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Saturday, June 14, 2008

1976, 77, 78, 79 - Golden Years vs. Rust?
A Tale of Two Cultures


On July 4, 1976, the Bicentennial Year of the United States of America, yes the anniversary of our severance from England, The Ramones - whose eponymous debut album was released in April of 1976 - found themselves performing in London to an audience that included Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer and dozens of future punk rock stars. These are dates made to live in history as important birthdays of punk rock.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, at the very same time, one of the leaders of the British Invasion of the 1960s, Paul McCartney, the cute Beatle, was on tour with his band Wings. McCartney holds the honor - great, dubious or other, of having the Number One Record of 1976 (according to Billboard Magazine), a ditty that has dogged him ever since it was released and Beatles fans heard the man who sang Helter Skelter asking the rhetorical musical question what's wrong? with Silly Love Songs.


But such culture clash is the substance of punk rock's great narrative trajectory. Punk rockers had had enough of silly love songs.

Ironic that Linda McCartney was a big fan of punk rock music... and I for one, completely understand without a shadow of a doubt the whole reason why people write, sing and enjoy silly love songs. To add another twist to all of this, the name "The Ramones" comes from an alias Paul McCartney used to check into hotels anonymously... Ramone. Hmmm. If I may quote my dear friend, Blondie drummer Clem Burke, "The Ramones are punk rock's Beatles."

Its true.

clem sound check SMALL

Billboard Magazine cites that the Number One record of 1977 was Rod Stewart's Tonight's The Night, a song about sex. Anecdotally, to my circle of friends, the Number One record of 1977 was a three-way tie between the Sex Pistols singles, God Save the Queen, Pretty Vacant, and Holidays In The Sun, all of which were on the album released in November 77, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. Something I always found curious, from 1977 to this very day, is that Johnny Rotten's punk rock hair - ginger colored and spikey - could be best described as the hair-cut-love-child of Rod Stewart and Richard Hell. Pretty superficial at best, but need I remind anyone that Sex Pistols Rotten and Steve Jones did pull an Atlantic Crossing and both reside in Los Angeles... as does Stewart.

sid vicious grey

By January 1978, a mere two months after finally releasing their album, the Sex Pistols toured the United States and then broke up - all by the middle of January, in fact. 1978's musical statistics would also show that a new genre was attracting the attention of millions. Billboard's Top Five records of 1978 show the Brothers Gibb - the late Andy, and Barry, Robin & Maurice as the Bee Gees holding down spots Number One, Two and Four, with the Numbers Three and Five spots occupied by downright sappy love songs without a trace of irony...Debby Boone's You Light Up My Life and Exile's Kiss You All Over.

debbie triptych

Blondie, NYC punk rock / underground pioneers showed that they could make the mainstream charts with a so-called "Disco Song" (which was the band's internal working title for their breakthrough smash hit, Heart of Glass) and with that success, float all the rest of the punk pop boats. Of course, Blondie's telegenic and girl-group golden era-styled singer Deborah Harry helped focus errant public and media eyes on punk rock, CBGB, Max's Kansas City and other things punk.

By 1979, the influence of punk and the more polite but still energetic and fresh new wave of power pop had made a mainstream dent for sure. Buoyed by Blondie's runaway success, the intersection of pop and punk was also allowed to explore, and leverage other genres (in Blondie's case, disco, dance/hip hop and nascent rap and Euro stuff - ie: their name check of Fab Five Freddy and Debbie's rapping on "Rapture" and the band's collaboration with Donna Summer's hit maker, Giorgio Moroder on "Call Me.") The Number One Record of 1979, according to Billboard was the pure power pop, riff-driven My Sharona by The Knack, a Los Angeles quartet.

To me, My Sharona was a doppelganger for The Plimsouls Zero Hour. Both songs were propelled by an insistent drum beat and guitar riff.

bruce gary lou ramirez
Drummers Bruce Gary of the Knack and Lou Ramirez of the Plimsouls

While My Sharona has become cultural shorthand for 1979 (the year when punk rock, power pop and mainstream rock got thrown into a blender and gave birth to the 80s, the decade when postmodernism manifested itself onto our daily lives), the 1979 that I like to remember is the one where Zero Hour paved the way for the more garage-influenced side of punk rock and the rise of the Plimsouls to a national awareness.


The Plimsouls and their injection of old skool garage really helped make underground music fun again. In the punk rock world, hardcore was growing and while that took punk to a whole other level, and kept it fresh for many, it made concert-going just too rough for me. The Masque had closed and re-opened, venues were getting raided, closing, moving...there was that police violence that we remember as the Elks Lodge Riot -- our little thing was having growing pains.

belinda in crowd
Belinda Carlisle in the Dickies audience, 1978, The Starwood

If I remember correctly, The Go Go's were the only band to be able to play their whole set at the Elks Lodge gig that turned into the Elks Lodge Riot of 1979. To the mainstream, it may have appeared that the Go Go's came out of nowhere with their Beauty and the Beat album and catchy Our Lips Are Sealed single, but in the Golden Years, those girls were bonafide punk rockers on stage and off.

Like Blondie before them, The Go Go's were able to leverage their all new twist on being a girl group and take their punk platinum.

Innovators, all... I just always like to remember where it started... "it" being a teenage culture of rock n roll... "it" being never having to grow up...

chuck berry 1979
Chuck Berry

The following message about the Sex Pistols is lifted directly from the NME, which you can read for yourself if you feel like clicking this:

Punk icons the Sex Pistols are set to play London's Hammersmith Apollo later this year.

The band will perform at the venue for the first time in their history on September 2, 30 years after their lead singer, John Lydon, was apparently banned from the venue.

The venue is also allegedly where Steve Jones acquired some of his guitars during David Bowie's 'farewell' performance as Ziggy Stardust in 1973.

Tickets go on sale Monday (June 16).

To check the availability of Sex Pistols tickets and get all the latest listings, go to NME.COM/GIGS now, or call 0871 230 1094.

Sex Pistols

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