Agitated: The Builders of Modern Rock, Part 2, 1971-1976
This playlist traces the historical, chronological contributions of artists that led to the birth of punk music and modern rock. This is part two covering the period of 1971 to 1976 and continues from part 1 which traced artists from the mid-1950s through to 1969. Parts 1 & 2 are in a single playlist, so if you are continuing from part 1 keep listening and you can continue reading along below. If you are starting from here, click below on the streaming service of your choice to listen to the playlist as your read along. This profile, part 2, begins with the 53rd song in the playlist.
The Playlist - Artist \ Song (Year)
Flamin' Groovies \ Teenage Head (1971)
Big Star \ Feel (1972)
Neu! \ Super (1973)
Pink Fairies \ City Kids (1973)
Hawkwind \ Urban Guerilla (1973)
New York Dolls \ Jet Boy (1973)
Brinsley Schwarz \ (What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding (1974)
Tom Waits \ San Diego Serenade (1974)
Dr. Feelgood \ Roxette (1974)
Kilburn and the High Roads \ Rough Kids (1974)
The Dictators \ (I Live for) Cars and Girls (1975)
Tangerine Dream \ Rubycon (1975)
Kraftwerk \ Radioactivity (1975)
Patti Smith \ Gloria (1975)
The Count Bishops \ Teenage Letter (1975)
Death \ Freakin' Out (1975)
Rocket from the Tombs \ What Love Is (1975)
electric eels \ Agitated (1975)
The Runaways \ Is It Day or Night? (1976)
Flamin' Groovies \ Shake Some Action (1976)
Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers \ Roadrunner (1976)
Nick Lowe \ So It Goes (1976)
Graham Parker & The Rumour \ That's What They All Say (1976)
Eddie and the Hot Rods \ Teenage Depression (1976)
101ers \ Keys to Your Heart (1976)
Pink Fairies \ Between the Lines (1976)
The Nerves \ Hanging on the Telephone (1976)
The Quick \ Hi-Lo (1976)
Mink DeVille \ I Can Dream If I Want To (1976)
The transition from the 1960s to the 1970s saw rock music continue and accelerate its fragmentation as artists explored the possible sounds from their instruments – both traditional and new, including the introduction of new electronic keyboards. Mostly, we’re talking about sub-genres as the traditional genres of rock ‘n’ roll, heavy metal (still in its infancy), R&B, soul, blues, folk, and progressive (prog) rock (also just building steam) saw many variations develop within its forms. Part 1 predominantly focused on the early rock pioneers that pushed guitar, bass, and drum arrangements to tighter, more energetic and aggressive forms of R&B, rockabilly, country, and blues into rock ‘n’ roll during the late 1950s. This inspired a next generation of artists by the mid-60s to continue this journey by playing loosely arranged songs driven by rawer guitar sounds, aggressive and emotive vocals, and often faster paces that seemed to run on the brink of losing control. This was retroactively dubbed ‘garage rock’ in the early 1970s and even described as punk, drawing on the older use of the term ‘punk’ which had traditionally described trouble-making people and behaviour. This coincided with a variation that built a similar sound on soul structures that was referred to as mod.
Naturally, the development of rock included several luminaries that influenced legions of future artists: Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, The Kinks, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Yardbirds, and The Who. These were joined by many lesser known and lesser successful artists that nonetheless influenced many by their experimental and new sounding music. Bands like Velvet Underground, MC5, and The Stooges were a tough sell to larger audiences but had a huge impact on young rockers looking to champion the new vanguards of music. Part 2 of this historical profile picks up on those lesser known ground breakers and builds on that spirit. There are few big sellers on this part of the playlist as the forerunners of punk and modern rock dwelled in the less popular corners of the music world, especially as mainstream rock and pop grew softer and more elaborate. It’s harder to define this group of artists as some continued with the garage rock sound, some developed a pop-variant of those sounds, and others were just doing their own thing. Along with some of the ‘60s artists we’ve highlighted, many of these would later be defined as proto-punk in order to recognize their contributions to the arrival of the more formally defined genre of punk rock. Proto-punks earned this distinction as much by their look and behaviour as their sound, since those mattered as much as the music. So, part 2 looks at the roads less travelled in 1970s.
I also encourage you to also listen to and read the profile on glam rock since it also had a big influence on the advent of punk and modern rock. There are only two artists in this playlist that is also included in that playlist. The Stooges were covered in part 1, and in part 2 we’ll touch on the New York Dolls, who perhaps more than any other straddled the line between the two genres. It’s in the glam rock playlist that other, better known artists from the 1970s that influenced modern rock are covered such as David Bowie, T. Rex, Roxy Music, and Lou Reed’s continued contributions after the Velvet Underground.
So now, back to our story of the builders of modern rock.
Teenage Head \ The Flamin’ Groovies (1971) (top left of preview picture) – Formed in 1965 in San Francisco, The Flamin’ Groovies had a lengthy and productive career yet, despite critical acclaim, were never able to break through to broad success. Their album, Teenage Head, was their third after releases in 1969 and 1970 and would be their last until the next in 1976 (which we’ll visit later). They would eventually release nine albums through the 1980s, 1990s, and most recently in 2017.
The original line-up was built around Roy Loney and Tim Lynch who were childhood friends. The ‘60s evolution of their sound ran as expected given the era, starting with the folk-rock groove of their hometown then branching into a harder rock sound like the Rolling Stones, and then into a grungier sound after hearing the likes of MC5 and The Stooges (get used to those references). After refining their sound over two albums and a self-financed debut EP (very DIY, per the future punk ethos), Teenage Head was critically acclaimed and seemed to bring the band to its fullest fruition. Between garage rockers and easy comparisons to The Stones and Beatles, as well as ‘50s inspired rockabilly, the album was a fun listen start to finish. It was as if they’d taken the early Stones sound and toughened it up for the new era, but the problem was listeners had moved on to the newer sounds and weren’t buying into those older grooves – except for those looking for tight, edgy rockers and drew inspiration from this album the Groovies’ sound. And yes, the Canadian ‘80s punk band named themselves after this album, though band member Gord Lewis, who provided the name, picked it up after seeing it in a magazine and hadn’t actually heard The Flamin’ Groovies music.
Feel \ Big Star (1972) – A genre that will frequently be referenced over part 2 of this playlist is power pop, which is simply a tougher, edgier take on the pop format (short, tight, melodic, hook-filled) and a sound that had huge influence on the arrival of punk and the development of modern rock. Few bands were as highly regarded and influential in that space as Big Star, a band out of Memphis that had a brief run but wasn’t able to achieve sustained success, though returned to prominence after the grunge era in the 1990s and the homage paid to them by bands like Teenage Fanclub and The Posies, who actually played in Big Star when it reformed in 1993.
Big Star came together when childhood friends Alex Chilton and Chris Bell got together and Chilton was invited to join Bell’s band, Icewater. Chilton had enjoyed teenage success as the singer for the Box Tops, who had a #1 hit in 1967 with the song, “The Letter.” The band declined his suggestion to pursue a folk-rock sound, so Chilton was persuaded to follow Icewater’s lead in playing a fuller sounding pop style. The new line-up of Chilton and Bell along with Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel rebranded themselves as Big Star, taken from a local convenience store chain, and released their debut album, #1 Record, in August 1972.
The album was a classic case of being the wrong sound at the wrong time, yet of a quality that over time it grew in awareness, influence, and appreciation over the years. It was critically acclaimed but distribution problems with their label, Stax Records, limited the ability to meet the demand and suppressed its results. Therefore, the album remained largely unheard and unknown after its release. No individual track jumped out as the album was consistent in quality from start to finish. “Feel” was the lead track and displayed the band’s early power pop sound, driven by the guitars and harmonies. There were strong correlations between their sound and other contemporary trends, especially with glam and folk-rock, and I think sounded – especially from today’s perspective – closer to the classic rock style than any emerging modern rock sound, but their outsider status likely helped their appeal to those working outside the mainstream.
Bell left the band after the first album due to infighting among all the members, leaving Chilton to take them forward as the driving force behind the next two albums, Radio City released in 1974 and Third/Sister Lovers, which was recorded in 1974 just before the band broke up but not released until 1978 when the band’s stature started to grow. Big Star’s success was chronically hampered by label and distribution issues despite widespread critical adoration. Chris Bell did some solo work before dying in a car crash in 1978. His songs have been covered several times by the likes of modern rock artists This Mortal Coil and The Posies.
Super \ Neu! (1973) – Germany has played an influential role in the development of modern rock with an experimental, progressive music scene referred to as Krautrock. Neu! was a band formed by guitarist Michael Rother and drummer Klaus Dinger who split away from electronic pioneers, Kraftwerk, in 1971. Krautrock acts were usually not successful commercially but did much to show UK acts the new musical boundaries that could be conquered.
Neu! released four albums between 1972 and 1975, all of which were experimental and instrumental. The debut, self-titled album is considered a masterpiece despite limited sales, and helped launch the electro-oriented music of Brian Eno, David Bowie, and later generations of musicians such as Radiohead. The band Negativland took their name from a song from this album. The mix of electronics, rock, industrial sounds, and a hypnotic repetition of rhythms was one of the first instances of a style that would be heard to much greater degrees in new wave, industrial music, shoegazer, and many other variations of modern rock.
“Super” was from the second album, Neu!2, which due to a limited budget the band resorted to recording only half an album and then remixing the songs by playing them at different speeds and distorting the sounds for the second side. Thus, the remix concept that would come to dominate the modern rock world of the 1980s was born. “Super,” with its rock-edged guitar, pulsating beat, and darkly tinged bassline also provided a prototype for the post-punk era.
City Kids \ The Pink Fairies (1973) – When The Deviants (we heard their song, “Garbage,” in part 1) fell apart singer Mick Farren joined with Steve Took (from T. Rex) and Twink (John Alder), ex of ‘60s garage act, The Pretty Things (we heard their song, “Don’t Bring Me Down” in part 1) and formed The Pink Fairies. After a brief stint and having only recorded a solo record for Farren, they broke up and Twink reformed with the remaining members of The Deviants (Paul Rudolph, Duncan Sanderson, and Russell Hunter), keeping the Pink Fairies name. They played a form of garage and psychedelic rock over two initial albums in 1971 and 1972, between which Twink left the band. They also played with members of Hawkwind (also from their area of Ladbroke Grove, London) dubbing their performances as Pinkwind, and eventually Rudolph left the Fairies to join Hawkwind. He was replaced with Larry Wallis and the new trio recorded the third Pink Fairies LP, Kings of Oblivion, which was the album in which “City Kids” appeared. Twink rejoined for a brief spell before the band broke up. In “City Kids” the mix of rough rock and melody with a bit of pace hinted at the punkier evolution of early ‘70s rock. The Ladbroke Grove collective of musicians moving through these acts all played a role in the music and anarchic culture that would inspire the later acts of modern rock and would re-appear in various forms in the pre-punk period, which we’ll visit later in this playlist.
Urban Guerilla \ Hawkwind (1973) - As much a prog rock band and noted for being one of the first, sci-fi oriented acts, dubbed ‘space rock,’ Hawkwind started in 1969 but by 1973 was providing rocking, rumbling compositions that would inspire punks and post-punk artists. Their third album included future Motörhead leader, Lemmy Kilmister, and featured the single, “Urban Guerilla,” which went to #39 in the UK charts. The band has persevered and still records and tours to this day.
Jet Boy \ New York Dolls (1973) – Another crossover band between glam and the modern rock builders playlists, and the last of the quartet of primary influencers on the birth of punk and modern rock, the New York Dolls produced two albums in 1973 and 1974, neither of which sold very highly, but the band’s energy, attitude, and aggressive sound picked up on what was started by The Stooges and MC5 and lined the path to the arrival of punk in 1976. “Jet Boy” was from their self-titled debut (other songs from their LPs appear in the glam playlist, including their best known track, “Personality Crisis”), was the second single issued from the album, and captured the band’s relentless energy and sound that always seemed to verge on chaos.
It may be apparent just a few songs into this second part of the playlist that there was a shift in focus from the UK to America, which was an important dynamic in how modern rock developed. There were similar, concurrent strains developing in both areas in which underground, sharp-edged rock and pop were being developed that would lay the foundation for the late ‘70s and early ‘80s music. In the US, the New York Dolls were a leading example of the scene developing in New York, which drew from the garage and more straight-ahead rock sounds of the prior ten years and focused it into a sound that was instrumental to the arrival of punk. In the UK, concurrent with the rise in glam there was an underground shift to smartly written, edgy rock and pop songs that would come to be classified as pub rock (a UK equivalent to US power pop); and it too helped lay the foundation for the explosion of the UK punk scene but also created a separate route for what would become the broader avenues of modern rock. As 1973 rolled into 1974, these dynamics started to come into sharper focus and the sounds over the next few years would be more easily tied to the sounds that would be heard from 1976 onward, explored in the playlists outlining the birth of punk and modern rock.
(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding \ Brinsley Schwarz (1974) – This song was made famous by Elvis Costello when he recorded it in 1978 with his band, The Attractions. Though never released as a single (it was actually issued as a B-side to a Nick Lowe single), it became a standard of his and the best-known version from a modern rock perspective. The original was written by Nick Lowe and recorded by the band of which he was a member at the time, Brinsley Schwarz. The band was formed by Brinsley Schwarz in 1967 and were called Kippington Lodge. He had gone to school and played with Lowe as early as ’64 and he was invited into the band to replace the bass player. Working in the psychedelic-folk style of the time, they changed their name to Schwarz’ in 1969. Their first two LPs were released in 1970 followed by another four by the end of 1974. Their sound moved through pop and country with smartly written and increasingly complex compositions, though they never settled cleanly into either genre and dwelled in the underground, pub rock scene.
“Peace, Love, and Understanding” appeared on their final album, The New Favourites of… Brinsley Schwarz, an LP of more polished and aggressive tunes including this fantastic track that blended the edginess of the underground scene with the pop sound, with fantastic pace and beautiful phrasing. Using their harmonies and a loose, distinctive guitar accent, the song captured the anti-war vibe of the times.
Brinsley Schwarz was less impactful to modern rock in terms of their sound, but as Lowe went on to a distinguished career as a solo performer and producer and Schwarz played with Dr. Feelgood and then with Graham Parker, their influence on the development of the modern sound in the UK was undeniable.
San Diego Serenade \ Tom Waits (1974) – Admittedly, Waits is an odd fit for this playlist, which is appropriate because he has been an odd fit in the music world since his arrival. Playing blues and jazz through his career, his rough-edged voice, cantankerous disposition and dishevelled appearance gave him crossover appeal to modern rockers. Admittedly, I have never completely warmed to his music, but have always appreciated his talent and character. Waits has been a highly respected artist and a bridge for modern rock fans to dip their toe into purer blues and jazz sounds – that was certainly the case for me. His dark moods and gruff approach to those genres set him outside them for purists but was appealing to those that loved an alternative take. His later acting work in indie movies further endeared him to alternative fans, and he would shift his sounds on occasion to a direct blend of alternative music and his core sound, such as in 1992’s Bone Machine album.
“San Diego Serenade” appeared on his second album, 1974’s The Heart of Saturday Night and was his third single, issued in 1975. The album went gold but didn’t chart highly. This was the pattern throughout his career – poor chart results but solid sales, highlighting his underground but loyal following. He has always fared better on the charts in the UK than his native US. His albums of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s would entrench his status in modern rock circles: Blue Valentine, Heartattack and Vine, and Rain Dogs. In this early track he had not yet adopted the gravelly voice of his later albums and the music was purer to the blues-jazz sound of the times, having built a local reputation through his appearances at the famous LA nightclub, The Troubadour. The album did help build his reputation and helped him on to his later successes.
Roxette \ Dr. Feelgood (1974) – The pub rock circuit in the UK was vibrant by 1974, and few were as popular as Dr. Feelgood, a band formed in 1971 by Lee Brilleaux (vocals), John Sparks (bass), and Wilko Johnson (guitar). They were named after the song by R&B pianist and singer, Willie ‘Piano Red’ Perryman, who also performed as Doctor Feelgood and had a radio show under that name in the early ‘60s. By the time of their debut album, John ‘The Big Figure’ Martin had been added on drums. Released in January 1975, the LP Down by the Jetty was prefaced by their first single, “Roxette,” issued in November 1974. The first album and early singles didn’t chart, but the second LP cracked the top 20 in the UK and a live album in 1976 went to #1. The next five albums would all chart, including one more, Sneakin’ Suspicion, that cracked the top ten. They would only achieve one top ten single in their career, 1979’s “Milk and Alcohol.” The band has continued through many line-up changes over the years and are still releasing music and touring, though none of the original members remain.
Their sharp R&B take helped define the pub rock sound and songs like “Roxette” and the next single, “She Does It Right,” showed their modern take on the old R&B format. Johnson’s catchy guitar licks and the tight rhythms gave the songs energy and pace that differed from the classic R&B and rock, glam, and prog rock that were dominating the charts at the time. Dr. Feelgood was an influential act in driving this new sound forward. For example, a strong similarity can be heard between “Roxette” and “Waiting for the End of the World” from Elvis Costello’s debut LP, a few years later.
Rough Kids \ Kilburn and the High Roads (1974) – Adding sax and piano into the tight rhythms of pub rock was Kilburn and the High Roads, an act formed in 1970 by Ian Dury. Popular on the pub rock circuit, their career was helped by a stint opening for The Who in 1973. They would only issue one album, 1975’s Handsome, and two singles, both in 1974, before breaking up (a second LP was released in ’77 after Dury’s solo success and which refashioned most of the original album from original demos). “Rough Kids” was the lead single and the song for which they’re best known. It merged the ‘50s sound into the modern pub rock vibe. Dury would have strong success with his follow-up band, The Blockheads (which included Davey Payne from the Kilburn band), while Nick Cash went on to form the punk band, 999.
(I Live for) Cars and Girls \ The Dictators (1975) – Moving into 1975 we’ll shift for awhile (except for the next song) back into the US. The proto-punk sound was evolving into a tougher pop sound thanks to the New York scene and the acts playing at CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City. The Dictators featured occasional lead singer ‘Handsome’ Dick Manitoba and released their seminal debut LP in 1975, Go Girl Crazy! It wasn’t commercially successful but its blend of retro-pop melodies and harmonies, aggressive vocals and guitar, and high energy were influential on their fellow New York acts. On this album the early strains of punk could be easily heard. In fact, the creators of the catalytic fanzine Punk, Legs McNeil and John Holmstrom, were inspired to form the magazine from their adoration of this album. “(I Live For) Cars and Girls” was the perfect example of their mix of the old and new (and let’s face it looking over this playlist, cars and girls were the dominant lyrical themes). Its musical similarity to fellow CBGB acts like Blondie, The Ramones, New York Dolls, Mink Deville, and Wayne County were irrefutable. The Dictators covered The Rivieras’ hit “California Sun” on this first album as would The Ramones the following year. They recorded two more albums in 1977 and 1978 before splitting in ’79, frustrated with their lack of success which was likely exacerbated by the success of their peers during that time.
Rubycon \ Tangerine Dream (1975) – As noted earlier, Germany had an influential music scene which was notable for leading the use of nascent electronic keyboards in their music. Tangerine Dream was one of the leading artists of that style and has been one of the most prolific recording acts of the past fifty years – they have released over two hundred studio albums, live LPs, EPs, compilations, and soundtracks. If you were a teenager in the ‘80s you definitely knew Tangerine Dream if not by name then from seeing movies with their music, such as Risky Business (1984), Firestarter (1984), and Legend (1985). They started up in the late ‘60s as a rotating support cast for Edgar Froese and rose in prominence through the ‘70s due to their pioneering ability to create melodic and rich soundscapes with electronics. They are most appropriately slotted in the new age music category, but their early influence on future new wavers made them an important act for modern music.
Radioactivity \ Kraftwerk (1975) (top right of preview picture) – Perhaps the most influential and best-known German electronic artist was Kraftwerk. By October 1975 they were already on their fifth album and following up on the top ten success in both the UK and US of their prior LP, Autobahn (I would have chosen that song for this playlist if the shorter version were available on the streaming services, as I won’t add to this lengthy playlist the 22 minute album version – though as it happens even “Radioactivity” clocks in at almost seven minutes). Their ’75 LP, Radio-Activity, wouldn’t be as successful but the title track, released as a single in May 1976, would become one of their classics. Well ahead of their time by bringing electronics into pop formats, UK audiences embraced them by pushing the songs “Computer Love” and a re-issue of their 1978 single, “The Model,” to #1 in 1981. Kraftwerk almost single-handedly launched the UK synth genre, as any UK act that touched a keyboard in the late ‘70s and ‘80s cited them as a primary influence. The US embraced “Autobahn” with it reaching the top forty in 1974, but no subsequent singles or LPs would do as well.
Gloria \ Patti Smith (1975) – I don’t often elect to use cover songs in the Ceremony playlists, but Smith’s reinterpretation of the 1964 classic by Them was the perfect link between the early garage era and the burgeoning punk era – it ties part 1 of this playlist nicely to part 2. As the lead track of her first album, Horses, and her second single of her career, “Gloria” also married her acerbic lyrics and attitude to the retro pop-rock sound that would become the template for punk. Most of Patti’s lyrics were new, just borrowing the chorus from the original, and the music was loosely built around the original’s melody. The song opened with her controversial lyric, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine,” and then carried through a subdued garage-blues sound for a minute and a half before upping the pace to a mid-tempo rocker, therewith slowly speeding the song up until, by the third minute and the arrival of the first chorus, the song exploded into a powerful blues-rocker, finally building into a climax and denouement followed by a brief reprise of the rocking chorus for the final thirty seconds. Its structure mimicked music’s evolution over the prior ten years, revealing how the garage sound had moved into a rawer, more frenetic version.
Patti Smith was one of the first of the CBGBs acts to get signed and recorded, and while success would be slow in coming for her the debut album marked a watershed in the evolution of the New York scene and opened the doors for all that followed. Horses became a classic, and though not pure punk the spirit of the music gave notice of what was going on in New York. For a deeper look into her career, see her Ceremony profile. She is also profiled in part 1 of the series on Women in Modern Rock and indeed is the first female, lead artist on this playlist, 66 songs along. There were other female contributors through other genres, but in the early rock ‘n’ roll, garage rock, and proto-punk scenes, women were very rare.
Teenage Letter \ The Count Bishops (1975) – This song could have been recorded in 1965 as much as 1975. Examples of bringing the early rock sounds forward don’t get much more obvious than The Count Bishops. They formed in ’75 in London and released their debut EP, Speedball, that same year. Their first LP, self-titled, was released in ’77. They were signed to Chiswick Records, a new indie label that would be instrumental in promoting the rise of punk, modern rock, and heavy metal music. It only lasted until 1983 but there are sampler albums out there with great collections of music. As for The Count Bishops, they would release four albums up to 1979 but broke up after the death of band member, Zenon Hierowski, in a car crash. “Teenage Letter” was on that debut EP and showed the loose, garage rock style of yore being delivered with fresh, punky enthusiasm.
Freakin’ Out \ Death (recorded in 1975, released in 2009) – This act from Detroit is an interesting tale for a list of reasons. First, it was a trio of brothers, David, Bobby, and Dannis Hackney. Second, they were black, which in the underground rock world was very rare (they are the first black artist on this playlist since Arthur Lee of Love, 32 songs ago). Third, they started as a funk band before switching to hard rock after seeing bands like The Who and Alice Cooper, which prompted a name change from Rock Fire Funk Express to Death. Fourth, despite support from Columbia Records president Clive Davis who wanted them to change their name away from Death, they refused to change the name and lost the chance for major label support. Fifth, in true DIY punk fashion, they formed their own label to release their first single in 1975, “Politicians in My Eyes.” Sixth, their crossover sound of funk and hard rock led to an aggressive, raw, fast-paced sound that was, in many respects, the first true punk sound. Seventh, because of their obscurity and then breaking up in 1977 without having gotten their recorded songs (seven in total) released, their music was mostly unknown until it was released in 2009, creating appreciation and recognition for their ground-breaking sound thirty years after it was recorded. And for the eighth and final reason, after Death, the brothers went on to form a gospel rock act and today lead a reggae band out of Vermont (David passed away from lung cancer in 2000).
The 2009 release was titled, …For the Whole World to See, and included the seven unreleased recordings made with Columbia before they were dropped. Much of the music was a funk-rock blend pre-dating the likes of Fishbone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers by a decade. With “Freakin’ Out,” their most straightforward rock attack, the fast-strumming guitars offered the best example of their proto-punk sound. It’s tempting to call Death influential, but there isn’t enough evidence that the punk acts that followed were aware of their sound and drew from it. Hailing from the Detroit area however, one of the few American hotbeds for the emerging punk and modern rock sounds in 1975 started by the MC5 just six years prior, it would be reasonable to assume they drew inspiration from, and had an effect on, the other acts playing in that era.
What Love Is \ Rocket from the Tombs (recorded in 1975, released in 2002) – One of those other acts might have been Rocket from the Tombs, coming out of Cleveland. We have to rely on a live recording for this band because they never recorded in studio during their brief, one-year career. What was captured from their live shows and released in 2002 on the LP, The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs, revealed a band pushing the envelope with aggressive, noise-laden rock played with reckless abandon. The live album included a cover of The Stooges’ “Raw Power” showing the tip of the hat to fellow Ohioan and Detroit rocker, Iggy Pop. Their sound definitely carried forward The Stooges’ energy, though with a heavier vibe more akin to the MC5. “What Love Is” was one of their purer and more creative entries and a great example of how underground rock was getting ready to unleash punk. If you want to dive deeper, also check out “So Cold,” a great heavy rocker.
The influence of Rocket from the Tombs’ on the modern rock world derived from the bands it spawned. Johnny ‘Blitz’ Madansky and Gene ‘Cheetah Chrome’ O’Connor went on to join Stiv Bators in the band Frankenstein, which eventually became The Dead Boys. Peter Laughner and David ‘Crocus Behemoth’ Thomas went on to form the band, Pere Ubu. Both of those acts recorded Rocket from the Tombs’ songs in their early releases. Many years later, ‘90s California rockers Rocket from the Crypt based their name on the Tombs.
Agitated \ electric eels (recorded in 1975, released in 1978) – Also from Cleveland was ‘electric eels’ who also never released any music and only played five shows over their stint from 1972 to 1975. The group was formed by John Morton along with Dave ‘E’ McManus and Brian McMahon. The eels were highly experimental, noisy, confrontational (fights with the audience were not uncommon), and unstructured. Presaging industrial music, they would bang on various materials to create their noise, probably as much because they couldn’t play their instruments well. Their style wasn’t well received which is why they were unable to land many gigs; which when they did happen were as likely to end early due to the chaos that ensued and either the promoter or police would shut it down. The band made several recordings which didn’t see the light of day until the ‘80s and ‘90s, though the single, “Agitated,” was released in 1978. Despite all these obstacles, their anarchic and discordant approach to music made an impression on local bands and helped make Cleveland an early locale for the developing punk scene.
Is It Day or Night? \ The Runaways (1976) (bottom left of preview picture) – We arrive at our final year of this playlist which overlapped the arrival of punk and the seeds it planted of the modern rock movement. One of the most storied and notable acts of the era was the all-female rock band from Los Angeles, The Runaways. Often cited as the first all-girl punk band, their sound was more classic rock and their look was glam (though not a moniker usually given to women), and therefore they were more of a contributor to modern rock’s arrival than a pure fit. Their swagger, attitude, and challenge to the conventions of what was expected from women in rock certainly put them in the same spirit as punk. Their importance in building up the influence and contributions of women in modern rock was perhaps their greatest achievement, as noted in the Ceremony series on Women in Modern Rock.
Formed in 1975 and guided by controversial manager/producer Kim Fowley, the band included an impressive line-up of future stars in Lita Ford, who went on to have a notable heavy metal career, and Joan Jett who straddled the modern rock, pop, and hard rock genres through the ‘80s and had a massive hit in 1982 with her cover of The Arrows’ song, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The focus of The Runaways though, was usually on lead vocalist Cherie Currie, who went on to a less successful solo career. The Runaways debut, self-titled LP, was released in June 1976 and with songs like “Cherry Bomb”, “You Drive Me Wild,” and a cover of Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll,” gave the band some level of success though they would never be a charting act. They were successful in Japan, with “Cherry Bomb” reaching #1 in that country. “Is It Day or Night?” was the third track on side one and was indicative of the band’s straight-ahead, fervent rock sound. A docu-drama about the band, The Runaways, was made in 2010. Based on Currie’s autobiography, it highlighted the band’s struggles as a young female band in a male dominated music world and the abuses and sexual assaults alleged against Kim Fowley.
Shake Some Action \ Flamin’ Groovies (1976) – By 1976, San Francisco’s the Flamin’ Groovies hadn’t released an album since their third, 1971’s Teenage Head (the first song of part 2 of this playlist). In the intervening years one of their principals, Roy Loney, left the band and was replaced by Chris Wilson. They also began a shift towards a power pop sound from their psych-rock origins. They moved to the UK for a spell in ’72 and recorded several songs (including “Shake Some Action”) with UK artist, Dave Edmunds, leading to the release of two singles which didn’t do well (in part thanks to the usual touchy BBC, which wouldn’t play the first single due to language). Over the next few years there were more recordings (including “Shake Some Action,” again) and line-up and label changes, but for various reasons they failed to release any material. In 1976 they signed with Sire Records and returned to the UK where they were able to finally issue “Shake Some Action,” which was the title track of the new album. It would be their only charting LP, though only reached #142 in the US. Still, it was a great power pop album, building on their ‘60s Beatles sound with a modern vibe – it even included a Beatles song, “Misery,” among several other covers of ‘60s era tunes.
Roadrunner \ The Modern Lovers (1976) – Determining the release date for this song is challenging since it has been recorded and released by Jonathan Richman both solo and with his band, The Modern Lovers, at various times over the years. Try to follow this… he wrote the song in 1970 basing its relentless, repetitive structure on Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray.” Its first recording was in 1972, produced by the Velvet’s John Cale, but that didn’t see the light of day until The Modern Lovers’ self-titled debut in 1976. In the meantime, two other versions of “Roadrunner” were recorded in ‘72 with producer Kim Fowley, recordings that didn’t come out until 1981 as the LP, The Original Modern Lovers. Richman also recorded and released the song in 1974 backed by the Greg Kihn Band, and it along with the original Cale recording were released again in ’77, finally capturing chart success with a #11 position in the UK. The version on this playlist is the ’72 recording on The Modern Lovers ’76 LP.
Jonathan Richman formed The Modern Lovers in 1970 in Boston. They were a power pop, proto-punk band that built on the garage rock sounds of the ‘60s. They went through various line-up changes and were always essentially the backing band for Richman. Recordings were issued over the years under Richman as solo, as The Modern Lovers, or as Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. His indifferent, atonal vocal and often steady, persistent rhythms were a different take for the times and hugely influential on many strains of modern rock. The song “Pablo Picasso” has been covered by many others, not the least of which by John Cale (in 1975) and David Bowie (in 2003). Richman and The Modern Lovers were more influential than successful, like most others on this playlist. “Roadrunner” is an esteemed song in the annals of modern rock, being an early inspiration for many future modern rockers and punks and was a staple of the Sex Pistol’s shows, with a version of theirs appearing on the album, The Great Rock ‘n’ roll Swindle.
So It Goes \ Nick Lowe (1976) – Lowe’s influence on modern rock was extensive, starting with his early career in Brinsley Schwarz. His solo recordings started with this single, “So It Goes,” the first to be released on legendary indie label, Stiff Records. Lowe’s debut LP, Jesus of Cool, came out in ’78 and included the song along with other stellar tracks like “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” (#7 in the UK singles chart), “Marie Provost,” and “Heart of the City.” He is best known for the 1979 single, “Cruel to Be Kind,” which reached #12 in the US and the UK and was his only success across the ocean. Meanwhile, Lowe also made his mark as a producer, shepherding the early careers of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker and the Rumour, The Damned, and Pretenders. His pub rock sound helped promote melody and musicianship in the evolution of modern rock as it branched out from the more rhythm-based and less polished sounds of punk. I had the pleasure of seeing Lowe in 2004 in Toronto – just him and a guitar in a small club, and what a treat that was. His later career veered into country and folk, leaving a varied legacy of music. Now aged 70, he still performs occasionally and in 2013 released his first Christmas album.
“So It Goes” was one of the most consummate pub rock songs. The loose, flowing, toe-tapping melody riding the strumming guitar and resonant bassline and Lowe’s lovely vocal accented with repetitive rounds made for an incredibly infectious song. Why this song wasn’t a smash hit bewilders me.
That’s What They All Say \ Graham Parker & The Rumour (1976) – Graham Parker formed his backing band, The Rumour, out of the remains of Brinsley Schwarz, continuing the evolution of the pub rock sound. Their debut album was 1976’s Howlin’ Wind, the first of five albums issued up to 1980, while Parker would go on to record sixteen additional albums both solo and with other bands. He recorded two more subsequent LPs with The Rumour in 2012 and 2015. Their sound would influence modern rockers such as Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello. Parker had a few singles and albums reach the top forty in the UK, and two LPs crack the same threshold in the US.
Teenage Depression \ Eddie & The Hot Rods (1976) (bottom right of preview picture) – Another act that’s tempting to put into the punk category, especially since they played at notable early punk venues such as The Marquee in London and hung with the Sex Pistols (who opened for them in their early days), their sound was more pub rock than punk. There was no ‘Eddie’ in the band, it was the name of a mannequin that was put on stage in their early shows. The band was formed in 1975 and was comprised of Barrie Masters, Dave Higgs, Rob Steele, and Steve Nicol. Their debut LP was 1976’s Teenage Depression and the title track, their third single, reached #35 in the UK chart. Its quick, tight pace helped bridge the styles of pub rock and punk.
Keys to Your Heart \ The 101ers (1976) – The 101ers were another pub rock band that were only together for a short time, and are now best known as launching the career of Joe Strummer. He had already de-camped for The Clash by the time the first music from the 101ers was released, which was the single “Keys to Your Heart.” Formed in 1974 and named from the address of the squat in which the band lived together, they played with Eddie & the Hot Rods in a joint residency at The Nashville club in 1975 and also had the Sex Pistols open for them in April 1976; the show which reputedly led Strummer to realize punk was his calling and initiated his departure from The 101ers. Strummer’s exit led to the breakup of the band, leaving this one single as their only release on Chiswick Records until a full album and another single were issued in 1981.
Between the Lines \ The Pink Fairies (1976) – We will again visit The Pink Fairies, who like the Flamin’ Groovies had not released any new music since their third album in 1973, which with new member Larry Wallis had moved their sound into the pub rock mold from the psychedelic and garage rock sound of their earlier albums. In fact, by 1975 the band had effectively called it quits with Wallis having joined Motörhead. But after a reunion of the Pink Fairies for a show in July 1975, the trio continued to play a series of shows and eventually recorded a new single, “Between the Lines.” It was issued on Stiff Records where Wallis was also contributing as an in-house producer and issued a solo single, “Police Car”. “Between the Lines” was another great example of how the pub rock sound, combined with a fast and relentless pace, helped groom the punk sound. The Pink Fairies were noted as a long-haired participant in the emerging punk circuit during 1976. The single didn’t do well, and the band decided to part again and move on to their other projects.
Hanging on the Telephone \ The Nerves (1976) – This song is far better known for Blondie’s version, released on their massive album, Parallel Lines, in 1978. The song was written by Jack Lee from Los Angeles power pop trio, The Nerves. They existed from 1974 to 1978 and released one eponymous EP in 1976 that included, “Hanging on the Telephone.” The Nerves were an influence on the west coast rock scene and the rise of punk in that locale. Drummer Paul Collins would go on to form The Beat, the band that forced the UK band of the same name to be known as The English Beat in North America.
Hi-Lo \ The Quick (1976) – We’ll stay in L.A. where The Quick were another power pop band that held together for three years in the ‘70s, culminating in a 1976 LP, Mondo Deco, produced yet again by Kim Fowley. Their stylized, edgy pop sound included effects that presaged the new wave and ‘80s pop sounds. This was especially evident on the album track, “Hi-Lo,” with its harmonies, bright piano accents, and Danny Wilde’s high-toned vocals. The band played in the nascent punk and progressive rock scene in southern California along with The Runaways and in an opening slot for The Ramones.
Let Me Dream If I Want To \ Mink DeVille (1976) Let’s return for our final song to New York and the club, CBGB’s, because if there was one place in which the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll, garage rock, psychedelic rock, proto-punk, and power pop came together and formed the genesis of punk and modern rock, that was the place. Willy DeVille (Billy Borsay) and his band, Mink DeVille, were the house band at CBGBs from 1975 to 1977. Though they wouldn’t release their first LP until 1977, their earlier tracks appear on live CBGB recordings, such as this one from 1976. In “Let Me Dream If I Want To,” the Lou Reed-styled vocals with a casual mix of indifference and edgy passion, the repetitive, tight chords and rhythms, and its explosive moments perfectly revealed how power pop and the formative sounds of punk were being explored and boundaries were being pushed. DeVille continued to play under the band name and then under his own name throughout his career and up to his death in 2009.
Tracking from the opening sounds of this playlist with Chuck Berry’s, “Maybellene,” through to the final moments of Mink DeVille is an extraordinary musical journey from the early, formative days of rock ‘n’ roll through the evolutionary sounds that were the bricks on which modern rock was built. Dominated by white males, this undercurrent of aggressive, raw, edgy rock splintered from the earliest pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll and continually pushed the horizons of rock music, challenging listeners to take in various sounds, energies, and feelings through their music. Increasingly non-commercial, it was the unencumbered nature of these acts that made them influential, and thus important, and allowed those that followed to prosper in greater degrees. Ironically, these builders constantly borrowed from the past and from each other in making different, new, and increasingly original music. This tendency would drive a remarkable divergence of sounds in the modern rock era, which is what distinguishes it from these predecessor artists. Follow the next stage of the journey through the playlists on the Birth of Punk and the Birth of Modern Rock, focusing on the years 1976 and 1977.