Back in the mid-1970s, there was an amazing burst of energy in the music scene. The world of bloated prog rock with lengthy guitar or keyboard solos meandering away was shattered by new sounds. Punk rock crashed in with loud and often aggressive vocals backed by catchy guitar riffs in quick burst fast-paced songs.
Some people disliked the rough quality of the early music or disapproved of the appearance and clothes of some of the bands. As a teenager at the time it was amazing to see and hear it all unfold around me. There must have been similarities to the likes of Elvis Presley and rock and roll emerging amongst the crooners a decade or two earlier.
I wasn’t full blown into safety pins, PVC, and a Mohican or coloured spiky hair, but the music did wow me. There were so many new bands and sounds flooding out. Although there was a punk rock basis to them, there was plenty of variety in the songs and their style. Many of the songs still sound fresh and alive today. Frighteningly, that's just under fifty years later.
Three of the best punk rock songs
There are so many to choose just three from that I’ve added some criteria to help finalise my list here. In my view, these are songs from punk bands which changed music. They’re all UK based as that’s where I experienced them. All of them stand the test of time and are classics of music, not just punk. In no particular order:
The Stranglers - “No More Heroes”
Released in September 1977 this came from their second studio album of the same name. The single peaked at number eight in the UK singles chart.
The Stranglers certainly weren’t your typical punk band. Jet Black was a jazz drummer previously and Jean Jacques Burnel was a classically trained guitarist before switching to bass. They mixed in clever organ based keyboards from Dave Greenfield with sneering vocals from Hugh Cornwall to deliver this classic song with its sneering vocals about Trotsky and Shakespearoes - what a rhyme that is!
The Clash - “London’s Calling”
A later release from The Clash. This was released as a single, from the album of the same name in December 1979. It hit No. 11 in the UK singles chart and was their top-selling single until “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” some ten years later.
Angry lyrics carrying the band's protests at debt, their record company, police brutality and more. A touch of reggae, simple but catchy guitar riffs and a memorable and uplifting intro. The song has it all. I loved hearing its opening beat at a football stadium after the team had won a match which steeered them to play in London next. As the crowd joined it with the words and the rhythm it was a momentous moment.
The Damned - “Neat, Neat, Neat”
Released in February 1977 this was The Damned's second single, after “New Rose”. A thumping bass line, fast paced vocals with the energetic chorus and blustering guitar play.
I never saw The Damned play but at the time followed a local punk band Energy who were great live, but broke up as so many emerging bands do. Energy used to end their set thrashing about on stage with a lively cover of this song and it always brings back warm memories of that time.
But what about…The Jam, The Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees, or a host of other bands and songs that may be on your mind right now? Very likely any of them could be included on merit. There are so many to choose from, but the above are the ones that resonate most for me. Perhaps I am influenced by memories of the times when I heard them played.