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One Chord Wonders: Power and Meaning in Punk Rock

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Originally published in 1985, One Chord Wonders was the first full-length study of the glory years of British punk. The book argues that one of punk’s most significant political achievements was to expose the operations of power in the British entertainment industries as they were thrown into confusion by the sound and the fury of musicians and fans. Through a detailed exa Originally published in 1985, One Chord Wonders was the first full-length study of the glory years of British punk. The book argues that one of punk’s most significant political achievements was to expose the operations of power in the British entertainment industries as they were thrown into confusion by the sound and the fury of musicians and fans. Through a detailed examination of the conditions under which punk emerged and then declined, Dave Laing develops a view of the music as both complex and contradictory. Special attention is paid to the relationship between punk and the music industry of the late 1970s, in particular the political economy of the independent record companies through which much of punk was distributed. Using examples from a wide range of bands, individual chapters use the techniques of semiology to consider the radical approach to naming in punk (from Johnny Rotten to Poly Styrene), the instrumental and vocal sound of the music, and its visual images. The concluding chapter critically examines various theoretical explanations of the punk phenomenon, including the class origins of its protagonists and the influential view that punk represented the latest in a line of British youth “subcultures.” There is also a chronology of the punk era, plus discographies and a bibliography.


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Originally published in 1985, One Chord Wonders was the first full-length study of the glory years of British punk. The book argues that one of punk’s most significant political achievements was to expose the operations of power in the British entertainment industries as they were thrown into confusion by the sound and the fury of musicians and fans. Through a detailed exa Originally published in 1985, One Chord Wonders was the first full-length study of the glory years of British punk. The book argues that one of punk’s most significant political achievements was to expose the operations of power in the British entertainment industries as they were thrown into confusion by the sound and the fury of musicians and fans. Through a detailed examination of the conditions under which punk emerged and then declined, Dave Laing develops a view of the music as both complex and contradictory. Special attention is paid to the relationship between punk and the music industry of the late 1970s, in particular the political economy of the independent record companies through which much of punk was distributed. Using examples from a wide range of bands, individual chapters use the techniques of semiology to consider the radical approach to naming in punk (from Johnny Rotten to Poly Styrene), the instrumental and vocal sound of the music, and its visual images. The concluding chapter critically examines various theoretical explanations of the punk phenomenon, including the class origins of its protagonists and the influential view that punk represented the latest in a line of British youth “subcultures.” There is also a chronology of the punk era, plus discographies and a bibliography.

30 review for One Chord Wonders: Power and Meaning in Punk Rock

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nestor Rychtyckyj

    This is definitely not an easy read but it's quite worthwhile if you spend the time to read it. "One Chord Wonders" is a thorough (and I mean thorough) analysis of punk rock in the UK. It's well researched and reads much more like a scientific paper than a rock & roll history. The author analyzes the events that led to the British punk movement and shows how it eveolved and what made it different from every other movement. All of this is based on facts - punk records are examined and classified This is definitely not an easy read but it's quite worthwhile if you spend the time to read it. "One Chord Wonders" is a thorough (and I mean thorough) analysis of punk rock in the UK. It's well researched and reads much more like a scientific paper than a rock & roll history. The author analyzes the events that led to the British punk movement and shows how it eveolved and what made it different from every other movement. All of this is based on facts - punk records are examined and classified by the content of their songs, punk musicians careers are researched and punk lyrics are parsed and discussed to their last syllable. This may sound ike a lot of overkill but if the reader is patient - it does show how well-written and crafted this music really was. A comparison of punk records from 1976-1977 definitely shows how well these songs hold up after nearly 40 years. This book is not for everybody but if you want to be vindicated for listening to the Pistols, Clash and Buzzcocks - then this book shows exactly why you were right and everybody else was wrong.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Alexandros

    Μια συναρπαστική και εμβριθής αναδρομή στις πρώτες ημέρες του βρετανικού πανκ, υποβοηθούμενη από το μεθοδολογικό εργαλείο της μπαρτεσιανής σημειωτικής. Ο συγγραφέας υπεισέρχεται σε μια πλειάδα θεματικών αξόνων που διαμόρφωσαν το είδος, χωρίς να εγκλωβίζει την έννοιά του σε ένα φορμαλιστικό σύνολο ήχων και ακόρντων, παρουσιάζοντάς την, αντιθέτως, ως ένα γενικότερο κοινωνικό και ιστορικό φαινόμενο (φάνζινς, ντύσιμο, εταιρικές πρακτικές, αντίκτυπος κ.α.). Το στοιχείο που εξυψώνει την αναγνωστική αξ Μια συναρπαστική και εμβριθής αναδρομή στις πρώτες ημέρες του βρετανικού πανκ, υποβοηθούμενη από το μεθοδολογικό εργαλείο της μπαρτεσιανής σημειωτικής. Ο συγγραφέας υπεισέρχεται σε μια πλειάδα θεματικών αξόνων που διαμόρφωσαν το είδος, χωρίς να εγκλωβίζει την έννοιά του σε ένα φορμαλιστικό σύνολο ήχων και ακόρντων, παρουσιάζοντάς την, αντιθέτως, ως ένα γενικότερο κοινωνικό και ιστορικό φαινόμενο (φάνζινς, ντύσιμο, εταιρικές πρακτικές, αντίκτυπος κ.α.). Το στοιχείο που εξυψώνει την αναγνωστική αξία του βιβλίου (πέρα από τη λεπτομερή ιστορική ανάλυση, η οποία, ομολογουμένως, μπορεί να βρεθεί και αλλού) είναι ότι χαρτογραφεί ένα καινούργιο πλαίσιο μέσα από το οποίο ο αναγνώστης μπορεί να αντιλαμβάνεται τη μουσική, ένα πλαίσιο που νωρίτερα ίσως να ήταν θαμμένο στα βάθη του υποσυνειδήτου και της απροσδιοριστίας. Ο Laing δεν ακολουθεί τον συντηρητικό δρόμο που θέλει την ποιότητα ενός μουσικού έργου να εξαρτάται από την παικτική δεξιοτεχνία και αριστεία (σήμα κατατεθέν του προοδευτικού ροκ της προ-πανκ εποχής) αλλά εξετάζει σχολαστικά όλες τις μικρές στιλιστικές λεπτομέρειες του πανκ κινήματος - μέσα στις οποίες συνήθως αναπαύεται ο διάβολος - και αναδεικνύει, μέσα από αυτές, τις ανατρεπτικές, κοινωνικά και αισθητικά, προεκτάσεις τους. Αν μόνο ένα κομμάτι αυτού του βιβλίου πρέπει να διαβαστεί, αυτό είναι σίγουρα η σημειωτική ανάλυση του τρόπου με τον οποίο ο Johnny Rotten είχε προσεγγίσει τα τραγούδια των Sex Pistols, τόσο σε επίπεδο στίχων όσο και σε επίπεδο εκφοράς του λόγου, γεγονός που καταδεικνύει την καλλιτεχνική του ιδιοφυΐα (την οποία μετέπειτα ανέπτυξε ως ιδρυτής του σαγηνευτικού, προβοκατόρικου post-punk σχήματος των Public Image ltd).

  3. 4 out of 5

    alison

    this book gave me everything i needed...from the semiotic analysis to the quick review of semiotics (cut to me glancing vacantly at the anthology/theory bookcase when Laing tells me he intends to use barthes and kristeva et. al. then to relieved me when he provides brief, lucid definitions ahead of his analysis, like Oh Dude THX).

  4. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    Although the first chapter was kind of cumbersome and almost put me off from finishing the book, the rest of the book is really informative and well written and really captures the essence of the punk culture.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alastair

    Plus one star for calling out The Stranglers for the sexist chancers that they were. Minus one star for an over reliance on Dick Hebdige and bloody Roland Barthes.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ananda

    Un interessante saggio sul punk scritto in modo scorrevole, che non dimentica anche quello nostrano.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Gerry LaFemina

    This is actually a review of the PM Press reissue. I read this book 20 years ago and just reread it. It's an "academic" look (hey it quotes Bathes and Adorno among others) at the British punk explosion in its cultural context. The book is simultaneously fascinating in its thoroughness and limited in its scope. This is actually a review of the PM Press reissue. I read this book 20 years ago and just reread it. It's an "academic" look (hey it quotes Bathes and Adorno among others) at the British punk explosion in its cultural context. The book is simultaneously fascinating in its thoroughness and limited in its scope.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Written in an overtly academic style, but without any new ideas on the music. Meh.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Büşra Üzgün

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bekran Sarsilmaz

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rintintin

  12. 4 out of 5

    Adrian Buck

  13. 4 out of 5

    PM Press

  14. 4 out of 5

    David

  15. 4 out of 5

    moris vian

  16. 5 out of 5

    Graham Lindsay

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rata 2 Patas

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bryan

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gökçe Dereli

  20. 4 out of 5

    William

  21. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rebeca

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lone

  24. 5 out of 5

    Adrian Bloxham

  25. 5 out of 5

    Cenin Catlien

  26. 5 out of 5

    Magdalena

  27. 4 out of 5

    Emre Uysal

  28. 5 out of 5

    Pablo Allen

  29. 4 out of 5

    John Warner

  30. 5 out of 5

    Saira

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