Punk erupted at the fag end of Britain's failed thirty-year post-war experiment with socialism. Labour wasn't working, as an election-winning billboard of the time pointed out. Indeed, in Britain's summer of 1976, barely anyone was working. Everything that once moved had been nationalised, the country was bankrupt (and being bailed out by the IMF), half the country was either on strike or seemed to be, and rubbish was piling up in the streets. In just over half-a century, Britain had voluntarily transformed itself from the richest country the world had ever seen to one that was on economic life support.
That's what socialism can do to you.
Punk started in the US of A, it had many godfathers, but with the UK in a state like that no wonder Britain took to punk like an alcoholic takes to Tennents Extra. No wonder the refrain from the Sex Pistols 'God Save the Queen' -- No Future! -- struck such a chord with a generation outraged at the world their elders had made. No wonder that a generation responded with all the incoherent rage it could muster at the whole gimcracked gallery of false gods their elders had created -- a rage expressed in the art form that speaks most volubly to a teenager: music.
The music was simple and angry and untutored -- sometimes laugh-out-loud funny -- it spoke its mind come what may-- and to millions of youngsters all over the world repelled by all the false gods, the anger was both an energy and an invitation to action. The first assault on the false god was (rightly or wrongly) against the musical dinosaurs so beloved of the generations past. This seemed the necessary first step in making the world over again, by doing it for themselves, however imperfectly. Making the (musical) world over again as a first step to seeing a way out of the hole the other generations had dropped them in.
And out of this teenage anger came some adult anthems that still speak to us.
- Blank Generation - Richard Hell & the Voidoids
- Blitzkrieg Bop - Ramones
- Johnny Hit And Run Paulene - X
- Marquee Moon - Television
- (I'm) Stranded - The Saints
- Horses - Patti Smith
- New Rose - The Damned
- Boredom - Buzzcocks
- No Future (God Save the Queen) - Sex Pistols
- Saturday Night Stay at Home - Suburban Reptiles
- Suspect Device - Stiff Little Fingers
- Oh Bondage, Up Yours - X Ray Spex
- Life's A Gamble - Penetration
- Peaches - Stranglers
- Shot By Both Sides - Magazine
- Tommy Gun - The Clash
- Public Image - Public Image Limited
- Shivers - Boys Next Door
- Love Will Tear Us Apart Again - Joy Division
- Into the Valley - Skids
- I Am the Fly - Wire
- Mysterex - Scavengers
- Squeeze - Toy Love
- Future Shock - Gordons
- Gangsters - Specials
That’s what’s missing [today]. It’s an act of rebellion... That’s indeed what I’m always looking for. A sense of naturalness… If you’re true to what you like, how can you fail … it’s not so much whether it’s perfectly well played or so geniusly well written, because those things are kind of important, but it’s not as important as a sense of well-being – a sense of “I have a life, and I’m proud of it” – and that shows through in really, really good music, and it doesn’t [always] shine through in really, exceptionally well-played music.For my money, that still shines through in those 25 wildy different tracks above plucked from punk's heyday.
The peak of punk passed quickly. It was all over bar the whining and puking in less than two or three years. It passed with the realisation, for those honest enough to see it, that creation was more difficult -- and more rewarding -- than destruction. It passed musically, with the realisation that all punk had done in the final analysis was to make the world safe for the likes of Duran Duran and the Thompson Twins to fill the vacuum the dinosaurs vacated -- or, worse, for the boot boys and the genuine nihilists who followed along to mop up the musical wreckage -- and most of us quickly hurried on to make and to discover better things for ourselves.
Those of us with brains to think with and eyes with which to see came to understand (to paraphrase Ayn Rand) that to change the world it was going to take more than a spikey haircut and a loud guitar.
But as I was reminded at a recent Spelling Mistakes reunion gig, it sure as hell was fun while it lasted. And it made those of us who embraced it at the time much more ready to embrace in a new and better form the importance of making the world over for ourselves, and the place of art in that great cause - above all of honesty in art, and that the honesty comes from within. Salut!
PS: Note that while the songs listed all came from those 'golden years' of 1976-79, many of the YouTube vids don't. Just sayin' is all. Still, when you consider how hard it was to get this stuff back in the days of vinyl, it's just amazing what you can find on YouTube these days]
UPDATE: The Canterbury Atheist reminds me to give Andrew Schmidt's excellent Mysterex blog a plug. If you were ever bitten by the local punk bug, you're gonna love it.