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See also: garage rock and punk rock

Proto-punk (or protopunk) is the music from the early 1960s to mid-1970s that influenced punk rock. Typically, proto-punk artists are not always themselves classified as punk, and proto-punk is not a distinct music genre as it includes a wide range of musical backgrounds and styles, including much garage rock.

Numerous artists are commonly cited as some of the most noteworthy that would ultimately influence punk.[1][2][3][4] American examples include The Stooges, MC5, The Bobby Fuller Four, Dick Dale, The Seeds, David Peel, Blue Cheer, Count Five, The Sonics, Shadows of Knight, The Velvet Underground, The Doors, Alice Cooper, The Trashmen, Suicide, ? and the Mysterians, The Standells, Eddie Cochran, The Kingsmen, The Modern Lovers, New York Dolls, The Dictators, Lou Reed, Big Star, The Fugs, Television, Captain Beefheart, Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Rocket from the Tombs, Syndicate of Sound, The Music Machine and Love. Also included are German acts such as Ton Steine Scherben, Neu! and Can; Australian band Radio Birdman; and performers from the United Kingdom including The Who, The Kinks, The Troggs, The Animals, The Move, Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, David Bowie, T. Rex, Downliners Sect, Mott the Hoople, Roxy Music, Pretty Things, Eddie and The Hot Rods and Hawkwind.



File:Love's Da Capo lineup.png
Love's Da Capo lineup; September 1966.

Punk music, as a subgenre—indeed a wholly derived musical form of rock n' roll itself—can see a large degree of its generic elements traced back to early rhythm and blues, and further rockabilly groups. Jerry Lott's 1958 record "Love Me" (recorded under "The Phantom") can be seen as a precursor to the punk sound, indeed the very synthesis of what the punk sound is: a fast paced, frenetic rockabilly record which features Lott's ear-splitting, thunderous screaming vocals. In the early and mid-1960s, garage rock bands that came to be recognized as punk rock's progenitors began springing up in many different locations around North America. The Kingsmen, a garage band from Portland, Oregon, had a breakout hit with their 1963 cover of "Louie Louie", cited as "punk rock's defining ur-text".[5] The surf rock craze popularized and developed by Dick Dale and The Beach Boys, began to influence garage and later punk rock, with its lighter, twangier guitar tone.[6][7]

The minimalist sound of many garage rock bands was influenced by the harder-edged wing of the British Invasion. The Kinks' hit singles of 1964, "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night", have been described as "predecessors of the whole three-chord genre—the Ramones' 1978 'I Don't Want You', for instance, was pure Kinks-by-proxy".[8] In 1965, The Who quickly progressed from their debut single "I Can't Explain", a virtual Kinks clone, to "My Generation". Though it had little impact on the American charts, The Who's mod anthem presaged a more cerebral mix of musical ferocity and rebellious posture that characterized much early British punk rock: John Reed describes The Clash's emergence as a "tight ball of energy with both an image and rhetoric reminiscent of a young Pete Townshend—speed obsession, pop-art clothing, art school ambition".[9] The Who and fellow mods The Small Faces were among the few rock elders acknowledged by the Sex Pistols.[10] By 1966, mod was already in decline. U.S. garage rock began to lose steam within a couple of years, but the raw sound and outsider attitude of "garage psych" bands like The Seeds presaged the style of bands that would become known as the archetypal figures of proto-punk.[11] With garage leanings, Love's first two albums Love (1966) and in particular Da Capo (1967), began developing a proto-punk sound with songs such as "7 and 7 Is"; which happened to be their only hit single.[12][13] Love's Arthur Lee has been regarded by some[who?] as "the first punk rocker", though Lee wasn't flattered by the phrase because he thought the term punk meant "being somebody's bitch or something like that".[14]

Development in the US

In 1960 comes one of the first proto-punk bands, The Sonics. Following them was The Monks, formed in 1964 and consisting of American GIs stationed in Germany, who released one album, Black Monk Time, in 1966. In 1969, debut albums by two Michigan-based bands appeared that are commonly regarded as the central proto-punk records. In January, Detroit's MC5 released Kick Out the Jams. "Musically the group is intentionally crude and aggressively raw", wrote critic Lester Bangs in Rolling Stone.[15] That August, The Stooges, from Ann Arbor, premiered with their self-titled album. According to critic Greil Marcus, the band, led by singer Iggy Pop, created "the sound of Chuck Berry's Airmobile—after thieves stripped it for parts".[16] The album was produced by John Cale, a former member of New York's experimental rock group The Velvet Underground. Having earned a "reputation as the first underground rock band", The Velvet Underground inspired, directly or indirectly, many of those involved in the creation of punk rock.[17]

In the early 1970s, the New York Dolls updated the original wildness of 1950s rock 'n' roll in a fashion that later became known as glam punk.[18] The New York duo Suicide played sparse, experimental music with a confrontational stage act inspired by that of The Stooges. At the Coventry club in the New York City borough of Queens, The Dictators used rock as a vehicle for wise-ass attitude and humor.[19] In Boston, The Modern Lovers, led by Velvet Underground devotee Jonathan Richman, gained attention with a minimalistic style. In 1974, an updated garage rock scene began to coalesce around the newly opened Rathskeller club in Kenmore Square. Among the leading acts were the Real Kids, founded by former Modern Lover John Felice; Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band, whose frontman had been a member of the Velvet Underground for a few months in 1971; and Mickey Clean and the Mezz.[20][21][22][23] In 1974, as well, the Detroit band Death—made up of three African-American brothers—recorded "scorching blasts of feral ur-punk", but couldn't arrange a release deal.[24] In Ohio, a small but influential underground rock scene emerged, led by Devo in Akron and Kent and by Cleveland's The Electric Eels, Mirrors and Rocket from the Tombs. In 1975, Rocket from the Tombs split into Pere Ubu and Frankenstein. The Electric Eels and Mirrors both broke up, and The Styrenes emerged from the fallout.[25]

International development

Los Saicos out of Peru recorded one of the earliest proto-punk tracks in their 1965 track "Demolicion",[26] The UK's Deviants, in the late 1960s, played in a range of psychedelic styles with a satiric, anarchic edge and a penchant for situationist-style spectacle presaging the Sex Pistols by almost a decade.[27] In 1970, the act evolved into the Pink Fairies, which carried on in a similar vein.[28] With his Ziggy Stardust persona, David Bowie made artifice and exaggeration central—elements, again, that were picked up by the Sex Pistols and certain other punk acts.[29] The Doctors of Madness built on Bowie's presentation concepts, while moving musically in the direction that would become identified with punk. Bands in London's pub rock scene stripped the music back to its basics, playing hard, R&B-influenced rock 'n' roll. By 1974, the scene's top act, Dr. Feelgood, was paving the way for others such as The Stranglers and Cock Sparrer that would play a role in the punk explosion. Among the pub rock bands that formed that year was The 101'ers, whose lead singer would soon adopt the name Joe Strummer.[30]

Bands anticipating the forthcoming movement were appearing as far afield as Düsseldorf, West Germany, where "punk before punk" band NEU! formed in 1971, building on the krautrock tradition of groups such as Can.[31] Simply Saucer formed in Hamilton, Canada in 1973[32] and have been called "Canada's first proto-punk band",[33] blending garage rock, krautrock, psychedelia and other influences to produce a sound that was later described as having a "frequent punk snarl."[34] Considered one of the earliest proto-punk bands, Los Saicos from Lince, in Lima, Peru have been recently rediscovered by European labels[35] and remastered and edited in many countries. In 1964-1966 they recorded 6 singles and were very popular in Peru.

In Japan, the anti-establishment Zunō Keisatsu (Brain Police) mixed garage psych and folk. The combo regularly faced censorship challenges, their live act at least once including onstage masturbation.[36] A new generation of Australian garage rock bands, inspired mainly by The Stooges and MC5, was coming even closer to the sound that would soon be called "punk": in Brisbane, The Saints also recalled the raw live sound of the British Pretty Things, who had made a notorious tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1965.[37] Radio Birdman, cofounded by Detroit expatriate Deniz Tek in 1974, was playing gigs to a small but fanatical following in Sydney.

Punk rock

Main article: Punk rock

One of the earliest written uses of the term "punk rock" was by critic Dave Marsh who used it in 1970 to describe the group Question Mark & the Mysterians, who scored a major hit with their song "96 Tears".[38][39] Over the next few years, the term was used occasionally by certain rock critics to describe a number of American bands, mostly active in the mid-to-late '60s, playing music that today would be classified as garage rock: a ragged, highly energetic, often amateurish form of rock and roll.

In 1976 and 1977, punk rock became a worldwide phenomenon, with centers of activity in New York City, London, and Los Angeles;[citation needed] though pockets of similarly-minded musicians could be found worldwide.

In later years, historians and critics began exploring the roots of punk, and the term "proto-punk" was coined to describe early, pre-punk influences.[citation needed]


The term "proto-punk" is of uncertain origins, and has proven difficult to define, and many widely different groups have been so dubbed. Most had a certain attitude or appearance seen as important, as opposed to any specific musical tendencies. According to the Allmusic guide:

Proto-punk was never a cohesive movement, nor was there a readily identifiable proto-punk sound that made its artists seem related at the time. What ties proto-punk together is a certain provocative sensibility that didn't fit the prevailing counterculture of the time ... It was consciously subversive and fully aware of its outsider status ... In terms of its lasting influence, much proto-punk was primitive and stripped-down, even when it wasn't aggressive, and its production was usually just as unpolished. It also frequently dealt with taboo subject matter, depicting society's grimy underbelly in great detail, and venting alienation that was more intense and personal than ever before.[1]

Most musicians classified as proto-punk are rock and roll performers of the 1960s and early-1970s, with garage rock often cited as an influence. Some proto-punk bands, particularly in the United Kingdom, also fall into the categories of glam, pub, and prog rock (Roxy Music, for example, who straddled the line between glam and prog, and Peter Hammill, of Van der Graaf Generator, whose solo album Nadir's Big Chance was cited by John Lydon as an influence[40]).

Songs such as "Communication Breakdown" by Led Zeppelin,[41][42] "I'm Eighteen" by Alice Cooper,[43] The Rolling Stones' cover of Larry Williams' "She Said Yeah"[44] and "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath have been labeled proto-punk.[45][46]

Though of lesser importance, influence has come from outside rock and roll. Genres such as classical music, the avant garde, outsider music, reggae (especially influential on English punk), traditional Irish music (especially rebel songs) and free jazz influenced punk rock and later post-punk bands like Wire, Crass and Public Image Ltd. In an interview with Trackmarx, a punk and indie webzine, Penny Rimbaud of the anarcho-punk band Crass said that they were more influenced by classical composers Benjamin Britten, John Cage and the avant garde than rock 'n' roll.[47] This, however, does not make John Cage, for example, a proto-punk artist.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Proto-Punk | Significant Albums, Artists and Songs | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  2. Hebdige, D. (1979). Subculture, the Meaning of Style. London, England: Taylor & Francis. p. 25. 
  3. Moore, Jack B. (1993). Skinheads Shaved for Battle: A Cultural History of American Skinheads. Popular Press. p. 41. 
  4. Buckley 2003, p. 403, "The addition of Simon House (violin/keyboards) in 1974 mellowed the musical assault without damaging the fabric, but with proto-punk Lemmy on the bass the demands of heavy rock would always be satisfied."
  5. Sabin 1999, p. 157.
  6. "Surf | Significant Albums, Artists and Songs | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  7. Sabin, R. (1999). Punk Rock: So What? The Cultural Legacy of Punk. Routledge. p. 159. 
  8. Harrington 2002, p. 165.
  9. Reed 2005, p. 49.
  10. Fletcher 2000, p. 497.
  11. See Sabin (1999), p. 159.
  12. Schinder & Schwartz 2008, p. 263.
  13. Unterberger, Richie. "Da Capo – Love | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  14. Einarson 2010, p. 241.
  15. Bangs, Lester (5 April 1969). "[Kick Out the Jams review]". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  16. Marcus 1979, p. 294.
  17. Taylor 2003, p. 49.
  18. Harrington 2002, p. 538.
  19. Bessman 1993, pp. 9–10.
  20. Andersen & Jenkins 2001, p. 12.
  21. Vaughan, Robin (6 June 2003). "Reality Bites". Boston Phoenix. 
  22. Harvard, Joe. "Boston Rock Storybook. Mickey Clean and the Mezz". Boston Rock Storybook. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  23. Robbins, Ira. " :: Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band". Trouser Press. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  24. Rubin, Mike (12 March 2009). "Death Was Punk Before Punk –". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  25. Klimek, Jamie. "The Mirrors Story". Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  26. "Demolicion". 
  27. Ohtaka, Toshikazu; Akagawa, Yukiko. "Interview with Mick Farren". Strange Days (Japan). Archived from the original on May 8, 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-10. Soundwise, we wanted to be incredibly loud and violent! That says it all. The hippies wanted to be nice and gentle, but our style was the opposite of that peaceful, natural attitude. 
  28. Unterberger (1998), pp. 86–91.
  29. Laing (1985), pp. 24–26.
  30. Robb (2006), p. 51.
  31. Neate, Wilson. "NEU!". Trouser Press. Retrieved 2007-01-11. 
  33. saucer
  34. Sendra, Tim. "Cyborgs Revisited Review". Retrieved 2011-11-30. 
  35. Los Saicos,
  36. Anderson (2002), p. 588.
  37. Unterberger (2000), p. 18.
  38. Taylor 2003, p. 16.
  39. Woods, Scott. "A Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy Interview with Dave Marsh". Archived from the original on 18 August 2007. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  40. Lydon on Tommy Vance Show, Capital Radio, 16 July 1977
  41. Greg Kot. Led Zeppelin: Album Guide. Rolling Stone.
  42. Barney Hoskyns (2006), Led Zeppelin IV: Rock of Ages, Rodale, Inc., ISBN 1-59486-370-9.
  43. "I'm Eighteen"
  45. Paranoid, Black Sabbath
  46. "Paranoid"
  47. Penny Rimbaud talks about Fluxus and the hippie counterculture.

Further reading

  • Buckley, Peter, ed. (2003). The Rough Guide to Rock. London: Rough Guides. ISBN 1-85828-201-2. 
  • Einarson, John (1 May 2010). Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love. Jawbone. ISBN 1-906002-31-2. 
  • Schinder, Scott; Schwartz, Andy (2008). Icons of Rock: Elvis Presley; Ray Charles; Chuck Berry; Buddy Holly; The Beach Boys; James Brown; The Beatles; Bob Dylan; The Rolling Stones; The Who; The Byrds; Jimi Hendrix. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 0-313-33846-9. 
  • Unterberger, Richie (1999). Music USA: The Rough Guide. London: Rough Guides. ISBN 1-85828-421-X. 
  • Unterberger, Richie (2002). "British Punk". In Bogdanov, Vladimmir; Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. All Music Guide to Rock: The Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop, and Soul (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Backbeat. ISBN 0-87930-653-X. 
  • Taylor, Steven (2003). False Prophet: Field Notes from the Punk Underground. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 0-8195-6668-3. 
  • Taylor, Steve (2004). The A to X of Alternative Music. London and New York: Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-8217-1. 
  • Marcus, Greil, ed. (1979). Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-394-73827-6. 
  • Marcus, Greil (1989). Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, Mass. ISBN 0-674-53581-2. 
  • Reed, John (2005). Paul Weller: My Ever Changing Moods. London et al.: Omnibus Press. ISBN 1-84449-491-8. 
  • Bessman, Jim (1993). Ramones: An American Band. New York: St. Martin's. ISBN 0-312-09369-1.