Christina Savopoulos & Carmen Chin (Radio Fodder Blog Managers) | March 12, 2022
If we asked the question ‘what does punk mean to you’, what images would spring to your mind? Certain punk bands? Documentary clips which chronicle the history of the punk movement? Or, in years to come, will your answer to the question be this very Farrago edition? As with any music genre, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment, song or artist that ignited the punk movement. Filled with demands for independence, overall rebellious attitudes and political overtones, the genre grew alongside its artists as an avenue for authentic creative expression. Since the movement began in the late 1970s, punk has blended into several sub-genres and cultures, further blurring the answer of ‘what makes punk, ‘punk’?’
Perhaps, The Clash’s very own Joe Strummer, one of punk’s most pivotal figures, may have worded the answer to this question best: “punk rock isn’t something you grow out of, punk rock is an attitude, and the essence of that attitude is: ‘give us some truth’.”
As we celebrate the vivid history of punk music (and all of its subset genres) and its indelible influence on nearly all facets of pop culture and contemporary music, your very own Radio Fodder Blog managers have compiled our personal picks of the must-hear punk anthems across the decades.
The Ramones – ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ (1976)
Most will have been acquainted with The Ramones’ incendiary debut single through the end credits of Spider-Man: Homecoming, but its history as New York’s embodiment of punk rock spans all the way to the ‘70s.
“We were so unique,” ex-drummer and ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ songwriter Tommy Ramone told Louder. “It’s hard to imagine now, but what we were doing was so different from anything anybody had heard before. It was like we were from another world.”
The Sex Pistols – ‘Anarchy In The UK’ (1976)
The arrival of The Sex Pistols’ debut track hit the UK like lightning in 1976, marking a tangible shift in culture thanks to their songs’ controversially political sub-text. The title is undoubtedly self-explanatory—its brutish, anti-establishment messages breathed fresh life into the UK’s punk rock music scene, giving a voice to the youth who sought to push against the confines of the system.
That being said, we should also probably note that they now vote conservative. Talk about anti-climactic.
The Clash – ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ (1982)
The band’s fifth studio album Combat Rock was known to have been pretty political in nature (‘Straight To Hell’, ‘Know Your Rights’, ‘Sean Flynn’ to name a few), and while ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ lacked that level of lyrical depth, its imprint on pop culture thereafter is indisputable.
“It was just a good rockin’ song, our attempt at writing a classic,” lead singer and songwriter Mick Jones said, affirming that despite its reputation as a rebellious genre, there remains space in punk for lighthearted fare.
The Psychedelic Furs – ‘Pretty In Pink’ (1981)
The British band dabbled in a symbiosis of classic punk rock and myriads of other influences from genres like funk, electronic and pop, to create some of the most unique sounds in punk. ‘Pretty In Pink’ feels like a prime example of that experimentation.
Given The Psychedelic Furs’ tendencies for alt, genre-splicing sounds, it’s no wonder that their cultural influence spread the song like wildfire, eventually going on to become the main inspiration for the ‘80s high-school rom-com Pretty In Pink.
Blondie – ‘Heart Of Glass’ (1979)
Blondie’s inclusion in a list of definitive punk songs is controversial, but hear me out. The Debbie Harry-led band was part of the original line-up of second wave punk acts who performed at the CBGBs dive bar alongside other acts like The Ramones, Patti Smith and so on. Being able to perform at this bar was career-defining.
‘Heart Of Glass’ was released as part of their 1978 album ‘Parallel Lines’, by which their sound had already mostly morphed into pop-leaning music, but a classic nonetheless.
Blondie – ‘One Way or Another’ (1978)
You’ll notice that Blondie is the only band on this list with a female lead singer—Debbie Harry. Blondie initially started as a duo between Chris Stein and Harry, and after adding a few more band members, ‘Blondie’ was born. Bursting onto the punk scene in 1978, Blondie was iconic for the sex appeal of their lead singer. Harry broke boundaries for female representation in a male dominated genre and whilst Blondie’s appeal began with Harry’s looks, listeners ultimately stayed for the music.
The Casanovas – ‘Shake It’ (2002)
The Casanovas are Melbourne’s contribution to the punk movement! Formed in 1999, the band of 3 members drew their inspiration from punk legends like The Ramones. They encompassed the Melbourne punk movement and played local gigs until 2002 when they teamed up with Shane O’Mara and recorded their first EP. Fodder is all about exploring local artists and if you haven’t heard them yet, The Casanovas are certainly worth a listen. I first heard this song in Mary-Kate and Ashley’s 2004 film New York Minute and even though that film isn’t exactly in the target punk demographic, it managed to expose new generations to the genre.
The Ramones – ‘Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)’ (1989)
I don’t have to justify why The Ramones are considered punk—they’re the face of the genre! But this Christmas song from 1989 is one of my favourites to hear during December…and all year round. Dipping their toes into mainstream music, ‘Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)’ doesn’t feature any angelic voices or wishes for Christmas presents—you won’t find a hint of Bing Crosby in this, instead we have an unforgettable punk spin on the holiday season.
David Bowie – ‘Suffragette City’ (1972)
I know, I know, Bowie is not technically punk, but I classify this song as proto-punk. Bowie describes ‘Suffragette City’ as a “British view of American street energy”, a political commentary which is characteristic of many punk lyrics.
‘Suffragette City’ appears on Bowie’s album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which follows Bowie’s alter ego, Ziggy Stardust who is a rock star sent to earth as a saviour. In adopting a theatrical alter ego, Bowie presents a heightened version of himself and his music to the world. Similarly, punk’s dedication to presenting political commentary through music also means they display a curated aspect of their mindset to the public.
Rancid – ‘Time Bomb’ (1995)
‘Rancid’ can be defined as something which is extremely unpleasant and repugnant. Since punk’s philosophy revolves around an alienation from the mainstream, perhaps viewed as ‘unpleasant’ by the masses, it seems only natural that a band would choose this term as their name. Rancid’s singer/guitarist Lars Frederiksen asserts that Rancid plays “rebel music”; music outsiders can find solace in, as is seen in ‘Time Bomb’ from their 1995 album …And Out Come the Wolves.
Punk’s Vivid History first appeared on Edition 1 2022 of Farrago Magazine.
Graphics by Ashlea Banon
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