Friday, December 24, 2010

I'm dreaming of a snotty-nosed Christmas- A homemade punk comp Part One

In the post directly below this one is Part Two of this 2 CD length compilation of mostly obscure punk rock tunes from all over the globe circa 1976-1984. It was intially conceived as a Christmas gift for certain friends of an emotionally and geographically close nature. These notes, quite lengthy as is my normal modus operandi, were part of the original package, and while I am only moderately pleased with them at the moment, I have resisted the urge to change them in any way other than to correct misspellings or factual errors. I'll mention also that this will very likely be the only time I post downloadable links on this blog. While both parts of this comp are offered in the spirit of holiday cheer, frankly the main reason they are offered is a selfish one: I wanted to include the compilation's notes on Absinthe For Breakfast. Adding the picture sleeves was an added bonus, and most of them were nabbed from either here or here. A large amount of the vinyl rips also come from those sites, and I highly recommend both as extensive resourses on the vast subject of punk rock. Included in Part 2 is a Word Document of the entire text for those who might find it useful. Last, I hope you enjoy the music. I love each of these songs, not equally of course, but collectively these comps have given me much joy since I ordered them back in December 2007. So spike the egg nog, spike the hair, spike the bracelet, spike the volleyball and enjoy.

To download you'll need extraction software to extract the files from the zipped folder. I use 7zip which is open source and easy as pie.

Here's part one

So the whole thing kicks off with Dow Jones and the Industrials’ "Can’t Stand the Midwest". They were from West Lafeyette, Indiana, which isn’t the first place I think of when somebody (anybody) says the word Midwest, but I’d certainly eventually conjure it in my mind’s eye before anyplace in Ohio, which is technically in the Midwest but just seems more Northeastern to me. How ‘bout you? Anyway, this song is from the band’s self-titled 7” from 1980, and it’s a sweetly agitated example of hating where you came from, or more specifically, where you’re at.

Track 2 belongs to The Features, from New York via Pittsburg. What "Floozy of the Neighborhood" lacks in sensitivity, it completely makes up for in instrumental crispness and over the top vocal panache. The singer should get some sort of award (preferably at a banquet) for admirable ludicrousness. The two minute running time is just about the perfect duration; picking on the poor girl for any longer would be unnecessarily mean-spirited, I think. From a 1979 7”.

Shock is next with "This Generation’s on Vacation". Hyperactive yet melodic, with formidable chops battling against a sweetly rudimentary structure, this makes my personal top 20 Los Angeles punk singles list, easy. 1978 was the year of origin.

Long Beach, CA was home to one of the finest blasts of left-field punk scree ever committed to tape, that being The Absentees’ "Tryin’ to Mess with Me". Blatantly ripping off a Damned song, positively drenched in distortion and reverb, and with a truly oddball moment of guitar isolation ping-ponging between the speakers, it’s a transcendent two minutes. From the once ridiculously rare 1981 7”; at one point, only five copies were known to exist.

The Nervous Eaters were from Boston, and "Just Head" is probably their finest moment. A pinnacle in sexual incorrectness, the sentiment expressed is a bit like ’65 Rolling Stones on Viagra after watching six hours of smut-film loops. The music is thug-punk par excellence. It was recorded in 1976, but for some reason not released on 7’’ until three years later.

A leap over the Atlantic brings us to The Wasps, from Walthamstow England. "Teenage Treats" is the A-side of the bands debut 7”, released in 1977. A paean to raging hormones delivered via a slick synthesis of early punk energy and power-pop bravado (dig those chiming guitars); this would likely get eight thumbs up from Cheap Trick.

Now, jump ahead three years to Sunderland England and behold the spastic mayhem that is Disorder’s "Air Raid". I can just imagine the snot flying around the studio when this was recorded. With an accent thick as a Tolstoy novel, a drummer in the throes of Keith Moon Syndrome, and string instruments flailing and scaling as if in actual accompaniment/reaction to some plane blitz, this would be perfect end credits music to a hypothetical film of GRAVITY'S RAINBOW. Except Pynchon would probably insist that it be covered by a band made up of nothing but ukuleles, banjos, and kazoos. What a mensch!

Hopping back to 1977, Islington England’s Puncture delivers unto the world a manifesto of knuckleheaded tomfoolery. "Mucky Pup" shows that certain behaviors (nose picking, people sniffing, sexually obsessing over TV news anchors) have no borders, I guess. The humor aspect of this is quite English, me thinks. Sort of like a cross between Neil Innes and a particularly bonkers episode of THE YOUNG ONES. Innit? This song also features what sounds like an electric squeegee solo, and a damn fine one at that. From the band’s only 7”, the first release on Small Wonder records, later to release the Cure’s debut.

Anorexia, from Herfordshire England, brings us a public service announcement. You see, there’s a "Rapist in the Park". This track, from a 1980 7”, is a perfect illustration of what I like to call rec-center punk; a solid distillation of authentic youthful expression that combines an endearingly tentative simplicity with a pragmatic ingenuity (I’ve convinced myself that the band’s use of sax was due to one of the members being in a high school band). While punk is essentially identified as a youth movement, so much of its art was actually created by people who were technically adults. This is a fine exception to the norm.

Elton Motello’s "Jet Boy Jet Girl" could possibly be used as an illustration of the norm, but it’s ultimately too tweaked to serve as any kind of paradigm. The “band” was the brainchild of Alan Ward, who while producing records in Belgium, came up with this dirty-minded and obnoxiously infectious slab of hooliganism. It was actually a minor UK hit in 1978. I’m just going to assume that there was a cleaned-up version of this for radio airplay.

Goteborg Sound (aka GBG Sound) was (are?) from Goteborg Sweden. "Pappas Pojkar" is like a textbook in so many ways, but here are three: flexibility, brevity, and interaction. What are they singing about? Search me. Whatever the subject, it made one of them need to clear his throat and spit. From the band’s 2nd 7”, from 1979. Curiously, their 1st 45 only had one song (the other side being blank) called "Bjorn Borg" (for all you non-sports nerds out there, he was a tennis player that essentially served as the prototype for Luke Wilson’s character in THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS)

It’s interesting how songs can sometimes inspire images. Friction’s "Pistola" bring to my mind a small club circa 1980, a few dozen people in the audience, smoke in the air, and a general atmosphere of low expectations. There are instruments and microphones on a modest stage, and two people carry out a wooden box, roughly 4’ X 21/2’ X 3’, and place it in front of the main mic stand. A few audience members notice, but nobody wants to fully commit themselves to an adjective like inquisitive. Slowly, human forms begin to appear on the stage, plugging in and sitting down and making the necessary gestures involved in getting down to business. The audience gradually turns its attention to the platform in front of them and prepares to be disappointed. Then the drummer kicks in. His extended, primal introductory blast is an assault on the room’s collective consciousness and a blunt harbinger that something vital is about to happen. Just as the guitars erupt and the song begins its tortured tour of density and blissful repetition, the wooden box just explodes into splinters and this shirtless, leather pant clad form lurches upright toward the microphone like some unholy cross between The Cramp’s Lux Interior and a cranked-out Harry Houdini. Then, he starts whooping/shouting, and suitably, it’s about a gun. For all I know, these cats wore golf knickers and played with their backs to the audience, but somehow, I doubt it. They were a part of Japan’s rather amazing late 70s underground art-punk scene, and this song was the B-side to their 2nd 7”. From 1980.

Sweden’s Vicious Visions are essentially a refinement on that reliable old compendium that is the Stooges songbook. Updated for then contempo relevance (that would be 1983), "I Beat You" sounds like it could have been recorded last week by a bunch of anxious and pessimistic underachievers who flunk shop-class because they’re too preoccupied with reading Céline. From the bands outstanding, and ridiculously scarce, sole 7”.

I realize that a song about a ten year old whose father sells him into prostitution probably isn’t anybody’s idea of fun-time holiday listening, but my reason for including "Daddy is My Pusher" by Holland’s The Tits wasn’t to be a mega-bringdown. My attraction to the song is almost completely tied to its unusual keyboard driven sound, which is reminiscent of a less adept/more inept Stranglers, and how this approach ultimately integrates with the lyrics to significantly accent their blunt discomfort, giving it an almost B-movie feel. A standard guitar/bass/drums framework just wouldn’t be the same. Released in 1978, the first 7” on the legendary Plurex label.

Denmark’s The Sods bring us a sweet little rant against the stultifying qualities of the TV set. "Television Sect", from a 1979 7”, is brief, hammers its point home with a proto-hardcore drumbeat (though slower, obviously), and is prescient of the type of socially conscious punk song that was a dime a dozen just ten years later. But at this early point, the rot of genericism had yet to set in. Plus, it kind of makes me wonder what TV was like in late ‘70’s Denmark.

"Plastic" by The Mollestors is a great take-no-prisoners type of song. It’s either going to drive you nuts of make you really happy. You can probably guess how it makes me feel. Possessing a tightly coiled electric string jangle which more punk bands should’ve utilized (the infatuation with distortion is in retrospect rather indicative of short-sightedness, I think), and a ranting lyricist who is possibly improvising in front of the mic (the whole song actually feels/listens like it could’ve been made up ten minutes before recording), it’s a fine exhibition of temporary, ramshackle greatness. This is another one from Holland’s Plurex label; from a 1978 7”.

One of the prevalent misconceptions about early punk rock is that most of its bands could barely play. Sweden’s Rune Strutz prove otherwise with "Flod", which begins with a rather attractive guitar progression, then moves into some solid mid-tempo riffing and a swinging groove of a bridge. The low fidelity production provides a nice friction with the band’s admirable rockist abilities, and it’s obvious these guys had more on their minds than just being another group of three-chord ponies. From a 1978 7”

To expand on the above, one of the best elements of early punk is hearing how various bands that did indeed possess limited technical ability attempted to avoid generics. In the case of Denmark’s Lost Kids, you decide to write a song about getting all hopped-up on soda, and then you spotlight the guitarist, who belts out these brief little bursts of loopy, borderline psychedelic string shrapnel, and in the process come up with a stone winner. "Cola Freaks" comes from a 1979 7”.

Now, in the case of Sweden’s Etiquette Mona, generic is an impossible descriptor. I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say that "Amsterdam", from a 1979 7”, is a masterpiece of power-pop/pop-punk. It’s dripping with that jumpy “let’s go have a picnic at the beach” feel, it wastes no time getting to the meat of the matter, and it has one of the sweetest and snakiest guitar breaks segueing into a grin inducing solo I’ve yet to stumble upon. Who knows exactly what the singer is saying about the city, but in this case, lyrical comprehension just seems superfluous. I will only add that the band has achieved an unlikelihood: they manage to make Amsterdam sound wholesome.

The old saw that the French can’t play rock n’ roll is simply a falsehood. I could have selected a track from roughly a dozen punk bands from that nation for inclusion here, but settled on "Salted City" by 84 Flesh because it’s currently my favorite French punk song. That situation might change next week. If that’s the case, it’s going to be one formidable tune that does the dethroning, because this baby smokes. It rages out of the starting gate with assurance and manages to pass the two minute mark without a stumble; in fact, the best part of the song is yet to come. At just short of 2:20, directly after some strategically placed handclaps, explodes this heaving mass of howling electricity, and from that point the matter is settled. Here’s one for the ages. It was released on 7” (the B-side!) in 1980.

Germany’s KFC (stands for Kriminalitats-Forederungs-Club, which roughly translates as Criminality Encouragement Club) bring us "Sex Moerder", a galloping slab of aural antagonism that’s laced with gratuitous feedback squalls and an apparent fascination with the more unpleasant side of life; it’s essentially a readymade for the credits sequence to one of Rob Zombie’s future films, if only somebody would get off their ass and play it for him. This was spat out to an uncaring world on 7” in 1979 (and was another B-side).

Filth completes a double Dutch hat trick, since all three of this compilation’s songs from that country were released on the Plurex label. "Don’t Hide Your Hate" (an A-side this time) is from 1978, and is one of those cases where a whole lot of no-big-dealness adds up in the end to something memorable. They shamble along with the assurance of at least a few dozen practices, they provide some potential presidential candidate with an audacious campaign slogan, and they get out of dodge in a minute thirty seconds. The next time you hear the openers on a four band bill close their set with a Clash cover, give an internal tsk-tsk that they didn’t do this one instead.

Stockton California’s The Authorities bring us raging back to the continental USA, and boy do they have shit on their collective mind. As if inspired by the opening lyric of the previous song, these cats have feelings about the police they’d like to get of their chests. "I Hate Cops", from a 1982 7”, is about as close as anything on this comp gets to overt hardcore influence, but it still has one foot firmly planted in the fertile garden of rudimentary punk bashing. The levels of melodics and repetition are in fine balance, the guitar is suitably buzzsawing, and whoever’s doing the shouting actually sounds like he’s suffered a few knocks on the noggin from various nightsticks. What’s up with the cops? Why don’t they leave the kids alone?

Ice 9 cribbed their name from Vonnegut, came from Portland Oregon, and are responsible for a top tier entry in the adrenalin drenched go-for-broke because nobody gives a good goddamn what we’re doing anyway sweepstakes. "Out Out Out" is from a 1979 7”, and it almost seems over before it starts. With songwriting that’s absolutely agitated, and an instrumental passage that’s like the musical equivalent of a throbbing tumor in the left side of Joe Dallesandro’s brain, this song is flawless punk. Play this between bands in a crowded club and watch all the hipsters’ heads snap in a big group “whazzat?” You can smile to yourself contentedly that you’re now (at least) one up on ‘em.

Some songs speak to certain segments of the population (if they’re lucky enough to hear them), while others reach across these assorted groups and say something profound to the masses. This is the case with The Shirkers’ "Drunk and Disorderly". We can all relate, right? These one-shot monsters were part of the early DC scene, and while the Capitol City later came to be identified almost exclusively with straight-edge and strident leftist politics that actually walked the talk, I also think it’s safe to say that the young baldheads hanging around the Dischord House got more than a few kicks from spinning this record in the dawn of the DC hardcore scene. It may be a primer in how to live sauced and obnoxious (and ultimately paying the consequences), but its musical purity could bring a smile to the face of even the most righteous abstainer. Like many substantial under the radar punk bands, these guys played one gig and released one 7” in 1978. If only Jimmy Carter had heard it, the world could be a quite different place.

When the subject of great US punk scenes comes up, New Orleans doesn’t really start rolling off tongues. But they actually had some great bands in the early days. One of my favorites would be The Wayward Youth, and their goof-punk classic "El Mundo (Is a Weirdo)" is a prime example of the general non-serious nature that a lot of ‘70s punk wore like a big, shiny button (or a badge, depending on what side of the Atlantic you reside on). If these zany characters wore buttons, they’d possibly say Ramones, Dickies, or Rezillos (more about them later), and if you rifled through their wallets you might find cards that decreed membership in the Classy Freddie Blassie Fan Club. Some punks were all about being pissed-off, but others were far more interested in being smart-alecks that bathed in the low-brow with all the subtlety of an exploding cigar handed to you by some joker in a plaid suit. This was waxed for the ages on a 1979 7”.

Los Angeles was home to Dangerhouse records, in my estimation the single best US punk label of the original wave. While most of the above songs were serious obscurities that are just crying out for someone to do a Nuggets style box set to increase the sub-microscopic punk scene’s cultural worth, many of the Dangerhouse bands were actually influential at the time they existed. One in particular became rather huge. X is easily the most well known punk band from this locale, heard by hoards of people who don’t own a single punk record (anybody who has watched MAJOR LEAGUE, a film that stars Charlie Sheen and the dulcet tones of Bob Uecker, has been witness to X covering The Troggs’ "Wild Thing", so this is a hoard that includes my Mom, maybe yours, too). If you think this is reason to slag ‘em, think again. "We’re Desperate", from the B-side of their 1st 7”, should be ample evidence that no slagging need commence. A rather hefty volume could be penned regarding why this song is so euphoric and timeless, but I’ll boil it down to a sweet little equation. Velocity + Elasticity x (Angst) = YES. And that solution has nothing to do with a certain English prog band.

The Plugz were probably the first Latino punk band. And their 1st 7” from 1978, on Dangerhouse, is about as perfect as punk gets. "Mindless Contentment" is from that record, and it’s a delirious blast of the kind of frenzied fun that serves as a benchmark of why this punk stuff was ever a big deal. The song has that certain sloppy precision, raspy, passionate singing, and gradually building cathartic oomph that could make you forget the heat, the pollution, the pointless arguments, the maddening friction of daily life, and just where the hell are you going to get the rent this month? Well, if you have a CD copy of this bands’ ELECTRIFY ME album, you could sell it for big bucks. Some joker is currently doing just that on Amazon, asking $99.95. Chew on that for a while.

In sharp contrast to the willful lack of seriousness that was such an intrinsic part of the punk rock framework in its growth years, here’s The Dils, who are like nineteen different kinds of serious all wrapped up in an ominous looking package that’s going to explode all over your party and cover everything in confetti that when scrutinized reveals Marxist slogans. "Class War" is from the bands’ 1st 7”, the wonderfully titled 198 SECONDS OF THE DILS, which was released in 1977 on Dangerhouse. It’s still a mind-blower to me what quick studies these guys were, for this song is basically the modus operandi of The Ramones kicked up a few crucial notches and rode to the brink of repeato-delirium. Music can’t get much denser than this without losing its driving, kinetic quality, i.e. the feel that makes you (or me, anyway) want to pogo like a lunatic. This one still sounds positively up-to-date thirty years after it was recorded.

Many people seem to think that the one dud on the Dangerhouse label was Black Randy & the Metro Squad. Wrong. It’s certainly true that Randy wasn’t interested in any set-in-stone punk dogma (you might be surprised how quick these tablets get chiseled) and was far more concerned with a piss-off as many people as possible pranksterism. This James Brown cover, from the bands’ I SLEPT IN AN ARCADE 7” (1979) is a case in point. Instead of homage, it’s rather a piss-take on the athletic musicality that was such a strong component of Brown’s ‘70s bands. Here’s a lowly bunch of LA punks daring to work out on "Give It up or Turn It Loose". Instead of getting in over their heads, they end up sounding like zonked-out John Cale circa ’77 getting accidentally booked into a TV appearance on SOUL TRAIN. Give me some of that coke, Don Cornelius, those platform shoes are cray-zee!

Speaking of Cale, it was only a matter
of time before we came to a song that grappled with the sound of John’s old group, The Velvet Underground. "Surfin’ with the Shah" by San Diego’s The Urinals, just drips with VU influence. Probably the best way to be impacted by this mother of all bands is to focus on what they achieved instrumentally. If you get too caught up in vocals and lyrics, you risk ending up sounding like a Lou Reed impersonator. Exploring the seemingly infinite sonic possibilities the Velvets handed down to subsequent generations is a much more productive endeavor since it relies less on topicality and personality (I mean, you’ll never be as cool as Lou, so why bother aping the man’s moves) and more on a musical sensibility that’s as fertile as the modal scales Miles Davis pioneered in the late ‘50s or the crucial adjustments Chuck Berry made to R & B during the same period. The Urinals seem particularly smitten with the early, smudgy and strange extendedness that VU would often conjure, and their track shines with an achy loner quality that’s just lovely. From the band’s 1st 7” (1979), right from the outset The Urinals personified a sort of Southern California wing of the type of Brit art-punk proffered by Wire, Swell Maps and their ilk. And much like the Velvets, the band’s influence extended far beyond their record sales.

Portland Oregon’s The Wipers were one of the most forward thinking bands in North American punk rock. "Same Old Thing", from the 10/29/79 compilation LP (finally, a song from a format that’s not seven inches long. I don’t think any further evidence is necessary that punk was best represented by short singles), proves this point rather nicely. Greg Sage, who essentially was the band, seemed to have reached a level of maturity in his lyrical focus and a concurrent depth in his guitar playing and songwriting that stood head and shoulders above so many of his (often younger, this is a salient point to add) peers. This song just sprays off a sweet stench of existential hoo-hah that I’m positive would’ve had a smoking-jacket clad Sartre emphatically nodding in agreement whist sitting in his bunker. An emphatically nodding Sartre; now THAT’S an image worthy of a t-shirt.

Black Market Baby are one of a small but formidable group of bands from DC that clung tight to the ethos of pure punk ramalama even after the formula of short fast and loud (AKA the hardcore equation) was tested by a legion of young bald scientists. This has always made BMB something of an underappreciated entity. What’s important to note is that the band were quite the inspiration to the District’s stubble-domed contingent, and it has always seemed this group helped to infuse so much of the region’s HC with a knowledge of rock dynamics that ultimately elevated it above the limitations of rote formalism (Of course, The Stooges and Dictators figure into this also, but neither of them ever played a $3 dollar gig at the old 9:30 Club). But you just need to hear the song to understand. If some boho attempted to use some post-mod hipster alchemy to turn a Manny and Olga’s jumbo slice into the perfect A-side of a debut single (released in ’82), I’d probably come out sounding a little like "Potential Suicide". Don’t look now, but Merlin’s doing the pogo on the merch table.

Probably one of the most hilariously and energetically over-the-top punk songs to ever be unleashed on an oblivious public is Detention’s "Dead Rock ‘N’ Rollers". It really sticks the push-pin into the balloon of hot-air that is the cult of dying young and stupidly (John Vernon agrees). It combines a gust of punk-prank-snark with the sorta no-nonsense time-clock punching bluntness that is unique to East Coast proletarians. You know something’s wrong when all your heroes are dead and what’s more, they weren’t smart enough to either get murdered or die of old age. This one sounds as good on the 50th listen as it does on the 1st. If you don’t agree, I’ll still salute you for the effort. Comrade. The A-side of a 1983 7”; from New Jersey (where The Boss lives).

If you ever encounter the term “fake-punk” (and it’s true you probably won’t) that isn’t somehow tied to the idea that Helen Keller’s "Surfin’ with Steve and Edi Amin" is the micro-genre’s absolute tip-top, well do me a favor and tell the guy (it will most certainly be a guy) that he’s full-of-shit. I promise he won’t get mad. He’ll just shrug and say “different strokes”, or something similar. Maybe he’ll even buy you a beer for being such an astute and exacting cultural obscurantist. But alas, I digress. This baby was cranked out and released on 7” in 1978 by a bunch of musicians employed in writing commercial jingles (which makes it rather post-cool that the song was eventually used in an Isuzu ad). The fact that they don’t have any ties to a particular opposing rock aesthetic means that they can just lay the throttle down, and it comes off sounding like a hypothetical MAD MAGAZINE flexi-disc given away with the issue where Alfred E. Neumann gets dolled-up like Joey Ramone. It’s just Dada-punk genius personified. Operatic sopranos are wailing, what could be Theremins are signaling like Clara Rockmore showed up to jam after doing 15 shots of espresso and eating a fried-egg sandwich (hard yolk, extra-mayonnaise), and an electric drill gets put through its paces. I mean, like, holy shit.

If the previous song is the pinnacle of straight-Joes on sabbatical, then "Job" by San Francisco’s The Nubs is about as authentic as it gets. By 1980, when this was released on 7”, just about any possibility for punk as a commercially viable vessel had been utterly destroyed, and you can hear that fact oozing from this song like toxins from a ‘50s B-movie lagoon. In its jokey cum serious rejection of Normal Life, it basically exists as a line in the sand where standards of societal achievement and monetary success are clearly on the other side. This is frankly the perfect theme music for the instructional film HOW TO SMOKE-UP A BUNCH OF CHEMICALS AND BE A WELFARE CHEAT. What, you didn’t see that one? Awwwwww mannnnnn, it’s a classic.

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