Styles & Forms | Proto-Punk | Rock

Proto-punk bands, like all ‘proto’ genres, are by definition only identified retrospectively and generally share subversive and anti-establishment attitudes. Although punk rock was primarily a British phenomenon, there were several notable American punk bands and its musical roots lie more with these American bands than with British bands.

The energy of pub rockers like Dr. Feelgood and Eddie & The Hot Rods may be heard in the punk bands but they lacked the anger, nihilism, and artistic and political overtones.

Although The Velvet Underground’s debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) didn’t sell huge amounts on its release, its impact on non-mainstream forms of rock music was significant, with its disregard for conventional song structures and lyrics that dealt head-on with sex and drugs. The roots of punk rock, goth rock and glam rock can all be traced back to this album.


The MC5 gathered a loyal following on the strength of their exciting and anarchic live performances, so much so that they elected to record a live show for their debut album, Kick Out The Jams (1969). Beginning with singer Rob Tyners rabble rousing cry of ‘Kick out the jams, motherfuckers’, the early use of the ‘mf’ word – nearly 30 years before it became commonplace on rap records – led to some shops refusing to stock the record. Elektra Records had to release an alternative version with ‘brothers and sisters’ replacing ‘motherfuckers’. With their radical anti-establishment politics, The MC5 became the figurehead for the White Panther Party whose manifesto included ‘an assault on the culture by any means necessary, including dope and fucking in the streets.’


You won’t find an anti-establishment manifesto with Iggy & The Stooges, but they certainly helped themselves to the sex and drugs. A band with one finger permanently on the self-destruct button, singer Iggy Pop would cut himself onstage or smear himself with peanut butter or raw meat – then launch himself into the audience. Raw Power (1973) reveals a wild, wired and weird band, with raw and spontaneous music and lyrics, thanks to the band’s habit of improvizing in the studio.

And speaking of self-destruction, The New York Dolls’ second album Too Much Too Soon (1974) became a self-fulfilling prophesy and the band split shortly afterwards, despite hapless manager Malcolm McLaren’s attempts to promote the band to a wider audience. McLaren would put his experience to use afterwards as the infamous manager of The Sex Pistols.

Having established herself as a poet, Patti Smith released her debut album Horses (1975) to critical acclaim, and revealed a poet’s sensibilities with her imaginative use of language in loosely constructed song forms.

Smith described her music as, ‘three chord rock merged with the power of the word’. Her debut single ‘Piss Factory’ (1974) describes the boredom of working in a factory, something the punks could relate to.

Britain was not without its proto-punk bands. The Troggs had a hit single in the UK in 1966 with...

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


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