“Live Wire” by Motley Crue
(Words/Music: Nikki Sixx, Album: Too Fast For Love, Elektra 1982)
One of the bands that revels in the influence that punk had on their career and their music is Motley Crue. Despite their developing musicianship (and their very non-punk guitar solos), most of the elements of punk can be found in their music and their image which initially combines the attitude of punk with the horror show imagery of Alice Cooper and the glam of the New York Dolls. Eventually the horror show/dungeon bondage gear would give way to a pure glam/metal look (remember Vince in that horrendous pink and white outfit? He MUST have been high to agree to wear that!). But out of punk, Crue picked up the simplistic, hard-driving sound and us against the world attitude that ran through their songs their entire career.
(On a side note, while I was looking up old pictures of Siouxsie Sioux, there are times that I swore I was looking at early pics of Nikki Sixx.)
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“Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads
(Words/Music: David Byrne, Chris Frantz, and Tina Weymouth, Album: Talking Heads ‘77, Sire 1977)
While Malcolm Mclaren and the Sex Pistols were busy pitting record companies against each other and trying to break into film, in New York, punk was taking some interesting new directions. One of these involved combining the Do-It-Yourself attitude of punk with the art and film school scene around NYU and Columbia University. The most famous bad to rise out of this scene was the Talking Heads. They were bright, literate, and middle-upper class students - not quite the core of the punk scene in England. But their style of music broke down as many, if not more, boundaries than the original punk movement. Their rhythmically rigid and vocally terse songs, filled with psychologically diverse themes, found a home on the burgeoning college radio scene and, largely in part to Byrne’s visual art background, eventually became vanguards and gained steady play on the the 24 hour video station, MTV.
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“Heart of Glass” by Blondie
(Words/Music: Deborah Harry and Chris Stein, Album: Parallel Lines, Chrysalis 1979)
By the time the Sex Pistols finally dissolved, New Wave bands like Blondie had moved quite a ways away from their early days at CBGB’s. Their third album, Parallel Lines, found the band embracing modern technology and sound recording techniques, particularly synthesizers, which were popularized during disco. As a result, the band was better received at Studio 54 than CBGB’s as their songs gained worldwide popularity and singer Debbie Harry became one of the most recognizable stars in the world. As a result, the band was accused of “selling out” their punk roots and trying to become famous. The band usually downplayed this idea by expressing that they believed in experimenting with various musical styles, and “Heart of Glass” was their take on a disco-style song. In hindsight, this seems quite a plausible explanation given that they would later release singles which incorporated reggae (“The Tide Is High”) and rap (“Rapture”).
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“I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
(Words/Music: Alan Merrill and Jake Hooker, Album: I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, Boardwalk Records 1981)
Near the end of the Sex Pistols, there was a lot of uncertainty about the direction of the band and whether there actually was a band. Johnny Rotten was off doing the recluse thing and Sid Viscious was hanging out with Nancy Spungen and doing a lot of heroin. Guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook, who most view as the only two members actually in it for the love of the music, played around a lot. They spent some time with Johnny Thunders (formerly of New York Dolls) and recorded an album (So Alone) with him.
They also spent some time working with and recording with the former guitarist and main songwriter from The Runaways, Joan Jett. They recorded a few songs with her (one of them being an early version of her cover of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”) as did other punk legends like Dee Dee and Marky Ramone and Blondie’s Clem Burke and Mark Infante. Seems like everyone wanted to be playing with Joan Jett, but no one wanted to sign her. She was rejected by 23 record companies before forming her own (how very DIY punk of her!) and releasing her eponymous album which would later be re-released as Bad Reputation. I get very excited that somewhere out there, there is a demo of this song with Steve Jones and Paul Cook playing on it.
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“My Way” by Sid Viscious
(Words/Music: non-album single, Virgin Record 1978)
Until the very end of his life, Malcolm McLaren kept trying to make Sid Vicious a star. While putting together a film about the band, McLaren enlisted Simon Jeffes to arrange a new version of Frank Sinatra’s signature song for Sid. While the Sinatra fans find this song a travesty, punks generally regarded it one of two ways: it was a good send-up of some old guy’s song or why was Sid Vicious trying to sing? But in fact, Sid ended up being a decent front man for the short while between the Sex Pistols and his death. At the very least, if he was singing, he had to be involved in the show - something that was not always the case when he was playing bass.
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“Public Image” by Public Image Ltd.
(Words/Music: Johnny Lydon, Album: First Issue, Virgin Records 1978)
When the Sex Pistols inevitably broke up, after months of Malcolm McLaren’s neglect of their musical direction in favor of trying to get a film together, Johnny Rotten and he became embroiled in a very public battle over who was more important to the band. Basically, it was two egomaniacs in a pissing contest. In order to help prove his point, Rotten changed his name back to Lydon and formed another band, Public Image Ltd, and one of their first songs, “Public Image”, Johnny Lydon described as “a slagging of the group I used to be in.”
Two sides to every story
Somebody had to stop me
I’m not the same as when I began
I will not be treated as property
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“Day of the Lords ” by Joy Division
(Words/Music: Joy Division, Album: Unknown Pleasures, Factory Records 1979)
By late in 1977, a lot of bands were taking the basic idea of punk and re-interpreting it for themselves. One of those bands was Joy Division who took the bleakness of the message of punk and applied it to the music as well. Combined with the “art rock” movement coming out of CBGB’s (Talking Heads, et al.) and earlier proto-punk influences like Roxy Music and David Bowie’s German phase, Joy Division refocused the nihilistic view away from British society and into the human soul. Their music would be a major force on the burgeoning Goth scene and 1979’s Unknown Pleasures would be considered by most one of the finest recordings of the era.
“Ian Curtis had ‘Hate’ written on the back of his jacket…He stood out in the crowd. Our first concert was supporting Buzzcocks in May: playing wasn’t important, getting up and making noise was. The playing would just come. It was incredibly naive, but that is what you gathered from the Pistols. The air you gave off was an important thing: how you had the cheek to get up onstage I don’t know, but everybody was in the same boat, so they weren’t bothered.” - Peter Hook (bassist of Joy Division), England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond
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“Less Than Zero” by Elvis Costello
(Words/Music: Elvis Costello, Album: My Aim Is True, Stiff Records 1977)
By mid-1977, the record companies had begun courting bands similar to the original punks like Sex Pistols and the Damned, but which were more marketable. The new wave of punk took the stripped down band, raw energy, and purposeful lyrics and infused it with better songwriting, better musicianship, and less controversial band members.
One of those artists was Elvis Costello. His debut album, My Aim Is True, came out during the summer of 1977 and gained popularity and notoriety with its catchy pop songs, some of which, like Less Than Zero, contain anti-Fascist themes which coincide with the feelings and attitudes of much of England at the time. The difference was in the packaging: Elvis Costello was a non-threatening version of punk that initially accomplished what Malcolm McLaren wanted from the Sex Pistols: to recapture the rebellious energy of 50 rock ‘n’ roll.
“Less Than Zero” is also the song that Elvis Costello began playing Saturday Night Live when he suddenly stopped and launched into the song he wanted to play, “Radio Radio.”
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