Tag Archives: Buddy Holly

Proto-Punk? Yes. Post-Punk? Yes. Punk? Eh, Not So Much

When I was a teenager I discovered The Clash and with them, punk-rock. There was a certain immediacy and urgency that appealed to my teenage self. Everything was vast, loud and angry. Even if I didn’t exactly understand what they were referring to (this was the case for many Clash songs in my younger years) it didn’t matter. It was exciting and visceral.

Sometime later, a friend of mine took me to an Anti-Flag show about ten years ago, and I found the whole experience completely boring. Sure, the songs were played at break-beck speed, but they mostly stuck to their studio incarnations and seemed lackluster. I also didn’t enjoy being shoved every which way as the kids around mossed themselves in oblivion. I couldn’t understand why no one paying attention to the band – they only seemed intent on bashing each other.

Punk-rock it seemed, didn’t fit my personality after-all.

This isn’t to say that I totally dislike punk. I still rate both The Sex Pistols and The Clash among some of my favorite groups. The Clash and Nevermind the Bullocks are some of the most exciting and classic albums of rock and roll. It seems to me that no matter how hard any punk has tried subsequently they’ve never been able to better those two albums. There’s a reason why The Sex Pistols imploded, and the Clash moved on embracing other musical styles. The standard three-chord attack of punk only offers so much for a song.

I however, have a huge fondness for proto-punk and post-punk. Readers of this blog will surely know my affinity for Iggy Pop and The Stooge and of course, the Velvet Underground. The blue-print for punk was more or less created with these artists. As the 60s closed and the 70s began, mainstream rock became a little stagnant with the advent of prog-rock, bands whose names sounded more like law-firms, and other bands who took their names from cities and other locations.

In come The Stooges with their abrasive sound and Iggy’s legendary antics. It should also be noted that their first album also updated early rock and roll, giving it a more aggressive and wild sound complete with tightly controlled feed-back solos. Iggy seemed to be attack the “golden god” singers of the era when he declared, “Your pretty face is going to hell!”  Both the Stooges and The Velvet Underground’s proved that any one could make rock and roll. You didn’t have to be an expert or a virtuoso to get attention.

Punk of course, took that philosophy to the extreme. Naturally, the next groups of artists to emerge would combine punk’s do it yourself freedom, but not completely sticking to its three-chord ethos. Elvis Costello wasn’t strictly a punk-rocker at the beginning, but his first two albums – My Aim Is True and This Year’s Model – combined punk’s punchiness with a songwriter’s mentality. He also looked and acted like Buddy Holly who could punch you in the face and have no trouble stealing your girlfriend in the process. The Police managed infused their punk with tinges of reggae and in the process became one of the world’s biggest bands. The Talking Heads took avant-garde to a mass audience without ever forgetting their roots as a bar-band in CBGBS.

There are dozens of more bands I could list as favorites who were influenced by punk’s attitude, but not so much its sound. For me, punk has always been about freedom and too often a lot of “punk” bands seem stuck in one mode.

 

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Nostalgic 1994 Songs: “Undone (The Sweater Song)”

Even if Weezer had faded away after putting out Pinkerton (which has since become something of a classic) their singles from The Blue Album would still be considered classics.  No other band in the 90’s combined pop hooks with loud guitars as well as Weezer.  Nirvana made taken their cues from punk and The Pixies, while Weezer used Cheap Trick as a influence, updating the pop sensibility for a rock radio format.  No other song from The Blue Album would endure as much as “Undone (The Sweater Song)”.  Everyone knows the chorus, and will joyously/drunkenly sing along whenever it is played.  Even the chorus of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” never achieved that, as famous as it is.

Even before the chorus, the opening guitar riff is hypnotic.  It’s the same note played over and over again for a minute.  The dream-like riff is pulls you in – you’re forced to listen to the song.  Even the conversation that takes place in the background of the song seems adrift compared to the guitars.  It takes over the conversation and perhaps that was Weezer’s intent – to force the listener to take in the song.  It feels like it could go on forever, reminding me much of The Beatle’s repeated riff at the end of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”.  Weezer does it at the beginning of the song, but the effect is no less enthralling.

And this even before Rivers Cuomo starts singing.  The listener is already hooked, does it really matter what he sings about at this point? In most slow verse/loud chorus songs of this era, the singer would scream through the chorus as a form of catharsis. Undone does explode in the chorus with Cuomo suggesting, “if you want to destroy my sweater, pull this thread as I walk away.”  It’s so ridiculous, yet brilliant.  Everyone who heard that chorus the first time surely must have thought: “What the hell did he just say?”

The second chorus takes it even further.  “Watch me unravel, I’ll soon be naked.  Lying on the floor.”  And just as Cuomo finishes that line, the rest of the band chimes in and repeats it for extra effect.  “I’ve come undone!” Cuomo announces.  The band then takes lift-off, into a guitar-solo that never seems forced.  After the final chorus, the band itself seems to come undone – thrashing away for almost a minute.  But even among all the noise, Cuomo fires series of “ooo-ooo-ooooohs” that recall the signature riff at the beginning of the song,retaining the song’s pop elements.

“Undone” contains many stock elements of 1990’s grunge/post grunge songs.  Even by that time, the soft verse/loud chorus seemed to be dying a slow death.  But “Undone” is so different in its approach, that it seems unique among that style.  It’s little wonder that teenage kids who would later create their own bands listening to Weezer would see them as influence, and in turn take their rock-pop format foundation creating their own sub-genre of rock called Emo.

For me, Weezer was one of the first “new” bands that I grew attached to in the mid-90s.  I never had my own copy of The Blue Album, but instead had a dubbed copy of it on a cassette that I used to play all the time.  By the time “Pinkerton” came out in 1996, I had moved on to other artists.  That Christmas, I remember my brother Pete telling me I should buy “Pinkerton”, and for whatever reason I didn’t.  (I could have been ahead of the curve!)

I still enjoy many of Weezer’s songs on the radio, but like almost everybody else (and perhaps the band themselves as they are now playing The Blue Album in its entirety) I think they’ve never bettered The Blue Album, and more specifically “Undone”.

“Undone (The Sweater Song)”:

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This Week’s Theme: Nostalgic Songs of 1994

 

(Note: This post should have come before “Everything Zen” – I thought I had published it and it wasn’t until I put up the post on “Everything Zen” that I realized my mistake.)

1994 is the first year where I really remember listening to the radio, and picking up on current musical trends.  I was 12 going on 13, discovering myself through the radio.  Kurt Cobain may have just killed himself that summer, but that fall the sounds of Weezer, Bush, Green Day, and Live were finding their way to my ears.

Previously I had relied on my siblings musical tastes.  Whatever they listened to, was what I listened to and thought was good.  While I certainly prided myself on my preferences in school, I found out that no one in classes was talking about U2.  “Basket Case” was the rage, and kids sang all the words to Beck’s “Loser” on field-trips.  Coming back from a school musical, the  radio constantly played Beastie Boy’s “Sabotoge” – a song that seemed to come from outer-space on a mission to blow up the speakers and my mind.

Everything on the radio was loud and exciting.  Masturbation was sung frankly in Green Day’s “Longview”, Gavin Rossdale reflected upon his “asshole brother” in Los Angeles.  I was too young to get the joke about “Happy Days” in the video for Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”, but I laughed hysterically about Rivers Cuomo inviting someone to destroy his sweater in “Undone (The Sweater Song)”.  Even R.E.M. (my favorite band at the time) cranked up the amps with “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”, declaring “don’t fuck with me” at the end of the song.

Looking back, 1994 really was a good year in music.  It was the era in between grunge and the new-wave ska revival (which was a very strange time in music, I think.)

Even though a lot of these songs aren’t on the same caliber as a lot of other stuff I listen to now, I still enjoy them and they take me back to my 12-13 year old self.  And that’s what this week’s theme is all about.

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