These songs remind me of dark, hot sweaty underground clubs, filled with teenage men, hot sweaty and lithe, writhing against each other, limbs flailing, reaching a state of ecstasy. Ah, the mosh pit. What the hell did you think I was talking about?
Bad Brains – Pay to Cum
Minor Threat – Minor Threat
Dead Kennedys – Holiday in Cambodia
Black Flag – Rise Above
Wipers – Youth of America
Bad Brains started off as a jazz fusion act, until deciding to become a hardcore punk band. And that’s not a sentence I think I’ll ever write again. Wonder what prompted their change of heart? “Hey, Darryl, I’m tired of all these diminished 3rds and 7/8 time signatures, let’s just be punk, dammit!” So, anyway, there sure knew how to play, as “Pay To Cum” demonstrates – fast as hell, but beautifully timed with some serious chops on show.
Being so good at what they did kind of spoil the field for everyone who followed them – after all, part of the fun of punk was that it wasn’t full of excellent musicians, so up-and-coming acts had to work rather hard to follow Bad Brains – but they then decided they’d had enough of hardcore and morphed into a reggae band.
As you do. Anyway, great song.
Minor Threat defined the hardcore punk movement “Straight Edge”. Teenagers love to rebel. It’s what they do. It’s their raison d’etre. So what do you do when your parents don’t mind you drinking, smoking, doing drugs, and sleeping around? In fact, they actually promote it? You don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, don’t have sex. That’ll teach ‘em! Seriously though, it’s a funny thing to do as a teenager. As anyone approaching middle-age will be happy to tell you, one’s later years are spent not being able to do all those things, partly due to work and family commitments, and partly because you’re just too tired. Have one big night out and you’re still paying for it three days later. So not doing this as a teenager seems a bit off to me. Youth of today – eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you’ll have kids and a mortgage and a strange desire to watch “Railway Walks” (I speak from personal experience).
The song? Oh yes, it’s not half bad, you know. But really, kids, don’t listen to them – drinking is fun. Oh yes.
Out of all these bands, I’ve actually regularly listened to, and owned records by, only this one band – Dead Kennedys. I had “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables” as an innocent 15-year-old and once delighted my friends by trying to play “Kill The Poor” on the guitar, alongside my redoubtable repertoire of “1969”, “No Fun” and a couple of Velvet Underground songs. Formed in late 1978 in San Francisco, singer Jello Biafra (not his real name) wrote lyrics of fearsome intensity and intelligence, backed with deranged, frightening guitar:
Mind you, my personal favourite has always been “California Uber Alles”:
But I can see why the Pitchfork writers went for “Holiday In Cambodia”. Both still make your hairs stand on end and fill you with righteous anger. They just don’t make ’em like this any more. Interestingly enough, both songs featured in John Peel’s Festive Fifty in 1980, and were the only entries by non-British or Irish acts (they both appeared in the following year’s chart, joined by Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman”).
(This leads me onto a brief digression. As I mentioned, I had Dead Kennedys records, but the rest of these bands stayed pretty obscure in the UK at the time. I guess it was largely due to the fact that, since punk hit in 1976, people were rather tired of this sort of thing by the early 80’s. And there was rather alot going on, so music seen as just harping back to what had happened five years before kind of got ignored. After all, we had New Order and Echo and the Bunnymen, who needed angry young men shouting at you?)
Black Flag had been doing the rounds for a couple of years, with a fairly rapid turnover of members thanks to leader Greg Ginn’s insistence on a hardcore (boom tish) work ethic of daily practice sessions and constant touring. Henry Rollins, the band’s fourth (!) vocalist, described him as “Patton on steroids”. Fun guy. Also forming SST, the influential record label, Black Flag spread their word to the suburban kids by getting in a van, playing wherever they could, and selling records as they went. They were the evangelical preachers of hardcore, telling the kids they could rise above the expectations of their suburban parents:
Terrible sound quality, sure, but just look at those teenage Philadelpians yelling along to a topless Rollins (just started on his road to muscle-bound fury). Ah, the mosh pit. I’m getting nostalgic again.
Lastly, it’s Wipers “Youth Of America”. Don’t remember hearing this tune before, though I do remember hearing a very long hardcore punk song in a club I used to visit in Frankfurt (The Cave). So maybe that was it. Certainly more ambitious than your run of the mill hardcore tune, singer Greg Sage rails against both the left and the right beating down teenagers, saying wisely “They’ll try to put you 6 feet under the ground”. And at ten minutes long – shocking enough for a hardcore tune – he certainly has the time to drill the message home. Big influence on Nirvana, apparently (though let’s face it, so was every band you’ve never heard of).
Goes on a bit though.
Anyway, that’s it with this hardcore lark. Enough sweaty bodies and shouting. Next time it’s Motorhead (yay!) and Iron Maiden (boo!).
The whole list is here.