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From the Velvets to the Voidoids: A Pre-Punk History for a Post-Punk World

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  1,547 ratings  ·  55 reviews
In a thorough chronicle of the American underground punk and New Wave rock scene, noted music critic Heylin explores the origins and evolution of this fiery music phase of the '60s and '70s--from the Velvet Underground to the Ramones to the Talking Heads.
Paperback, 400 pages
Published June 1st 1993 by Penguin Books (first published 1993)
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3.90  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,547 ratings  ·  55 reviews

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Apr 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: New York punk junkie rockers
Shelves: rock-sleaze
"New York Rocker" was a cute newspaper but this is better. Cuts through all the nicety nice about the groovy CBGB's scene and lets you know what Blondie and Television and Richard Hell and Pere Ubu and Suicide were really going through. And Kiss and Lydia Lunch are in here, too. No stone unturned!
Sep 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Clinton Heylin's From the Velvets to the Voidoids: The Birth of American Punk Rock was a captivating read that, not unlike Patti Smith's autobiographies or Greil Marcus's study of the world of Bob Dylan's Basement Tape sessions with The Band, transported me as I read it to another historical time and place, one with which I was vaguely familiar but much less so than I had at first thought. The book dealt with four periods in the development of American "punk" music (a label many of those associa ...more
Sep 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art-and-music
I read this years ago, but decided to write a review because it would look nice among my other books on my virtual Goodreads shelf. This book, along with "Please Kill Me" and "We Got the Neutron Bomb," completes the list of essential histories of 70s American punk. Unlike the other two oral histories, only about half of the text of From the Velvets is direct quotes, the other half being the author’s own history-telling. The result is that there is more of an argument to this book. Heylin makes t ...more
Oct 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: street walkin' cheetahs/ hot topic employees
This is an exceedingly decent account of one of the most exciting times in music history. This is when music was being disassembled and the raw energies were being extracted and amplified. Mr. Heylin does a commendable job of weaving authoratative, objective accounts of American punk rock's development with oral histories from some of the scene's all-stars (Debbie Harry, Richard Hell, Patti Smith etc.. etc..). I feel that the only downfall is that the narration sometimes works to sterelize the n ...more
Oct 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
i got into this book a lot. it covers a lot of the same ground as please kill me (which i also love) but also goes into the cleveland scene which is really cool to read about. its less gossipy and kind of more music nerdy than please kill me. there's more about what was going through people's heads about their music, why they recorded a certain way, music-biz choices/struggles, what they were listening to, that kind of stuff. i thought it was pretty inspiring and thought provoking. good pictures ...more
Mar 26, 2009 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed this but I can't give four stars to a book of mostly interviews, it feels like cheating.
The most important thing I learned from this book is that "Chinese Rocks" was co-written by Richard Hell and Dee Dee Ramone. Johnny Thunders had nothing to do with it, neither did Peter Laughner or any of those other Cleveland guys. **cue "The More You Know" star graphic**
Edward Sullivan
Good chronicle of the early years of the American Punk scene.
Not as fun to read or as absolutely essential as Please Kill Me, but definitely worthwhile.
Angela Nicole
Dec 24, 2018 rated it liked it
"From the Velvets to the Voidoids" was average at best. Heylin has some man crush on Richard Hell. Apparently, he got told off by one of the Dead Boys for insulting the punk bands that weren't "artsy" in an article he wrote.
Adam Kanter
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
Lot of interesting bands in here, found a lot of good music. Felt a little disjointed and feel like it could’ve been organized better.
Ogre Whiteside
Aug 08, 2017 rated it did not like it
Art over rock axe grinding by a pompous ass.
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Good review of the CBGB and Max scenes in 70's New York. Must read if you like Richard Hell, Television, Pere Ubu and the likes!
Halle-fuckin-lujah. I finished this damn thing. Why would it take me nearly three months to complete a single book? Glad you asked. I was getting the itch to read a music history book--something I did regularly as a teen in the '90s, but an activity that fell largely by the wayside when the internet really became A Thing and also aided by the fact I spent my late-teens to 20s working in rekkid stos and got a lot of it just from hangin' out with friends. But I wanted to do it right. I wanted to e ...more
Perry Whitford
Aug 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A breakneck history of some of my favourite American bands such as The Velvet Underground, MC5, The Stooges, Blondie, Television and The Patti Smith Group. With just a few detours through Detroit, Cleveland and the odd jaunt over to California, this is essentially a New York story, born in various basement and loft dives in the Bowery and eventually focused around the legendary (but inappropriately named) Country Bluegrass and Blues Club, or CBGBs.
Heylin distinguishes American punk as older than
Feb 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: scenes, music
For those who want an accurate timeline of the history of punk in the "who came first, the British or Americans" vein, this is a book for you. Even though it has been years since I read Please Kill Me, I seem to recall that book being more of a page turner in terms of sensational anecdotes and eyewitness accounts.

That's not to say this book is boring, just a bit on the dry side considering we are talking about bands like the MC5, The Stooges and the seeming progenitors of all modern music, the V
Jeff Chappell
Jul 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Never Mind the Maggots, Here's Patti Smith and Television. That's what I would have called it.

I actually read this version of the book. And for some reason Goodreads decided to eat my review ...

So here we are again. A relatively even and unbiased account of the proto punks of New York, Cleveland and Detroit that gave rise to American punk and New Wave (which, despite what some people think, had roots and influences distinct from that which arose across the pond). At times it is a little dry an
Jan 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Muhr
Recommended to Jeff by: Slade
Shelves: non-fiction
I haven't "read" the discography, but i'll prolly go through it eventually.

The 1992 edition of this book is really well written, with a balanced and mostly objective perspective of the bands and the "scene." The Postlude (added in 2004), though, almost put me off the whole thing. Heylin's voice morphed into that of a snooty, snotty, jerky know-it-all with a chip on his shoulder. It's crazy to think a person won't change in 12 years, but here's clear evidence that they do, even in their writing.

Bob Schnell
Feb 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
A thorough history of Eastern US "punk" from the Stooges to the Voidoids, this book has many details that were news to me. Well-written and as authoritative as any book of this kind can be, it only lacks the sort of rock-n-roll excess stories that would have given it a fifth star. The artists that get the most coverage, Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, Television and Rocket from the Tombs all benefit from the author's obvious admiration. The postlude of the edition I read, written some 12 years ...more
I'll just basically sit around and read histories of punk rock all day. I didn't find this book quite as engaging as Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, although Heylin hints in the postscript that this is because Please Kill Me is "a salutary tale of drugs and sex and rock & roll, in that order," so there's that -- but I have to give Heylin credit here for putting the music and artistry ahead of the more salacious details, and letting those more relevant elements of the mus ...more
Jun 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People who think the words Cleveland and Punk Rock don't go together.
Really this is essential reading for anyone who wants to go beyond the impoverished ramones-clash-sex pistols-nirvana(and if we're going to be uber snarky (and we are (let's just call this my little chamber of snark))-arcade fire)narrative of punk that's floating around out there. Someone should reissue this with accompanying cd's. People we're doing some very strange and interesting things in middle america circa the mid-70's even if Peter Laughner does sound disappointingly like Bob Dylan... R ...more
Josh Stewart
Jun 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
It's what it says, it's awesome!

This created my dream of time traveling back to musical scenes that were so awesome, with such impact; that I (who was born thousands of miles away at about the moment this was going on) can still can feel the effects of this musical movement. Reminds you how you could have on a single weekend seen Television, the Talking Heads, The Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, and maybe Richard Hell and the Voidoids, all in a single weekend, all at one 2 legendary venues. Prett
James E
Aug 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
This book was pretty great. The author presents a lot of biographical information from a lot of research and interviews. It compare favorably, I think, to the Legs McNeil book. You can relate to the subjects a little more in this book because they are presented as humans with flaws.

My only advice is skip the afterword. The author included a bunch of update commentary to unnecessarily attack his critics and competing authors. Why bother? Not a classy move, it diminishes the book.
Ed Wagemann
Apr 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Why Everything You Think You Know About Punk Is Completely Wrong:

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Oct 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Exceptionally good overview of the East Coast punk scene and how it came to be. Readable, insightful and opinionated. The 2004 add-on postscript comes off as a tad bitter and pissy, but even that’s not far off the course. Very useable appendixes too. If you have any interest in the scene, the personalities and especially the music, this is the book to get.
Matthew Holder
Oct 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This isn't the great book on this subject that should exist, like England's Dreamin does for British punk and Our Band Could Be Your Life doesn't for 1980s American indie music, but is readable, well-researched, and covers a lot of ground. It's useful for any person who loves this kind of music, while the other two are worth it for anybody that likes really good books.
Apr 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is literally everything you have ever wanted to know about NYC punk and it adequately describes just how influential Television and Richard Hell were in creating the scene, a fact often overlooked by those who detail the Ramones, Blondie and Patti Smith.

This oral history is perfect and beautiful and I want to cry salty tears of perfection on to it every day for the rest of my life.
matt. singer.
Nov 08, 2007 rated it liked it
I already knew about the biggies -- the Velvets, the Stooges, Patti Smith -- when I checked this book out of the library God knows how many years ago, but this was probably the first place I ever even read the names the Voidoids, Suicide and Pere Ubu. That makes this book rather seminal for me.
Jeff Jackson
Mar 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: punk-rock-etc
Three and a half stars. The narrative gets a bit wobbly at times, but the vivid oral history about the NYC scene and especially the unheralded-but-fascinating Cleveland scene more than compensates. Great source of info for anyone wanting a wide-angle lens on the development punk in the U.S.
Brian Hutzell
Jun 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: punk, music
Unlike many writers who worship at the altar of punk rock, author Heylin is not afraid to factor age, time, and talent into his assessment of the music. Though focusing on New York, he also includes information on the often overlooked music scene in Ohio.
Jun 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Good history of an interesting musical era. I like that he included the Cleveland bands along with the NYC/CBGB's and Max's crowd. Gave me a better understanding of Richard Hell's contributions to the scene than any other history I've read. Well done.
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“An essential difference between British and American punk bands can be found in their respective views of rock & roll history. The British bands took a deliberately anti-intellectual stance, refuting any awareness of, or influence from, previous exponents of the form. The New York and Cleveland bands saw themselves as self-consciously drawing on and extending an existing tradition in American rock & roll.
A second difference between the British and American punk scenes was their relative gestation periods. The British weekly music press was reviewing Sex Pistols shows less than three months after their cacophonous debut. Within a year of the Pistols' first performance they had a record deal, with the 'major' label EMI. Within six months of their first gigs the Damned and the Clash also secured contracts, the latter with CBS. The CBGBs scene went largely ignored by the American music industry until 1976 -- two years after the debuts of Television, the Ramones and Blondie. Even then only Television signed to an established label.”
“If the early English and LA punk bands shared a common sound, the New York bands just shared the same clubs. As such, while the English scene never became known as the '100 Club' sound, CBGBs was the solitary common component in the New York bands' development, transcended once they had outgrown the need to play the club. Even their supposed musical heritage was not exactly common -- the Ramones preferring the Dolls/Stooges to Television's Velvets/Coltrane to Blondie's Stones/Brit-Rock. Though the scene had been built up as a single movement, when commercial implications began to sink in, the differences that separated the bands became far more important than the similarities which had previously bound them together.
In the two years following the summer 1975 festival, CBGBs had become something of an ideological battleground, if not between the bands then between their critical proponents. The divisions between a dozen bands, all playing the same club, all suffering the same hardships, all sharing the same love of certain central bands in the history of rock & roll, should not have been that great. But the small scene very quickly partitioned into art-rockers and exponents of a pure let's-rock aesthetic.”
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