Styles & Forms | American Punk | Rock
Like the majority of their British counterparts, the original American punks had been making music for years before they began to receive acknowledgement in late-1975. In common with the Brits once again, the biggest problem was that nobody had a clue what to call it.
Drawing their wild, high-energy style from such Detroit-based rock acts of the late-1960s and early 1970s as MC5 and The Stooges, and boasting an androgynous, long-haired look that made The Rolling Stones look like choirboys, glammed-up east coast quintet The New York Dolls were America’s first real punk rock band. Debauched and dangerous, loud and lewd, The Dolls had formed as far back as 1971, but it didn’t take long for them to fulfill the cliché of living fast and dying young. Original drummer Billy Murcia succumbed to a mixture of alcohol and drugs during a British tour in late-1972, and was succeeded by Jerry Nolan.
In 1973 and 1974, a pair of albums for Mercury Records – the Todd Rundgren-produced New York Dolls and Too Much Too Soon – barely dented the US chart despite receptive reviews, and the band were dropped, meeting future Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren shortly afterwards. Still perfecting his manipulatory skills, McLaren attempted to revive their career by dressing The Dolls in red leather and demanding they pose in front of the USSR flag. Accusations of communism followed, and one by one the members began to depart. By 1977, with McLaren riding high as The Pistols manager, it was all over. Jerry Nolan and guitarist Johnny Thunders teamed up with Richard Hell to form The Heartbreakers, though former Television bassist Hell – who had turned down McLaren’s offer to front The Sex Pistols – departed soon afterwards to form The Voidoids. After many notoriously drug addicted years, Thunders himself was found dead in 1991, with Nolan succumbing to a heart attack soon afterwards.
An Undercurrent Of Subterfuge
In early 1976, a new magazine called Punk gave the movement focus. The personnel and inner circles of the post-Dolls bands included more than their fair share of arty bohemian types – painters, filmmakers, writers, poets and artists; like the waitresses and house-decorators, all refreshingly free of the baggage of ‘serious’ musicians. Television, Suicide and Patti Smith were among the acts to play New York dives like Max’s Kansas City and the Country, Bluegrass & Blues Club (CBGB’s for short). The sounds of these bands, and others like The Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie, were radically different, yet united by an exciting undercurrent of subterfuge. In the words of Smith, ‘I was wondering what I could do as a writer or poet to inspire people to reclaim rock’n’roll as a revolutionary, grass-roots base for the people.’
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