What is punk music? This is what we explore below.
Read on to discover the characteristics of punk music, punk musicians, song examples, the history of punk music and more.
Definition: What Is Punk Music?
Punk music is a genre of music that emerged in the 1970s. Punk music bands were dissatisfied with the mainstream rock music of their era. There are several subgenres of punk music.
Harcore punk became popular in the late 1970s. This subgenre of music is faster and more aggressive than other forms of punk music. Hardcore punk rejects commercialism and the mainstream music industry.
Post-punk emerged as musicians started to experiment with non-rock influences. They wanted to break the norms and added funk, electronic, jazz, and dance music to their compositions.
Noise rock was born in the 1980s. Musicians used extreme distortion levels with electric guitars to create very noisy arrangements.
Glam punk is a term used to describe bands who produced proto-punk but incorporated elements of glam rock into their music. This subgenre was most popular in the early 1970s.
New Wave is a subgenre that describes music that emerged after punk rock, including punk. The new wave included many new music styles such as power-pop, synth-pop, ska revival, and punk rock that were not quite so aggressive.
Pop punk combines punk music with power pop or pop. This subgenre typically focused on adolescent and anti-suburbia themes.
9 Examples of Punk Music
Punk music is divided into subcultures such as anarcho-punk, crust punk, goth, and horror punk. Here are some of the top punk songs of all time.
“Last Caress” was written by Glenn Danzig and released in 1980. Punk fans consider this song one of the best songs ever produced by the Misfits. The song has been covered by many famous bands, such as Metallica and NOFX.
When Genn Danzig left the band, the band changed the lyrics to omit references to rape and murder. However, when Danzig returned, the band continued to play the song with the original lyrics.
The song's disturbing lyrics about murder and rape make it one of the most controversial songs of all time. This song is offensive, yet people love to listen to the romantic melody.
Many have tried to interpret the lyrics since the song's release, but the most popular interpretation is that it details the confessions of a bold killer and rapist who feels no remorse about his crimes.
“Search and Destroy”
“Search and Destroy” was written by Iggy Pop and James Williamson and released in 1973 by the Stooges. The inspiration and title for the song came from a magazine article about the Vietnam War. The song came to him after playing with the guitar, making machine gun sounds.
The lyrics describe the realities of war. Iggy Pop sings about napalm, nuclear bombs, firefights, and the horrors of radiation. The title is about war. In Vietnam, the American military sought to “search out the enemy and destroy.”
This song has been used in several television shows and is the soundtrack for commercials advertising Nike and Audi.
“I Wanna Be Sedated”
This song was written by Joey Ramone and is one The Ramone's best-known songs. It was released in 1978.
Joey Ramone wrote this song while on the road touring. The band traveled all year long and found themselves in England at Christmas. They watched movies in the hotel room because everything was closed for Christmas. It was not what he had envisioned for his life while touring.
The Ramones released the song in 1980 for the US market, achieving mediocre success. Most of the attention was focused on the unique video they made for the song. The crazy antics appealed to a generation of youth that felt disengaged from the society in which they lived.
“Holiday in Cambodia”
“Holiday in Cambodia” was written and released by the Dead Kennedys in 1980. The song was aimed at college students who do not recognize the life of privilege they have in comparison to the atrocities that were happening in Cambodia.
The song addresses a college student who thinks he is aware of the realities of life. Biafra explains that he needs a holiday in Cambodia to understand enslavement and persecution.
The song also mentions the inadequacies of the US government, which was not offering support to stop the genocide happening in Cambodia.
“Hanging on the Telephone”
“Hanging on the Telephone ” was written by Jack Lee and first recorded by his band. Blondie discovered the song and re-recorded it, and released it in 1978. This is one of Blondie's best songs, reaching number 5 on the charts in the UK.
“Hanging on the Telephone” is a happy, fast-tempo song about a stalker keeping tabs on her guy. Deborah Harry, Blondie's lead singer, performs outstanding vocals in this song. She shows a woman's desperation when trying to control a man; some lyrics could be considered threatening.
“Anarchy in the UK”
“Anarchy in the UK” was an extremely controversial song released by the Sex Pistols in 1976. Fans consider this song one of the best songs of all time.
The controversy stemmed from the song calling for violence against the government. Frustrations were mounting within a generation of young people looking for a way to voice their dissatisfaction about a failing economic situation and a flailing music scene.
The song was meant to empower young people to fight for their independence and rights. Record companies dropped the band, and they had difficulty advertising their album because of the controversy. The song became famous due to the negative publicity that it generated.
“Welcome to Paradise”
Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt wrote the lyrics for this song. They composed the lyrics about a slum in Oakland where they used to live as teenagers. Green Day first released this song in 1992, but it was later rerecorded and released in 1994.
The lyrics describe the band's experience of moving out of their parents' houses and into a warehouse. They lived with several other artists and musicians but didn't have to pay rent, so the song describes their exhilarating feeling of freedom.
The Clash released “London Calling” in 1979, a top 20 song, and it is one of the band's best-known songs. The inspiration for this song came from news reports that the lead singer Joe Strummer read daily. The title of the song echoes the broadcast opening of the BBC World Service radio station.
The Clash was known for lashing out against injustices and the government. “London Calling” is a song about the end of the world, describing how it can happen. The lyrics were influenced by news headlines of the time.
You will hear several beeps at the song's end, which spell out SOS in morse code. The Clash says there has been a disaster, and we need help.
This song has been used in several commercials and soundtracks.
“Personality Crisis” was written by David Johansen and Johnny Thunders. It was released in 1973 by the New York Dolls.
This song stands apart from other punk songs because of its unique vocals. Lead singer, David Johansen, gives an outstanding performance with his wild screaming and incredible energy. He challenges the listener to figure out who they are and what they want to do with their life.
The song captures the excitement and exhilaration felt when one is in the city of New York.
5 Top Punk Musicians
Punk bands typically become famous because of their lead singer. Singers in the punk genre must have the attitude and the courage to go against the norms of society, and they must be willing to shock and enrage their fans to communicate their ideas.
Here are five of the most influential punk rock musicians.
Jello Biafra was the lead singer for the Dead Kennedys, and he wrote the band's lyrics. He wrote songs about political themes and often used satire and humor to get his point across. He was not a naturally gifted musician but had talent when it came to composing lyrics.
Biafra owns a successful record label through which he has released many recordings.
Biafra was a powerful presence in the music world of punk and influenced many emerging bands. He advocated civil disobedience and unusual methods to encourage political change. He often engaged in unorthodox pranks to send political messages.
After leaving The Dead Kennedys, Biafra has performed with other bands but has never achieved the same success. He has become involved in politics and is vocal about his political ideologies.
Debby Harry is an American singer, songwriter, and actress. She did the lead vocals for the punk band Blondie, and Blondie had four number-one hits on the US charts in the 70s and 80s.
Harry was a natural punk icon with her unique fashion sense and shockingly blonde hair. She was the epitome of sleek sexuality, and her persona was so entwined with the band's name that many thought her name was Blondie.
Harry began her musical career in 1966 and continues today. She helped form Blondie in 1974 and released five albums. In 1981, Harry released her first solo album and began taking on acting roles. Blondie was reunited in the late 1990s, and Harry continued her acting career.
Glenn Danzig is best known as the lead singer of the Misfits, a punk band he founded. He is also a songwriter, film director, and record producer who began his musical career in the 1970s and has dabbled in several genres.
Danzig released the band's albums through his record label. In 1983, Danzig broke up the Misfits because the band members were not as committed as he wanted them to be, and he had difficulty getting along with them.
Danzig considered himself a social misfit, and that's how the band was named. He eventually left the Misfits and started another band project which attracted some major labels.
In 2016, Danzig announced that the Misfits would perform together for the first time in 33 years. They sold out a succession of arenas proving that they are one of the most popular punk bands ever played.
Danzig continues to work on his music, film, and comic book projects but does not tour anymore. He prefers to stay at home, where he can focus on his work.
Iggy Pop began his musical career in 1967 when his band, the Stooges, was formed. Pop was the lead singer and songwriter for the band.
The punk band was known for its contentious performances, and Iggy was famous for his acts of self-mutilation. He was also known for his unpredictable and outrageous behavior while on stage, and Pop would often perform shirtless and roll around on broken glass.
Pop had a personal and professional relationship with David Bowie, who influenced Pop's lyrical compositions. Performances by Jim Morrison heavily influenced Iggy's stage persona, and Pop was inspired to create shows that would anger his audience. He wanted an emotional reaction from his fans.
The Stooges had limited commercial success, but the popularity of many of their songs is legendary. Iggy has become a cultural icon and influenced many musicians and artists throughout his career.
In 2020, Iggy Pop received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award. He continues to record music, and his latest album was released in March 2021.
In addition to his musical achievements, Pop has appeared in many movies and television shows.
Ramone is best known as the lead vocalist for The Ramones. His image and voice were the trademarks of the punk band. They formed the band in 1974. Unfortunately, they did not achieve great commercial success, but they had an incredible influence on the punk genre of music.
Joey Ramone had a vocal style like no other. He was easily distinguishable from other singers by his cracks, hiccups, and snarling. He would mix it up when he crooned in his very young voice. Surprisingly, Ramone started as a drummer with the band. When the lead singer could not keep up with the live performances, Joey stepped up as a lead vocalist.
Sadly, Joey Ramone passed away in 2001 after losing his battle with lymphoma. His solo album Don't Worry About Me was released after his death in 2002.
History of Punk Music
Punk music was born in reaction to the disco culture and the increase in materialistic values in the US and the UK. The music that punk bands were producing was railing against mainstream culture and any rules they felt were unfair.
Punk music bands are not known for their incredible musical talent but their energetic and passionate delivery of anti-establishment rhetoric.
The punk music culture scene was born in the US and UK during the 1970s.
The US Punk Scene
The New York Dolls is considered to be the first punk band. They began playing in New York in the late 1960s. The punk music culture achieved mass success with the arrival of the Ramones in 1974.
The UK Punk Scene
The UK punk band Sex Pistols played their first gig in 1975. They soon became famous and welcomed bands like The Slits, Siouxsie, and The Clash, who helped edge punk music into mainstream culture.
Punk music is still around but is not as popular as in the 1960s and 1970s. Much of the punk music scene is underground, and punk culture prefers it this way. They destroy their diversity and popularity.
There is a resurgence of punk music at any time in history with political unrest or instability. The lyrics of punk music center around anti-political and establishment views.
Punk Music Characteristics
There are several subgenres of punk music, but there are many characteristics that they all have in common. Punk music is often riddled with lyrics that challenge the rules of the establishment and rules in general.
Punk bands would use their music to voice their political ideologies or apathy. Some bands would challenge their fans to reject the rules imposed upon them by their government.
Short and fast-paced songs characterize the music itself. The songs had very hard melodies and singing styles, and singers often shouted the lyrics.
Many punk bands would self-produce their records and distribute them through independent record labels.
The musicians in the punk bands favored motorcycle jackets, jeans, and T-shirts. They often wore Doc Martens, and they dressed to shock their fans.
What is Punk Music? Final Thoughts
Punk music is a unique genre not for the faint of heart. The pounding lyrics are full of political and anti-establishment ideologies, and punk music is favored by those who enjoy rebelling against the norms of society. Modern-day punk music bands write songs that challenge the norms of society. They present their authentic selves to the fans and don't seem to care about their thoughts.