The other day a uni friend of mine mentioned that The Sonics were one of his favourite bands. Cool, I know them, I thought to myself. They’re like the Kinks but American. Apparently not. My friend described them as one of the earliest punk bands. The Sonics I know were around in the early to mid 60s and punk only gained momentum in the 70s. I must be thinking of the wrong band, silly me!
Later that night I trawled through the long-forgotten depths of my ipod and sure enough I came across a handful of Sonics songs. If these were records they’d be dusty but since we’re talking digital files here, I only hypothetically blew the dust off before giving them a spin. As the high energy yet simple guitar riffs peppered with rockin’ sax and crazy vocal screams bombarded my headphones, I realised that with rock ‘n’ roll classics like Louie Louie, Have Love Will Travel, Roll Over Beethoven and Good Golly Miss Molly, it’s no wonder I considered them nothing more than another rock ‘n’ roll band.
To confirm that The Sonics I was now listening to were one and the same as The Sonics my mate adored, I turned to the trusty (usually) wealth of information that is Wikipedia. Wiki could tell me anything and I am very confident in his music knowledge. Indeed, he confirmed that The Sonics were formed in the sixties (one to me) and also that “among those in the know, the band is sometimes regarded as the first punk rock group, though well before the punk movement took off in the late 1970s”. I’m obviously not “in the know” (one to my friend). However, it was a done and dusted matter. His Sonics and my Sonics were the same. Time to get myself ‘in the know’. I was off on a meandering journey through the history of punk.
Wiki informed me that The Sonics customised their amps to render the harshest possible sounds. That’s pretty punk. Thinking of the punk bands I’m familiar with, I also notice that The Sonics vocalist is similarly nuts. He screams a lot and his voice is harsh and husky. Upon more ipod wandering and careful listening, I remember that punk music is epitomised by stripped-down instrumentation and short songs, exactly like The Sonics. Suprise suprise. The Sonics were devoid of mohawks, safety pins and leather but they were quintessentially punk in their musical approach.
I had discoverd The Sonics a few years ago when I was obsessed with all things 50’s and 60’s. I think I had just seen David Campbell in Shout!, the musical about Aussie rock ‘n’ roller Johnny O’Keefe. Around this time I decided that The Kinks were my new favourite band and I even worked on Louie Louie in a high school band. The Sonics also covered Louie Louie (if you had a rock band in the early 60s, chances are you would cover it) and that’s how I stumbled across them.
Like Sex Pistols vs Ramones and Oasis vs Nirvana, I assumed that The Sonics were just Americas version of England’s Kinks. In my mind, The Kinks won and I never gave The Sonics too much thought, until now. They say you learn something new everyday and everyday I seem to discover (or rediscover in this case) a new favourite band. The Sonics are now providing me with regular bouts of infectious rock ‘n’ roll – I mean, early punk – that I’m thoroughly enjoying.
Are they punk? If you like punk and/or rock ‘n’ roll, look them up and let me know what you think!