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This Week on my i-pod – Punks: Old & New

May 14th, 2006

I missed the punk movement in the late 70’s; well not really missed it. More I wasn’t impressed. In 1979, the punks were running around slagging the established acts. You had to play like crap, had to be about energy, not musicianship. As a young guitar player practicing Steve Howe and Jimmy page pieces to enhance my musicianship, I was unimpressed.

But that’s how it was. You liked Led Zeppelin, or you liked the Sex Pistols. You liked Yes, or the Clash. You didn’t do both! The Sex Pistols made their name bad mouthing Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend, so much so that Townshend went out one night to confront them, find out why they disliked him so much. The result is a couple of great songs, Who Are You and Rough Boys, from his Empty Glass album.

The punkers subsisted on a basic premise, you didn’t need talent. You didn’t need to be good. Three chords and attitude was all you need. It was a premise that had one fatal flaw: If you get on a stage with a guitar every night, you are going to, with a few exceptions, develop some skill on the guitar. The bottom line was some punks were bound to gain skill on their instruments; and some did.

The Clash were one of those bands. By the time they released their third album, London Calling in December 1979 they had developed quite a bit of skill, both as performers and as writers. The result was an album full of the punk attitude, full of punk sounds, but very skillfully done. The Clash where no musical slouches, and London Calling is the best album of the punk era, bar none. It may well be in the top ten albums of the rock and roll era, the only punk album I can think of that would even come close.

With a tinge of reggae running through the raw rock and roll, reggae that was very popular at the time in England, London Calling has a feel that no other album has. From it’s famous title track, through songs like Jimmy Jazz, Spanish Bombs and The Gins of Brixton, London Calling, a double album, is four sides of consistently good rock and roll, punk or not.

While punk never had the same clout again, it never really went away. Whenever I listen to London Calling I have the urge to put on Green Day’s American Idiot immediately after. It reminds me very much of London Calling, both in attitude and musicality of the players. It comes from the same sort of youthful disenchantment and has a raw energy that is uncommon, more so now than in 1979.

I became aware of Green Day about five years ago when they had a hit with the wonderful Time of Our Lives. However, the rest of that album Nimrod, is subpar to my ear, reminding me of The Spin Doctors having one really good song and a collection of not so much along with it. American Idiot is radically better.

Even though it’s a political album, it has a vibe that’s so rare. It is edgfy, controversial and solidly written and performed; what more can someone ask of a rock and Roll band?

So this week, was punk week, with punks two best albums playing in my ears: London Calling by the Clash and Green Day’s American Idiot.

Now, where does one go to get a green mohawk nowadays?

This Week on my I-Pod

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