The 20 Greatest American hardcore punk albums of all time

Image

L.A. Weekly posted a list of the 20 greatest hardcore albums of all time which I thought was pretty terrible since it wasn’t clear what exactly they considered “hardcore” and what the criteria were.  Some of the bands and/or albums they listed are good but they made me go “huh?”  I mean Rights Of Spring and  At The Drive In are good but if THAT’S “hardcore”, then why not include the Butthole Surfers, Melvins, Nirvana, Fugazi or Dinosaur Jr?  Like most of their music related articles (such as the 5 greatest punk guitarists), it doesn’t seem like they listened to a whole lot of music and just kind of arbitrarily made the list from  stuff they’d read.  Now, of course lists are subjective and I personally don’t even like making them since I can’t prioritize for shit but still, here is a REAL list of 20 greatest hardcore albums.

If you want MY definition, hardcore punk is that faster, more aggressive sub-genre of punk that began roughly in 1980 (although the first stereotypically sounding hardcore record was the “Out of Vogue” 45 by the Middle Class, which came out in 1978) and was stridently, willfully, anti-commercial, anti-big success and was all on dinky independent labels that grew huge through sheer perseverance while helping to launch a bazillion other genres.  But, even in the hardcore underground, there were plenty of bands who were weird and unique yet still considered part of the scene; some of which made this list!

This list only refers to American bands.  I have a soft spot for the Exploited, G.B.H., Discharge, Chron Gen, Anti-Pasti and Chaos U.K. but personally think those bands are a little goofy with their huge mohicans and intense punk rock posturing.  American bands always seemed a bit more intelligent and creative.

And I know some of my choices will make you tear your hair out by the route and yell, “are you out of your mind??!!” but these are my faves, ya know?  Here are a few runner-ups.  There were plenty more but these are the ones I could think of off the top of my head.  It was pretty tough coming up with just 20 but, alas, it had to be done.  These are all great but I simply went by which I listen to and enjoy most; also Kill from the Heart by the Dicks would have made the top  20 but they flubbed it up with that stupid 15 minute long jam at the end.

Dicks – Kill from the Heart – SST – 1982

Image

Fang – Landshark! – Boner – 1982

fang_land_shark

Scream – Still Screaming – Dischord – 1981

Image

Adolescents – Adolescents – Frontier – 1981

Image

M.D.C. – Millions of Dead Cops – R Radical – 1982

Image

Necros – Conquest for Death – Touch and Go – 1983

Image

The Crucifucks – The Crucifucks – Alternative Tentacles – 1985

Image

And now for the list!!!

20.  T.S.O.L. – Dance with Me – Frontier – 1981

Image

West coast kings of goth punk, this is the shit you turn to when you want to wear your motorcycle jacket and engineer boots, paint your face white and pretend you’re part of the Return of the Living Dead crew.  T.S.O.L. put out their first E.P. in 1980; it has songs like “Abolish Government” and “World War III” but, by 1981, they probably realized there were enough groups who sang about those topics.  So they put on the “pancake” makeup, spiked up the hair and acted like vampires (with a bit of drag thrown in).  They’re not exactly the West Coast equivalent of the Misfits but they’re about the closest you’re gonna get to that mix of straight-forward, middle-upper tempo punk with that early, gothic “death rock” production (at least before Christian Death and 45 Grave came out).  Actually T.S.O.L. seem more like they’re trying to be the Damned with singer Jack Grisham sounding a bit like Dave Vanien and guitarist Ron Emory playing slashing punk chords, string bendy guitar solos and eerie, little melodies.  Bassist Mike Roche and drummer Todd Barnes make a solid, speedy rhythm section and the band create a fun soundtrack for breaking into your local cemetary and digging up a few graves.  The classic is the necrophilia anthem “Code Blue” which is the one that goes “I wanna fuck, I wanna fuck the dead/and I don’t even care how she died/but I like it better if she smells of formaldehyde” but the album also features such creepy tunes as “Sounds of Laughter”, “I’m Tired of Life”, “Silent Scream”, “Funeral March” and the awesome title track.  After Dance with Me, the band released the Weathered Statues EP before going in a more arty and gothic direction and releasing the solid Beneath the Shadow and Change Today LPs and then turning into a cheesy hair metal band albeit with almost an entirely different lineup.  Jack Grisham also pretty much confirmed that he was a HUGE dickhead in the early 80s, apparently slicing kids ears off with the spur on the back of his boot when he jumped atop the crowd.  I guess that matters not anymore since this is about the music.

19.  S.O.D. – Speak English or Die – Mega Force – 1985

Image

I guess most people would associate this more with metal but, as far as I’m concerned, this is the only New York crossover thrash I need to listen to because I think Agnostic Front and Cro-Mags are mediocre at best and I’d rather listen to a fun, funny and hooky album made by goofy metalheads than “serious” music made by macho skinheads.  S.O.D. consists of Anthrax members Scott Ian and Charlie Benante on guitar and drums respectively along with Dan Lilker – formerly of Anthrax, at the time in Nuclear Assault and later in grindcore gods Brutal Truth – on bass and New Jersey skin Billy Milano of some band called the Psychos on vocals.  Some people accused them of being racist but that’s bullshit.  They wrote hilariously rude tunes like “Kill Yourself”, “Pussy Whipped” and “Fuck the Middle East” along with good natured homages like “United Forces”, “Fist Banging Mania” and “Freddy Kruger” and let’s not forget those second long parody tunes “Ballad of Jimmy Hendrix” and “Diamonds and Rust (Extended Version).”  Thrash or die!!!

18.  The Meatmen – Stud Powercock: The Touch and Go Years 1981 – 1984 – 1990

Image

The first of what I believe to be four CD collections that I lazily threw on this list because I’m more of a quantity than quality person, Stud Powercock contains 39 tracks or the group’s entire recorded output for Touch and Go; a compilation track, the Blud Sausage and Crippled Children Suck 7″ EPs, the We’re the Meatmen and You Suck! album (which has Blud Sausage plus live tunes), the Crippled Children Suck album (which has the Crippled Children Suck EP plus outtakes, live tunes and demos) and the Dutch Hercules 12″ EP.  In Pitchfork’s Touch and Go best 25 list, they included releases by the Necros and Negative Approach but not the Meatmen and I think the reason for this is pretty freakin’ obvious.  Yes the Meatmen wrote some pretty puerile lyrics atop equally crude music but so what?  This IS punk rock, remember?  And Tesco Vee started the Touch and Go label along with writing same named zine so give credit where credit is due, k?  This comp starts with the earliest Meatmen where Tesco is joined by Ramsey brothers Greg on guitar and Rich on bass along with someone named Mr. X on drums.  This lineup unleashed tasteless classics like “Meatmen Stomp”, “Toolin’ for Anus” (both which appear on the CD three times each), “One Down, Three to Go” (about the then recent John Lennon assassination), “Blow Me Jah”, “Mr. Tapeworm”, “Orgy of One”, “Crippled Children Suck” and the amusing put-down “T.S.O.L. Are Sissies.”  Then Tesco moved to D.C., hooked up with former Minor Threat members Brian Baker and Lyle Preslar (lead and rhythm guitar respectively), Burt Quiroz from Youth Brigade and some other D.C. bands on bass and Richard Moore on drums and unleashed Meatmen mk II, the costumed, metal novelty years.  They also cover “Dance to the Music”!

17.  D.R.I. – Dealing with It! – Metal Blade – 1985

Image

Born in Huston, TX and relocated to San Francisco, D.R.I. were, according to Slayer, the fastest band of all time.  While Dealing with It! isn’t as “immediate” as their first album, Dirty Rotten LP, which blasts through 22 tracks in 17 minutes, it’s still a mighty righteous hardcore classic.  The production is improved but still raw and the group hasn’t totally morphed into a metal band – after all, Dealing with It! contains 25 songs and is only 35 minutes long so…  Kurt Brecht sounds awesome belting the lyrics out in his semi high pitched, teenage voice while Spike Cassidy plays killer riff after killer riff.  The album also includes four songs from Dirty Rotten LP including classics like “I Don’t Need Society” and “Reaganomics” and introduces 21 new scorchers like “I’d Rather Be Sleeping” and “Couch Slouch.”  Let’s not forget “Equal People”, the angriest “accept everyone” song you’re bound to hear.  If you must know, the rhythm section is Josh Pappe on bass and Felix Griffin on drums but I think Spike plays about half the bass parts anyway.  In a couple years, they’d grow their hair out and emerge as one of the premier crossover thrash bands but thankfully continued to play fast.

16.  Dwarves – Blood, Guts & Pussy – Sub Pop – 1990

Image

Keep in mind this tasteful collection of “fuck” songs was released by the same label and in the same era that introduced grunge to the angsty kids.  If you’re not familiar with the Dwarves, they began as a Nuggets influenced garage band called the Suburban Nightmare than morphed into an outrageous “shock core” band led by perverted lead singer Blag Dahlia and featured the likes of Mexican wrestling mask and jock strap wearing guitarist Hewhocannotbenamed, bassist Salt Peter and drummer Vadge Moore.  The group was like a cross between early and late period GG Allin but with a sense of irony.  Blag didn’t poop on stage but he still attacked audience members and the group’s shows were really short and violent; at least the first time around.  After they broke up and got back together, they played it more like a normal band.  Blood, Guts & Pussy is 14 minutes long and contains songs with titles like “Back Seat of My Car”, “Let’s Fuck”, “Skin Poppin’ Slut”, “Fuck You Up and Get High” and “Insect Whore.”  The album is fast and aggressive like hardcore but with garagy guitar tones and an obvious influence of 60s pop melody.  It’s really freakin’ good and short and you should listen to it a lot.  Followup albums Thank Heaven for Little Girls and Sugarfix are also great.

15.  Minutemen – Post-Mersh, Vol. 3 – SST – 1987

Image

Everyone else swears that Double Nickles on the Dime is the finest release from the Minutemen but I personally think the dinky, Paranoid Time E.P. is easily the best thing guitarist/singer D. Boone, bassist/singer Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley ever recorded and, since it’s an E.P. and not album, I included this dope ass Post-Mersh, Vol. 3 collection which has 46 songs on it and also contains the Joy E.P., the Bean Spill E.P., the The Politics of Time LP and the Tour Spiel E.P.  I mean, the Minutemen were sooo good; they played a bunch of minute long songs that alternate between speedy punk and danceable funk with D. Boon’s non-distorted guitar melodies dancing between and around Mike Watt’s noodly bass lines and George Hurley’s drumming holding it all together.  This shit is tight!  And it’s so melodic and catchy; at least the music is!  Boon just yells out lines like “I try to think of girls but keep thinking of World War III!” and other similar political musings.  Thus we have song titles like “Fascist”, “Joe McArthy’s Ghost”, “If Reagan Played Disco” but that’s only part of the picture.  The CD also includes covers of “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love” by Van Halen, “The Red and the Black” by Blue Oyster Cult, “Green River” by John Fogerty and “Lost” by the Meat Puppets who you will find later on this here list!

14.  Fear – The Record – Slash – 1982

Image

Another band whose crass sense of humor – gross songs like “Beef Baloney” and “Fresh Flesh”, deliberately absurd right-wing anthems like “Let’s Have a War” and “Foreign Policy” and overall mean-spiritedness – was confused by the more sensitive punk people as being straight-forward commentary; but how seriously can you take lyrics like “let’s have a war/it can start in New Jersey/let’s have a war/give guns to the queers” or “New York’s all right if you like getting pushed in front of the subway/New York’s all right if you want to freeze to death/New York’s all right if you like art and jazz/New York’s all right if you’re a homosexual”?  The group started in 1977 and released their first single “I Love Living in the City”/”Now You’re Dead” in 1978 but, as hardcore was born and bands started playing faster and audiences got crazier, rather than being put off like X or the Germs, Fear said “go for it, kids!  Go nuts!”  The group sped up their sound while keeping their jazz-informed musical tightness firmly intact, playing tightly but using some strange drum patterns and arrangements that typical “learned yesterday” punks wouldn’t be able to handle.  Guitarist/singer Lee Ving led the charge and was joined by second guitarist Philo Cramer, bassist Derf Scratch and drummer Spit Stix.  The band exposed square America to hardcore with their controversial Saturday Night Live performance before releasing their first (some say only good) album, The Record.  The album contains straight forward hardcore punk like “I Don’t Care About You” and a faster take on “I Love Livin’ in the City” but is also joined by potentially annoying, stop/start jazzy parts in songs like “Disconnected” and their twisted cover of the Animals classic “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”  Their next album More Beer is pretty good but then they broke up and Lee Ving “reformed” the band with all new people and pretty much lost everything that made them unique.  Also, for some stupid reason, they re-recorded The Record in 2012.

13.  Negative Approach – Total Recall – Touch and Go – 1992

Image

Yeah, yeah, it’s another collection containing what was then the entire catalog; a compilation track, a 10 song 7″ EP, a 10 song LP, and a bunch of demos and unlisenable live recordings; 38 songs total!… Negative Approach managed to be totally, typically hardcore yet still unique enough to skirt the stereotypes of the genre.  Sure singer John Brannon was another baldy with engineer boots barking in a mic and sure Rob McCulloch just played basic bar chords really fast and sure Rob’s older brother Graham just played the root notes of what Rob played and sure OP Moore just played basic punk and thrash beats but their songs were good and different enough from each other and catchy and fun and angry and they covered a couple oi songs and the self titled EP is more lo fi and punk while the Tied Down album is a bit more metally and “Can’t Tell No One” is one of the most awesomely catchy songs ever with its Ramonesy beat and “Lead Song” has an awesome two note guitar lead and they cover “Never Surrender” by Blitz and “Chaos” by 4Skins and “I Got a Right” by the Stooges and the song “Tied Down” totally RUUULLLLEEEZZZZ and “Evacuate” is like slow and sludgy and they have angry songs and they were angry and pissed.

Addendum: as of 2007, NA has become so stupidly popular that they’ve released a 7″ EP and two full length albums of live and demo stuff with even more songs and unreleased live versions.  Without a doubt, we need more and more Negative Approach stuff because 15 different recordings of “Why Be Something That You’re Not” just won’t do!!!

12.  Circle Jerks – Group Sex – Frontier – 1980

Image

Apparently Group Sex is considered by some to be the first hardcore punk album ever but that’s a pretty lofty claim considering GI by the Germs and Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables by DKs came out before Group Sex so I don’t know.  I do know that Group Sex rules!  14 songs in 15 minutes and all catchy, bratty punk and hardcore.  “World Up My Ass” and “Live Fast, Die Young” are punk.  “I Just Want Some Skank” and “Red Tape” are hardcore.  There are a few mid-tempo numbers for good measure.  “Deny Everything” is 30 seconds long.  “Don’t Care” and “Wasted” were Black Flag tunes that Keith Morris just took with him to Circle Jerks because why not?  Morris’ voice sounds nasal, snotty and very distinct (listen to Off!; he sounds like he hasn’t aged a bit!).  Greg Hetson (formerly of Redd Cross and currently of Bad Religion) plays guitar, Roger Dowding Rodgerson plays bass and Chet “Lucky” Lerer plays drums.  After Group Sex, the band went through a few rhythm sections and released the albums Wild in the Streets (1982) and Golden Shower of Hits (1983) which are good, Wunderful (1985) and VI (1987) which are a bit slower but okay, the live album Gig (1992), which is great and their only major label album Oddities, Abnormalities and Curiosities (1995), which stinks but has an awesome cover of “I Wanna Destroy You” by the Soft Boys.  Keith Morris is now tearing it up in Off! with Steve McDonald of Redd Cross, Dmitri Coats from Burning Brides on guitar and Mario Rubecalba from the Hot Snakes on drums.  He’s also singing for Flag but we’ll forgive him for that.

11.  Bad Brains – Rock for Light – Caroline – 1983

Bad-Brains-Rock-For-Light

Bad Brains started in 1978 and released the most influential hardcore single ever (“Pay to Cum”/”Stay Close to Me”) in 1980, a self-titled cassette album in 1982 and the awesome Rock for Light in 1983.  Rock for Light has 20 rippin’ tunes (or maybe that’s my CD reissue, still though).  The band was credited for an unprecedented level of proficiency on their instruments and a tendency towards ganja-fueled rasta themes.  In fact, promoting “jah” and bashing “Babylon” are about the only things H.R. sings about.  The songs are mainly hardcore but have metal parts and there are four reggae tunes on the album that don’t particularly fit but are pretty cool nonetheless.  Nobody could predict that, in a few years, they would play ENTIRE live shows of reggae jams and earn a reputation for being notorious homophobes, a view that they would later, thankfully recant.  Some of my favorites from Rock for Light include “The Big Takeover”, “Attitude”, “Sailin’ On”, “Rock for Light”, “Supertouch” and “Banned in D.C.”  H.R. was a powerful frontman, doing these crazy flips on stage while guitarist Dr. Know, bassist Darryl Jennifer and drummer Earl Hudson ripped through these tunes somethig fierce.  They went on to make the I Against I album for SST and many consider that a classic. I think it’s pretty good but prefer the earlier, faster stuff way more.  Then H.R. quit and they released another album.  They’re back now but not as good, I don’t think.

10.  The Replacements – Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash – Twin/Tone – 1981

replacements_sorry

The Replacements were sort of like the Undead or Social Distortion of the mid-west in that they were a fun, rock ‘n’ roll influenced punk band surrounded by a bunch of pissed off hardcore dudes.  Eventually they would go on to be one of the most popular underground rock bands of the 80s and be considered one of the “alternative” bands that normal people would like.  But on Sorry Ma…, guitarist/singer Paul Westerberg, lead guitarist Bob Stinson, bassist Tommy Stinson and drummer Chris Mars let rip 18 wonderfully catchy, fast but not hardcore speed rock ‘n’ roll numbers dealing with life as a typical suburban teen in Minneapolis or just anywhere in America; basically 18 variations on songs about hanging out and having fun somewhere because you have nothing better to do.  The group’s philosophy is summed up in the classic “Careless” in the line “irresponsibility is my closest friend.”  I wanna say the group gets a little serious in the anti-heroine, Johnny Thunders bash “Johnny’s Gonna Die” but that’s about as deep as it gets.  But my favorite line is from the song “I Hate Music.”  It goes, “I hate music/sometimes I don’t/I hate music/it’s got too many notes.”

9.  Minor Threat – Complete Discography – Dischord- 1989

minor_threat_complete

The fourth and last compilation on this list, this is one that doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out.  Some of you might wonder why I placed it at #9 and not right at the top but, what can I say?  I don’t wanna be predictable and this is still MY opinion, not something taken out of Spin magazine.  Minor Threat needs no introduction.  After the Teen Idles broke up, D.C.’s leading scenester and “man with a message” Ian McKaye kept drummer Jeff Nelson and scored tight as hell musos Lyle Preslar on guitar and Brian Baker on bass and unleashed the Minor Threat and In My Eyes 7″ EPs which contain hardcore standards like “Filler”, “Straight Edge” and the needlessly controversial “Guilty of Being White.”  Then they brought in bassist Steve Hansgen, moved Baker to second guitar, released a mini LP titled Out of Step, which was a bit heavier and a bit more ahem… metal… then they dropped Hansgen, recorded a couple more songs and broke up because they all had different career aspirations.  Complete Discography has most of it (there’s a stupid EP of demos that’s not even worth mentioning); all 26 songs in 50 minutes starting with the rumbling bass line of “Filler”, ending with the melodic, chime filled, electric/acoustic melodic tune “Salad Days” and containing a whole lot of angry, classic tuneage in between; including covers of “Good Guys Don’t Wear White” by the Standells, “Steppin’ Stone” by the Monkees and “12XU” by Wire.  Flex your head!

8.  Meat Puppets – Meat Puppets – SST – 1982

meat_puppets

If you’ve wasted enough time to read this far down, you might be wondering if you’re ever going to see Husker Du on this list and I’m sorry; you’re not.  In spite showcasing other bands who belong in the “really great musicians who would tire of hardcore almost immediately after making their name in the genre” unlike the Minutemen, the Replacements and this here Arizona based power trio the Meat Puppets, I must admit, I’m not HUGE on Husker Du.  Anyway… the Meat Puppets classic lineup featured Curt Kirkwood on guitar and vocals, Chris Kirkwood on bass and vocals and Derek Bostrom on drums and the band’s claim to fame was introducing the first country influences into punk rock and hardcore.  These 14 songs (and now 32 thanks to the awesome CD reissue which includes the In a Car EP and a ton of comp tracks!!!) are all punk and hardcore speed but with Chris Kirkwood playing individual notes all over the place, deliberately slopping it up with country twang while Curt hilariously yells drunken and incomprehensible lyrics all to incredibly catchy effect.  And what great song titles!  “Love Offering”, “Blue-Green God”, “Electromud”… a cover of “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds”… of course, this is the last album they made that sounded like this.  They soon moved on to a more melodic alterna-country hybrid and would become indie darlings for the rest of the decade but that’s another story for another time.

7.  Flipper – Album Generic Flipper – Subterranean – 1981

flipper_album

Containing former members of San Fran punk band Negative Trend and not fitting the total hardcore tag, Flipper might be one of the most influential bands on musicians from the post-hardcore, noise and grunge world with either Will Shatter’s or Bruce Loose’s hypnotically, repetitive bass lines (they took turns singing and playing bass) Ted Falconi’s guitar noise and drummer Steve Depace’s solid, slow to mid-tempo beat.  Their deliberate attention to methodical repetition and not playing everything as fast as humanly possible made them targets by the nimrod skinheads who unfortunately made up a good part of the hardcore scene.  Album Generic Flipper (or some variant of those three words) is the most perfect representation of their world view both musically and lyrically.  And lyrically they were depressing!  I mean there was an obvious left of center political twist to it but really they just sang lyrics like “feeling so numb and I’m feeling so dead/just like someone just hit my head” and “feeling so empty and I feel so old/just waiting to feel the death like cold/feeding at my life ties/not really knowing and not caring why.”  Thankfully they lightened the mood with the deliberately silly “Sex Bomb” and present a positive message in “Life.”  The band would continue through the 80s with the excellent Gone Fishin’ and Public Flipper Limited albums before Will Shatter died of a drug overdose.  Years later they reformed with Kris Noveselic on bass.  They’re still around today I believe!

6.  Butthole Surfers – Butthole Surfers – Alternative Tentacles – 1983

butthole_surfers

I know this is considered an EP and not a full-length album but, if I’m not mistaken, Butthole Surfers (later known as Brown Reason to Live) is about 17 minutes long and in hardcore, that’s pretty epic; it’s just that this thing only has seven songs on it.  A couple years after this release, San Antonio, TX acid casualty freaks the Butthole Surfers would become one of the highest selling and biggest draws in the indie/alternative underground with some of the weirdest, hookiest and experimental albums released up to that point and some far out live shows with flashing strobes, disturbing film projections and use of strange props.  But here Gibby Haynes (vocals/saxophone/guitar/bass) and Paul Leary (vocals/guitar) are just getting started with their deranged noise.  The bassist on here is Billy Jolly while long time drummer Jeff “King” Coffey only plays drums on two songs.  The rest were handled by Brad Perkins.  But what kind of band is/was this?  Thirty years later this is still some pretty out there stuff; a bunch of ugly guitar racket atop a hardcore deconstruction, a bass-heavy dub tune, a kind of rockabilly thing with the Tazmanian devil singing, a couple kinda normallish sounding tunes, some sax bleating, some voice-pitch manipulation and song titles like “The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave”, Bar-B-Q Pope”, “Wichita Cathedral” and “The Revenge of Anus Presley.”  There are three others but they’re not as weird sounding.  The fact that the band presented such a bizarre style of music yet became commercially successful with a cut-throat business sense combined with actual musical skill speaks volumes.  Some people are still pissed over that Touch and Go incident way back in 1996 but, what can I say?  The Buttholes totally rule!

5.  Suicidal Tendencies – Suicidal Tendencies – Frontier – 1983

suicidal_tendencies

It’s hard to believe that Suicidal Tendencies were as controversial as they were back in the 80s but alas, the group’s image with their bandanas combined with their name and reputation for being violent assholes followed them wherever they went.  On later albums they preached tolerance and positivity and generally lived clean, drug-free lifestyles.  However their self-titled debut is their most hardcore and violent.  Lead shouter and only band constant Mike Muir claimed that the lyrics come from personal experience but that doesn’t stop “I Saw Your Mommy” from sounding gratuitous, violent and awesome!  The lineup on this album also featured guitarist Grant Estes, bassist Louichi Mayorga and drummer Amery Smith and though it’s mostly a hardcore album with thrash beats and slashing riffs, that doesn’t stop the band from filling the songs with raging, metallic leads.  “Institutionalized” – with its rant versus and speedy choruses – was a surprise mega-hit on college radio and apparently all over MTV during 1984, spreading their brand of metal influenced hardcore to the masses.  Elsewhere Muir shouts about personal angst, the system’s corrupting forces, shooting Ronald Reagan and Anwar Sadat, asshole cops, telling some dumb broad how he won’t fall in love with her, being possessed by demons and suicide.  Many accused Suicidal of being a metal band in disguise and Suicidal kinda confirmed that fear when, a few years later, they released their speed metal/crossover thrash sophomore LP Join the Army. After that they signed a major label deal and emerged as a technically proficient, duel guitar metal band who played enormous venues and toured with mega mainstream thrashers like Megadeth and Metallica.  They even took Pantera out on their first national tour!

4.  Dead Kennedys – Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death – Alternative Tentacles – 1987

dks_give

Without a doubt the Dead Kennedys were the most popular band during the early days of American hardcore; Jello Biafra was crucial to developing hardcore by insisting on all ages shows in spite many of his peers criticizing him and the rest of the DKs for siding with hardcore.  It’s easy to see why; DKs formed in 1978 in San Francisco and undoubtedly were part of the intellectual set with collage artist Winston Smith designing their graphics and such and the rise of hardcore presented the antithesis to the arty, thinking person’s brand of music the DKs were making.  But Jello had faith that some of those underage kids were intelligent and had good ideas.  Some did and well, some became Agnostic Front :)… DKs of course were totally awesome; Jello Biafra’s creepy, quivering vibrato and paranoid, caustic lyrics about corporate domination along with guitarist East Bay Ray’s and drummer D.H. Pelliger wickedly tight and underrated playing were a fierce combination. I guess Jeff “Klaus” Flouride is a solid bass player as well.  Originally they had a second guitarist named 6025 and the original drummer was Bruce Slesinger (a.k.a. Ted).  This CD/LP contains a wide smattering of the DKs various tricks; early (and better) single versions of “California Uber Alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia”, straight forward punk rock of “The Man with the Dogs”, thrashing hardcore of “Life Sentence”, surf-punk of “Police Truck” and “Too Drunk to Fuck”, creepy lounge music of “The Prey”, Harvey Milk inspired cover of “I Fought the Law” and hilarious publicity stunt song “Pull My Strings” which the group used to bash the entire music industry at a San Francisco, Grammy-style award show!  Yeah, the group’s reputation has been tarnished with that law suit and new versions of this release are no longer released by the legendary Alternative Tentacles label but we can always remember one of the greatest bands of all time.  There will never be another, that’s for sure!

3.  Black Flag – Everything Went Black – SST – 1982

black_flag_everything

Like the Dead Kennedys and Misfits, Black Flag isn’t just one of the greatest hardcore bands of all time, they’re simply one of the greatest bands period.  I realize that Everything Went Black seems like a strange choice for the third greatest hardcore album of all time especially since it doesn’t have “Nervous Breakdown” or “Rise Above” on it but here’s the thing; 1.) Black Flag have OTHER really great songs besides those two and 2.) Damaged is included on just about everybody’s list so I was trying to go the path less traveled.  Now, I love almost everything by Black Flag from their early punk rock/hardcore stuff to their sludgy and noisy stuff and I never felt Henry Rollins ruined the band when he joined.  I just feel Everything Went Black and The First Four Years are such great representations of this band when they were in their punk years.  And since Everything Went Black is longer… also, it’s such a neat release because it actually caused guitarist Greg Ginn and bassist Chuck Dukowski to be sentenced to jail for two weeks for breach of contract against former label Unicorn Records.  The group released it without the credits and just the performers listed but the judge counted that as a Black Flag release and thus a violation of contract and in the pokey they went.  Luckily Dukowski found enough in back tax evasion to bury the label and they eventually won all their rights back.  Everything Went Black is a double album which contains three sides of wicked outtakes from all of the group’s pre-Rollins singers – Keith Morris, Ron Reyes and Dez Cadena – and a fourth called “Crass Commercialism” which is a collection of fun radio spots.  The record showcases just how great of a songwriter Ginn was and also has neat earlier versions of Damaged songs like “Police Story”, “Depression” and “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme”, all of which appear on the album three times each.  Superfluous?  Maybe!  Other killer classics include “Clocked In”, “Jealous Again”, “I Don’t Care” (later to be stolen by Keith for Circle Jerks), “Revenge”, “White Minority”, “Louie Louie” and the Dez Cadena version of “Damaged I.”  Black Flag may not have been the fastest band in the world but damn were they powerful and catchy and don’t you just love Ginn’s crazy solos?  I’m not going to comment on the current Flag/Black Flag reunion debacle.

2.  Misfits – Wolf’s Blood/Earth A.D. – Aggressive Rock/Plan 9 – 1983

misfits_earth

Kids, there’s only one Misfits.  They existed from 1977 to 1983 and were led by an unstoppable singing/songwriting talent named Glenn Danzig who is 5’3″, sings in a killer Elvis/Jim Morrison baritone and apparently has some sort of Napoleon complex which makes him want to act like a macho tough guy in spite being a comic and toy collector.  Hey, nobody’s perfect100% of the Danzig-era Misfits is awesome; from their early days as a Doors-meets-Suicide keyboard band to the mid-tempo goth/doom punk, to lo fi Ramones inspired horror punk to their final days as a thrashing hardcore band.  They went through a few guitarists and drummers and the only other band constant next to Danzig was bassist Jerry “Only” Caifa, who usurped the Misfits name in 1994 to make money by releasing more and more garbage with a bunch of no-talent hacks; yeah I know Dez Cadena is currently in the Misfits, fuck you!  Anyway, I digress.  Many of the group’s fans felt they lost it when they moved away from their more melodic horror punk into straight-forward hardcore.  But I disagree.  First of all, that’s how they started to sound live anyway since they began playing faster for more aggressive audiences and secondly, devilocked Doyle plays catchy as hell riffs while former Black Flag drummer Robo plays fierce, tight thrash beats.  The American version of Wolf’s Blood/Earth A.D. has 9 songs and is 15 minutes long, the European version has 11 songs and is 19 minutes long and the 1996 Caroline reissue has 12 songs and is an epic 21 minutes long.  Of course you should get the longest version since it has “Die, Die, My Darling”, “We Bite” and “Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight” on it.  But if you’re strictly into vinyl, you can’t go wrong with dark, scary, evil and violent tunes like “Earth A.D”, “Queen Wasp”, “Devilock”, “Death Comes Ripping”, “Green Hell”, “Wolf’s Blood”, “Demonomania”, “Hell Hound” and “Bloodfeast.”  Sad to say that Earth A.D. came out in the states a week or so after the Misfits acrimoniously split up but thankfully Danzig emerged with his equally awesome though more experimental Samhain the following year and eventually started his prosperous career in the big leagues.

1.  Corrosion Of Conformity – Eye for an Eye – No Core – 1983

coc_eye

Everybody has his/her/its favorite and this one’s mine.  In the 90s 3/4 of this band would be joined by New Orleans bred guitarist/singer/songwriter Pepper Keenan and become popular with their big, major label debut Deliverance and its harder edged take on the Alice In Chains/Soundgarden brand of heavy grunge and that’s all fine and dandy and I still think “Clean My Wounds” is a great song but their first album is a doozy!  It’s hard to believe this is the same band, which it wasn’t totally after all.  Here they are at age 15 just tearing it up!  Guitarist Woody Weatherman, bassist Mike Dean and drummer Reed Mullin are joined by lead shouter Eric Eycke and the band blasts through 20 tunes in 35 minutes.  “Rabid Dogs” and “No Drunk” are 40 and 22 seconds long respectively.  “What?” sounds like a normallish punk song and “Green Manalishi” is indeed a Fleetwood Mac cover.  Elsewhere the band basically plays raging speed-core/thrash but with copious amounts of Sabbath and Priest riffs thrown in for good measure just because the band felt like putting them in there and had no problem expressing their love of both early metal and hardcore.  In fact “Redneckkk” is “Symptom of the Universe” played really fast and “College Town” uses the intro to “Cornucopia.”  Lyrically Eye for an Eye is somewhat political with titles like “Minds Are Controlled” and “Nothing’s Gonna Change” but it doesn’t matter too much since it’s nearly impossible to understand most of what Eric Eycke yells in his low, gruff voice.  Still though, this shit kills and it’s produced really dirty and it’s totally underrated so go and buy it.  On their next album, they’d lose Eycke and become a crossover thrash power trio with Mike Dean singing, then they’d get another singer, release another EP, break up for a while and emerge in the early 90s as a really heavy, stoner metal band that graced MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball, then they made Deliverance and had a bit of mainstream success right through the 90s and mid-oughts.  Now they’re back as a power trio with Dean singing lead again and are doing some sort of stoner metal/hardcore/thrash hybrid.

The Dictators

Image
special introductory paragraph

The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!

Manifest Destiny

Bloodbrothers

New York New York

…And You (as Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom)

D.F.F.D.

Viva Dictators

Every Day Is Saturday

If you’ve read Please Kill Me, then you should know that John Holmstrom, Legs McNeil and Gedd Dunn started Punk magazine in 1975 after being inspired by the first Dictators LP, Go Girl Crazy or The Dictators Go Girl Crazy, a raucous, fun, punky hard rock album whose sentiments about being an obnoxious teenage cretin that watches TV, sleeps all day, drinks and hangs out at White Castles predated similarly expressed views that appeared on the first Ramones album by an entire year.

Like most punk bands, they felt that rock ‘n’ roll was getting too serious and starting to stink thanks to arty prog bands or rednecky Southern rock bands, both of which have one thing in common; they’re BORING!  The Dictators’ entire mission was to make rock ‘n’ roll fun again while earning tons of money and getting tons of chicks.

The core of the group consisted of bassist/singer Andy Shernoff, who wrote all the original tunes, lead guitarist Ross “The Boss” Friedman, rhythm guitarist Scott “Top Ten” Kempner and “secret weapon” turned lead singer Richard “Handsome Dick Manitoba” Blum.  Future Twisted Sister bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza also briefly played in the group along with drummers Louie Lyons, Stu Boy King, Richie Teeter, Frank Funaro and J.P. “Thunderbolt” Patterson.

The band toughed it out from 1973 to 1978 before going on a lengthy hiatus with only the occasional reunion gig and one time album as Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom.  Since 1991, however, the band became more active and eventually released an album in 2001 as the Dictators.  It’s also noteworthy that Ross Friedman was a founding member of over-the-top metal barbarians Manowar and Scott Kempner started roots rockers the Del Lords.

These days the Dictators’ public profile as “that band that came before the Ramones” gives them quite a bit of cred on the underground scene.  But cred don’t pay bills, do it?  No, but a cool ass Manhattan punk rock bar certainly does, eh?

The Dictators Go Girl Crazy! – Epic – 1975

dictators_go_girl_crazy

First of all, who is that goofy, grinning guy that’s dressed like a wrestler?  Secondly, what kind of band poses for their photos inside a White Castle?  And what’s with these song titles?  “Back to Africa”?  “Master Race Rock”?  “Teengenerate”?  “Two Tub Man”?  Is that a cover of “I Got You Babe”?  What a way to make a first impression!

On Go Girl Crazy! The Dictators are one tight, mean, hooky, fun and funny rock ‘n’ roll band.  In spite of what Andy Shernoff said about how the group was just “learning to play”, Ross “The Boss” FUNicello (as he’s credited) and Top Ten (as he’s also credited) sound incredibly skilled on their instruments.  To be fair, it’s hard to tell if Top Ten is that good since he’s the rhythm guitarist but Ross The Boss plays awesomely flowing leads that seem more suited for a metal band – except, of course, on the surfy “Cars and Girls.”  Stu Boy King, while primarily playing straight 4/4 rock beats, is the most diverse of all of the Dictators’ drummers; playing in a variety of styles which fit each song’s approach (such as the Bo Diddly beats on “Back to Africa” or the pounding, martial drumming on “Master Race Rock”).  Without a doubt, he is my favorite Dictators drummer; no disrespect to Richie Teeter or J.P. “Thunderbolt” Patterson.  And, as far as I gather, Andy Shernoff’s bass playing is pretty solid as well.

Also, I should mention that Handsome Dick Manitoba wasn’t really the lead singer on Go Girl Crazy!  Andy Shernoff sings most of the lyrics in his high, snarky, wise-ass voice while Manitoba chimes in every now and then to emphasize certain lines.  The exception to this is “Two Tub Man”, a song perfectly crafted for Handsome Dick Manitoba’s loud, obnoxious John Belushi persona.

Go Girl Crazy! consists of nine songs, two of which are covers.  The very first thing you hear when putting on the record is Handsome Dick Manitoba’s opening rant.  In his low, New Yawk voice he says: “I don’t hafta be here, ya know?  I don’t hafta show up here!  With my vast financial holdings, I coulda been baskin’ in the sun in Flawrida!  This is just a hobby for me!  Nuthin’, ya hear?  A hobby!”  At this point, I had no idea what to make of this!

Then the first song started and it all began to make sense.  In spite of their reputation as a “proto-punk” band, Dictators play a variety of sub-genres with maybe, only three songs fitting into the same metal meets punk style they became known for.  But so you’re sure, here are the songs:

“The Next Big Thing” – begins with a melodic introduction followed by a riff that sounds like the Ramones song “I Just Wanna Have Something to Do” three years earlier but with guitar solos.

“I Got You Babe – hard rock bubblegum cover with Andy Shernoff and Handsome Dick Manitoba crooning the lines to each other in sincere a manner as possible thus evoking laughter from the listener.

“Back to Africa” – begins a Bo Diddly beat, followed by”Apeman”-ish fake reggae verses and New York Dollsy punky glam riffing in the chorus complete with chants of “oogah chaka”

“Master Race Rock” – punk metal tune with a wickedly awesome riff, neat, tension-building stops with drum fills, militaristic drumming and group chants in the chorus.  The song ends with group chants of “let’s go!”  Is it a stretch to think that “Let’s go!” influenced the Ramones’ “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!”???

“Teengenerate” – cheery, mid-tempo glam rock complete with a pretty mid-song piano break

“California Sun” – punked up, early 60s surf classic.  The Ramones covered it two years later and sped up the tempo, simplified the rumbling tom intro and removed the guitar solo altogether probably because Johnny Ramone isn’t a very good musician.

“Two Tub Man” – another punk metal tune and the album’s most aggressive song, the entirety of which is sung by Handsome Dick Manitoba, who has an awesome, low, growly, drunken voice.  Apparently it’s also the first song which Andy Shernoff ever wrote for the band.

“Weekend” – gorgeous, melodic, power-pop with basic three chord riff and melodic verses; end quota goes, “weekend, la-la-la-la.”

“(I Live for) Cars and Girls” – spot on, early 60s surf/Beach Boys parody, with clean, non-distorted guitar, Chuck Berry-ish leads and Brian Wilson-esque, falsetto “oo-wee-oo” back-up vocals

On the lyrical tip, the band is in good comedic spirits; either satirizing a variety of topics – the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, surf culture – or singing the praise of the teenage wastoid.  Some might balk at the back-to-back placement of “Back to Africa” and “Master Race Rock” but fear not kids for the Dictators ain’t a no white supremacists bigots (most of them are Jewish after all)! In fact, “Back to Africa”, though not the most PC song in the world, is a humorous tale of jungle fever and “Master Race Rock” is about the master race of… TEENAGERS!!!

I could easily quote the entire album for examples of some of the most clever and funny lyrics on a single rock album but that would be pointless since they wouldn’t make that much sense out of context.

However, a few choice examples include:

“hippies are squares with long hair
but they don’t wear no underwear”

“he can make a dead dog laugh
and watch me kick my mother on her ass”

“I think Lou Reed is a creep!”

“soon he through up in the store
but if he does it anymore
I’ll make him eat it off the floor!”

“gasoline shortage won’t stop us now!”

“the fastest car and a movie star
are my only goals in life
it’s the hippest scene, it’s the American dream
and for that I’ll always fight!”

Go Girl Crazy! remains one of my favorite albums of all time since I first heard it about 15 years ago.  In the coming years, the Dictators would attempt to be taken “seriously.”  Now I ask you, 38 years later, how many people in the gazzilions of bands that have been influenced by Go Girl Crazy! really care about being taken seriously?

Manifest Destiny – Elektra – 1977

dictators_manifest_destiny

Two years later, the Dictators return with a different lineup and new look more in common with Blue Oyster Cult than their earlier proto-punk selves.  I wasn’t there so I can’t say for sure but, given the sound on Manifest Destiny, it would seem to me that because of the commercial failure of Go Girl Crazy!, the Dictators were trying to make an at least semi-serious arena rock record.

With that all said, it’s STILL a Dictators album and a damn fine one at that!  Richie Teeter replaced Stu Boy King on drums, Andy Shernoff moved from bass to keyboard and Mark “The Animal” Mendoza is now the bassist.  Lead guitarist Ross The Boss and rhythm guitarist Scott Kempner continue to tear it up.  And, as evidenced by the cover, Handsome Dick Manitoba has a more pronounced role as lead singer.  However, he’s still not the only lead singer as Andy Shernoff and now Richie Teeter also take turns at the mic; primarily on the lighter and poppier songs, which I will discuss further in a moment.

Upon first listen, the most noticeable aspect of the album is its strange pacing.  The first three songs “Exposed”, “Heartache” and “Sleepin’ with the T.V. On” give the impression that the Dictators are now a mid-tempo, glammy, power-pop band with the third song bordering on being a ballad and having a denser arrangement with Shernoff showing off his melodic piano playing skills.  Furthermore, the humor is a bit more subtle.  For all its gorgeousness and lovelorn mood, “Sleepin’ with the T.V. On” appears to be a song in which the narrator pines for his ex-lover who apparently left him for falling asleep on their date while watching T.V.?!  And this is delivered in a sincere, theatrical manner bordering on melodrama!  I’m not kidding!  “Oh it’s a date/so, if I’m not awake/just let me rest peacefully” and “would you be insulted if I closed by eyes/and missed the part where Thin Man finds the killer we despise”!

Then, completely out of nowhere, track four is a Blue Oyster Cult style metal tune with eerie minor notes played on a gothic organ followed by killer, scary sounding riffs driven by a headbanging tempo for 6 1/2 straight minutes.  It’s the first on the album sung by Handsome Dick and it’s a V.D. joke with lines like “they ain’t gonna stick another needle in me!” and “I’m going blind!”  At least the song rocks…

Side one ends with the power ballad “Hey Boys”, which has a similar feel as, say, the Nazareth cover of “Love Hurts.”  It perfectly captures the “young guy crying in his beer over unrequited love” feel.  At first I thought the song was supposed to be funny since the opening lines “Mary Anne is in love again for the second time this week/and god knows how long I’ve wished she’d fall for me” appear to be satirical but then the narrator delivers the heart breaking epithet “love is cruel boys, so cruel boys/it’s made a fool of me/let’s stay out late boys, I need some company” before drunkenly and boldly declaring “I just won’t, just won’t, fall in love again.”  Richie Teeter sings that by the way so big ups to him!

Side two, on the other hand, consists entirely of awesome headbanging, epic, hard rock tunes.  I hate to use the Blue Oyster Cult comparison but I really can’t think of any other band that does middle-upper tempo tunes like these; it’s just really good hard rock with major chords, big chorus and wicked guitar solos.  “Steppin’ Out” is a bit poppy and seems a little melodramatic but  “Science Gone too Far” and “Young, Fast, Scientific” are total ass-tearing, late 70s rockers; the former is about hatching a monster in a laboratory and the latter makes a bunch of references to songs on the first album – “I was young, I took the pledge we called the Two Tub Man” and “have you heard, they said that I could be The Next Big Thing” – and has the amusing line “did she say that she had to be home by three/did she say that she never made it with a Hebrew boy.”

And now for the part where everyone yells at me and calls me a moron;  “Search and Destroy” is one of the greatest songs of all time but daaamn do the Dictators pummel it into the ground by speeding it up and having Handsome Dick strip away any of the original’s sex appeal charisma by just yelling everything!  I mean, the Dictators play the song well and are full of energy but Handsome Dick don’t sound like a “streetwalkin’ cheetah.”  He sounds like a big, fat, beer-guzzling gorilla!  It just sounds off to me, that’s all.

I guess I should also mention that the production on Manifest Destiny wasn’t the greatest; somehow it got a little muffled and the drums don’t sound as crisp and everything sounds like there’s a pillow over it but at least Mark “The Animal” Mendoza has big, poofy hair and is wearing a denim vest!

Bloodbrothers – Elektra – 1978

dictators_bloodbrothersf

Mark Mendoza quit the Dictators to become the  multi-millionaire bass player for Twisted Sister, Andy Shernoff went back to his original role as bassist and Handsome Dick Manitoba has now assumed the sole front man/lead singer role with no singing contributions from Andy Shernoff or Richie Teeter.

According to the Bloodbrothers CD reissue liner notes, the Dictators supported the Stranglers on a European tour and were so influenced by the “breaking down of the performer/audience barrier” of the British punk crowd, that they went back to a more raw, live in the studio, bash out the songs quickly aproach.  As evidenced by the cover, the group is apparently trying to appeal to a punkier, street-level audience (and call me crazy but didn’t the Ramones use a similar cover concept for Too Tough to Die six years later?).

In all honesty, Bloodbrothers is my least favorite of the original three Dictators albums.  Go Girl Crazy! and Manifest Destiny are idiosyncratic albums even by today’s standards but Bloodbrothers seems so normal in comparison.  I’m not saying that Bloodbrothers is a sell out album but the songs are way more streamlined and traditionally constructed while the lyrics follow simple rhyme schemes and deal with their topics in a completely non-humorous, straight-faced manner.

The production on Bloodbrothers is freakin’ killer!  It sounds exactly like the Ramones’ Road to Ruin album with a loud, crisp, clear live in the studio sound, hard edge guitars and popping snares, beautiful!

Opening track “Faster and Louder” (later to be covered by the Meatmen!!!) is an awesomely energetic way to kick off an album that wants to grab its audience by the throat.  It’s a fast paced, punky metal tune that starts with a “1-2-3-4” count off and then tears for 2 1/2 minutes as Handsome Dick Manitoba, in his new, hammy, overly enunciated singing style, proudly proclaims about how he’s back and can do anything FASTER and LOUDER or rather “FASTER, LOUDER!”

Unfortunately, it’s the only fast song on the album.  Henceforth the rest of the songs are all mid-tempo rockers.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you.  It just kind of makes you go, “huh” after having such a huge rush of energy.  There’s also less diversity than on Go Girl Crazy! or Manifest Destiny.  I’m not saying the songs all sound the same but you could pretty much categorize the rest of the album as mid-tempo hard rock that ranges from basic heavy metal, Cheap Trick-esque power pop, Bruce Springstein-esque anthem rock and 70s boogie rock.

Second track “Baby, Let’s Twist” sounds like it could be a mid-tempo Ramones song and with lyrics about a punk girl:

“a safety pin in ear lobe
a tattoo on her thigh
well, it’s a funky situation
and a treat for the eye.”

And I totally feel the sentiment expressed in childhood lament “No Tomorrow.”

“I can’t forget the sting of rejection
life has turned a hopeless direction
the kids in school keep putting me down
they made their point, I won’t stay around”

But, do you see where I’m going with this ?  Though the album has some solid rock tuneage, it’s not particularly out there or unique like the first two albums and that’s my main beef with it.  Fourth track “The Minnesota Strip” is a heavy metal song about prostitutes on the Minnesota strip.  It’s definitely a solid song; so much so that Kiss, Danzig and Stone Temple Pilots all stole the main riff for “War Machine”, “Snakes of Christ” and “Big Sex Thing” respectively!

Elsewhere there’s the slow, boogie rock of “Borneo Jimmy”, which is apparently a tribute to Richard Meltzer (why not “Borneo Richie”?) while “What It Is”, although not a bad song, is just a macho, “all girls want me” rocker complete with cowbell.  Their cover of “Slow Death” by the Flamin’ Groovies is pretty cool though and it has the line “slow death, turn my guts to clay” so that’s a plus.

I gotta say though, I really don’t like the songs “Stay with Me” and “I Stand Tall.”  The formers is this corny “baby, I want you back” pop rocker with the annoying chorus “my my my my my my my heart is calling/won’t you stay with me” and the latter is this overly-sincere, patriotic rocker.  I have nothing against pro-America songs, mind you.  But look at these lines:

“I get a thrill when I click on my t.v.
faithfully every night
I’m so proud to say
I was born and raised
here, where the streets are paved
here, in the U.S.A.

You can circle the globe if you think you’ll find a better land
lots of movie stars
if you’re a movie star fan
lots of pizza, ice cold coke
Johnny Carson telling jokes
and lots and lots of American g-g-girls”

all of which are delivered in an anthemic tone and backed by a piano!  Look, I’m all for supportin’ the pizza, coke (the drink, tsk tsk) and “lots and lots of American g-g-girls” and, furthermore, not being all “Europe is so much better and more cultured than us U.S. bumpkins”, I just don’t need a fist-pumping, Bruce Springsteen-esque rocker to tell me that, ya know?  The intro sounds like “Psycho Killer”, by the way.

Well, there you have it; once again, the Dictators didn’t deliver their big, break through commercial success they’d hoped for.  Although the group would reform for gigs during the course of the following decade, at this point, they were through.

New York New York – Roir – 1998

dictators_live_new_york

The above pictured album was originally released as a cassette called Fuck ’em If They Can’t Take a Joke in 1981 and then reissued as New York New York in 1998!  The reissue includes three extra bonus tracks consisting of a total of fifteen.  Get it?

The New York New York CD captures the Bloodbrothers line-up in one of their many non-reunion reunion gigs on Feb. 11 1981 and again some other time in the early 80s at the Ritz in New York.  They do four Go Girl Crazy!, three Manifest Destiny, four Bloodbrothers and four previously unreleased tunes – with “New York New York” eventually ending up on …And You and “Loyola” becoming the b-side to the “I Am Right!” single.  Covers of “Moon Up Stairs” by Mott The Hoople and “What Goes On” the Velvet Underground remain exclusive to this here CD!

The live sound is awesome, lots of bass in the mix allowing one to hear that Andy Shernoff IS a good bassist who doesn’t just parrot what the rhythm guitar is doing while both guitars are mixed beautifully and loudly.  This inevitably improves Manifest Destiny tunes like “Science Gone too Far” and “Young, Fast, Scientific” (listed as “Rock and Roll Made a Man Out of Me”), which sound more raw on in your face on this here recording!  Also, worth mentioning is that the production on the three bonus tracks is even louder and more punishing than the original album; “Master Race Rock” will especially make your face melt!

Also Handsome Dick Manitoba sings lead almost the entire time, even on the Go Girl Crazy! tunes on which he originally wasn’t the singer; adding in little asides during breaks among which include his elaborate interpretation of the “wanna die poor” segment in “The Next Big Thing” or when he says “we turned this into a folk classic” before the band plays a cute little cocktail intro to “Search and Destroy” or when he says, “this is my favorite part!” before the “weekend, la la la” part in “Weekend” or the extra “I guess I’m just a… I guess I’m just a…” in “Two Tub Man.”  Speaking of which, the group stops the song dead and Handsome Dick fakes out the audience with some false count-offs before the band kicks into the song.  He also fucks up a line but hey!

Indeed Handsome Dick talks a lot on stage; hamming it up between and during songs.  But, as mentioned earlier, he sings almost the entire time.  Andy Shernoff sings lead on “Loyola” and “What Goes On” possibly because Handsome Dick’s lower, brutish delivery wouldn’t work for these songs or to give him a break from shouting.

I do have to wonder though; when Handsome Dick comes back on vocals during “New York New York”, he sounds a bit tired and doesn’t talk as much so it stands to reason he really did overly-exert himself earlier in the performance.  Hey, these things happen.

Again, I wasn’t there but, by this point, it would seem the Dictators were a recent memory; neither a major label band with the potential to become the next big thing or local CBGBs punk rock favorites due to the scene being taken over by the next generation of underground musicians – read Cheetah Chrome’s book in which he complains that the scene was made up of either talentless hardcore punks or arty people making a bunch of racket on synthesizers – but the group are still a tight rock ‘n’ roll band.

Aside from just being a great live performance, it’s neat to hear the group play songs from their three albums side by side, showing off the diversity in the group’s performances; punk, metal, glam, hard rock???  Who gives a shit?

…And You? (by Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom) – MCA – 1990

manitobaswildkingdomandyou

A Dictators reunion in everything but name and the inclusion of rhythm guitarist Scott Kempner, …And You by Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom finds Handsome Dick Manitoba, Ross the Boss, Andy Shernoff and new drummer J.P. “Thunderbolt” Patterson indulging in their metal vices by combining over the top group shouting sessions, big, simple-but-catchy AC/DC style riffs, some punkiness, some Billy Idol-esque cock rock and nearly an entire side of THRASH!!!

There isn’t a whole lot more to say about …And You but there are a few interesting tidbits to note.

1. the songs are just as streamlined as those on Bloodbrothers with basic arrangements and simple lyrics that Handsome Dick Sings in a loud, enunciated and hammy style making sure every single line is perfectly audible

2. the production is totally big and 80s with drum and guitar reverb

3. there is a bit more humor in the lyrics but I’m not sure how much of it is intentional

4. side one is mostly mid-tempo while side two is mostly thrash

Let me address this last point in a bit more detail.  When I listened to the album for the first time, it sounded a bit like Twisted Sister meets AC/DC meets “Fight for Your Right” style Beastie Boys but with a fast, punky song or a not so great Billy Idol style song (“I Want You Tonight”) thrown in.  Then you put on side two (or track six on your CD) and, all of a sudden you hear “chugga-chugga” thrash guitars and I’m like, “woa!  thrash!”  In fact, I gotsta dig the ripping, bulldozer guitar of album closer “Speedball.”  However, as pissed off as they try to sound, this is Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom, not Metallica or Slayer which is to say their thrash has all of the anger and intensity as when the Ramones attempted to play hardcore and metal a few years earlier (remember Joey Ramone’s blistering vocal performance on “Bop ’til You Drop”?).

The tone for the album is set with a pair of fun, if a bit goofy, metal anthems; “The Party Starts Now!” begins with the aforementioned group shouting and tells the listener to

“Stop your whining ’cause you had a bad day
if you lost some weight, you might get laid

Can’t taking living 9 to 5
Can’t find a reason to come alive
Come on, baby, let me show you how
Come on, baby, the part starts now!”

While “Haircut and Attitude” informs the listener that:

“It don’t take no melody
to make some music history
say you wanna rock
take it to the top
you gotta look good!  You gotta act tough!”

I’m assuming that “Haircut and Attitude” isn’t meant to be taken seriously because if it is, oh boy… a girl I was dating a few years ago laughed uproariously when she heard the “…good…tough!” line.  But, thankfully, that’s where the goofiness ends.  The rest of the songs deal with topics in the same, straight-forward manner as Bloodbrothers.  “New York, New York” is a description of typical 80s “everyone’s a creep” New York life, “I Want You, Tonight” and “D.W.I.” are both sex songs, “Fired Up” is about being angry about something, “The Perfect High” is about how love is the perfect high, “Prototype” is one of thiose “everyone is a phony poser” type songs and both “Had It Coming” and “Speedball” are anti-drug songs.

Again, let me stress, that this 10 track, 26 minute LP is very solid – minus “I Want You, Tonight” and “D.W.I.”, two macho sex songs that I can’t stand – with strong playing, catchy riffs and an overall fun mood.  I’m just calling it what it is, which is a not particularly challenging or deep hard rock record.  And is that such a crime?

D.F.F.D. – Dictators Media – 2001

dictators_dffd

If you’re a politically correct, crust punk or of the so called, “modern” punk persuasion, then chances are the music on D.F.F.D. won’t appeal to you and you probably wouldn’t even consider it punk.  In fact you might consider the brutal frankness of “Pussy and Money” or the anti-vegetarian screed of “Burn, Baby, Burn!!” to be more in line with the meat head attitudes of the very mainstream that punk is supposedly rebelling against.

However, if you don’t have your head up your ass and enjoy having fun, then the Dictators album D.F.F.D. will appeal to you.  Now, if only the Dictators could have taken cue from the New Bomb Turks or the Dwarves and sped up their sound accordingly, then we’d be in business.

But alas, the majority of D.F.F.D. is in medium tempo range.  That’s okay though!  It’s mostly a good album that sounds somewhat like Mondo Bizarro-era Ramones; that is, mid-tempo punky hard rock with an angry excursion into “Strength to Endure” territory via “Avenue A”, which I’ll get to momentarily.  The exceptions to this general description include the speedy, Motorheady rocker “I Am Right!” (why couldn’t they have an entire album of these???), neato surf instrumental “Channel Surfing” (which sounds a little like the Munsters theme) and the catchy as hell, slow jam called “Jim Gordon Blues.”

And, as much as it pains me to diss a band I love, I have to be honest and say that the songs “It’s Alright” and “What’s Up with That?” are unbearably bad. The former is another Billy Idol style rocker that sounds like an …And You outtake and the latter is overly sugary pop rock complete with annoying hand claps and the worst rhyming couplet Andy Shernoff has yet come up with; “you’re always yacking on the telephone/and your always honking on the saxophone.”  What’s up with that????

But that’s only 2 out of 12 songs so… Andy Shernoff shares lead vocal duties with Handsome Dick Manitoba again just like on the first two albums.  In fact, Shernoff’s voice is the first one you hear in opening track “Who Will Save Rock ‘n’ Roll?”  Manitoba sounds hammy as usual, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The overall tone of the album is fun and celebratory but with the bittersweet feeling that things ain’t what they used to be.

The message in opening track “Who Will Save Rock ‘n’ Roll?” is that rock ‘n’ roll is near extinction and that all of the socio-political baggage attached to it is a load of shit.  “Avenue A” bemoans the yupification of Manhattan’s lower East Side.  “Jim Gordon” blues attacks all the so-called experts who try to think for us rather than letting us make up our own minds or as Shernoff cleverly puts it: “alianation generation’s constipation/consequence of years of Oprahzation.” And “The Moronic Inferno” jabs a bunch of 90s cliches complete with the “uh-huh, oh yeah” chants from “Back in the U.S.A..”

So yeah, it’s an unapologetic, un-PC album for people who like to have fun and rock!  The album has 12 songs and I like nine, dislike two and think “In the Presence of a New God” is a little boring but hey!  That’s just my opinion!  The production is definitely more raw and suitable to this type of music than that 80s nonsense from …And You and the playing is typically tight.  That’s about all I gotta say about that.

Viva Dictators – Dictators Media – 2005

dictators_viva_dictators

Well there you have it, folks.  I just SAW the Dictators perform this past Friday in Detroit so when you read ahead to the Every Day Is Saturday review, remember that was written before this one.  Of course it wasn’t really the Dictators; it was the Dictators NYC, which features Handsome Dick Manitoba, Ross The Boss, J.P. “Thunderbolt” Patterson, some younger guy on bass and Daniel Rey on guitar and I confused Daniel Rey for Scott Kempner and BOY was that embarrassing!  Actually it wasn’t.  I don’t know where I’m going with this.  The show ruled.

Recorded live during a few non-specified dates between 2002 and 2004 somewhere in New York , this here Dictators CD contains 16 performances, specifically of five Go Girl Crazy!, four Bloodbrothers, two …And You, five D.F.F.D. and ZERO Manifest Destiny songs!  That’s kind of a bummer because I’ll easily take “Science Gone too Far”, “Rock and Roll Made a Man Out of Me” or “Search and Destroy” over “Stay with Me” or “What’s Up with That?”.  I Just don’t like those songs very much, okay?  But still, the rest kills.  There isn’t that much to say except that, once again, it’s neat hearing the Dictators play songs from their various albums with their different styles back to back to back.

Listen to “Master Race Rock”, “Two Tub Man” or “Faster and Louder”, you’d think they’re a metallized punk band.  Listen to “Haircut and Attitude”, you’d think they’re a deliberately cheesy, mid-80s throwback.  Listen to “The Minnesota Strip”, you’d think they’re a basic but catchy heavy metal band.  Listen to “New York New York”, “Who Will Save Rock and Roll?” or “Pussy and Money”, you’d think they’re a fun, punky rock ‘n’ roll band.  Listen to “Baby, Let’s Twist”, you’d think they’re a hard edged, mid-tempo pop rock band.  Listen to “(I Live for) Cars and Girls”, you’d think they’re a Beach Boys-style, early 60s surf rock group.  And so on and so forth.

Handsome Dick sings every song, including the Go Girl Crazy! tunes on which he originally did not sing.  The only exception is “What’s Up with That?” and “(I Live for) Cars and Girls”, which are done by Andy, who, though may sound a little flatter in his later years, still can actually sing, which, to put it bluntly, Handsome Dick, can not really.  He sounds cool!  Just belting everything like a boorish, John Belushi type, mind you, but he mainly just shouts.

Also he doesn’t say as much as he did on Fuck ’em…/New York New York.  He uses his artistic license to embellish the “…die poor” segment in “The Next Big Thing” or improvise some lyrics on “Faster and Louder” but he keeps the stage banter to a minimum occasionally chiming in to introduce a member or so; example: “Ross The Boss, you have your orders!”  Also, for some reason, he says the “gasoline shortage won’t stop us now” line from “Master Race Rock” twice and, really, he shouldn’t say it at all since it doesn’t really have much relevance 2013.

I’m still kind of annoyed by the fade ins and fade outs since a live record is supposed to be like a live show but whatever.  Also, I wish they didn’t say that “Cars and Girls” was performed during the sound check in the credits.  I wonder if it was even performed during the actual set.  There’s also some changes with the drumming; they continuously play the 4/4 punk beat during “Master Race Rock” rather than doing that military pounding thing they did on the original album version for instance.

But, otherwise, it’s a cool live record with a funny cartoon cover if not a particularly necessary addition to your CD collection.

Every Day Is Saturday – Norton – 2007

dictators_everyday

First of all the liner notes on the sleeve for Every Day Is Saturday are awesome.  Scott Kempner provides a rich, detailed account of the Dictators’ origin right up to the group’s inking a deal with Epic and slightly beyond with lots of neat trivia tidbits; among which include Handsome Dick Manitoba’s on-stage “birth” one fateful evening wearing a bathrobe and singing “Wild Thing” or accounts of the group’s various earlier drummers or being wowed by “Rock ‘n’ Roll” Andy Shernoff’s awesome record collection for instance.

Secondly the photos are also pretty boss; the craziest one being Andy Shernoff’s mugshot after he and Ross Friedman were caught stealing a car!  The rest are neato photos of the group in various incarnations from years past and present.

But, for the people who don’t buy a double LP collection just for wickedly descriptive liner notes and cool photographs, there is also the music; two LPs worth of it.

Every Day Is Saturday is a double album compilation of demos, outtakes, rarities and radio spots that functions as a nice survey of the Dictators’ career or as the tagline on the back reads “The All-True Adventures of the THE DICTATORS, from Pre-Punk Shenanigans to the Sound of Young America to the Death of Rock and Roll!” I don’t necessarily agree with the “death of rock and roll” statement since I just saw Mudhoney on Friday followed by the White Mystery and the Thermals on Saturday and I’m going to see THE DICTATORS this upcoming Friday but, whatever…

I’m going to wager that the majority of the intrigue for getting Every Day Is Saturday comes from hearing the Dictators in their incubation stage and for that we have their 1973 demo tape.  Handsome Dick Manitoba was not yet a member of the group and the drummer was some guy named Louie Lyons.  The demo contains five tunes; early versions of “Weekend”, “California Sun” and “Master Race Rock” along with two unreleased tunes called “Backseat Boogie” and “Fireman’s Friend.”  In this early incarnation, the Dictators sound punkier than they’ve ever sounded on their albums.  Louie Lyons plays everything straight through, meaning there is no martial drum beat or stops in “Master Race Rock” like on the album version.  And whyyyyy did the two unreleased songs remain unreleased?  They’re fantastic; both sound like the New York Dolls but tighter and not bogged down by heroine.

Elsewhere we get a smattering of demos, compilation cuts and radio spots but one thing I don’t understand is why the only Manifest Destiny demo on the record is a piano-less version of “Sleepin’ with the T.V. On” while Bloodbrothers is represented by eight song (“Slow Death” if you must know)!  I already own the freakin’ album so why would I need to hear a less good sounding version of it?  The lack of piano on the early version of “Sleepin’ with the T.V. On” definitely makes the song rock a bit harder; not that it was all that hard to begin with but it’s still a great song.

As far as the eight Bloodbrothers demos go, they sound nearly identical to the album versions with slight variations on vocal inflections or a couple different notes in some guitar solos here and there.  Also there is no cowbell on this version of “Faster and Louder” which, strangely enough, is somewhat detrimental since I think it actually enhanced the finished version!  How crazy is that?

They understandably skip the Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom record but the only D.F.F.D. demo is “What’s Up with That?” and if you read above, you should probably already know how I feel about the song.  This acoustic demo makes the overly sugary pop rocker sound a bit better and actually kind of enjoyable!  I don’t know what it is but the lack of guitar distortion makes the song a little more, I don’t know… oh, I have no clue what I’m saying here… it sounds better acoustic!  The intro sounds like an Eddie Cochran tune but slower!

The four radio commercials are also pretty fun to listen to.  But, if you’re like me, you  buy these things for original and/or non-album material.  So here’s a list of those:

“Backseat Boogie” – from the 1973 demo.  As I mentioned earlier, it reminds of the Dolls but faster.  It’s an up-tempo, 12 bar rock ‘n’ roll tune with Chuck Berry style leads and some funny, dirty sex lyrics.

“Fireman’s Friend” – also from the 1973 demo and named after an episode of the Superman cartoon, the song starts with some bombastic guitar wailing and drum rolls before picking up into an energetic, Dollsy/Johnny Thuders-esque rocker with a big, happy, catchy chorus – in fact, I can’t put my finger on it but it reminds of some Johnny Thunders or Richard Hell song; maybe “One Track Mind”, “Born to Lose”, “Dead or Alive”, “Love Comes in Spurts”???  Not sure, but ya know, like one of those.  God this song is good!  Really freakin’ good!

“America the Beautiful” – a rocked up version of the patriotic anthem sung by Handsome Dick.

“16 Forever” – From a 2007, Norton released single of a Bloodbrothers outtake (the b-side is the demo version of “Stay with Me”).  Uncharacteristic of the 1978 era of the group, Andy Shernoff sings lead on the song.  It’s another classic Dictators anthem!  Damn, why was this one excluded from Bloodbrothers?  Just because Handsome Dick didn’t sing on it?  Because it didn’t fit the group’s new, “mature” approach?  Come now, those are silly reasons!  If you like the song, guess what!  You get to hear it twice albeit in slightly different mixes!

“Loyola” – Okay, it’s not really new since it appeared on the Fuck ’em If They Can’t Take a Joke cassette way back in 1981 but this is the first, official studio recording of the song.  It’s the b-side to the group’s 1996 single for “I Am Right!” and completely different from the a-side’s Motorhead/New Bomb Turks speed-punk approach.  It’s a really good Cheap Trick-esque pop rock with Andy singing again and Frank Funaro playing the drums!

“Laughing Out Loud” – it sounds like a D.F.F.D. outtake but was recorded in 1999.  It’s a okay, not my fave but hey, they can’t all be.  More mid-tempo punky rock.  That’s really all I have to say about this one.

“I Just Wanna Have Something to Do” – from the Ramones tribute album, The Song Ramones the Same and an obvious choice considering how similar the riff is to the one in “The Next Big Thing”, so much so that the group humorously insert it right in the middle of the song for a few bars.

So there you have it; a nice companion piece to the main Dictators catalog save for the overkill of Bloodbrothers demos.  I still suggest going back and listening to Go Girl Crazy! first since that’s my favorite.  This is more a “for the fans” but it’s still cool.  I only just learned the Dictators members are now fighting amongst themselves so this might very well be the final Dictators release.

The Stranglers

Image

special introductory paragraph
Rattus Norvegicus
No More Heroes
Black and White
Live (X Cert)
The Raven
The Gospel According to the Meninblack
La Folie
Feline
Aural Sculpture
Dreamtime
10
Stranglers in the Night
About Time
Written in Red
Coup De Grace
Norfolk Coast
Suite XVI
Giants

Note: This review page is NOT complete so don’t get mad when links to albums don’t work. They don’t exist yet. I’m working on it!

The Stranglers formed in Guildford, England in 1974, tastefully naming themselves after a bunch of recent news stories about people who’d been strangled. In 1975, they established their classic lineup of Hugh Cornwell on guitar and vocals, Jean-Jacques Burnell on bass and vocals, Dave Greenfield on keyboards and vocals and Brian “Jet Black” Duffy on drums.

Then, in 1990, Hugh Cornwell left the group and was replaced by a singer named Paul Roberts and John Ellis from the Vibrators on guitar. Ellis stayed in the band until 2000 when he was replaced by Baz Warne. That lineup lasted for another six years until Paul Roberts left and the band returned to a four piece.

The group began as a keyboard driven, punky rock band with a multitude of influences, getting weirder as they progressed. They rode the punk rock ship until the end of the 70s before moving on to a more sophisticated, synthesizer oriented pop rock sound and then then completely turning to commercial synth pop during the 80s. Thankfully, in the 90s, they reverted back to a more rock oriented approach and have been releasing albums since.

That’s their history. The group members also earned themselves a reputation for being violent, sexist brutes; allegations that were not helped by Burnell’s violent tendencies or the group’s at times sick lyrics. However, now they’re just another group of old guys who continue to make albums and tour – except that they didn’t come to my city when they toured the States last, bastards.

Rattus Norvegicus – United Artists – 1977

stranglers_rattus

The Stranglers’ debut LP is one of the most unusual albums to have been lumped with the rest of the records to come out of the punk rock class of ’77. While most punk bands utilized basic 1-4-5 chord progressions and Chuck Berry leads, the Stranglers were seemingly influenced by ‘66 era, keyboard driven garage bands such as the Seeds or the Standells along with a healthy dose of Ray Manzarek inspired, circus organ.

The songs are primarily constructed around Jet Black’s bouncy 4/4 rhythms and Jean-Jacques Burnell’s simple yet catchy bass lines, over which Dave Greenfield plays melodic and whirling keyboard lines and Hugh Cornwell primarily plays basic bar chords, throwing in a lead every now and then for good measure. It’s also noteworthy that the bass is mixed louder than the guitar. But what’s also noteworthy is how damn tuneful every song on the album is, making it even more unusual when contrasted against Cornwell’s and Burnell’s singing voices.

While Burnell tends to just sing like a typical, angry punk rock punter, Cornwell sounds like a creepy old, British man. Ever heard the song “Peaches” from Sexy Beast? That’s the one with the catchy bass line that goes, “bum-bum-bum ba-dum-ba-dum-ba-dum” and the lyrics that go, “walking on the beaches/looking at the peaches.” Song is great but damn, Cornwell just sounds like such a sleazy old man. The contrast between the group’s sublime, catchy music and Cornwell’s singing style is even more extreme in the group’s “Light My Fire” tribute “Sometime” – complete with Robby Kreiger inspired guitar and Manzarek inspired keyboard parts. Hugh Cornwell sounds like an absolute creep when he sings “you’re way past your station/it’s useless asking you to stop/I’ve got morbid fascinations/beat you, honey, til you drop.”

Indeed, it’s lyrics like that along with the ones in “Princess of the Street” – “she’s the queen of the street/what a piece of meat”- and “London Lady” – “making love to the Mersey tunnel/with a sausage/have you ever been to Liverpool/please don’t talk much/it burns my ears/tonight you’ve talked for a thousand years” – which got the group branded as misogynist pigs, a claim they refuted, stating simply the lyrics are meant to be silly and absurd. And it’s tough to really take a band too seriously when they’ve got such bizarre tunes as “Ugly”, about a guy who takes acid and watches someone’s face melt.

But, briefly, let’s get back to the music – mostly keyboard drenched, 60s garage influenced rock with punky singing with a couple noteworthy exceptions. Aforementioned “London Lady” qualifies as straightforward punk rock. Likewise aforementioned “Princess of the Streets” is slow, sleazy sounding burlesque music. “Down in the Sewer” is an eight minute, multi-part epic which combines the group’s Doors influence with something Blue Oyster Cult might do with the hard rock riffs and the epic keyboard parts. And if you’ve heard their uplifting, toe tapping hit single “(Get a) Grip (on Yourself)”, then you should have a pretty good idea of what songs like “Goodbye Toulouse” and “Hanging Around” sound like.

Indeed the Stranglers would get punkier, harder and weirder on their next couple of albums, but as far as I’m concerned, Rattus Norvegicus is simply their strongest and hookiest album.

No More Heroes – United Artists – 1977

stranglers_no_more_heroes

Although a few of the songs on No More Heroes were recorded during the sessions which produced the first album, it seems that, after supporting the Ramones on a number of European dates, the Stranglers saw the way the wind was blowing and punked up their sound.  On many of the songs, Hugh Cornwell’s guitar is mixed louder than it was on the first album and he plays more straight-forward, distorted bar chords. Several of the songs are also a bit faster than the ones on Rattus Norvegicus .

Lyrically the group is also more “punk”, with Burnel shouting snarky lines such as “bitching, why don’t you all go get screwed” and “don’t you like the way that I dance? Does it bug you?/ don’t you like the cut of my clothes?/ don’t you like the way I seem to enjoy it?/ stick my fingers right up your nose.” No joke, lyrics like these sound great shouted atop the circusy keyboards!

Elsewhere the lyrics deal with a variety of topics ranging from personal tales of people they know, a bizarre mistaken identity situation, literary and political homages and flat-out, dirty old man grossness disguised as absurd humor.  Also, apparently “I Feel Like a Wog” did not ingratiate the group among the “rock against racism” crowd even though they’ve always denied any allegations of racism.  I believe ’em!

Anyway Dave Greenfield makes his vocal debut on No More Heroes as well.  He sings in a kooky, “SCARRRY” voice with trilled Rs and the two songs on which he sings are the weirdest on the album. “Peasant in the Big Shitty”, for instance, is heavy on the moogy synths and proggy solos – not very punk!!!  Otherwise his keyboard tones alternate between the expected 60s/Doorsy and modern/Kraftwerk/Devo-like, using the latter to create all kinds of weird, futuristic noises, especially in the clanking, repetitive, robotic closing track, “School Mam.” Too bad it’s about a teacher who has sex with the children in his classroom.

On a final note, as much as I love the songs and sounds on No More Heroes, I can’t but help think that some of the humor or “humor” is too gross to pass off as Monty Python-esque absurdity, as the group claims. Just because Hugh Cornwell uses a robotic vocal effect on “Bring on the Nubiles” doesn’t excuse the fact that it has the line “I’ll kiss your zone erogenous/there’s plenty to explore/I want to lick your little puss/and nail you to the floor” or that “English Towns” has the line, “there is no love inside of me/I gave it to a thousand girls” or the entirety of “School Mam.”

Oh that’s no good. I can’t end the review on such a negative note. How can I bitch about an album that has songs as righteously, kickassingly good as “Something Better Change” and “No More Heroes”? That’s crazy!

Black and White – United Artists – 1978

stranglers_black_and_white

Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Won’t you? Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Don’t you?  Unfortunately “Shut Up” is not on Black and White  but they include it as a bonus track on the reissue!!!

The third Stranglers LP Black and White is a bit harder, noisier, faster, artier and more conceptual than either Rattus Norvegicus or No More Heroes.  It’s also almost as good as the two albums that preceded it.  The group has pretty much abandoned sex and sleaze for snarky humor, cold war paranoia and more personal tales and literary homages – such as Burnel’s homage to fascist Japanese writer Yukio, which we will let slide.

If Rattus Norvegicus had a mostly 60s vibe that bordered on punk and No More Heroes punked up the sound with faster tempos, then Black and White is punk with a futuristic twist.  Dave Greenfield still plays plenty of noodly, busy and circusy keyboard parts on most of these songs but goes even further with the robotic, Kraftwerky sounds and weird noises. Closing track “Enough Time” even spells out a message in Morse code!

Mostly Black and White is still mainly punk or at least, up-tempo driving rockIn fact, “Hey! (Rise of the Robots)” is so fast that I would say it borders on hardcore! It does seem like the group has also worked a bit more on the arrangements as well.

It’s not all punkiness, however.  “Nice N’ Sleazy” – in which the group tells the tale of a run-in with some Hell’s Angels – is another bass driven, dub type song like “Peaches” or “Dead Ringer.”  “Outside Tokyo” is in waltz time if I’m not mistaken.  “In the Shadows” has a hypnotic, lurching bass-line and some eerie guitar riffs to add to the “what’s that in the shadow” atmosphere of the song.  And “Do You Wanna” is a herky-jerk, stop/start oddity that sounds like it’s trying to make you feel dizzy and like you want to throw up.

The reissue includes some neat bonus tracks as well: “Mean to Me” is a speedy “pub rock” song.  “Walk on By” is a lengthy Bacherach and David cover, whose solo goes on too long.  And “Shut Up” is a 56 second punk song that freakkin’ rules!

Live (X-Cert) – United Artists – 1979

stranglers_live_x_cert

Although it was initially the record label’s decision to release it, the Stranglers view their first live LP, Live (X Cert) as the cap on their original punk period before turning into a mature, synth-driven pop/rock band.  On Live (X Cert), however, they sound like an energetic young group, making music for similarly young people to bop around to.

To be sure the band pick up the tempos on songs like “(Get a) Grip (on Yourself)”, “Dead Ringer”, “Burning Up Time”, “Hanging Around”, “Sometime”, “London Lady” and “Goodbye Toulouse” thus making them sound punkier than their original album versions.  Well okay, “Burning Up Time” and “London Lady” were already punk but, on here, they’re even faster.

The original Live (X Cert) contained 12 songs but I’m listening to this wicked reissue, which has been expanded to include seven extra tunes.  My only issue is that “Hanging Around” is on the CD twice for some stupid reason when they could have picked a different song like say “Nice N’ Sleazy”, “Something Better Change”, “No More Heroes” or “Peaches” for goodness sake!  Those are like their best songs!  No disrespect to “5 Minutes”, “Go Buddy Go” or “Mean to Me” but these are merely good songs and why include the good when you can include the great?

At the risk of copying another, popular cult music reviewer, I don’t know any other way to describe the track list aside from naming the albums the songs come from.  Live (X Cert) contains five from Rattus Norvegicus (not counting both inclusions of “Hanging Around”), five from No More Heroes, four from Black and White and four single tunes.

Interesting stage banter from Huch Cornwell – the only member who says anything – includes addressing rowdy audience members, telling people to go to a benefit for those who went to jail during the Silver Jubilee celebration and, on two occasions, kindly imploring young punks to stop spitting on them.  In fact, Hugh Cornwell is surprisingly polite when saying “I don’t like being spat at.  Maybe you get off on it” and “it’s good to know you’re reading the news of the world and spitting like young punks should be”.

Interesting musical tidbits include stopping “Dead Ringer” right after starting the song in order to address said rowdy audience members and starting “Curfew” with the first few bars from “Enough Time.”  Also, for some reason, they decided to have “Do You Wanna?” and “Death and Night and Blood (Yukio)” on the same track.

Otherwise the group play the songs exactly as they appeared on the albums and/or singles with all the lovely circusy organ and/or echo piano, whirling bass lines, distorted guitar chords and little solos and fun, bopping rhythms to get yer blood pumping.  The live sound is clear enough even if the drums sound a tad bit thin.

It’s still a fun enough record but to be perfectly honest, this is more a release for hardcore fans than novice listeners.  I mean, how can you start a Stranglers collection without “Peaches”, “Something Better Change”, “No More Heroes” or “Nice N’ Sleazy”???

The Raven – United Artists – 1979

stranglers_the_raven_2

I guess most people familiar with the Stranglers consider The Raven their first attempt at a more mature sound; replacing the faster, punky tempos and shouted vocals with a calmer, more stream-lined approach. Indeed Hugh Cornwell and Jean-Jacques Burnel are doing more singing than shouting with Burnel especially having replaced is angry punk voice with a new, higher singing style rendering him nearly unrecognizable as the Burnel of old. Greenfield also doesn’t sound quite as kooky and I could barely tell his voice apart from that of Cornwell’s.

Hugh Cornwell primarily plays catchy little note runs or non-distorted chord progressions while Burnel continues to play those catchy as hell bass lines even though his bass isn’t as prominent in the mix. But giving the songs their true depth and weirdness (musically at least) is Dave Greenfield who is employing all types of new, futuristic, Kraftwerky sounds on that keyboard of his, the most interesting of which is the midi/video game tone found on “Nuclear Device.”

Like their other albums, strength of The Raven comes from the hooks, melodies and interplay between the guitar, keyboard and bass. And, with the exception of the carnival like, 3/4 opening track “Longships”, Jet Black sticks primarily to straight-forward, bouncy beats.

As far as the tone and theme of the songs, they range from the good time, happy cheer of “Duchess” to the depressing, heroine themed piano dirge “Don’t Bring Harry.”  Elsewhere you’ve got a weird tale of traveling Vikings, some classy whorehouse intrigue, a cynical attack on the of people Los Angeles utilizing the words “plastic peaches” and the line “he’s never seen the shit/from the La Brea pit”, an homage to cocaine, a Celtic sounding song about eugenics and a couple political lampoons – one about trading nuclear arms and the other about the Shah selling oil to the Brits.

But the weirdest moment on the album goes to “Meninblack”, which is about aliens, who not only created the Earth and all its life, but are returning to their creation to use all life forms either as food or slaves. The song uses electronic percussion, spacey sounds and echoey, helium pitched vocals and would become the central theme for the group’s next record.

 

Public Image Ltd. – First Issue (reissue)

Image

ImageImageImage(out of 5)

I know I’m not going to win any friends with this review but you all like honesty, don’t you?  Light In The Attic has reissued the first Public Image Ltd. album and I’m a fan of their reissues; beautiful fetish objects loaded with liner notes, photos and other assorted memorabilia – if you haven’t picked up their reissue of the Monks’ Black Monk Time, stop reading this now and go get it!!!

The reissue for First Issue or Public Image – First Issue or whatever it’s called is no exception.  Light has released it in several packaging options including one with a bonus b-side to the “Public Image” single called “The Cowboy Song” and a 56 minute long BBC interview.  Also, considering that the original album was never officially released in the states and that the only CD issue is from 1986, the album was due for a retooling.

However, and I say this as a pretty big PiL fan (I have the dang logo tattooed on my inner fore arm), Metal Box/Second Edition is the only album by the group that I find satisfying all the way through.  They have some pretty awesome material but, unfortunately, upon revisiting the album, I don’t find it musically enjoyable from start to finish.

Look, I’m not one of those music philosopher guys who thinks the Pistols “separated the world of pop music into a then and now” or care about situationism or feel any need to discuss Malcolm McLaren’s involvement with the band.  They were awesome and looked cool and Never Mind the Bollocks… Here’s the Sex Pistols is one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll albums ever made and that’s that.  After Lydon bid adieu to the stagnating Pistols – as in they entirely stopped writing new material – he hooked up with former Clash guitarist Keith Levene, old buddy and bassist John “Jah Wobble” Wardle and Canadian import drummer Jim Walker and started PiL.

But we’re not here to talk about music history; we’re here to talk about songs.  The first PiL has eight of them and of those eight, I really only enjoy five.  So let’s get to the nitty gritty.  “Religion 1” isn’t even a song.  It’s John Lydon reciting the lyrics to “Religion 2” without any musical accompaniment.  Sounds exciting?  Well, it’s not.  So there’s two minutes you can shave off the album.  Next we have “Attack.”  Well, for a guy who “hates rock ‘n’ roll”, it sure as hell sounds like a rock ‘n’ roll song or rather a poorly written Sex Pistols song.  Don’t believe me?  It’s mid-tempo punky rock with three distorted chords only it’s recorded really poorly and the lyrics go something like “Attack-attack-attack-attack-attack-attack” – real clever, huh?  And, lastly we have “Fodderstompf”, which predicts the bass driven, dance grooves on the next album but, when Lydon and co. repeat the same “be bland, be boring” joke over and over, the song becomes bland and boring.

Now let’s talk about the good stuff!  Opening track “Theme” might have seemed unusual at the time but now it’s a delightful nine minute drone of hypnotic, dub bass lines and “metallic” guitar scrapes with a similar tone that The Edge would use a couple years later.  The lyrics are just vague free association about not being a cliche and surviving and he repeats “I wish I could die” a lot.  “Religion 2” is fun if a bit repetitive since it only has two parts but man is that a cool angry bass line and the drums pound hard and John Lydon trashes the Catholic church.  No deep meaning there.  Next we have the energetic, mid-tempo punky rocker “Annalisa”, which according to the Pitchfork review is about an exorcism gone wrong.  They call the song “harrowing” but I call it bouncy and fun.  And of course last but, most certainly not least, are the pair of bright, shiny pop songs!  “Public Image” and “Low Life” are cut from the same principle cloth of basic but catchy, two-note bass lines and cheery, non-distorted jangly chords.  The former became Lydon’s initial calling card as he tells his former manager, “hey man! you don’t own me, man!”  The latter I guess also trashes McLaren or something.

I know, I’m supposed to drool all over myself because it’s back but I’ve been listening to this mofo for years even if it’s on a poorly mastered CD.  Oh, that’s right!  “The Cowboy Song” is like a cowboy song with galloping drums.  And what info can you glean from the 56 minute BBC interview?  I don’t know.  I haven’t listened to it. I’ll just wait until someone posts on youtube.  I’m more looking forward to the Devo reissues of Hardcore vol. 1 and 2, which will be hitting my doorstep soon.  Until then, see ya!