It's tempting to believe that punk rock exploded from the sewers of New York's Lower East Side in the late 1970s, spreading to infect London and Los Angeles and Boston and all points in between, morphing into hardcore. But the reality is that punk rock sits squarely on a rock n' roll continuum, and has more in common with the original rock n' roll of the 1950s than the blustery, prog and disco-influenced stuff that was hitting radio in the 70s. The Dictators represent one of the links in that chain.
They're technically 'proto-punk,' but they're a formative moment in the scene, connecting New York City's ratty kids with The Stooges and the MC5, and reaching back further to surf rock and the crazy, stupid and horny music of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. The Dictators' first album, The Dictators Go Girl Crazy, has a direct connection to that era, with a driving cover of California Sun. They also have snotty, ironic version of I Got You Babe, staking a claim for the future of punk attitude.
But it's (I Love) Cars and Girls that bridges the eras best. It sounds like it could have been released in 1960, but has a chugging punk style added on it. The lyrics are simple and silly, with a stutter that calls back to The Who's early, punkish days.
The Dictators Go Girl Crazy didn't sell, and the band broke up after the album was released. They got together soon after; band mascot and roadie (billed as 'Secret Weapon') Handsome Dick Manitoba slowly moved to the center of the group, eventually becoming the lead singer. Handsome Dick would bounce out of the eventual final break-up pretty nicely, now operating a bar on the LES called Manitoba's (it's not the greatest). Ross "The Boss" Friedman went on to found Manowar and produce early Anthrax records, bridging the gap between punk and metal.
The band started with Andy "Adny" Shernoff, who grew up in Queens and went to grade school with the legendary smack addict and punk prodigy Johnny Thunders. While at school at SUNY New Paltz he started a zine with a true punk attitude, Teenage Wasteland Gazette, and even had Lester Bangs contributing. The Dictators formed at the state school before coming back down to New York City to quietly fuck shit up.
The Dictators have never quite gotten their due, even though they feel like one of the great prisms of 70s rock. Let's put it this way: Bruce Springsteen does the countdown on Faster Louder from their third album, Bloodbrothers, a song that gives punk its basic rallying cry.