Sunday, March 22, 2015

The 10 Most Under-Appreciated Punk Rock Albums Ever

If you surf around the Internets long enough, you're bound to stumble on this or that person's list of the top 10 or 15 or 25 Punk Rock Albums of All Time.  You'll also quickly notice that the same titles seem to crop up on these lists over and over again: Never Mind The Bollocks, Damned Damned Damned, the first Ramones record, Black Flag's Damaged, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, London Calling, etc. Of course, those titles keep coming up because they are undeniably great records.  But you'd start to think they're the only ones worth keeping on your shelves if you're old enough to remember those days, or the only ones to look for if you're a young'n looking to build a punk collection.

Well, I'm here to wave the banner for those that remain unheralded!  There's a ton of great vintage punk rock vinyl out there just waiting to be rediscovered by the newest generation of leather jacket clad crate-diggers.  Allow me to draw a handful of them to your attention.  Herewith I offer, in no particular order, ten of the most under-appreciated punk rock albums out there.  If you see any of these on one of your vinyl-buying journeys, grab them; you will not be disappointed!

Henry Rollins - Hot Animal Machine (1987)
Rollins' first solo effort brought original Black Flag intensity back to a post-Black Flag world.  This is Henry at his alienated-from-society best: power chords and paranoia churn at peak volume on tracks like "Lost And Found" and "There's A Man Outside;" the creepiness factor is upped on covers of Suicide's "Ghost Rider" and The Velvet Underground's "Move Right In;" a truly harrowing report of a domestic violence incident, "A Man And A Woman," closes the album with the kind of jam Rollins Band would become known for.  Stunning.

Kraut - An Adjustment To Society (1983)
The debut album from one of the first and best bands to emerge in the early-'80s New York hardcore scene is solid start to finish.  They were young (drummer Johnny Feedback was 15 at the time) and determined and had a couple of aces up their sleeves: ex-Pistol Steve Jones befriended the band and plays on a few tracks; they made a video for the lead (and best) track, "All Twisted," that actually saw minor rotation on MTV (!); they made their debut as a band opening for The Clash.  Make sure you look for the original 1983 pressing of the LP - it was reissued in 1988 with a slightly different cover, extra tracks and a subpar mix.

MDC - Millions Of Dead Cops (1982) 
This was the album that introduced me to hardcore.  Politics, social commentary, shock for shock value's sake and a wicked sense of humor drive hyper-speed classics "John Wayne Was A Nazi," "Violent Rednecks," "Corporate Deathburger" and "I Hate Work," among others.  "Born To Die" and "I Remember" also stand out amidst the racing buzzsaw guitars and over-revved rhythms as classics of the genre.  A must-have.

Channel 3 - I've Got A Gun (1982)
This import-only compilation of singles, orphaned tracks and the best cuts from the first two proper Channel 3 albums ends up being the album they should have made in the first place.  Part of the Southern California Posh Boy Records scene, their brand of pop-punk has always been a winner to my ears. The title track, "Wetspots," "You Lie" and "Strength In Numbers" all boast strong hooks and sing-along choruses that will catch in your head for days.  Don't miss the shoulda-been-a-hit "You Make Me Feel Cheap."

Tenpole Tudor - Eddie, Old Bob, Dick And Gary (1981)
Eddie Tenpole (a/k/a Eddie Tudor-Pole) was at one time, so urban legend goes, tabbed as the replacement for Johnny Rotten in The Sex Pistols.  Indeed, you can find him stumbling his way through "Rock Around The Clock" in his own inimitable singing style in The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle.  While that odd, loopy voice would never have worked in the Pistols' setting, with his own band it makes perfect sense.  "Wunderbar" is the standout cut here, but "Three Bells In a Row," "Judy Annual," "I Can't Sleep" and "Go Wilder" do not fall far short in the running.  Proof that punk rock could be every bit as much fun as it could be nasty,

The Diodes - The Diodes (1977)
Among the earliest Canadian punk bands, The Diodes' sound edged closer to what would become skinny-tie power pop than to the harsher sounds of the genre.  Nonetheless, their debut album is stellar from open to close, and clearly influenced many who came after them.  Intelligent and catchy originals like "Death In The Suburbs," "Time Damage" and "Child Star" are coupled with knowing covers of The Cyrkle's "Red Rubber Ball" and Max Frost & The Troopers' "Shape Of Things To Come."  One of my personal favorite albums in my collection.

The Lemonheads - Hate Your Friends (1987)
I can hear some of  you getting ready to argue already: "The Lemonheads fer crissakes?!?"  Yep. Before Evan Dando became the darling of the college radio indie-rock set and MTV's face of alternative music, he and his band issued a debut album that just sizzles with punk attitude and energy, and does it well.  The single "Second Chance" is simply awesome; the title track, "Rat Velvet," "Sneakyville" and "Fed Up" are all great; the closer, "Fucked Up," coulda been an Adrenalin O.D. track.  Pick this one up - you'll be pleasantly surprised.

The Anti-Nowhere League - We Are...The League (1982)
Those who loudly decried punk rock as sick, evil, vulgar and very bad for society would point to bands like The Anti-Nowhere League as proof.  Those people also had no sense of humor whatsoever. The League spouted hateful, foul-mouthed diatribes at everyone and everything and were hysterically funny doing it.  Declaring "I Hate...People" ("...and they hate me!"), insisting they "Can't Stand Rock 'n' Roll" and urging everyone on with "Let's Break The Law," they played up every stereotype the haters threw at punk rock and amped it up beyond belief.  The title track throws a knowing wink into the mix: "Don't you criticize the things we do/No one fucking pays to go see you."

Toxic Reasons - Bullets For You (1986)
Based in Dayton, Ohio, but sounding for all the world like they must have been from the UK, Toxic Reasons issued this sizzling slab of melodic hardcore that has somehow remained fairly overlooked. The songs are anthemic shout-alongs reminiscent of British bands like Abrasive Wheels or Chron Gen, but with decidedly catchy hooks and just a glint of a metal edge.  "Killing The Future," "Never Give In" and "Do What You Can" are all strong enough to stand alongside the classic cuts of the genre; the soul-searching "You Gotta Believe" is simply stunning.  Look for this one.

The Freeze - Rabid Reaction (1985)
The band that offered, in my opinion, the strongest cuts on the seminal This Is Boston Not L.A. comp deliver the goods on this, their second proper album.  A re-recorded version of that compilation's "Trouble If You Hide" leads a pack of snarly, snarky cuts wrapped in attitude and a wicked Boston accent.  "Misguided Memories," "No One's Coming Home," "Before I Hit That Rubber Room" - there's not a clinker in the bunch here.  IMO, the best example of Boston hardcore you can find.

So there you go, my pick for ten albums that generally get forgotten about when those "best of" lists get made.  I know these lists are often argument starters, so have at it either in the comments below or over on the That's What I Was Going To Say Facebook page.  While you're there, if you haven't already, consider giving the page a "like" - I'd love to see that total get to 500!