Punk Rock

The argument carries on: did Punk come from the States or was it England's creation? As this chapter explores, important phases in Punk's development happened on both side of the Atlantic. But no one would be claiming it for their own were it not for the fact that Punk Rock is widely considered among the most influential musical movements of the 20th century. Punk may not have sparked enormous record sales, but in almost every other way it affected popular music's direction and identity.

In New York, with the club CBGB a kind of catalyst site, the band the Ramones emerged well before English Punk was in U.K. headlines. But there's no doubt that, no matter who came first, what happened in England gave a burst of energy and a tremendous amount of attention to Punk movements everywhere, including New York.

As has been widely noted, and will be discussed in the lessons that are coming, the economic situation in England provided fertile soil for the dissent that Punk promoted. Young people were facing terrible job prospects. The working classes felt their opportunities diminishing. The Punk of the Sex Pistols offered some of these disenchanted young people an enormous release. The connection between the bands and the audience was intense, physical, at times dangerous. But the Sex Pistols, quickly a global phenomenon, lasted for only a short time amidst the media surge that followed them.

Quite differently, the Clash went on to become Punk's most successful group, maintaining their political thrust even as they departed stylistically from where they began. If the Sex Pistols crashed, the Clash grew. The Ramones, maintaining a stylistic consistency, carried on at a much lower level of success, but earned such a reputation and produced such well-crafted Rock and Roll that they may be the best remembered.

Above any individual group, however, it's the idea of Punk that remains the most important contribution. Like early Rock and Roll, Punk came along and shook everything up, a reminder that this can happen again and again.