The New York punk albums you need in your record collection
The music was as diverse as its protagonists, but they and it all had one crucial factor in common: attitude. Here are the essential New York punk albums you need to check out
What is it that makes New York punk so different from UK punk? What was it that fused bands as diverse as Talking Heads, with their art-school pretensions, and The Dictators, with their obsession with hamburgers and wrestling, into their own specific genre? In a word: attitude. New York attitude. Many of the bands that featured in New York punk were no more New Yorkers than Tony Blair, but they gravitated there because they had attitude; a spirit that made them outcasts in their own home towns. And it was that attitude that enabled so much musical diversity to emanate from the clubs at the centre of New York punk: Max’s Kansas City and CBGB.
One of the defining characteristics of NY punk was that, unlike their British counterparts, NY punks had a sense of history and musical appreciation, whereas denial of everything that had gone before was integral to the Stalinist ‘Year Zero’ approach of the UK scene. While British punks quickly hid their Hendrix, Beatles and Santana records under their beds, donned “I Hate Pink Floyd” t-shirts and sneered statements like ‘Never Trust A Hippy’, a few thousand miles away was a less isolating punk culture; a scene that shared so many of the same values as the British counterparts, yet was pioneered by artists as diverse as transsexual Wayne/Jayne County, right-wing militarist Johnny Ramone, alpha-male pro wrestler ‘Handsome’ Dick Manitoba, and performance artist and poet Patti Smith.
The New York Dolls, arguably the first and certainly one of the finest examples of the New York punk scene, covered old blues songs and camped it up on stage like the Stones in all their OTT glory. The Ramones adored the pure pop of Phil Spector’s 60s girl groups. Television’s Marquee Moon owes as much to Miles Davis and Frank Zappa as it does to any thing as feral as the Pistols. Much of Blondie’s music was championed as much by pop and disco fans as it was by new wavers. Only The Dead Boys were anything like the Brit punk holy trinity of the Pistols, The Clash and The Damned.
The roots of New York punk actually go all the way back to 60s West Coast garage bands such as The Seeds, who were in turn inspired by the British Invasion and bands like The Kinks and The Yardbirds. The Stooges, the Velvets and the MC5 stoked the flames, but they don’t trouble us here: this is the guys who came after – what Classic Rock believes is the ultimate guide to New York punk. So with a ‘Hey’ and a ‘Ho’, let’s go...
The classic New York punk records
The Ramones - Rocket To Russia (Sire, 1977)
Music that can make you smile more than The Ramones has yet to be recorded.
Never has the phrase ‘so simple it’s brilliant’ been more appropriate than when applied to Rocket To Russia. Status Quo churn out the same old riffs and some people take the piss; The Ramones do it and we just end up loving them all the more.
Maybe it’s their gonzo take on pop history (check out their covers of Surfin’ Bird and Do You Wanna Dance?); their mixture of child-like innocence and street-wise savvy, or just the fact that they wrote such great bullshit-free, don’t-bore-us-get- to-the-chorus tunes, that made them so special. Whatever: this is half an hour of genius.
New York Dolls - New York Dolls (Mercury, 1973)
Pure, unadulterated trash – and we love it. Derided at the time for being mere camped-up Stones copyists, the Dolls are now finally getting the recognition they deserve.
Coming half a decade before The Sex Pistols, along with The Stooges, the Dolls were the proto-punks, with great riffs, biting lyrics and enough attitude in their lipstick-caked sneers to kick an entire generation of shock-rockers crying back to their mummies. From Personality Crisis and the filthy sleaze of Trash, to the gutter party jamming of Pills, this is not only an essential album in the context of punk, but in the history of post-Woodstock rock’n’roll.
The albums that helped define the genre
Television - Marquee Moon (Elektra, 1977)
Marquee Moon is without doubt the major touchstone for all the ‘The’ bands and art rockers of the past few years: it’s almost impossible to listen to The Strokes without hearing Television’s Richard Lloyd’s guitar sound, or Franz Ferdinand without thinking of Tom Verlaine’s vocals.
Although it’s right that it’s included in this list, Marquee Moon, with its jazz influences and virtuoso solos, is hardly punk. However, it is still easy to see why the album is held aloft as one of new wave’s finest musical accomplishments, with more collective musical ability than any of their peers – with the possible exception of Talking Heads.
Patti Smith - Horses (Arista, 1975)
Horses is one of those albums that everyone says is great and seems to own a copy of, yet never actually listens to. Shame, really, as it is a cracker that takes Smith’s unique performance art and poetry persona, adds a splash of reggae, some noisy guitars, a Van Morrison/Them track, and churns it into what Iggy Pop would sound like if he took downers instead of amphetamines.
The underlying theme of Horses is confrontation; the opening line ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine’ sets a tone of such anger, hostility and nihilism that it makes Black Flag sound positively chipper.
Blondie - Parallel Lines (Chrysalis, 1978)
Blondie may be the only band here to have had a song covered by Atomic Kitten and are by far the most commercially successful, but that shouldn’t be allowed to detract from their achievements at the forefront of punk.
Parallel Lines was not only the album that broke Blondie worldwide, it also brought millions of new listeners to the scene. Which may have pissed off the purists, but the likes of One Way Or Another dripped with the necessary sneering anti-authority attitude to keep them in the same bracket as their peers, while adding an element of charm and chic that punk had previously lacked.
The Dictators - Go Girl Crazy! (Sony, 1975)
Without The Dictators there would have been no Ramones, and a world without The Ramones is not one we want to contemplate.
Fronted by ‘Handsome’ Dick Manitoba, on Go Girl Crazy The Dictators pioneered the punk amalgam of garage, attitude and old-fashioned rock’n’roll, and their influence is clear in every band to have carried the punk tag since. This album’s greatest legacy, however, is the genuine sense of humour it betrothed to all those who followed: any band that can get away with a song called Master Race Rock, in which they claim it is in fact teenagers who are the 'master race', has got to be worth a listen.
Manitoba now runs the coolest rock’n’roll dive in NY.
The New York punk albums worth exploring
Dead Boys - Young Loud And Snotty (Sire, 1977)
The Dead Boys could easily have been one of the bands of their generation, Stiv Bators should have been punk’s poster boy, but somewhere along the line it all went wrong.
Best known for its sensational opening track Sonic Reducer, Young Loud And Snotty is bursting with some of the purest punk ever recorded. Down In Flames and All This And More are as rabid as anything The Sex Pistols did, while The Dead Boys’ live version of Hey Little Girl shows how lucky those CBGBs regulars were to catch them before the band split. Sadly we never got to find out how great a band they really could have been.
Heartbreakers - L.A.M.F. – The Lost 77 Mixes (Jungle, 2003)
The original sounded like it was recorded in a portaloo floating down The East River, the ...Revisited version that Johnny Thunders remixed himself simply changed the portaloo into a bathtub. Fortunately, in 2003 Jungle Records stripped the whole thing back to its now sensational state.
A collection of songs about heroin and little else has seen L.A.M.F. often wrongly tagged as a Thunders solo album. One Track Mind, All By Myself and Born To Lose may well be the ex-New York Doll in autobiographic mode, but credit for joint songwriting goes to the under-appreciated Walter Lure.
Richard Hell & The Voidoids - Blank Generation (Stiff, 1977)
John Lydon said Richard Hell had nothing to do with punk. He was wrong. Hell may well be a maverick more famous for getting kicked out of bands, being photographed and, latterly, for poncing about reciting poetry than for actually making music, but his influence as one of the founding fathers of what he christened the Blank Generation entitles him to lasting reverence.
The title track is among the five greatest US punk tunes ever recorded, while Love Comes In Spurts and The Plan are proof that, for all Tom Verlaine’s protestations, Richard Hell made more than just a passing impression on Television.
Dee Dee King - Standing In The Spotlight (Warner Bros, 1990)
Dozens of unlistenable albums were released by members of the New York scene, but at least most showed the right attitude - even the nonsense that was GG Allin. However, one turd that floats to the surface came from a man who should have known better. We’re talking the mid-life crisis that was this Dee Dee Ramone solo album. A mess of sub-Vanilla Ice white-boy rap, it just goes to show that too many drugs really are a bad thing. Dee Dee managed to get Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Chris Stein involved, but even they couldn’t save it. Fortunately it’s quite difficult to find these days.