The 1970s New York New Wave Scene
The term New Wave is given to a whole range of different music styles that started up in New York in the early 1970s. They had a new energy and a new slant.
New Wave began in the throbbing clubs of New York and had its roots in the East Coast bands of the late 1960s such as Iggy & the Stooges, the MC5, Velvet Underground and the Fugs.
Right from its early Greenwich Village days New York has been a centre of Bohemian life and has always attracted a large number of artists, poets and musicians. It was from the remnants of the Beatnik culture that the Folk scene took off in the early 1960 and this Greenwich Village culture was a strong indication of the underground counter-culture that already existed in the city. On the street level is was a tough place to live. It was segregated into ethnic areas that were almost ghettos. There was a high level of poverty coupled with gang violence, hard drugs and general juvenile crime. Growing up in New York made a kid worldly beyond his years. The lifestyle carried a mandatory anti-establishment attitude coupled with a hedonistic outlook. Drugs were easily available; there was extensive prostitution and a transvestite and gay scene. There were few legitimate ways out. It led to a strong street culture which manifest itself in terms of hard drugs and an attitude of living for the moment and to Hell with the consequences. The kids wanted a good time, an escape from boredom, a tribal identity and a chance to do something that they could succeed at. It was all about respect from their pee group. At least they could become outrageous and shock straight society. They poked their nose at everything that boring straight culture held to be worthwhile.
These kids patronised the Folk cafes and small clubs that had been adapted from the Jazz dives of the Beat Generation. In the 1960s they would congregate to discuss poetry, talk crazy, or argue politics and art. The Avant Garde and theatrical elements of the underground rose to the fore in the Fugs and Velvet Underground who played clubs like Max’s Kansas City and Andy Warhol’s Plastic Exploding Inevitable. The Fugs music was crude and full of explicit sexuality and politics. It had its roots in Beat poetry and was to give rise to later artists like Patti Smith. The Velvet Underground produced a harsh sound with songs concerned with the realities of street life transvesticism, heroin and hustle.
After the collapse of the 1960s culture in the early 1970s and the disbandment of the major groups New York was left with a rich artistic community, a counter-culture nucleus, a harsh urban street life and a large number of underground clubs catering for those street-wise kids; but no major bands. This legacy, along with the influence of other East Coast 1960s bands with a more strident, uncompromising sound such as the MC5 and Iggy Pop & the Stooges, gave rise to an aggressive club scene and the spawning of a lot of high energy bands – New York Dolls, Ramones, T.V., Patti Smith, Heartbreakers, Richard Hell, Cherry Vanilla, Wayne County, Philip Rambow, Blondie, Talking Heads and the Runaways.
Many of these had roots back in the old US Rock ‘n’ Roll. You can see this from some of the tracks they covered – Bo Diddley’s ‘Pills’ and the Four Freshmen’s ‘Surfin’ Bird’, the Supreme’s ‘Baby I love you’. They wanted to recreate some of the energy and vitality that was present in those three minute singles.
Patti Smith followed closely in the footsteps of the Fugs by bringing poetry into her music and having 1960s heroes such as Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison. She wrote Rock ‘n’ Roll poetry inspired by Rimbaud and Allen Ginsberg. Her audience could identify with the words and the high energy performance.
Other bands sought a simpler style, chunky, raunchy and played at speed with all the punch of the most strident East Coast sound. It was a long way apart from the long drawn out improvisation of the West Coast Acid Rock Bands and a million miles from Prog Rock. The numbers were short, repetitive, riff driven, harsh and full of energy. They were meant to be exciting and have a hard impact. It was a reaction to the way aggression had gone out of Rock.
The first of these bands was the New York Dolls closely followed by Television. They both formed in 1973. The Dolls cross dressed in a transvestite image that the Velvets had flirted with. The band wore wigs, used heavy make-up to create a butch drag image. They were fairly successful but failed to establish themselves outside of New York. The importance of the New York Dolls lies not so much in their own limited output as the huge influence they had on what came afterwards. They spawned a huge number of bands which set the New York scene alight. They were managed by Malcolm McLaren for a short while and he went back to England to try to duplicate the New York Club Scene in London. He wanted to create a high energy band to manage and direct on the lines of the New York Dolls. That band became the Sex Pistols.
The New York Dolls were the model band for many British Punk Bands. They can be thought of as the Fathers of British Punk.
Television was another important element in this inauguration of Punk. They started off as the Neon Boys and contained the energetic Richard Hell who later went on to form Richard Hell & the Voidoids. He was the archetypal Punk and developed the Punk image with spiked hair, ripped clothes and safety pins. It was the image that Malcolm McLaren ripped off and was to become famous when he used it to promote the Sex Pistols.
Television and the New York Dolls set the pace but by 1975 they had been displaced by the emergence of a series of even more extreme bands led by Patti Smith and the Ramones.
The Ramones had an almost Hippie image with their long hair, Levis, T-shirts and leather jackets. They tried to create the energy of early Rock ‘n’ Roll by doing short numbers which were simple using primitive chords and lyrics that reflected street life.
Patti Smith had started by simply reciting her poetry to audiences in small clubs. It was a small step to getting herself a backing group and singing the lyrics. Her straightforward imagery and explicitness endeared her to her young audiences.
The Heartbreakers were a splinter group formed by Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan from the New York Dolls along with Richard Hell from Television. They tried to break into the London scene in 1976 but were deported because of Visa problems after a short residency. Even so they had some influence over that nascent Punk scene. They split up in 1977 with Richard Hell going on to form Richard Hell & the Voidoids and Johnny Thunders forming various incarnations of the Johnny Thunders Band.
By this time the whole New York scene was alive with energetic New Wave bands. Wayne County & the Electric Chairs (Wayne later became Jayne following a sex change) whose forte was heavy riffs with sexually explicit lyrics such as ‘Fuck off’, ‘Fucked by the Devil’ and ‘Bad in bed’. Cherry Vanilla & the Staten Island Band were equally as Raunchy. Cherry started as a waitress for Andy Warhol’s club and then became a publicist for David Bowie. She supposedly offered to give a blow job to any DJ who played a Bowie record. Her first album ‘Bad Girl’ summed it up. Blondie were not always a Pop unit. They started in the New York clubs and were regulars at CGGBs and Max’s Kansas City played raunchy New Wave. Talking Heads was another highly successful band who started as a New Wave favourite in the New Wave scene in New York. They were a quirky unit whose music had a punch but also had elements of Funk and world music and David Byrne’s unique voice and delivery. The Runaways were an all-female unit from Los Angeles who featured Joan Jett and gatecrashed the New Wave scene. Mink Deville, another import this time from San Francisco, became the house band at CBGBs. The Dead Boys relocated from Cleveland.
These bands had a huge effect on the development of British Punk especially in the early days. Visits by bands such as the Ramones were met with rabid enthusiasm and provided fresh energy.
|Artist||Stand out tracks|
|New York Dolls||Personality crisis
Lonely planet boy
Stranded in the jungle
Who are the mystery girls
|Patti Smith||Piss factory
Pissing in a river
Because the night
Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger
High on Rebellion
So you want to be a rock ‘n’ Roll star
People have the power
|Richard Hell & the Voidoids||Blank generation
Love comes in spurts
|Ramones||Beat on the brat
Judy is a punk
I wanna be your boyfriend
Now I wanna sniff some glue
Gimme gimme shock treatment
Sheena is a punk rocker
Suzy is a headbanger
Needles & Pins
I wanna be sedated
Do you wanna dance
Carbona not glue
|Wayne County & Electric Chairs||Fuck off
Fucked by the devil
Bad in bed
You make me cream in my jeans
|Cherry Vanilla & Staten Island Band||Bad in bed
Hard as a rock
I know how to hook
|Talking Heads||Psycho Killer
Once in a lifetime
Don’t worry about the government
Take me to the river
Burning down the house
Road to nowhere
Life during wartime
And she was
|Dead Boys||Sonic Reducer|
Rip her to shreds
In the flesh
I’m always touched by your presence dear
Hanging on the telephone
One way or another
The tide is high
Heart of glass
Union city blue
Eat to the beat
Born to lose
Everything you ever wanted to know about Rock Music!
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