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4.8 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 23 January 2009
I was a bit too young( i was 14 in 1977) to fully embrace punk when it reached it,s zenith. The ideology passed me by , as it would seem it did for some of the participants, but i knew i loved the music and the look, though i was far too introverted and lacking in self confidence to ever embrace it myself. But there is little doubt that the punk explosion truly ignited my love affair with music( i can clearly remember reading the Daily Mirror "The Filth and the Fury" headline while doing my morning paper round) and that hearing Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols was a defining moment in my musical education.
That album still gives me an adrenalin rush and funnily enough reading John Robbs excellent Oral History of punk does pretty much the same thing. Taking the views of many of the main participants- John Lydon, Captain Sensible, Rat Scabies, Jake Burns,Howard Devoto, Mick Jones, Brian James,Charlie Harper, Polystyrene, Gaye Advert , Don Letts amongst many others- in a talking heads style the book blasts chronologically from the genesis of the punk movement right through to it,s decline and the legacy it left behind -which in many way is musically at least more impressive than the real thing.
Robb who clearly knows his stuff adds helpful footnotes to guide the less knowledgeable reader through( i include myself here) but only occasionally when recommending albums or very rarely to correct what he feels is a contentious statement ( John Lydons sniffy comments about the U.K. Subs a case in point) does he feel the need to comment on what has been said.
Perhaps more surprisingly the book is also useful in giving pointers to other musical genres. As is pointed out by several contributors there is a link between punk and reggae( a genre i hated for most of my adult life until i actually tried listening properly ) both musically and ideologically with The Clash covering "Police And Thieves" and Lydon,s love of the genre leading to the dub bass soundscapes of PiL .The book also points out how punk lead to the Two Tone Ska revival , a genre once gain linked by a shared ideology.
The book is also great if you just want an entertaining read . There is plenty of amusing anecdotal stuff and some of the opinions ventured are thought provoking and can vary wildly -especially when concerning a controversial figure like Sid Vicious ( Don Letts opinion on the murder of Nancy Spungen is very revealing ) Lydon is as forthright and scathing as ever but i would have liked to hear more from Billy Bragg and Keith Levene who are for me the most witty contributors.
Thats just me indulging in a bit of subjective carping though. This is a great book by any standards and while it slightly overplays on the legacy of punk if it,s intention was to get people checking out the genre again, or indeed for the first time, it worked in my case. As i type i,m listening to the Angelic Upstarts Teenage Warning album and the warming fire of classic punk is coursing through my veins.Makes me want to live through it all again
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#1 HALL OF FAMEon 11 April 2006
John Robb is one of the most passionate music journalists - a passion that overwhelmed any flaws in his book on '90s culture (though Oliver Craske's role as editor means less mis-spellings than Robb's 90s tome - we still get Eddie Cochrane rather than Cochran for some reason!)and one that is apparent in this book. Robb, through extensive researching, has collected the memories of many key figures of the punk scene - Howard Devoto, Budgie, John Lydon, Captain Sensible, Don Letts, Siouxsie Sioux etc/their fans (Billy Bragg, Ian Brown) and simply let them tell their story. The stories sometimes contradict each other and seem inaccurate or in the case of Marco Pirroni's criticism of Cabaret Voltaire, get a responding footnote from Robb. There are sections in italics that are similar to Robb's 1990s book - those who dislike or disagree with his opinions will probably think these short sections are about right, personally I'd like to have had more Robb, as he's always got something interesting to say whether I agree or not (there's a bit on The Stranglers' here that makes me want to check out 'The Meninblack'!).
'Punk Rock: An Oral History' is punctuated with lots of great photographs, from Don Letts' looking like the coolest dude in front of his Beatles memorabilia, to the gorgeus Gaye Advert, to The Jam (who get a warranted criticism over some of their apsects) to those art-rock gods Wire. It's all great stuff and a brilliant slice of cultural history - one to file alongside Jon Savage's 'England's Dreaming' as you sit down to watch Don Letts' recent film 'Punk:Attitude.' I won't go on much longer as you really should enjoy it for yourself - I had a browse in a bookshop and found myself reading several pages this Saturday. I had to buy it. & then I sat down, sometimes with the music of the artists featured here, playing on my mp3 player and was just lost. Lost in great anecdotes and attitude and feeling that this and Simon Reynolds' 'Rip It Up & Start Again' have set a benchmark for music history literature. Interesting to note how often Can were mentioned - while Billy Bragg's line about Roxy Music fans is worth the price of entry alone. I hope Robb follows this up with a related work - his outro here suggests that the focus of punk is quite wide, so I'd like to see him get to grips with the work that followed in its wake post-1984. This book simply has to be read...NOW!!!!!!
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on 14 April 2014
Simply the best account of that seminal epoch, by a country mile. Unvarnished, virtually unmediated verbatim accounts by everyone who was anyone between around 1976 and 1984, most of whom were highly articulate then and remain so today. John Robb adds just enough well-considered insight and hindsight to tie it all together, but it's a book that belongs to its contributors and brings it all back like nothing else I've ever read...
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on 4 March 2014
THE best book on punk rock I have read as told through the main protagonists of the day.

How refreshing to finally discover a book on punk rock that acknowledges the importance and relevance of the "second wave of punk", the contribution of the Irish/Scottish bands, the importance of Manchester and other towns and cities outside London, the importance of the lesser bands and doesn't snobbishly ignore the massive contribution made by the Stranglers (yes you Mr Savage) which simply cannot be overlooked in any credible book about the period.

Similarly it seems to only be Messrs Savage and Lydon who don't think that the contribution of bands like the Ruts, the Cockney Rejects and post pounk bands like Killing Joke, Joy Division etc are not important in the overall bigger picture. Noticeable that Lydon disses nearly every band which tells you everything. Superb unbiased account of the whole punk movement and all its variations - highly recommended.
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on 17 July 2007
What a thick paper back of total 576 pages! Isn't it a Bible? That was my first impression when I got it. And maybe I am only a person in Japan who read it through wearing smart suits and tie in crazy packed Japanese morning trains on the way to work surrounded and pushed by also smartly dressed busy business men. "Punk Rock?" Many people were sneering at 42-year-old. But this is a brilliant book and the most efficient to learn the UK punk history especially from mid '70 to beginning of '80 among some books I had ever read. This book comprises short interviews of total 112 punk musicians, punk journalists, and etc. telling individuals' stories by going back in time. I mean these real voices made me feel the scene in more real and understand the history in more detail than any other punk books. My English is not that good, when I came across obscure English expression I could skip some interviews to others, but it was not a problem. Because this book is not a long novel, but loads of interesting short interviews. UK punk's been part of my life since I was 18 despite the fact that I am now 42 and quite a normal office worker. My treasure is a T-shirt signed by Captain Sensible when I saw him upon my queuing in front of the venue in Oxford in 2002. It reads "Phil Collins must die - Captain Sensible".
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on 25 July 2006
For me this is the best book about punk. I always loved Jon Savage's 'England's Dreaming' but John Robb's book is the one now. First hand experiences are expertly meshed together to give a feel of just how fast, furious and exciting the whole period was. If you are looking for a book that really captures the diversity and excitement of the period then look no further...
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on 15 February 2006
Wow! Just finished reading this.
John Robb doesn't miss anything out in this oral history of punk rock- that's the history of punk rock told in quotes...everyone is in here from Johny Rotten to The CLash to Crass to The Ruts to the Slits to gaye Advert to Howard Devoto to the Cockney Rejects and a couple of hundred others...its exciting and passionate- just what you'd expect from people who lived it.
A great read, really like Robb's mini essays- whilst your at it you may as well check his band out Goldblade and their 'Rebel Songs' album- proof that punk rock is still alive and well...
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on 6 April 2006
this book brought tears to my eyes. there have been a few books on the punk phenemonon, most of which have focussed on the products and players of the king's road scene from personal perspectives. john robb's book, however, recalls for me the feelings and diversity, the contradictions, arguements and certainty which made actors out of fans (consumers/spectators).
i respect this book for exploring the divisions which arose when punk rock shattered. this is the only book i have seen which acknowledges the anarcho scene and the contribution that crass made. maybe because it was so underground it's hard to research for a book, but someone should record it... c'mon tony d, you must have finished jugglng with chainsaws by now!
i do take issue with the book's apologising for nazism in oi music, though. for gary bushell to say it was a mistake, sorry, is just not good enough. in a situation like that you are the problem if you are not part of the solution and gary, you did nothing to decry the facism that you could have done.
but that's how good this book is, it's got me debating the points all over again!
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on 10 November 2013
Favourite excerpts are from Marco Pirroni and his witty comments and that feeling from all but the Bromley Contingent of being excluded from the in crowd. The extent to which all the major protagonists knew each other via London SS is well covered particularly the key role Brian James had and his sparring with Mick Jones. The damage done via Grundy comes across too as does how quickly the creativity turned to compromise.
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on 8 October 2007
Just read this book after several hearty recommendations from friends. What I love about it is that you get the feeling you are there right in the middle of the eternal arguments about punk! So many different perspectives and truths all clashing in the quotes from all the key players all these years later. The great thing about a format like this is that it gives you a glimpse of the truth. Add to that extensive footnotes and Robb's passion for the subject as well as the sheer scale of the book- nearly 600 pages and you got yourself a near as damnit history to the British punk rock scene.a
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