“It’s the end, the end of the 70s, it’s the end, the end of the century”- The Ramones
1976 was a big year for punk rock.
The following are just a few of the bands that formed that year- Wire, The Damned, Generation X (featuring Billy Idol), Sham 69, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, The Jam, The Buzzcocks, The Fall, The Dead Boys, The Clash, Souixsie and the Banshees, The Adverts, and The X-Ray Spex.
The following albums were released- Max’s Kansas City (a compilation), The Ramones, Blondie, and Radio Ethiopia (The Patti Smith Group).
The following singles were released- New Rose (The Damned) and Anarchy in the UK (The Sex Pistols).
Punk has always been a tricky genre to define. Punk rock, as we know it, was born in the mid 1970s in New York. PUNK magazine was founded in New York in 1975. Lester Bangs used the word “punk” to describe Iggy Stooge in 1970. “Punk” had been used as slang word for prostitute. It was used by train jumping outlaws of the late 19th/ early 20th century as a word for young outlaws that were still green. TV cops used the word “punk” to describe no good trouble makers. But, It was in the mid-70s that people started to call themselves “punks.” It was a nasty, dirty, lowdown thing to be and the two hotbeds of early punk rock were nasty and dirty places, New York City and London. New York was “the most dangerous city in the world.” It was a crime infested, drugged up, decaying city. London, the capital city of a country in crisis, was literally covered in garage because of a garbage strike. Young punks dressed themselves in filth and played music that reflected the situation they found themselves in. It was aggressive, stripped down, loud, and fast.
Or was it? Punk rock, especially in New York, was quite diverse. The Ramones ended up being the definitive punk band, but The Talking Heads, Blondie, Suicide,The Patti Smith Group, and Television were “punk” bands that also played CBGBs. Today most people unfamiliar with the history of the genre probably wouldn’t identify many of those bands as punk rock. The genre became associated with a narrowly defined sound, and sort of cartoonish look- fast, simple, dumb music played by mohawk wearing youth. It became Green Day. There’s nothing wrong with Green Day, but they only represent one small part of what punk rock originally was.
Although punk is associated with a certain sound it also was (and is) an attitude about life in general. Punk was about doing your own thing on your own, ACTUALLY doing your own thing rather than practicing to do something at some future date. It was the bridge between the garage rock of the 60s and the independent rock scene that began in the late 70s/ early 80s. Bands as diverse as REM, Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, Motorhead, and Beat Happening are all the progeny of punk rock.
With that in mind I would like to make the case for Boston’s debut album “Boston” as a great punk record of 1976. “Boston” is one of the best selling albums of all time. It is slick and professional. There are long jammy songs full of long guitar and keyboard solos. It is a key stadium rock album. In many ways “Boston” is the antithesis of the 1976 punk sound. However, the recording of the album “Boston” was as, or more, punk than any “punk rock” album released in that year.
MIT graduate Tom Sholz formed Boston in the mid-70s. To achieve the sound he wanted he developed and built his own recording equipment and recorded the demos that would later become “Boston” in his basement. A number of record companies passed after hearing those demos. Eventually, Epic Records signed the band.
Sholz wanted to polish the demos and turn them into the final record. Epic wanted to rerecord in a “professional” studio in LA. Sholz fought back by making a secret deal with Epic appointed producer John Boylon. They faked recording sessions in LA while Sholz recorded all the instrumental tracks for the record in his basement studio with his personal equipment. These tracks were later mixed with the vocal tracks, which were recorded “professionally” in LA, and mastered in a studio by Sholz, Boylan, and Warren Dewey.
Most “punk” albums in the 1970s were released on major record labels. The bands were “signed” bands, not independents. The Ramones, Sex Pistols, and Television, for example, all recorded their records in normal recording studios for major labels. Yes, Television helped build the stage at CBGBs, The Ramones were far from technically proficient musicians, and the Sex Pistols wore garbage and told their country it had no future. They convinced kids that they could be themselves, and that anyone could go out and start a band, or do something great, but at that point the recording of punk rock wasn’t DIY, yet. Some 60s garage rock that came before was, and the some of the punk and post punk that followed was too, but it was The Buzzcocks that started the DIY recording movement in the UK with Spiral Scratch in early 1977.
I fell in love with punk rock when I was in high school in the mid-1990s. Nirvana introduced me, and a lot of America, to punk in 1991. (Listen to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana and then listen to “More Than a Feeling” by Boston. It’s almost the same song.) I remember getting two albums in 1991 for Christmas- “Heart in Motion” by Amy Grant (CD), and “Nevermind” by Nirvana (tape), only one ended up sticking. A few years later in high school I made an effort to find out about other bands that influenced Nirvana, and then the bands that influenced those bands. I totally fell in love with the Pixies, and then Husker Du, and then the Damned, and then The Stooges, and then The Sonics… By my senior year Bikini Kill, Sonic Youth, The Sex Pistols, and Gang of Four were some of my favorite bands. I was off in my own world, none of my friends liked those bands. I loved the sound and attitude of punk rock, but even more than that, I loved, and still love, the idea that if you don’t like the music you’re hearing, or the the films you’re seeing, or whatever, you can make your own. You don’t have to sell out. You can stick with your ideas. 35 years after 1976 making your own video or song seems like no big deal. Technology has made it easy, and we have gotten used to the idea. The punk DIY attitude is part of our daily lives, but in 1976 it was radical. “Boston” is an album that is a result of someone doing their own thing and making something themselves in-spite of the efforts of “the man.” That, my friends, is punk rock.
Video mix tape-
Blondie, “In the Flesh”- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=821afYKmVSI
The Sex Pistols “Anarchy in the UK”- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbmWs6Jf5dc
The Damned, “New Rose”- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91rAHIb8BwY
Amy Grant, “Baby Baby”- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYH83KeuRYE
Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (The video that “broke” punk in America in 1991)- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTWKbfoikeg
Boston, “More Than a Feeling (Demo)”- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glzEyvpvJUE&feature=fvst
Boston, “Foreplay/ Longtime” (written by Sholz when he was MIT)- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLMaIUxfex0&feature=fvst
The Ramones, “Sheena is a Punk Rocker”- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGgfHZ02I2k
Television, “Friction”- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwrCUEMl76U
Suicide, “Cheree”- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzZNPyixNJQ
The Talking Heads, “No Compassion”- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcP27iJwanQ
The Stooges, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJIqnXTqg8I
The Sonics, “Psycho”- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dw6Fjo6VXTg
Bikini Kill, “New Radio”- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHUJyWM0s-w
Husker Du, “Celebrated Summer”- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtCL1xq6hNU
The Buzzcocks, “Boredom”- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfKdzpta-Ss
Motorhead, “Ace of Spades”-
Beat Happening, ”
Radiohead, “High and Dry”- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6KMwLdCssw
LCD Soundsystem, “Losing My Edge”- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xG4oFny2Pk