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What is Punk Rock?

Amy Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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While the world was dancing the hustle and singing along with ABBA, little groups of rebels, some calling themselves the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and the Clash, were shaking things up in their respective regions with something they called rock and roll, but the rock writers called "punk rock."

Punk rock was the antithesis of all that was popular. It was fast, stripped-down, machine gun music that stormed in, shot up the place and left just as suddenly. The songs were usually brief and had confrontational, provoking lyrics. The music took on the themes of establishment, politics, hopelessness, and angst so common in the grunge music that would come along about 15 years later, but it made it sound like these people wanted to change the world.

In 1977, punk rock went nationwide in England, although it had already sneaked into the United States via The Ramones' first album in 1975. The music stayed somewhat in the background in the U.S. for several more years, whereas in Britain, it became almost mainstream. When The Clash released London Calling in 1979, they had enjoyed a couple of years of fame in Great Britain, and their Combat Rock album of 1982, with "Rock The Casbah," made it to the charts in the U.S.

Most punk bands didn't go very far, but the ones that did, such as the aforementioned three groups, had a huge impact on the music of their times. Disco died once punk really came into town, and the stage was set for the New Wave bands of the early 1980s.

Looking at the genre decades later, a rock historian can see many musical trends in their infancy. The garage-band sounds of punk influenced grunge, while the experimental side influenced bands like Duran Duran to take some chances with instrumentation. Women in punk roused a new wave of girl groups — even bands like Courtney Love's Hole, or Babes in Toyland.

Some punk rock even sounds a little tame these days, considering the death metal and speed metal that have come after it. There were dozens of punk groups that realized only regional fame, but they changed the tastes of listeners who were tired of slick, sunny, over-produced pop.

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Amy Pollick
By Amy Pollick , Former Writer
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at Musical Expert. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.

Discussion Comments

By anon310378 — On Dec 22, 2012

Punk is about being yourself, doing what you want without being a jerk to others, and standing up for yourself. Just because I dress like a normal guy doesn't mean I'm any less punk than some dude with a mohawk and studded jacket.

Punk is also about equality for others. Are you ticked off at society's problems? Do you like the genre? Then guess what? You're a punk. You don't have to know jack about punk if you want punk friends -- just be honest and let someone who knows it show you what it's about. When you're habitually not being yourself, that's when you start chasing those people away.

By Monkeyfist — On Sep 14, 2012

Seriously guy? Let it go. When you're wrong, you're just wrong sometimes. As long as it took you to form a rebuttal, I am more than a little disappointed in the content, to be honest.

Who are you to make a judgment call on what a "True Punk Rocker" is? The statement defeats itself, because if you have to prove it, you're probably faking it. And that would also give the assumption that you had your finger on the pulse of a scene that I have some serious doubts you know or knew much about.

Calling acts like The Clash sell outs is in itself doing just the same as the accusation. Get off the band wagon and make some decisions for yourself, instead of grabbing at the strands of someone else's opinions.

By anon291138 — On Sep 12, 2012

Although I see certain "punk" aspects in the work of Debbie Harry and Blondie, I am not 100 percent convinced that "punk" or "punk rock" fits their ouvere. Consider the rap sequence in "Rapture" which was released in 1981!

By anon267626 — On May 10, 2012

In my opinion, the Ramones may have started punk rock but thet didn't perfect it. I prefer Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. it's a good thing they're all still alive. I wish it was the same for the Ramones.

By anon244062 — On Jan 30, 2012

Petty bourgeois idealism, served up via the medium of garage rock music?

By anon87605 — On May 31, 2010

agreed. the Ramones were the godfathers of punk. RIP Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny.

By anon85017 — On May 18, 2010

the fact that you are debating whether it was punk or not makes you sound stupid. "'The sex pistols started punk. No the Ramones did!' Who cares who started it? All i know is it rocks! - SLC Punk!

By Monkeyfist — On Feb 25, 2010

The Clash were legends, not sell outs. If you bothered to listen to Rock the Casbah, the lyrics. It's a smite that slipped through the censors.

Emo? Don't ever compare that overprivileged, whitney, domesticated, generic, pathetic music to punk rock. You can't decide, let me do it for you. Punk doesn't want you!

Punk isn't about how you got messed with in high school, or how you can't be perfect for your parents, or wearing clothes from Hot Topic, or eating what the radio and the media is cramming down your throat.

It's the opposite of all of that. Its about what you did about it, not "Poor me, I'm so depressed about my mediocre life." Take your life under your control, make your own moves, statements, whatever. Nothing is punk rock about Panic at the Disco, 30 Seconds to Mars, My Chem, or Simple Plan or any of that packaged rebellion they are selling now. (By packaged rebellion I mean that most of those bands are hired guns. They spin a back story about them, run it through the media grinder, and put these guys on tour. They are all musicians that are put together by a label to generate money. Half of them didn't even know each other prior to becoming a band.)

The Clash broke through the media, so did The Ramones, Blondie, The Talking Heads, The Sex Pistols, GBH, and a slew of bands from that era. If it wasn't for bands like that you wouldn't have half of the bands that were directly influenced by them. Does that make them all sell outs?

Please tell anyone left from that era they aren't punk rock, and I can surely say with the utmost confidence you'll be receiving a waffle stomper up your backside.

Blondie wrote the Tide is High, a reggae tune, that charted. Still, Debra Harry carries more respect than any of you or myself in the punk community I can guarantee you.

Look into the bands that started this, and what they were about. Everything then was either Progressive rock, Disco or pop. Metal was in the same boat, and the media tried to push that to the side, too. None of it worked. Why? Because Punk and metal aren't designs created by anyone individual to make money.

They were a bunch of ticked off people, who were tired of the run of the mill junk they were being pedaled. So they did it themselves, and made their own rules for music, life, work, and society.

Read some stuff Rollins wrote, or Biafra, or Ian Mackay. Listen to those bands from then. Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Jody Fosters Army, Suicidal Tendencies, Dead Kennedys, D.R.I., Sick Of It All, Black Flag, Agnostic Front.

Even some of the more recent stuff like Bad Religion (who really have been around a long time, and aren't all that recent, but they are still making awesome music), Pennywise, NOFX, Anti-Flag, Rise Against, No Use For a Name, The Bouncing Souls, Lagwagon, Downset. The guys on the DIY (Do It Yourself) tours, that work outside of radio, television, and regular media.

And think or do some research before you go calling a band that influenced most of the music you claim you listen to sell outs.

By anon32130 — On May 16, 2009

of course it hit the major charts in the us, cause hardly any punk albums are mainstream. the clash went way down hill, and i don't morn them doing so, because what comes up must go down. by falling others picked up little pieces, and built their own puzzles. i think the clash were just like the ones of the first wheels made by caveman.

then again what do i know. i'm the one who can't decide between punk/emo scene, and end up being labeled goth. ha. i find life hilarious the way people treat you like soup cans. ohh well.

By anon21498 — On Nov 17, 2008

Yes, I've heard "Rock the Casbah." I was in high school when it charted. It's impossible to cover every permutation of attitudes in an article of this scope.

By anon21030 — On Nov 09, 2008

Okay, the Clash was early punk, but when they release "Rock The Casbah" they were considered to have sold out. True punk rockers gave them up and thought they had really blown it. Have you heard this song? It's New Wave, not punk, and slick, overproduced and problematic if you describe it as punk.

It was impossible to ignore how much this song, and others on the album were absolutely not punk.

Amy Pollick

Amy Pollick

Former Writer

Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at Musical Expert....
Learn more
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