Punk rock or simply punk is a music genre, considered to be a subgenre of rock by many, that emerged in the 1970’s in the United States and United Kingdom. It is derived from garage rock, hard rock, and rock & roll music.
The earliest influential punk rock band was Television, which was founded in 1973 in New York City. The punk subculture started to emerge in Lower Manhattan, where Television and other early punk bands performed live shows. The most famous venue for these shows was the CBGB club. Punk’s cultural “ancestor” was the trash movement in the 1960’s, which showcased deliberately crude art pieces for low-income audiences.
Musician Patti Smith found and adapted the new musical style very early, and started to write songs in the genre with her own feminist twist to it. Malcolm McLaren, a British musician and visual artist who visited New York during this time period, traveled back to his home country of the UK. Inspired by what he witnessed, he started managing the band Sex Pistol, Britain’s first popular punk act. In the 1970’s, the new cultural movement became very popular there, with other bands such as The Clash and Buzzcocks, especially in the lower-income neighborhoods of the capital city of London. Overall, punk has always had very anti-establishment, rebellious themes and tone.
This new music genre also had the unique characteristic of purposefully wanting to avoid becoming mainstream. Despite that, the late 1990’s saw plenty of punk rock bands picked up by major labels, and gaining massive commercial success. These bands are Green Day, The Offspring, Social Distortion (all of whom had actually formed much earlier). In the case of a band like, for example, Good Charlotte, the seemingly oxymoronic fused genre of pop punk has also been born.
Since, as we wrote above, many in the music industry consider punk a subgenre of rock, evidently, there are many similarities between the two in terms of musicality.
Generally speaking, punk songs tend to be shorter with a faster tempo. They use the so-called blues scale less, instead going with simpler, major and minor pentatonic scales. The vocals tend to have smaller ranges, and be louder compared to the instrumental than in rock.
The similarities are obvious. Both rock and punk usually use physical instruments. The most common instruments are the same: electric guitar, bass, and drums. Both have classic verse-chorus structures, with bridges, intros and outros at times. Because of the similarities, sometimes the defining difference between a punk and a rock band is simply the aesthetics and the attitude of the performances.
Punk songs are typically about social injustices, rebellion, being against the establishment, and, of course, love and sex.
We’ve mentioned Green Day in the history part of the article. The Californian punk band started it late 1980’s, hit it big in the 1990’s, and is still around today, in the 2020’s. Their biggest hits to date are “Boulevard of the Broken Dreams” (2004), “American Idiot” (also 2004), and “21 Guns” (2009). The Offspring, also from California, has put out such songs over the years as “The Kids Aren't Alright” (1998), “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)” (also 1998), and “Want You Bad” (2000). Other famous punk bands from the US are Blondie, Paramore, and The Stooges.
Sum 41 is from Canada, with such hits as “In Too Deep” and “Fat Lip” (both 2001). In the Britain, which was a hotbed for the punk movement in the 1970’s, the U.K. Subs is still active after over 40 years since their 1976 formation; and so is Chelsea, which was founded the same year.