Must Own Albums, Part 2: Early punk

by DGO Web Administrator

Exploring early punk rock is a worthy musical study guaranteed to better a record collection. Start with albums from the late ’70s and don’t stop until 10 years later and, if you haven’t already, you’ll uncover a wealth of important and timeless records.

The years 1979, 1980 and 1981 saw three debuts that still sit high on best-records lists, a one-two-three punch of rock ’n’ roll that continue to be necessarily influential. The three encompass standard content that’s been explored musically since the dawn of rock: politics, relationships, boredom and nonsense.

“Inflammable Material,” Stiff Little Fingers

In 1979, The Sex Pistols were gone while The Clash was well established. SLF came on the scene as a smart, politically-active and aggressive quartet; if any of the first-wave punk bands had a political ax to grind, it was the band from Belfast formed at the height of “The Troubles,” the decades-long Northern Ireland conflict. While the world was coming off the 1970s and the musical explorations of bands like Yes, Stiff Little Fingers was bringing forth intelligence along with teen angst from a war-torn city. It’s not only the straight-ahead sounds of punk, but dropping in some of the dub the Clash dabbled in along with the art rock found in their contemporaries like Pop Group and Gang of Four.

“Los Angeles,” X

This 1980 debut sits high atop the punk canon, a record that came from a rockabilly-influenced guitar player, a jazz-trained percussionist and a couple of wannabe poets. They came together after looking for ads in the classified and quickly put the musical simplicity of punk to work underneath Bukowski- inspired lyrics. Doors keyboard player Ray Manzarek, taking an interest in a nationally growing punk scene, came on as producer, aiding in eliminating a certain rawness prevalent in more DIY releases. That takes nothing away from its aggression and straight-ahead rock sound, which fit perfectly under the near-perfect duet of Exene Cervenka and John Doe. It’s a punk record that owes as much to the influence of Gene Vincent as it does The Clash and Ramones.

“Sorry Ma Forgot to Take Out the Trash,” The Replacements

The rowdiest of The Replacements catalog, their 1981 debut boils over with frantic energy. While punk bands of this era were rallying against something, the “Mats” were rallying against everything without making it a point to take a stand in unison with anything. It’s a bratty record played by a bunch of bored kids with more talent than they knew, lyrically exploring sex, drugs and degenerate behavior while exploring all those things themselves. Every song goes from 0 to 60, and somewhere in each one is a perfect Bob Stinson guitar solo. Don’t take it too seriously, but seriously ingest a straight-forward punk rock record.

All of these releases have been reissued with demos, bonus material and extensive liner notes.

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected].


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