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
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
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.