Monday, 22 October 2007

The Oxford English Dictionary of ROCK #1: Punk

I like punk rock. It’s got a cool beat, and I can bug out to it. Plus, if I want to shake my fist in the general direction of The Man, it’s just the ticket. Screw you, The Man!

But I’d like to learn more about these street-punks and their snotty ways. In the first (and possibly the longest) of a regular series, GMS seeks higher learning the language’s best and biggest repository of FACT, the Oxford English Dictionary. Here’s a definition:

punk rock n.

Originally: rock music played in a fast, aggressive, or unpolished manner. In later use: spec. a genre of rock music originating in the late 1970s, characterized by a deliberately outrageous or confrontational attitude, energetic (and often chaotic) performance, and (freq.) simple or repetitive song structures; the subculture or style associated with this music.

Gold Blade – ‘Punk Rock’ (from Do You Believe In The Power Of Rock’n’Roll?)

Mogwai – ‘Punk Rock’ (Live at All Tomorrow’s Parties, Camber Sands, 2000)

Straightforward enough, but there’s still debate about what, or who, counts as punk. Recently John Lydon suggested Green Day’s spiky hair and ripped clothing made them less like punk and more like “gorgonzola in old boots”. True punks might take this sort of argument outside. GMS takes it to the OED:

punk n.

b. A performer or fan of punk rock; a person who adopts the style or attitude associated with punk rock. In terms of appearance a punk is typically characterized as having coloured spiked hair, wearing deliberately ripped clothing, and using safety pins for adornment, either as a decoration on clothing or as a piercing through the ear or nose.

One-nil to Green Day. But wait:

1976 New Musical Express 17 Apr. 43/1 Johnny Rotten..has the makings of a good punk.

Honours even, then, for attire and attitude. Some mp3s:

Sex Pistols – ‘No Fun’ (Live at San Francisco Winterland, 1978)

Green Day – ‘She’s A Rebel’ (Live)

But which bands does the OED use to define punk? Hands up whoever said Sleater-Kinney and Green On Red.

punk band n.

2006 Chicago Tribune (Nexis) 29 June C25 Sleater-Kinney emerged out of the early '90s riot grrrl movement, a loose coalition of female punk bands.

punk style n.

b. With past participles (in sense A. 5), as punk-influenced, punk-related, punk-styled, etc., adjs.

2005 Uncut June 163/1 Their punk-informed country underpinnings evoke fond memories of fellow travellers like Green On Red.

Sleater-Kinney – ‘You’re No Rock’N’Roll Fun’ (live, 2005)

Green On Red – ‘Easy Way Out’ (from Gas Food Lodging)

Like the OED, punk is continually evolving. The latest addition to the dictionary’s definitions is punk-funk (added: September 2007). That sounds about right: about three or four years ago people were going “ape” for bands like Radio 4 and the Rapture. Rubbish, weren’t they? Turns out, though, “teeny-bop” act T. Rex invented punk-funk. Just ask the staff of Kingston, Jamaica’s Sunday Gleaner.

punk funk n. any of various styles of music incorporating elements of punk and funk; cf. FUNK n.2 2.

1974 Sunday Gleaner (Kingston, Jamaica) 24 Mar. (Mag. section) 6/2 T. Rex. Band with *punk-funk sound. Emerged with second coming of teeny bop, 1970. 1991 C. EDDY Stairway to Hell 45/1 ‘The Stroke’ ranks with the sleaziest, sassiest, strangest, slyest hit singles of the eighties{em}punkfunk for real. 2004 Uncut Mar. 58/2 The more experimental wing of the post-punk brigade,..the abrasive, sky-strafing guitar stylings of PiL's Keith Levene, the Banshees, or the non-linear, noisenik punk-funk of Gang Of Four.

Side-stepping that whole farrago, here’s some punk rap from the Cold Crush Brothers, funky for you:

Cold Crush Brothers – ‘Punk Rock Rap’

Who invented punk? The US and the UK have long disputed the title. The dictionary notes the old English origins of the word, generally meaning a young prostitute, but attributes the musical meaning to the US. Much as it pains me to say it, that’s substantiated by the relative number of bands cited as examples or inspirations: on the American side there are mentions for the Ramones, Stooges, Descendents, Green On Red, Sleater-Kinney, Angry Samoans, My Dad Is Dead and even Blink 182, as well as 1960s garage progenitors Shadows Of Knight, The Music Machine, and the Nazz. The UK falls just short with Sex Pistols, PiL, T Rex, Mick Jagger, Led Zeppelin, the Golden Horde (Irish, but that’s close enough), Souxsie and the Banshees, Gang Of Four, Elvis Costello (a “punkabilly”) and Toyah Wilcox (on a side note, no sign of the Clash). Interestingly, though, the bands against which punk was said to be in reaction (Pink Floyd, Cream, Genesis and Yes) are all Brits. Europe only gets a passing reference to the Raveonettes. Keep up!

Jeffrey Lewis – ‘The History Of Punk On The Lower East Side

Gogol Bordello – ‘Immigrant Punk’ (from Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike)

Scott 4 & Magic Car – ‘European Punks’ (from European Punks LP)

I once bought an album from a charity shop called Totally Punk. It was. Here is the best track.

Tom Robinson Band – ‘Glad To Be Gay’

And here are two more top tunes to complete our magical musical journey:

Kenickie – ‘Punka’ (from At The Club)

Magnetic Fields – ‘Punk Love’ (from 69 Love Songs)

Previously on the OED of ROCK

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