Hardcore punk developed in the early 1980s. Bands like the Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Minor Threat, TSOL, the Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys and Bad Religion sprang up all over the world, building the network that “alternative” bands continue to enjoy to this day.
A fast, and often left-leaning, politically charged music scene emerged creating a do-it-yourself (D.I.Y.) movement challenging the status quo and the marketing of popular music. Bands like Nirvana and Green Day materialized from this scene.
In 1984, the fanzine Maximum Rock and Roll released a record called Welcome to 1984 featuring bands from Italy, France and Germany. I was at my friend Mike’s house when I first heard this record. I stole away from the party that he was having, put on headphones and then dropped the needle onto the spinning black vinyl. Four furious chords from the Italian band Raw Power pierced my eardrums, taking my breath away.
Twenty seconds into the song, an enraged vocalist screamed “Fuck Fuck Fuck, Fuck Authority” over and over again. My arms immediately turned into chicken skin as I pumped the volume up all the way. After the song finished, I lifted the record-playing arm and dropped it back at the beginning. I repeated this until who knows when—Mike found me asleep and drooling on his parent’s living room floor early the next morning.
Joey Keithley from the Canadian band D.O.A. recently compiled a greatest hits package of raw power from their 10 albums on his new label Sudden Death. Always fast and intense, The Hit List features 32 songs from one of the most under-appreciated hardcore bands of the mid-‘80s.
Speaking of D.O.A., be sure to check out War and Peace, another greatest hits package from Sudden Death. War and Peace features many of D.O.A.’s hardest hitting songs, like the topical and pissed-off beyond recognition “Liar for Hire” and the speedy “The Prisoner.”
Mixing hard rock, reggae, punk and hardcore, D.O.A. toured the world extensively and always put on an amazing show. I have seen them up close and personal many times and am completely in awe of their integrity, wit and passion.
Before I sobered up, my favorite band of 1985 was Austin’s Scratch Acid. They’re not “hardcore” by any stretch of the imagination but are definitely punk in spirit and musical execution. Instead of using speed and anger, the band fused a psychedelic and beefed-up version of Link Wray and the Cramps, churning out some highly imaginative rock and roll.
On the reissue The Greatest Gift, “Cannibal” is a song pleading with a flesh-eater to stop eating the singer’s body parts. (David Yow, the eccentric vocalist, later went on to join the Jesus Lizard). My favorite song is the “Greatest Gift,” with its swirling Texas-surf guitar and emotive lyrics. Even today, I have wonderful flashbacks listening to this CD.
After I sobered up, I discovered the Washington D.C. band Marginal Man. Their moniker comes from a sociological term for “an individual partially assimilated into two or more cultures” (sounds similar to a suburban punk rocker’s dilemma).
Marginal Man lived in my cassette player for years. Their first record Identity came out on Dischord Records but I’ve been looking for their second record, Double Image, (In your Eye Records) for a long time. Finally, thanks to my pal Andrew, I found it on Amazon.com.
The songwriting is simple, but honest and direct. The passionate vocals and fascinating interplay between the guitars makes me go crazy and drive really fast, singing along at the top of my voice. (If you are a police officer, I made up that last sentence).
I was also surprised to hear how contemporary sounding they are. While never whiny like many of the emo/screamo bands out there, Marginal Man can definitely hold their own against the eye shadow wearing, faux-angry simpletons who are so popular now.
To me, punk rock was and is about being musically adventurous. It isn’t the format that is important. One kid told me he only listens to music on vinyl, as if that made it more “punk” or something.
Whether it’s the brutally fast music of VOID, the crazy funk of the Big Boys or the pre-crossover metal of Dr. Know, playing in a punk band meant more than sporting an orange mohawk or watching A Clockwork Orange everyday and looking for a little “ultra-violence.” MTW