Rumble: The Builders of Modern Rock, Part 1, 1955-1969
Click below on the streaming service of your choice to listen to the playlist as your read along. Since this is a long playlist the profile has been split in two parts, but the music is on single playlists in each streaming service.
Before modern rock there was classic rock. But how do you reconcile The Sex Pistols, Joy Division, or Depeche Mode to the music that came before? While some strains can be linked up, the separation between modern rock and classic rock seemed so wide that it was hard to believe there was only a few years between the heyday of classic rock and the full blossoming of the modern rock era. How could that happen, and why?
The Playlist - Artist \ Song (Year)
Chuck Berry \ Maybellene (1955)
Carl Perkins \ Blue Suede Shoes (1956)
Gene Vincent \ Race with the Devil (1956)
Jerry Lee Lewis \ Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On (1957)
Little Richard \ Keep A Knockin’ (1957)
Elvis Presley \ Jailhouse Rock (1957)
Link Wray \ Rumble (1958)
Vince Taylor \ Brand New Cadillac (1959)
Eddie Cochran \ Somethin' Else (1959)
Johnny Kidd & The Pirates \ Shakin’ All Over (1960)
The Phantom \ Love Me (1960)
Bunker Hill \ The Girl Can't Dance (1962)
The Tornados \ Telstar (1962)
The Beatles \ Twist and Shout (1963)
Link Wray \ The Black Widow (1963)
The Kingsmen \ Louie Louie (1963)
Screaming Lord Sutch \ Jack the Ripper (1963)
The Trashmen \ Surfin' Bird (1963)
The Kinks \ All Day and All of the Night (1964)
The Sonics \ The Witch (1964)
Pretty Things \ Don't Bring Me Down (1964)
The Rivieras \ California Sun (1964)
The Yardbirds \ For Your Love (1965)
Them \ Here Comes the Night (1965)
The Beau Brummels \ Just A Little (1965)
Small Faces \ Whatcha Gonna Do About It (1965)
The Missing Links \ Wild About You (1965)
The Who \ My Generation (1965)
The Seeds \ Pushin' Too Hard (1965)
The Standells \ Dirty Water (1965)
The Rolling Stones \ Get Off of My Cloud (1965)
The Remains \ I Can't Get Away from You (1965)
13th Floor Elevators \ You're Gonna Miss Me (1966)
The Monks \ Oh, How to Do Now (1966)
Count Five \ Psychotic Reaction (1966)
Love \ Seven and Seven Is (1966)
The Action \ Baby, You've Got It (1966)
The Troggs \ With A Girl Like You (1966)
? And the Mysterians \ 96 Tears (1966)
The Creation \ Painter Man (1966)
The Electric Prunes \ I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night) (1966)
Shadows of Knight \ Bad Little Woman (1966)
The Doors \ Break on Through (to the Other Side) (1967)
Deviants \ Garbage (1967)
The Smoke \ My Friend Jack (1967)
Velvet Underground \ There She Goes Again (1967)
John's Children \ Desdemona (1967)
Velvet Underground \ White Light/White Heat (1967)
MC5 \ Kick Out the Jams (1969)
The Stooges \ I Wanna Be Your Dog (1969)
The Stooges \ No Fun (1969)
Norman Greenbaum \ Spirit in the Sky (1969)
Culture evolves, humans evolve, societies change in fits and starts that seem smoother over broader periods but look chaotic and incomprehensible when viewed up close, and yet can be missed while in the moment. How to make sense of it all? Fortunately, in time and with a broad view patterns emerge and lines can be drawn between people and events that start to make sense of things. Modern music didn’t just arrive one day on a whim, it evolved from long-running strains of sounds and attitudes that existed from the earliest days of the arrival of rock music, which itself evolved from past forms.
In the two-part profile on glam rock, some of the proximate history of modern rock’s creative foundations were explored. This profile goes further back and shines a light on the other artists and sounds that also helped build the foundations on which modern rock was built – from garage rock through forms of psychedelic and hard rock, to the aggressive and experimental sounds of proto-punk and early electronica, to the refined growth of pub rock and power pop, that by the mid-1970s provided much of the conditions from which punk and modern rock were born. Between this necessarily selective history of the ‘60s and ‘70s (there are hundreds of songs to mine for this topic) and the glam playlist, nearly ever one of the artists on these playlists were eventually covered and/or cited by modern rock artists as inspirations and influences, and thus were the builders of modern rock.
Maybellene \ Chuck Berry (1955) – The early part of this playlist is not just the acts that would inspire the artists of the early modern rock era but were the progenitors of rock ‘n’ roll itself. They picked up the styles of blues, gospel, jazz, and country and converted them into a tightly organized, energetic, catchy package of music that would evolve quickly and, over the next twenty years, it and its variants would assume dominance over the tastes of popular music. The British Invasion bands of the early 1960s would draw from this period and evolve it into the rock and pop we’d come to know and love decades later; and then the punk and modern rock bands of the late ‘70s would do it all over again, returning rock and pop to its origins while again evolving it to new forms that would proliferate through the 1980s and then dominate the 1990s.
“Maybellene” was Chuck Berry’s first single and one of the first songs recognized as being rock ‘n’ roll. Its pace and energy, the assertiveness of the guitar, and Berry’s emotive vocal sound primitive today but in 1955 were a revelation. As a remaking of a country song, “Ida Red,” it combined the energy of jazz and jump blues with the guitar and emotiveness of blues and country, all delivered in a straightforward, danceable and easily digestible two and half minutes. It created the template for rock ‘n’ roll.
Berry was an ex-convict (he served in a reformatory since he was a teen) influenced by the blues and whose career was helped by blues legend Muddy Waters after they met in Chicago in 1955. Berry recorded for Chess Records, a label that would do much to promote early rock ‘n’ roll. The independent, rules-breaking spirit of Berry (his legacy has been muddied by his personal behaviour) was an important component to establishing rock since it often was, and would be, such individuals that forced their way and new styles into the public consciousness. The spirit of rock ‘n’ roll has always been associated with rebellion and confrontation and Berry was an early example. He was a rare artist for the time that wrote his own material and his contributions and influence on legions of rockers was established over an incredible career that included an impressive list of ground breaking songs that would be covered over and over again by later rock generations, such as “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and “Johnny B. Goode” to name just a few from the early years. He enjoyed chart success throughout the ‘60s and even into the ‘70s, scoring his last #1 single in 1972 with “My Ding-a-Ling.”
In topics related to the United States (and to a lesser but still relevant extent, other western nations), it’s hard to talk about anything without touching on race. Relations between whites and blacks in America always play a part in any cultural or political dynamic within the country. It’s no secret that rock ‘n’ roll was born out of blues, jazz, and R&B, all of which were originated and developed in black communities. The rise of rock ‘n’ roll and its sub-genres was popularized by whites in both America and the UK, inevitably as that was the only way broader audiences would find it palatable. The rebelliousness and confrontation of rock music and its ability to move from shock to acceptance has regrettably needed adoption by white artists. Black musicians have thrived and helped change broader levels of acceptability and appreciation for black culture (not enough, even today, it must be noted), but have done so through R&B, jazz, blues, pop, dance, and hip hop – all of which continued to influence the various forms of rock. Modern rock has been driven by white artists, therefore after Chuck Berry there are very few black artists in this playlist. Thankfully, as modern rock blossomed in the late ‘70s this changed as ska and other forms helped improve the level of diversity, even if only in small ways. Even today, modern rock remains a predominantly white genre. It’s one indication how the races often remain distinct from one another, even decades later, despite sharing so much musical heritage.
Blue Suede Shoes \ Carl Perkins (1956) – One of rock’s most famous songs, more so due to Elvis’ version later that year, it captured the attitude of the emerging style of music. Perkins’ original didn’t have the energy that others have given it, and to which the song deserved, but he laid the groundwork. It was also one of the earliest examples of rockabilly, an important sound that would influence the edgier, more rebellious elements of rock practitioners over the years. Rockabilly blended country, hillbilly and bluegrass, and R&B into a rhythm-based style that featured distinct, picking guitar that had edge and a catchy feel and brought people to the dancefloor. Perkins came out of Tennessee, showing it was the central US and the blues and country heartland that drove the early rise of rock ‘n’ roll.
Race with the Devil \ Gene Vincent (1956) – More rockabilly, but in Gene Vincent (born in Virginia as Vincent Eugene Craddock) there was some of the swagger and rocker image that would soon be embraced by many rockers then and now. Known mostly for his first single, “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” I’ve opted for his second single “Race with the Devil” from that same year as a better example of how his rockabilly sound and energy contributed to the later rock sounds. The picking guitar, lively stand-up bass and drums, and his consummate rockabilly vocal conveyed the swinging, loose feel of early rock that set itself apart from the big bands, blues and gospel that preceded it. Vincent would not sustain his early popularity but continued to record through the ‘60s, passing away from a stomach ulcer in 1971. In 1976 modern rocker Ian Dury paid tribute to him with the tune, “Sweet Gene Vincent,” a song that was popular through the modern rock breakout year of 1977.
Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On \ Jerry Lee Lewis (1957) – Like Chuck Berry, Lewis is another individual with a troubled legacy, who broke rules and lived life in an uncompromising and full-on spirit that unquestionably contributed to his music and helped rock achieve new levels of passion. If there’s any stereotype of Lewis, it’s of his unbounded energy even while tied to the piano keys during performances. There was an infectious energy to his piano-driven rockabilly, eminently evident in his breakthrough single, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” Followed by the hits “Great Balls of Fire” and “Breathless,” the three top ten singles (none reached #1) made Jerry Lee Lewis a leading voice of the early rock period. His later career focused on country and he had minor hits until the 1980s (he’s still alive, currently aged 83). He was instrumental in promoting the use of piano in rock ‘n’ roll.
Lewis’s early recordings, along with Carl Perkins, were issued through Sun Records, the Memphis label run by Sam Phillips. Like Chess, Sun Records was instrumental in recording and promoting many early rock artists, not the least of which was…
Keep A-knockin’ \ Little Richard (1957) – Richard Penniman, known as Little Richard, was another southern, black American musician that had profound impact on the growth of rock ‘n’ roll. Few artists had the energy of Richard, who threw more passion into his vocals and performances than anyone and created excitement and power in his music that spurred others to do the same. He started recording in 1951 and had his first success with “Tutti Frutti” in 1955 followed by “Long Tall Sally,” “Slippin’ and Slidin’” and “The Girl Can’t Help It” in 1956. The energy was pumped further with in 1957 with “Lucille” and “Keep A-knockin,” leading up to “Good Golly, Miss Molly” in early ’58. There was nothing fancy about Little Richard’s music, just showmanship and an incredible voice, putting power into the rock vocal that kept up with the music and broke new horizons on what was possible.
Jailhouse Rock \ Elvis Presley (1957) – By 1957, Elvis had also been recording with Sun and releasing singles at a prodigious pace since 1954. A gospel singer by trade, he also played rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly by covering many blues songs from the 1940s and early 1950s. Growing in popularity for his songs and performances, including many TV appearances, he switched to the RCA Victor label under the guidance of his new manager, Colonol Tom Parker, at the end of 1955. He then rose to peak prominence with his first two #1 singles in 1956, “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” Also issued that year but coming short of #1 were his early contributions to the energetic and edgier style of rock, “Hound Dog” and “Blue Suede Shoes.” He closed 1956 with his third #1, “Love Me Tender.” 1957 saw him shift from the slower ballads and gospel crooners to record more rockabilly records, “Too Much,” and three more #1s, “All Shook Up,” “(Let Me Your) Teddy Bear,” and “Jailhouse Rock.”
Elvis was blessed with good looks and as deep and smooth a voice as could be found. His onstage nervousness and responsiveness to his band’s energetic rhythms led to movements that made him a thrilling performer, especially when he started dressing in flashier outfits. In the conservative 1950s, any artist that shook his hips and gyrated his legs and pelvis was beyond the bounds of good taste, and though Elvis was generally a shy and polite individual, on stage he came across as a rebel. Though he’d appeared on TV many times over the previous few years, his performance on the Ed Sullivan Show on September 9, 1956 brought him to an unprecedented audience, some sixty million viewers representing over eighty percent of the viewing audience that evening. Sullivan, having seen Elvis’ prior TV appearances, instructed for the singer to be filmed only from the waist up. Regardless, the appearance was a sensation and kickstarted the frenzy that would make Elvis one of the most success singers and most famous individuals on the planet right through to his death in 1977. Though his later career and style took him well away from any forms of rebellious rock, his 1950s output and performances were an inspiration to early modern rockers.
Rumble \ Link Wray (1958) – Now a few years on, rock ‘n’ roll naturally started to expand as artists explored the possibilities of the new form, with the guitar leading the way. One of the earliest and most influential, without ever having a top ten hit, was Fred Lincoln Wray, known as Link Wray. A Native American from North Carolina, he is cited as being one of the first hard rockers and punks thanks to his use of distortion, vibrato, and power chords with the guitar that would become the base elements of hard rock and punk rock.
“Rumble” was his first single, an instrumental recorded with his band, Link Wray & His Ray Men, that peaked at #16. Have a look at Jimmy Page and Jack White’s reverence for the song in the documentary, This Might Get Loud, and you start to get a sense of the impact this song had over the ensuing decades. The guitar sound, the plodding march of the bass and drums, the mix of rockabilly and country and western twang with a surf style, and Wray’s appearance would all contribute to the advent of the greaser/rocker style that would take hold for rebel rockers in the 1960s. Through the likes of this song, it was a profound discovery that rock didn’t need to be about sweetness and light and could have an element of menace and danger.
Brand New Cadillac \ Vince Taylor (1959) (pictured top left in preview picture) – Another individual with a troubled personality, Brian Holden performed as Vince Taylor and channelled his passion for rockabilly into his performances. Never a big commercial success (though popular in France), Taylor’s best known for “Brand New Cadillac” which was the B-side to his single, “Pledgin’ My Love,” and recorded with his band, The Playboys. Taylor was the basis for David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character and this song would later be popularized thanks to The Clash’s cover of it on their landmark album, London Calling. Drug addiction limited Taylor’s career, a trend that would also become a norm in rock ‘n’ roll.
Somethin’ Else \ Eddie Cochran (1959) – This was a rockabilly tune in which its chugging rhythm and insouciant delivery was another that put swagger and defiance into the music. Eddie Cochran helped pioneer multi-track recording and the use of studio techniques to achieve new sounds within the music. He started recording in 1954 and had moderate success until scoring his only top ten hit in 1958 with “Summertime Blues.” His songs have been some of the most covered by rock and modern rock artists, which in addition to “Summertime Blues” and “Somethin’ Else,” have included “Twenty Flight Rock and “C’Mon Everybody.” Cochran, an American, died in a car crash in England in 1960 at only 21 years-old.
Shakin’ All Over \ Johnny Kidd & The Pirates (1960) – We reach our first non-American in this playlist with Brit, Johnny Kidd (born Freddie Heath), a skiffle artist who had success in the rockabilly style. His first hit in the UK was “Please Don’t Touch” in 1959, which lent rockabilly a melodic, pop style that pre-dated the Beatles sound. It reached #25 and paved the way for “Shakin’ All Over” in 1960, which reached #1 in the UK. It was a little purer to rockabilly but still had greater ambience than the American style. Kidd was another that wrote his own material, and though this song didn’t catch on stateside, it would be covered many times over by subsequent artists of high profile, including by both The Guess Who and The Who. Kidd’s band, The Pirates, included the guitarist Joe Moretti who also performed on Vince Taylor’s “Brand New Cadillac.” The band also performed dressed as pirates with Kidd wearing an eye patch, which helped spawn future acts that would utilize theatrical elements with their music, most notably in the glam era. It was songs like “Shakin’ All Over” that pushed rock compositions beyond the simple constructions or pure speed approaches.
Love Me \ The Phantom (Jerry Lott) (1960) – Not released until 1960, this song was recorded in 1958 by a southern blues and rockabilly singer, Billy Lott, who took on the name ‘The Phantom’ by suggestion from crooner, Pat Boone. Lott and the band were another that took rock ‘n’ roll’s energy to a new level with this performance, edge-walking between order and disorder in a way that psychedelic rock, punk, and other forms of progressive music would regularly do to push against boundaries every time the music world started to settle a little too comfortably into the ruts of the past. This song took Jerry Lee Lewis’ and Little Richard’s energy and delivered a sound to match.
The Girl Can’t Dance \ Bunker Hill (David Walker) (1962) (album cover top right in preview photo) – David Walker was a southern gospel singer who agreed to record rock songs with Link Wray on the invitation from Wray’s brother, Vernon. So as not to ostracize himself with his gospel group, Mighty Clouds of Joy, he used the pseudonym Bunker Hill to no avail since when the single, “Hide and Go Seek,” became a hit (#27 in the US) he was found out and ejected from the gospel group regardless. This was a conundrum many gospel singers faced since rock was typically positioned as devil’s music by the church community. Sam Cooke was another such black gospel singer forced to choose between those options, a choice that someone like Elvis Presley never had to make even in the face of the controversies over his performances.
“The Girl Can’t Dance” was one of five songs recorded by Walker and Wray, and wow, what an exercise in letting loose in a way that rock hadn’t ventured yet. None before had reached this fever pitch. With Link Wray’s quick guitar and a pounding beat, both struggled to compete with Walkers’ screaming, runaway train vocals. You couldn’t imagine anyone still standing after such a performance, nor could you imagine anyone standing still while listening.
Telstar \ The Tornados (1962) – Nothing could be more different from Bunker Hill than The Tornados, a band from London that produced many experimental instrumental records. They were the backing band for singer Billy Fury but released instrumental songs on their own. “Telstar,” their second single, was an unlikely hit reaching #1 in both the US and the UK. They were the first British rock ‘n’ roll act to reach #1 in the US and helped open the door to the British Invasion, with the next UK act to do so being The Beatles the following year. This song was an intriguing mix of sci-fi and western movie themes, carried on an eerie organ melody and finished with a discordant, explosion-like finale.
I include “Telstar” on this list since it was different, expanded the concept of what was rock and pop music, started a new branch of rock focused on space and sci-fi – huge themes throughout the 1960s – led to the much later arrival of electronic music, and was a product of Joe Meek, a member of the band and a producer, engineer, songwriter, and founder and co-owner of the record label, Triumph. He was considered a pioneer in studio engineering techniques, helping develop the use of overdubbing, sampling, and reverb.
Twist and Shout \ The Beatles (1963) – I won’t spend too much time on The Beatles, who I’ve profiled already and are probably the best known rock band ever. Highly regarded for their talent both as songwriters and musicians, their early success came from taking the sounds of the previous eight years and reproducing it with a clarity and pop sensibility that far exceeded what anyone else had done to that point. Cover songs helped propel their success, but it would be their original material that shone through and allowed them to dominate the charts for the next eight years.
Starting with the likes of “Rumble” there was a growing underground rock variant that was using more distortion, a rawer guitar sound, and looser style than the tightly constructed pop songs of the time. It wouldn’t be labelled as such during its time, but this growing strain would later be categorized as garage rock when it was re-popularized in the 1970s thanks to the compilation album, Nuggets, put together by writer and future guitarist for Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye. Many of the songs on this playlist were on that album, which was also notable for first using the term, punk, to refer to such music and its artists. Indeed, when we look at the music that inspired punk and a return to short, pop-styled hard rock, it was ‘60s garage rock that those artists reached for when they learned their instruments and first started playing. Garage rock is often used to refer to less refined rock music, as if produced in someone’s garage and lacking the acoustics and technology of a professional studio and befitting a band in its less successful, learning stages. Of course, the reality is that it was, and continues to be, a sound bands sought with relish and produced to create a rough and ready sound that set listeners on edge and separated itself from the usual genteel sounds of the chart-topping pop songs.
“Twist and Shout” was a song from the early ‘60s written by Phil Medley and Bert Berns and popularized by the Isley Brothers. The Beatles’ version, with its rough guitar, John Lennon’s raw vocals, and loose style showed an edgier side of the fab four and opened the door to a wider audience willing to consider the garage rock sound.
The Black Widow \ Link Wray (1963) – Therefore, we have to return to Link Wray who was a pioneer of garage rock along with the surf bands of the west coast. His guitar style was influential on the rock sounds that would emerge through the early to mid-60s. “The Black Widow” was a marvelous song and the B-side to his single, “Jack the Ripper.” While the A-side was closer to the usual surf music, the B-side had a rockier guitar sound and more menacing groove along with the organ, bass, and drums.
Louie Louie \ The Kingsmen (1963) – This song almost deserves its own playlist given how often it’s been covered, and that’s just looking at studio recordings which are reportedly in excess of 1,600. It seems every good rock band cuts its teeth on this song at some point in their career or draws from it for energy during a show. Written by Richard Berry in 1955, whose version was in his doo wop style, it was The Kingsmen’s version in 1963 that set the standard for the garage rock style. They were from Portland and part of an emerging variant of rock in the northwest that combined surf with R&B for a loose, coarse, rock sound, locally dubbed as frat rock – it was no mistake the song was the pinnacle of the 1978 frat house comedy, Animal House. The Kingsmen’s version of “Louie Louie” reached #2 in the US and went on to international success, bringing the garage rock sound to the masses.
Jack the Ripper \ Screaming Lord Sutch (1963) – David Sutch was a real character and did much to further the impertinent nature of rock that would underpin much of the best music over the next two decades. Taking the invented title, Screaming Lord Sutch, 3rd Earl of Harrow, he produced garage rock along with a horror theme, inventing the concept of shock rock. His best known song was “Jack the Ripper,” a cover of a 1961 song by Clarence Stacy that was produced by Joe Meek (who we noted above as part of The Tornados). This song was delivered with a “Monster Mash” vibe, punctuated with a high-pitched chorus chanting, “The ripper, Jack the Ripper,” that offset Sutch’s sandpaper vocal and screams (he was a fan of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and thus his chosen title) and the funky, bottom-heavy rhythm from his band, The Savages. The song has been covered by modern rockers such as White Stripes and The Horrors.
Surfin’ Bird \ The Trashmen (1963) – This was another unlikely hit which reached #4 in the US and was a mash-up of two songs by the Rivingtons, “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” and “The Bird’s the Word.” The Trashmen failed to credit the originals on their version. Looking past its novelty nature, the pounding drums, insistent rhythms, and unconventional vocals made for an arresting garage rock song. The song was covered by The Ramones on their third album and by The Cramps for their debut single, showing its appeal to the late ‘70s punk crowd.
All Day and All of the Night \ The Kinks (1964) – The early releases from The Kinks were garage rock, though over time their more developed songs would become the signature sound of the mod culture. Formed by the brothers Ray and Dave Davies, The Kinks revealed the growing influence of the earlier rock acts with their very first single being Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally.” Their path to becoming one of the biggest and most influential bands of the next decade started in 1964 with the #1 song, “You Really Got Me,” followed by the #2 single, “All Day and All of the Night.” Driven by catchy riffs, memorable melodies, and a loose and raw sound, The Kinks drew larger audiences to the rougher edges of rock ‘n’ roll and furthered the template for hard rock. Early modern rock acts would draw from the The Kinks and the mods, blending punk’s energy with strong R&B melodies, most notably in the case of the band, The Jam.
The Witch \ The Sonics (1964) (lower right in preview picture) – Like The Kingsmen, this band came from the Pacific northwest, hailing from Tacoma. They are a band that didn’t have much commercial success but a strong local following and went on to be influential on bands of the late ‘70s who were inspired by the rough energy of these early garage rock acts. “The Witch” was The Sonics’ first single and the B-side was Little Richard’s “Keep A-Knockin’,” again showing the string of connections from the late ‘50s to the late ‘70s through the evolutionary stepping stone of the ‘60s garage rock acts. In “The Witch,” the repeated strength of the rhythm put the emphasis on the song’s aggressive energy and the rough sounding vocal and made no pretense of being a safe pop song. The appeal of The Sonic’s to later punks was understandable.
Don’t Bring Me Down \ Pretty Things (1964) – This band was formed by Dick Taylor, an early member of The Rolling Stones who left to go to school in 1962. He formed Pretty Things while at school and started releasing singles on Fontana Records in 1964. They were one of many putting a harder edge on the R&B and blues of the ‘50s and had some early success, with their self-titled first album reaching the top ten in the UK and “Don’t Bring Me Down,” their second single, also reaching the top ten. It would be their best success despite recording on up to 1980. Like the Stones, Pretty Things were known for their rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, marked by provocative styles and behaviour to the extent that the New Zealand parliament had a discussion about whether to allow entry permits for bands like Pretty Things – very punk.
California Sun \ The Rivieras (1964) – A popular song covered by many modern rock artists – most notably by The Ramones – the original was a combo of surf and rockabilly, grouped into the frat rock sound of the northwest coast. The tribal drums, catchy guitar and organ riffs, and infectious pace and melody made for an unmistakable hit and a natural to be taken to new levels of energy and pace by punks. The Rivieras hailed from nowhere near the sunny west coast, being from South Bend, Indiana. They were a young group formed during high school that didn’t last long as several members entered the army both voluntarily and via the draft or left the band to focus on school. “California Sun” was their only hit from their three albums released during 1964-65.
For You Love \ The Yardbirds (1965) – We’re into the peak years of the mid-1960s rock revolution, as the genre started to splinter into new and ever-expanding creative circles. Still rooted in traditional R&B and blues structures but with increasing power and swagger, the audiences for rock ‘n’ roll were expanding rapidly in the UK and, by that point, in the US too thanks to the British Invasion. One of the more notable of the garage acts from the UK was The Yardbirds, who at the time of their first releases included Eric Clapton on guitar.
Formed in 1963 The Yardbirds went back to the blues legends such as Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, and Elmore James for inspiration, putting a rough sound to their interpretation. After a few singles in 1964, “For Your Love” in ’65 was their breakthrough, reaching the top ten in the UK and the US. Disinterested in the pop format in favour of a purer blues approach, Clapton left the band just as the single was released in order to join John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. He was replaced with Jeff Beck (on the recommendation of Jimmy Page), not a bad swap! Page would join them a year later as The Yardbirds established themselves as a top act of the late ‘60s. When Page assembled a new band a few years later, they would be known as The New Yardbirds before eventually changing their name to Led Zeppelin. The Yardbirds’ popularity and garage sound would be tremendously influential for both garage rockers and mods.
Here Comes the Night \ Them (1965) – Given the smoothness of his voice and later music, it might surprise some to learn that Van Morrison started in one of the most influential of the garage rock bands. Coming out of Belfast, Ireland in 1964, Them scored their first hit that year with their second single, “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” a cover of the blues standard popularized by Big Joe Williams as far back as 1935. The B-side was, “Gloria.” The next single was the mid-tempo pop-growler, “Here Comes the Night.” Mixing Morrison’s rough-edged chorus with a bouncy tempo through the verses, the song reached #2 in the UK and #24 in the US. A year later they released their prior single in the US with the sides reversed, with “Gloria” now on the A-side. It barely cracked the top 100 in the US, a surprising result given the legendary status it would go on to achieve as one of the most definitive tracks of the garage rock era. Patti Smith’s reinvention of it in 1975 would help launch her career and bring listeners to the punkier style. “Here Comes the Night” set Them up for success and helped launch Van Morrison’s incredible career.
Just A Little \ The Beau Brummels (1965) – Their look and much of their sound seems out of place on this playlist, but The Beau Brummels, from San Francisco, helped define the early US west coast sound that would be a mainstay of later modern rock origins. Usually a purer pop sounding act, they often mixed folk and psychedelic pop into their sound with the result stretching rock’s boundaries into several areas, including a garage-pop sound. Their first success was 1964’s Beatles-like, “Laugh Laugh,” which reached the top twenty in the US, but their next single in ’65 was “Just A Little,” which had a little more edge to it and scored them their only top ten hit in both the US and the UK. They would record through to 1975.
Whatcha Gonna Do About It \ Small Faces (1965) – This was another significant band of the garage rock and mod rock genres that influenced generations of British rockers thereafter, despite only being together for four years. “Whatcha Gonna Do About It” was their first single, released in August of 1965 ahead of their eponymous debut album the following May. The single reached #14 in the UK and would be one of the many covers The Sex Pistols performed in their early days, seizing on the song’s persistent rhythm and howling blues vocal. Small Faces broke up in 1969 with Steve Marriott going on to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, while Ian McLagen, Ronnie Lane, and Kenny Jones continuing as The Faces, adding Rod Stewart as their singer along with future Rolling Stone, Ron Wood, on guitar.
Wild About You \ The Missing Links (1965) – Garage rock was, as happens with a great musical movement, spreading across the world. The Missing Links were Australia’s answer as the Sydney band set about offending more genteel purveyors of the music world down under. Their long hair and destructive behaviour – they liked to destroy their equipment – led to problems with the law and bans from radio and television. Their antics were also the source of their name as critics compared them to primordial beings. After a line-up change moving from 1964 to 1965 they managed to produce many solid singles, including the great “Wild About You.” It had a great rhythm, lively bassline, the requisite raw guitars, an organ line providing a shimmering undercurrent, and the wild vocals to match the freneticism of the music. They were not a commercial success but helped broaden the garage sound internationally.
My Generation \ The Who (1965) – The Who are the best known of the mods and one of the most prolific bands in rock history. Formed in London in 1964 they were another band that liked to smash their equipment as part of their aggressive performances. They started as The Detours, playing variations of late ‘50s and early ‘60s instrumental music, but in 1964 they changed their name to The Who and, after several line-up changes, settled in with Roger Daltrey on vocals, Pete Townshend on guitar, and John Entwistle on bass. The missing and catalytic piece came when drummer Keith Moon joined, providing an energetic foundation to the band’s creativity and talent.
After the success of their first single, “I Can’t Explain” (written to mimic the sound of The Kinks), they surpassed it with “My Generation” later that year, reaching #2 in the UK but only barely cracking the top 100 in the US. It’s attitude-filled lyrics, stuttering tension, explosive releases thanks to Mr. Moon, and Townshend’s down-strumming, heavy guitar riffs provided the foundation for the modern rock sound and outsider status years later. While The Who would go on to an incredible, progressive career with a litany of great singles and stellar albums over the next twenty years, their early contributions were significant in popularizing the sound, style, and attitudes of the modern music movement.
Pushin’ Too Hard \ The Seeds (1965) – The amazing year of 1965 continues with this band from Los Angeles that blended the west coast psychedelic sound with the rough edges of the garage rock sound. Led by singer Sky Saxon, their use of keyboards for the bass was different and was the approach adopted by The Doors a few years later. Their first singles in 1965, “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” and “Pushin’ Too Hard” did well on the coast but didn’t carry to broader success. “Pushin’ Too Hard” was re-released in ’66 and this time cracked the top forty nationally. The Seeds are an act often cited by modern rock artists as an influence and their songs have been covered by an impressive list of rockers and modern rock acts over the years.
Dirty Water \ The Standells (1965) – Boston sports fans know this song as a celebratory anthem played after Bruins and Red Sox games since the song is a tribute to the city, warts and all, “Well I love that dirty water / Oh Boston, you’re my home / (oh, you’re the number one place).” The Standells were actually from Los Angeles and had never been to Boston; the song was written by their producer about a mugging he’d experienced in Beantown. Despite the city no longer bearing a resemblance to the pollution and crime of its ‘60s incarnation, it’s still a beloved track for locals.
The Standells were formed in 1962 and after many unsuccessful singles over ’64 and ’65 finally had a success in ’66 with “Dirty Water,” which was released in November of ’65. It reached #11 in the US charts. Like The Seeds, this band was another west coast garage rock act that had considerable influence on the early modern rock acts, being cited and covered by early American punk bands.
Get Off of My Cloud \ The Rolling Stones (1965) – You can read a deeper exploration of The Stones, their music, and influence in their Ceremony profile, but for this playlist they’re an indispensable presence. As 1965 was reaching its end the band had risen from its blues tribute beginnings into one of the biggest leaders of the British Invasion. “Get Off of My Cloud” was released as a single in September of ’65 in the US and then included on their fifth US LP in December, the aptly titled December’s Children (And Everybody’s)). In October it was released in the UK as a non-album release. At that point they’d had four #1 singles in the UK, with the most recent being “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” The situation was different in the US where, until “Satisfaction” reached #1, they’d only cracked the top ten twice across their first eight charting singles. “Get Off of My Cloud” was their first to hit #1 in both countries.
It’s probably my favourite Stones song and I just love how angry and near unhinged Mick Jagger is throughout the vocal. The opening drum beat from Charlie Watts leading into Keith Richard’s quintessentially loose, rollicking guitar sets up the tune’s attitude. The song was written as an acerbic response to the heightened demand on the band after the success of “Satisfaction,” and the attitude drips from every aspect of the song. The Stones would be dubbed, in addition to the world’s ‘greatest band,’ also one of its most dangerous being the most high profile progenitors of the rebel aspects of rock ‘n’ roll in the early ‘60s. To me there’s no other song of their canon that backed up those claims better than this song. Modern rock artists may have not liked the late ‘70s version of The Stones, but their garage rock mid-60s sound was a huge influence. Keith Richards alone set a standard for looks and behaviour that legions of modern rockers would follow.
I Can’t Get Away from You \ The Remains (1965) – This was a Boston band, bringing a rare east coast contribution to the garage rock scene of 1965, though ended up in California after a brief stint in New York. They weren’t very successful and only released one album over their brief career but did manage an opening slot for The Beatles on their final US tour in ’66. Led by Barry Tashian, The Remains issued many energetic singles including minor, regional hits with “Why Do I Cry” and “I Can’t Get Away from You” in 1965 and then a cover of “Doo Wah Diddy” along with an original, “Don’t Look Back” in 1966. Their stature rose as 1990s modern rock acts built attention towards the garage rock acts of the ‘60s.
We’ll now move from 1965 to 1966, placing us in the centre of the garage rock era as the sound developed and exploded, mostly in the UK but certainly with impact on the coastal rock scenes in the US. This edgier sound with loose, jangly guitar solos and aggressive strumming and vocals was creating a separate strain of rock from the pop-rock, R&B, and psychedelic rock also competing for space at the time. By now we’ve covered most of the big artists of the time that moved the more aggressive and progressive forms of rock to the forefront – The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Yardbirds – who were now established and on their way to their dominant positions in the young rock universe. This playlist now digs further into the underground rock scene where the edgier and more direct forms of rock would continue to be pushed forward. These are the artists less celebrated in the annals of rock history, but whose contributions really pushed towards the arrival of modern rock.
You’re Gonna Miss Me \ 13th Floor Elevators (1966) – This Texas band is best remembered for this song and in launching the colourful and curious career of its singer, Roky Erickson. “You’re Gonna Miss Me” was their only hit and was big in their area of the US, managing a #55 peak nationally. They’re sound moved more into the lengthy, psychedelic sounds of the late ‘60s but in this song they offered their most direct track and with it a rough and ready tune that became a standard of the garage rock sound.
Oh, How to Do Now \ The Monks (1966) – This band was exactly the kind of underground artist that eschewed the more accessible sounds of mainstream rock and instead played with rhythm and vocals to create new and different forms of hard-edged rock. Their formation was unusual, being compiled by a group of American soldiers stationed in Germany who not only played instruments and wanted to form a band, but uniformly supported a musical direction that challenged the conventions of mid-60s formats. They played in German clubs developing their sound, in particular during a residency at the Rio Bar in Stuttgart. They also adopted the monk look with robes and shaved, tonsure hairstyles that elicited controversy for mixing the pious with the psychedelic. Amazingly, Polydor Records took a chance with them resulting in the band’s only album, Black Monk Time. They also released several singles, with “Oh, How to Do Now” being the B-side to the song, “Confessions,” and I think one of their stronger tunes and a great example of their rhythm-based style.
Their criticism of the Vietnam war limited their appeal in the US and their experimental style kept their European response muted, but their sound, use of feedback, and wild and unorthodox vocal styles would influence many artists such as the Velvet Underground, and lead directly to the early punk bands and aggressive forms of modern rock.
Psychotic Reaction \ Count Five (1966) – The thing about all this music, and something I’ve noticed about punk music also, is how hard it is to capture its essence in recordings. The music is meant to be heard live, in person.
In 2013 I saw Patti Smith at Massey Hall in Toronto accompanied by her guitarist Lenny Kaye. As noted earlier, aside from his playing with Smith and many other contributions as a musician over the years, he’s also known for having assembled the 1972 garage rock compilation album, Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968. Its release helped spur renewed interest in that music and influenced many ‘70s bands that built up to the launch of punk, not to mention the album’s liner notes included one of the first instances of calling music, ‘punk rock.’ In that 2013 show Patti took a break and left the stage, leaving Kaye and the band play a few songs – dubbed the Nuggets Medley – which included Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction.” It was a song I knew and had heard a few times over the years (most notably from a Nash the Slash version on an album I had) but, hearing it in person and performed so well, made me sit up and take notice of it anew. It mesmerized me and, since then, has become a favourite song of mine. The guitar, rhythm, and loose feel is simply fantastic.
“Psychotic Reaction” was the most notable contribution from The Count Five, formed in San Jose, California in 1964. Their album of the same name was their only LP and none of their songs over their five year span reached the charts except for this song, which reached #5. It is one of the best-known garage rock songs.
Seven and Seven Is \ Love (1966) – This band is best known as a psychedelic rock act, but this single from their second album was their best achievement, reaching #33 in the US chart. It’s quick pace and aggressive sound placed it into the garage rock style and became a favourite of early punk acts a decade later. The pace and coordination of the drums and guitar were a challenge to record. The band was led by Arthur Lee, making this a rare entry from a black artist – the rest of the band was white, making them also a rare diverse act for the time. Love was formed in 1965 and released their debut LP in early ‘66. They would release seven albums in all and achieve considerable critical acclaim, though never charted highly. Their most lauded LP was 1967’s Forever Changes which did well in the UK, reaching #24 on the album chart.
Baby, You’ve Got It \ The Action (1966) – A less successful band but one beloved among the mods was The Action, formed out of a band called The Boys in 1963. The mod style was marked by a strong adherence to its R&B and soul origins and The Action fit that mold. They mostly recorded cover songs such as “Land of a Thousand Dances” and “Harlem Shuffle.” They were a band stewarded by Beatles producer George Martin and after issuing several non-charting singles over a two year span the group disbanded. “Baby, You’ve Got It” was their third single, a cover of The Radiant’s 1954 tune, and was a good example of how they deployed the mod style to the classic soul sound. A 1980 compilation of their singles included notes from The Jam’s Paul Weller, prompting belated, renewed interest in their music.
With A Girl Like You \ The Troggs (1966) – Signed by The Kinks manager, The Troggs followed an initial, non-charting single with a #1 US smash, “Wild Thing,” probably one of the best known rock songs of all time. I prefer their follow-up single the same year, “With A Girl Like You,” which only reached #29 in the US but went to #1 in the UK, outdoing “Wild Thing’s” #2 peak. They would have more hits in the UK but only one more that reached the top ten in the US, 1967’s “Love Is All Around.” “Wild Thing,” “With A Girl Like You,” and others like “I Can’t Control Myself” were garage rock standards, pushing the lyrics, rhythm, and melodies to a looser, edgier feel paired with singer Reg Presley’s nasally vocals. Their sound influenced Iggy Pop and their songs were regularly covered by early punk bands like The Ramones and Buzzcocks.
96 Tears \ ? and the Mysterians (1966) – Another garage rock band known for a famous song. “96 Tears” was originally released as the B-side to their first single in April 1966, “Midnight Hour.” The band, from Bay City, Michigan, encouraged local radio stations to play “96 Tears” and one across the border in Windsor championed it, making it a regional hit. It was then picked up nationally and re-distributed, reaching #1 in the US in October (but only #37 in the UK). Based on the organ rather than guitar, they still built a loose and aggressive brand of rock that set it apart from the gentler forms of rock on the charts and inspired the later proto-punk acts. They were inspired by the music of Link Wray. This was also another act that brought a little diversity to the scene, being formed around the sons of migrant Mexican workers. Their enigmatic singer, Rudy Martinez, was known as Question Mark (or just ‘?’) and thus their name when they took up the title of a sci-fi movie for the band name. They only released two albums in ’66 and ’67 followed by a few more singles and continued on in one form or another into the 1970s.
Painter Man \ The Creation (1966) - Formed in 1966 from the ashes of the band, The Mark Four, their first single, “Making Time,” indicated this was a different act most notably by guitarist Eddie Phillips’ employing a violin bow on the guitar – a move that would prove popular with psychedelic rockers thereafter. Their garage and psychedelic sound came through even stronger on the next single, “Painter Man.” The song structures were similar to the mods like The Who and The Kinks, carrying greater energy and rougher guitars into the R&B and soul sound. “Painter Man” reached #36 in the UK to be their greatest success, and after several more singles amongst line-up changes (including a brief stint by future Rolling Stone, Ron Wood), the band called it quits by the end of 1968. They are yet another act often cited by later modern rock acts as an influence.
I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night) \ The Electric Prunes (1966) – By late 1966 the psychedelic sound was really starting to take hold thanks to the critical and commercial successes of landmark albums such as The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and The Beatles’ Revolver. Unlike those complex, experimental, and ambitious productions, there were other acts exploring the psychedelic sound in a more aggressive and stripped-down fashion, mixing the psychedelic with the garage sound. The Electric Prunes from Los Angeles was just such an act. It wouldn’t be long before they too pursued more ambitious and involved recordings, but their first effort, the self-titled 1966 album, featured music that would have tremendous influence on later punks. “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)” was their second single and reached #11 in the UK and #49 in the UK. A follow-up single that year, “Get Me to the World on Time,” reached #27 in the US and #42 in the UK and they were thereafter unable to match those first successes. The band broke up in 1970 but did manage to release five albums during their short stint.
Bad Little Woman \ The Shadows of Knight (1966) – In a circular creation myth, The Shadows of Knight described their sound as taking the British Invasion sound, which was itself based on American R&B, soul, and blues, re-patriated with some of the band’s hometown, Chicago edge. They first came to wider attention with their cover of Them’s “Gloria,” released in ’66 and reaching the American top ten (“Gloria” is one of those perfect songs in which I don’t think anyone can do a bad version). A second album and more singles were issued late in ’66 including “Bad Little Woman,” which only reached #91 in the US. It was a little more psychedelic than the garage rock of their debut, provided the psych sound with the outsider swagger of the garage sound. The band would only release one more album and a few more singles up until 1970 and after line-up changes called it quits in the ‘70s. The Shadows of Knight were one of the more popular and most celebrated of the mid-60s, Chicago garage rock scene.
Break on Through (to the Other Side) \ The Doors (1967) – Released on January 1, 1967, “Break on Through” was The Doors’ first single and the first track on their first album. It was an auspicious debut for the Los Angeles band and quite the launch to one of the most ground breaking years of rock music. If others were blending garage rock, psychedelia, and organ-led music, none did it better than Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore. Starting inconspicuously with a jazzy drum and organ intro, the song exploded as Morrison ripped into the chorus and gave us the first sense of the power that could be delivered within psychedelic music. The Doors would rightly be placed within the classic category of rock, but Morrison’s outsider behaviour and status as a troubled, creative, and boundary-pushing young man would, more than most, define the type of rebellious character that would be embraced by the punks.
Garbage \ The Deviants (1967) – An interesting and important aspect of the builders of modern rock was a focus on challenging the conventions of music styles and social dynamics as opposed to political themes. Folk singers, hippies, and other rockers were leading the charge on issues of social injustice and civil rights and the growing anti-Vietnam and peace movements, but for the artists on this list these were generally not particular areas of focus. Therefore, these underground movements that challenged conventions were doing so more with music and fashion, sexual liberation, and were usually aided and associated with drugs.
The Social Deviants were a group born of this scene in London driven by singer and writer, Mick Farren. They were a social collective of artists and by the time of the release of their first LP in 1967, Ptooff!, had dropped the ‘social’ from their name. Funded by Nigel Samuel, a young man from a wealthy family, they issued their music via their own label and promoted it through underground press. This was an early form of the DIY spirit that marked the initial waves of punk and modern music. The Deviants would eventually sign with Decca Records after gaining attention through their initial efforts. Their sound contributed to the trend of mixing psychedelic and garage rock and covered topics of social commentary and sexual politics. Their cheeky, stripped down style was also a precursor to the rise of pub rock, a formative genre to modern rock. The debut album was solid but, like most of The Deviant’s releases, didn’t catch on. “Garbage” was a song that blended all their styles in one, pushing the conventions of a typical rock song by traversing through several movements, though lyrically it was not their strongest example of their deviant style, though did have a few suggestive lines.
The Deviants would go on to release three albums by 1969 and Farren would record solo and revive The Deviants occasionally over the following decades, releasing additional albums under the name in the ‘90s and 2000s. Although only a B-side to their 1968 single, “You’ve Got to Hold On,” the tune “Let’s Loot the Supermarket,” would get a punky reboot by Farren on a Stiff Records release, making it a contribution to the modern rock scene.
My Friend Jack \ The Smoke (1967) – This band from York, England achieved more success in mainland Europe (especially Germany) than in England, but it’s sound was a strong English blend of mod and bubblegum, swinging London pop. Originating out of a band called, at first, Moonshots, and then eventually Shots (at which point they were briefly, and unsuccessfully, managed by the notorious Krays), they switched to The Smoke in 1967 and had minor success with their first single, “My Friend Jack” (#45 in the UK, top ten in in Germany and Austria). The reverb styled guitar carried the aggressive R&B vibe championed by mods paired with the pop-styled vocal style. It was banned by the BBC due to concerns around drug connotations. The Smoke only released one album, 1967’s It’s Smoke Time, and after a relocation to Germany carried on until 1969-70. A brief version of the band reappeared in the ‘70s but didn’t succeed.
There She Goes Again \ Velvet Underground (1967) – While all the artists on this playlist influenced the birth of modern rock there were four bands that more than any other can have a straight line drawn between themselves and the birth of punk in ’76 and the explosion of modern rock in ’77. Velvet Underground were the first of those four bands, along with The Stooges, The MC5, and the New York Dolls. Of course, David Bowie deserves special mention but his influence was broader and had less direct influence on the punks than these other four acts.
The Velvets were the house band of Andy Warhol’s Factory, the collective of artists, actors, musicians, models, and outcasts that hung out at Warhol’s midtown Manhatten workspace, participated in his events and starred in his experimental films. If there was a locus for 1960s artistic experimentation, expression, and countercultural spirit it was within The Factory. Warhol’s sponsorship of Velvet Underground afforded John Cale, Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, and rare female drummer, Maureen ‘Moe’ Tucker, the freedom to create music free of constraint and expectation, other than it had to accompany and fuel the creative environment of the Factory. Moving in and out of R&B formats, the band mixed psychedelia, feedback, and harder edged garage rock to create a unique rock sound.
Despite having two very capable singers in Cale and Reed, Warhol – ever the artist that never lost focus on the importance of the aesthetic – paired the band with German model, actress, singer, and musician Christa Päffgen, better known by her stage name of Nico. She sang lead on three songs and back-up on another for the Velvet’s debut album, The Velvet Underground and Nico. It was a landmark album that didn’t sell well but influenced a generation of artists – such that its reputation has been stated that not many people bought it, but those that did all started a band. It was also distinctive for its rare female contributions by Tucker and Nico, since they are the first females to appear on this playlist, 46 songs along. None of the album or its two singles, “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and “Sunday Morning” charted, but it awakened people to the broader possibilities within rock music. “There She Goes Again” was sung by Reed and was a track that captured the band’s edgier rock sound.
Desdemona \ John’s Children (1967) – This May ’67 release moves us close to the summer of love, a period that pushed psychedelic and folk rock to the fore and started to relegate garage rock and the edgier sounds to the sidelines – even more than was already the case. By this time artists were pursuing progress through greater complexity in composition, musicianship, and recording techniques as well as blending rock with other music forms such as jazz, classical, and opera.
John’s Children was a British band with a brief tenure that helped launch the career of future glam rocker, Marc Bolan of T. Rex. Managed by The Yardbirds manager, Simon Napier-Bell, their look, behaviour, and sound all trended to the outrageous and gave an early taste of what was to come with glam. They managed to get kicked off a tour with The Who and had their songs and albums banned by the BBC and protested by the Daughters of the American Revolution. After minor success from 1965 and 1966, they switched guitarists, bringing in Bolan who penned their next single, “Desdemona,” which was banned by the BBC for the lyric, “lift up your skirt and fly.” The song would be covered by punk-mod pioneers The Jam. Bolan only lasted four months with the band and they broke up in 1968. John’s Children wasn’t very successful, not musically proficient, yet contributed to the punk ethos of combining music and attitude and challenging the conventions of the times.
White Light/White Heat \ Velvet Underground (1968) – On to 1968, a focus on more of those critical four bands, and the Velvets second album which was equally as important as their debut in influencing modern rock. With Nico out of the picture and the band now working separate from Warhol and his scene, the band adopted a grungier and even more experimental sound than their debut. Still rooted in psychedelia, the song structures were less traditional and ventured through more rhythmic than melodic structures. The LP closed with the seventeen minute opus of noise-rock, “Sister Ray,” a song later often covered by Joy Division and New Order (in a much abridged version) and whose shared appreciation helped bring Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto together to form the Buzzcocks. The title track, “White Light/White Heat,” a song about taking amphetamines, was the most accessible and conventional rock song on the album. However, it’s persistent rhythm and tempo was a blueprint for the punk mold.
John Cale was fired from the band by Lou Reed after this album, supposedly due to the pair’s differences in just how far they should push their experimental side, with Cale wanting to do more experimentation while Reed wanted a more approachable sound. Ironically, Reed would record an entire solo album of feedback just seven years later (though after he’d achieved commercial success). The Velvets released one more album before disbanding in 1970, with an additional album released posthumously. A different version of the band continued on through one more LP.
Kick Out the Jams \ MC5 (1969) – We’re moving through the late ‘60s briskly now since, through 1968-69, the focus of most rock acts was on the emerging hard rock, prog rock, and heavy metal sounds, the continued dominance of psychedelic rock, and the always successful foundational genres of pop, R&B, and folk. Very few were playing the rougher, shorter, loosely styled rock of the early days of rock ‘n’ roll or the later garage and mod rock sounds.
We now look at the next of the quartet of primary influencers. The MC5 (Motor City Five), formed by Wayne Kramer and Fred Smith in Lincoln Park, a suburb of Detroit, were an act exploring a mix of psychedelic and hard rock along with an early heavy metal sound. They were adherents to the styles of early rock ‘n’ roll but who liked to play fast and were also prone to free form jazz influences. The band’s line-up was set when Rob Derminer – aka Rob Tyner – joined as vocalist and put his screaming, soul-rock vocals into their mix. The band was outspoken in promoting left wing political ideals and fused their frenetic and loud music with those themes. After several years playing around Detroit and at protest events, including at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, they built up a following that caught the attention of Danny Fields of Electra Records. He came to Detroit from New York to see them play and signed them on the spot. There’s more on that later, but you can hear Fields recount this story in the Netflix documentary on him, Danny Says.
The MC5 only lasted a few years, but the arrival of their first album, Kick Out the Jams, a live album recorded in late ’68 and released in February 1969, was a course-altering event in the path to modern rock. The heaviness of their guitar sound, the screaming vocals, and often all-out pace of their songs were unlike anything else at the time and fashioned like songs from the early ‘60s – just louder, faster, and heavier. Although their mix of hard rock and psychedelic rock – dubbed acid rock – featured many wandering interludes and spoken word moments, the band’s sound set the standard for many rockers that were looking to take rock back to basics. Along with the next band in this list, almost every proto-punk and punk rock act of the next ten years cited the MC5 as an influence. The title track of that first album, “Kick Out the Jams,” with its legendary infectious, heavy riff and declarative opening, “it’s time to kick out the jams, motherfuckers!” (a line usually edited out by the label) became the model for what would follow.
I Wanna Be Your Dog; No Fun \ The Stooges (1969) – This is the only band in which I’ll include two songs from an album, simply because they’re great songs, hugely influential, and definitive examples for this playlist’s theme. They are also the third in our quartet of primary influencers on modern rock.
The Stooges were a quartet formed by James Osterberg, brothers Ron and Scott Asheton, and Dave Alexander. Osterberg was born in Muskegon, Michigan but grew up in Ann Arbor, just west of Detroit. He began playing drums in bands through high school and college. After a stint playing with blues acts in Chicago, he returned to the Ann Arbor/Detroit area where he formed The Pychedelic Stooges to start playing blues music, though in this line-up he moved off the drums to take on the vocals, and, more importantly, allow to express himself more freely. Influenced by acts like The Sonics and fellow locals, MC5, they gravitated towards the heavier guitar sound. One of Osterberg’s original bands was The Iguanas, and along the way his mates started calling him Iggy as a reference to it, and once with The Stooges they dubbed him ‘Pop’ as a comparison to someone else they knew that James resembled, and thus his stage name of Iggy Pop was born.
The band lived in a house together and began rehearsing but weren’t getting out and playing. After seeing The Doors perform in Michigan and then seeing an aggressive all-girls band play at a house party in New Jersey (they had gone to New York to take in the scene there and met the girls, who invited them back to Jersey to see them play and give them a place to crash), the band was inspired to overcome their performance hesitation and to get out and play – and that they did. If there’s anything The Stooges were known for it was Pop’s performances. Almost always shirtless (and later with even less clothing) he would hurl himself around the stage with reckless abandon and throw himself into the audience. He would cut himself, accidentally and on purpose, to add a bloody effect to the whole scene, and would also smear food across his body. This nihilistic vibe drove the band into a frenzy when it was playing, not to mention the audience, and created the chaotic convention on which punk would be born.
The MC5 had a larger following and were gracious in helping The Psychedelic Stooges gain exposure by playing with them. At just such a show The Stooges were present when Danny Fields came to see the MC5 play and signed them to Elektra Records. The MC5 recommended Fields also look at The Stooges, which resulted in them inking a contract also. Thus, The Stooges were forever indebted to the MC5 for getting their recording start.
Their self-titled debut album was released in August of 1969, by which time they’d dropped the ‘psychedelic’ reference from their name. The music was mostly in the psychedelic rock vein, featuring experimental and repetitive guitar-led passages. A notable difference to their style was Pop’s often subdued, even-tempo delivery of the lyrics, creating an indifferent malaise to the noise and chaos of the music. “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “No Fun” were songs that both rode on incredibly hooky, fuzz-laden guitar riffs. Their poppy, accessible vibe created the blueprint for punk music. “No Fun” was a standard in the Sex Pistols sets and was the final song they played before Johnny Rotten walked off the stage in their last show, marking the end of the band with the declaration, “This is no fun at all. No Fun.”
You can’t talk about modern rock without talking about The Stooges or these two songs. The band would go on to record two more albums, despite having broken up briefly between the second and third albums. They also had a line-up change with Dave Alexander being replaced by James Williamson. The third album, Raw Power, released under the name Iggy Pop and The Stooges, was included in the glam rock playlist since by then Iggy was influencing that genre with his androgynous and cross-dressing ways. The Stooges reformation and recording of that album was helped by David Bowie, starting a relationship between he and Iggy that lasted through the rest of their careers, influencing and helping each other through some of their biggest recordings, both of which will be covered in the Birth of Modern Rock playlist. The Stooges broke up after Raw Power but got back together in 2003, releasing a new album in 2007. Their original three albums had never sold well, being well ahead of their time, but the tribute paid to them by grunge acts in the 1990s – Kurt Cobain declared Raw Power his favourite album – brought them back to prominence and created a new and substantial audience for them. I was fortunate enough to see them at Massey Hall in Toronto in 2008. Ron Asheton passed away from heart failure in 2009 and his brother Scott also passed in 2014. Iggy Pop continues undaunted, still performing shirtless at the age of 71.
Spirit in the Sky \ Norma Greenbaum (1969) – This blues and soul singer from Massachusetts was a one-hit wonder thanks to the enormous success of “Spirit in the Sky” (#1 in the UK, #3 in the US), a song that had a Christian theme despite his being Jewish. He did have other minor hits and released four albums between 1969 and 1972. Spirit in the Sky was his first album and the title track’s use of fuzzy guitar and catchy melody provided a way forward for the garage rock sound into the new decade. Doctor and the Medics would also become one-hit wonders with their cover of this song, which reached #1 in the UK in 1986. As the psychedelic age naturally moved to a conclusion by the end of the sixties, songs like “Spirit in the Sky” and the sounds of the MC5 and The Stooges offered a new avenue to pursue that fit between the rock, heavy metal, and pop and folk of the era. Many would take up this road, which is explored in part two of this playlist which takes us through the 1970s and up to the start of punk in 1976 and the explosion of modern rock in 1977.