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Proto-punk (or protopunk) is rock music played mostly by garage bands from the 1960s to mid-1970s that foreshadowed the punk rock movement.[3][4] The phrase is a retrospective label; the musicians involved were generally not originally associated with each other and came from a variety of backgrounds and styles; together, they anticipated many of punk's musical and thematic attributes.[4]


According to the AllMusic guide:

Proto-punk was never a cohesive movement, nor was there a readily identifiable proto-punk sound that made its artists seem related at the time. What ties proto-punk together is a certain provocative sensibility that didn't fit the prevailing counterculture of the time ... It was consciously subversive and fully aware of its outsider status, with not only the music going counter to what was mainstream, but also the political messages found in the lyrics of bands such as MC5 ... In terms of its lasting influence, much proto-punk was primitive and stripped-down, even when it wasn't aggressive, and its production was usually just as unpolished. The genre also frequently dealt with taboo subject matter, depicting society's grimy underbelly in great detail, and venting alienation that was more intense and personal than ever before.[4]

Most musicians classified as proto-punk are rock performers of the late 1960s and early 1970s, with bands the Sonics,[5] the Modern Lovers, the Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, MC5 and the Stooges considered to be archetypal proto-punk artists.[4][6]

Origins and etymology[edit]

One of the earliest written uses of the term "punk rock" was by critic Dave Marsh who used it in 1970 to describe the group Question Mark & The Mysterians in the United States, who had scored a major hit with their song "96 Tears" in 1966.[7][8] Many US bands were active in the mid-to-late 1960s playing garage rock: a ragged, highly energetic, often amateurish style of rock.[9] While garage bands varied in style, the label of garage punk has been attributed by critic Michael Hann to the "toughest, angriest garage rockers" such as the 13th Floor Elevators and the Sonics.[10][11] AllMusic states that bands like the Sonics and the Monks "anticipated" punk;[12][13] the latter have likewise been cited as examples of proto-punk[14][15] and the Sonics' 1965 debut album Here Are The Sonics as "an early template for punk rock".[15] Music journalist Jason Draper cites the Rolling Stones' 1966 live album Got Live If You Want It! as another example.[16] The raw sound and outsider attitude of psychedelic garage bands like the Seeds also presaged the style of bands that would become known as the archetypal figures of proto-punk,[17] other examples are the Electric Prunes[18] (who writer Gath Cartwright states were "embraced by the punks" due to covers by the Damned and Wayne County & the Electric Chairs[19]), Red Crayola[20][21] and Chocolate Watchband.[22][23] The hit single "Psychotic Reaction" from 1966 by the garage band Count Five featured fuzztone guitars[24] and blazed the trail for punk rock, influencing the development of a new musical style.[25] Not only did the unconventional sound of proto-punk bands go against what was popular in the mainstream, but the visual styles of many bands were purposely contrasted with more popular, polished aesthetics found in more well known bands.[26]

Debut albums by two key US proto-punk bands were released in 1969, both from Metro Detroit in Michigan; Detroit's MC5 released Kick Out the Jams in January, and The Stooges, from Ann Arbor, premiered with their self-titled album in August.[27] The latter album was produced by John Cale, a former member of New York's The Velvet Underground which inspired, directly or indirectly, many of those involved in the creation of punk rock.[28] The Stooges released a second album, Fun House in 1970. Michigan in the US was also the birthplace of bands The Dogs, The Punks and Death, the latter a pioneering but commercially unsuccessful African-American proto-punk group.[29] However, proto-punk did eventually pave the way for African-American presentation in punk music, most notably in the band Bad Brains, formed in 1977 in Washington D.C. [30]

Developments outside the United States[edit]

The Who released the proto-punk single "My Generation" in 1965.[31] In the early 1970s, the UK underground counter-cultural scene centred on Ladbroke Grove in West London spawned a number of bands that have been considered proto-punk, including The Deviants, Pink Fairies, Hawkwind, Edgar Broughton Band, Stack Waddy, and Third World War;[32] contemporaries Crushed Butler have been called "Britain's first proto-punk band."[33] According to Allmusic, glam rock also "inspired many future punks with its simple, crunchy guitar riffs, its outrageous sense of style, and its artists' willingness to sing with British accents (not to mention the idiosyncratic images of David Bowie and Roxy Music)".[4] With his Ziggy Stardust persona, David Bowie made artifice and exaggeration central elements, that were later picked up by punk acts.[34] Glam group The Hollywood Brats have likewise been cited as "proto-punk" and "Britain's answer to the New York Dolls."[33] The Doctors of Madness built on Bowie's presentation concepts, while moving conceptually in the direction that would become identified with punk.[35] Bands in London's pub rock scene anticipated punk by stripping the music back to its basics, playing hard, R&B-influenced rock 'n' roll;[36] by 1974, the scene's top act, Dr. Feelgood, was paving the way for others such as the Stranglers[37] and Cock Sparrer[38] that would play a role in the punk explosion. Among the pub rock bands that formed that year was the 101ers, whose lead singer would two years later adopt the name Joe Strummer and form punk band The Clash.[39]

Bands anticipating the forthcoming movement were appearing as far afield as Düsseldorf, West Germany, where "punk before punk" band NEU! formed in 1971, building on the krautrock tradition of groups such as Can.[40] Simply Saucer formed in Hamilton, Canada in 1973[41] and have been called "Canada's first proto-punk band",[42] blending garage rock, krautrock, psychedelia and other influences to produce a sound that was later described as having a "frequent punk snarl."[43]

In Japan, the anti-establishment Zunō Keisatsu (Brain Police) mixed garage, psych and folk; the band's first two albums were withdrawn from public sale after their lyrics were found to violate industry regulations, and their "spirit... was taken up again by the punk movement."[44]

A new generation of Australian garage rock bands, inspired mainly by the Stooges and MC5, came even closer to the sound that would soon be called "punk": in Brisbane, the Saints (formed in 1973 but renamed in 1974) recalled the raw live sound of the British Pretty Things, who had made a notorious tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1965,[45] while in Sydney, Radio Birdman, co-founded by Detroit expatriate Deniz Tek in 1974, began playing gigs to a small but fanatical following.[46] The Saints are regarded as a punk band and as being "to Australia what the Sex Pistols were to Britain and the Ramones to America,"[47][48] while Radio Birdman are regarded as co-founders of punk[49] but have also been designated as proto-punk.[50]

In South America, the garage band Los Saicos appeared in Lima, Peru in 1964. They have been called the first group in history that can be classified as protopunk.[51] One of their key songs is "Demolición", released as a single in 1965.

List of artists[edit]


  1. ^ Campbell, Neil (2004). American Youth Cultures. Psychology. p. 213. ISBN 0415971977. Furthermore, the indigenous popular music which functioned this way-and which represented in the same instance a form of localized resistance to the mainstreaming, standardizing drive noted earlier — was the proto-punk more commonly identified as garage rock.
  2. ^ Pell, Nicholas (January 26, 2012). "Deathmatch: Which Is Better, Pub Rock or Garage Rock?". LA Weekly. Retrieved August 1, 2016.
  3. ^ Bangs, Lester (1981). "Protopunk: The Garage Bands". In Anthony De Curtis; James Henke (eds.). The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll (Second ed.). Picador Books. pp. 357–361. ISBN 0-679-73728-6.
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  6. ^ DeRogatis, Jim (2000). Let it Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America's Greatest Rock Critic. Crown. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-7679-0509-1.
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  11. ^ "Mayo Thompson Pays Off Corky's Debt". Texas Monthly. January 13, 2020.
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  13. ^ Richie Unterberger. "The Monks | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved April 12, 2017.
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  16. ^ Draper, Jason (December 17, 2015). "Live Wires: The Stones Captured In '66". uDiscover. Retrieved March 24, 2021.
  17. ^ Sabin 2002, p. 159.
  18. ^ Canty, Ian (December 19, 2021). "The Electric Prunes: Then Came The Dawn - album review".
  19. ^ Cartwright, Garth (December 8, 2021). "60s psych-rockers the Electric Prunes: 'We couldn't sit around stoned!'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved April 27, 2023.
  20. ^ Young, Rob (2006). Rough Trade. Black Dog Publishing. ISBN 978-1-904772-47-7.
  21. ^ "Mayo Thompson Pays off Corky's Debt". January 13, 2020.
  22. ^ "The Chocolate Watch Band - Ace Records". Retrieved April 27, 2023.
  23. ^ "The Chocolate Watchband 'This Is My Voice' -". November 28, 2018. Retrieved April 27, 2023.
  24. ^ Waksman, Steve (2009). This Ain't the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-94388-9.
  25. ^ Abbey, Eric James (2015). Garage Rock and Its Roots: Musical Rebels and the Drive for Individuality. McFarland. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-7864-5125-8.
  26. ^ "Detroit Punk Archive". Detroit Punk Archive. Retrieved June 30, 2023.
  27. ^ "The Stooges – Biography, Albums, Streaming Links". AllMusic. Retrieved September 25, 2016.
  28. ^ Taylor 2003, p. 49.
  29. ^ Milliken, Christie; Anderson, Steve F. (2021). Reclaiming Popular Documentary. Indiana University Press. pp. 265–267. ISBN 978-0-253-05690-0.
  30. ^ "Goth So White? Black Representation in the Post-Punk Scene". December 2017. Retrieved May 22, 2023.
  31. ^ Spice, Anton (August 31, 2016). "Proto-punk: 10 records that paved the way for '76". The Vinyl Factory. Retrieved March 26, 2022.
  32. ^ Ironside, Gus (May 21, 2014). "Louder than War Interview: Luke Haines Says (New York in the 70s)". Louder Than War. Retrieved July 2, 2016.
  33. ^ a b Bovey, Seth (2019). Five Years Ahead of My Time: Garage Rock from the 1950s to the Present. London: Reaktion Books. ISBN 978-1-789-14065-1.
  34. ^ Laing 1985, pp. 24–26.
  35. ^ Reynolds, Simon (May 19, 2017). "Doctors of Madness: The punk band before punk, that predicted Trump before Trump". the Guardian. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  36. ^ Atkinson, Mike (January 21, 2010). "Give pub rock another chance". the Guardian. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
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  39. ^ Robb 2012, p. 51.
  40. ^ Neate, Wilson. "NEU!". Trouser Press. Retrieved January 11, 2007.
  41. ^ "All about Simply Saucer: 00: Timeline". Archived from the original on January 19, 2012. Retrieved December 1, 2011.
  42. ^ "Sonic Unyon Records :: Simply". Archived from the original on April 15, 2012. Retrieved December 1, 2011.
  43. ^ Sendra, Tim. "Cyborgs Revisited Review". AllMusic. Retrieved November 30, 2011.
  44. ^ Anderson, Mark. "Zuno keisatsu" in Buckley, Sandra (ed.)The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture. Taylor & Francis, 2009, p588
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  46. ^ Cameron, Keith (July 20, 2007). "Keith Cameron explores the history of the Australian punk scene". the Guardian. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
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Further reading[edit]