Suicide, New York Dolls, the Dictators, Television, and more 1970s Punk Rock Bands You Should Know
The 1970s are vital time for punk rock. For the first time, the term “punk” is established, and a sound to go along with the term will form. Young musicians influenced by the old would gain confidence in their craft, creating the city’s first underground rock scene. A scene that would not be forgotten and replicated for years to come. Here are the 1970s punk rock bands you should know if you call yourself a punk rock fan. Let’s get it!
The sounds of a dark New York riddled with crime & poverty are exactly what the band Suicide produces. One of the first bands to promote their sound as “punk music,” Suicide was a two-man group that included Alan Vega on the mic and instrumentalist Martin Rev. They emerged with the theatrical scene that had taken venues like the Mercer Arts Center by storm. The shows often became confrontational and rough, sort of the first in-your-face punk show influenced by the same theatrics as Iggy Pop with a street thug interpretation. During those early years, Vega would sport a bike chain on stage and look out onto the crowd with these insane looks hitting himself with the microphone to produce a beat, while Rev would remain behind wearing sunglasses mixing the tunes.
Their debut album would release with mixed reviews, and it wouldn’t be until years later that critics recognized the brilliance of the electronic sound they were producing. Rolling Stone magazine bashed the album upon its initial release, and yet today you can find it on their lost of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Funny how that works. Yet, that’s the story of Suicide, ahead of their time.
For those looking to hear their gritty sound, hit play on the video below.
New York Dolls, 1971
When the New York Dolls came onto the scene in 1971, New York didn’t know what to do with itself. Playing shows at Mercer Arts Center and Max’s Kansas City, the New York Dolls dressed like women and played lights out rock ‘n’ roll. This five piece band included David Johansen (vocals), Arthur Kane (bass), the legendary Johnny Thunders (guitar), Rick Rivets (guitar), and Billy Murice (drums). Later Rick and Billy would be replaced by drummer Jerry Nolan and guitarist and pianist Sylvain Sylvain.
With a “we don’t care” attitude,” this band would influence and possibly start New York’s local underground rock scene. Another fun fact, Malcom McLaren, who would later become the Sex Pistols manager, managed the group in the late 70s. This is McLaren’s first run at managing a rock group and where some of his early mishaps (you could say) were made. For instance, he actually had the band dress in all red with communist graphics behind them as they played. As you can imagine, this new look didn’t go over well with the public in America. Drug and substance abuse, the death of Billy Murica, and lack of national recognition all led to them breaking up. Even though their reign ended, they would influence young musicians throughout the New York area like Richard Lester Meyers and Thomas Miller who formed our next band, Neon Boys.
If you want to know more about the New York Dolls, there are several documentaries to check out!
The Neon Boys, 1972
The Neon Boys was a short-lived, yet important band to note. The band was formed in 1972 by Billy Ficca (drums), Richard Lester Meyers (bass), and Thomas Miller (guitar). In case you didn’t know, Richard Meyers would change his name to Richard Hell, and Thomas Miller would soon become Tom Verlaine. The band would record one demo and not perform live. It is important to note these boys because you are starting to see the confidence in these young players to form their own thing. To play their music. In essence, they are “figuring it out” due to the major influence of the New York Dolls and the scene that went crazy for them in New York. The Neon Boys didn’t last long, not because they broke up and failed, but because they felt they were missing a key ingredient. Another guitarist. It would be the introduction of Richard Lloyd by Terry Ork that would cause the Neon Boys to become Television. More on that down the road.
The Dictators, 1973
The Dictators, to me, can best be summarized as an influential bridge littered with junk food and beer cans. Let me explain. Founding members Adny Shernoff (vocals/bass), guitarist Ross the Boss, Scott “Top Ten” Kempner (rhythm guitar), and Stu Boy King (drums) formed in response to MC5, the Stooges, New York Dolls, and the other influential bands at the time. Their crude humor and sense of defiance with a backdrop of hard rock ‘n’ roll, as seen in their debut album Go Girl Crazy!, will later influence bands such as the Ramones. Bridging this gap between the bands that formed in the late 1960s and early 1970s to the bands that start to play CBGB’s and become New York’s first local scene. Unfortunately, the album Go Girl Crazy didn’t sell and like most of these bands during this time failed to gain outside recognition until years later.
Happy to say you can still see this today, including some of its founding members Adny Shernoff and Ross the Boss. For tour dates, check out their website at thedictators.com.
This band can be called “revolutionary” for their unbelievable sound and what they did for the development of the scene at CBGB. As discussed, the band was originally the Neon Boys which included Tom Verlaine (vocals/guitar), Richard Hell (bass), and Billy Ficca (drums). The band then added (thanks to Terry Ork the band’s manager) guitarist Richard Llyod to form Television. They are well-known for their clean, technical guitar play. Their debut album Marque Moon is absolutely stellar and is often ranked as one of the best rock ‘n’ roll albums ever recorded. Adventure, their second album, didn’t hold up as well, and due to artistic differences, the band eventually deformed in 1978.
BUT, to go back a bit, they are the reason the scene at CBGB’s developed. Hell, they even helped build the stage! The story goes the band wanted a place to play that would cater to their music. Terry Ork and Richard Lloyd were walking around when they spotted CBGB’s and sparked a conversation with owner Hilly Kristal. After a reluctant conversation, Kristal gave in offering them several Sunday nights. This, of course, would open the door for bands throughout New York to start playing regularly at CBGB’s including our next band the Stilettoes who would open for Television on occasion.
Book drop – check out Richard Llyod’s Everything Is Combustible: Television, CBGB’s and Five Decades of Rock and Roll: the Memoirs of an Alchemical Guitarist. Entertaining read for those who love the band Television.
The Stilettoes, 1973
The Stilettoes is another band that I believe deserves to be mentioned and not because of their longevity. Considered to be punk rock, they are one of the first premiere acts at CBGB’s along with Television. The Stilettoes included Elda Gentile, Chris Stein (guitar), Billy O’Connor (drums) Fred Smith (bass), Debbie Harry (vocals), and Rosie Ross (vocals). Yes, the same Chris Stein, Fred Smith, and Debbie Harry that would form the band Blondie.
You see, Debbie Harry hung out with the early theatrical group in New York City. The same that ate up the New York Dolls and help them become stars. And here she is taking those talents of hers from acting to singing. Therefore, as this is Debbie Harry’s first big band, and the role Blondie would play in the early punk rock scene – I felt they are worth mentioning.
Overall, Stilettoes’ sound is raw., a pop female lead with an energetic guitar. Out of all the bands mentioned so far, this could be the first that gives you that “punk rock” sound most think of. Give it a go. The band didn’t last long breaking up in 1974, offering the opportunity for Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, and Fred Smith to form Blondie.
Patti Smith Group, 1973
If you don’t know Patti Smith, you don’t know sh*t. Is that fair? Patti Smith, much like Debbie Harry, got her start in the theatrical scene of New York before the music scene took off. She loved Rimbaud, pursued poetry, and studied and appreciated legends like Bob Dylan and Keith Richards. After seeing Television live at CBGB’s she was inspired to infuse her poetry with music starting her rock ‘n’ roll career.
At first, Patti Smith teamed up with pianist Lenny Kaye. Then, they added Richard Sohl, Ivan Kral, and Jay Dee Daughterty to form the Patti Smith Group. In 1974, they made “Hey Joe/Piss Factory,” which some say is the first recorded punk song. By 1975, they would drop the debut album Horses and it would be a commercial success. The band would continue to see success, and it wouldn’t be until the early 1980s that Patti Smith would call it quits to raise a family with Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5. So there is a happy ending for some of us, after all.
The Ramones, 1974
Everyone knows a bit about the Ramones. Even if you are not a punk rock fan, ask someone to name a band from the genre and I guarantee this will be one of the names they mention. Can you blame them? The Ramones dropped on the scene and revolutionized the game. Formed in 1974 in Queens, the Ramones included Joey Ramone (vocals), Dee Dee Ramone (bass), Johnny Ramone (guitar), and Tommy Ramone (drums). They weren’t related, each changed their last name to match and wore similar outfits. As the cool kids put it, this “branding” image would help them gain popularity within the New York scene.
Beyond their image, their sets were 22 minutes long with 14 songs, no breaks. Just back to back to back mayhem. No solos, they removed the blues, and what was left was the pure essence of rock ‘n’ roll. While the term “punk” is being tossed around at this time, it was the Ramones that people felt the term finally had a sound to match.
Unlike many of the bands mentioned above, the Ramones would find success and tour for more than 20 years and release 14 studio albums. Their legacy would reign supreme among punk rock bands.
For those looking to gain a bit more knowledge about the band, check out Dee Dee Ramone’s Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones. Highly recommend. Dee Dee wrote the majority of the songs for the Ramones, he even wrote “Chinese Rocks.” It’s a fun(ny) & insightful read!
Annnnnd, final note, to finish off this bit how about a video of the band inside the legendary CBGB’s. Left it below for you.
You read about the story of Stilettoes, and by 1974 Debbie Harry (vocals) and Chris Stein (guitar) would break off to form the band Blondie with Billy O’Connor (drums) and Fred Smith (bass). The name comes from a truck driver who catcalled Debbie Harry with “Hey, Blondie.” It is common to hear that Blondie wasn’t actually good at playing their instruments during those early days when playing CBGB’s. However, as far as bands from the early scene, they have become a household name today. Large part of their success was dropping hit singles like “Heart of Glass” that took the world by storm. Despite their short comings as far as music is concerned, they are worth mentioning in the help of developing both New York’s rock scene and New Wave music.
Talking Heads, 1975
Wacky, crafty Talking Heads are mentioned for the same reason as Blondie, their importance in helping grow the music scene in New York. Started as a three-piece band, the Talking Heads included David Byrne (guitar and vocals), Chris Frantz (drums), and Tina Weymouth (bass) and formed Talking Heads in 1975.
Their first gig was opening up for the Ramones at CBGB’s. Talk about a start to their rock ‘n’ roll career! By 1976, they signed to Sire Records and recorded their first single, “Love – Building on Fire.” Then came their debut album Talking Heads: 77 featuring “Psycho Killer.” From there, they would go onto have an outstanding career until 1991. And it all started by opening for the Ramones. Killer.
The Heartbreakers, 1975
Johnny Thunders & Jerry Nolan, still eager to play rock ‘n’ roll after the break up of the New York Dolls, recruited Richard Hell, who was ready to leave Television, to form the Heartbreakers in 1976. Richard Hell wouldn’t remain with the band long. Funny enough, Hell left Television due to creative differences with Tom Verlaine. As quoted, he felt Television was becoming “Tom’s band” (within the documentary Punk Revolution NYC: The Velvet Underground, The New York Dolls And The CBGB’s Set) Yet, he began demanding and pushing his ideas onto the Heartbreakers. This would lead to Richard Hell leaving the Heartbreakers to form the Voidoids (more on that below).
The Heartbreakers would carry on without Hell and replace him with Billy Rath. The new bassist helped the band form their own identity without the pressure of a soul member imposing their will, and they would carry on to see success at venues such as Mother’s, CBGB’s, and Max’s Kansas City. Plus, they were invited to tour internationally with bands like the Sex Pistols.
Often referred to as Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers, their biggest song would become “Chinese Rocks,” written by Dee Dee Ramone. This is kind of parallel to their success for, you see, as the band developed, so did their drug habit. The funds to keep up their habit would make it harder and harder to find financial success. Both that and they had trouble recording in the studio would lead to the band never seeing the success they deserved in the world.
Richard Hell & the Voidoids, 1976
Bouncing around like a pinball, Richard Hell after leaving Television, then dropping out of the Heartbreakers, recruited Robert Quine, Ivan Julian, and Marc Bell to form Richard Hell & the Voidoids. Most when referencing Richard Hell & the Voidoids like to mention how they influenced the overall “punk” look. Spiked hair, safety pins. Yeah, yeah. However, I would like to talk about the guitarist Robert (or Bob) Quine and Ivan Julian and their work on the LP Blank Generation. It is with their guitar work that the album is worth noting, in my opinion. Yes, you can talk about the song “Blank Generation” written by Hell and how it became adopted as a label for the 1970s New York punk scene. BUT I think what lasts, and the reason I want to mention the band, is the work of Bob Quine and Ivan Julian. So raw, upbeat, and you can’t help but pogo when putting on the album. The guitar work with Hell’s quirky voice carries the album. F**k, Bob Quine has even been credited as the “inventor of punk rock guitar soloing,” and the LP would become the example for guitar with punk rock albums to come. As for the band, after taking a tour in England filled with “unhappiness” they would break up upon their return. If you haven’t heard the LP Blank Generation. Stop what you are doing. Go, listen to it. Now.
Young Aborgines, 1978
I wanted to end with the punk rock band Young Aborigines. The original members include Michael Diamond (drums), Kate Schellenbach (percussion), and Johnny Berry (guitar), and influenced by bands like Joy Division. And if the name Michael Diamond didn’t give it away, they would eventually become the Beastie Boys in 1981. Made up of Michael “Mike D” Diamond (vocals/drums), Adam “MCA” Yauch (vocals/bass), and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz (vocals, guitar, programming), the Beastie Boys have sold 20 million records in the United States, and are one of the biggest-selling rap groups of all time.
I wanted to end with this band because it wraps up the 1970s perfectly and illustrates what the early punk rock scene did for the city by laying a foundation for how to establish a music scene for years to come. While the 1970s gave way to punk rock, the 1980s would become the era of hip-hop in New York City. A transfer of power while punk rock would continue to migrate across the country and the world.