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10 Proto-Punk Albums Every Music Fan Should Own

on July 07, 2020, 10:13am
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The Kinks – Kinks (1964)

The Kinks - Kinks

Like the best British Invasion bands, The Kinks evolved as the zeitgeist demanded, so they eventually delved into poppier merriments, folkier nostalgia, and charming English symphonic odes. As such, the lean aggression of their debut is commendably jolting. Right away — via their take on Chuck Berry’s “Beautiful Delilah” — Dave Davies’ raspy croons blend with simple percussion and fiery guitar licks to yield one of the first punk rock cover songs. They take a similar approach to their renditions of J.D. Miller’s “I’m a Lover not a Fighter” and Abramson and Covay’s “Long Tall Shorty” (among others), while Kinks mastermind Ray Davies’ iconic “You Really Got Me” features emblematic modulations in the midst of popularizing power chords (a staple of punk, in addition to virtually every other kind of rock). Sure, there are lighter moments here (“So Mystifying”, “Just Can’t Go to Sleep”), but most of it feels significantly do-it-yourself and in-your-face.

Essential Track: “You Really Got Me”

Pick up the album here.


The Music Machine – (Turn On) The Music Machine (1966)

The Music Machine - Turn on the Music Machine

Born from the ashes of folk-rock group the Raggamuffins, Los Angeles’ The Music Machine quickly became known for their fuzzy sound, purposefully messy drumming, defiant songwriting, and black attire. Their introductory sequence, (Turn On) The Music Machine, exemplifies all of that quite well, specifically in regards to lead single “Talk Talk”, which reached No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was aptly described by music critic Ritch Unterberger as a “rally cry to social alienation with a mixture of sarcasm, rebellion, self-pity, and paranoia.” Later, “Masculine Intuition” incorporates a male-centric “me against the world” ethos, whereas “Come on In” is simultaneously harmonious and dissonant. Like Kinks before it — and The New York Dolls’ Too Much Too Soon afterward, it housed a few covers, too, with “See See Rider”, “Hey Joe”, and “96 Tears” ranking as the most piercing and rambunctious. Thus, the LP broke new ground in several respects.

Essential Track: “Talk Talk”

Pick up the album here.


The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat (1968)

The Velvet Underground - White Light White Heat

The Velvet Underground & Nico is likely more popular, but White Light / White Heat is more focused, noisy, and daring. Noticeably, it’s missing Nico’s softer touch, veering closer to what founder John Cale later called a “ very rabid record” with a “consciously anti-beauty” template. 1970’s punk rock was known for its raucous rejection of popular sights, sounds, and sentiments, so the LP’s mission to be an antithesis to the floweriness of the “Summer of Love” is no surprise. Its starting title track juxtaposes a gentle, if disruptive, evocation of doo-wop with lyrics about methamphetamine. Next, “The Gift” is a slightly playful spoken-word jam concerning infidelity and murder; “Lady Godiva’s Operation” discusses the failed lobotomy of a transsexual woman; and the scruffily avant-garde seventeen-minute closer, “Sister Ray”, tells of smack-dealing drag queens and explicit sexual promiscuity. Both lyrically and musically, then, White Light / White Heat showed how far boundaries could be pushed.

Essential Track: “Lady Godiva’s Operation”

Pick up the album here.


The Stooges – Fun House (1970)

The Stooges - Fun House

“Down on the Street” instantly accosts you with the circular rhythms, sharp guitar licks, and effectively animalistic singing — regarding urban chaos, lust, and disillusionment — of punk. From there, “Loose” (which the band wanted to be the opener) and “T.V. Eye” mix The Rolling Stones’ charisma and melodic poise with dirtier dispositions, while its most eminent track, “1970”, is a pleasantly anthemic celebration about youthful exuberance and fatalism (“Out of my mind on Saturday night/ 1970 rollin’ in sight/ Radio burnin’ up above/ Beautiful baby, feed my love”) that also hearkens back to Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” in a few ways. As for the final two tunes — “Fun House” and “L.A. Blues” — their juxtaposition of high-spirited horns and ample disarray certainly laid the DNA for acts like The Clash and the Sex Pistols.

Essential Track: “1970”

Pick up the album here.


Alice Cooper – Love It to Death (1971)

Alice Cooper - Love It to Death

The cover exudes glam rock boldness and outcast indifference, and frontman Vincent Damon Furnier’s (aka Alice Cooper) famous look — a gothic alternative to the colorful cosmetics of David Bowie and Peter Gabriel — inspired countless punk and metal protégés (namely, Marilyn Manson). As for this third studio LP, its glam rock/heavy metal emphasis made it their commercial breakthrough, with the scratchy, angsty, and self-reflective “I’m Eighteen” — perhaps Cooper’s biggest song ever, and a direct influence on Joey Ramone and Johnny “Rotten” Lydon — alone solidifying Love It to Death as a proto-punk gem. Elsewhere, “Long Way to Go”, “Is It My Body”, and “Hallowed Be My Name” are delightfully dingy, catchy, and hostile while the penultimate “Ballad of Dwight Fry” mixes riotous rejection with poignant melodies and instrumentation. Although relative tame in hindsight, the band’s risqué elements can clearly be felt in the excesses of at least a few late 1970s punk outfits.

Essential Track: “Ballad of Dwight Frye”

Pick up the album here.

Click ahead for more essential proto-punk albums.


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