One Chord Wonders: Power and Meaning in Punk Rock: By Dave Laing, 224 pgs. By Jimmy

Sep 29, 2015

According to the info on the back, this tome (originally published in 1985) “was the first full-length study of the glory years of British punk,” and it’s a doozy, to be sure. Despite its relatively thin page count compared to monster books like Jon Savage’s England Dreaming, it is an exhaustive (and often exhausting) overview of the myriad parts of the British punk scene—the use of names, both by bands and persons; the utilization of musical structures; lyrics; fashion; attitudes on and offstage; its place within, and its subversion of, the music industry of the time; what it might’ve all meant. It is an interesting read and his postulations seem to be mostly spot-on, but it’s often academic tone might be off-putting, a bit of a slog to read through even for those fascinated by the subject. Be prepared for things like a multiple page tear-apart to find the meaning behind the obscure lyrical content of the Sex Pistols’ “Holidays in the Sun.” (He never seems to quite suss out that underneath the World War II references, the song was written about a trip they took to the wall and what they saw there. The “reasonable economy” mentioned in the lyrics is likely a reference to the fact the protagonist now had a cash flow that allowed such a trip to occur). However if one can get past all the scholarly gobbledygook, one will find a noble attempt to get beyond the howling for heads and “the filth and the fury” to try to understand just why the whole thing was set off in the first place. –Jimmy Alvarado (PM Press, PO Box 23912, Oakland, CA94623)