Chapter 4

Punk Rock & the NWOBHW

The Third Wave, spanning years 1975 to 1982


Inspired by American acts like Blue Öyster Cult, Patti Smith, The Ramones and other American bands, a new wave of music lashed back from the British Isles. The prime instigator became the Sex Pistols, whose anarchistic tendencies and sheer lack of respect for any authority defined a new mind-set in underground music.

Why this new change? The seventies had been a time of growth in the music industry, and while some artists became superstars, most were once again shafted into the darkness of the Underground music scene. Record companies were making billions of dollars because people were buying more records than ever. It was the Industrial Age of Music.

Along with this success, there was a basic failure to meet young people's need for a new style of music. The years would soon approach the turn of the millennium, and everyone had to deal with the problems of the new "Modern World". The pace of life had become much faster, and with the growing influence of computers in everyday life, this also meant there was an underlying sense of dehumanization. The fuckin' record labels that relied on mass-production and automation were totally intent on making money and fitting into the format of commercial radio play, forget about producing music that really represented the age. So "punk rockers" created another revolution in the Underground music culture.

One of the first signs of the new change was the birth of independent record labels across the globe. Smaller business were now able to release Underground music in limited supplies. In San Francisco, Jello Biafra's label Alternative Tentacles produced the very influential Dead Kennedys records. As did Ralph records with their "Buy or Die" slogan that was intended to mock the cut-throat nature of the big, corporate record companies. They produced groups including the Residents and Snakefinger. Much of this music was considered N.S.F.A.P. (Not Safe for Air Play) and could only be heard late night on Underground college radio. KUSF was a prime example, because this San Francisco station played punk music regardless of adherence to FCC standards. For the first time, you could hear fuck, shit, cock, cunt and all kinds of "illegal" words over mass media!

That was a big thing with punks. No longer would they adhere to the rules. They were out to express themselves and say a big FUCK YOU to whoever they wanted! Freedom of speech is crucial to music, and punks decided to speak up for all kinds of freedoms. Song lyrics addressed sexual and violence issues. There was also a huge resurgence of anarchist credo, much like in the sixties. But this time punks were not happy with being stand-off-ish like the hippies had become. Now they wore leather and chains and pierced their skin. A lot of this was inspired by bands like KISS, Judas Priest, the Tubes and Alice Cooper. Long hair did not mean you were a rocker anymore, so many punks shaved all their hair off. Actually, it might have been because of the lice! Some hardcore punks lived alternate lifestyles in squats and under poor conditions, since they chose to rebuke the "System". The very idea of the rock star was odious to hardcore punks. They wanted to be who they were, no standards, no bull-shit, no poseurs! And they weren't afraid to show they were smarter than the norm either.

Sexual freedom was a major concern during this period, and punks were ready to reveal themselves. The New York Dolls were a prime example, as they wore make-up and tight clothes and had long hair; but they played harder music than the people who put them down for their antics and style of dressing. They inspired a lot of the glam Metal bands that would come out in the eighties, like Mötley Crue. And their sound was raunchy and raw again, like the hard rock and blues from the fifties had been. The idea was to bring it back to the roots and keep the shit real!

There was a lot of this going down in the New York Underground. The Ramones, Patti Smith and Jayne County "were real frontiers people in the NYC punk scene". Lou Reed, David Bowie and Iggy Pop sang about and acted out issues of cross-dressing and gender. Some Underground punk 'zines revealed self-mutilation, sexual perversion, prostitution and bestiality.

On the West Coast, Punk Globe magazine (self-published by White Trash Debutante singer Ginger Coyote) was a prominent force in promoting local, heretofore unheard of bands, like the Dicks. Nothing was sacred and people needed to know the truth! Jail and incarceration was also a topic. Punks who had dealings with the legal system were ready to tell people to defy authority and reclaim their civil rights!

Punks were sick of the lame-ass, watered-down crap that had become the mainstay of commercial radio. Where was the truly cool shit that made people really listen? It could only be found on Underground radio, mostly college radio. There were also small, underground record stores that carried imports and independent label records. Until later in the eighties, you couldn't find any of it at the Wherehouse or Tower records! Punks wanted music with more bite to it: faster, harder, heavier, shit to crank real loud! Not what the chicks wanna' hear 'cuz they don't like KISS!

Eventually some punk-based music made it onto commercial radio, only because it had become too popular to deny any longer. "Mama's alright, Daddy's alright, they're both just a little weird!" -- lyrics of Cheap Trick. The Police made it on with their hit "Roxanne", a song about platonic love for a hooker. Occasionally Alice Cooper was there to remind us of teenage angst and the results of alcoholism. His make-up and theatrics were main inspirations for Marilyn Manson, who would appear more than a decade later.

While many punks were ready to sing drinking songs, there was also a trend to turn away from drug and alcohol abuse. Since the punk movement was different than what happened in the sixties, many punks chose to remain more in control of their senses. The term "straight-edge" was born. Still, a lot of punks relied strongly on alcohol and cigarettes. Some were into speed and some into H. Not much for designer drugs yet. It was a general preference for aggression and aggressive action. Fucking and fighting were major topics.

On the flip side, reggae was becoming more popular and you had Bob Marley decrying "Legalize it!" and spawning an entire generation of followers. Basically, things that were not accepted in music before had now come to the forefront of the music industry, because people wanted to hear everything! And thanks to the indie labels, now it was possible. Ska was born.

Multitudes of punk bands came and went, some a flash-in-the-pan, and others more enduring. From England, X-Ray Spex surprised people with the combination of hard punk music, a female vocalist, and a sax player. (FEAR had a lot to say about that: "New York's alright,... if you like saxophones!") There were a lot more female vocalists on the scene now, because punk also allowed the women to break into what had previously been a male-dominated market. Welcome Blondie, the Pretenders, Penetration, Siouxie and the Banshees, the Slits, the Avengers, the Vktms, the Offs, the Nuns, and the Plasmatics, whose Wendy Williams was pictured and performed topless, with only a couple strips of electrical tape over her nipples, while wielding a chainsaw!

The Los Angeles punk scene was prolific, generating such bands as X (with Ray Manzarek, formerly of the Doors on keyboards), the Germs, Black Flag and T.S.O.L. (True Sounds of Liberty). In the San Francisco Bay Area, Faith No More was born, as was DRI. From England, The Crass (No, not the Clash!) emerged, started their own record label, and stood for peace, anarchy and freedom. Their sound, like much punk music, was stripped-down and relentless--no over-production here, keep it raw! Just about anybody could become a punk and play punk music, so music was fun again!

Some punk bands experimented with tape-loops and synthesizers, like Orchestral Metallists had done twenty years before. But now the music was grungier and unbound from the rules of "acceptable" music. "Noise" or Industrial music was born. A great example is Chrome, the mutual project of Helios Creed and Damon Edge. In Germany, there was Einsturzende Neubaten, which means "the destruction of new buildings".

Punk also changed the way people danced. It is said that Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols introduced pogo dancing, because he didn't know fuck about dancing and used to jump up and down at shows, like a pogo stick! Slam-dancing came next, where the movement went from vertical to horizontal and the idea was to smash into everyone on the dance floor and hope you didn't get kicked out of the club! To the ordinary onlooker, it appeared this kind of dancing was out of control and violent. Pretty soon slamming became more organized, moshing was born, and the idea of the Pit came into play.

When punk rock was done infecting the industry, Metal music now had an ideal foothold to further its cause. Punk iconoclasts had cleared the slate and left the playing field wide open again for Metal to rear its ugly head! Beginning in the early eighties, the NWOBHM, or New Wave Of British Heavy Metal was born. Early contenders were Iron Maiden (whose album covers featured a corpse-like mascot named "Eddie"), Saxon, Angelwitch, and Samson. With the old restrictions removed, musicians everywhere could delve into new worlds of sounds, beats, words and subject matter. And what they produced next reached out from the bowels of the pit!

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