The 80s had started brightly with a glut of thrilling new tangents in music and fashion that marked the new decade out from the stale conservatism of the 1970s but by 1982 the novelty had started to wear off. The charts were still full of classic British pop like Madness, ABC and even a new group called Wham! but punters had begun to dig below the surface for their thrills and much of the year's best music came from the underground with bands pushing established styles to new levels of intensity to create harsher, darker sonic hybrids. Punk had first risen to mainstream dominance five years earlier but 1982 was arguably the genre's finest year, ushering in a second wave of bands that stripped the music back to its basic components and produced something harder, faster and more immediate. Hardcore flourished on both US coasts whilst the UK '82 scene spawned grizzly new bands that would forge important inroads into extreme music - whilst this was all happening the older bands were enjoying their most successful period in the charts with the Jam notching two #1 hits, the Clash's 'Combat Rock' becoming their best-selling LP and punk-era veterans turning their hand to writing crossover pop hits with the Stanglers' 'Golden Brown' and Captain Sensible's 'Happy Talk' both selling by the truckload. But for many of those bands 1982 represented punk's last hurrah and few of the original first wave would survive further into the decade as the genre returned underground with MTV-sanctioned pop regaining the upper hand. Elsewhere Bruce Springsteen and The Cure both dropped their most depressing albums EVER to a backdrop of the Falklands War and the USA in the grip of Reaganomics and Alan Moore penned the original 'V for Vendetta' comic series as a stark reflection of the times. There were rays of hope breaking through all the negativity though with the arrival of Channel 4 to offer a fresher cultural outlet on British telly (primed by flagship music show 'The Tube' which launched several careers) and over in Japan something called a compact disc had just arrived in music stores. Spike up your hair, crack open a tin of Special Brew and prepare yourself for a warts 'n' all trip through the best 1982 had to offer.
Albums of the year
|1. Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast|
Looking back over lists of 'classic albums', you have to wonder how many of the people responsible for creating records now regarded as musical milestones can still live off their influence. Between messy break-ups, stints in rehab, religious conversions and ill-thought out solo tangents, the giants of musical yesteryear have often fallen by the wayside and are left looking back on their heydey wondering what went wrong. Unless they're Steve Harris, who these days spends his time flying round the world in a plane piloted by his lead singer and playing sold out arena shows to zillions of drooling acolytes kitted out in Maiden memorabilia. That's the difference between Iron Maiden and their peers - whilst other bands contented themselves with scene prestige and the odd breakthrough hit, Harris and co were plotting world domination from the very beginning.
'NOB' (hur hur) was the first sign of their determination starting to pay off. Whilst their first two records charted admirably, 'Beast' put them at the very top of the tree. Harris tweaked the existing formula by losing tough guy growler Paul Di'Anno and replacing him with erudite shrieker Bruce Dickinson and the switch paid off almost immediately when 'Run to the Hills' went top ten in the singles charts, prompting 'Beast' to go straight in at #1 in the album listings shortly afterwards and signalling the start of Maiden's commercial reign as metal's biggest sellers. Though their sound was massively catchy and superbly promoted via eye-catching Eddie merch, there's still a dark magic to this record - imps and demons frolic on the album cover and the lyrical subject matter (devil worship, executions and the 'melting his face, screaming in pain' bit in 'Children of the Damned') was tailor made to freak out those unfamiliar with the band's goonish humour behind the stony-faced album photos. The record improves with age too - after wearing out the hit-strewn second side (featuring '....Hills', the title track and epic show-closer 'Hallowed be thy Name'), you realise that side one is even better - convicts, Vikings, hookers and demonic offspring battle for supremacy over galloping basslines and screeching solos, all cemented by Dickinson's air raid siren delivery. This was metal coming out of the dark and into the spotlight without losing any of its underground appeal - Maiden would continue to blast their twin-lead epic storytelling take on the genre all over the world whilst decimating the pop charts and garnering a global fancult that remains to this day. Wherever you stand on modern day Maiden, you can't deny the power and influence 'Beast' had on getting metal into the mainstream and keeping it there for decades to come.
Check out - 'Children of the Damned' with that grizzly lyrical mid-section. Gah!
|2. Discharge - Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing|
The early 80s must've sucked balls in most of the UK. In sharp contrast to the vibrant, colourful swathes of synth pop filling the singles charts, the underground musical remnants of that forgotten age tell a different story, one of empty frustration, lack of opportunity and unbridled fury against a government full of pompous, elite fuckwads criminally out of touch with most of the nation (any of that sound familiar?). Punk acted as a soundtrack to the times but things had moved on a lot from the original wave of breakthrough acts in 1976/77 when an infectious wave of energy swept across Britain and spawned the formation of numerous future headliners whilst propelling various up and coming newcomers into the charts. Fast forward five years to 1982 and what began as creative energy had turned destructive - the new wave of bands forming in the early 80s had no intention of appearing on Top of the Pops, their priority was to create a new disturbing form of racket to soundtrack the bleak outlook of the age in the midst of Thatcherite repression, widespread unemployment and the onset of another pointless war in the Falklands. Slogans weren't enough this time round, the focus was more on embodying the anarchist mindset in sonic form - bands abandoned melody, structure and even standard rhythm to create a savage, scrofulous output that barely merited inclusion in the 'music' bracket for many more sophisticated listeners. But the sounds would strike a chord with the mohican-sporting faithful in grimy venues across the country and go on to sew the seeds of various forays into nose-to-the-grindstone heaviness across punk and metal as the decade progressed and scenes spawned, cross-pollenated and competed in wars of one-upmanship across the realms of extreme music.
It's pointless trying to identify the exact origin of the rougher, industry-resilient strain of second wave punk but I can't think of any band that nailed the blueprint better than Discharge with the relentless rush of audio savagery pedalled on their first full-length back in 1982. 'Hear nothing...' stands out from the crowd not just for the unbridled venom dripping from every second of the 27 frantic minutes that made it onto wax but for the grizzly sonic innovations used to convey the horror being described. The band members would have probably been kicked out of other groups for perceived lack of talent - vocalist Cal Morris makes no attempt to sing throughout the record, drummer Tez Roberts' rhythms wander all over the place and the atonal din churned out by the guitars and bass would make most people turn the stereo off in disgust. This, however, was the secret to the band's potency - their willingness to search outside the common model to craft new ways to terrify and provoke. Like Venom before them the band intentionally laid down the scummiest guitar sound they could find but unlike Cronos and co they weren't just after cheap shock value - guitarist Bones manages to soak his guitar riffs in so much distortion that they sound more like someone revving up a chainsaw than strumming away at a six-stringer and his jaw-dropping solos that lay down a marker for early thrash without indulging in any of the spiral staircase complexity that later axe heroes would make their trademark. Morris' vocals sound like a tramp arguing with a mountain lion in the middle of a hurricane but fit the mix perfectly, becoming more of a fourth instrument alongside the relentless assault from further back on stage and represent a benchmark in gruff vocal delivery that would be heavily imitated across punk's later permutations. Maloney went one better, spawning an entire genre with his erratic drumming in the shape of the 'D-beat' scene, a grizzlier take on punk rock that would inspire numerous scuzz lovers across the world as punk proceeded to go global. The band as a whole are perfect balance of venom and gristle, an infectious dose of controlled mayhem that would remain a staple of punk rock but ultimately manifest its influence more profoundly in the nascent thrash metal scene as bands strived to capture the raging intensity present on 'Hear nothing....' to soundtrack their own tilt on confrontational heavy rock. The band's grimy bootmark can be heard on 'Kill 'em all' and 'Show no mercy' which both dropped the following year as thrash got off the blocks but its influence didn't stop there - Celtic Frost would go on to cite the band as a prime inspiration whilst the corrosive sonic stew that became black metal was still brewing away and the bowel-quaking electric rumble of the guitars can be heard on late 80s death metal or more recognisably on the anarchist grindcore of fellow Brits Carcass and Napalm Death a year or two earlier. Headbangers have gone on to praise the band's virtues in the modern era with everyone from Slipknot to Sepultura knocking out cover versions of tracks on the album and 'Hear nothing....' remains a monument to sonic dissonance that almost every extreme band will come to lay a laurel at during their career. Historical significance alone shouldn't bring you to this album though, the shock and awe hydraulics are just as robust as they were thirty years ago when the band forged it out of the rage, negativity and destructive impulse that characterised the period. The sheer act of picking up this record should leave grubby marks on your fingertips like a cheap newspaper but that's the beauty of it - this is the grizzly soundtrack to a grim era in UK cultural history and still wields the power to disturb and inspire in times such as those we live in now.
Check out : 'The possibility of life's destruction'. Have I got your attention now?
|3. Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska|
Every few years Springsteen seems to decide that he has enough money in the bank already and releases one of what Buddyhead rather uncharitably term his 'fake Dylan albums', stepping back from the arena rock bombast of his regular material to laid down something darker and more personal. Rumour has it that 'Nebraska' was originally intended to be a full band effort in the vein of 'Born in the USA' before the boss decided against it and recorded everything on a shitty tape recorder with just him and his geetar - a ballsy move it has to be said as you can't imagine record company bigwigs keen for another 'Born to run' or 'Hungry Heart' being particularly pleased with the commercial potential of an album full of songs about serial killers and bleak wage slave misery. Unlike the rousing tales of honest toil and salvation that propelled his earlier work to the top of the US charts, every track on 'Nebraska' portrays characters stuck at a moral crossroads where every road leads to their downfall - the existential mire they find themselves in would make for a tough listen even in comfier surroundings but Springsteen's desolate, weary delivery over nothing but an acoustic guitar and a harmonica leaves the listener with nowhere to hide from the grim reality on show here. The boss sounds like he's taping this alone in one of those old American houses full of heavy oak furniture and big empty spaces, sat cross legged on the floorboards with a bottle of bourbon and the phone unplugged whilst the E Street Band are stuck waiting for him to turn up at the studio. I like to imagine that 'Nebraska' was intended as a riposte to the blue collar success anthems pedalled by Journey and Survivor at the time, with a hungover Springsteen finally snapping upon hearing 'Don't stop believing' for the umpteenth time and smashing his radio to pieces before fucking off to the middle of nowhere to write an album about what life's really like when you're trapped in poverty with no way out and there's no popcorn happy ending to look forward to.
This has been my fave Springsteen album for a while now, in fact it's probably the only one of his records that I can actually listen to all the way through without getting a bit bored. His 70s stuff, as much as I can see why people like it, is all just a bit too much for me - 'Darkness on the edge of town' just sounds like a horse singing over a barrage of clunky piano and sweaty bar rock posturing, it's just all too damn virile for my liking. Likewise the lumpen burger rock of 'Born in the USA' leaves me pretty cold - it probably sounds brilliant when you're loaded on Budweiser in a sleeveless top at one of his massive arena shows but I can't get a handle on it personally. 'Nebraska' is different because he doesn't sound like he's squeezing out a turd when he's singing for once, the stripped down production allows the basic elements of guitar, vocals and harmonica to flourish and you start to recognise the human being behind all that stadium spectacle. The title track kicks things off with a first person recount of the Charles Starkweather murders which simply concludes 'I guess there's just a meanness in this world', a grim acceptance of life's pervasive shittyness that becomes the backbone of the record - the protagonists on cuts like 'Highway Patrolman' and moderate hit single 'Atlantic City' aren't out murdering people but they're only one step away from a really bad life decision whilst the slightly cheesy 'Johnny 99' retreads the all-too-familiar 'lost job, got drunk, crashed car, murdered policeman' path in much the same vein as Johnny Cash at his peak. When you know the boss for thumping stadium rock anthems it's difficult to believe that this is the same guy - there are occasional glimpses of his old self on sprightly yet sarcastic closer 'Reason to believe' and you can hear him fighting back the urge to rock the fuck out on the choppy 'Open all night' but overall I'd still be tempted to ask to see some ID before I accepted a cheque from him. That Springsteen had the balls to drop 'Nebraska' between the bombastic twinset 'The River' and the planet-crushing Superbowl rock of 'Born in the USA' is all the more impressive when you think of how many more records he'd have probably sold had he played a safer hand - ultimately it didn't matter as 'Born in the USA' unwittingly tapped into a strain of mid 80s Reagan-era patriotism and Springsteen coined it in from the subsequent world tour and the live album series that went with it and somewhere along the way saw Jon Bon Jovi poach his 'Johnny and Gina' blue collar narrative for a series of poodle rock classics of his own. The boss kept his dignity throughout and has gone on to pepper his career with similarly dark slabs of country folk like 'The Ghost of Tom Joad' and 'Devils and Dust' every time he gets bored of playing 'Born to Run' to stadiums of coked-up accountants. I'm not about to pay through the nose to watch him fuck around onstage for four hours straight but 'Nebraska' is an album I'll keep coming back to for a dose of the boss without all the bunting and bravado. I think that's the way I prefer him.
Check out : that spellbinding title track in all its desolate glory.
|4. The Exploited - Troops of Tomorrow|
A lifetime spent in punk rock provides libertine thinkers with a chance to expound on their radical political theories and freeform anarchist alternative living. It also acts as a pretty good excuse not to get a proper job and contribute responsably towards society, which is perhaps what drew disenfranchised Glaswegian ex-soldier Wattie Buchan to it as the genre gained in strength in the late 70s. Having discovered that, whilst the British army catered to his taste for mindless violence, it imposed rather inconvenient limitations on his equally passionate fancy for heavy drinking and loud, uncouth tirades against authority. Hardcore punk must have seemed like the answer to his prayers when it swept the nation in the early 80s - why risk life and limb in the Falklands when you can start Special Brew-fueled riots back home every night of the week and become a star in the process?
'Troops of Tomorrow' fits the theme of this list quite nicely but it's also the strongest Exploited record featuring a number of their most recognisable tunes. 'Alternative' remains a staple of their live show to this day whilst '(Fuck the)USA' endeared them to legions of potential fans across the pond (the Yanks were quite good about it though, they loved 'em as much as anyone else). Their status as flagbearers for musical aggression was only strengthened when Slayer covered a further three tracks from the album on their rampaging medley with Ice-T on the 'Judgement Night' soundtrack ten years later, substituting the lyrics from 'UK 82' for a vitriolic update on the LA riots that were fresh in memory at the time. Which pretty much sums up the Exploited as a musical force - rather than acting as the Joe Strummer-esque motivational figure drumming up revolutionary unrest amongst the left-wing intelligentsia, Wattie and co were more interested in the waiting for it all to kick off so they could wade in and enjoy themselves. The motivation wasn't really that important, it was all about turning up on the day and leaving your mark. 'Troops' acts as the perfect soundtrack to such an appetite for unrest - it's full of short, sharp blasts of vitriol and venom and ideal for an evening spent kicking the shit out of your fellow concert goers. Many will view this as ethically unsound and they'd probably be right, but the continued popularity of the group right up to the present day is testament to the ever-present attraction of knuckle-scrapingly barbaric hardcore punk. Legions of mohawk-sporting deadbeats view Wattie as their own Bob Dylan and audiences worldwide turn out in droves to exorcise their own gripes against society at their brutal, uncompromising live shows (check out the video link below to see what I mean). Wattie's kept the formula fresh with a revolving door policy on younger, fresher backing musicians and a modern production touch on characteristically unsubtle later additions to their back catalogue such as 'Beat the Bastards' and 'Fuck the System' has only strengthened their position as streetpunk's noisiest and nastiest creation. The political landscape may have changed but 'Troops of Tomorrow' remains a great soundtrack to railing against your establishment of choice - Wattie's probably not too concerned about all that in any case, he just likes violence. And I'll always respect a man with a passion.
Check out : their entire set from Moscow 2005 celebrating 25 years in showbiz.
|5. The Cure - Pornography|
Let me just float an idea out there for you : it's easier to make a miserable record than a happy one. Don't get me wrong, we all turn to music to accompany us through our darkest moments and it takes talent to capture that sadness in musical form but my point is that none of the misery staples you hold so dear would have ever seen the light of day had their creators not been able to write stuff that wasn't miserable as a prerequisite. Joy Division would never have adopted such a prominent position in popular culture had they not been able to crank out danceable synth pop like 'Isolation' and 'Love will take us apart', Morrisey would never have been able to reach legions of droopy bedroom romantics had Johnny Marr not been around to provide the riffs and melodies to get the Smiths on the radio and 90s rock reference points like 'OK Computer' and 'In Utero' would never have become so widely appreciated without the initial mosh club top ten intrusions of 'Creep' and 'Smells like Teen Spirit'. Even Rivers Cuomo wouldn't have been able to unwittingly cire a generation of side-parting wrist slashers with 'Pinkerton' had he not had 'Buddy Holly' to keep the record company happy. Critics and music nerds remember the miserable stuff and everyone else sticks with the hits - you need to have something for both sides if you're going to make any real impact. Robert Smith may not have fully embraced this concept when he penned 'Pornography' back in '82 but in any case it marked both his band's bleakest moment on record and paradoxically the point where The Cure started to become the instantly recognisable global fancult that we know today via a series of radio friendly hit singles. 'Pornography' keeps the tone dour and depressing throughout but it was perhaps the grim ambiance that weighed so heavily on the group that they came close to disintegrating completely at the time of its release, prompting Fat Bob to put misery on the back burner for a while and pen some of their earliest pop hits as an afterthought. They'd pump out 'Let's go to bed', 'The Wait' and 'The Love Cats' before their next long player hit the shelves and the full band reconvened by the mid 80s as their began the second stage of their career as the world's biggest goth band. It's perfectly likely that most fans of their stuff post 'In between days' would find the desolate throb of most of 'Pornography' a bit bleak for the tastes but Bob ranks the album as the first part of a trilogy of releases (completed by 1989's stadium goth masterpiece 'Disintegration' and the oft-overlooked late period gem 'Bloodflowers' from 2000) that best define the band's identity. Safe to say then that it's probably worth a listen if you've not yet had the pleasure.
Having emerged from the post-punk landscape as one of the era's more likely crossover acts, The Cure managed to nail their niche market with early single 'Boys don't cry' - the track didn't encapsulate their signature sound (which would evolve dramatically over later releases) so much as set them up as an authority on fragility and futility, blokes in touch with their emotions but ultimately too sensitive for the world around them. They ploughed that same furrow over the next few years to increasing commercial reward and began to make a dent on both the single and album charts whilst maintaining a distant, aloof relationship with the media and remaining practically invisible wherever possible. By the time 'Pornongraphy' was released in 1982 they'd pretty much backed themselves into a corner - the record was their bleakest, coldest release yet but nevertheless provided them with their first top ten hit on the album charts. Despite the perceived inaccessibility of their music, the band were more popular than ever. However, the weighty nature of the music and lyrics was starting to become difficult for the band to shoulder without consequence - Smith would relive the subject matter on stage so vividly that he'd frequently finish gigs in tears and the album tour cycle ended with bassist Simon Gallup leaving in a huff (he and Smith would barely speak until he rejoined the band for 'Head on the Door' in 1985) and drummer Lol Tolhurst was relocated to keyboards as Bob switched formations for the band's next stage. In modern day hindsight it's perhaps a relief that Smith's solution was so pragmatic as the outlook on 'Pornography' suggests that he was pretty much ready to cash in his chips by this point - references to death, drowning and disease abound across the eight tracks of unparalleled desolation present here and the album's cold, detached production style makes it sound like vultures were circling overhead as the band recorded it. If your teenage kid starts looping this album or writing Smith's lyrics on their school books, hide the fucking razor blades - 'Siamese Twins' bemoans a vicious circle of futility over a stark funeral dirge ('Dancing in my pocket/worms eat my skin....Sing out loud, we all die/Laughing into the fire, is it always like this?) whilst the aptly-named 'Cold' sounds like Smith marooned inside a polar ice crater. 'A Strange Day' presents a slightly more upbeat tale of drowning yourself, opener 'One Hundred Years' greets us with the cheery maxim of 'It doesn't matter if we all die' and the ominous title track sounds like Joy Division's 'Atrocity Exhibition' being performed from the bottom of a mineshaft. How exactly Smith managed to sort his head out after writing all this stuff is anyone's guess but he was steady enough to take stock and re-assess why he started the band in the first place, eventually drawing a line under the oppressive gloom of 'Pornography' and retreating from plain sight to re-emerge with some distinctly more upbeat material along with a new line-up and the now distinctive big hair 'n' lipstick look that would prove pivotal in making The Cure a household name over the next few years. It's slightly baffling even today to think that the bloke responsible for this album could come out with 'Just like Heaven' and 'Friday I'm in love' but that's what sets apart a talented songwriter from just another grim-faced introvert wallowing in their own misery. You don't have to be a Cure fanatic to get into what's going on here and many fans of the group's poppier material will prefer to remain blissfully ignorant of this stage of the their career but if you can handle a bit of bleak then this might just be your next undiscovered gem (one tip though - if you're going to download a copy then be VERY careful what you click on when you type the album title into your search engine......).
Check out : 'A Strange Day', the perfect soundtrack to an afternoon spent drowning kittens.
|6. Men Without Hats - Rhythm of Youth|
We're not exactly spoilt for choice in North American synth pop acts - in fact, I can't think of any from the States but these weirdos led the charge from north of the border. I hold true to the theory that truly weird music is never intentionally odd, it all seems perfectly rational and reasonable to those making it - the ice-cold sonic mechanics of Kraftwerk were quintessentially German whilst the stiff-upper lipped eccentricity of the numerous British acts was typical of our fair island. Over in Montreal, these guys were doing their own thing - I can't put my finger on why but it's got the Maple Leaf all over it. It's not just the occasional burst of French lyrics or the deapan theatrics of 8 foot baritone frontman Ivan Doroshuk, there's just a discernable whiff of Canada (or, if we're being accurate, Québec) about the whole affair. Canada's a fucking weird place anyway, it's like the Belgium of the Americas - half the population can't agree with the other half over what language to speak or what to call the country. The Belgians make waffles, the Canadians make syrup to put on the waffles. And they both produce strange and fascinating bands. There's a connection, you can't deny it.
I'm straying slightly off topic here. 'Rhythm of Youth' is the band's debut and it's chock full of anthemic synth pop with a nutzo streak a mile wide. The most logical place to start for those unfamiliar with the band is their unfeasibly catchy hit 'Safety Dance' - one listen of this and it'll be stuck in your head all fucking day. The promo clip showcases Doroshuk prancing around a medieval village spouting nonsense, surrounded by dwarves, wenches and morris dancers. Unsusprisingly, it was a big MTV hit. The rest of the album treads similarly eccentric ground - 'Living in China' enthusiastically explores the finer points of Oriental culture ('Ping Pong! Egg Foo Yung! etc) whilst 'Antarctica' does the same for the South Pole. Later singles 'I Like' and 'I got the message' also tore up the charts, although the group are generally regarded as a one-hit wonder due to the ubiquitous 'Safety Dance' and its long chart run in '83. Since then they've become a bit of a footnote, a Canadian sideline into a genre dominated by other nations (a bit like the synthpop Anvil if you like) but this one is well worth digging out for another look.
Check out : 'Safety Dance' getting the Beavis and Butthead treatment.
|7. The Misfits - Walk among us|
'Walk among us' mainlines the sweat 'n' sugar formula of classic US hardcore for its main source of energy, throwing down a pumped-up hybrid of rock'n'roll and brutal punk to get pits blazing from the first note onwards. Unlike the grimier take on the formula pedalled in the UK at the time which conjures up an aura of spilt ale and industrial grime, Yank hardcore always captured a sweeter buzz of violent energy, a gum-chewing fizz-bomb of slam-heavy riot rock that suited the low-culture rampage of East coast lunks like the Misfits (nobody does big and dumb like the Garden State, just check out 'Jersey Shore' for modern proof) and was also much bigger in South America than the British bands ever were. Danzig and co were only too happy to keep it swift, brutal and trashy both on stage and on the record, bowling strikes from opener '20 Eyes' with catchy gang vocals, rampaging hardcore delivery and massive choruses about martians, zombies and vampires - they didn't waste time on solos or musically complex passages (most likely because such tangents were beyond their repertoire) but this just ensured that proceedings remained short, to the point and endearingly scuzzy with a rough-edged production rivalling the boozy R'n'R stampede of Motörhead's 'No sleep 'til Hammersmith' which landed the previous year. Tracks clock in firmly under two minutes for the most part and the tone is lighthearted without descending into total parody - though the lyrics on tracks like closer 'Braineaters' raise a smile (a choir of zombies complaining about 'Brains for dinner, brains for lunch, brains for breakfast.....why can't we have some fucking guts?') you neverthless fear the band would probably beat you up for suggesting that their music not be taken entirely seriously. Like Joey Ramone before him, Glen Danzig succeeds in channelling the old school character of his vocal influences to fill out the band's sound, his echoic baritone hitting the back wall much like the King did in his '68 Special period - Danzig would even go on to cover 'Trouble' with his eponymous post-Misfits outfit ten years later and his R'n'R croon perfectly reproduces the dark menace of Elvis' murkier moments. 'Walk among us' holds its own with 'Rocket to Russia' and the début cuts from Social Distortion and Stray Cats as an infectious revisit of classic Yank culture channelled via the restless energy of second wave US punk and packs the same rush of instant gratification as the lurid comic books and B-move shlock horror that provide the lyrical inspiration for longstanding favourites like the savage 'All Hell breaks loose', the proto-Rancid grot punk of 'Astro Zombies' and the smash and grab live cut 'Mommy can I go out and kill tonight?'. Though their spell in the public eye was only a brief one, The Misfits managed to sew their seed across a massive chunk of the rock landscape and would go on to prove a major influence on everyone from White Zombie to Guns 'n' Roses as their legacy touched newer generations of punters and performers. Glen Danzig carried his dark R'n'R fixation through to post-Misfits projects Samhaim and later Danzig to greater commercial dividends, becoming an MTV star in his own right in the early 1990s - the rest of the band reconvened without him in the late 90s fronted by new vocalist Michael Graves and stunned doubters with a rejuvenated take on their classic formula for some stonking new material. In this light we should consider 'Walk among us' to be an entry point rather than a be-all and end-all for the band - their initial period doesn't really do them justice so the wide-lens reappraisal made possible by a series of re-issued rarities (including their 1977 début 'Static Age' which didn't even surface until the late 90s) and readily available versions of their official output should become the default position for appreciating one of punk's most easily accessible reference points. There's a little something for everybody in the band's discography and the 25 minutes you'll need to set aside to take in all of 'Walk among us' should prove a sound investment for what could be a major horror punk love affair lying in wait.
Check out : 'Astro Zombies', gum-chewing Halloween punk surfing on a wave of green vomit.
|8. Bad Brains - s/t|
One of the most noteworthy thing about Bad Brains is that they had an idea of how music should sound outside of ragged-ass hardcore punk rock, having cut their teeth as a jazz-fusion ensemble in the mid 70s before becoming drawn towards the rough energy of heavy metal and later the unbridled intensity of early punk rock. The band changed their approach but didn't dumb down their style, they simply distilled the dynamic of their reggae output into shorter, faster snippets without sacrificing finesse or focus. And when they played fast they didn't fuck around - raging cuts like 'Don't need it' and 'Supertouch and Shitfit' fizz and crackle like a tank of piranhas attacking a sheep carcass whilst pissed-off cathartic episodes like 'Attitude' and 'Banned in D.C.' (the latter referencing a venue ban in their hometown that prompted their move to N.Y.C.) brought the insurgent energy of their reggae material into sharper, harsher focus. But when they needed to tone in back down a notch they were in familiar territory and low-end reggae interludes like 'Jah Calling' and 'Leaving Babylon' temper the mix without seeming out of place - the band showcased a common mindset between the genres that allowed them to ebb and flow between them without losing their thread. The trick would be copied by numerous bands in later years as the diverse make-up of urban America spawned a series of tattooed skate punks mixing reggae and punk rock to varying returns, in some cases capturing the spirit and energy of both (Sublime, Fishbone) but in many cases resulting in an inoffensive dilution of genres retaining none of their original appeal (311, RHCP and a legion of other honky trust fund monstrosities popular in pot-addled frathouses). But if there's one label that should be kept separate from Bad Brains it's that of a gimmick band - the fact that they were four black guys in a sea of white faces on the punk scene meant that they ran the risk of being regarded as a novelty but any such stigma overlooks their role as one of the pillars of Yank hardcore in the early 80s the band's close relationship with many of their scene peers. Their dynamic, deft approach to visceral hardcore punk went on to influence numerous other innovative groups drawing on their venomous delivery (Cro-Mags, Converge) or their stylistic diversity (Rancid, Godflesh) to forge something devastating and immediate of their own. 'Bad Brains' is perhaps an unlikely score draw of competing influences but the potency of the mix merely leaves us wondering, much like Shane Magowan when the Pogues' Celtic punk blew up globally, why nobody had though of trying it before. The band would go on to be universally revered and admired in punk circles and stand as testament to the notion that audiences down in the moshpit are as broad-minded as any other music fans out there - bring 'em anything new with enough conviction and they'll carry it right to the top for you.
Check out : their entire set live at CBGBs in 1982 for a glimpse of the rasta blaster in full effect.
|9. Yazoo - Upstairs at Eric's|
I've heard this album's place in popular culture described as follows; if you find a dusty copy of 'Upstairs at Eric's' on cassette in your car, it's been WAY too long since you last cleaned it. Indeed, 'Upstairs' is the sort of album that doesn't belong on some deluxe re-mastered digipack CD, it belongs in a cracked tape box with a bright yellow label stained with coffee (or better still, as side one to a killer D90 with 'Lexicon of Love' on side two). The coolest thing about the early 80s is that synth nerds like Vince Clarke could toss these albums off in the time it took the kettle to boil, filling the singles charts with an endless supply of cracking singles backed up by albums that, whilst never gaining the classic status attributed to their rock counterparts, nevertheless featured some stonking songwriting and played an undeniable role in shaping pop music on both sides of the Atlantic for the coming decade.
'Upstairs' is most significant as Vince Clarke's project between his role as principal songwriter for two of the 80s biggest electropop acts (Depeche Mode prior to this and Erasure afterwards), coupled with Alison Moyet as vocalist. Having made his trade writing stuff for theatrical male vocalists, Clarke decided to cater his material to a proper singer - Moyet was stacked like a real soul sister and could hit the back wall of any venue in a way Dave Gahan's puny diaphragm was never gonna equal. The depth provided by her vocals took the project out of rainy British electropop and placed it closer to the chart R'n'B packing dancefloors over in the US at the time, pairing soul and electro in a style that was widely plagiarised as the decade wore on by the likes of Jimmy Somerville and Annie Lennox to great reward on the singles chart. Clarke didn't need to labour the point for too long to prove he knew what he was doing though - singles 'Don't Go' and 'Only You' were massive hits and remain instantly recognisable to this day, the latter's place in pop folklore only cemented when the Flying Picketts reprised it for Xmas number one in 1983. By then, Yazoo had already gone their seperate ways - Clarke's refusal to get too comfortable was proven yet again when he penned a follow-up in '83 and then decided to torpedo the project as the album shot to the top of the charts, leaving Moyet to carve out a successful solo career whilst he shacked up with Andy Bell and racked up a relentless string of camp electro hit singles as Erasure. That's the secret of a true pop genius - get in there, make your point, crank out a few hits and then move on before it gets stale. If a few more people followed that lead nowadays, there'd be travellers clearing out their space pods in 20 years time and uncovering dusty I-pods containing some genuine classic albums ripe for reappraisal. We'll have to wait and see I suppose.
Check out - 'Only You' live in Berlin, 2008. Big Al nails it, as always.
Punk was sometimes done better by the Yanks, particularly in the case of slobbering gutter hardcore and FEAR were a prime example of that. Muscle-strapped, beer-swilling misanthropes with a fine line in utterly non-PC lyrics and violent live shows, these guys were a much more satisfying alternative to the po-faced political lefty shit doing the round at the time - Slash says they were the only punk band in LA he listened to during GNR's formative years, and the lads duly massacred 'I don't care about you' on 'The Spaghetti Incident' years later to remind everyone.
The band are probably best appreciated via Penelope Spheeris' infamous punk documentary 'The Decline of Western Civilisation' (check out the link below for a look), where they make even the likes of The Germs and Circlejerks look polite and civilized. Musically inept and pumped full of bile, their set stands out as the best of the film for me - punk could be high culture at times but sometimes it's more satisfying to drag it down to its lowest common denominator : alcohol, violence, hatred and a hearty dose of toilet humour. Their imaginatively titled debut has 'em all in abundance - hipster baiting such as 'Let's start a war ' and the marvellous 'New York's alright if you like saxophones' rubs shoulders with sexist sleazefests like 'Beef Baloney' and 'Fresh Flesh', whilst there's even a bona fide punk classic there in the shape of 'I love livin' in the city'. Capped off with festive classic 'Fuck Christmas', this is one loud, nasty listen from start to finish.
Check out : their 'Western Civilisation' set with its unique brand of audience participation.
Tune of the Year
Afrika Bambaataa/Soul Sonic Force - 'Planet Rock'
Take a pinch of Kraftwerk, a dollop of George Clinton funk, some killer MC skills and a sliver of Ennio Morricone and stick it all in a blender with a promo vid full of body popping, graffiti and ludicrous customes - what do you get? A veritable avalanche of WIN, that's what! Bambaataa was arguably the first dude in hip hop to acknowledge electronic influences from outside black culture, taking inspiration from Gary Numan and Kraftwerk (reproducing a recognisable chunk of the latter's 'Trans Europe Express' in the process) to craft this memorable slab of dancefloor genius. Credited with giving birth to the electro scene, Bambaataa brought the frosty electronics of early 80s European pop to the dancefloors of urban America, laying the groundwork for pretty much everything else that happened in dance music over the next ten years. Hip hop, house, electro and breakbeat all owe this tune a debt of gratitude and anyone who's ever shaken their booty to any of the above on the world's dancefloors should tip their hat to the guy who provided one of clubland's most influential moments. Reeeeeeeeespect.