Old Clichés Never Die, They Just Smell Like It.

Since it’s Jubilee year again, people of a certain age are getting nostalgic about punk.

To hear some of them it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that a couple of years in the late 70s must have been their one moment of excitement in what subsequently became drab and unfulfilled lives.

Yes, punk produced some great rock’n'roll records, and that ought to be it’s legacy. Not the pseudo-intellectual hogwash from certain sections of the music press that went along with it. All those usual tired clichés are being trotted out yet again, and some of the historical revisionism approaches David Irving levels. The idea that punk completely invalidated prog-rock ignores inconvenient facts like Johnny Rotten being a big fan of Van der Graaf Generator, or some of The Damned liking Pink Floyd. Isn’t there something inherently fascistic about anything that tries to define itself purely by what it hates?

I’ve heard one person on Twitter respond to the question of why you can’t listen to both prog and punk with the patronising “If it has to be explained, you just don’t get it”. These people give every impression that they, like the revisionist punk-era music journalists, don’t actually like music for music’s sake. It’s all about socio-political posturing, tribal identity, image and attitude.

If punk was a reaction to anything, surely it was the parlous state top-40 pop in the second half of the 70s after glam-rock had run out of steam. Unlike Pink Floyd or King Crimson, whose music remains influential to this day, enjoyed by people who weren’t even born in the 1970s, the dross that filled the charts back then hasn’t stood the test of time, full of names nobody can remember thirty years later.

So, can we put the oft-repeated lie that “Punk was necessary to save the world from prog-rock” into the dustbin of history where it belongs, and just appreciate the music itself for what it is?

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8 Responses to Old Clichés Never Die, They Just Smell Like It.

  1. Lee says:

    The ‘punk was necessary to kill the prog-rock dinosaurs’ theory is exactly the same as the cack the AOR/hair metal crowd wheel out regarding grunge. They still feel that Kurt Cobain killed the music they love.

    He didn’t, of course, just as prog never really went away completely. It’s all about fashion, and always will be. Let’s face it: if grunge hadn’t have changed the musical landscape for a while, something else would have done…

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Yep, there has been too much great music that got ignored because it was out of step with prevailing fashions.

    If punk really killed stadium rock how do we account for the existence of U2?

  3. Archangel says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Have you been watching the re-runs of TOTP from 1977 on BBC4? With a few honourable exceptions (Abba, Peter Gabriel), almost everything in the charts 35 years ago was utter insipid rubbish. That’s what punk swept away, not prog (which wasn’t really concerned with the singles charts/Radio 1/TOTP anyway).

  4. PaulE says:

    A case could be made for the journalists’ hatred of anything that reminded them of prog having a greater influence than the actual music of punk. Instrument players seem to have disappeared completely from the pop music scene – the constant sniping about “boring” solos may be partly to blame. Every other genre going back in history had famous instrumentalists – jazz, blues, swing, rock’n'roll etc. – so it certainly wasn’t just a prog thing. (Of course, technology is the other reason).

  5. Serdar says:

    Punk didn’t so much kill this stuff outright as give people fed up with it something else to chew on, which it did. I’m good with either kind of material (I wouldn’t have my Virgin-era Tangerine Dream albums *and* Godflesh’s “Pure” if I didn’t), as long as it’s done with intelligence and at least some semblance of good songwriting or composition.

    The other thing is that punk had been lingering just out of sight in one form or another for some eight years previously. To wit: the Stooges. I don’t know about you, but the first time I heard “Fun House” it made most everything I’d heard dated ten years after or more that called itself “heavy” seem downright lightweight.

    (That said, I’m taking the Ramones over ELP any day of the week.)

  6. Tim Hall says:

    That’s the other big myth about Punk – That Malcolm McLaren invented it in London in 1977. As you say, Iggy and the Stooges had been playing what retrospectively got classified as punk a decade earlier.

    Anyway, punk grew out of the mid-70s pub-rock scene, which also spawned Dire Straits, who went on to become the epitome of 80s corporate stadium rock…

  7. Serdar says:

    Heck, the Music Machine were doing stuff that were “punk” in 1960-whatever. And they were a great band — their sound was arguably an influence on folks like The Stranglers — but who talks about them today?

    I suspect all these labels only make sense in retrospect anyway.

  8. Tim Hall says:

    I’ve talk of The Stanglers recently, but more along the lines that they weren’t really punk at all; they were just around at the time, and jumped on the punk bandwagon.