Dave Laing has been researching and writing about popular music, its business, and its politics for over forty years. His books include The Sound of Our Time (1969), One Chord Wonders (1985), and Buddy Holly (2010). He was a coeditor of The Faber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music (1990) and the Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World (2003). He has contributed to several edited collections including Global Pop, Local Language (2003), The Popular Music Studies Reader, (2006) and The Cambridge Companion to The Beatles (2009). He is associate editor of the journal Popular Music History and an honorary research fellow at the University of Liverpool.

TV Smith was founder, member, singer, and songwriter for The Adverts, who formed in late 1976, and became one of the leading bands in the first wave of British punk rock. Fiercely independent and determinedly embodying the original spirit of punk rock, TV continues to tour the world, bringing his epic solo show to ever-increasing audiences.

One Chord Wonders: Power and Meaning in Punk Rock by Dave Laing

Originally published in 1985, One Chord Wonders was the first full-length study of the glory years of British punk rock. 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. The rise of punk is also linked to the febrile political atmosphere of Britain in the mid-1970s.

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. Another section analyses the influence of British punk in Europe prior to the music's division into "real punk" and "post-punk" genres.

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.



  • "A clear, unprejudiced account of a difficult subject."

    – Jon Savage, author of England's Dreaming




What just happened? That's what I was thinking when my band the Adverts broke up at the end of 1979 after two years of being in the forefront of the UK punk scene. What was punk anyway? I had been writing songs since I was at school, I'd had various bands that went nowhere, and then suddenly it all changed. I wasn't just in a band anymore—I was in a punk band, part of a movement that I was helping create even as I was simultaneously swept up in it. People were suddenly interested in what my band was doing, even though we were just beginners and as musicians strictly amateur. Now—and this had been inconceivable just a year earlier—the question of how well or badly we could play didn't matter anymore, apart from to a few old-school critics who were clinging desperately to the sinking ship of pre-1977 rock. For the rest of us, the so-called professional musicians had nothing we wanted, nothing we could relate to. The doors had opened for people with ideas; the renegades and mavericks who took an alternative view of the way bands should look and sound, and what their songs could be about. Lack of conventional musical talent was a spur to try harder, not a handicap. In January 1977, within months of forming the Adverts, I found myself on stage at the Roxy club in London in the company of kids—on stage and off—who were desperate for music made by people like themselves, 'normal' people talking about 'normal' lives—not an untouchable and self-indulgent rock 'n' roll elite living a life of absurd extravagance paid for out of their audience's pockets. Many of those watching us that night went on to form bands themselves, no longer intimidated. After just a few gigs we were signed by Stiff Records and were able to put out a single, 'One Chord Wonders'. By the summer of 1977 we were in the UK top twenty with 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes' and appeared on mainstream television's Top Of The Pops, previously the heavily defended territory of the old guard music business, the very people who a short time earlier had scorned punk rock and actively tried to stop its progress.

So, what happened? Why now? What led up to this? What had changed? And for a movement that still has powerful resonance nearly forty years later, why did it all fall apart so quickly? These are some of the questions Dave Laing addresses with impressive rigour and objectivity in this fascinating book, and in developing his argument tells us something about not just punk rock but also the social and political landscape that brought it about, as well as giving us a razor-sharp insight into music, and the music business, in general. There are many books that describe what happened during the punk rock era. A few even dare to ask questions about it. Here at last is one that provides some answers.

TV Smith