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Three 1960s Rock Bands You Should Know If You Call Yourself a Punk Rock Fan

The Innovative 1960s Rock Bands That Helped Start the Punk Rock Movement

Punk rock burst into existence during the 1960s, a time characterized by a quest for individuality, originality, and a powerful voice for the masses. While the airwaves and TV screens were dominated by the likes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, a subversive underground movement was taking shape. This was a community of outsiders, fearlessly challenging societal norms and unearthing the raw essence of their existence. It was the rebellious spirit of these visionary artists and the compelling personas surrounding them that sowed the seeds for the explosive punk rock renaissance of the 1970s. Leading this audacious charge were the Velvet Underground, the MC5, and Iggy & the Stooges, three iconic bands who fearlessly paved the way for a new era of musical rebellion.

The Velvet Underground

Hailing from the pulsating heart of New York City, the incomparable Velvet Underground burst onto the scene in 1964, setting the stage ablaze with the raw talent of singer/guitarist Lou Reed, the multi-instrumental prowess of John Cale, the electrifying guitar riffs of Sterling Morrison, and the thunderous beats of drummer Angus MacLise. At this point in time, the notion of punk as a music genre had yet to crystallize, but their unforgettable stage presence and rebellious spirit would reverberate through the annals of both punk rock and new wave music. By 1965, the band found themselves thrust into the orbit of the enigmatic Andy Warhol, thanks to an introduction by none other than Paul Morrissey. To truly grasp the essence of the band’s electrifying sound and why it captured the attention of Andy Warhol, one need only consider this riveting quote from the magnetic Lou Reed:

“Andy Warhol told me that what we were doing with the music was the same thing he was doing with painting and movies and writing – ie., not kidding around.”

Lou Reed from Please Kill Me: The Uncensored History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

In 1966, Warhol took on the role of the band’s manager, a truly defining moment for punk rock. His influence propelled the band to new heights within the New York scene and beyond. This connection and the embrace of innovative music in New York played a pivotal role in the formation of vibrant communities at iconic venues like CBGB’s.

Amidst the Andy Warhol circle during this time was Danny Fields, a fervent admirer of the Velvet Underground. Fields, a monumental figure in the history of punk rock, was deeply involved in the music industry from the 1960s to the 1980s. His influential impact led him to eventually manage the Ramones, following his significant contributions at Elektra Records. It was Fields who played a pivotal role in securing a groundbreaking deal for Elektra Records, signing both the Stooges and MC5 in one impressive stroke of innovation.

The MC5

The MC5, a band born during the fervent days of the counter-culture movement in 1963, was a force to be reckoned with. With lead vocals by the charismatic Rob Tyner, and the skillful guitarists Wayne Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith, along with the rhythm section of bassist Michael Davis and drummer Dennis Thompson, this band emerged from Lincoln Park, Michigan, with a fiery passion, a clear mission, and a sound that shook the soul. Their music didn’t just “Kick Out the Jams,” it also carried their unapologetic political stance. When the Democratic Convention led to the arrest of many, including the renowned counter-culturist Abbie Hoffman, the MC5 were slated to headline. It was during a fateful phone call from Danny Fields to Jac Holzman, the founder and CEO of Elektra Records, that their undeniable brilliance was affirmed and their destiny forever altered.

“I’m in Ann Arbor looking at that group the MC5 I told you about. Well, they’re really going to big. They sold out four thousand tickets on Saturday night; the crowd went wild, and there were crowds around the street.”

Danny Fields from Please Kill Me: The Uncensored History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

Funny enough, during this same phone call Danny Fields dropped a line about the Stooges saying:

“And what’s more, they have a baby brother group called Iggy and the Stooges, which is the most incredibly advanced music I’ve ever heard. And the lead singer is a star – he’s really mesmerizing.”

Danny Fields from Please Kill Me: The Uncensored History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

Jac Holzman’s responded with offering $20,000 for MC5, and $5,000 for the Stooges. They both signed.

Overall, the MC5 didn’t stay together long as they never really gained national recognition. That paired with law troubles and substance abuse caused them to break up. Read more about the end of the MC5.

While the MC5 eventually disbanded, their little brother band, Iggy & the Stooges, would become a staple name anytime the term punk is mentioned. Their fame today is a far cry from when they were first touring.

Iggy & the Stooges

And then came Iggy. Revered as the Godfather of punk, Iggy Pop stands as a pop-culture legend whose electrifying stage presence both petrified and thrilled outcasts of all kinds. It all began in 1967, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when Iggy, along with guitarist Ron Asheton, drummer Scott Asheton, and bassist Dave Alexander, formed the Stooges. What truly propelled their career to great heights was Iggy’s wild and outrageous behavior on stage. He would cover himself in peanut butter, fling hamburger meat into the audience, shatter glass and then roll in it, bleed, vomit, and even walk on people. It was unprecedented, nothing anyone had seen before. People were confounded, couldn’t look away, like witnessing a car crash. In the words of Scott Kempner, the guitarist with The Dictators – “Iggy and The Stooges were the best rock ‘n’ roll band ever. Iggy could hypnotize a crowd by going to the edge, and then stepping over it.”

“And every time I saw that band it was the same thing – there was never a yesterday, there was never a set they’d played before, there was never a set they were ever gonna play again. Iggy put life and limb into every show. I saw him bloody every single show. Every single show involved actual f**cking blood.”

Scott Kempner from Please Kill Me: The Uncensored History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

Much like the fierce energy of their live performances, the raw power of Iggy & the Stooges’ music caught many off guard. Without a doubt, their albums Fun House and Raw Power stand as some of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll albums ever created. While their music failed to resonate with audiences at the time, it wielded significant influence over numerous contemporary artists. The Stooges’ struggle with substance abuse, particularly heroin, hindered their early success and record sales.

Nevertheless, their lasting impact is evident today, with Iggy still captivating audiences with his performances. The band’s influence on punk rock and music as a whole only continues to swell, as their work gains greater recognition. This is exemplified by Carnival Cruise’s use of their song “Lust for Life” in a commercial, a testament to the enduring relevance of their music. For nothing encapsulates family fun quite like the unbridled lust for life.

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