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Three Chords and the Truth: Where Did Punk Music Come From?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 07, 2019

Punk music seems like one of those things that sprang, fully-formed, out of nowhere. But in this video, Trash Theory traces the roots of punk back to the birth of rock and roll, from Link Wray and The Phantom in 1958 to Louie Louie by The Kingsmen & Surfing Bird by The Trashmen to the more familiar precursors like Velvet Underground, The Stooges, and even Led Zeppelin.

Few genres have had the lasting impact of punk. 1976 is one of those seismic dividing lines in popular music. A history destroying year zero. The point after which everything changed. It was the year that The Ramones debut was released, the year that the first singles from the UK Punk scene were set loose upon a unprepared public. And while the punks wanted to remove themselves from the past, burn all that had come before, nothing happens within a vacuum. These bands didn’t appear out of nowhere with the key principles of the genre locked in place. This innovative minimalist, three-chords and the truth, turbo-powered music had to have precedent. There were other artists that lead up to this era-defining moment in music that are either forgotten, ignored or not given credit. This is how Punk became punk.

I was particularly interested to learn about Death, a Detroit band that the NY Times called “Punk Before Punk Was Punk”:

Forgotten except by the most fervent punk rock record collectors - the band’s self-released 1976 single recently traded hands for the equivalent of $800 - Death would likely have remained lost in obscurity if not for the discovery last year of a 1974 demo tape in Bobby Sr.’s attic.

Released last month by Drag City Records as “… For the Whole World to See,” Death’s newly unearthed recordings reveal a remarkable missing link between the high-energy hard rock of Detroit bands like the Stooges and MC5 from the late 1960s and early ’70s and the high-velocity assault of punk from its breakthrough years of 1976 and ‘77. Death’s songs “Politicians in My Eyes,” “Keep On Knocking” and “Freakin Out” are scorching blasts of feral ur-punk, making the brothers unwitting artistic kin to their punk-pioneer contemporaries the Ramones, in New York; Rocket From the Tombs, in Cleveland; and the Saints, in Brisbane, Australia. They also preceded Bad Brains, the most celebrated African-American punk band, by almost five years.

Jack White of the White Stripes, who was raised in Detroit, said in an e-mail message: “The first time the stereo played ‘Politicians in My Eyes,’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. When I was told the history of the band and what year they recorded this music, it just didn’t make sense. Ahead of punk, and ahead of their time.”

You can hear that demo tape on Spotify and elsewhere. There isn’t a playlist to accompany this video but this proto punk Spotify playlist (Apple Music verison) contains several of the songs mentioned.

(via open culture)