Last night was a very boring night at work. Wandering aimlessly around the car park I have wasted a huge portion of my life in I was listening to a new playlist I had recently created which I quite cleverly named Songs That Make Me Want To Sing Out Loud, catchy right? On that playlist there are forty or so songs that the more astute of you might have worked out indeed make me want to sing out loud. Obviously I resist because screaming along with the calls of “Baby Lets Go Out Tonight” from To Know The Night Is To Live In It Forever by Leagues Apart would make me look quite silly. While I was listening and trying my very best not to sing out loud I got thinking about what makes the perfect punk rock song.
Obviously I don’t have the smallest bit of musical ability; I’m so useless I can barely clap my hands along to a simple beat so this is only the view of someone who really enjoys listening to music rather than someone who has the real skill and talent to write an entire song so some of my views might be on the naive side.
I think most people would agree that you can usually decide whether or not you like a song by the opening few seconds. The intro to any songs is vitally important to making it great; it really needs to hook the listener in, especially in the modern world where there is an almost unlimited amount of music you can choose from at just the click of a button. When I think of some of my favourite songs they all make me want to sing, dance or throw my fists in the air from the very start. I could list hundreds of examples but I will speak of just a couple. The first being the classic Less Than Jake song Gainesville Rock City from 2000’s Borders and Boundaries (typing that I can’t believe that album is fifteen years old). As soon as those keys turn, the engine starts and those horns blast that instantly recognisable riff you know it’s time to dance. The introduction to Gainesville Rock City actually lasts for a third of the song and really builds brilliantly for an explosive final two thirds of the song. Another great example of a great intro comes from The Menzingers. The short introduction from A Lesson In The Abuse Of Information Technology from their debut album with the same name from the get go gets your fists in the air and you screaming your lungs out. The simple guitar riffs followed by the screaming of “I Supply My Own Divide Morality, I Dye Everything Shades Of Grey” instantly grab your attention and have you hooked throughout the song.
Without a doubt a massive part of what makes any song great is the lyrics. The world of punk rock is blessed with some incredible lyricists. No subject matter is ignored, songs are written about love, politics, standing up for yourself, mental health, rebellion, the music scene, life on the road, growing up and everything else in between. In my opinion Off With Their Heads leader Ryan Young is the best lyricist in the world. When you read his lyrics you will discover the subject matter is incredibly dark but you cannot help but feel uplifted when you’re singing along with them. One great example is the song Nightlife from 2013’s Home. The words in the second verse really stand out to me, “Don’t Wanna Be Like This, Anxious And Or Angry Or Hopeless And Upset All Of The Time, Unable To Get Back The Feeling I Lost Somewhere Along The Line, I Wear It All On My Sleeve And Everyone Sees No Matter How Hard I Try, I’ve Never Felt Worse In My Whole Life.” There is something incredibly cathartic about singing those lines that actually make you feel better about yourself. New Yorks Iron Chic are a band who are brilliant at writing catchy and meaningful fist in the air lyrics. The song I Always Never Said That from 2010s Not Like This (reviewed here) features the lines “So Let’s Agree We’ll Always Laugh, Not Miss The Joke And Do What We Can, To Take It All With A Grin, And Not Be So Fucking Humourless.” First class lyrics about not getting all the bad times that life throws at you get you down and always trying to stay positive. Another great lyricists I’ve discovered recently is the German folk sing John Allen. His song Lessons I Have Learnt from his recently released album Sophomore (reviewed here) is extremely uplifting. Two lines towards the end of the song really put a big grin on my face. They are “And If You’re Out There Somewhere Listening To That Song, And If It Makes You Smile Try And Sing Along.” This is a great uplifting couple of lines about the power of music and how it can move you. Something all of the best songs can do, move you.
Being moved is another ingredient in making a great song perfect. It can be done with personal lyrics, relating to the song in some way or just serving as a reminder of a great memory. The Street Dogs song Punk Rock & Roll is a song that always moves me. Whenever I hear that song I always remember the goose bumps I felt after seeing them play it live for the first time. It was this perfect moment of a room full of strangers coming together joining as one little community to sing about something they all loved so much. Another song that’s always moved me is What If Punk Never Happened by The King Blues. The song/poem tells a story on what the world would be like if there was no such thing as punk rock and the final verse is one of the most inspiring pieces of work I have ever heard. Listening back to it now I get goose bumps (though that could be because I’m still sitting in my pants at 3pm and it’s a tad chilly). Itch’s words show just how much you can learn from the world of punk rock, they go – “Punk Rock Has The Power To Change The World, It Lies In Every Single Punk Rock Boy And Girl, So Don’t Let Anyone Tell You You’re Not Worth The Earth, These Streets Are Your Streets, This Turf Is Your Turf, Don’t Let Anyone Tell You You’ve Got To Give In, Cos You Can Make A Difference, You Can Change Everything, Just Let Your Dreams Be Your Pilot, Your Imagination Your Fuel, Tear Up The Book And Write Your Own Damn Rules, Use All That Heart, Hope And Soul That You’ve Got, And The Love And The Rage That You Feel In Your Gut, And Realise That The Other World That You’re Always Looking For, Lies Right Here In Front Of Us, Outside This Door, And It’s Up To You To Go Out And Paint The Canvas, After All, You Were Put On The Earth To Do This, So Shine Your Light So Bright So All Can See, Take Pride In Being Whoever The Fuck You Want To Be, Throw Your Fist In The Air In Solidarity, And Shout Viva La Punk, Just One Life, Anarchy.”
Another big part of the ingredients of a great song is the ability of sing loud and sing proud along with it. Florida’s Against Me! are masters at the sing along punk rock anthem. Having had the immense pleasure of seeing them live this past November I realised just how many of their songs make you want to sing as loudly as possible no matter what the subject matter. The song We Laugh At Danger And Break All The Rules was the first Against Me! song I ever fell in love with, largely because of brilliant chorus and the moment towards the end of the track when the music drops out and there is a great moment of just gang vocals bellowing out the chorus before one big final blast. It really feels me with energy every time I hear it. Dropkick Murphys are another band you really excel in the art of the sing along punk rock anthem. The Celtic punk rockers who boast seven members in their line up all contribute vocals during choruses and this really helps give their music an everyman feel of everyone in the room being equal. If you go all the way back to their 1998 debut Do Or Die and follow their musical path past 2005s The Warriors Code, which features the big hit Shipping Up To Boston and keep going to their last album, 2013s Signed And Sealed In Blood, so many of their songs feature massive choruses that everyone gets involved with. This has got to be a big reason why the Dropkicks are such a popular live band.
Whilst I was talking about Against Me! I spoke about a song building towards a big finale. This is something I really love in a song. Similar to electronic music when a beat drops and the party really kicks in it’s the same in a punk rock song when the music slows down and slowly builds into one final last party. Two songs spring to mind straight away when I think of great building moments. The first is Change On Me by Washington punks RVIVR. This fantastic song about changing and growing for the better features a very long musical interlude and slowly builds towards a massive final chorus. Even though the music never drops out the lengthy time between vocals really adds to a sense on anticipation and importance for that final vocal blast on the track. The other is Australia’s The Smith Street Band. I can’t think of any other band who can take you on such a roller coaster of highs and lows with their music. The epic I Love Life from 2014s Throw Me In The River (reviewed here) as an example of how to build a song into a massive full blown party of a ending. The song starts at a very high tempo as front man Wil Wagner storms through the opening couple of verses before a middle section of building begins. There is a pounding drum beat, rumbling bass and duelling guitars, as the song builds more musical layers are added including keyboards before you get to the point of climax the whole song just erupts into one joyous event which includes a massive chorus and some lovely harmonious “oh-oh-ohs.”
So there we go, that’s what I think makes the perfect punk rock song. The short version is, hook me in, give me something to care about, make me want to dance and build towards something big.
Now listening to Good Nurse by The Constantines