There is a lot of confusion about music styles. I tend to lump most modern music in one catch-all called “ROCK”. Still as we try to organize Itunes folders we find so many species and then subspecies of the genus called “ROCK” it is baffling.
It is even more confusing when we get to the category of Punk Rock. What makes Punk Rock so difficult to define is, Punk Rock started as a style of fashion not a type of music. As the style of music matured certain sonic clichés developed. These clichés still cannot separate Punk Rock from it’s roots, the blues.
Like all “ROCK” music most punk tunes are formulated from the I-IV-V blues progression. The Sex Pistols “God Save The Queen”, The Ramones “Blitzkrieg Bop” and the Clash’s “Brand New Cadillac” are all classics based on this progression. As is the majority of the AC/DC, Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin catalogs.
Punk Rock guitar players were in most cases equally as talented as their Hard Rock contemporaries of the day. Unfortunately most were overshadowed by the antics of the music. Others were lumped in with the legions of punk guitarists that had more eyeliner and hairspray than talent.
Thrust in the decade of the 10 minute arena guitar solo. The subtleties of Mick Jones, Johnny Thunders and Tom Verlaine were lost on most.
Today I want to look at a generation of guitarists that were able to take the roots of rock to the next level. These are musicians that took species Punk Rock and develop the subspecies – Ska, New Wave, Thrash, Glam, Emo and Industrial among the many flavors of to be derived from this style.
For your enjoyment in no particular order here are the Top Ten Punk Rock Guitar Albums of all time.
Television, Marquee Moon – Guitarists Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. This NYC quartet was a mainstay in the mid 70’s rock scene along with The Ramones, Talking Heads and New York Dolls. Television was not wrap speed grinding punk. Marque Moon is straight ahead rock and roll. One of the better solos in the album is Richard Lloyd’s riffing on See No Evil. See No Evil is to no surprise a I-V-IV blues progression with no twists or turns. The CD Reissue of this disk has the bonus track Little Johnny Jewel.
In my opinion Little Johnny Jewel showcases this guitar duo in the best light. If you open your ears a bit there is a distinct Hendrix influence on this track. This is no surprise seeing Tom Verlaine and Hendrix both had heavy Jazz roots.
The Ramones, Road To Ruin – Johnny Ramone is one of the most underrated guitarists in the history of rock. Road To Ruin opens with the Classic “I Just Want to Have Something to Do” which features some of the coolest guitar fills ever laid down on tape. This disk has amazing subtleties and textures. The acoustic guitar work on the Sonny Bono classic “Needles & Pins” is classic 60’s throwback. It is like finding a clearing in a forest finding this gem buried among the sonic fury of The Ramones.
Adding yet another flavor to the disk is the ballad “Questioningly” penned by Dee Dee Ramone. The song opens with amazing country flavored slide work by Johnny Ramone along with a great slide solo. The tune has at least 3 beautiful guitar tracks layered on top of each other.
It is a shame Phil Spector later destroyed this band.
The Pretenders, The Pretenders – 1982 was a horrible year for rookie guitar players. This is the year we saw the passing of Ozzy Osbourne phenom Randy Rhoades and later that year Pretenders axe man James Honeyman Scott. The guitar work on the first two Pretenders albums in awe inspiring.
The opening track “Precious” is a great flange filled punk anthem. James Honeyman Scott had a way with tone texture and timing like no other guitarist. The off-meter “Phone Call” and rhythmically cool “Tattooed Love Boys” are both great examples of Honeyman Scott’s incredible talents. My favorite on this disk? “Private Life” this is not only one of my favorite songs of all time but favorite leads of all time.
Pretenders bassist Pete Farndon soon followed his bandmate James Honeyman Scott to the grave also falling to the grip of drugs. Though the Pretenders would have limited success with later lineups they never reproduced the success of their first two disks.
Aladdin Sane, David Bowie – This cornerstone album of the punk movement opens with” Watch That Man” if you are paying attention it shouldn’t shocked you to find out this is a variation on a I-V-IV blues progression.
This album also gives us “Panic In Detroit”. “Panic In Detroit” is undisputedly the coolest riff in the history of rock guitar. Giving this disk even more punk street cred is the hyper cover of Jager and Richards “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and the Bowie hit “The Jean Genie” . “The Jean Genie” by the way opens with a direct lift of Muddy Water’s Mannish Boy.
This is guitar god Mick Ronson’s 4th of his first 5 disk run with Bowie. Mick brought his arena rock prowess to a style of music that sparingly used the guitar solo and later used the guitar even less.
The Clash, London Calling – I was fortunate enough to see The Clash live. Does that age me? Is there anything on the earth cooler than “Brand New Cadillac’? Mick Jones lays down one of the best solos of this era. The album dovetails right into “Jimmy Jazz” which is a “jazz” blues progression. The phase on Mick Jones’ guitar on this tune is perfect. Not only is there great guitar all over this disk there isn’t a bad song on this album.
In a sea of overly distorted offerings Joe Strummer and Mick Jones’ reggae influenced phased out riffs were a breath of fresh air. Listen to “Lost In The Supermarket” you can hear Jones layer the melody line over Joe Strummer’s vocals. Still songs like “Clampdown” bring us back to the early days of The Clash.
The Cars, The Cars – Though they were not the first to palm mute their guitars The Cars did it well. “My Best Friend’s Girl” is a great example of this and a great showcase of Elliot Easton 50’s flavored guitar style. The big hit from this album “Just What I Needed” drew some criticism in music circles for having the same chord progression as The Beatles “I Want To Hold Your Hand”.
As I pointed out earlier no one has done anything original in rock in 60 years, does it really matter? Plus Elliot Easton once again throws down a great lead in this song.
This album also gave the classic “Bye, Bye Love” which features some of Elliot Easton best guitar work. The real contribution of this album is it gave us “Moving In Stereo”. “Moving in Stereo” was used as the theme for Phoebe Cates’ famous topless pool scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Raw Power, The Stooges – When I listen to this album I can’t believe it was recorded as early as it was. What is even more surprising is Raw power is The Stooges third album. James Williamson was brought in as lead guitarist and guitarist Ron Asheton took over the duties on bass. This album was remixed at the request of Columbia Records by David Bowie. Thank god Iggy Pop demanded that Bowie not be allowed to touch “Search and Destroy”.
The mix on this classic is so bad it is good. James Williamson’s solos jump off the record like you are at a night club with a half drunken sound man.
Columbia Records also demanded Iggy Pop put two ballads on the disk. This gave us the disturbingly dark “Gimme Danger” and the bluesy “I Need Somebody”.
The Smiths, The Smiths – Johnny Marr cemented his place in the halls of guitar greats with the first chord of “How Soon Is Now”. Marr added a spacey dynamic to The Smiths that is hard to describe or emulate. The ultra hip dance groove of this tune is framed by spacey chord washes and tremolo driven rhythms.
The jangly guitar in “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” reminds me of Roger McGuinn of The Byrds classic Rickenbacker sound.
With “Suffer Little Children” Marrs guitar sounds like you are walking through a crystal canyon. The ostinatos and arpeggios on “William, It Was Really Nothing” are nothing short of brilliant. Marr became the anti-guitar hero in the 80’s by not playing 10 minute distorted guitar solos. His style is made up more of style and substance not flash.
New York Dolls, New York Dolls – One important factor of punk rock was shock value. I am sure if you left the New York Dolls on the kitchen table in 1973 you parents would have called it trash and burnt it. An album with 5 transvestites on the cover would raise eyebrows now. In ’73 it was scandalous.
Never the less one of those transvestites could play the hell out of the guitar. Johnny Thunders, born John Anthony Genzale was the driving force behind the Dolls. Originally known as Johnny Volume, Thunders had a unique and aggressive approach to the guitar.
“Personality Crisis” is a classic rock riff but the way Thunders approaches it is with a full frontal assault. His style could be described as Keith Richards on steroids. Give “Bad Girl” a listen and you will know why this legend influenced a generation of guitarists.
The Police, Reggatta de Blanc – The Police guitarist Andy Summers got his start with Eric Burdon & The Animals. His musical journey after meeting Sting and Stewart Copland took him on a wild ride. On The Police’s sophomore outing Andy Summers showed a generation of guitars how far you could take the stompbox. Unlike experiential guitars before him Andy Summers was able to bring the over processed guitar into the mainstream. The lead in It’s “Alright For You” resembles a synth more than it does a guitar.
If you can claim you never played air guitar to “Walking on the Moon” I would say you never listened to The Police. We need to seperate this album from the Mtv pop hits and Sting psudo jazz tunes.
From the chime like guitar in the title track “Reggatta de Blanc” to the punky rhythms of “No Time This Time” Summer shows he is a master of tone throughout this disk. “No Time This Time” also features one of Andy’s best leads with The Police.
So there you go a 10 great guitar albums from a genre that was never truly respected for it’s guitar playing.