May 18, 2012  |   By

What is punk? The very question seems foolish. Any attempt to pin punk down to a rigid set of criteria is antithetical to its very nature. Punk is an attitude, a way of life, a lens through which the world is viewed, but in the end, punk is very subjective in nature. In that way, punk is very much like the old definition of pornography: You know it when you see it.

And I see it in every nanosecond of this commercial from the early 1990s for a two-disc compilation called PUNK!

Kudos to the producers of this ad for hiring the actors straight out of the crowd at a Los Crudos or Chaos UK show. Their baffling wigs and impeccable hygiene lend this ad an unimpeachable air of authenticity.

Some people can get sucked into the internecine battles between sub-genres like oi or crust or grindcore. PUNK! sidesteps this squabbling by giving an admirable overview of all of the types of the genre, from the artsy, intellectual New York-style punk of Crowded House and Erasure, to the full-on slamdance anthems of Thompson Twins and Huey Lewis and the News, to the revolutionary political hardcore of Culture Club and riot grrrl Toni Basil. Plus, nothing screams “Assassinate Reagan!” louder than Huey Lewis’ blazer and repeated namechecking in the fiction of Bret Easton Ellis.

Above all, I applaud PUNK! for doing a great service to music–nay, mankind. A compilation like PUNK! was, for many young people in the early 1990s, their first exposure to the relentless, take-no-prisoners style of bands like The Romantics and Tommy Tutone. Back in the Pleistocene pre-internet days, it was so much harder to find non-mainstream music. If you lived nowhere near a major city, or a decent record store, punk might have just been a rumor to you. I wonder how many future Joey Ramones and Ian Mackayes had their lives changed forever when they ordered PUNK! with their mom’s credit card, dropped it in their Sony Discman, and didn’t feel the least bit disappointed or conned.

Thanks to the extremely punk Evan “Funk” Davies for bringing this to my attention.

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