Friday, April 17, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: Yes vs. Black Flag, Round 1, "Mood for a Day" vs. "Wasted"

On a recent Saturday, while out for a run, a Yes song shuffled on my iPod, something off one of the three seminal studio albums of the early 1970s -- The Yes Album (1971), Fragile (1971), Close to the Edge (1972) -- and it sounded good. Lush, sweeping, soothing, harmonic -- whatever you want to call it -- "big ticket" rock 'n' roll.

Then, up next or shortly thereafter, came a Black Flag song, "Wasted," off the band's first record, the Nervous Breakdown EP (1978), and it pretty much said it all in terms of Hippies vs. Punks:

I was so wasted I was a hippie I was a burnout I was a dropout I was out of my head I was a surfer I had a skateboard I was so heavy man, I lived on the strand I was so wasted I was so fucked up I was so messed up I was so screwed up I was out of my head I was so jacked up I was so drugged up I was so knocked out, I was out of my head I was so wasted I was wasted
The contrast between these two songs, Yes's "Mood for a Day" and Black Flag's "Wasted" couldn't be greater. Yet there it is -- Hippies vs. Punks. It is almost as if there is no reason to continue on with these Hippies vs. Punks posts because aurally the matter has been settled. But who won?

One thing that leapt to my attention out of the happenstance iPod shuffle was the realization that Black Flag's first record, Nervous Breakdown, an EP that clocked in at all of 5 minutes 13 seconds, was recorded as early as January 1978, the month that Punk is supposed to have died when the Sex Pistols broke up after their show at Winterland. This qualifies Black Flag as a first-wave Punk band.

Nervous Breakdown didn't appear until the fall when foot-dragging by Bomp Records! motivated Black Flag founder and guitarist Greg Ginn to use funds from his ham radio business, Solid State Transmitters, to establish, along with Black Flag bass player Chuck Dukowski, a new record label, SST Records. Nervous Breakdown is the first SST Records disk, 001.

Black Flag was formed in 1976. Originally the band's name was Panic. But just as Joy Division had to change from Warsaw to Joy Division because there was another band going by Warsaw, Panic changed its name to Black Flag because there was another band called Panic.

In 1976 Yes was at the top of the heap along with Peter Frampton. This is what the kids were listening to when Greg Ginn put his band together. Skateboarding was very big. Skateboards with wheels of polyurethane instead of clay. Puka-shell necklaces and rugby shirts, long hair and Ocean Pacific drawstring cotton pants. Hippies, without a war to protest or a president to impeach, decided to let the good times roll. They might not necessarily have absconded to the discotheque but they had certainly found their way to AstroTurfed sports stadiums, where, along with tens of thousands of other shaggy-headed boys and girls, drunk and stoned, they, in the words of Crass, stared "up a superstar's arse."

This is the milieu that created Punk. The summer of 1976. The American Bicentennial. The summer that the boys from Joy Division see the Sex Pistols in Manchester and decide to start a band; the same summer that Mari Elliot, a.k.a., Poly Styrene, sees the Sex Pistols in Hastings and decides to start a band. The Yes-Frampton-Gary Wright sold-out stadium tour is happening simultaneously. The sonic womb that begets Punk is the no-longer-Hippie corporate sounds of Hippies like Yes, Peter Frampton and Gary Wright.

We'll have to tarry here a bit longer.

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