A Brief History Of...Post-Punk


Fev 22 2008, 22h05

The description and playlist below are from the weekly radio show (A Brief History Of…) that my friend and I host on WSUM 91.7fm Madison (the University of Wisconsin's radio station). We selected songs we felt were either historically important or just representative of each specific topic. Please comment if you feel we missed something or just to give your opinion. Remember, however, that we do this show in an hour (about 50 minutes of music), so no show will ever be comprehensive. Track length is a major factor in our decisions (shorter is usually better). Thanks!

A Brief History of...Post-Punk takes a look at the experimentation that took place (led mostly by British bands) in the wake of Punk. Despite the fact that many Punk bands had been opposed to complex artistic musical forms - Punk was a reaction against Progressive Rock - a number of Punk artists began combining their Punk sound with a range of music, from the arty music of David Bowie and Brian Eno to Disco and Funk. The first half of the show shows these origins and attempts to find a dividing line between Punk and Post-Punk. The second half of the show just fills out the genre by showing the variety of experimental sounds that arose in the aftermath of Punk, the sounds that carried British music into the 80s.

Post-Punk Before Punk?:
King's Lead Hat by Brian Eno (1977). Brian Eno's Before and After Science could almost be considered a template for a good Post-Punk album. Although Eno had nothing to do with the Punk revolution in England, many British artists moved toward a sound quite similar to "King's Lead Hat" or to David Bowie's work of this period ( Low - which was itself produced by Eno).

Punk Remnants:
Definitive Gaze by Magazine (1978). Buzzcock's lead singer Howard Devoto and guitarist John McGeoch left that band and formed Magazine in 1977. "Definitive Gaze" defines Post-Punk. It still has the energy of Punk, but the guitars are more jagged and the music is more thought-out and complicated. This song even contains synthesizers fairly prominently, representing one genre that Post-Punk greatly influenced: Synth-Pop.
Swan Lake by Public Image Ltd. (1980). Taking cues from Krautrock and a wide variety of other music, John Lydon (formerly known as Johnny Rotten, lead singer of The Sex Pistols) tried to create an "anti-rock" band. On "Swan Lake (aka Death Disco)" the band adds a disco beat to a guitar line lifted from Classical music and matches them with challenging lyrics.

Punk, Post-Punk, Something Else? - The Beginnings of Goth Rock:
Killing An Arab by The Cure (1978). The Cure's first single, "Killing an Arab," is a re-telling of Albert Camus' The Stranger, a classic tale of an accidental homicide and the feelings of the shooter. Right off the bat, let's just get it out there: The Cure were only later associated with Goth Rock and they themselves never really understood why.
Hong Kong garden by Siouxsie & The Banshees (1978). Although you'd never know it from the lyrics to this song, Siouxsie & the Banshee better fit the genre Gothic Rock than The Cure in that they more often used Gothic themes (romanticism, nihilism, horror). Siouxsie and the Banshees were darker, but still no band from this era could compete for the title of darkest sound against Joy Division:
She's Lost Control by Joy Division (1979). This may be the least emotional song ever recorded. Once again, I don't feel like Joy Division fit into any of these categories, but their sound did greatly influence the first true Goth Rock band Bauhaus (which we would have played here, except "Bela Lugosi's Dead" runs for nearly 10 minutes).

Experimentation or is there a Post-Punk sound?:
Cities by Talking Heads (1979). What makes this song Post-Punk is the sharp guitar sound. And what's the deal with David Byrne always writing songs about finding somewhere to live?! (also see "The Big Country." "Houses in Motion" is a little different, but uses some of the same imagery).
Damaged Goods by Gang of Four (1979). The sound on Entertainment! pretty much defines the Post-Punk sound if there is one. Once again the music contains jagged guitars and a high energy groove. It's also just a great album.
Do the Du by A Certain Ratio (1980). Labelmates with Joy Division on Factory Records, A Certain Ratio added influences of funk to their music (heard nowhere better than on "Do the Du"). Despite a different groove, the scratchy guitars still fit the mold for Post-Punk.
Girl U Want by Devo (1980). The only American band on the playlist, Devo had been around for years. They only gained popularity, however, with the rise of Post-Punk and New Wave. Their straight-beat groove deconstructions were unique, so the band doesn't necessarily fit into either Post-Punk of New Wave well, but we stuck them here because the Post-Punk legacy is a little more prestigious.
Deer Park by The Fall (1981). God knows where The Fall should actually be categorized. Here's as good as any. Oh how I hate the way you talk-sing-uh, Mark E. Smith. For the show, we used the version of "Deer Park" from the recording sessions The Fall often did with DJ John Peel.

Second Wave:
Fairytale in the Supermarket by The Raincoats (1980). The Post-Punk sound did inspire some immitators. The Raincoats were an all-female band.
Dumb Waiters by The Psychedelic Furs (1981). The Psychedelic Furs were Post-Punk, but their sound was less energetic and lacked a sharp lead guitar line, instead replacing it with a high-pitched saxaphone riff.

Some People Forget - U2 was a Post-Punk Band!:
Do It Clean by .Echo & the Bunnymen (1980). My co-host refused to let U2 on the radio, but in "Do It Clean," Ian McCulloch sounds just like Bono. Play "I Will Follow" in this playlist and it fits right in. In fact, Echo & the Bunnymen and U2 were competing for some of the same fans.

Post-Punk set up the sound of UK Indie, with the transition occuring somewhere in the early to mid 80s.
Envios aceitos
My Gang


  • Babs_05

    Your co-host is a raging snob - there's nothing wrong with a bit of U2. :P You forgot to mention New Romantics. Adam and the Ants were a punk band at first. I remember listening to them on the John Peel show and then later, being so shocked when they suddenly changed direction. Same thing happened with Blondie. Once punk drew a line under what had gone by, popular music was all punk, the way it's all indie today. To not sound like everyone else and stand out from the crowd was the challenge. It's what gave us The Police (a bit of reggae), etc, although that had more to do with politics and social issues. (race relations for one). I'm not sure I would draw a line between punk and post-punk. The way I remember it, punk gradually fizzled out as it got more and more diluted to the point of parody, then suddenly we had [i]that[/i] Top of the Pops, with Duran Duran performing Planet Earth, and Spandau Ballet doing To Cut A Long Story Short. After that, things got interesting again. Other striking performances from the time that changed everything from the moment they aired were Tubeway Army - Are Friends Electric, and of course Adam and the Ants. We separate them out now in tidy little genres, but they all came from punk.

    Fev 23 2008, 0h39
  • BadgerJohn31

    Yeah, by the 80s terms for new genres were flying around that split and clumped some of the most random music. A At this point, almost everything we'll put in a playlist will be arbitrary. nd New Wave stuff kinda fell by the wayside for our show. Sorry!!! Blondie, The Police, Adam & The Ants, Elvis Costello, etc. all deserved a spot somewhere in a playlist. Just remember that Post-Punk had more of a unified sound that what came after it (American Underground and UK Indie - and what the Hell is College Rock?!). But we'll cover those in upcoming shows.

    Fev 23 2008, 0h54
  • Babs_05

    Hehe, College Rock. They wore glasses and used big words, and they all came from Boston! Just joshing - it eventually became incorporated into the big mish-mash we call indie today. As far as I know, it came from student radios in US college campuses. I quite liked it at the time. They wore nice sweaters. ; ) It's really funny giving post-punk (as you define it) so much attention now because at the time, it really wasn't all that wow. It got samey-samey very quickly, and I don't remember Wire (but maybe I was too young to appreciate them). Even Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, whilst great and everything, wasn't breaking any new ground. It was a welcome relief, for sure, from all the megastars, Diana Ross et al, to hear something unfinished and incomplete and a bit rough around the edges. I think in this show, you're not so much exploring a variety of experimental sounds that arose in the aftermath of Punk so much as examining who future artists would cite as heroes. For example, without Magazine, we wouldn't have Radiohead. You mentioned The New York Dolls in your last article. Without them, we wouldn't have had Japan. They started out punk then went art-rock, and David Sylvian took his name from Sylvain Sylvain. Post-punk in itself was kind of by-the-by, but the legacy is incredible because so many people chose to listen to these albums than anything else. The other thing to bear in mind is this is bloke music. Music for blokes. The same blokes who later formed bands to make more bloke music. ;D

    Fev 23 2008, 2h43
  • flashbleu

    Sorry, Babs_05, but the co-host was right to put Echo & The Bunnymen in rather than U2. Regardless of their later moneymaking, U2 were considered a minor, rather parasitical group at the time of the post-punk boom (which was never called post-punk at the time. The scene with no name was one of the few labels attached to it and that speaks for itself). The Bunnymen were probably the best example of a slightly psychedelic influenced melodic post-punk which retained the angularity but dropped the funk in favour of stronger tunes. Other good examples from the time would be Teardrop Explodes; The Sound andThe Comsat Angels. U2 took a lot of ideas from these bands,but had few ideas themselves, leading to some bitterness from artists who heard a blanded-out version of their sound blasting from the radio. In God's Country from U2's dire Joshua Tree album is so Bunnymen influenced it's almost embarrassing. Still, U2 did have a late-flowering with their Berlin albums, but that is way beyond the scope of your show. It sounds great. Well done!!!

    Fev 27 2008, 11h27
  • mahr

    Christ, the second wave section makes me cringe. A New Romantic category would have been more apt (just throw in Duran Duran, Soft Cell or Adam and the Ants). Also, I don't like the Anglocentric approach because there were plenty of U.S. or Scottish bands to fit the bill. But then again, your cohost is an anglophile. "The only American band on the playlist, Devo had been around for years." The Talking Heads? The blurb about The Fall oozes ignorance. @flashbleu, I love your comment about U2. Anyway John, I made a tumblr dedicated to post-punk music. http://postpunk.tumblr.com/

    Set 13 2008, 0h32
  • Ragasmurf

    There weren't any 2nd wave. Except for that, nice little guide. The rest of 'em, too. I tried to start a program myself like this, but it didn't get through. The first program was on post-punk, but that's in norwegian.

    Abr 21 2011, 0h15
  • BadgerJohn31

    Yeah... this was a while ago. I've learned a ton since I made my first attempt. I would approach it completely differently now.

    Abr 21 2011, 5h30
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