Proto-punk (or protopunk) is rock music from the 1960s to mid-1970s that foreshadowed the punk rock movement.[3][4] 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] The tendency towards aggressive, simplistic rock songs is a trend critics such as Lester Bangs have traced to as far back as Ritchie Valens' 1958 version of the Mexican folk song "La Bamba", which set in motion a wave of influential garage rock bands including the Kingsmen, the Kinks, the 13th Floor Elevators and the Sonics. By the late 1960s, Detroit bands the Stooges and MC5 had used the influence of these groups to form a distinct prototypical punk sound. In the following years, this sound spread both domestically and internationally, leading to the formation of the New York Dolls (New York City), Electric Eels (Cleveland), Dr. Feelgood (England) and the Saints (Australia).


The AllMusic guide defined it as "never a cohesive movement" but as "a certain provocative sensibility that didn't fit the prevailing counterculture of the time", most of the time combined with a sound which was "primitive and stripped-down, even when it wasn't aggressive, and its production was usually just as unpolished".[4] In contrast, in the book Screaming for Change (2010), it is defined as a specific sound which included simplistic instrumental work and amateurish compositions. The book cites this style as being pioneered in Detroit by the Stooges and MC5, who were influenced by the Velvet Underground and the earlier garage rock genre, with the sound then spreading to the United Kingdom, New York and Cleveland, Ohio.[5]



One of the earliest influences on both punk rock music and the punk subculture as a whole is folk musician Woody Guthrie, often described as one of the first punks, who sung songs about anti-facism and the conditions faced by working-class people.[6]


The Kinks' 1964 song "You Really Got Me" was credited by Lester Bangs as one of the most influential songs on the development of punk

In his Book Protopunk: the Garage Bands, music journalist Lester Bangs traced the origins of punk to Ritchie Valens' 1958 version of the Mexican folk song "La Bamba", due to the song's simplistic three chord song structure and the aggressive vocals relative to the time. He places it first in a lineage of influential tracks, which over time developed punk: the Kingsmen's "Louie Louie" (1963); the Kinks "You Really Got Me" (1964) and the Stooges' "No Fun" (1969).[7] By the 1960s, garage rock a style of raw, loud and energetic rock music had developed significant scenes in both the United States and United Kingdom. The Kingsmen and the Kinks both came from the UK's garage rock scene, with the former's cover of "Louie Louie" being described by academic Aneta Panek as "punk rock's ur-text".[8] Under the influence of "Louie Louie", the Kinks released "You Really Got Me" the following year, which was one of the earliest songs to make use of significant electric guitar distortion and was immediately influential for this reason.[9] In the following years, this raw sound was being adopted by other British Invasion acts including the Who on their single "My Generation" (1965)[10] and the Rolling Stones on their 1966 live album Got Live If You Want It!.[11] In South America, the garage rock band Los Saicos formed in Lima, Peru in 1964, later being called "the world's first punk band" in Zona de Obras' book Spanish Dictionary of Punk and Hardcore.[12]

One of the earliest written uses of the term "punk rock" was by critic Dave Marsh who used it in 1970 to describe the garage rock group Question Mark & the Mysterians in the United States, who had scored a major hit with their song "96 Tears" in 1966.[13][14] 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.[15][16] AllMusic states that bands like the Sonics and the Monks "anticipated" punk;[17][18] the latter have likewise been cited as examples of proto-punk[19][20] and the Sonics' 1965 debut album Here Are The Sonics as "an early template for punk rock".[20] 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,[21] other examples are the Electric Prunes[22] (who writer Gath Cartwright states were "embraced by the punks" due to covers by the Damned and Wayne County & the Electric Chairs[23]), Red Crayola[24][25] and Chocolate Watchband.[26][27] The hit single "Psychotic Reaction" from 1966 by the garage band Count Five featured fuzztone guitars[28] and blazed the trail for punk rock, influencing the development of a new musical style.[29] 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.[30]

Musically distinct from most other punk predecessors, New York's the Velvet Underground were not aggressive, instead influencing punk through their avant-garde take on rock, which incorporated dissonance and taboo lyrical topics such as urban decay, drug addiction and sadomasochism.[31] A 2014 article by the BBC stated that "The roots of underground and experimental music, indie and alternative, punk, post-punk and art-punk all snake back to the four Velvet Underground studio albums".[32]


In Japan, the anti-establishment Zunō Keisatsu (頭脳警察, lit.'Brain Police'), formed in 1969 and disbanded in 1975, mixed garage, psychedelic rock and folk; the band's first two albums were withdrawn from public sale after their lyrics were described in Mark Anderson's book The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture to violate industry regulations, with their "spirit... [being] taken up again by the punk movement."[33]

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;[34] contemporaries Crushed Butler have been called "Britain's first proto-punk band."[35] 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.[36] The Doctors of Madness built on Bowie's presentation concepts, while moving conceptually in the direction that would The Guardian writer Simon Reynolds identified as "prophes[ying] punk".[37]

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.[38] Simply Saucer formed in Hamilton, Canada in 1973[39] and have been called "Canada's first proto-punk band",[40] blending garage rock, krautrock, psychedelia and other influences to produce a sound that was later described as having a "frequent punk snarl."[41]


Detroit bands MC5 (top) and the Stooges (bottom) influenced the majority of early punk bands

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.[42] The sound of these albums influenced a wave of subsequent bands in Michigan, which notably included the Dogs, the Punks and Death, the latter a pioneering but commercially unsuccessful African-American proto-punk group.[43] Formed in New York in 1971, the New York Dolls, merged Detroit's specific proto-punk sound with elements of glam rock, pioneering the glam punk genre.[44] A 2022 article by Alternative Press stated were "the most important of all protopunk bands after the Stooges [sic]".[45] Their style was adopted by a number of New York bands, including the Stilettos, the Brats[46] and Ruby and the Rednecks,[47] and subsequently was the catalyst for the city's early punk rock scene, which included Television, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, the Ramones, Blondie and Richard Hell and the Voidoids.[48] The Detroit proto-punk sound also spread to Cleveland Ohio by the middle of the decade, where influential proto-punk bands including Pere Ubu and the Electric Eels formed.[5]

The immediate predecessor to British punk was the early to mid–1970s pub rock scene, which was mostly based around London.[49] Influenced by Detroit proto-punk,[5] this style made use of stripped down, back to its basics, rock music similar to punk, and was fronted by groups including Dr. Feelgood, Tyla Gang, Eddie and the Hot Rods and Count Bishops.[50] Many of the early British punk scene's musician began their careers in pub rock acts, including the 101ers (Joe Strummer, Richard Dudanski, Tymon Dogg), Kilburn and the High Roads (Ian Dury, Nick Cash) and Flip City (Elvis Costello).[49][51] By 1976, pub rock had ultimately declined in popularity.[49] At the same time as pub rock, the influence of the New York Dolls had spread to London, where a wave of glam punk bands, including Hollywood Brats and Jet, coalesced by the middle of the decade.[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) recalled the raw live sound of the British Pretty Things, who had made a notorious tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1965,[52] while in Sydney, Radio Birdman, co-founded by Detroit expatriate Deniz Tek in 1974, began playing gigs to a small but fanatical following.[53] 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,"[54][55] while Radio Birdman are regarded as co-founders of punk[56] but have also been designated as proto-punk.[57]

See also

List of proto-punk bands


  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.
  4. ^ a b c d "Proto-Punk". AllMusic. Retrieved September 25, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c Kristiansen, Lars J.; Blaney, Joseph R.; Simonds, Brent K.; Chidester, Philip J. (2010). Screaming for Change: Articulating a Unifying Philosophy of Punk Rock. Lexington Books. p. 11. Although Velvet Underground served as an important influence, proto-punk is largely a term used to describe bands that followed in the wake of the first wave of garage rock. More specifically, it is a label normally reserved for bands such as MC5 and the Stooges that sprung out of Detroit, Michigan, and its surrounding areas. These bands, and most certainly the Stooges, broke down the widely shared illusion that musicians had to be talented. The Stooges' amateurish compositions and inability to correctly play their instruments rendered it fairly irrelevant whether it was the band or the audience who figured up on stage...
    Although largely an American phenomenon, proto-punk can also be found in Britain. In Britain, however, it went under different names, and it is commonly referred to as either glam rock or pub rock. Notable pub rock bands would include Eddie and the Hot Rods, the Stranglers, Dr. Feelgood, the 101er's (Joe Strummer's first band), as well as Kilburn and the High Roads... In addition to the Michigan bands MC5, the Prime Movers, and the Stooges, other pre/proto-punk bands from the American Midwest have also earned their place in the chronicles of history. The vibrant pre-punk scene in Cleveland, Ohio, produced such bands as Pere Ubu and the Electric Eels, which have been highly influential to other bands of the era. On the east coast, and more specifically in New York, bands like Television, the New York Dolls, and the Ramones wreaked musical havoc in their respective neighborhoods.
  6. ^ Bear, John (November 1, 2022). "Dropkick Murphys on "Proto-Punk" Woody Guthrie, Who Wrote "Shipping Up to Boston"". When Woody Guthrie emblazoned "This Machine Kills Fascists" across the top of his guitar in the '40s and belted out tunes such as "All You Fascists Bound to Lose," he became the first punk rocker.
  7. ^ 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. Punk rock all goes back to Ritchie Valens's "La Bamba."Just consider Valens's three-chord mariachi squawk up in the light of "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen, then consider "Louie Louie" in the light of "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks, then "You Really Got Me" in the light of "No Fun" by the Stooges, then "No Fun" in the light of "Blitzkrieg Bop" by the Ramones, and finally note that "Blitzkrieg Bop" sounds a lot like "La Bamba."
  8. ^ Panek, Aneta. Alchemy of Punk: Transmutation, Subversion, and Poetry in Punk Avant-Gardes. Logos Verlag Berlin. pp. 54–55. In the early 1960s, numerous garage bands sprung up in the United States and United Kingdom. They mostly played garage rock and beat music-raw, loud, technically awkward, energetic rock. From England came The Kingsmen with their 1963 version of Richard Berry's "Louie Louie," which has been dubbed punk rock's "ur-text." The Kinks followed in 1964 with hit singles "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night," both inspired by "Louie, Louie." In 1965, The Who released "My Generation," which, according to John Reed, foreshadowed the kind of "cerebral mix of musical ferocity and rebellious posture" that would be representative of the later punk rock of the 1970s.
  9. ^ Starkey, Arun. "Were The Kinks the first-ever punk band?". Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  10. ^ Spice, Anton (August 31, 2016). "Proto-punk: 10 records that paved the way for '76". The Vinyl Factory. Retrieved March 26, 2022.
  11. ^ Draper, Jason (December 17, 2015). "Live Wires: The Stones Captured In '66". uDiscover. Retrieved March 24, 2021.
  12. ^ Watts, Jonathan; Collyns, Dan (September 14, 2012). "Where did punk begin? A cinema in Peru".
  13. ^ Taylor 2003, p. 16.
  14. ^ Woods, Scott. "A Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy Interview with Dave Marsh". Archived from the original on August 18, 2007. Retrieved February 19, 2015.
  15. ^ Hann, Michael (July 30, 2014). "10 of the best: garage punk". The Guardian.
  16. ^ "Mayo Thompson Pays Off Corky's Debt". Texas Monthly. January 13, 2020.
  17. ^ Mark Deming. "The Sonics | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved April 12, 2017.
  18. ^ Richie Unterberger. "The Monks | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved April 12, 2017.
  19. ^ "The 5: Proto-Punk Bands of the 60's and 70's – The Interrobang". July 24, 2013.
  20. ^ a b "10 Essential Proto-punk tracks". November 5, 2015. Retrieved September 24, 2016.
  21. ^ Sabin 2002, p. 159.
  22. ^ Canty, Ian (December 19, 2021). "The Electric Prunes: Then Came The Dawn - album review".
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ Young, Rob (2006). Rough Trade. Black Dog Publishing. ISBN 978-1-904772-47-7.
  25. ^ "Mayo Thompson Pays off Corky's Debt". January 13, 2020.
  26. ^ "The Chocolate Watch Band - Ace Records". Retrieved April 27, 2023.
  27. ^ "The Chocolate Watchband 'This Is My Voice' -". November 28, 2018. Retrieved April 27, 2023.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ "Detroit Punk Archive". Detroit Punk Archive. Retrieved June 30, 2023.
  31. ^ Hustle, Jac (2023). Punk: Loud Guitars, Louder Statements. In the heart of New York City's burgeoning artistic scene, The Velvet Underground, led by Lou Reed and John Cale, were crafting a unique sound that defied categorization. While not as explicitly aggressive as some of their proto-punk counterparts, their experimental approach to music and lyrics made them trailblazers of punk's avant-garde edge. Their 1967 debut album, "The Velvet Underground & Nico," remains a landmark in rock history.
    The Velvet Underground's music was marked by its dissonance, experimentation, and unfiltered portrayal of taboo subjects such as drug addiction, sadomasochism, and urban decay. Songs like "Heroin" and "Venus in Furs" explored the darker corners of human existence, challenging societal norms and pushing artistic boundaries. Their connection to the counterculture and the burgeoning punk scene of New York City positioned them as artistic provocateurs whose influence would be felt far beyond their contemporaries.
  32. ^ Kot, Greg. "The Velvet Underground: As influential as The Beatles?". BBC. Retrieved January 10, 2024.
  33. ^ Anderson, Mark. "Zuno keisatsu" in Buckley, Sandra (ed.)The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture. Taylor & Francis, 2009, p588
  34. ^ Ironside, Gus (May 21, 2014). "Louder than War Interview: Luke Haines Says (New York in the 70s)". Louder Than War. Retrieved July 2, 2016.
  35. ^ 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.
  36. ^ Laing 1985, pp. 24–26.
  37. ^ Reynolds, Simon (May 19, 2017). "Doctors of Madness: The punk band before punk, that predicted Trump before Trump". the Guardian. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  38. ^ Neate, Wilson. "NEU!". Trouser Press. Retrieved January 11, 2007.
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  40. ^ "Sonic Unyon Records :: Simply". Archived from the original on April 15, 2012. Retrieved December 1, 2011.
  41. ^ Sendra, Tim. "Cyborgs Revisited Review". AllMusic. Retrieved November 30, 2011.
  42. ^ "The Stooges – Biography, Albums, Streaming Links". AllMusic. Retrieved September 25, 2016.
  43. ^ Milliken, Christie; Anderson, Steve F. (2021). Reclaiming Popular Documentary. Indiana University Press. pp. 265–267. ISBN 978-0-253-05690-0.
  44. ^ a b Sfetcu, Nicolae (May 7, 2014). The Music Sound. The first and most potent example of glam punk, is the New York Dolls, they are often considered one of the creators of punk rock music in general. Though after the punk explosion in London during the 1970s happened the Dolls were considered "glam" in comparison. Which would lead to them been described as "Glam-Punk"...
    Other more obscure groups from around this time such as Hollywood Brats, the Jook, Milk 'N' Cookies, Jet, and others can be heard on the compilation "Glitterbest: 20 Pre Punk 'n' Glam Terrace Stompers".
  45. ^ Stegall, Tim. "11 bands influenced by New York Dolls, from Social Distortion to Guns N' Roses". Alternative Press. Retrieved January 5, 2024.
  46. ^ Antonia, Nina (2003). The New York Dolls Too Much Too Soon. Omnibus Press. p. 70. ISBN 0711996032. The rise of The New York Dolls spawned dozens of local bands. Elda Gentile got The Stilettos together with former Max's waitress, Debbie Harry, and Rick Rivets started gigging with The Brats, while a rash of Dolls copyists like Teenage Lust and The Harlots of 42nd Street threw themselves on the bandwagon and fell belly-up. Aside from Aerosmith, the most significant group of that time to be influenced by The New York Dolls was Kiss. Sure, Kiss wore make-up but by painting their faces like comic book characters or goofy animals, they defused any sexual threat.
  47. ^ "Ruby and the Rednecks at the Mercer Arts Center". September 3, 2018.
  48. ^ Taylor, Tom. "From Link Wray to New York Dolls: Who really invented punk?". Far Out. Retrieved July 9, 2023.
  49. ^ a b c Bealmear, Bart. "Pub Rock Helped Pave the Way for British Punk, but What the Hell is "Pub Rock"". Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  50. ^ Atkinson, Mike (January 21, 2010). "Give pub rock another chance". the Guardian. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  51. ^ Robb 2012, p. 51.
  52. ^ Unterberger 2000, p. 18.
  53. ^ Cameron, Keith (July 20, 2007). "Keith Cameron explores the history of the Australian punk scene". the Guardian. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  54. ^ "The Most Primitive Band in the World – The Saints – Songs, Reviews, Credits – AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  55. ^ "(I'm) Stranded – The Saints – Songs, Reviews, Credits – AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  56. ^ "The Essential Radio Birdman: 1974–1978 – Radio Birdman – Songs, Reviews, Credits – AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  57. ^ "Radio Birdman – Biography & History – AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved March 28, 2018.


Further reading