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Minor Threat
Minor Threat
Malcolm Riviera

10 Hardcore Albums for People Who Don’t Know Shit About Hardcore

As the 1970s were edging toward the 1980s, punk rock seemed to be branching out in two distinct directions. There were the besuited new wave bands, with their immaculate hair and super-catchy tunes, and then there were the punks who went in the other direction, amping up the aggression and dialing back the stylized punk uniform to little more than jeans and T-shirts.

Quite where “punk” ends and “hardcore” begins is open to debate, though that accounts for notable omissions in our list of 10 of the finest albums the genre spat out, such as Dead Kennedys, The Germs, Misfits and The Exploited, to name just four. Similarly, we restricted the list to just one album from any one act.

As is generally the case with these lists, it’s far from exhaustive and plenty of people are certain to disagree with our choices — not only of the bands we’ve included but also of the albums from the bands. We look forward to reading your suggestions for a potential follow-up.

10. Cro-Mags — The Age of Quarrel
Some will object to the inclusion of New York’s Cro-Mags on the grounds that they, too, have a crossover thrash-punk sound. But the Cro-Mags’ debut is a solid record, which influenced later NYHC groups such as Biohazard and Life of Agony. The Age of Quarrel was released in 1986, and the group never bettered it. Frontman John Joseph, currently with Bloodclot, has an intense, hammer-to-the-face approach to barking and, while he has been in and out of the band over the years, Cro-Mags are at their best when he’s involved. The lineup continues to shift, much to the annoyance of founding bassist Harley Flanagan, who was arrested just prior to a Cro-Mags show that didn’t involve him in 2012 for allegedly using a blade on a couple of members. Sheesh.

9. Sick of It All — Blood, Sweat and No Tears
A little later to the party is Sick of It All, formed in Queens, New York, in ’86 by brothers Lou and Pete Koller. They took a little while to really get going too, with this debut album dropping in 1989. But was it ever worth the wait. The album is everything that’s great about New York hardcore — positive, heavy as hell, dripping in sweaty attitude. Hell, even rapper KRS-One shows up on “Clobberin’ Time/Pay the Price.” This is blue-collar street music with insightful lyrics and some killer riffs.

8. Circle Jerks — Group Sex
Fourteen songs in 15 minutes. Bands previously considered brief, such as The Ramones, couldn’t match those numbers. Keith Morris exited one important hardcore band (Black Flag) and formed another, and this debut remains their finest achievement. It’s pointless trying to separate the tunes — they all blast by in a blink. The subject matter is wonderfully goofy, too — an exercise in over-the-top offensiveness tempered by the fact that tongues were clearly in cheeks.

7. Fear — The Record
The band that John Belushi invited onto Saturday Night Live in ’81, leading to a mini-riot in the studio, L.A. punks Fear helped introduce an unsuspecting mainstream public to hardcore with the songs “I Don’t Care About You” and, amusingly, “New York’s Alright if You Like Saxophones,” among a few others. Both of those songs are on this incendiary debut, along with “Let’s Have a War,” “I Love Livin’ in the City” and a cover of The Animals’ “We Got to Get Out of This Place.” Beware, frontman Lee Ving later recorded the album as The Fear Record with a whole other lineup of musicians, and that should be avoided.

6. Necros — Conquest for Death
Alongside Negative Approach and The Meatmen, Necros were one of the more popular bands in the Detroit hardcore scene (although, technically, they hailed from neighboring Maumee, Ohio). In Barry Henssler, they had a punchy, razor-sharp vocalist who would go on to form Sub-Pop jazz-punks Big Chief. Bassist Corey Rusk, meanwhile, founded the integral Touch and Go fanzine and label alongside Meatmen’s Tesco Vee. All of the Necros’ output is worth a listen, but Conquest for Death was recorded when they were still teens, and that youthful energy benefits the early sound immensely.

5. Suicidal Tendencies — Lights … Camera … Revolution!
As with Cro-Mags, purists might scoff at the inclusion of this record, pointing to the fact that the 1983 self-titled debut and 1987’s Join the Army sophomore effort both have a “more hardcore” sound. It’s true, too; by the time Lights … Camera … Revolution! came along in 1990, future Metallica bassist Rob Trujillo was in the band, and the sound had taken on a more crossover-thrash vibe. Still, this album is hardcore enough for most, and the songs are simply phenomenal. The songs “You Can’t Bring Me Down,” “Send Me Your Money” and “Alone” are worth the purchase price by themselves.

4. Bad Brains — Bad Brains (ROIR)
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Bad Brains. The D.C. guys were not only the most high-profile punk band composed of black guys, not only were they pioneering hardcore as far back as 1977, but they were also blending reggae with punk resulting in a sound both technically dazzling and hard-hitting. The genre as a whole would occasionally get hit with accusations that it was the music of the white supremacists, and the brutal simplicity of the music did attract some bad elements. For that reason, the emergence of Bad Brains was vital, and affirming. The debut album is a masterpiece from start to finish, with tracks like “Pay to Cum” proving timeless.

3. Minor Threat — Out of Step
Washington, D.C.’s Minor Threat was only actually active from 1980 to ’83, and yet in that short time Ian MacKaye’s troupe was able to have a massive impact on much of the hardcore that was to follow. They only put out the one studio album, but what an album. Out of Step was released in ’83 on MacKaye’s own Dischord Records, and lyrically, it deals with relationships and problem friendships rather than the societal problems many other bands of the genre were addressing. Still, it’s aggressively honest, and hints at the greatness that MacKaye would serve up with Fugazi.

2. Black Flag — Damaged
Damaged might be Hermosa Beach band Black Flag’s debut album, but the group had already been around for five years and gone through a number of lineup changes by the time it was released in 1981. Original singer Keith Morris had left in ’79 to form Circle Jerks (another great band), paving the way for Henry Rollins to step in for what is an undeniably amazing slab of work. Opening track “Rise Above” is a brutal statement of intent, a call to arms for the disenfranchised youth who were crying out for these blunt sentiments. The energy doesn’t drop, right until the end of “Damaged I,” with “Six Pack” and “TV Party” highlights. The guitar partnership of Greg Ginn and Dez Cadena is a revelation and, while great albums followed, many would argue that they never topped the debut.

1. Negative Approach — Negative Approach 7”
Widely considered one of the pioneers of hardcore in the Midwest, this angry bunch of Detroiters were blessed with the incomparable vocals of the great John Brannon, later of the Laughing Hyenas and, later still, Easy Action. The songs are so short and pissed that the debut album fit onto a 7-inch piece of vinyl. The brevity does nothing to compromise the quality, though, with songs like “Ready to Fight” and “Nothing” bona fide classics. The record sells for a small fortune nowadays, though plans have been afoot for a rerelease for a while.

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