PDA

View Full Version : What makes a song a punk song?


SmackFu
08-30-2001, 08:25 AM
I'm not very musically savvy, but despite that, I know a punk song when I hear it. My question is, why? What makes it sound punk rather than just rock or metal?

TheThill
08-30-2001, 08:30 AM
It's the rhythm and style, including (ab)use of instruments, etc. Hard to quantify just like any other musical or art genre. Sometimes punk has a political or social message, but assuredly not always.

muttrox
08-30-2001, 08:33 AM
Like all musical genres, the lines are blurry. You may know one when you hear it, but there's no consensus. There are plenty of songs that knowledgable listeners disagree on. Your question (and this answer) could equally well apply to grunge, prog-rock, rock in general, country, even classical.

Guy Propski
08-30-2001, 08:45 AM
It's hard to say, because it's defined by soft things like attitude and style. Plus you get bands that most people would classify as punk, but they themselves would deny the label. Then you got your sub-genres, like thrash punk, surf punk, even cowpunk (remember that one from the 80's?).

Best not to worry about it. If you like it, cool; who cares what name you use to describe it?

bibliophage
08-30-2001, 09:52 AM
The new Cafe Society forum isn't just for opera and such, you know. I think this will make a fine addition.

bibliophage
moderator, GQ

Lucifer12
08-30-2001, 11:10 AM
Originally posted by SmackFu
I'm not very musically savvy, but despite that, I know a punk song when I hear it. My question is, why? What makes it sound punk rather than just rock or metal?

If it's true punk it will piss off jocks, cheerleaders, normals, religious nuts, flag wavers, capitalists, communists, facists, compassion facists, fence sitters, bed-wetters, sissies, prudes, greedheads, hatemongers, suits, blue-collar squareheads and anyone who never questions the status quo.

That's why even old Devo is a lot more punk than say, Linkin Park.

Joe_Cool
08-30-2001, 12:07 PM
Originally posted by Lucifer12
Originally posted by SmackFu
I'm not very musically savvy, but despite that, I know a punk song when I hear it. My question is, why? What makes it sound punk rather than just rock or metal?

If it's true punk it will piss off jocks, cheerleaders, normals, religious nuts, flag wavers, capitalists, communists, facists, compassion facists, fence sitters, bed-wetters, sissies, prudes, greedheads, hatemongers, suits, blue-collar squareheads and anyone who never questions the status quo.

That's why even old Devo is a lot more punk than say, Linkin Park.

Very good point. One thing to watch out for is sheep in punk's clothing: There are several current bands that are basically pop bands, thinly disguised with a somewhat punkish sound and the punk "uniform" (green spiky hair, stylishly torn tee-shirts, etc). For example, Blink 182, SR71, Green Day, etc.

Punk is...well, it's easier to say what it's not than what it is. But I'll try. Real punk doesn't ever get played on MTV, unless it's a John Lydon biographical piece. It's got a lot to do with the attitude and the lifestyle. It's angry and somewhat unstructured (lyrically), but usually will fit into a standard musical framework: Really fast tempo, hard guitars with lots of distortion, the drum will often (but not always) follow a pattern of kickdrum on 1/3, and snare on 2/4. Usually a very simple chord structure.

But the biggest giveaways: The lyrics will usually be very passionate about whatever they're about, even if about nothing. And it will not usually sound very produced. There are exceptions to all of the above, and no real hard and fast rules (even the Clash get played on MTV).

Listen to the Exploited, the first two albums from Suicidal Tendencies, the Ramones, the Circle Jerks, D.I., the Dead Kennedys, etc for good examples of what it is.

Listen to Green Day, Blink 182, anything on K-Rock (if you're in the NYC area) to hear what's not punk.

Wumpus
08-30-2001, 12:09 PM
The tempo, mostly. Quintessential punk is faster than typical rock or (non-speed) metal. Other characteristics: no more than 3 chords, rhythm guitar is king, little or no soloing. Expression is paramount over musical finesse.

ChockFullOfHeadyGoodness
08-30-2001, 01:31 PM
Simple... If I've heard it and like it, and you've never heard it, it's punk.
If I've heard it and you've heard it and like it, it's poseur sellout corporate shit. ;)

(Sorry... the thread title reminded me of some punker-than-thou windbag in my dorm that insisted that the Sex Pistols and The Clash weren't real punk because they were on major labels.)

pldennison
08-30-2001, 01:38 PM
Originally posted by Wumpus
The tempo, mostly. Quintessential punk is faster than typical rock or (non-speed) metal. Other characteristics: no more than 3 chords, rhythm guitar is king, little or no soloing. Expression is paramount over musical finesse.

I absolutely, unequivocally disagree with this. Early American punk included bands as musically proficient as Television, as sloppy as the Dead Boys, and as melodic as the Ramones. What makes a song punk is the attitude behind it -- DIY, fuck the establishment, and all that.

And, really, "I Wanna Be Sedated" isn't any faster in tempo than an uptempo Beach Boys song, nor for that matter is "Pretty Vacant" or any other Sex Pistols tune.

erislover
08-30-2001, 02:18 PM
The Misfits when Glenn was the vocalist and the Dead Kennedys.

Any theory that can link the two has it for "the answer" in my book. I can't come up with anything for the life of me.

Maeglin
08-30-2001, 02:25 PM
So much punk has a palpable sense of humor as well. Often self-deprecating, often poking fun at the establishment.

You'll pay ten bucks to see me,
On a fifteen foot high stage.
Fat-ass bouncers kick the shit.
Out of kids who try and dance.

Cracks me up every time. My Payola, by the Dead Kennedys.

Purd Werfect
08-30-2001, 02:44 PM
I think it relies quite a bit on attitude and context. Beyond that, punk can encompass a wide range of styles. I would consider Television, early Devo, and the Pistols to all be punk bands, yet they didn't sound anything alike. Television has been called the Grateful Dead of punk because of their propensity for guitar jams, and yet no one questions whether or not they were a punk band.

This was partially because of the scenes they were part of, and partially because of the attitude or approach they took to their music, in that they weren't attempting to duplicate successful formulas or become rock stars, but rather just do what they wanted within the range of their talent, and let the rest take care of itself. As far as pop being contrasted to punk, the line also has been blurred pretty heavily there. The Descendants wrote songs with almost saccharine melodies, lyrics, and vocals, but they were a punk band due to the scene they were a part of and the attitude they brought to the stage.

So what makes a punk song a punk song today? I don't know the answer to that, but I personally feel that the punk ethos is a lot more prominent in underground rap music then it is in rock and pop. I consider the old Public Enemy albums to be monster punk albums in that there was no voice of rebellion quite like them when they came out. These days, it's more difficult to be different, as every style under the sun has been commodified to an extent. Maybe punk no longer exists.

FallenAngel
08-30-2001, 07:39 PM
My girlfriend is a yummy yummy punk rock girl. I floated this one past her.

The definition of Punk Rock? NO BULLSHIT

Purd Werfect
08-30-2001, 07:45 PM
That's an excellent description FallenAngel

xanakis
08-30-2001, 07:55 PM
I remember all kinds of bands used to be described as punk - Blondie, The Pretenders, Boomtown Rats. I wouldnt call any of these three punk.

Chas.E
08-30-2001, 08:02 PM
If you want to know about punk, go read "Please Kill Me" by Legs McNeil. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll crap your pants.

Punk was a short lived movement, starting with the proto-punks like Iggy Pop and MC5 around 1969, peaking in 1977, and ending vaguely in the mid 1980s with bands like X. It was a reaction against the trippy hippie bullshit of the sixties. Punk is now long dead and gone.

Today's "punks" are a vague echo of past greatness, they are trying to cash in on the music of a past era. They should be ashamed of themselves. It is as if I were a fan of my fathers Lawrence Welk and Barbershop Quartet music. Go start your OWN genre!

Goose
08-30-2001, 08:56 PM
What is punk? Who is punk? Is punk alive and well or long gone? The answers are many and it all depends. It could be considered an attitude that makes you punk,or the way you dress. It's not the way you dress.

Dressing punk nowadays is simply another trend created by bored fashion designers who decided to capitalize on a scene. I hate that. Anyways as far as the sound goes it can range from Sex Pistols to The Descendents to Rancid.As far as "sellout" punk bands are concerned, well sure underground bands are more fun but you can't live in a van the rest of your life.

I disagree with going mainstream only when the bands music changes for it or if they ever appear on TRL!! How can you define it. The genre has went from small bars and messy kids to small venues and funny looking kids. Its changed(obviously) as everything does and will. Its not dead it was just more fun and exciting back then.

erislover
08-30-2001, 10:34 PM
Originally posted by Chas.E
Today's "punks" are a vague echo of past greatness, they are trying to cash in on the music of a past era. They should be ashamed of themselves. It is as if I were a fan of my fathers Lawrence Welk and Barbershop Quartet music. Go start your OWN genre!Ack!

I just had a drunken argument about this not two weeks ago with some random stranger in a bar. The total topic? Can someone who didn not live through the "punk" era appreciate punk? Actually, it was more specifically about he Dead Kennedys. His claim was that their music was temporally oriented, and that to not live in the era it was written was to be cheating onesself and not "getting" it. I said that any message is timeless, and that though DK referenced specific events and characters, their intent was not bound by the medium they used to describe it.

So, I disagree. I think punk has much to offer. I do think that today's punk should not be called punk, however. It does seem to be a bit of a misnomer. But... that's probably just more social prejudice creeping in, with the archtypical fear of youth :p

Chas.E
08-30-2001, 11:31 PM
Originally posted by erislover
Can someone who didn not live through the "punk" era appreciate punk? Actually, it was more specifically about he Dead Kennedys. His claim was that their music was temporally oriented, and that to not live in the era it was written was to be cheating onesself and not "getting" it. I said that any message is timeless, and that though DK referenced specific events and characters, their intent was not bound by the medium they used to describe it.
It is a whole different thing to listen to "Holiday in Cambodia" after watching films of dying Boat People washing up on a beach on the news every night, than to "appreciate" that music 25 years later. I was recently reminded of this when I saw a documentary from the post-Vietnam War era showing the Boat People landing, it was so horrific, first I screamed, then I cried. And it's hard to perturb me like that.
I used to be a DK fan back in the day, but of all the punks, much of their music has not held up due to its time-sensitive content. Even I can't stand to listen to em now.
Sorry, you'll never know what it was like when punk broke when the Top 40 radio was full of Pat Boone, Debbie Gibson, and the Bee Gees tunes. I can't explain what it was like to be a teenager in 1977 and hear the Sex Pistols and The Ramones for the first time. Nobody can explain it. You had to be there. Too bad you missed out. But there is always another chance. Just not for Punk.

Wumpus
08-30-2001, 11:47 PM
Devo and Television were part of the punk scene, but they didn't play punk *music*. Really they didn't. Television would have been considered a prog-rock band if they had hung out at a different club.

I note that this thread has already degenerated from a discussion about music to bickering about one's punk credentials. *snif* Ah, it takes me back to the good ol' days!

Now let's start some fights about how punk is *totally different* than "new wave" and why Blondie are sellouts.

HP Ellison
08-31-2001, 12:18 AM
The problem with punk these days is that there are so many subgenres; you have emo, which often bleeds over into punk, and then hardcore, etc. I'd say that the quintessential idea behind punk is that of a middle finger aimed towards all that's accepted. Take the Sex Pistols; if the pop scene had been different, they could have played classical music and still remained punk in its truest essence. However, the times called for an anti-rock god, rough around the edges, distorted-to-all-hell sound, and that's what they provided. I would go so far as to say that punk is dead now, though. Punk once was all about going against the grain as brutally as possible; now, punk has such a hierarchical form, that the original idea has been lost. Don't get me wrong; the DIY attitude is still very much there, but modern punk has lost the plot. I was at a party about four months ago with a bunch of punk people in attendance; I'm a mod, so I didn't fit in so well, and as a result, I caught very pugnacious glares from several people there. It was so bad that I actually had to leave the party. And why? Because I looked different. THIS is what punk has unfortunately come to. In short, Blink-182 dug the hole, and the punk scene threw in the dirt. Oh well; the idea lives on!

Chas.E
08-31-2001, 01:32 AM
Originally posted by Wumpus
I note that this thread has already degenerated from a discussion about music to bickering about one's punk credentials. *snif* Ah, it takes me back to the good ol' days!
This ain't about punk cred, it's about what punk was like and why it's different now. It's a whole different world for kids today that grew up with Nirvana and Megadeth, than it was for us that grew up with crap Top 40 music.
For your edification, I will now list the US Top 30 singles appearing in a randomly selected magazine from my collection, Melody Maker Jan 14, 1978, just about the peak of the punk era. The cover blares in a 2 inch headline "Pistols Shock USA!" above a full page photo of the Pistols US tour. And inside:

1. Baby Come Back - Player
2. How Deep Is Your Love - Bee Gees
3. You're In My Heart - Rod Stewart
4. Short People - Randy Newman
5. We Are The Champions - Queen
6. Slip Slidin' Away - Paul Simon
7. Back In Love Again - L.T.D.
8. Here You Come Again - Dolly Parton
9. Come Sail Away - Styx
10. Just The Way You Are - Billy Joel
11. You Light Up My Life - Debby Boone
12. You Can't Turn Me Off - High Inergy
13. Desiree - Neil Diamond
14. Blue Bayou - Linda Ronstadt
15. Turn To Stone - Electric Light Orchestra
16. Dance, Dance, Dance - Chic
17. Point of Know Return - Kansas
18. Runaround Sue - Leif Garrett
19. The Way I Feel Tonight - Bay City Rollers
20. Sometimes When We Touch - Dan Hill
21. Hey Deanie - Shaun Cassidy
22. Love Is Thicker Than Water - Andy Gibb
23. Emotion - Samatha Sang
24. Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood - Santa Esmeralda
25. Serpentine Fire - Earth, Wind & Fire
26. Stayin' Alive - Bee Gees
27. Sentimental Lady - Bob Welch
28. Native New Yorker - Odyssey
29. It's So Easy - Linda Ronstadt
30. What's Your Name - Lynyrd Skynyrd

Just LOOK at some of that CRAP! Hearing THAT stuff on the radio all the time, over and over until you wanted to PUKE, that is what made you a punk.

even sven
08-31-2001, 03:50 AM
Punk rock is music made for punkrockers.

Really, go to a show, and see if the people there are punk rockers. There are some bands that sound only borderline punk (like my beloved Mr.T Experience), but who are most definatly considered punk rock. There are other bands out there that sound punk, but arn't really, like Blink182. The difference is in the people. At MTX shows you see mohawks, homemade T shirts, purple hair and sweaty kids. At Blink182 shows (and I know, because I had to endure one in order to see Madness play) you see girls in platforms and tight clothes(at a show, for the love of cheese), guys with atheletic shirts on and drunken sweaty stupid kids.

And for anyone that claims punk is dead, I'll take you to the next MTX show and show you different.

Chas.E
08-31-2001, 04:01 AM
Originally posted by even sven
At Blink182 shows (and I know, because I had to endure one in order to see Madness play) you see girls in platforms and tight clothes(at a show, for the love of cheese), guys with atheletic shirts on and drunken sweaty stupid kids.
That's just the sort of people I saw at a Ramones gig at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go in about 1988. That's when I knew punk was dead.

Maeglin
08-31-2001, 09:14 AM
Just LOOK at some of that CRAP! Hearing THAT stuff on the radio all the time, over and over until you wanted to PUKE, that is what made you a punk.

I was born in 1978, and the Dead Kennedys play the music of my soul. I am not a punk. There is no punk scene anymore. That which once could have been called punk has been appropriated by the record industry and transformed into a commercially productive medium of "dissent."

But I grew up with Michael Jackson and New Kids on the Block in the background. I heard that stuff until I was doubled over with agony. Have you read Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War? Well, guess who the only fucking kind in the school was who wouldn't fill out index cards saying:

I love NKOTB!

...in order for a chance to win free tickets for the school to a concert. Fucking kids were filling out cards by the thousands. Can you imagine the shit I took?

I hate, and continue to hate, this bullshit. It made me want to puke when I was a kid. I listen to the Dead Kennedys. I was at Joey Ramone's birthday party, which he was sadly unable to attend.

So what am I?

Ooner
08-31-2001, 12:19 PM
I agree with most that the punk "scene" has faded almost into oblivion, but I think punk music is alive and well, just in a little different form than it used to be.

The rock music of now and the rock of 20 years ago are incredibly different, but it's all still rock music. Rap is one of the newest genres, and it's changed a lot too. However, it's still rap.

The punk "scene" is so different, it can't really be called that anymore, but the music is close enough to still be alive and kicking in a lot of the bands that have been called non-punk here.

I think Blink 182 is pop-punk. Sure, it's commercial and really shitty, but the actual music does *sort of* fit the description of punk music. A lot of ska bands sort of lean into punk territory too, as well as some rock bands.

Just because punk doesn't sound the exact same as it did with the Ramones doesn't mean that it's not punk anymore. Maybe that should be given the new name "classic punk." :)