Posts Tagged ‘Bad Brains’

Buried Treasure: …For The Whole World To See

10 April 2009

[Today: Death comes calling…]

Death | ...For The Whole World To See

Death was a trio of brothers from Detroit who originally formed in 1971 as an R&B act. But David (guitar), Dannis (drums) and Bobby (bass/vocals) Hackney soon became enchanted with the primal sonic assault of local bands MC5 and The Stooges, and changed their sound accordingly. Bobby Hackney says that “Like many young African-American musicians, our primary influences were soul and funk music. This changed after seeing Iggy & The Stooges live. We started listening to more rock, stuff like Alice Cooper and Led Zeppelin… In 1974, we put together a demo tape with the most rocking name we could think of: DEATH.”

That demo caught the ear of Columbia Records boss Clive Davis, who was interested in turning it into an album, on the condition that the group change their name. When they refused, their songs started collecting dust, and the band went back to local obscurity. But with the recent release of the triumphantly titled …For The Whole World To See, Death’s music finally gets the push it deserved 35 years ago. Heavier than punk, but faster than the metal of the day, these songs call to mind Bad Brains or Living Colour a decade before the fact. ‘Keep On Knocking’ and ‘Politicians In My Eyes’ are hard-driving highlights, while ‘Freakin’ Out’ sounds like black Buzzcocks. It’s a short album – 7 songs in just over 26 minutes – but what it lacks in length is more than made up in power.

…For The Whole World To See is of interest because it was recorded before punk found an audience, making it an album ahead of its time. I’m not suggesting that this album is a fake, but its easily replicable sound and premise make me wonder when the reissue market will encounter its very own Milli Vanilli – a “long lost” group that makes a splash with an album that is actually a recently-recorded hoax. Death sounds so ahead of their time that you can’t help but wonder if the wool is being pulled over your eyes…

Listen: Keep On Knocking

Listen: Politicians In My Eyes


…For The Whole World To See is the 100th album to be designated as ‘Buried Treasure’ on this blog. Here are the rest, in order of appearance…

1) George Brigman | Jungle Rot [5/1/07]
2) Wynton Marsalis | Baroque Music For Trumpets [5/4/07]
3) Alabama 3 | Exile On Coldharbour Lane [5/10/07]
4) David Holmes | Let’s Get Killed [5/19/07]
5) Shorty Baker & Doc Cheatham | Shorty & Doc [5/29/07]
6) Buckethead | Colma [6/5/07]
7) The Peddlers | Suite London [6/13/07]
8) Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim | Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim [6/18/07]
9) Lee Oskar | Lee Oskar [6/26/07]
10) The Soft Boys | Underwater Moonlight [7/10/07]
11) Dead Or Alive | Youthquake [7/18/07]
12) Spirit | Spirit Of ’76 [7/24/07]
13) Osibisa | Heads [8/1/07]
14) Shelly Manne | “The Three” & “The Two” [8/10/07]
15) Ben Webster | Soulville [8/13/07]
16) Elvis Presley | Elvis Country “I’m 10,000 Years Old” [8/16/07]
17) Lee Hazlewood | Poet, Fool Or Bum/Back On The Street Again [8/17/07]
18) M. Ward | End Of Amnesia [8/22/07]
19) Machito | At The Crescendo [8/25/07]
20) Willie Colon | Cosa Nuestra [9/4/07]
21) Fred Neil | Bleecker & MacDougal [9/12/07]
22) The Remains | The Remains [9/24/07]
23) Neu! | Neu! 75 [10/3/07]
24) ZZ Top | Rio Grande Mud [10/9/07]
25) Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington | Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington [10/13/07]
26) Neil Diamond | Just For You [10/18/07]
27) Peter Gabriel | Passion [10/22/07]
28) Various Artists | Rat Music For Rat People, Volumes I, II, & III [10/29/07]
29) Otis Rush | Right Place, Wrong Time [11/3/07]
30) Screaming Lord Sutch | Lord Sutch And Heavy Friends [11/12/07]
31) The Benedictine Monks Of Santo Domingo De Silos | Chant [11/18/07]
32) Richard Betts | Highway Call [11/19/07]
33) Various Artists | Music For Dancefloors [11/25/07]
34) The Dream Syndicate | Live At Raji’s [11/29/07]
35) The Squirrels | The Not-So-Bright Side Of The Moon [12/4/07]
36) Gary Higgins | Red Hash [12/10/07]
37) Tommy Guerrero | Soul Food Taqueria [12/15/07]
38) Greg Brown | Slant 6 Mind [12/23/07]
39) John & Beverly Martyn | Stormbringer [1/3/08]
40) The Last Emperor | Palace Of The Pretender [1/7/08]
41) The Yardbirds | Roger The Engineer [1/11/08]
42) D.R. Hooker | The Truth [1/14/08]
43) Ben Webster | Atmosphere For Lovers And Thieves [1/19/08]
44) Joe Maphis | Fire On The Strings [1/23/08]
45) James Luther Dickinson | Free Beer Tomorrow [1/27/08]
46) The Standells | The Best Of The Standells [2/2/08]
47) Various Artists | The Concert For Bangladesh [2/8/08]
48) Tim Buckley | Greetings From L.A. [2/13/08]
49) Jimi Hendrix | Nine To The Universe [2/20/08]
50) Fred Eaglesmith | Lipstick, Lies & Gasoline [2/26/08]
51) Buried Treasure – The Cover Art [2/28/08]
52) Sam Prekop | Sam Prekop [3/2/08]
53) Ben Vaughn | Designs In Music [3/8/08]
54) Bunny Wailer | Tribute [3/15/08]
55) Nicky Siano | The Gallery [3/24/08]
56) Erik Truffaz | Out Of A Dream [3/29/08]
57) Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & His Nigerian Soundmakers | Sound Time [4/9/08]
58) The BellRays | Let It Blast [4/19/08]
59) Mark Lanegan | Whiskey For The Holy Ghost [4/26/08]
60) Leon Russell | Leon Russell [5/2/08]
61) Crazy Horse | Crazy Horse [5/16/08]
62) Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band | Safe As Milk [5/21/08]
63) The Heartbreakers | L.A.M.F. [5/25/08]
64) David & David | Boomtown [6/2/08]
65) Hurricane | The Hurra [6/8/08]
66) Terry Allen | Human Remains [6/20/08]
67) Dino Valente | Dino Valente [6/23/08]
68) Artur Rubinstein | Mazurkas And Polonaises [6/27/08]
69) Various Artists | The King Kong Compilation [7/3/08]
70) Os Mutantes | Os Mutantes [7/10/08]
71) James Gang | Rides Again [7/18/08]
72) The Mighty Imperials | Thunder Chicken [7/27/08]
73) Duke Pearson | The Right Touch [8/7/08]
74) Sweet | Desolation Boulevard [8/14/08]
75) John Phillips | John, The Wolfking Of L.A. [8/30/08]
76) Ike Turner & The Kings Of Rhythm | A Black Man’s Soul [9/6/08]
77) Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry | Battle Of Armagideon [9/12/08]
78) Easy Star All-Stars | Dub Side Of The Moon [9/21/08]
79) The Flatlanders | More A Legend Than A Band [9/27/08]
80) Jackson C. Frank | Jackson C. Frank [10/7/08]
81) Red House Painters | Songs For A Blue Guitar [10/12/08]
82) Eric Burdon & War | The Black Man’s Burdon [10/21/08]
83) Bauhaus | Burning From The Inside [10/30/08]
84) Vangelis | Blade Runner Soundtrack [11/6/08]
85) Blue Mitchell | Blue’s Moods [11/30/08]
86) Dennis Coffey | Big City Funk [12/12/08]
87) Alexander ‘Skip’ Spence | Oar [12/16/08]
88) Lou Reed | American Poet [12/26/08]
89) J.K. & Co. | Suddenly One Summer [1/9/09]
90) J.J. Cale | Anyway The Wind Blows: The Anthology [1/15/09]
91) Funky 4+1 | That’s The Joint [1/22/09]
92) Fleetwood Mac | Then Play On [1/29/09]
93) The Rolling Stones | LiveR Than You’ll Ever Be [2/7/09]
94) The Stairs | Mexican R ‘n’ B [2/20/09]
95) Dr. John | The Sun, Moon & Herbs [3/1/09]
96) Slaid Cleaves | Broke Down [3/6/09]
97) Swamp Dogg | I’m Not Selling Out/I’m Buying In! [3/17/09]
98) Jackie Mittoo | The Keyboard King At Studio One [3/27/09]
99) Mark Alan | Crazy World Outside [4/2/08]
100) Death | …For The Whole World To See [4/10/08]

Stranded: Rock And Roll For A Desert Island

31 May 2008

The ‘desert island album’ was already a dusty cliche by the time Greil Marcus asked 20 writers to submit essays on the topic in 1978. The resulting book, Stranded: Rock And Roll For A Desert Island, features the writers that Marcus most wanted to work with at the time, including critics known (Lester Bangs, Nick Tosches, Langdon Winner, Dave Marsh, and others) and unknown (Ariel Swartley? Grace Lichtenstein? Joe McEwen? Tom Smucker?). As you might expect, the essays are hit and miss, depending on who you’re stuck on that island with.

One critic (Lichtenstein) chose to strand herself with The Eagles’ Desperado, which led me to contemplate – for the first time in my life – the phrase ‘If I were stuck on a desert island with an Eagles album, I’d ____________’ (in case you’re curious, some representative answers were a) drown myself, b) go raving mad, and c) break the thing over my knee).

On the positive side, Langdon Winner makes an excellent case for Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica as the perfect desert island album. According to him, “[it] offers two features that other records do not: 1) an enormous variety of musical puzzles that require a considerable amount of time and concentration to figure out, and 2) a seemingly inexhaustible supply of unfinished ideas that one can fill in oneself.” Winner’s essay doesn’t just stand out in this collection, it’s perhaps the most persuasive argument ever put forth on behalf of Beefheart’s offbeat classic.

Stranded is stunning in its lack of musical breadth, and shows how many critics of the day were drinking directly from the same punch bowl. The Rolling Stones and Van Morrison each get two essays, and the four black artists represented were pre-Beatles artifacts. Very little of the music represented here lives outside the rock canon of the 60’s and 70’s. Robert Christgau laments as much in his forward to the 1995 edition (pictured above), “It would be nice to encounter James Brown or George Clinton or Public Enemy in this context.”

A profane phrase in Nick Tosches’ essay on Sticky Fingers offended the publisher so much that publication of the book was delayed by nearly a year. To his credit, Marcus refused to let the book be released without the offending phrase. If all the essays included here had the wit and edge of Tosches’ piece, this would really be something. Yet as it stands, Stranded is a book that all too often leaves you feeling just that.


AND THE OBVIOUS QUESTION: What’s your desert island album?


Some great answers…

Dire Straits - album
Gene says Dire Straits: “…[an] excellent air guitar album — and when you’re on a desert island you don’t have to worry about being seen…”

The Wall - album
Rob M says The Wall: “…every time I listen to that album, I hear something I never heard before…”

Josh Ritter - album
kdub says Golden Age Of Radio: “…two of my DI albums would be two you introduced me to: Alabama 3’s Exile on Coldharbour Lane and Josh Ritter’s Golden Age of Radio.”

Bad Brains - album
Punker Foo says Bad Brains: “The range of this album is fantastic and it has so much raw material to work with, it is to the music lover what a set of Lincoln Logs would be to a stranded architect.”

Tribe Called Quest - album

EZ Rawlins says People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm: “…deep, wide, and soulful. It’s a journey.”

Sex Pistols - album
DancingTool says Never Mind The Bollocks: “It’s the perfect blend of anger and frustration with just enough pop riffs to keep me from talking to a volleyball.”

War Of The Worlds - album
Jimmy James says War Of The Worlds: “Richard Burton narrating War Of The Worlds. Incredible.”

Sgt. Peppers - album
CindyPinc In The Stink says Sgt Peppers: “I’ve already proved to myself that I can listen to it over and over and over and over again and never lose interest.”

Matthew Sweet - album
Cordell says Girlfriend: “Now I’m going to have trouble sleeping as I sit and wonder if I chose correctly.”

Pelican West - album
Pricklee Pete says Pelican West: “…it’s an album that will always make me feel good even when I’m pondering how high up my leg I’ll need to amputate to keep the gangrene at bay.”

Nick Drake - album
Rob F says Five Leaves Left: “…if only for Cello Song which, despite the fact I’ve heard it a million times, never, ever fails to make my bones ache (in a good way).”

Police - album
Dylan says Zenyatta Mondatta: “Solid songs start to finish.”

Elvis Costello - album
LC says The Very Best Of Elvis Costello & The Attractions: “It has the right song for almost every emotion.”

London Calling - album
RKelly says London Calling: “It’s a no-brainer.”

Too $hort - album
Arlo Chingaderas says Life Is… Too $hort: “A true west coast classic.”

Beatles - album
jkg says Abbey Road: “I can rediscover songs on that record over and over again.”

Random Propaganda VI

16 July 2007

The P’s away on business, I’ve got a six pack of beer, and I just flipped on the cd changers (two Sony 400 disc changers hooked together on the ‘continuous play’ option). I’m going to try out a running diary of what I’m hearing. Let’s see what we get:

Albert King - album
6:40pm – Albert King * Born Under A Bad Sign – Excellent, we’re off to a good start with this one. I definitely think the changer gets on ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ streaks. Sometimes it’ll pick the absolute worst song off every album in constant succession, and other times it just gets on fire. I know this is assigning human emotions to a machine, but anyone with an iPod probably feels this way at some time or other.

Moby Grape - album
6:43pm – Moby Grape * Moby Grape – One of the real underrated bands of the 60’s, in my opinion. If not for several bad breaks, these guys would’ve been huge. Great harmonies, and they had like four songwriters in the group. Their debut is amazing – I need to devote some column inches to this one in the near future. [Also note the middle finger on the album cover…]

Nicky Siano - album
6:45pm – Nicky Siano * The Gallery – My friends, we’re officially on fire here. Nicky Siano was one of the DJs of the 70’s/80’s New York club scene. If I’m not mistaken, he was the DJ on the ones and twos when Bianca Jagger rode into Studio 54 naked on a white horse. I’ve probably messed up all the facts of the previous sentence (it was Mick on the horse, etc) but that’s the beauty of editing. Anyway, this album (a Soul Jazz compilation, and these people know what they’re doing) is one of those that will make people repeatedly ask “Who is this?”

MC5 - album
6:52pm – MC5 * Babes In Arms – A collection of outtakes. I’ve gotta admit – I like the Five, but don’t love ’em. They’ve always sounded a little too rough around the edges to my ears, and the album Kick Out The Jams is a disaster – especially as a debut album. HUGE cojones there, and that definitely earns them points, but still…

Showcase - album
6:56pm – Jackie Mittoo * Showcase – One of the real underrated talents in the Reggae scene. Mittoo is a first rate organ player who handled all kinds of material – from the typical Reggae fare to pop standards and funk jams. It sounds like an elevator in Kingston, and I mean that as an Irie compliment…

Smokey & Miho - album
6:59pm – Smokey & Miho * The Two EP’s – Beck’s sometime guitarist Smokey Hormel lays down exotic grooves while Miho sings in Japanese. A perfect mellow album for the changer.

Love Movement - album
7:01pm – A Tribe Called Quest * The Love Movement – One of the Tribe’s overlooked gems, this album from 1998 holds its own against their best work. Great track here – the ‘Scenario’ remix featuring Busta Rhymes – that sounds like 20 different MCs rapping in turn. And here’s our featured guest Busta – has this guy done anything to get famous besides having a dope name? Anyone got an album recco on this guy? Anyone? Bueller??

Ben Vaughn - album
7:09pm – Ben Vaughn * Presents Designs In Music – Ben Vaughn is a funny dude. The P and I heard his radio show as we were driving out to the desert for Coachella last year, and she noticed a write up on this album in the New Yorker later in the year. Most of this album sounds like the music for a TV sitcom in the 60’s or 70’s, when the characters would go to the park or have a day on the town. The track I’m hearing now features whistling. Good fun.

Bad Brains - album
7:15pm – Bad Brains * Black Dots – Bad Brains were way ahead of their time in the way they rammed Hardcore and Reggae together and made it sound like the most natural combo in the world. These guys also are the most awesome opening band I’ve ever seen in my life. They opened for the Beasties at the Oakland Coliseum in ’95 – one very hectic show.

Magic Time - album
7:17pm – Van Morrison * Magic Time – The last three songs highlight the one downside of the changer system – no control over sequencing. This is below-average Van, but I’ve been trying to give it a chance. I see Willie Colon or Zeph & Azeem hitting slot #389B pretty soon. Actual lyrics: “Carry on doctor/Carry on nurse/carry on ’til you get what you’re after/carry on ’til it can’t get much worse.” Now he’s chuckling. I feel like I’m being messed with here…

BDB - album
7:23pm – Badly Drawn Boy * One Plus One Is One – We have definitely cooled way off here. Why is this in my changer? If you can answer that, please leave a comment below. On the upside, BDB is encouraging me to find my holy grail (over flutes), so that’s a nice thought… and now we’ve got a choir. This song is threatening to spin off into a medley and I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed that we’re just approaching some kind of kooky apex near the end. We’re fading out, erm ah no. More feedback and fading back in at the 6:40 mark… only for a volcanic eruption of feedback at the seven minute mark. Nothing more I’d rather do right now than listen to Badly Drawn Boy’s guitar rumble for a minute.

Candi Staton - album
7:31pm – Candi Staton * Anthology – A great soul belter, Candi is busy discussing the relative merits of old and young men. Since I’m sitting in the middle (37) I can enjoy both sides of this argument. Time for another beer. Anyone know what the ‘Camel Walk’ means? This is apparently what young men do.

Blues Brothers - album
7:33pm – The Blues Brothers * The Definitive Collection – Eugene, OR legend has it that the Blues Brothers were birthed during the filming of Animal House, when local blues legend Curtis Salgado played John Belushi a bunch of old Blues records. At any rate, this is definitely a guilty pleasure for me. Belushi’s a below-average singer, but he makes up for some of that with sheer presence, and their band was a first rate outfit featuring a number of established legends.

Lennon - album
7:36pm – John Lennon * Acoustic – A really good Lennon album, my friend Cordell pulled this off of iTunes and passed it along. ‘Working Class Hero’ is the track I’m hearing and this is a terrifically powerful song. Most of Lennon’s 70’s stuff is kind of beyond my ken (Shaved Fish excepted) but this album is like his Unplugged, and I think we can all agree that – had he lived – that would have been a great show.

7:41pm – iMix * Disc 2 – This is a compiliaton of favorite songs that I’ve pilfered from my work’s music server, but this is a really crappy Flaming Lips B-Side, so I’ve no idea how it wound up here. I’m punishing myself. La la la, la la la la – those are lyrics. I could put little quotes around that. We’re ice cold aqua blue here. I’m drowning – help me…

Marsalis - album
7:45pm – Wynton Marsalis * Baroque Music For Trumpets – A true palette-cleanser. This is Marsalis at his Classical finest, and an album I’ve loved since back in college. If there’s better music to study to, I haven’t found it. It is currently inspiring my brain to forget the Flaming Lips track I just endured for the sake of bloggery.

LOTD - box
7:49pm – Left Of The Dial (Box Set) * Disc 3 – This box set collects the best alternative/indie music of the 80’s. I’m currently riding an unidentifiable wave of thrash…

Run-DMC - album
7:50pm – Run DMC * Raising Hell – Hearing Run-DMC rapping about perfection is, well, perfect. I love Raising Hell – my all-time favorite Hip-Hop album for those of you scoring at home. My big bang moment with the genre was when my best friend Bobby rapped along word-for-word with the title track of this album. Heady stuff in 1986…

Tusk - album
7:53pm – Fleetwood Mac * Tusk – I’ve heard a lot about this as their ‘lost classic’ and it does much to deserve that billing. I’ve always loved the title track – it and Outkast’s ‘Morris Brown’ are the best songs to feature marching bands… ever. I’m giving the thumbs up to Tusk, but this one might be the future subject of an ‘On The Fence’ column.

Cee-Lo - album
7:56pm – Cee-Lo Green * …Is The Soul Machine – Anyone following Cee-Lo’s solo career couldn’t have been the least bit surprised by his success with Gnarls Barkley last year. All of the crazy cool eclecticism that was featured on that album was apparent much earlier – and especially on this gem. The man can rap like Ice Cube and sing like Al Green, and that’s some range.

Jr. Kimbrough - album
8:00pm – Junior Kimbrough * You Better Run: The Essential Junior Kimbrough – This one was on the verge of cracking my Blues list, but I just hadn’t had enough ear time with it to give it the nod. It’s amazing that Blues this down-n-dirty are still being made. This is the kind of music that I can really enjoy – raw, ragged, and full of piss & vinegar.

mojo - magazine
8:05pm – Various Artists * Mojo Presents… Mod Club Party – This is one of the ride-along CDs that come with Mojo magazine each month. In this edition they focus on ‘Mod’ music, which has always cracked me up. Everything I’ve read about the Mods makes them sound like well-dressed, amphetimined-to-the-gills, scooter fetishists who fought ‘The Rockers’ (I think I would have been one of these) at every opportunity. Yet the music on this compilation sounds like the score to a Benny Hill episode – which sort of makes perfect sense, I guess…

Lee Perry - album
8:09pm – Lee Perry * Voodooism – Lee Perry has dropped an incredibly diverse array of music on the world in the last 40 years. The man is a producer/musician/shamen of the first order, and almost every album he’s created is entirely enjoyable. For those of you in the Bay Area, he’s playing at The Independent in a few weeks, and this is a show not to be missed. The man is in his 60’s and he’s in better shape than you or I. Plus his mirrored clothing and coconut bong are fun…

8:13pm – The P is calling in, so this is probably as good a time as any to wrap this up. Thanks for playing along…

The 20 Greatest Punk Albums Of All-Time

29 June 2007

“Style is a simple way of saying complicated things.” – Jean Cocteau


Punk blew up in response to the bloated prog-rock, syrupy singer-songwriters, and “virtuoso” musicians of the early 70’s. As that decade progressed, musicians moved farther away from the sense of community that they had shared with their fans during the 60’s. This meant chartered planes and stadium concerts, gated mansions and lots of cocaine – in short, a lifestyle that very few music fans were able to share or appreciate. As musicians ceased to be merely entertainers and began to take on the trappings of royalty, a big-time backlash was brewing on 3 separate continents.


Punk was the musical version of the fountain of youth. By the mid-70s, many of the 60’s brightest stars had either burned out (Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Brian Jones, Otis Redding, and on & on) or faded into self-imposed obscurity (Brian Wilson, Syd Barrett, John Lennon, Clapton, Van Morrison, John Phillips, etc). The music industry at this time was like an aging major league baseball team – losing ground quickly on the field of play, but reluctant to look for talent in the minor leagues.

The genre has been associated for so long with a stereotypical strain of itself (yeah, I’m looking at you Sid Vicious) that it is worth remembering that Punk’s tent initially had room for a wide variety of sounds and talents. The CBGB’s scene of the mid/late 70’s vividly illustrates this point. Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Blondie, Television and the Ramones have very little in common except that they all played in the same club and each made music that intentionally had no antecedent.

Thus, the question ‘What is Punk?’ isn’t easily answered. The genre is, quite frankly, filled with a lot of righteous, self-aggrandizing figures who are constantly trying to lay claim to some piece of its legacy. So whether you’re hearing John Lydon, Malcolm McLaren, Mick Jones, Tommy Ramone, David Johnansen, Richard Hell, or Henry Rollins (all of whom I repsect a great deal, by the way) speaking on Punk, each has their own version of the truth – and they’re all correct. Add to this the fact that the genre was meant, on inception, to deny easy categorization, and you can see that any map one draws of the genre will provide only the murkiest outline of its true intention and meaning.


Nirvana’s Nevermind was the checkered flag that signaled Punk’s ultimate victory and demise. Fittingly, this album was the gelignite under hair metal and the bloated sideshow that was 80’s rock in much the same way Punk blew up the self-important spectacle of 70’s shlock rock. But “Nevermind” was also the death knell for the genre because by 1991 Punk had become so embedded in the DNA of contemporary music that it had really ceased to exist as a distinct genre unto itself. Bands from Metallica to Sublime, Weezer to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Uncle Tupelo to Liz Phair – in fact almost any musician, including country folks like Steve Earle and Michelle Shocked – could legitimately and with a straight face claim Punk’s influence.

This was a full circle back to the genre’s earlier incarnation – when it was less about how you wore your hair, and more about how you walked the tightrope of performance with an instrument in your hands and very few rehearsals under your belt. The attitude and power in the music once again superceded its presentation.


Like the cover of Black Flag’s classic Damaged LP, Punk is a jagged, shattered mirror reflecting Rock back upon itself, and hurling it into dozens of sharply contrasting directions. The fact that we can so easily see its reflection in modern music says a lot for the genre, and the people who worked so hard to make it a viable form of expression. Whether Punk ‘won’ or ‘lost’ in the early 90’s, when it was subsumed by the corporate music machine is beside the point. By dumbing down its structure, the punks have brought a lot of smart people to music, and made it easier for them to get that special something off their chest.


The 20 Greatest Punk Albums Of All-Time…

Ramones | Ramones
#1 Ramones – NY Rockers were steeped in comics, horror movies, Phil Spector and multitudinous other pop culture iconography that they brought to Punk. They are of foremost importance in this genre because they planted the flag in the ground that so many thousands of other groups rallied around.

Ramones – For Punk music, this is the shot heard ‘round the world. This album not only set the tone, look, and manner of all things Punk, it’s loaded with killer songs to boot.

Sex Pistols | Never Mind The Bollocks
#2 Sex Pistols – British baddies infused all of music with a healthy shot of much-needed adrenaline. And then they heaped on righteous anger, label firings, Sid Vicious, and finally, an inglorious implosion.

Never Mind The Bollocks – It’s incredible to think that the Pistols could have lived up to the monster hype they generated in the media-miniaturized 70’s, but one listen to this album confirms just that. Bollocks… sounds better today than it possibly could have in ’77 – the times have finally caught up to the sound and fury of the Pistols.

The Clash | London Calling
#3 The Clash – Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Topper Headon, et al upped the ante on what a Punk band could be. They not only brought a much-needed political and world view to the party, they also proved that you could play your instruments well and still retain credibility as punkers.

London Calling – One of the finest albums in all of music, this genre-crossing, non-stop rocking blast of energy fused the group’s love of rock-n-roll, reggae, political awareness, and general thunder in a way few groups have ever approached, let alone surpassed.

Minutemen | Double Nickels On The Dime
#4 Minutemen – This San Pedro, California trio generally stayed true to their name, constructing one minute blasts of Punk influenced by all manner of musical, cultural, and political influences. From 1980 until lead singer D. Boon’s untimely death in December 1985, Minutemen shaped a sound that was inherently Punk but uniquely their own.

Double Nickels On The Dime – Comprising – count ‘em – 44 songs over the original 4 vinyl sides, Double Nickels… (the title is trucker-speak for driving 55mph) is bursting at the seams with quirky influences, big ideas, gifted playing, and one quick shot after another of D. Boon’s greatness.

Buzzcocks | Singles Going Steady
#5 Buzzcocks – The closest that Punk came to producing a group like The Beatles was this band. Formed after its future members attended a February ‘76 Sex Pistols show, Buzzocks brought an uncanny sense of songwriting ability to a genre that prided itself on simplicity and simple-minded lyrical exclamation.

Singles Going Steady – Sixteen songs from 8 singles just shouldn’t be this good. It’s possible to argue in many cases that the B-sides are superior to the A’s, but there’s no denying that this is one of those rare albums without a discernible ounce of filler.

Stooges | Fun House
#6 The Stooges – Ann Arbor, Michigan’s favorite sons were a prime influence on punk. From their blast furnace sound to frontman Iggy Pop’s insane yelping, yowling and physical confrontation with audiences, The Stooges used their muscle to create the space where punk could, and would, grow.

Fun House – The archetypal pre-punk album, Fun House compresses madness, chaos, urgency, violence and sinew into a squanking bouillabaisse of tension and release.

The Modern Lovers | The Modern Lovers
#7 Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – This Boston bred pre-punk super group had future members of The Cars and Talking Heads, as well as JR. Unfortunately, when their label didn’t have the slightest idea what to do with their self-titled debut and shelved it, the group split to separate paths of musical greatness.

The Modern Lovers – By the time it was released in 1975 – it was recorded a full two years earlier – this clever, catchy, and deceptively simple sounding album wasn’t really in step with the times. It’s one of those rare albums that continues to sound outside of time, living in a parallel universe of its own, where cartoons are fun, and you like to dance.

The Undertones | The Undertones
#8 The Undertones – Northern Ireland’s Undertones sported one of punk’s most distinctive vocal stylists in Feargal Sharkey. The fact that they were legendary BBC DJ John Peel’s favorite group of all-time doesn’t hurt either.

The Undertones – The album that allegedly reduced Peel to tears of joy upon his first listening, this album still has the ability to pull goodtime goosebumps. This is Punk at its most joyous, uplifting and fun.

Monks | Black Monk Time
#9 Monks – Once upon a time, 4 GI’s stationed in Germany during the Vietnam war decided to display their displeasure with the world and their lot in it by shaving their heads into monks’ tonsures, dressing up in full monk regalia, and firing off the angriest, bluntest music anyone could possibly have imagined at that time.

Black Monk Time – Listening to this album and trying to place it in 1966 is disorienting. It’s almost as if these freaks jumped into a time machine and went back 10 years to give the world a glimpse of what was yet to come. Song titles like “Shut Up” “I Hate You” and “Cuckoo” make it fun to contemplate how long slack-jawed, gawking audiences (the lucky few dozen, probably) waited before hurling a shit storm of boos, curses and flying bottles upon our heroes. Not unlike the scenes their bastard stepchildren would wreck a mere 10 years later.

Radio Birdman | Radios Appear
#10 Radio Birdman – In 1976 New York City, Cleveland, and London weren’t the only ports fomenting Punk unrest. Sydney, Australia had its own completely autonomous – and generally unpopular – Punk scene. Headed by Radio Birdman and The Saints, these bands were reviled in their homeland for creating music that was without precedent in its intensity.

Radios Appear – Like many albums on this list, Radios Appear sounds as fresh today as it was grating and unlistenable to its intended audiences. The album is underpinned with a manic surf guitar twang that nobody this side of X touched within Punk. ‘Aloha Steve & Danno’ and ‘Murder City Nights’ are two of the greatest Punk songs ever, and unfortunately ‘New Race’ was sensitively misinterpreted as racist.

The Velvet Underground | White Light/White Heat
#11 The Velvet Underground – Lou Reed, John Cale and company took on subject matter that was anathema to music at the time. Their detatched attitude and utter cool was of utmost influence to punks of all stripes.

White Light/White Heat – An album of pure guitar intensity, it stripped music to its most basic elements and then built them back up into a gigantic storm of angry guitar. ‘Sister Ray’ is nothing less than the Rosetta Stone of the Punk movement.

The Saints | (I'm) Stranded
#12 The Saints – They came out of nowhere (literally the middle of Australia) to drop one of the first Punk singles to hit the UK. The Saints eventually relocated to London, but weren’t able to replicate their early success, and after just two albums moved beyond Punk.

(I’m) Stranded – The title track from this album caught fire in England in 1976 and gave the Punk movement there a huge shot in the arm. This album was actually a collection of rough demos that the band had no intention of releasing, but you’d never know by the sound.

Bad Brains | Bad Brains
#13 Bad Brains – Washington DC’s Bad Brains combined the militant undertones of Bob Marley’s reggae with the blistering intensity of Black Flag to create a truly unique sound. Although they never broke through to a wider audience, they were a primary influence on many musicians throughout the 80’s and 90’s – like the Beastie Boys – who you’d never suspect of coming under their spell.

Bad Brains – The group’s self-titled 1982 debut has been called “The best punk/hardcore album of all-time” by none other than Beastie Boy Adam Yauch.

Black Flag | Damaged
#14 Black Flag – These Los Angeles hardcore punks took the raw aggression of their music to levels previously unthinkable. Frontman Henry Rollins was one of the most convincing singers in the history of the genre (he obviously believed in what he was singing) and remains one of the most outspoken ambassadors of the genre. Group founder Greg Ginn also started SST Records, which brought the ‘Do It Yourself’ ethic to a whole new generation of punks.

Damaged – In 15 songs and less than 35 minutes, Black Flag lays out a surprisingly far-reaching vision of what loud music could mean. ‘Rise Above’ just might be the greatest anthem to come out of the genre; ‘TV Party’ and ‘Six Pack’ showed a deft sense of humor; and ‘Police Story’ was NWA’s ‘F*ck Tha Police’ ten years before the fact. A deranged, brilliant classic.

X | Wild Gift
#15 X – With the best vocal harmonizing this side of the Beach Boys, John Doe and Exene Cervenka sang their hearts out about surivival in the urban jungle. Billy Zoom was one of the most talented and skilled guitarists to work in the genre, and was able to easily shift from power chords to surf music and beyond. Genre aside, X is one of the great bands of all-time.

Wild Gift – X made a series of landmark albums during the early 80’s, and all of them are excellent. On their second album they run a gamut of styles and speeds, but the results are never less than intense, conflicted poetry.

Joy Division | Unknown Pleasures
#16 Joy Division – Ian Curtis was all doom and gloom, and he wasn’t faking it. Depressed, epileptic, and extremely talented, Curtis wrote songs that felt like they came from a crypt. He hung himself in 1980, on the eve of Joy Division’s first American tour. The remaining members of the band would carry on as New Order, but without Curtis they were a totally different (albeit quite excellent) group.

Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division’s debut found the group fully formed on arrival. Distance is at the heart of these songs – both in their subject matter and sound quality. Producer Martin Hannett created an aural landscape that is as stark and cold as a graveyard, while songs like ‘She’s Lost Control’ and ‘New Dawn Fades’ filled that expanse with eerie, gothic dread.

Talking Heads | The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads
#17 Talking Heads – The genre’s unlikliest stars became one of the very few punk bands to crossover into mainstream success. David Byrne’s professor nerdboy look and jittery vocal delivery did much to set the group apart from their ‘three chords and a cloud of dust’ contemporaries.

The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads – An excellent live document that captures the band during two different great eras of their lifespan. The first LP (or first half of the disc) features material recorded between 1977 and ’79, while sides 3 & 4 feature a beefed up version of the group (accompanied by backup singers, additional percussionists, and Bernie Worrell on keyboards) crunching through material from 1980 & 81’s ‘Remain In Light’ tour. For reasons unclear, this great album wasn’t available on compact disc until 2004.

Gang Of Four | Entertainment!
#18 Gang Of Four – The group set out to challenge the form and function of music by paring their songs down to skeletal, twitchy grooves, and filling in the cracks with monotone political manifesto. The results are chaotic, hypnotic and have continued to influence bands well beyond the pale of Punk.

Entertainment! – Generally described in terms like skittery, jittery, etc that ignore the stone groove that drives this album. At its heart, this is a funk album, albeit one that channels political theory and references Kafka. Punk didn’t get much smarter – or more out there – than this.

Dead Kennedys | Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables
#19 Dead Kennedys – A raving lunatic and standup comedian rolled into one, Dead Kennedys’ frontman Jello Biafra delivered some of the most incediary and/or hilarious lyrics ever recorded. Songs like ‘Kill The Poor’ ‘California Uber Alles’ and ‘Holiday In Cambodia’ are shrouded in sarcasm, but beneath the veneer of Biafra’s humor lurks some serious messages.

Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables – A whirlwind of political frustration, Fresh Fruit… is so start-to-finish great that it could easily serve as the group’s best of. In fact it was just their debut.

Patti Smith | Horses
#20 Patti Smith – A professional writer long before she became the ‘high priestess of Punk’, Smith and guitarist Lenny Kaye developed a simple sound that slightly anticipated the savage aggression and taboo-smashing delight of Punk. Gigging at churches and bookstores around NYC in the early/mid 70’s, they spread the gospel for a different kind of music, and brought a genuinely artistic attitude to a genre that prided itself on artlessness.

Horses – Perhaps more than any other musical release of the decade, Patti Smith’s debut album signaled that the prevailing notions of gender in music would never be accepted at face value again. Her twisted, transcendent reading of Van Morrison’s classic ‘Gloria’ provided a perfect introduction to the album (and the genre): “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.”


The Next 20…

New York Dolls – New York Dolls
Wire – Pink Flag
MC5 – Back In The USA
Various Artists – Rat Music For Rat People
Fear – The Record
The Jam – Beat Surrender
Nirvana – Bleach
XTC – Drums & Wires
Pixies – Doolittle
The Ramones – Rocket To Russia
Various Artists – Repo Man Soundtrack
Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade
Richard Hell & The Voidoids – Blank Generation
Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers – L.A.M.F.
Mission Of Burma – Vs.
The Germs – MIA: The Complete Anthology
Rocket From The Tombs – The Day The Earth Met…
The Seeds – The Seeds
Various Artists – 24 Hour Party People Soundtrack†
Devo – Greatest Hits

†This album does a nice job of tracing Punk’s influence on Electronica and the rave scene of the early 90’s.


Ten True Punks Who Didn’t Play Punk Music…

Cash - pic
1 – Johnny Cash – Gobbled pills by the handful, kicked out the footlights at the Grand Ol’ Opry – and was told to never come back – and generally wrecked a wide swath of havoc wherever he went. In his pre-June Carter days the Man In Black was as scary and unpredictable as Sid Vicious on a bender.

Killer - pic
2 – Jerry Lee Lewis – Married his 13 year-old cousin, earned the nickname “Killer”, had his own bouts with pills and booze, and played his piano with an unhinged intensity that was exponentially more athletic than any of his contemporaries.

Burroughs - album
3 – William S. Burroughs – Killed his first wife while trying to shoot an apple off her head – a la William Tell – in a drunken haze and fled to Mexico to avoid prosecution. Proceeded to chronicle life’s nasty side and give voice to junkies, queers, and weirdos of every stripe.

Dylan - pic
4 – Bob Dylan – Until the Stooges came around, Dylan’s controversial “plugging in” at the Newport folk festival and subsequent touring with The Band produced the most fierce confrontation between audience and performer in the annals of rock history.

Hopper - pic
5 – Dennis Hopper – Is he even acting? Who knows?!?

Miles - pic
6 – Miles Davis – Re-invented jazz 3 times over, didn’t mind blowing his audiences off by playing exclusively with his back to them, and often took unpopular stands on black issues of the day. Was also incredibly difficult to deal with and unpopular with his fellow musicians.

Lenny Bruce - album
7 – Lenny Bruce – Got jailed repeatedly for using the F word, he raised (or lowered, depending on your perspective) the public discourse above “dirty” and “clean” and set the table for every potty mouthed free thinker to follow. He also OD’d on smack – so punky!

Clinton - album
8 – George Clinton – Stood so far outside music’s mainstream in the ‘70s that he needed the Mothership to get back within the atmosphere. His repeated drug bust/mug shot press cycle is well beyond the combined efforts of dozens of punks’ finest nihilists.

Woody Guthrie - album
9 – Woody Guthrie – Virtually invented the protest song, and wrote about the devastation and anti-heroes of his time with an honesty that was an influence in itself.

Malcolm X - pic
10 – Malcolm X – No matter what Malcolm X said or did, he generated controversy. In his time, people (especially white folk) didn’t hear the words and were focused instead on a pre-generated media image of what the man was all about. They often reacted badly. Hmmmm, sounds familiar…