“Forget rap and hip hop, the first East Coast/West Coast musical rivalry for me was over Punk and New Wave! Having been nursed and spoon fed Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Television, Voidoids, even The Cars, Urban Verbs and Bush Tetras, my friends and I were very suspicious and dismissive of most West Coast Punk and New Wave. X and Dead Kennedys made an impact on us, but West Coast New Wave just basically sucked in our opinions.”
Brother, have you got that right. When I run down the bands I like best in my mind, it seems that all of the seminal groups that have had a fully lasting imprint on the hundreds of bands that I love that came afterward, were from the East Coast. Rock and Roll sprang from the fertile South, but it received the smart-assed attitudes that I value from the East. When I think of West Coast rock I almost gag! “Smug hippies” is the phrase that comes to mind.
Caveat: I was born in Santa Monica but have lived the last 40 years of my life on the East Coast. Actually, the East Coast vs West Coast mindset cuts to the core on almost any issue you can name, irrelevant of just music. There are vast differences in the attitudes to be found on the two coasts. My pals Elisa & Tom have lived on both coasts and they sum it up [perfectly] in the following manner: Someone on the East Coast can say “f*ck you” and make it mean “I love you” whereas someone on the West Coast can say “I love you” and make it mean “f*ck you!” But enough sociology. This is supposed to be about music.
Echorich lists quite a lineup of East Coast bands.
- Ramones – NY
- Blondie – NY
- Talking Heads – NY
- Patti Smith – NY
- Television – NY
- Richard Hell and the Voidoids – NY
- The Cars – Boston
- Urban Verbs – D.C.
- Bush Tetras – NY
I’d say the top four were groundbreakers who laid the tracks for a hell of a lot of train-jumpers, but even Richard Hell, who is more heard of than heard, carried enormous weight with Malcolm McLaren. He appropriated Hell’s image wholesale to give UK punk a face. I’d add more bands that Echorich missed, including the elephant in the room right off the top.
- The Velvet Underground – NY
- Suicide – NY
- Jonathan Richman – Boston
- New York Dolls – NY
Those last four certainly stand with the first for in Echorich’s list, for my money. I can name many more West Coast bands who have had comparable impact on rock music, but then I’d be talking about bands I dislike. That is where the gulf between the coasts for me, becomes profound. The West Coast is crucial for rock’s earlier periods, like folk-rock or psychedelia, but when it comes to New Wave, it’s the East Coast that provided the petri dish for that particular culture! True, by ’79 at least the West Coast got infected with the germs [pun intended] and developed their own culture, which, by and large, pass me by. Most West Coast bands always seemed lame to me. But not all of them. There are some West Coast bands that I hold in relatively high regard. Who are they?
- Wall Of Voodoo/Stan Ridgeway – These two have an undeserved sub-DEVO rep that is totally off base, in my opinion. Stan’s literary, film noir roots made for a unique perspective in the New Wave canon. Their instrumentation [guitar, synth, percussion, rhythm box but no drums] made for a singular sound. After Ridgeway left the band, all bets are off, however.
- Oingo Boingo – The first couple of albums are definite keepers at least. Their big-band, horn driven sound was influenced by the UK ska wave, but they didn’t really sound like that at all. Miles of bad attitude and hostility informed the likes of songs such as “Insects” from my favorite of their albums, “Nothing To Fear.”
- The Three O’Clock – The band that kicked up the L.A. Paisley Underground scene of the early 80s. It makes perfect sense that the next generation would have looked back to West Coast psychedelia for inspiration and I like this band’s output way better than the original thing. All of their records are great but the first two… magic!
- The Dickies – They’ll always be the “West Coast Ramones” but their first two albums are every bit as good as their Forest Hills spiritual brethren. They were insanely fast, insanely cheerful punk rock, capped by the form-and-content-perfected single cover of “The Banana Splits Theme.” Green Day remind me a lot of these guys [they wish].
- The Go Gos – The debut single was a New Wave classic and thank goodness a group of women came together to finally form a band that wasn’t a front for a bunch of creepy old men pulling the strings! [Sorry, Kim] The debut album sold like hotcakes, and for once justice was served. Richard Gottherer, who cut his teeth with 60s “girl groups” like The Angels and progressed to New Wave with early Blondie, was the perfect choice to produce. Their later albums were less than crucial, but the fact that The Go Gos were the first all-female band who played their instruments, wrote their songs, took them to the top of the charts, and that it happened in 1981, says a lot.
- Sparks – The big one. I rank them as being as influential as The Velvet Underground were to the generations of bands that I love, which is saying a lot. This band was extremely Anglophile to the point of moving to the UK and becoming stars. I can see why. They had nothing to do with the leaden US rock scene of the era! Ron Mael’s songwriting is inhumanly witty. That his lyrics are capably matched by the incredible voice of his brother makes them a potent musical team. Though Suicide were the first synth duo, let’s admit that Sparks UK success marks them as the popularizers of the shockingly prevalent UK synth duo trope of the early 80s [and beyond]. Still, this is the only West Coast band I’d put on a pedestal as high as the East Coast progenitors of punk rock and New Wave.
The West Coast has some good, even great bands, but they undeniably followed on the heels of East Coast bands, who go there first [with the exception of Sparks]. I think that there’s a good reason for that. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and state that the East Coast Punk and New Wave movement was largely a reaction against the West Coast establishment rock of the 70s. All the labels and money were in Southern California, and the scene made for a lot of smug decadence. Punk and New Wave desperately needed something to react against and in the US of the early-mid seventies, acts like Jefferson Starship and Linda Rondstadt were sitting ducks.
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* Has it been a full week since my last post? Mea culpa! I’m insanely busy, of late.