Some Important Proto Punk Records

I wrote this a year ago after a shit ton of people criticized our list of the greatest punk records. I don’t really think it’s finished – I have a whole list of bands ranging from Them and the Velvets to ? and the Mysterians and the Stooges – but here’s what I have right now. No need for this to sit on my computer, right?

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T Rex – Electric Warrior (1971)

This is arguably one of the sexiest records of all time, so it’s probably strange I associate most of the record with my childhood. I remember being a kid, hearing this record in my parents’ car, bouncing along to the pumping bass lines and grooving guitar. I guess that says more about my parents than me, though, right? Dripping with glam and only made better with Marc Bolan’s crooning, this record is the shining star of the UK glam rock scene. This album, to this day, does not sound dated and is always just as fresh as the first time you hear it. Beginning with the sultry “Mambo Sun,” Bolan’s voice immediately seduces you with an enrapturing conglomeration of rock n roll and blues. “Cosmic Dancer” is another gem of a song, replacing electric guitar in favor of a steady acoustic and string arrangement, sugarcoated with Bolan’s vox. Other favorites include “Jeepster” (a poppy, sex driven love song), “Life’s A Gas” (a cynical ballad), and of course, the hit, “Bang a Gong (Get It On).” This one of the best glam songs ever written, a dirty, sexy number. Overall, the album is extremely seminal to the glam movement, along with its follow up, The Slider.

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New York Dolls – New York Dolls (1973)

This record is essential to any collection – a driving force of rock n roll and glam, it’s no wonder so many bands tried to copy them. The New York Dolls were far ahead of their time, compiled of now-legends David Johansen, Johnny Thunders, Sylvain Sylvain, Arthur “Killer” Kane, and Jerry Nolan. The album is only aided by the producer, Todd Rundgren, a hero in his own rite. The band, though, were pioneers of androgyny, along with Bowie and Marc Bolan – a bunch of straight dudes not afraid to wear makeup and platform heels in a time where this was extremely taboo. Kicking off with “Personality Crisis,” the album grabs you right by the balls and refuses to let go. Johansen’s wail overdubs Johnny Thunder’s signature guitar, and the two both contribute to the catchy chorus. Next up is “Looking For a Kiss,” which begins with a line ripped from the Shangri-Las (“when I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in love, L-U-V”). This is a dark sounding rock n’ roll number that almost breaches on swamp rock. The album careens to a halt with “Jet Boy,” a danceable track about having a dude steal your girl. Other highlights include “Trash” – featuring repetitive verses and a rhythm riff that catches you. This is another song referencing another band (Mikey & Sylvia – “Love Is Strange” – “how do you call your lover boy?”) and Johnny’s wailing of “traaaaash” is the icing on the cake for this song. There’s also “Pills,” a Bo Diddley cover they do insane justice to. It’s dripping in the blues, with harmonica, gang vocal choruses, and swampy guitar riffs. Overall, the album is incredible – full of some of the greatest guitar solos and the trashiest lyrics of the early 70s.

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Television – Marquee Moon (1977)

Television were, almost without a doubt, one of the most talented bands of their time. The same period that the Ramones were struggling to learn how to play their instruments, Tom Verlaine and co. created a masterpiece. With the collective force of Verlaine’s and Richard Lloyd’s elaborate guitar knowledge,  this record shows an advancement few bands of their time had. The dueling guitars create a unique sound that’s influenced by garage rock while showing an obvious progression from the 60s standard. Rounding off with Fred Smith and Billy Ficca’s steady, jazz infused rhythm section, this album becomes one of the most important records of its time. “See No Evil” starts off the album with a blaring power chord followed by a constant, steady riff by Lloyd, who follows up later with an insane solo. The chorus of the song is iconic with back and forth vocals, before ultimately ending with Verlaine wailing “I see/I see no/evil.” Then comes “Venus,” a slower, melodic track heavy with Verlaine’s guitar. The title track is a masterpiece on its own, clocking in at a whopping ten and a half minutes. It contains an almost dark element to it, but is overall a beautiful creation, albeit longwinded. This song definitely showcases the talent of the two guitarists’ the most. The remainder of the album is incredible, “Guiding Light” stands out the most to me. While not as in-your-face as the rest of the album, this is definitely the “prettiest” song on the record. To reiterate, this album is completely different from the other records that were released in New York in ’77, but that does not decrease its value or talent at all. Television were likely the most talented band in that time period, and this album showcases that.

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The Stooges – The Stooges (1969)

[Sorry, mom and dad – you may want to skip over this] You know how in the previous article I mentioned Young, Loud, and Snotty as one of the best albums to fuck to? Well, The Stooges almost rivals that. I remember the first time I fucked to this album, we were making out to “1969,” foreplay began with “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” and we fucked during the droning hurricane that was “We Will Fall.” While that may seem beside the point, this album is nearly as sexy as Electric Warrior while not being blatantly so. Regardless, this album is clearly influenced by the Stones and garage acts of the time, but there’s a certain something that gave it a new sound compared to the Stooges’ contemporaries. Maybe it’s the dirtiness, maybe it’s the fact that Iggy Pop was this novelty character, perhaps the first “punk” kid of his time – but this album definitely showed an evolution of music of the time. “1969,” the first track, is funky without being cheesy. It’s almost reminiscent of The Doors’ “Break On Through (To The Other Side)” with the bluesy rhythm section and fuzzy guitar. “I Wanna Be Your Dog” is probably one of the Stooges’ more famous songs, and deservingly so. It’s about wanting to be with someone so bad you’d be their slave. It’s slow and steady while maintaining the listener’s interest. Then there’s “No Fun,” heavy on the blues influence, with Iggy’s simplistic lyrics overdubbing a dirty guitar riff from Ron Asheton and steady drums from his brother Ron (who later went on to play in Sonic’s Rendezvous Band). While maybe not as progressive as 1970’s Funhouse, the Stooges’ self-titled record put them on the map as one of the earliest proto-punk bands.

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The Equals – Selected Tracks

Y’know, a lot of bands around this time are difficult to write about. With our list of punk records, we got a lot of shit for including compilations but it’s almost impossible to avoid those with the bands of the 60s that were constantly releasing singles. With that in mind, I tried to figure out the most definitive comp by the Equals, one of my favorite bands. Even the two I own (Equals’ Greatest Hits, 1970, and Viva The Equals, 1969) don’t have all of my favorite songs. That being said, I figured I’d cheat the system, piss off a lot of people, and just write about my favorite songs. First up, and most important to me, is “Viva Bobby Joe,” insanely upbeat and catchy, with a repetitive chorus. It’s got a poppy hook with R&B bass lines that make you wanna dance. “Baby Come Back” and “Softly, Softly” are both relatively similar in composition, beginning with Eddy Grant’s guitar intros (“Softly, Softly” almost is reminiscent of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”) going into thumping bass riffs. Another one of my favorites, “Help Me Simone,” is a poppy, driving song with infectuous backup vocals and choruses. And of course, since this is a proto-punk roundup, I gotta mention “Police On My Back,” later covered by The Clash on Sandinista! Obviously, it’s considerably more toned down into a more roots influenced sound versus the Clash’s piercing punk version. It’s just as catchy, though – with Derv Gordon crooning “what have I done?” after the chorus. Other notable songs include “Rub A Dub Dub,” “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys,” and “I Get So Excited.” I mean, the list goes on, but with such a prolific band as the Equals, it’s really something the listener should pursue on their own. It’s also fair to note that this was Eddy Grant’s first band, but they deserve way more credit than just that.

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Talking Heads – 77 (1977)

Though born in CBGBs the same time as bands like The Ramones and The Dead Boys, the Talking Heads have a distinctly different sound. 77 is poppy and draws a definite influence from 60s motown and soul, but paved the way for the New York art rock scene that would follow. The record kicks right in with “Uh Oh Love Comes To Town,” a wild combination of the funky rhythm section (thanks to Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth) and the high pitched wails of ultimate weirdo David Byrne. It’s also very heavy on synths, thanks to Jerry Harrison. This theme continues on throughout the rest of the album. “Tentative Decisions” is heavily dependent on a military drumbeat and Byrne’s vocals, which are all over the place in this song – low, high, squealing, almost moaning. “Happy Day” sounds exactly as it should – a sweet, lulling track, with Byrne crooning and almost yelping at times. Of course, there’s the hit, “Psycho Killer.” Kicking off with Weymouth’s bass, the track pulses with vibrancy. The chorus is catchy and the addition of French lyrics really are what make the track. Other standouts include “The Book I Read” and the wild closer, “Pulled Up,” an exhilarating adventure exemplifying Byrne’s vocal range perfectly. While some of their later releases may show their maturity, the simplistic rawness of 77 makes it one of the most important early punk records.

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The Who – My Generation (1965)

The Who? On a list of albums that influenced the shape of punk to come (I got Bad Jokes™)? The Who are some of the most iconic mod rockers, going on to influence bands like The Jam, Eddie and the Hot Rods, and others. They had the punk attitude that would be retained throughout the 70s as pissed off kids declaring “I hope I die before I get old.” With wild child Keith Moon on drums, John Entwistle on bass, legendary Pete Townshend on guitar, and Roger Daltry crooning over them, this record is a mod classic. They were truly a progressive band – “My Generation” has been credited as one of the earliest punk songs and “The Kids are Alright” was what helped define the genre of power pop. “Out In The Street” opens the record, an explosive blues rocker. The title track truly encapsulates teen angst, and may be one of the first rock n’ roll songs to do that. It’s a pummeling track, extremely advanced for the 60s. Following that is “The Kids Are Alright,” a slight juxtaposition from the previous song without being any less important. As mentioned, it helped defined power pop, with poppy hooks and harmonizing vocals. The closing track, “The Ox,” is full of blistering drum solos overlain with surf soaked guitar riffs and synthy keys. The album also includes two James Brown covers (“Please, Please, Please” and “I Don’t Mind”) along with a Bo Diddley track (“I’m A Man”) that do incredible justice to the original versions.

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Eddie and the Hot Rods – Teenage Depression (1976)

A driving record with some rockabilly undertones, Teenage Depression is one of the earliest records to breach into punk. They were definitely a pub rock band, but the Hot Rods were progressive. Breaching into both 60s influenced R&B and testing the waters with their punk swagger, the record still holds up 40 years later. Kicking off with an almost surfy track, “Get Across To You,” the album immediately sets itself apart from other records released the same era. The next song, “Why Can’t It Be?” is a poppier track laden with heavy bass lines behind the chords and vocals. The title tack is also the standout track, chugging along with angsty lyrics. “Teenage Depression” is right up there with songs like “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” (Ramones), “Janie Jones” (The Clash), and “Seventeen” (Sex Pistols). The album also features a sneering cover of The Who’s “The Kids Are Alright,” a wild, coked up version of “Shake” by Sam Cooke, and sped up version of Joe Tex’s “Show Me.” These covers all make sense as the album fuses R&B with rock n roll and all have attitude.

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Modern Lovers – Modern Lovers (1976)

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6! Here’s another album from my childhood, when I’d make my mom sit in the car with me after we got home so we could finish “Roadrunner” before we went inside. Produced by John Cale, this album does show some Velvet Underground influence while maintaining originality. There’s also some similarities with the Doors’ debut in the keys that are reminiscent of Ray Manzarek’s at times. There’s also a hint of the Stooges in the mix, but more toned down. The first song, “Roadrunner,” is one of the best proto-punk songs of all time, immediately capturing you in catchy hooks and synthed up rhythm. Most of the rest of the album is a little more simplistic, with “Old World” featuring Jonathan Richman crooning about being jaded but missing being a kid. “Pablo Picasso” is a sarcastic take on the painter’s life, discussing his womanizing ways instead of focusing on his art. “Girlfriend” might be the most Velvet-infused song, with Richman pleading for a girl over pretty chord progressions that would fit right in with songs on the Velvets’ self titled or White Light/White Heat.

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Slade – Sladest (1973)

Honestly, Slayed? is my favorite record by glam rockers Slade, but it would be unfair to leave out one of their most important songs, “Cum On Feel The Noize,” so here’s another compilation. A little harder than T. Rex, Slade’s brand of glam went onto influence the genre heavily. The Runaways went on to cover them, and Quiet Riot’s success can be thanked to their Slade covers. With their elaborate costumes and sneering tracks, they were the genre’s original weirdos. Sladest is a definitive compilation, featuring all of the band’s most influential songs. The comp begins with “Cum On Feel The Noize” – definitely their biggest hit, with Noddy Holder’s screech over hard rock riffs. This song is iconic, but Slade often don’t get credit for writing it as it was made famous later by Quiet Riot. Second up is “Look Wot You Dun,” is slower and angrier, heavy on the keys with a stompin’ drumbeat and harmonizing vocals on the chorus. “Gudbye T’Jane” is another favorite, with Noddy Holder’s wailing vocals and a repetitive, driving guitar riff. “Mama Weer All Crazee Now,” another classic, rounds off the album. The whole collection is incredible, and showcases the band’s talent perfectly.

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Crime – Hot Wire My Heart/Baby You’re So Repulsive (1976)

While this is only a single, the band is clearly straddling the barrier of proto-punk of bands like The Stooges and the future of punk. The band formed in 1969, playing garage rock covers for the most part. This San Francisco punk band released this 7″ right on the cusp of the release of The Ramones, but it strays distinctively from the three powerchord rock that Joey’d sing over. Crime come from the same scene that would eventually spawn bands like Dead Kennedys, The Avengers, The Nuns, and others. The 7″ is gritty and oozes the influence of bands like MC5 and The Stooges but shows a definite advancement. “Hot Wire My Heart” is sludgier and more Detroit influenced than “Baby You’re So Repulsive,” a track that sounds like the Dead Boys slowed down. Johnny Strike spits out the vocals with disdain, over minimalistic solos and slamming drums. Crime were also notable for dressing up as police officers onstage when they played.

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The Kinks – Something Else by The Kinks (1967)

Where would a list of proto-punk records be without The Kinks? Where would punk be without the Kinks? “Lola” was one of the first songs to discuss gender identity, even if it wasn’t necessarily politically correct, and has been covered numerous times by various artists. Bands such as The Plimsouls (“Come On Now”), The Jam (“David Watts”), and The Stranglers (“All The Day and All The Night”) have covered their songs. Even the Adolescents took on “All The Day…” while adding their snotty Cali hardcore twist. “You Really Got Me” is definitely an early demonstration of punk, with its choppy powerchords and blaring drums. Their influence is still present today in current bands. This is their fifth release, but showed the most advancement from their previous stereotypical British Invasion sound. It’s dripping in sarcasm and irony, taking a step away from the serious rock n roll heroes of the time. The opening track is “David Watts,” a pounding song with the catchiest of choruses. It’s an iconic mod track. “Death of a Clown” is soaked with the influence of Bob Dylan, sung by Dave Davies.

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Dictators – Go Girl Crazy (1975)

Another band born out of the budding New York punk scene, the Dictators’ rock n’ roll was harder than other bands at the time without being metal. There’s hints of a Black Sabbath influence, but they have a distinct sound that helped lay the groundwork for punk. It’s sarcastic, it’s snotty, it’s loud – fronted by “Handsome” Dick Manitoba, they were like nothing that had been heard before. Go Girl Crazy kicks off with one of Dick’s seemingly pretentious diatribes before going into “The Next Big Thing,” a hard rock opener. It almost touches on arena rock, but it’s sneeringly tongue in cheek. “Back To Africa” is all over the place, with verses that are soaked in roots influence before kicking into a fast paced chorus. Another great song is “Teengenerate,” a typical teen anthem that’s considerably more toned down than the rest of the album. It’s almost Dolls-esque, with harmonies and a trebly guitar riff. The album also has covers of “I Got You” and “California Sun,” which is a far surfier tornado than the Ramones version. Overall, the album is an audio attack of sarcasm and insane guitar solos.

 

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