Seminal groups of the Punk era

Those of us who are over the age of 55 don't even begin discussing punk without discussing the Sex Pistols, but surprisingly, few fans, even diehard punk fans, are able to tell you where the Sex Pistols got all of their ideas and who they immediately influenced. The punk era was more than just the Pistols and the Clash.

What's really interesting about the Sex Pistols, though, is where they began. Starting out as one of many other groups in working class London, they were known as The Strand. Their lineup was quite a bit different back then. Led by frontman Wally Nightingale, they were picked up by manager Malcolm McLaren.

McLaren immediately had Nightingale kicked out to be replaced by a young Johnny Lydon, soon to be known as Johnny Rotten. Lydon had been spotted by McLaren's assistant, Bernie Rhodes, and was asked to audition based on his look alone.

McLaren explained the ethos behind the group "Rock is fundamentally a young people's music, right? And a lot of kids feel cheated. They feel that the music's been taken away from them by that whole over-25 audience." It was McLaren, an over-25 businessman and musician, who developed the idea of rock and roll being for the kids again, wrestling it away from the aging millionaires who dominated the scene.

Where the group drew influence is another story. It wasn't any traditional rock and roll group that gave the Sex Pistols their ideas, it was Krautrock, a German music scene that wasn't actually all that influenced by rock. It was NEU!, who's song "Hero" formed the basis of "Nevermind the Bollocks" and became, more or less, the prototype of punk. Borrowing the sound of NEU! and the "We don't care if we suck" attitude of The Ramones, the Sex Pistols and Malcolm McLaren created the entire punk movement in the spirit of sincerity, in the spirit of art and in the spirit of commerce.

From there sprang The Clash, who were actually managed by Bernie Rhodes, the same man who had discovered Rotten while working as McLaren's assistant. Then came the American reaction to Britain's punk scene. Groups like The Misfits and Black Flag sprang up in the US without recording contracts or management, just groups of teenagers traveling with used equipment and barely enough money to eat.

In the UK and the US alike, punk splintered into almost infinite sub-genres. Joy Division created a gloomy sort of sound that eventually evolved into new wave, Billy Idol and Blondie crafted punk into a more marketable pop-punk hybrid, hardcore sprang from envelope pushers like GG Allin and rappers began sampling punk and pre-punk records, notably Kraftwerk, for whom Klaus Dinger of NEU! once served as drummer.

Drawing a line in the sand somewhere after proto-punk but before post-punk is difficult. Perhaps punk begins and ends with the Sex Pistols, as Johnny Rotten has suggested, or perhaps it's the very spirit of artistic rebellion we see in everyone from Chuck Berry to Picasso. Punk is a genre that stands against labels, and as such, it's almost impossible to define. 

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