10 Underrated Punk Albums That Should Be Considered Classics
Yes, you should listen to a Circle Jerks album other than Group Sex
It's odd that people who have never met me want to punch me in the throat. Perhaps it's akin to what people like Sean Hannity and Joe Arpaio experience on a daily basis, although I would never want to be compared to them. Luckily, I feel safe in saying there is no comparison. All I've done is tell the story of how my bandmate once hit Danzig and then give my opinion on why a few albums that some people consider classics are really not that great. Again, key words, my opinion.
Anyhow, some of the people who wanted to punch me also suggested I write more positively about albums rather than put anybody down. A few even said I should write about "underrated" albums, and I thought it was a great idea. I'm sure you still might want to punch me, and that is OK. To be honest, there are people I'd like to punch, so I truly understand your frustration. The following albums are in no particular order, so please don't stalk my dog because I put your favorite of these at number four and you think it should be number one, dear reader. Some of them are by well-known bands, too, but I just don't think the records get the recognition they deserve.
So, without further delay, 10 underrated punk albums you should listen to again.
1. Dead Kennedys, Frankenchrist
How can a great record from a classic band be underrated? It's pretty easy, actually. This album was not like its predecessors, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables or Plastic Surgery Disasters, whose attack was more sonically straightforward. Frankenchrist has some fairly long songs and a nice array of additional sounds brought in to the mix. Guitarist East Bay Ray even plays an acoustic guitar on "MTV Get Off the Air," which was just sacrilege to any card-totin' punk back in 1985.
For me, though, this is the Dead Kennedys firing on all cylinders. Not that there was any doubt about the musical ability of DH Peligro (drums), East Bay Ray, and Klaus Flouride (bass) prior to this release, but their playing on this record just about smokes every other punk rock band that put out a record that year. The high point, for me, is the last track, "The Stars and Stripes of Corruption," which just takes the piss out of 'Murica. Singer Jello Biafra's (whose current band, Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo Bay School of Medicine is amazing) opinionated rants are not for everybody, but so much of what he states in this killer song holds true today:
"Rednecks and bombs don't make us strong. We loot the world yet we can't even feed ourselves."
When you listen to Frankenchrist again (or for the very first time), I implore you to remember it is almost 30 years old. Sure some of the lyrics to "MTV Get Off the Air" are outdated, but the sentiment still rings true. Tracks like "This Could Be Anywhere (This Could Be Everywhere)" and "Soup Is Good Food" are still raw, haunting, and radical (in the true sense of the word).
2. Subhumans, Worlds Apart
Another blast from 1985. Am I dating myself? Could this be the year I musically came of age? Similar to the Dead Kennedys' Frankenchrist, the Subhumans (U.K.) put out Worlds Apart after releasing two blistering slabs of punk fury in 1983, The Day the Country Died and From the Cradle to the Grave. While I love their first two records, and have always been on the fence about the great Subhumans debate related to which "Subhumans" is better, the Canadian band of the same name or the British band we are currently discussing, Worlds Apart has always been my favorite record by these punks from across the pond.
When I attempt to put my finger on why I like this record so much, it comes down to the bass playing of Phil (who prefers to be referred to as just "Phil") and lead singer Dick Lucas' lyrics. There is a definite dub aspect to Phil's playing (and the whole album, really), but the bass lines on songs like "British Disease" and "Ex-Teenage Rebel" are absolutely stellar. Lyrically, Dick consistently pokes and prods the status quo, British politics, getting old, farming and the state of the nuclear world.
The band goes off into some really great jams on several of the tracks and it clocks in at just under 43 minutes, which is long for a punk record. Worlds Apart has held up over the years, just as the Subhumans have. Originally, the band broke up right around the time this record was released, but over the past decade, they have been going strong again, just has their side project, Citizen Fish. In the words of Dick, "We carry on laughing."
3. Mclusky, Mclusky Do Dallas
In 2001, Andy "Falco" Falkous (guitar/vocals), John Chapple (bass), and Matthew Harding (drums) got together with Steve Albini (Big Black/Rapeman/Shellac) and made a little record called Mclusky Do Dallas. This record was such a great surprise when it came out, and it just kicks you in the face from the get go, with opening tracks "Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues" and "No New Wave No Fun." Like the first two records on this list, this is a great record from a great band, but it has been largely ignored by way too many people. Sure, it's noisy and disrespectful to just about anyone with a shred of pop sensibility, but it also totally rocks.
Mclusky, who hailed from Wales, broke up in January 2005. Two of the members, Falkous and drummer Jack Egglestone (who replaced Matthew Harding in 2003), went on to form Future of the Left, which is also a damn good band. Falkous and his bandmates specialized in short, spastic songs with clever lyrics that deftly intertwined the roots of punk rock with the heavier, noisier elements of '90s Amphetamine Reptile Records sound. Brilliant, if I must say so.
4. His Hero Is Gone, Monuments to Thieves
Clocking in at 25 minutes and boasting 15 of the hardest-rocking songs you will ever hear, His Hero Is Gone's Monuments to Thieves is a record that must be played loud. These boys called Memphis home when this came out in 1997, and though only a handful of crusty punks remember this band, the songs on this record slay. Every time I pull it out and dust it off, it is almost like getting a brand new record.
On most of the tracks, I have no idea what lead singer/guitarist Todd Burdette is talking about, but his voice and the voices of bassist Carl Auge, and guitarist Pat Davis create a great, scaly intertwining snake that weaves its way through the heavy rhythm section, which was anchored by Paul Burdette on drums. Monuments to Thieves, at least for me, is more about the riffs than the message of the vocals anyway. I'm sure the lyrics are probably great, but this record is for rocking out. What a great title, by the way, as we see those monuments every day.
5. Channel 3, Fear of Life
I have a certain amount of pride when it comes to this record. I think Channel 3 was one of the first punk rock bands I discovered all on my own. I was in Tower Records and I found Fear of Life on cassette early into my regular search through the alphabet. A buddy of mine had hipped me to the fact the two space age-looking things that were supposed to stop shoplifters didn't actually work, so being a poor little jobless punk kid with a questionable conscience at the time, I slipped this cool looking tape with a picture of a gun pointing presumably at the holder's head it into my pocket. I must say, I was more than pleasantly surprised when I got it home and listened to it. (Sorry, Tower. I probably owe you some money.)
Anyhow, Channel 3 are still alive and kicking today. Mike Magrann and company write some pretty rockin' punk songs. Personally, I was smitten when I first heard the song "Out of Control" and its catchy chorus, "One more thing I know, I'm outta control" which was exactly how I felt at the time. From start to finish, Fear of Life, which came out in 1982, is as solid as many of their SoCal peers' efforts that are often lauded on "best of" lists. If you dig the punk rock sounds of the old L.A. scene, then you will probably dig this, too
6. Circle Jerks, Wonderful
Wonderful is another gem from 1985. The fourth record by the Circle Jerks, who in retrospect, were one of the first punk rock supergroups, as singer Keith Morris and guitar player Greg Hetson came from a couple of L.A.'s heavyweight bands, Black Flag and Redd Kross, when the Jerks formed in 1979. Punk purists often like to talk a lot about Group Sex and Wild in the Streets being the quintessential Circle Jerks records, and they are, but Wonderful both rocks and shows the band's progress as songwriters.
Keith Morris' lyrics on songs like "Killing for Jesus," "I&I," and "Making the Bombs" is spot-on social commentary (as usual), and the tension and release of "15 Minutes" is amazing. Bassist Zander Schloss (who I will always think of as the "Wiener Boy" from the highly entertaining Alex Cox movie Straight to Hell) plays the haunting bass line while Morris shares a little tale about a young man's first "dose of the clap." I remember them playing this in 1989 or 1990 at Rockers, which was a venue on West Indian School in Phoenix. Maybe it was me screaming "15 minutes" over and over at Schloss or maybe it was on their set list, I don't know, but when they played it, I was in heaven until I was kicked out for doing a stage dive. Either way, I'll never forget it ... nor will I forget this record.
7. Mr. T Experience, Making Things With Light
This happy little gem was not anything close to what I was typically listening to when it came out in 1990, but after a friend turned me on to it, I couldn't have been more surprised. I liked it from the first listen and was hooked by the very first track, "What Went Wrong." There is no denying the Mr. T Experience is a great band name, but I never paid a lot of attention because the term "pop-punk" was always used by the zines of the day when they would write about them.
The Mr. T Experience was a bunch of boys from Berkeley, California, featuring Dr. Frank (guitar and vocals), Jon Von (vocals and guitar), Aaron Rubin (bass), and Alex Laipeneiks (drums). They put Making Things With Light together from a series of recording sessions over a couple of years, as well as including some live tracks, and it was the first record of theirs put out by Lookout Records. "She's No Rocket Scientist" got me through a couple of break-ups, as did "I Don't Get It," but that's another story altogether. Check out a great little nugget on this album, which is the live version of "Now We Are Twenty-One." Turn it up.
8. The Dwarves, Blood, Guts, and Pussy
The Dwarves are completely misunderstood. I was guilty of misunderstanding them myself until I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Blag Dahlia, lead vocals and self-proclaimed leader of the band. The Dwarves are most widely known for their chaotic stage shows and the (highly) sexually charged imagery of their album covers and music videos, but behind all the sex, blood, and cussing, this nearly 25-year-old record is 14 minutes of rock 'n' roll fury.
The beautiful thing about Blood, Guts, and Pussy and its brevity is that no one would ever feel cheated by it. The songs are short, for sure, but the power of them is not cut down in the editing process. The Dwarves just don't feel they have to subscribe to typical song structures to make their feelings known. Considering track three, "Let's Fuck," is only one minute and one second long, which is most likely the average length of most teenage sexual experiences, it is no wonder The Dwarves are popular among young and old punks everywhere. There is a feel of nostalgia to the good old days when you listen to The Dwarves, yet they are still chugging along, still powerful, and as humorous as ever.
9. Hüsker Dü, Flip Your Wig
Shit. Another 1985 record on this list. Perhaps I should have saved this list and some of the albums on it for a "look what happened 30 years ago" list, but alas, I did not and I definitely didn't plan it that way. Hüsker Dü was always under-appreciated. When people do mention them, it's always Zen Arcade or New Day Rising getting talked about. Sometimes people bring up Land Speed Record, but Flip Your Wig rarely gets mentioned, even though it completely shreds.
Like most of Hüsker Dü's work, Flip Your Wig is frantic. There is something about listening to it in the morning which has always gotten me going, even if there is a certain element of nervous tension to it creeping about in there underneath the sonic mastery of Mould, Hart and Norton (Bob, Grant and Greg, respectively). Some cool local band should cover this record in its entirety. I'd be right there in the front row, singing along, jealous of the talent it takes to make these songs rock like they do.
10. Born Against, Nine Patriotic Hymns for Children
Short-lived hardcore bands are a weak spot for me, especially ones who knew their way around dissonant chords the way these guys did. Nine Patriotic Hymns for Children came to the world in 1991, halfway through Born Against's brief tenure as a band. Nine songs in 21 minutes, all angry and railing against anything they felt the need to rail against. When I think of New York hardcore, this is what I think of as being the cream of the crop.
Sam McPheeters was one of the two main forces behind Born Against, along with Adam Nathanson. These two gentlemen have definitely put their money where their mouth is as it relates to the communities in which they live. Google them, if you're curious, but their post-Born Against careers have been just as cool as the time they spent making a big ruckus in the late '80s and early '90s. For my money, though, the fuzzed out bliss that is "Jock Gestapo" is as cool as it gets. Too bad Rancid didn't listen to more of these guys and rip them off too.
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