Hot Licks: The Birth Of Punk Rock

By Brad Schlueter
Originally Published in DRUM! Magazine's August 2008 Issue

If you’re familiar only with today’s brand of prefab pop punk, you owe it to yourself to check out the gritty bands that spawned the music, fashions, and attitude that went on to influence several generations of punk rockers. The songs could be political and blunt with lyrics that ranged from confrontational to apathetic or just plain sarcastic. The drumming style was often primal, direct, and without frills. Here are a handful that made it happen.

“Anarchy In The U.K.” by Sex Pistols

The first single from Sex Pistols has everything a punk rock anthem needs: angry lyrics, pounding drums, and a great guitar hook. Johnny Rotten’s lyrics and nasal monotone delivery ooze punk’s discontent and nihilism. His opening lyric “I am an anti-Christ” was shocking in its day, and the band seemed to go out of its way to live up to that image. Drummer Paul Cook anchors the intro of this classic song by playing what has become an essential punk rock groove. He plays a variation on a “twist” beat, riding his floor tom and playing his snare on 2 & and 4 and adding a little sixteenth-note tom embellishment at the end of each bar.

“Train In Vain (Stand By Me)” by The Clash

Pop punk didn’t begin with Green Day. The Clash was known for blending political lyrics with catchy melodies that had stylistic influences ranging from reggae to rockabilly. “Train In Vain” is a love song and is one of their biggest hits. This song still gets radio play and was a last-minute addition to their hugely successful London Calling album. It was almost left off because the band felt it was too commercial. Topper Headon provided the perfect tasty groove for the song.

“Neat Neat Neat” by The Damned

Although The Damned never broke big in the States they were among the U.K.’s early crop of punk bands. And while you might not recognize the birth name of the Damned’s drummer (Christopher Miller), his stage name, Rat Scabies, will always be one of the great ones.

“Ready Steady Go” by Generation X

This was Billy Idol’s band before he became known as the solo artist with a perfect sneer. Their first successful song, “Ready Steady Go,” is an up-tempo rocker that features drummer Mark Laff behind the kit. His slamming flam-and-kick drum intro launches the song off the starting blocks.

“I Wanna Be Sedated” by The Ramones

The Ramones were one of the hardest working punk bands around, playing thousands of shows during their 22 years of gigging. Often cited as the first punk rock band, the Ramones inspired The Clash, The Damned, and Sex Pistols to perform after they toured the U.K. in 1976. This song was written about how much life on the road stinks and features Marky Ramone (Mark Bell) on drums.

“Pay To Cum” by Bad Brains

This Washington DC punk band began playing fusion and reggae but later went punk. All three influences are still present in their music today. This minute-and-a-half song was their first single and was the song that launched the insanely fast, hardcore style of punk that’s still popular today. The audio quality makes it difficult to make out exactly what drummer Earl Hudson plays on this recording, but it’s impossible to miss his unusual but memorable cowbell part in the verses.

“Group Sex” by Circle Jerks

The debut album by Circle Jerks features 14 songs that average just over a minute each. For the title track from the record, drummer Lucky Lehrer plays a cool tribal drum groove. Lucky moves his right hand from his crash to his tom-tom to create the beat for this ridiculously fast song.

“Holiday In Cambodia” by Dead Kennedys

Dead Kennedys’ anti-war song is just as pertinent today as it was in 1980. The transcription begins when drummer Bruce “Ted” Slesinger breaks into two-handed sixteenth notes played on the hi-hat over quarter-notes on the bass drum. He gradually opens his hi-hat, setting up his fast snare roll that leads into the next section. Here he plays a disco beat with quarters on the bass drum and open hi-hats on the &’s.

“Gloria” by Patti Smith

Patti Smith is referred to as the “Godmother Of Punk” and her version of this rock staple proves she deserves the title. Her arrangement varies greatly from Van Morrison’s original version. Jay Dee Daugherty’s drum part begins with a bass drum and hi-hat pattern with a light triplet groove. He builds his part into a shuffle, giving it a quasi-country feel. He changes his hi-hat pattern to a straight quarter-note pattern, giving the song a more rock vibe, but maintains the triplet feel with his bass drum. Finally, he switches to a straight-eighth-note rock feel in the fourth line of the transcription. The tune picks up speed leading into the chorus and Daugherty introduces the funky two-handed hi-hat groove seen in the last line.

“I’m Bored” by Iggy Pop

Often called the “Godfather Of Punk” (wonder if he ever compared notes with Patti Smith?), Iggy Pop’s visceral stage persona is unforgettable, and he is credited with inventing stage diving. From the opening lyric, “I’m bored. I’m the chairman of the bored,” Pop’s attitude is all punk. Klaus Kruger plays the aggressive drum fills that set the stage for this great song.

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