A Timeline of Punk Music History

The Clash performs live circa 1980.
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Whether or not they intended to--and even when they had no idea they were doing so--many punk bands created music and caused events that would shape the face of music. Here are some of the more important events.

1964-1969: It's All About Detroit

In the mid to late '60s, Detroit and New York were laying the groundwork for punk rock with the formation of the MC5 and The Stooges in Detroit, and the Velvet Underground in New York. The Velvet Underground and Nico was released in 1967 and The Stooges' self-titled album and the MC5's Kick Out the Jams both hit the streets in 1969.

The three bands combined to supply future punk musicians with a mix of experimental noise and explosively passionate rock. This energy is what the first punk bands would build on.

1971: The New York Dolls Hit the Scene

1971 is the year that a rock band named Actress hooked up with a new singer named David Johansen, and together they formed the New York Dolls. A blend of trashy glam rock and high-energy noise, they began to catch everyone's attention.

They would eventually become Malcolm McClaren's first project. Years later, David Johansen will become better known as Buster Poindexter.

1972: The Strand

A few guys get together and begin playing together under the name of the Strand. They are pretty unremarkable, but two of the members, Paul Cook and Steve Jones, would go on to become half of the Sex Pistols.

1974: The New York Punk Scene Takes Off

1974 is the year that The Ramones, Blondie, and the Talking Heads appeared on the New York Scene, playing in classic punk clubs such as CBGB and Max's Kansas City.

1975: The Sex Pistols Appear

The Sex Pistols make their first live appearance, and people are immediately interested. The band they open for is called Bazooka Joe. Bazooka Joe will fade away, but one of their members, Stuart Goddard, will go on to become Adam Ant.

1976: The Sex Pistols Spark the London Movement

A group of young punks inspired by the Sex Pistols will start their own bands, and 1975 will see punk rock explode in London. Some of the bands that are forming this year are punk pioneers like The Buzzcocks, The Clash, The Slits, The Dead Boys, The Damned, The Jam, Siouxsie and the Banshees and X-Ray Spex.

The Sex Pistols launched their first tour, with The Clash and The Damned. The Anarchy Tour will be ill-fated; most clubs, fearing violence, will cancel the tour dates.

1977-1979: The Appearance of American Hardcore

Inspired by the British Punk Scene, American hardcore punk bands will emerge. In a relatively short period, The Misfits, Black Flag, Bad Brains, The Dead Kennedys and a score of other American punk bands will make their debut.

This same span also covers the entire career of one of the most notorious figures in punk history. In 1977, Sid Vicious joined the Sex Pistols. By the end of 1978, the Sex Pistols had dissolved, and Sid Vicious was found dead from a heroin overdose in New York on February 1, 1979.

1980: American Hardcore's First Peak and Decline

1980 is the year that Penelope Spheeris made and released The Decline of Western Civilization, a documentary on American hardcore, featuring performance and interviews with Black Flag, Fear, The Circle Jerks, and The Germs.

This was also the year that Darby Crash of the Germs would commit suicide on December 8, the day before John Lennon was killed. While Crash's death wasn't a direct factor, American Hardcore would begin to wane in popularity as the new tide of bands hit the scene.

The 1980s: '80s Pop Blurs the Boundaries

In the '80s, alternative music and '80s pop became the next wave of music. New wave and postpunk bands became the craze, and punk would take the back seat for a while.

Punk bands did continue to thrive on a smaller scale, though, and the '80s would still allow for several important bands to start their careers. In 1984, the appearance of NOFX, as well as the Offspring in 1985, signaled the beginning of a new boom in pop punk.

While hardcore was invigorated with Henry Rollins joining Black Flag in 1981 and the appearance of the Vandals in 1982, the face of punk was definitely changing. Mick Jones was kicked out of the Clash in 1983, and the Clash and Black Flag would both break up in 1986. A new class of bands was moving in.

By 1988, American Hardcore was fading rapidly. Its salvation came with the formation of Epitaph records. Epitaph provided a new home for American Hardcore bands to release records, and ultimately, other hardcore labels would follow.

The Late '80s and Early '90s: Punk Is All Across the Boards

In 1989, a band called the Sweet Children made an appearance. They would soon change their name to Green Day, and create a scene for the next wave of pop punk. These bands would include blink-182, MxPx, and Australia's the Living End, who would be rolling in full force by 1992.

A growing feeling that punk rock was a male-dominated scene would create a need for the Riot Grrrl movement during this time. Bikini Kill's first appearances in 1990 founded this movement of punk rock feminism.

The old school continued to disappear. The Talking Heads broke up in 1991, and Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls died of an overdose in 1991, to be followed by his former bandmate Jerry Nolan, who died of a stroke the next year.

The Mid '90s to Present: Punk's Rebirth

In the mid-'90s through early 2000s, punk enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. The popularity of the grunge scene in the early '90s left a spot for pop-punk bands, most notably Green Day, to sell platinum albums. The Van's Warped Tour, launched in 1995, started a yearly festival showcasing punk bands of all genres and created a more wholesome place for American youth to see punk rock, bringing the genre out of smoky bars and into the light of day.

Although many punk pioneers have passed away in recent years, it is now more often due to natural causes. Significant deaths include:

  • Wendy O Williams (Plasmatics) in 1998
  • Todd Barnes (TSOL) in 1999
  • Dennis Danell (Social Distortion) in 2000
  • Joey Ramone in 2001
  • Joe Strummer in 2002
  • Dee Dee Ramone in 2002
  • Johnny Ramone in 2004
  • Steve Jensen (Vandals) in 2005

Of these, only Wendy O Williams and Dee Dee Ramone died of other than natural causes. The original wave of punk is aging, but punk rock as a whole is gaining acceptance from the parents of suburban America.

Another indication of punk rock's acceptance is the acknowledgment by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The first bands to enter the Hall of Fame were the Talking Heads and Ramones in 2002, followed by the Clash in 2003 and The Sex Pistols in 2006.

What's Next?

It remains to be seen where punk will move next, but as a dynamic scene filled with creative and varied individuals, the genre is alive and well. Chances are good that punk rock will continue to grow and change for many years.