The punk movement is remembered loathsomely in some quarters for its iconic angry barks from youths in revolt, draped in rattling chains and safety pins, which ironically became something of a uniform in the ’70s. Beyond the edgy exterior and at the rotten roots of punk subculture lay an archetype of social deviance, fuelled by vice and visions of anarchist bedlam. These themes gained traction most overtly through UK punk outfits from the ’70s, but they were birthed from the proto-punk groups that were kicking around in the mid to late ’60s.
The political disillusionment of the late ’60s propelled a fundamental lack of faith in institutions and the rules of antecedent generations, laying the groundwork for an anarchic turn through swathes of youth culture. From 1965-70, notions of social and political disengagement began to infuse the counter culture with a sinister potency, as chaotic daggers of sound punctured the music of the era, stripping garage rock from its meditative psychedelia and paisley print shirts, replacing them with an cynical rage and beaten leather jackets.
The inception of the short, fast and loud nature of punk would emerge musically from experimental tracks by groups such as Count Five, whose 1966 single ‘Psychotic Reaction’ meddled with intensified tempos, lawless overlays of instrumental components, and the unmistakable barbarity which grips front man John Byrne’s vocals like rusted barbed wire. Other American groups like The Sonics and The Music Machine were producing a similar sound, with the fuzzy hums of blown-out amps chopped with the razor growls of vocalists Gerry Roslie and Sean Bonniwell. The Sonics espoused a crude and fervent sound which engendered the proto-punk soundscape most notably in their track ‘Have Love Will Travel’.
The general mood of unapologetic rebellion, not to mention the post World War II youth explosion propelled proto-punk conceptions of youth self-assuredness, with even typical rock groups, such as The Who, proclaiming the shifting identity of adolescence in their track ‘My Generation’.
In the early phases of proto-punk, The Seeds were producing songs which generally lacked the musical complexity or variance which psych rock had been exploring. Their number ‘Pushin’ Too Hard’ is planted upon the repetitive plucking of the same two notes throughout, but presented a pivotal moment in the proto-punk attitude, as they began to submerge themselves in the rudimentary phases of a brazen genre, and serve their findings as an intrepid tonic to indulge the angst of youth. Punks’ lack of deference to idols and elders in terms of political faith also extended to musical deference – anyone who could learn a few jagged chords could contribute to the city soundscape.
In terms of shaping the punk image, MC5, The Kinks, and The Stooges were arguably the most influential groups from our ’65-70 bracket. The Kinks’ 1966 release ‘All Day and All of the Night’ has a somewhat typical garage rock sound, though incorporates a heavy hook recurring throughout the track, exploring the three-chord genre, alongside a forceful attitude of effortless coolness. MC5’s song ‘Kick out the Jams’ doused fuel over the fires of agitated sounds and attitudes in the emerging movement, spouting a sound which would inevitably induce the pin-jumping punk-rock slam-dancing (which came to be known as moshing), and consequently increasing the demand for steel cap boots.
In 1969, the Stooges released their first self-titled LP, with number ‘I Wanna Be your Dog’ searing with abrasive attitude which antagonised the daisy chain edifice of rock. Vocalist Iggy Pop was influenced by the stage presence of those such as Jim Morrison and Pete Townshend, mixing their unruly personas with his own band’s experimental sound to form a musical and social vision which was angry rather than hopeful. Their LPs meddled in the tonal aspects of industrialised cityscapes and the social life therein, rather than the interior world of hippiedom. In fact Iggy Pop considered his greatest contribution to music as dispatching the last remnants of the hippy scene.
The fearless, the moody, and the sometimes (most times) whingy mood of punk was cultivated most notably by groups such as The Velvet Underground. The droning rawness of Reed’s voice, accompanied by somewhat orderless and overpowering instrumental components captured a sound which was polarising and often balancing precariously along a fine line of brilliance and atrocity, eventually collapsing the barrier between the two, and brewing the proto-punk algorithm of chaos. Underground’s nauseating number ‘Heroin’ hurled itself into a realm of aural vice and narcosis, with steady riffs drowning in monotonous groans and intensifying tempos. The group alienated the psych-rock hippies of the late 60s, making a sharp divergence into uncharted and derided realms.
By 1970, the proto-punk image had transformed itself into an agitated bundle of leathery nihilism and unpredictable chaos in MC5’s LP ‘Back in the USA’, as well as The Stooges’ ‘Funhouse’. Both bands played an integral role in the evolution of punk ideology, with anarchic notions of genre rebellion set to expand beyond the music, infiltrating various aspects of social and gender expectations throughout the ’70s as punk-rock began to grip and shake the UK, USA and Australia with turbulent intensity.