And on the third day, God said, "Let there be punk". And it was good. While the Ramones self-titled debut (which turned 40 this week!) may have been what many consider the first official "punk" album, we can trace the genres roots back for decades. Punk has always been about freedom and individuality; about destroying ideals and symbols; about doing things your own way. The heart of punk music is rebellion, rejecting cliche compositions and melodies and playing loud music at breakneck speeds.
"We're not really into music. We're into chaos." - Johnny Rotten, Sex Pistols
Punk music was born when musician Link Wray strapped on a guitar and played the power chords to 1958's "Rumble". Utilizing the largely unexplored techniques of feedback and distortion, Wray created a tune that shook rock and roll to its core. In an interview with Stephen Colbert in 2013, Iggy Pop stated that he "left school emotionally" at the moment he first heard "Rumble", leading him to pursue a career in music. And thank goodness he did, because he's first up on our list.
5. The Stooges - Fun House (1970)
1970. Sid Vicious was 13 years old. Punk had already taken hold. The promethean, eruptive genius, Iggy Pop, brought on a new era of music heavier than death, itself. Always questionably on the border between manic dancing and drug-induced psychosis, his live shows with The Stooges were never a pretty affair and were enough to make Jim Morrison blush. Iggy's music would go on to encompass a number of styles, including garage rock, hard rock, art rock and jazz; but Fun House will always be hard rooted in the formation of the punk movement. The Stooges had already been playing deafening performances when they released their 1969 debut, yet Fun House is the band at their raw, primal peak.
In what may be one of the greatest song introductions of all time, T.V. Eye begins with a deafening howl deep from the gut. When the opening notes of Down on the Street thunder down the guitar neck, all hell breaks loose on record. The band had recorded Fun House in a studio setting, yet were displeased with the results. They changed around their equipment so that it mirrored their live setup, and the result was a deranged and raw record that bulged at the seams.
Fun House marks the last time that the Stooges were really "the Stooges". By the time 1973's Raw Power was recorded, guitarist Ron Asheton had quit the band, bassist Dave Alexander had drank himself into oblivion, and Iggy Pop's drug use and fame was driving him deeper into financial struggle. Raw Power defined an era of raw, dirty, messy, sexy, druggy, nihilism.
"Now I regret all the times I've used words like 'power' and 'energy' to describe rock and roll, because this is what such rhetoric should have been saved for. Shall I compare it to an atom bomb? A wrecker's ball? A hydroelectric plant? Language wasn't designed for the job." - Robert Christgau, In Reviewing "Fun House"
4. New York Dolls - New York Dolls (1973)
The definitive glam-punk album is the embodiment of New York City's scum, trash and sleaze. Performing as transvestites with an outrageous getup and exaggerated Stones-ian personas, the band further pushed rock and roll with a savage energy. You can practically hear the thundering platform boots, the dripping lip gloss and sleazy mess of a band that gave no indication that they cared about what people thought of them.
The album opens with Personality Crisis, a monumental love letter to high energy rock and roll. Highlighted in HBO's Vinyl, the song would put the ferocious spirit of rock music back into the solemn Richie Finestra. The rest of the album flows from lively, tormented howls (Frankenstein, Vietnamese Baby) to raw, supersonic riffs (Trash, Pills). The New York debut record is packed full of songs that are both energetic and catchy, contrasting the nihilistic aggression of The Stooges in Los Angeles. Get your lip stick fix!
"It was like being hit by lightning. I've never recovered. David's singing - at a time when everyone was trying to sing softly and be somewhat effeminate - David Johansen rattles out with this raging roar, hard and indifferent with an incredible mantle of pride." - Morissey, on first hearing the New York Dolls' debut.
3. The Sonics - Here Are The Sonics!!! (1965)
The Sonics formed in a time when pop and rock music began to blend. The band took rock and roll (The Contours' Do You Love Me?) and R&B (Richard Berrys' Louie, Louie) classics and played them at a deafening, breakneck pace that shook the originals to their very core.
The Sonics were the ideals behind punk music made flesh, as they took rock and roll conventions and branded them in their own ways. Typical 1960s teenage culture about cars, guitars, girls and surfing would become lyrics about drinking strychnine, witches, psychopaths, and Satan. Simple chord structures of '50s and early '60s R&B music would be cranked up to 11 and hazed out in a cloud of distortion and feedback.
Here Are The Sonics!!! is the definitive garage rock album to introduce the darker and raw brother of rock and roll music. This style of pure energy would be the first to be explored in the punk movement of the '70s. The Sonics went against the grain and liked it.
"I have to admit... The Sonics recorded very, very cheaply on a two track you know, and they just used one microphone over the drums, and they got the most amazing drum sound I've ever heard. Still to this day, it's my favorite drum sound. It sounds like he's hitting harder than anyone I've ever known." - Kurt Cobain on Here Are The Sonics!!!
2. The Velvet Underground - White Light / White Heat (1968)
The Velvet Underground are undoubtedly among the most influential bands in the history of rock music. Their 1967 debut, The Velvet Underground & Nico, perfected a brilliant balance between beautiful songwriting melodies and crushing, drug-fueled, frightening nihilism. They were the first band to shed light on the dark shadows of New York City - a city full of drugs, fetishism, and delinquency. The band was brought to fame through artist Andy Warhol, who saw the true talents behind the band's dark character.
After their debut, the Velvets dropped German songwriter Nico and in turn threw away their tender ballads. The group toured extensively, creating lengthy, improvised droning pieces throughout their performances. These experimental jams were the absolute antithesis of the "rock and roll" music of the late '60s. There were little melodies or hooks to grab a hold of. White Light / White Heat is an album of scuzzy, fuzzy jams cranked up to their highest caliber. If the first album was a mockery of the "subculture" of mainstream rock popularized by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, then White Light / White Heat is a targeted attack on the garage rock of The Trashmen and The Kingsmen.
The Gift is the Velvets at their most deranged. If you're listening to the stereo recording of the album, you may notice Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison playing a scuzzy improvisational guitar piece through your right ear, while John Cale recites a piece of anarchistic poetry through your left. The story follows Waldo Jeffers, a misguided romantic who decides to package and mail himself to his girlfriend, Marsha. She, on the other hand, lives a life of sexual deviance and delinquency away from Waldo. While attempting to open the package with a metal sheet cutter, Marsha cuts right through the box and into Waldo's head, "which split slightly and caused little rhythmic arcs of red to pulsate gently in the morning sun".
These deranged songs remove the gleaming studio production and tender tones of their debut album, and leave it scuzzed out and muddled. This rejection of '60s rock compositions is another ideal that would give birth to the punk movement. It is fully explored in the album's 17-minute magnum opus, Sister Ray; a jet engine of pure punk sound and emotion. Reed drones of dope-shooting orgies, cross-dressing, BDSM, murder, prostitution while engaging in a war between John Cale's organ and his own guitar. Cale's organ, hooked up to a guitar amp, groans with grotesque sounds that would only compliment Reed's feedback-soaked call-and-response lines. The song shows how brilliantly the band works with one another. The Velvets would later drop their punk facade on 1969's tender The Velvet Underground, and Reed would soon become a glam-rock and roll animal.
White Light / White Heat is a speed-driven, relentless droning machine that never once ceases to catch its breath.
At two-minutes and 15 seconds into "I Heard Her Call My Name," [we hear] the single greatest second of recorded music in rock-and-roll history" - Washington Post columnist David Malitz on White Light / White Heat.
1. MC5 - Kick Out The Jams (1969)
Kick out the jams, mother****ers! MC5's Kick Out The Jams is the single greatest album to give birth to punk music, garage rock, hard rock, whatever you want to call it... MC5 did it first and they did it loud.
A high-paced frenzy of supersonic guitars, pounding bass, relentless drums and thunderous vocals, MC5's debut album is unmatched in its raw caliber. The noisy apocalypse forever placed Detroit on the rock and roll map - a city that had no business competing with the likes of New York (The Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, Ramones) and Los Angeles (The Stooges). The tracks are abrasive, powerful and breathtakingly homicidal. They're live recordings, so you can feel the energy of the audience and the ballistic stage presence of the band bulging through in the grooves of this record.
Nothing came close to the beast of an album that the MC5 released in 1968, and nothing has ever come near it. Even MC5's later works pale in comparison to Kick Out the Jams. Listen for yourself below.
"There was the sound of mountains crashing in the holocaust of the decibels, hearts bursting, literally bursting, as if this were the sound of death by explosion within, the drums of physiological climax when the mind was blown, and forces of the future, powerful, characterless, as insane and scalding as waves of lava...flushing through the urn of all acquired culture and sending...the brain like a foundered carcass smashing down a rapids, revolving through a whirl of demons, pool of uproar, discords vibrating, electric crescendo screaming as if at the electro-mechanical climax of the age." - Journalist Norman Mailer, upon walking through an MC5 performance in 1968.