Although it got less attention than the scene in New York, the California punk scene of the late '70s and early '80s, specifically in L.A., was creating punk music that would be as influential and good as its East Coast cohorts. Here are 10 early songs you should know by heart.
Formed in 1977, X, despite limited commercial success, is arguably the most influential band born of L.A.'s early punk scene. In fact, this song, featuring the dual vocals of Exene Cervenka and John Doe, was considered an anthem for L.A. from the moment it was released, and earned X an Official Certificate of Recognition from the City of Los Angeles in acknowledgment of their important contributions to Los Angeles music and culture.
bear the distinction of releasing the first L.A. punk single, Forming/Sex Boy(Live)
. In their short career, the band would develop an aggressive, fast sound that would serve to help create the sound associated with today's So Cal punk. The band broke up in 1980, and frontman Darby Crash committed suicide shortly after their one reunion show. The band has since reformed, replacing Crash with actor Shane West, who played Crash in the Germs biopic, What We Do Is Secret
"Forming" is the first song the band recorded. It was recorded on a Sony 2-track in Pat Smear's garage, and the record came back from the plant with the note, "Warning: This record causes ear cancer," which was not part of the band's design.
Formed in 1977 by brothers John and Dix Denny, the Weirdos were a dynamic sound in L.A.'s early punk scene. Although they only recorded two EPs before breaking up, they played reunion gigs rather often throughout the '80s, and reformed to release one more studio album, Condor
, in 1990. They most recently reunited in 2004.
"Neutron Bomb" is a trademark song for the Weirdos, summing up the paranoia typical of many punk bands during the Reagan Era. This song proceeds that era by a few years, pointing out that the seeds were already in punk music, although the Reagan Administration gave rise to many more.
has left an impact on virtually every punk band in the U.S. (and much of the world). The brainchild of guitarist Greg Ginn (the only member to stay with the band throughout its lifetime), Black Flag drew from metal influences, and their lyrics (predominantly written by Ginn) were often very dark. Original vocalist Keith Morris (featured here) would leave to form the Circle Jerks in 1979.
"Nervous Breakdown" is the A-side to Black Flag's first 7". Already evident is the punk ferocity that was, up to that point, almost unheard of in American music but would be the inspiration for countless bands to follow.
Former Black Flag vocalist Keith Morris' post-Flag band was formed with guitarist Greg Hetson, who would go on to be the guitarist for Bad Religion. One of L.A.'s punk rock powerhouses in their prime, the band has been on a pretty steady hiatus since Morris announced he has diabetes in 2000. Hetson is still active with Bad Religion, and bassist Zander Schloss played with the reunited Weirdos.
"Red Tape" is from Group Sex, the debut album from the band. It continues the theme of anti-government paranoia that would rise to a head during Reagan's administration and be a trademark for L.A.'s punk bands. It also shows that Morris' contributions to Black Flag were ones he brought to his new band as well.
Despite a relatively short career and only releasing three 7" records while they were together, the Dils had a dynamic influence on the early American punk scene. Strong melodies and stronger openly Leftist political views had people talking about the band during the three years they were together.
This was another brother band, founded by brothers Chip and Tony Kinman. After the breakup of the Dils, the brothers went on to form the cowpunk band Rank and File. "Class War," taken from the band's second single, is an anti-government anthem that captures the band's Socialist leanings at the time.
Fishbone fused punk, ska, metal, funk and more into a sound that was exciting and innovative, and their popularity was fueled by their high-energy live performances. This was so true that the band, despite starting in 1979, didn’t release a record until their self-titled debut in 1985, which features this classic party favorite. "Party At Ground Zero" is simply a fun song that captures the band's energy and varied sound.
One of the big bands behind a resurgence in the popularity of punk rock in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Bad Religion is well known for something that punk is not readily known for: complexity. The band employs complex lyrics and harmonies with deep content, weighing heavily on political and social issues. Vocalist Greg Graffin is also a college professor, and guitarist Brett Gurewitz is the owner of Epitaph Records.
Released on 1988's Suffer, "Land Of Competition" takes a stand against apathy in general and certain aspects of the California scene in general. The song is intended to urge listeners away from striving for sameness; a punk version of "tuning in and dropping out."
The third of the “brother bands” on the list, Youth Brigade consists of Mark, Adam and Shawn Stern. On and off again, they continue to reunite and tour, and while their music helped influence the punk scene in the U.S., their biggest contribution to punk music was the creation of the Better Youth Organization, better known as BYO Records, which has been around for over 25 years.
"Fight To Unite" is classic Youth Brigade, and a classic anthem. Pushing for scene unity, the song is about bringing the scene together to stand united against society in general, urging youth in the punk scene to think about what problems are in the world, and their responsibilities to help solve them.
The youngsters on the list, NOFX
has “only” been around since 1983, but are one of the most successful punk groups of all time to remain on a major label. Prolific recordings, smart songwriting and great hooks contribute to this, as does the simple weight of frontman Fat Mike’s personality. This song, one of their first, shows a rawer, more lo-fi side to NOFX from their early days, before they acquired the polish they exhibit today. Even so, the raw elements of their songwriting are already apparent in this tune, which simply is a tribute to good friends.