Category: 80s punk

“The Decline of Western Civilization” 1980. Slash Records. Today, November 7th, is Alice Bag’s birthday (b. Alicia Armendariz, 1958) and the only recording we have of her and her band, The Bags/Alice Bag Band, is on this soundtrack from the film directed by Penelope Spheeris which documented the ‘79-’80 LA punk scene. Quite recently I read Alice Bag’s autobiography Violence Girl (from Feral House publishing) and it was a can’t-put-it-down read. She was an integral part of the LA music scene, starting off as a super-fan of David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and Elton John before starting her own band and hanging out with members of the Germs, The Weirdos, etc. She spends a short chapter describing her experience with the recording of the track (“Gluttony”) for Decline of Western Civilization: “The filming of the performance was an ordeal. It was supposed to be a live show, but because several bands were being filmed and there were five bands on the bill, it became a marathon. Fights broke out backstage as people tried to change the order of performance. In a small are overflowing with testosterone, I was the only woman and nobody was fucking with me…We were nearly out of steam even before we went on. The show had gone on far too long. The film crew was packing up equipment, members of the audience looked spent and it was hard to get excited about playing, but we went out and tried to revive the night. I knew it wasn’t our best show, but it wasn’t our worst, either.”

The soundtrack features several other prominent LA punk bands (all filmed at various locations and dates from December 1979 through May 1980). There’s a great version of “White Minority” by Black Flag, a messy version of “Manimal” by the Germs (are there any versions of any Germs live songs that aren’t messy?) and X play a really excellent set that includes “Beyond and Back,” “Johny Hit and Run Paulene” and “We’re Desperate.” Circle Jerks have four songs (the best “Back Against the Wall”) and Fear have three including “I Don’t Care About You,” “I Love Livin’ In the City” and “Fear Anthem.” There’s also a song by Catholic Discipline (“Underground Babylon”) but I never really heard much by them beyond this record and don’t care for that track. 

Subhumans “From the Cradle to the Grave” 1983. Bluurg Records. 80′s UK hardcore punk. From the Cradle to the Grave was Subhumans’ second full-length album (they had several EP’s from ‘81 and ‘82), released the same year as their first, The Day the Country Died. I’ve been putting together a mix of UK punk tracks from the 70′s and early-to-mid 80′s and realized that I didn’t really know much about Subhumans and haven’t listened to their music much at all. As I spin Side A, which is filled with mostly short-n-fast hardcore tracks like “Where’s the Freedom?” and “Reality is Waiting for a Bus” (but also some proto-grunge-metal-prog (kinda Black Sabbath-y)/punk songs like “Wake Up Screaming” which clocks in at over 5 minutes), it strikes me how different their sound is as compared to the other UK punk I’ve been listening today. Except for the British accent and word choices (ie “advert” instead of “ad” and mentioning the queen), From the Cradle to the Grave could have come out of the early 80′s SoCal hardcore scene. “Adversity,” my favorite song on the album, has an infectious beat that would have fit in any mosh pit then and even into the late 80′s/early 90′s grunge scene. Side B is one long song, the title track “From the Cradle to the Grave” which lasts a whopping 17 minutes: unheard of for most punk for sure and filled with tempo (lightning fast to relaxed), key (major to minor – lots of minor!) and style (punk to reggae to metal) changes. The Subhumans continued to evolve their sound for one more full-length after From the Cradle to the Grave before dissolving in ‘85 due to stylistic differences (and then, of course, got together for reunion shows and another record in 2007). 

The Replacements “Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash” 1981. Twin/Tone Records. Today, December 31st, is Replacements’ vocalist, rhythm guitarist and primary songwriter Paul Westerberg’s 59th birthday (b. 1959). Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash was the band’s first studio LP and is considered to be one of the vanguards of the Midwest 80′s punk sound, though for the most part I’d call it power pop with a punk mentality and some Sex Pistol-ish riffs (the LP’s cover states it should be “filed[d] under power trash” – also accurate). I’ll admit to never having been a big Replacements fan (partly because I’m not fond of Westerberg’s voice) but I do have a fondness for most things coming out of Minneapolis, a city I visited frequently as a teenager in the 80′s and we continue to go to around once a year for shows and friends (and a few good record stores). Of the handful of Replacements albums we have, this is probably my favorite, with songs that reference fellow-MN’ers Hüsker Dü (“Somethin to Dü”), New York Dolls’ and Heartbreakers’ Johnny Thunders (“Johnny’s Gonna Die”) and a totally 80′s Midwest punk pastime “Hangin Downtown.” 

Allmusic’s review is a long-read but really great and I definitely have at least a bit more appreciation for The Replacements having read it. Here it is: “Part of the Replacements’ appeal always was that they didn’t quite fit into any tidy category and nowhere was that truer than on their 1981 debut, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash. Falling over themselves to fit into the Minneapolis hardcore scene, the ‘Mats played fast and loose, which was part of the problem – they were too loose, lacking the discipline to fit within hardcore, which even in ’81 was adhering to the loud-fast rules that would later morph into straight-edge. Then again, that was a common problem in the Twin Cities, as Hüsker Dü also were too big and blustery to be a standard hardcore band, but where the Huskers traded in violence and fury at this early stage, the Replacements wallowed in cheap thrills. Danger still pulsated in their music, but the group didn’t inflict emotional damage: they were a party spinning out of control, getting sloppier with every beer swilled. The messiness on Sorry Ma is hardly confined to the cheap, thin recording or the band’s playing – they sound as if they’re stumbling upon each other as they fumble for the next chord – but how the songs pile up one after another, most not managing to get close to the two-minute mark. Such brevity could be dubbed as hardcore, but apart from the volume and speed, this doesn’t feel like hardcore: there’s too much beer and boogie for that. Then, there’s also the fact that the Replacements reveled in mid-American junk culture, with Paul Westerberg boasting that he’d bought himself a headache the very year that Black Flag sneered that they had nothing better to do then having a bottle of brew as they watched the TV. Neither did the Replacements, but they sang about this with no disdain, as they enjoyed being “Shiftless When Idle,” as one of the best songs here called it. This could be called defiant if it seemed like the ‘Mats were raging against anything besides garden-variety suburban troubles, as there’s nothing that attacks other punkers (quite the opposite; there are love letters to Johnny Thunders and Hüsker Dü), and even when Westerberg is chronicling Midwestern ennui, there’s a sense of affection to his laments, as if he loves the place and loves acting like an angry young crank. This strain of premature curmudgeonly humor is undercut by the boundless energy of the band, so happy to make noise they don’t care if they’re recycling old-time rock & roll riffs that are closer to amped-up Rockpile than the Ramones, as there’s more swing to the rhythms than that – swing that careens wildly and madly, but swings all the same. And that’s what made the Replacements seem so different with their debut – they didn’t fit anywhere within American punk, but there’s no defiance here; there’s a celebration of who and what they are that’s genuinely, infectiously guileless. It may not quite sound like any other American punk record but Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash is one of the best LPs the entire scene produced in the early ’80s.”

Social Distortion “Mainliner (Wreckage From the Past)” 1995. Time Bomb Recordings. A collection of singles and b-sides recorded in 1981. From Mike Ness’ liner notes “These recordings were all made when we were in high school or just getting out. Punk rock was mostly played at parties; rarely could we get shows at club or even at halls. At the time, just having short hair pretty much guaranteed getting into a fight. Anyway, this stuff reflects the time we made it – young, raw and completely unafraid of taking chances. You’d never believe it now but people were actually scared of punk being played.” 

Social Distortion rerecorded “Moral Threat” and “All the Answers” for their first LP, Mommy’s Little Monster and “Justice for All” appeared as “It’s the Law” on their ‘88 release Prison Bound, but other than those tracks the album is stocked with some great early singles. Two of my favorites appear twice on Mainliner: “1945″ and “Playpen.” First up are the Posh Boy versions for each track, recorded in April of ‘81 as a three-piece with Mike Ness on guitar and vocals, Dennis Danell on bass and John “Carrot” Stevenson on drums. The Posh Boy cut of “1945″ was part of the 1985 comp Rodney on the ROQ Vol. 2  and Posh Boy included “Playpen” on its 1987 The Future Looks Bright comp. Social Distortion recorded the second variations of the songs in October ‘81 for 13th Floor Records, now as a four-piece with Ness again on guitar and vocals, Danell on guitar, Brent Liles on bass and Derek O’Brien on drums. The tracks “Justice for All,” “All the Answers,” “Mainliner” and “Moral Threat” also appeared on The Future Looks Bright.  Mainliner also has a great punked up cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb.”  

From Allmusic: “Mainliner: Wreckage From the Past is a collection of early singles and rare B-sides from Orange County punk legends Social Distortion. Recorded while they were still in their teens, this early material shows no signs of the country-influenced sound that would appear later in the band’s career. The main style displayed here is pure punk fury with short, fast songs, lyrics about teen rebellion, and plenty of attitude to go around. “Playpen,” “Moral Threat,” and “All the Answers” speak of the plight of the early punk rockers who took major abuse from all forms of authority back in a period where the musical style was still considered dangerous. “Mainliner” is a not-at-all subtle tale of heroin abuse. A cover of “Under My Thumb” shows early on that the Rolling Stones were just as much an influence on Social Distortion as the Sex Pistols and the Clash. This collection is definitely intended for dedicated fans and is more of a history lesson than a proper album. Although extremely raw and a bit naïve, becoming familiar with this material will help fans understand where the band came from and appreciate their point of view on stronger, later material.”

The Crucifucks “Wisconsin” 1987. Alternative Tentacles Records, recorded at Smart Studios in Madison, WI. Just picked up this Midwestern punk album this weekend, though it’s actually a second-time purchase; I bought it back in ‘87 but gave it away as a Christmas present (nothing shows the spirit of holiday giving more than a Crucifucks record). If you weren’t in the Midwest in the 80′s, and into punk, you may not know of The Crucifucks (being from Wisconsin, we certainly did and they played all-ages shows around Northeastern Wisconsin). From Discogs: “The Crucifucks were a hardcore punk rock band from Lansing, MI, USA, formed in 1981 by vocalist Doc Dart. The group was known for Dart’s shrill voice, anti-authoritarian lyrics, and extreme antagonism. Unusual for a participant in the mostly youth-orientated hardcore scene, Dart was 28 years old when the band started. The band’s original drummer was Steve Shelly, who eventually ended up as the permanent drummer for Sonic Youth.” Wisconsin was the band’s second album and they broke up soon after its release, though Dart formed a new iteration of the band briefly in the 90′s and released their final album L.D. Eye in ‘96. 

Wisconsin is fast-paced 80′s punk with Dr. Demento-meets-Jay-Tiller (Tiller is from Wisconsin’s Couch Flambeau) level vocals, which is a bit off-putting, borderline ear-bleeding but it does make The Crucifucks unique. The musicianship is surprisingly competent, with lots of big rhythm and remarkable, almost prog-rock level hypnotic guitar riffs and solos (ie “Concession Stand”). There’s also some crazy experimentation, especially on the epic track “When the Top Comes Off” where all of the above-mentioned characteristics are present (and the screechy grating vocals are on overdrive). The tracks “Artificial Competition” and “The Savior” both have great grooves but for home-state solidarity, I’m going to say the title track “Wisconsin” is my favorite on the album though it’s probably the least-punk track on the LP with a rather delightful lilting jangly guitar that morphs into a great blues riff (but it still has Dart’s nails-on-chalkboard screech). 

Dead Kennedys “Bedtime for Democracy” November 1986 and current mood if things don’t go well for today’s election day. Released on Alternative Tentacles Records, gatefold with “newspaper” insert, which is eerily current for 2018 with the title “Fuck Facts!” and the tagline “What You Don’t Know Helps Us Hurt You.” 

Bedtime for Democracy was DK’s fourth and final studio LP; the band broke up soon after its release. It’s 80′s hyper-political hardcore punk that focuses on anti-Reaganism (“Gone With My Wind”), anti-militarism (“Rambozo the Clown”), anti-fascism (“Where Do You Draw the Line”), anti-capitalism (“Fleshdunce”) anti-censorship (“Triumph of the Swill”) and anti-conformity, particularly directed at the punk scene (“Chickenshit Conformist”). Though obviously 80′s focused, Jello Biafra had a knack for seeing into the future (or maybe not much has changed) – see the track “The Great Wall” with its chorus “We’ll build a Great Wall around our power” or the toxic masculinity and dishonesty that has been venerated to the highest levels of power in our land – see “Macho Insecurity” and “Lie Detector.” 

Dead Kennedys’ Bedtime for Democracy certainly isn’t my favorite DK album, nor is it their best – though it did go to #1 on the UK Indie chart – but it certainly feels good to blast it very very loud today. Allmusic says about the record, “The Dead Kennedys go out in a blaze of snarling, defiant glory in their final studio release. They drub a bushel basket’s worth of entrenched interests, including scientists, the military, the power hungry, macho attitudes, classicism, lie detectors, Reagan and his economic policies, the press, the entertainment industry, and the commercialization of rock and revolutionary attitudes. The album’s manic speed punk style recalls In God We Trust Inc., particularly on the frenetic cover of Johnny Paycheck’s hit “Take This Job and Shove It.” When the tempo slows, a few songs resemble frantic rockabilly; of these, “Hop With the Jetset” lampoons the privileged classes, “I Spy” savages government agents, and “Where Do Ya Draw the Line” is a plea in favor of anarchy. The quiet, furtive “D.M.S.O.” is a highly atypical number strongly resembling the theme to The Pink Panther. The lengthy, anthemic “Cesspools in Eden” is a hard rock number with unusual chord changes and lyrics railing against toxic waste; similarly, “Chickenshit Conformist” alternates slow and hyperfast sections and sports wide-ranging verses that constitute a scathing indictment of the rock music industry. As usual, the rushed hardcore numbers often garble or swallow up the well-written lyrics (if you want people to follow you into revolution, your ideas need to be intelligible). The album cover sports witheringly disparaging artwork; also included in this release are two muckraking newspapers, one containing clip art, and the other written articles about the obscenity trial embroiling the band at that point. While it’s not totally successful, at least the Dead Kennedys had the satisfaction of going out on their own terms. It’s all well worth hearing.”

D.I. “Tragedy Again, 1989. Triple X Records, orange vinyl. The fourth LP from So-Cal punks D.I. who had a fluctuating lineup but always constant was singer Casey Royer (formerly of Adolescents and Social Distortion). Tragedy Again saw the arrival (and then departure in ‘91, rejoined briefly in ‘99) of guitarist Sam Elliot, who replaced Mark Cerneka. Tragedy Again was the last LP with John “Bosco” Calabro on guitar; Calabro had originally joined on bass in ‘84 but later switched to guitar; he and Cerneka replaced Rikk and Alfie Agnew (Adolescents, Social Distortion). Hedge (formerly of Doggy Style) is on bass and Stevie DRT plays drums (his last studio record; the list of D.I. drummers over the years is typical rock band and way too long to detail here). Tragedy Again is heavy 80′s California punk that veers between the melodic skate-punk sound (ie “On Our Way”), borderline heavy metal (ie “Chiva” and “Nick the Whip” have a total all-out metal guitar solos) and breakneck speed adolescent punk (the title track “Tragedy Again” and “Love To Me Is Sin” with the lyrics “I had a dream, I was this big/I crawled into your bed and did a little jig/I played it cool, I made a wish and when I woke up my whole body smelled like fish…fish!”).

So I’ve written about this before but I can’t write about D.I. without telling the story of one of the craziest nights I ever had in the 80′s. D.I. and Doggy Style played Kutska’s Hall (in Howard, WI just outside of Green Bay) in ‘87 – Hedge played both sets – and after the show the bands (along with their merch guy who happened to be Wade Waltson aka Joe Schmo from the movie Suburbia and then bassist for US Bombs) followed us back to Appleton to party at my friend’s house. Complete debauchery, sandwich meat on the kitchen ceiling, small fires in the living room, band members hooking up with my friends (Joe Schmo with two of them! though not at once). I hung out with Hedge and a couple other guys in the entourage for most of the evening, trash talking, trading jewelry (LOL) but generally keeping out of trouble. The house was beyond trashed; there had to have been at least 75-100 kids and band members there in total. I can’t remember if I stayed the night there or not but I do know that I had the unpleasant task of helping to clean up the next morning before my friend’s dad got home and wondering how to get baloney stains off of a ceiling. 

Descendents “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” 1985. New Alliance Records (this copy a 1987 reissue on SST) Snotty, SoCal punk, the band’s second album, recorded after singer Milo Aukerman’s return to Descendents after attending college and drummer Bill Stevenson’s stint in Black Flag. While definitely punk, I Don’t Want to Grow Up is decidedly not hardcore (like Black Flag and other contemporary SoCal bands in the mid-80′s), instead veering into the brighter pop lane. From Wiki: “Rock critic Robert Christgau gave the album a B+ rating, saying ‘They don’t even know how to sing, they excoriate themselves as perverts for wanting sex, and when they fall in love they try to write Beatles songs. Chances are you’ll find them awkward, but I’m tremendously encouraged that they can fall in love at all. Anyway, their Beatles songs are pretty catchy.’” And Ned Raggett on Allmusic writes, “What’s to be expected given the title track, with a hilarious ‘nyah nyah!’ line on top of the chorus! Give a closer ear to the song, though – where the reason not to grow up is that it might ‘mean being like you’ – and the band’s core message of having fun and dealing with things as best one can in a stupid society is still there. When the four want to be straight up and perfectly poppy, they can and do with smashing success, with surprisingly mature, emotional lyrics and playing that doesn’t rely on all-speed all the time. “Can’t Go Back” is a great lost power-pop classic, with some of Aukerman’s best singing, a wonderful chorus and a tuneful reflection on not reliving past mistakes. “Christmas Vacation” is another winner, a heartfelt and sharp depiction of a relationship on the skids with some great, melancholy harmonies, while “My World” draws on Aukerman’s college years with a tale of personal frustration in an unfamiliar locale, all while rocking hard and strong. For all this there’s ridiculous humor everywhere – thus “Pervert,” which is at once frank and funny, saying ‘I’d hate to think that romance is just a pose/But all I want to do is rip off your clothes.’ “Rockstar,” which immediately follows, is a hyperspeed trashing that’s the understandable sequel to “Loser,” demolishing the title character with a series of brief putdowns before concluding with a drawled ‘Let’s exploit rock and roll to its fullest potential.’ But of course.”

Personally I have mixed feelings about this pop-punk sound. In the mid-80′s I listened to the harder stuff (The Germs, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, etc) and only a little to Descendents, and then All, so I have a bias toward the familiar. I know the lighter stuff is more fun, accessible, and understandable!, but it provided an unfortunate blueprint for the 1990′s/early 2000′s copycat pop-punk bands that I really can’t stand. 

Adolescents “Adolescents” 1981. Frontier Records. Yesterday the punk world lost legendary Adolescents founder, bassist, occasional singer and only consistent member Steve Soto. He also was in Agent Orange’s original lineup (with Mike Palm and Scott Miller), Legal Weapon (with Adolescents guitarist Frank Agnew when the Adolescents first broke up in ‘81), Joyride (with Adolescents drummer Sandy Hanson after the second band breakup in ‘89), 22 Jacks and the “supergroup” Punk Rock Karaoke (with Eric Melvin of NOFX, Greg Hetson of Bad Religion and Circle Jerks and Derek O’Brien of Social Distortion, D.I., Agent Orange and Adolescents) before reforming Adolescents a third time in 2001. 

Adolescents (or The Blue Album as it is commonly referred to) was the band’s debut record and became one of the first hardcore punk albums to be widely distributed throughout the United States one of the best-selling California hardcore albums of its time. “The debut from these five Orange County kids established the mid-tempo, punk-pop ‘Southern Cal sound,’ led by the long, great, pummeling, Johnny Thunders-derived solos of the two Agnew brothers, Rikk and Frank. These soaring, ripping parts still sound great today. As important, songs such as the anthemic “No Way,” the classic “Amoeba,” the schizophrenic “Kids of the Black Hole,” and the glorious “Creatures” endure precisely because they’re not just aggressive and speedy: they’re super-catchy, heavy-riffing rock & roll, proving again that punk was the true heir to the likes of Chuck Berry, Larry Williams, Bo Diddley, and Eddie Cochran.” (Allmusic)

I saw Adolescents play in Green Bay in 1988 and either Steve Soto or Rikk Agnew had vocal responsibilities during that show – I honestly have no idea, it was almost exactly 30 years ago and most of the punk shows I saw at Kutskas Hall kinda blend together in my brain (there were a lot of them). 

Flipper “Sex Bomb” 1981. Subterranean Records. 7″ single b/w “Brainwash” on red vinyl. A couple of weeks ago I heard that Moby was selling his record collection (Moby: “I would rather you have them then me, because if you have them, you’ll play them, you’ll love them…the money will go to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. So everybody wins. Well, except me, because now I don’t have any records.”) and I thought it would be hilarious to have a record once owned by Moby. (I should note I’m not a huge Moby fan though he does have a few songs I like.) I headed to his online record store to check out what was available. I got on about 20 minutes after it went live, found a few things but as I was browsing, items I had selected were disappearing from my cart. By the time I checked out I ended up with only his Flipper 45 and one other album and his inventory was way way down. 

I have no idea where Moby picked up Flipper’s “Sex Bomb” so the chewed up condition of the sleeve could be a result of regular wear-and-tear at a used record shop or he has a shitty storage system.

Flipper was a fairly niche punk/experimental band but if any of their songs could be considered a hit, “Sex Bomb” was it. “In 1982, they were the toast of rock critics across the country with their post-hardcore punk masterpiece “Sex Bomb.” Clocking in at over seven minutes, possessing one riff played over and over (and sloppier and sloppier), with vocalist Will Shatter screaming rather than singing (total lyrics: ‘She’s a sex bomb/My baby/yeah’), it was a remarkable record: loud, proud, defiantly obnoxious, and relentlessly dumb. But in it’s own gleeful and intentionally moronic way it was (and remains) a perfect record.” (Allmusic) It’s sludgy, chaotic, screamy and catchy as hell. The B-side, “Brainwash,” is lo-fi and hardcore punk fast with lots of long pauses and the only lyrics are choppy unfinished sentences that each finish with the line “Nevermind. Forget it. You wouldn’t understand anyway.” Very weird but very cool.