While “punk” could mean a variety of things, it is a genre that is nonconformist and atypical in its most basic style. Punk rock has distinct characteristics. Songs with short forms, quick paces, anti-establishment lyrics, simple melodies, and harmonies are familiar in punk music.
Punk bands adopted more expansive traditional rock song structures and instrumental riffs in rare instances. New York group Television and English band Wire utilized the classic rock genre in their most famous work. Groups like the New York Dolls were heavily in the garage rock style, with an avant-garde punk-influenced, glamour-influenced style to their performances.
Punk bands were also renowned for their DIY attitude and lack of attention to musical virtuosity. Many of them also boasted an uncompromising visual style that included mohawks jackets, leather pants with ripped T-shirts, and (in some instances) makeup.
Punk Rock Subgenres
Punk rock has created a variety of subgenres. Some remain in vogue to this day:
- Hardcore punk The term “hardcore” exploded out in New York and Los Angeles in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was led by bands such as Black Flag, the Rollins Band, Biohazard, Misfits as well as the Bags as well as Gorilla Biscuits. A splintering trend The Seattle’s Accused and New York’s Cro-Mags introduced a thrash metal style to hardcore punk, often referred to as crust punk.
- Post-punk music is punk edge rock but has more refined arrangements and harmonies. Some notable post-punk groups are Fugazi (led by former Minor Threat singer Ian MacKaye), Drive Like Jehu, Gang of Four, Jawbox, and Shudder to Think.
- Music from the Noise Rock Certain post-punk artists tried sonic experiments alongside pop songwriting. The likes of Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, and the Melvins switch between pop hooks and blasts of high-powered guitar noise. The Velvet Underground rock superstar Lou Reed dabbled in noise rock during his career.
- Glam punk Inspired by design from The New York Dolls (and non-punk rocker David Bowie), glam punks are the precursors of glam metal. The first efforts of groups such as Motley Crue or the Manic Street Preachers incorporate elements of glam rock.
- The New Wave: New wave groups such as Joy Division, New Order, Blondie, and Talking Heads had the premise of DIY, but their music was influenced by pop and funk styles.
- Pop-punk: Pop punk has been a very profitable genre, with bands such as Green Day, The Offspring, Blink-182, The Strokes, and Rancid have sold millions of albums. The first pop-punk groups comprised The Ramones, Buzzcocks, The Damned, and Bad Religion.
Seven Noteworthy Punk Rock Bands
Numerous punk rock groups have been a part of the radio airwaves from Generation X onward. The most well-known punk groups originating from Great Britain and the United States include:
- Sex Pistols: Led by Malcolm McLaren and famously crass lead vocalist Johnny Rotten, British punk rockers the Sex Pistols have shocked the world with their songs, including “Anarchy within the UK” and “God Save the Queen.”
- Ramones, The first significant American punk group, The Ramones, brought catchy songs to raucous teenagers. Their fame in the country was amplified through a part in the 1979 Roger Corman film Rock and Roll High School.
- Buzzcocks hailing in Manchester, England, Buzzcocks were the UK’s answer to the Ramones’ snarky take on punk music.
- Minor Threat: While DC’s Minor Threat was not able to gain the attention of The Sex Pistols or the Ramones, they could have impacted many more artists, including art-rockers such as Shudder To Think to arena rock acts such as Pearl Jam.
- Patti Smith: A unique female in the punk scene dominated by males. In the music scene in New York City, Patti Smith earned her fame with notable performances in the CBGB at CBGB and her debut album Horses.
- Black Flag: The band was led by SST Records founder Greg Ginn and Washington, DC, transplant Henry Rollins. Black Flag was a stepping stone for riff-heavy, smoldering West Coast punk and post-punk.
- Iggy and the Stooges The group hails in Ann Arbor, Michigan (just west of Detroit). Iggy & The Stooges showed that punk rock was more than an ocean-based phenomenon. Their wild, desperate punk rock style grew more innovative.