06/10/2019: “Hope” by Descendents

The Descendents aren’t exactly pop punk as such. This is still too fast and too aggressive for that. The sound is closer to what has been described as “melodic hardcore”, or in other words, hardcore punk that isn’t just angry noise!

Nonetheless, their music was very influential in the california punk scene, which went on to spawn the pop punk genre. For better or worse.

The elements are all here – the song has a simple, catchy guitar riff, boundless energy, lyrics about a girl.

It’s true though, that the lyrics of this song are somewhat darker than you would expect from pop punk. The subject is about a guy who sees the object of his affection with another guy and is railing angrily against it.

Plus, the song is still furiously fast. But for teenage angst and fury, you can’t beat it!

The track was released on Milo Goes To College, an album written as a cheeky reaction to Milo Aukerman, the singer, leaving the band to go to college. The album was their first proper album, and came out in 1982.

14/09/2019: “Into The Valley” by The Skids

There’s something quite special about this. It feels like a timeless tune, propelled along by energy and youth rather than any particular virtuoso musicianship.

Scotland isn’t known for its punk. The country punches well above its weight musically, but punk rock tends to be associated with New York and London, not Fife!

The song isn’t too hardcore, anyway. After a quick but legendary intro with a gritty bass and reverberating guitar, the singing starts. The melody doesn’t even change.

It’s got to be said, the lyrics aren’t super inspiring. “La la la lala la lala la” makes multiple appearances. Apart from that, it isn’t that easy to tell what the words are…

The song is apparently about Scottish lads joining the army and going off to fight.

“Into The Valley” came out in 1979, and is now one of history’s most classic guitar riffs…

06/08/2019: “Smash It Up Parts 1 & 2” by The Damned

As the name would seem to suggest, “Smash It Up” is composed of two very different songs. The first part is a slow and thoughtful ballad, written in tribute to Marc Bolan. A fingerpicked guitar lightly darts over a warm bass part, with only a smattering of drums.

After about 1 and a half minutes, the song picks up considerably. The drums make more of a showing, certainly.

But after the 2nd minute of the song, the 2nd part takes over. Suddenly, it’s a punk song, with a simple guitar chord progression, pacey drums, an organ vamp, and some particularly incendiary lyrics which got the song banned by BBC Radio 1 for their riotous content. Times were different…

After a short pause, the latter third of the song gives over a section to an ecstatic electric guitar solo.

Lyrically, the song is an attack on hippies, specifically their long hair and frothy lager. In fairness, both of those things were probably abundant back then!

“Smash It Up” is a single from Machine Gun Etiquette, which came out in 1979.

13/03/2019: “I Wanna Be Sedated” by Ramones

“I Wanna Be Sedated” is a song about being bored on tour. The Ramones were in London at Christmas and had nothing to do, so had to sit in their hotel room watching U.S. movies.

It’s Joey Ramone saying he’s so bored he’d rather just be knocked out with drugs.

Strangely enough, for a song about being incredibly bored, it lacks none of the energy expected of a Ramones tune!

It’s simple enough, with Punk rock power chords, repetitive lyrics, and a sing-song melody. It’s not a long song, coming in at 2 and a half minutes, but it fits in a lot of raw punk energy into that time. Long punk songs aren’t really such a big thing anyway…

Taken away from its original context, the song has great potential to speak to legions of bored teenagers the world over. Perhaps today’s kids might not like it, but it was a big hit at the time, and is now song number 175 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The song was released in 1978 on Road To Ruin. 

Classic!

18/02/2019: “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett

“Bad Reputation” is a raucous, loud and unapologetic punk song, with a catchy hook and a certain endearing discordant energy,

Joan Jett shines here as the premier woman in punk rock, shouting out her defiant lyrics. It could not be more different from later equivalents like Avril Lavigne, who was always altogether more polished and commercial.

This isn’t raw, untouched punk music by any means. But the labels wouldn’t have the album (of the same name), so the producer Kenny Laguna had to fund a lot of it himself. Which is pretty punk  in its own way…

The song is about the reputation she accrued with The Runaways, the band she was in before her solo career and The Blackhearts. The lyrics aren’t particularly refined; the general gist of the song is that she doesn’t care about her reputation.

They were an all female band who became a big part of the punk scene when it was at its height.

The song was released in 1980 on the album Bad Reputation.

Rocks hard!

07/11/2018: “Little Red Riding Hood” by The Meteors

The Meteors are often viewed as the band who really cemented and defined the genre of psychobilly. If you don’t know, psychobilly is a movement that derives a lot from punk, but strongly bases itself on the 50s Rockabilly scene.

Think Elvis but if he was a punk…

There’s a variety of styles within the genre, from more straight sounding rockabilly stuff, to ripping punk horror shows.

The Meteors are decidedly of the latter type. Their sound is abrasive, dark, and raw.

“Little Red Riding Hood” is probably a song you’ve heard of. But not like this. The original version was done by Sam The Sham and the Pharoahs in 1966. It’s a typically 60s thing, which feels wholesome despite the lyrics.

The new lyrics themselves were written by Ronald Blackwell, and recast the Wolf of legendary as a man with bad intentions, posing as a sheep to walk a girl home, but being increasing unable to hide his predatory nature.

The Meteors’ version is aggressive and black hearted, with a gritty twang that gives away the rockabilly influence. It’s got the same melody as the Sam The Sham version, but the energy levels are significantly higher. Everything is cranked up to 11.

The growling, spitting vocals are perfect for a song lie this, and the eerie distorted country guitars solidify the menacing vibe even more.

The song was released as a single on the B side of “Stampede” in 1985.

Brilliantly dark!

31/10/2018: “Walking Contradiction” by Green Day

There probably aren’t any American pop punk bands more successful than Green Day. Perhaps Blink 182 could be considered more genre defining, but Green Day are enduring international stars with a string of massive hits.

“Walking Contradiction” is Green Day doing what they do best. The melodies are simple but effective, the tune is upbeat yet angst-y, and the song is driven by a distorted guitar riff and Billie Joe Armstrong’s inimitable singing.

The song is about a loser who just sort of plows through life, and tries to capture the feeling of being a rock star who still gets mad and has bad days even at the height of his fame.

It’s not hard to song to play or anything, but it’s great at what it does: exuberant energy.

The song was released in 1996 as the fourth single off Insomniac, and reached number 25 on the U.S. rock chart.

The video is quite funny and actually won a Grammy in 1997!

An anthem for teenagers everywhere!

23/04/2018: “What A Wonderful World” by Joey Ramone

joey-ramone

Most people would be more familiar with the original 1967 Louis Armstrong version of this one, for good reason; it’s one of the most uplifting, life affirming and beautiful songs ever written. It’s a lovely, jazzy homage to the profound niceness that nature and humanity can have at their best. A real antidote to the constant stream of war and destruction on the news. There are loads and loads of covers of the song, of variable quality, but that means there’s a few gems too.

I have to admit that, as much as I love Armstrong’s refreshingly gravelly tones, the Joey Ramone cover really hits the spot. It’s so full of energy and life, with the ferocious guitar strumming and pacy drums sweeping Joey’s vocals ahead. It’s not a complicated song by any means, but I think the simplicity increases the power of the song, and adds to the feel good factor.

Joey Ramone was unfortunately dead by the time the album (Don’t Worry About Me) was released in 2002, having died the year before of cancer. A great parting gift to us all.

20/04/2018: “Rock The Casbah” by The Clash

rockthecasbah

I will generally try to keep politics out of this blog. It can be incendiary, alienating people needlessly when all I’m trying to do is promote my favourite music. However, it must be said, music and politics, as with all culture, can interact and overlap in various ways, to varying degrees. At its best, music can inspire people and bring them together.

Perhaps not many genres are more overtly political than punk rock, and The Clash were undoubtedly a politically aware band. “Rock The Casbah” is about an Arab dictator trying to ban rock music, with his people revolting and listening anyway.

“By order of the prophet
We ban that boogie sound”

The none-too-subtle video satirises countries like Saudi Arabia, and was inspired partly by the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, which resulted in very socially conservative values being imposed in Iran. I do think that any attempt to ban music is just very uncool. The band even perform in front of an oil well to hammer home their point.

The video seems to suggest that the Israel-Palestine conflict could be solved through a shared love of fast food and funky music, which at this point has got to be worth a try…

The song was released in 1982 as the third single from their album, Combat Rock. It was basically written just by their drummer, with the lyrics added by the singer. I can only say that, really, The Clash had a very talented set of musicians.

The bass part is very lively on this one, with a crazily catchy riff played on the guitar and piano. The chorus is very catchy as well, giving the whole thing a real riotous joy.

The funk is just irrepressible!