January 31st, 2016
Over the years there have been a number of tomes that have attempted to analyze, quantify, understand, justify, decry and simply observe the phenomena that was Punk Rock. Recent years have seen these books branch out into Hardcore and other sub-genres, but still the resounding bulk are those about the UK 1977 explosion (and implosion come to that!). So, does the world really need another succession of prose that over-analyze something that was as organic, uncontrived (in the most part), vitriolic and physical as Punk Rock – something which was born of its time – as a reaction against the depression and mediocrity of late 70s England?
In this case, the answer is a resounding YES! Y’see Scannerites, this book is a reprint of what was the first of its kind. Originally printed in 1985, this has been out of print for many years and represents the very first in-depth critique of the thing we call… The Punk Rock.
Taking up six chapters, Laing analyses Punk from its Formation and continues through Naming, Listening, Looking, Framing and the Aftermath before a Conclusion rounds the main book out. He uses what are considered to be the first of the UK Punk albums as templates (‘The Clash’, ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’, ‘Damned Damned Damned’, ‘Rattus Norvegicus IV’ and ‘Pure Mania’) along with a smattering of the early UK Punk singles and places them against what was happening in the charts of the era. All aspects of Punk are analysed in those chapters, from the bands that acted as precursors, through to the names of bands and individuals, the acts of Pogoing and gobbing, fashion, politics and lyrical origins, mainstream music press and fanzines, major labels and the advent of independents and the removal of the breakdown between band and audience. There is also a look at what was coming in the wake of ‘77 Punk with mentions of CRASS, PUBLIC IMAGE LTD, EXPLOITED, SOUTHERN DEATH CULT and AU PAIRS. It’s a well researched narrative and, while definitely written from a deeply analytical perspective, it rarely becomes ponderous, pretentious or overtly highbrow.
The books is filled out with a Foreword by TV SMITH, an Introduction from the original book and an updated Preface for this print. There is also a reprint of the original picture section and a bounty of Appendixes including a 1976-1980 Chronology, select discographies and a look at the 1976 charts and chart positions of the original brace of Punk releases.
It’s interesting to juxtapose this, the first of its kind, with the plethora of similar books that have been printed since. I’ve read a few lately that come on like some fucking University exercise written by ‘graduates’ who wanna get a high grade but retain a ‘cutting edge’ for a job – no doubt as some overly-educated, under-experienced music ‘journalist’. One Chord Wonders, and Laing’s narrative has no suggestion of that. This reads as a genuine study of what Punk was in the late 70s and born from a desire to discover what created the monster and not shy away from the monster’s failings and hypocrisies.
Let’s face it, 1976 was 40 years ago; a lot has changed. A lot has become eulogized, aggrandized, bastardized and mythologized. Given this was written in the early 1980s, it should be viewed as a first-hand account of one of the most inspiring times in UK culture and, if not a defining text on 70s Punk, then certainly one of the most unbiased and articulate of its kind.