.” It gives the track a slightly New Wave vibe. Don’t get me wrong, there are still guitars, more understated here, and it’s still a great song. The lone tune I would call a ballad also boats a New Wave feel, “Just Like You” which is a brilliant love song. “I want to spend the day with a girl who looks just like you…” I’m just stunned this album wasn’t an enormous seller back in the 80s. These guys show they can do almost anything… On “STB” they sound like the Stones doing Chuck Berry’s guitar sound… they even work in the line (from the Stones “Star Star”) “make you scream all night.” The guitar work on “STB” sounds like something Keith and Ronnie would have done on Some Girls. 

I did listen to their second album, 1989’s More Songs About Love And Hate and while it was good, it was a complete stylistic left-turn. Gone was the punk attitude and the crunching guitars. It’s not a bad album but it sort of sounds like a sophomore-slump. I just like the loud squall of the first record better. On the third album, 1991’s Unreal World they return to the sound of the debut album and I thought it was also worth a listen. After that third album, they went through a number of line up changes, break ups and reunions. I think they’re still out there touring… I hope I get a chance to see these guys. I just want to stand on a bar stool and yell, “Birth, school, work, death!” at the top of my lungs while I’m spilling beer all over myself!

I strongly recommend all you rock and rollers out there to check this one out!! It’s worth doing the musical spelunking! Cheers!