Styles & Forms | US Underground & Garage Rock

Taking their name from the meagre rehearsal facilities of its early practitioners, garage rock began in the US during the mid-1960s. The loud, fuzz-toned guitars often failed to disguise links to UK pop mentors like The Beatles, Rolling Stones and The Who. later acid rock bands such as The Electric Prunes incorporated progressive and psychedelic influences.

Mostly, however, the first wave of garage rock bands were destined for short-lived cult appeal, then obscurity. Garage rock became rawer and more raucous, evolving into something more politicized during the early 1970s. Among the first indications that something was afoot, future Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye assembled Nuggets, Vol 1: The Hits, a legendary double compilation that cherrypicked the likes of The Chocolate Watch Band, The Electric Prunes, Blue Cheer, Seeds and Todd Rundgren’s Nazz, even coining the term ‘punk rock’ for the first time in his sleeve notes.

Prose And Punk Rock

By 1975, Kaye was providing musical backing for Patti Smith’s poetry readings. Produced by ex-Velvet Underground man John Cale, Smith’s watershed album Horses had successfully married her adventurous prose to a proto-garage rock sound, making it one of the most influential albums in the growth of punk rock.

An early single sleeve of John F. Kennedy being shot had rendered The Misfits so notorious that labels were genuinely afraid to release their product. Eventually, such albums as 1982’s Walk Among Us – or, perhaps more accurately, the patronage of thrash metal giants Metallica, who covered ‘Last Caress’ during the 1980s – belatedly secured the place of the New Jersey punks in the annals of underground rock.

America’s alternative rock scene was thriving. West coast punk act Black Flag had played their part, though by 1986 guitarist Greg Ginn had disbanded the group, his SST label introducing the world to the free-thinking idealism of Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, The Minutemen and Firehose, becoming one of the most important independent imprints of its day. SST also distinguished itself by issuing I Against I, the pièce de résistance of Washington D.C.-based metal-punk-hardcore-reggae fusionists The Bad Brains, and the Black Sabbath-flavoured sludge rock of St Vitus.

Twisted Eclectism

The Butthole Surfers and Big Black crystalized the twisted eclecticism of the US underground, which mutated hard and punk rock with alternating strains of psychedelia, art rock, folk and even country. Both were formed in 1982 and lead by gifted, uncompromising mavericks in the shape of Gibby Haynes and Steve Albini, making music that was powerful, cynical, crazed and often wryly amusing. The unhinged Haynes, in particular, based his career upon shockingly bad behaviour, though he remained forgiveable while creating records as brilliantly frazzled as 1987’s Locust Abortion Technician. Splitting up at their peak, Big Black lasted for just five short years, Albini becoming a producer (or to use the term he prefers ‘recording engineer’) of distinction...

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


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