Punk-rock – The Filth and the Fury

“Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust.”
—-London Calling, The Clash

England – 1970’s. A serious economic crisis in the early years of the decade meant mass unemployment for young people and those working in public services. This triggered an enormous number of strikes and protest marches as trade unions struggled to reach agreement with a succession of weak governments; a three day working week was implemented in the early 1970s to conserve electricity due to industrial action from coal miners.

This unrest caused a lot of confrontations with police. In 1970, police racism seemed to be at an all-time high which caused even further divides in society. By the end of the decade, civil rights riots were breaking out across urban areas, mostly between the National Front, and organised groups of anti-fascists and anti-racism committees.
—-Bush Green Blog

And then out of this morass of misery – BAM! In 1976, The Sex Pistols exploded on the scene. Young, loud and snotty (to quote the Dead Boys), they rejected convention but also wanted to bring rock back to its raw garage-based roots.

They (and the punk culture) saw then-current rock music as “pointless noodling” and disdained bands such as Yes, Pink Floyd and even The Beatles. And blues, especially blues. (In other words, pretty much my entire fucking record collection) 😀

And so the music was short, fast, loud – and pissed off. No time for ballads, love songs or solos. Just aggression, manifested in snarling guitars, strangled vocals and riled-up audiences, with mosh pits which fans hurled themselves into from the stage.

And the scene also supported – or at least did not discourage – casual violence. So it was common for fans to spit at the stage, throw bottles at the bands, beat each other up, get beaten up by bouncers and skinheads. In other words, fun for the whole family.

The Sex Pistols became famous –  or, depending on your viewpoint – infamous, for swearing on live TV in Britain. They were being interviewed by talk show host Bill Grundy and in playing into their “fuck you” attitude, referred to Grundy as a “dirty old man” and a “dirty fucker.” Grundy seemed to enjoy encouraging this behavior. It pretty much ended his career.

But complaints came into the TV station and the British tabloids had a field day with it. Most of them ran headlines, the most famous of which was The Daily Mirror whose, “The Filth and the Fury,” eventually became the name of a Pistols’ documentary.

The Sex Pistols were, of course, not the only British band playing punk. There were also groups like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Buzzcocks. And the Pistols’ mates, and musical rivals, The Clash. (It was Siouxsie’s mock flirtation with Grundy that kicked off that whole “Filth” incident.)

Interestingly, if you read the music press from that time, it’s generally believed that New York’s Ramones were not only one of the first punk bands but also heavily influential in the British scene. (Or maybe that was just the American rock press’ take on it). And yes, the Brit punks were aware of The Ramones and had heard their debut album.

But Johnny Rotten has repeatedly rejected any suggestion that the album The Ramones influenced the Sex Pistols: “[They] were all long-haired and of no interest to me. I didn’t like their image, what they stood for, or anything about them. They were hilarious but you can only go so far with ‘duh-dur-dur-duh’. I’ve heard it. Next. Move on.”

While punk had some legitimacy in the US, especially in clubs like New York’s CBGB, it seems to have had much more urgency in the UK. Maybe this was because there seemed to be more of a sense of desperation among teenagers in the UK.

And by 1976-77, the younger crowd in America seemed be more into mindless non-political disco than into punk as a scene or a movement. In England there was No Future but in the States, the Vietnam War was over and good times seemed to be rolling back in. And for the most part,  New Wave was more popular in the States than hardcore punk.

That said, American groups like the New York Dolls, Boston’s Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers (“Roadrunner”), Richard Hell & the Voidoids all had an impact. And the Velvet Underground, despite having little commercial success, inspired many punk and rock bands. (When Lou Reed died, someone jokingly said that 40,000 people bought Velvet Underground’s album. And all 40,00 of them started a band.)

Wikipedia: Music that followed the anarchic garage band ethos of the Sex Pistols was distinguished as “punk,” while music that tended toward experimentation, lyrical complexity or more polished production, came to be categorized as “new wave.”

In the U.S., the first new wavers were the not-so-punk acts associated with the New York club CBGB (e.g., Talking Heads, Mink DeVille and Blondie.)

In short order, perhaps because true anarchy cannot sustain, the Sex Pistols splintered and folded. But their mates, the band who got their name from its frequent appearance in the newspaper (“Police Clash with Unruly Gangs”), flourished.

Sources: Bush Green blog, Passion is a Fashion: The Real Story of the Clash. by Pat Gilbert.

Next post – The Only Band That Matters.



27 thoughts on “Punk-rock – The Filth and the Fury

    1. Yep. But in a sense, pop and rock music are so “of-the-moment,” that that’s true of any musical genre. “Oldies” are what was on the charts last week. One of my very favorite Paul Simon lines is “It’s every generation throws a hero up the pop charts.” Hero today, forgotten tomorrow. And it’s only the relatively few (Bowie, Prince, Springsteen, Streisand, etc.) that span generations.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Agreed. But my concern is less for those and more for the good ones who are forgotten. Case in point: I was chatting the other day with another blogger who teaches music. Many of his students never heard of The Band. Yet they were one of the most vital and influential bands of their day.

          Likewise Sly And The Family Stone. When I blogged on them a while ago, silence. And yet again, highly influential. And great!

          I realized recently that this is as much why I blog as to enjoy conversations with guys like you. I see it as my “mission” to keep this music alive. Quixotic? Probably. But my philosophy is that if I reach one person on one thing they might not have heard of, I’ve succeeded.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Wow, those are two pretty important bands right there. You know, I don’t think I saw your Sly and the Family Stone post. I need to go back and find that one.


        3. Yeah, do a search. You know how it is. Some posts are more popular than others. And I think my readership skews young and so maybe the name doesn’t resonate. They recently released a long-forgotten live album from Fillmore East. 1968! I bought it. A few dated things but mostly terrific.

          Note to self – write series on The Band.


        4. Yes, although I highly don’t recommend visiting in, say, February. Alas, unless I go there on business, I will likely never visit your fine country. My wife does NOT like to fly. She can do (with much fortitude) six hours to West Coast or Europe. 24.hours? Not so much. We’d have to do a series of short hops and even then…


        5. BTW, you’ve forced my hand again. Gonna have to post my Bowie Top Twenty here. 😉 Credit to you as before.


        6. Great minds think alike. If we weren’t 10,000 miles apart, I’d totally buy you a Foster’s lager. Or whatever. 😉


        7. Haha Here’s a useful piece of information I always like to impart to my American friends. Nobody in Australia drinks Foster’s larger. It’s more of an export beer. The masses here drink Carlton Draft or Crown Larger. I’m partial to a nice American IPA myself.


        8. Yeah I kinda figured that. You guys are exporting the crap beer to us. Please don’t tell me you don’t throw shrimp on the barbie. I’ll be left with no stereotypes at all. 😀


        9. Well we don’t call ’em shrimps, they’re prawns here. And we mostly do that at Christmas (our summer). Mostly we just cook cows like you guys.


  1. There’s something magnetic about the energy, attitude, and message of punk, I guess the idea of music tied in with revolution is just especially attractive to me. I’m also heavily into the blues and counterculture music though, so I wonder which side I would have taken if I had been alive in the late seventies… Anyways, great post!


    1. I was there and I can tell you I was squarely on the side of blues. I didn’t much like punk at all. I had too much respect for musicianship.

      And yet, there was definitely a strong appeal in bringing back that energy, that raw power. Truthfully, I’m still not a big punk fan. And I resisted The Clash mightily. And then i didn’t. But they were not just a punk band. And even when they veered from it, they always brought that energy.

      You say you want a revolution? 🙂 Wait for my Clash series. Fascinating story. Coming soon to these very pages.


  2. Didn’t buy into all the hype and bullshit but CB certainly bought into a lot of the music This was just a big kick in the ass for music. It needed it. This happens periodically.


  3. We’re overdue for that. But where can rock go? We’ve gone way out with prog-rock, back in with punk rock, garage rock. Don’t know how it can be overhauled.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s there man, somewhere. Like that ‘Record Company’ band you turned me onto. Not re inventing the wheel just kicking some juice into it like you stated in your piece. There will always be a choice from what is popular and mainstream. That stuff spawns getting back to the good shit. Check out the Replacements on SNL doing ‘Bastards’ and ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’ just four guys wigging out on rock n roll. No difference from Little Richard, Jerry Lee. The Clash doing ‘I fought The Law’. The Boss never strays too far from it. You remember when you first heard ‘Rosalita’, who was making that kind of music at the time? The torch will be picked up or already has. Don’t you just love it!


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