Styles & Forms | British Punk | Rock

Punk exploded on to the stagnant British music scene in the mid-1970s with short, fast songs, played with maximum energy and often fuelled by angry lyrics. A musical and social phenomenon, punk was a reaction to the indulgence of glam rock bands, and the perceived elitism of the often highly musically proficient musicians who played in the prog rock bands.

It was also a reaction to the perceived artificialness of the ‘corporate rock’ manufactured supergroups such as Boston, Kansas and Foreigner, and the perceived slickness of the equally artificial disco scene. Socially, punk appealed to the disenfranchised British youth who felt at best bored and at worst alienated by what British society had to offer them – unemployment or dead-end jobs.

Looking back from the perspective of a more permissive and (slightly!) more tolerant society, it is difficult to believe the profoundly shocking effect punk had on the nation’s morals. Arguably the last musical movement to have such a huge social impact, British TV shows would earnestly debate the ‘evils’ of punk rock. Goaded into swearing on live daytime television, The Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones recalled this turning point: ‘It was hilarious, it was one of the best feelings, the next day, when you saw the paper. You thought, “Fucking hell, this is great!” From that day on, it was different. Before then, it was the music: the next day, it was the media.’

No Future

At the height of their fame - or infamy - The Sex Pistols with Johnny Rotten (a.k.a. John Lydon) as their lead singer, had a No. 1 single ‘God Save The Queen’ during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, which was banned by the BBC on the grounds of its allegedly offensive lyrics. The opening of ‘God Save The Queen’ bears the hallmarks of classic rock’n’roll, albeit with a louder, faster and more aggressive character. Its anti-establishment lyrics and ‘no future’ outro sum up The Sex Pistols’ outlook perfectly: bleak and nihilistic. Fittingly, The Sex Pistols imploded shortly after releasing their debut album, Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols (1977).

The Clash, fronted by the late Joe Strummer, were equally exciting but offered a more positive agenda, particularly with their anti-racism messages. The Clash were able to develop their sound from the impressive frenetic self-titled debut in 1977, culminating in London Calling (1979), which reveals influences as diverse as rockabilly, reggae, ska and hard rock.

Several other bands offered significant variations on the stereotypical manic punk three-chord thrash. The Jam had an altogether smarter image than the punks, and In The City (1977) reveals 1960s mod leanings. After The Jam split up, singer Paul Weller went on to enjoy a successful solo career, although his solo offerings do not reflect his punk and mod roots with The Jam and he remains unwilling to play songs from that era. The Stranglers, significantly older than the other punk bands, offered a psychedelic tinge, as...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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