The foundations of rock ‘n’ roll are simple: electric guitars, three chords and some inspired lyrics. Over its next 20-plus years of existence, rock evolved from these basic roots and morphed into an elaborate collection of sounds, guitars and concepts.
It was in the late 1970s when the music world saw the first kind of return to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll. This was the birth of punk rock, which brought rock back to a simpler time but played it louder, faster and more abrasively than anything that had been heard up to that point.
However, all things fade away and while punk by all meaning of the word still exists, what kind of existence is it really? Certainly this is not what the earliest members of this genre intended their music to become.
Years have an incredible ability to embody an essence and a feeling, and if 1976 was the year of disco, then 1977 was the year of punk. This was the year that punk not only broke through to the mass markets, but also the year that it obtained its first commercial successes.
The Sex Pistols, the first true punk rock group, released “Never Mind the Bullocks.” The Ramones released two individual albums. Fans also saw releases from The Clash, the criminally underrated the Jam, Television, Wire and many others set the stage for a firecracker movement – one that made a lot of noise and burned out quickly.
1977 to 1980 was the high time, both commercially and creatively for punk rock. The idealism that each of their songs centered around allowed these groups to speak to an entire generation. But, where in Great Britain the key to achievement was measured by three chords and angry youthful sentiments, success in the United States was far harder to come by. Outside of the Ramones, only a small handful of punk rock bands achieved any kind of fame in the United States.
Punk remained an underground phenomenon through the 1980s, when a few bands such as the Descendents built reputations for themselves. In general, it wouldn’t be until the early 1990s that punk would achieve widespread success in this country with the arrival of Green Day and the punk revival movement. Other notable bands in this group include the Offspring, Rancid and Bad Religion.
Punk had, by the turn of the century, moved away from its basic roots and transformed into something that it was never meant to be. With the record industry in relative disarray, executives in corner offices have helped this transformation to take place. Gone are the idealistic (and sometimes nihilistic) fulcrums that their songs would hinge on; gone in a large way are the abrasive, scorching melodies that harkened back to the early days of rock ‘n’ roll. Instead, today’s offshoots of punk (emo and hardcore, among others) focus around clever, emotional lyrics and precisely gauged guitar hooks.
Punk was never about precision, nor was it about quality production; it was about expression and opinion and not giving a damn about what anybody else thought. Green Day’s latest album has even been nominated for several Grammy awards, but isn’t that the antithesis of what punk is supposed to be all about?
Today’s corporate punk lacks the passion and the edge that characterized the sound of their predecessors 25 years before. All that is left is a watered down, glossed over cardboard cutout of what it was and everything it embodied. Until somebody can see and understand this, punk will remain dead and gone: a victim of time and change.