Rewind to the 1950s. Everyone is busy throwing on their blue suede shoes, grabbing a mass-produced acoustic guitar and generally failing to emulate El- vis in their faux leather jackets. Rocking and rolling all over the place became a synonym for rebellion in the period immediately fol- lowing the war.
However, jump forward 20 odd years and what was once rebellion is now clicheÌ. With endless guitar solos in emulation of Jimi Hendrix and bands like Simon and Garfunkel calling themselves rock and roll, the genre had lost its edge and motivation. What once had been soundtrack of the frivo- lous fifties, the music in the background of the baby-boomers’ bedroom as another child was brought into the world was no longer rebellion: it was pure monotony. It had become the missionary position of the musical world.
The 1970s faced an image crisis musically. Pouring the same mix into the same mould still sold records, but it didn’t excite the youth on the streets or clubs as it once had. The 1960s were over; the flowers streaming in many a hippy’s hair had rotted but their putrid stink continued to permeate the tame “rock and roll” (if you can call it that) of the early 1970s.
The remedy? Anarchy and subculture, of course. The Velvet Underground had set a shining example to many of how guitars could be used to play songs not from a mass- produced chordbook of The Beatles and used to make dissonant sounds strangely beautiful.
But their lack of commercial success limited their accessibility: the youthful audience needed gratifying in their yearning for something more than Billy Joel.
The answer? Punk. Take those teddy-boy leather jackets of your older sibling, throw a few badges and rips on them and hey – you have rebellion. In his brief stint managing glam-rockers New York Dolls in 1975, Malcom McLaren gained enough inspiration to create his own rebellious posse in the form of The Sex Pistols.
Less high heels and feather boas and more shouting lyrics about abortion, the punk assault on popular music had begun. Bands like The Clash, The Slits and The Damned soon followed, threatening Rod Stewart and his top-spot position.
But not even the safety pins and bondage trousers could pin the movement together and make it last. By the late 1970s, punk was deceased and rebellion looked for through other methods be it in fashion, music or lifestyle.
Dylan Clark argues, “Punk had to die so that it could live.” To avoid monotony, new routes had to be taken. The old had to be thrown out once more to prevent a stagnant memory being formed.
Punk lived for but a blink of an eye. Its founders moved their three chord structures and screeches to new climes. But the movement’s innovative style prompted a renaissance of musical exploration and the realisation that not only throwing out but smashing up the old can be an extremely pleasurable and rewarding experience.