“Punk Revolution NYC: The Velvet Underground, The New York Dolls And The CBGBs Set”

By on November 3, 2016

The epic Punk Revolution NYC: The Velvet Underground, The New York Dolls And The CBGBs Set — a three-hour documentary on the history of New York City’s punk rock movement, now streaming on our Night Flight Plus channel — covers nearly every band who defined the era, including the Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls, Television, Suicide, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, the Heartbreakers, the Ramones, Blondie and much more.

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The 2011 documentary — from Prism Films, distributed by our partner, MVD — features incredible performance footage, rare archive photos and lots of cool visual elements, not to mention that you’ll also be hearing the songs that made the NYC music scene so influential.

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The comprehensive story is told by narrator Thomas Arnold and through interviews with Richard Hell and Ivan Julien of Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Richard Lloyd from Television (a band Hell was in as well), Suicide’s Alan Vega, Gary Valentine from Blondie, Elda Gentile (aka Elda Stiletto of the Stilettos, a sort of “glitter doo-wop” band formed with Debbie Harry and Chris Stein who morphed into Blondie after the other female singers left the band), ex-Ramones manger Danny Fields, Warhol acolytes Jayne County and Leee Black Childers, and producer Craig Leon, who helped capture the sound of the Lower East Side of NYC in the late 1970s by producing the debut albums by the Ramones, Blondie and Suicide (who were, incidentally, the first band to identify themselves as a “punk” band on their flyers and posters advertising their NYC shows).

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There are also onscreen interviews with photographer Roberta Bayley, and writers/biographers/ Victor Bockris, writers Mark Paytress, Simon Reynolds, Richie Unterberger, Robert Christgau and likely a few we’ve missed, but seriously there’s so many perspectives here that you’re likely to get as much of the complete picture here in this three-hour documentary as you’ll find anywhere.

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The venues — like CBGBs, the Dom (where the Velvets played, later to become the Electric Circus) and others — are also featured prominently for their part in the city’s musical history, too.

The documentary also helps to define just how different the New York City scene was from what was happening on the west coast, in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and how the hippified sound of the Laurel Canyon folk scene was, on the surface, just about as far as you could get from the seedier Big Apple scene all the way across the country.

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The bands all talk about how they, in their own ways, rejected the sensitive singer-songwriter mellow vibe coming from the Left Coast folk-rock scene at the time, a claim verified by the Village Voice critic Robert Christgau, who tells us:

“These are pop people. Folk people are into learning how to play those licks they heard on the Harry Smith Anthology, pop people don’t think that way. Andy Warhol himself was, on the surface, a denial of technique, a denial of self-expression. For Andy Warhol there was a sense that art was conceptual, and that is a very New York idea. This is the intellectual center of the country and we care about concepts here. We take them seriously and are willing to go further with them… so sure, the notion you can make great rock ‘n’ roll without being good at your instrument comes right out of that conceptual idea.”

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Many of the artists — who were influential in their own ways — talk about the impact and audacity of some of their contemporaries, like Jayne County, who talks about how “genius” Alan Vega’s Suicide was (a band that had no guitars or drums):

“Suicide were room-emptiers and people purposely put them on at the end of the night because they knew the minute Suicide went on, the room would empty. People ran out.”

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Here’s more from the DVD box-cover text:

When, in 1964, an in-house songwriter for the Pickwick label was introduced to the Welsh viola player from avant-garde composer La Monte Young’s group, few predicted the profound effect this coming together would have on the development of global rock music. But before the year was out this unlikely couple had formed a band, hooked up with Pop –Art supremo Andy Warhol and, 12 months on, composed and were recording a collection of songs that many believe ‘started it all’.

It was later claimed that The Velvet Underground and Nico – for this is the record in question – only sold 5,000 copies upon its release, but everyone who bought it went out and formed a band. Certainly David Johannsen, Richard Hell, Tom Verlaine, Alan Vega, Wayne County, most of the Ramones, half of Blondie, Patti Smith and David Byrne did just that – the rest, as they say, is history.

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Watch Punk Revolution NYC: The Velvet Underground, The New York Dolls And The CBGBs Set and other music documentaries — we’ve got a full selection of titles covering lots of genres, including punk, new wave, jazz, classic rock, indie rock and much more — on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.