Hilly Kristal, founder of the Bowery bar CBGBs, is dead. Unlike you and me, he was part of history. He almost outlived his famed establishment, which was shutdown last October because it is now illegal to operate a rock 'n' roll club in Manhattan. Rock 'n' roll being the devil's music, this is understandable. However, hundreds of thousands of absolutely terrible bands played his club. Not anything like Good Charlotte, but close. On any given night you could have your ears blown out by a level of volume and incompetence that most people believed you could only get in New Jersey.
However, there were also several successful bands from the 1970s that went on to great things and came to define the "PUNK ROCK SOUND," which as you'll notice wasn't really a sound back then. And then there were a few others who people speak of respectfully. In any case, narrowing it down to five bands made if difficult. Surely, the Dead Boys and Richard Hell and the Voidoids and Suicide should be on this list. But their checks didn't arrive in the mail.
But here, take five:
Television: Kids today think I'm referring to that flat-screened thing they've got in their living room. But I'm here to inform you that there was once a band named after that convenient little contraption. They had two guitar players who could play their scales really well and did so night after night in hopes that no one would notice that neither of them could sing. Punk rockers will be shocked to learn that Television had several songs that lasted many hours and there no was such thing as slam dancing.
Ramones: Sure, these days everybody loves them. But once upon a time no one had heard of them. Their sets lasted about six minutes and they played something like 43 songs. When they began, they didn't even have T-shirts to sell. And they could barely pack the place. Now, Joey Ramone has a street named after him. But he isn't around to enjoy it.
Talking Heads: I could never figure out how these dorky art students ever survived at CBGBs. Back in the 1970s, the Bowery was a pretty rough neighborhood and if you looked like David Byrne there was a good chance the local winos would pick you as an easy mark and beat you senseless and rip you off. And what about little Tina on bass? Then their music was always this uptight, shiny and bright pop music that you imagine tough crowds not exactly "getting down" with. But maybe Hilly kept the drink prices down when they played. That's enough to chill anyone out.
Blondie: They got to play here before they "went disco." Which is to say, before they sold any records. By going disco with "Heart Of Glass," the band ensured that they'd never have to play a club with such disgusting toilets ever again and that the audience who attended the club would never want to hear them again anyway. So it was really win-win!
Patti Smith: Patti Smith's greatest talent has always been her ability to convince people that they want to sit through a poetry reading. Genius, really. Whereas, usually the phrase "poetry reading" alerts sane people to avoid an establishment, Patti, by adding a loud and lousy guitar player, and a pianist who could really play, managed to build up quite a following because she knew people might like your words OK, but they're more likely to tolerate it when they get some rock 'n' roll to go with it. These days people use the term "spoken word" to indicate when people who can't sing or play an instrument intend on commanding a stage to pretend they're important. We call it "pulling a Henry Rollins."