Saturday, January 06, 2018

Suburban Voice blog #127


Back in 2015, I said I was going to occasionally start post some recent (but not brand new) Maximum Rocknroll columns (minus the record reviews) for those of you who don’t get the magazine on a regular basis or at all. Of course, that fell by the wayside as many things regarding this blog often do. But I’m going to try to make this a bit more frequent. I’ll mainly stick to music-oriented ruminations, what I call punk rock history lessons. Here are a few from 2017. Enjoy…


I recently engaged in an on-line discussion of lesser-known, perhaps semi-obscure (or completely obscure) 7”s from the UK in the late 70s/early 80s. I know the Killed By Death thing has been done to death (pun intended), I’m sure some of these songs might not be as far under the radar as I think but it’s always a fun topic and maybe you’ll want to seek these out. It’s certainly easy enough these days, as I was able to find all of these on YouTube. All of these songs are what I often refer to as mix-tape favorites, songs that have been embedded into my brain since taping them off the radio over 35 years ago at this point (yikes!). And I was able to score quite a few of them in the 99 cent bin (or at least fairly cheaply) at late, lamented stores like New England Music City in Kenmore Square in Boston and Discount Records in Harvard Square in Cambridge. Ah, those were the days. You kids have it so easy now. I suppose I should punctuate that with a “get off my lawn!” coda.

The Rings were a band with Twink, who played drums for 60s garage legends The Troggs and then the Pink Fairies in the early-to-mid 70s (you might know their song “Do It,” which was covered by Henry Rollins). Twink was out front for this unit and their single “I Wanna Be Free/Automobile” was good stripped-down punk with a pub rock flavor. The lyrics for “Automobile” are a mere two lines—“I wanna get you in my automobile” and “do you remember when we were crazy.” Two of the Rings, Alan Shaw and Rod Latter, started The Maniacs after that band’s implosion, and came up with a great, if instantly-dated dose of punk energy for “Chelsea ’77.” The boisterous guitar line that introduces the song, along with Shaw’s enthusiastic vocals, punctuated by an assortment of “EEYAY-EE-EYAY”s ‘EE-YOW”s and “CH-CH-CH-CHELSEA!”s really make the song. Shaw is a punk lifer, having played with the likes of The Damned and their original guitarist Brian James over the years.

I mentioned the pub-rock influence for the Rings song. A number of early punk musicians spent time slogging it out in the pubs, playing revved-up, R&B-inspired, back-to-basics rock ‘n roll before donning their pogo shoes. Veteran guitarist Chris Spedding teamed up with former pub rockers The Vibrators in 1977 for the irresistible “Pogo Dancing.” That generation’s version of “The Twist”? Well, the single didn’t exactly climb the charts and perhaps it’s a bit of a novelty song but also a damned catchy one.

You can feel the sneer coming through the speakers when listening to The Users’ “Sick Of You” and its b-side “I’m In Love With Today.” Released on Raw Records, which unleashed a handful of memorable singles, this was the cream of the crop. The whipsnap guitars and attitudinal vocals have more of a Raw Power-era Stooges flavor. Pure nastiness. “Sick Of You” did appear on the first Killed By Death comp. Future UK Subs bassist Alvin Gibbs played in a later lineup of this band.

The Subs weren’t the UK Subs, but a group of Scottish punks who did a one-off single for Stiff Records, “Gimme Your Heart.” Starting with an incessant drumbeat and gang vocals chanting the chorus, the track is full of both venom and tunefulness. It’s hard not to love any song that starts with a line like “livin’ around here makes me wanna throw up.”

APB were also a Scottish band and played mainly post-punk/funk/dance music that wasn’t all that scintillating, save the tense “Talk To Me,” from their second 7” Their first single was a lot different, though—a total poppy/punky earworm from 1981 called “Chain Reaction.” Bouncy and buzzing, with an inescapable chorus hook… even a partially-spoken part where bassist/vocalist Iain Slater sounds a bit like Groundskeeper Willie from the Simpsons—maybe I shouldn’t bring that up because my MRR compatriot and native Scotsman Allan McNaughton reacted rather negatively when I mentioned it before. His words were, “watch it, bub!” You’ll be singing this one all day.

I’d imagine quite a few of you have heard of The Lurkers but their bass player Arturo Bassick left the band early on and started his own project Pinpoint, who released a few singles and an album in ’79-80. “Richmond” was the first and the best, another song that sounded inspired by pub rock as well as Spiral Scratch-era Buzzcocks. B-side “Love Substitute” has a similar sharpness, throwing in a nice little guitar freakout. Arturo eventually returned the Lurkers as a vocalist and “Richmond” became part of that band’s repertoire. 

Before Ian Page (neé Paine) and Dave Cairns donned their sharp suits for mod-revivalist band Secret Affair, they played in the New Hearts and released a nice piece of power-pop-punk called “Just Another Teenage Anthem.” Plaintive, yearning vocals, punctuated by some “oooo-oooohs” and a little jangle in the guitars. There was an anthology that included their two 7”s and a lot of unreleased tracks that came out in 2009.

Ian North played  in mid-70s NYC glam-pop band Milk ‘n Cookies, before moving to the UK and starting a punk band called Neo. There was only one single, 1978’s “Tran-Sister.” An intense track with striking guitar lines and a dark undertow and I suppose it could be considered more new wave than punk, but no matter—it’s a good one. The chorus has the line “television on the radio” and I’ve always wondered if the band TV On The Radio got their name from that song. Probably not but that was the first thing I thought of when hearing the latter’s name. And what I’ve heard from that band can’t touch this single.

The late Ian Lowery played in a few bands that didn’t really fit a specific category and they tend to be overlooked a bit. The Wall came first. Lowery wasn’t in the band all that long but he hung around long enough to sing on their first two singles. “Exchange/Kiss The Mirror” was the second one and both songs are good bashers in a Ruts vein, albeit without the rhythmic subtleties of the latter. After Lowery left The Wall, he found himself in Ski Patrol, a post-punk unit who recorded for Malicious Damage, the label that released early records by Killing Joke. The debut, “Everything Is Temporary/Silent Scream” has a post-punk ominousness and the jarring jitter continues for “Driving,” the b-side of their second single “Agent Orange.” That track marks a departure—a slow, steady buildup starting with a pulsating bass-line, adding guitar and synth shadings (played by Jaz from Killing Joke) as the volume steadily increases and the tone becomes increasingly desperate until there’s a blood-curdling scream that gets abruptly cut off. Quite a striking song. (January 6, 2017)



As some of you might know, I was in a band called Shattered Silence. We were around from about 1986 to 1989, re-formed briefly in 1991 and got back together to play a few shows in 2015 and it’s been an on again/off again ever since (as of now, it’s pretty much an off thing). In the process of setting up a social media page for the band, I discovered that there were other bands with the same name. It’s not all that original, I suppose—I stole the name from the title of a 1984 album by the Winnipeg band Unwanted. Anyway, one of ‘em is a self-described southern rock band from Tennessee and their influences are listed as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Guns ‘n Roses and Bon Jovi (sounds REALLY promising). Their Facebook page has a profile picture with an eagle with an American flag behind it and the cover photo is a Confederate flag. I think this band might be a bit confused. They do have pretty cool t-shirts, though (no American or Confederate flags on it).

The other one is what could best be described as a Christian alternative rock band from Texas. Their vocalist/guitarist Justin Gambino said their name comes from “400 years of silence between the Old Testament and New Testament in the Bible… We believe that in this life, in this world, some people feel that God has gone silent in their lives and we want to be the light to the world and to shatter that silence.” I have to admit that’s a lot more thought out than just poaching the name from an album title. Still, even with the obvious differences, I’ve felt a bit of a kinship with them and have even interacted with their Facebook page. They seem like decent-enough guys, even if their music is pretty awful and I’m being generous there. I was still saddened to learn that they’re splitting up because Justin has “felt led by the Lord to pursue a solo career.” I didn’t know the Lord was in the music management business. I posted that I was disappointed they were splitting up because now we wouldn’t be able to do a split record with them. One of the guys in the band took it with good humor.

So it’s up to us to carry the Shattered Silence banner. We’ve been floundering in that task for the past few years but never say never, right? Anyway, it got me to thinking about bands with the same name. The endless discussions over who’s better—Subhumans from the UK or The Subhumans from Canada? The Los Angeles X or the Australian one? It always makes for enjoyable, often spirited debates—they sometimes become more intense than discussing political issues. I put together a list of bands with the same names. In some cases, the spelling might be different but it’s the same pronunciation. And I pretty much stuck to bands that fall under the punk, post-punk or hardcore banner. Even if I don’t declare winners or losers, it’s also a good way to expose you, my loyal readers, to bands you might not have heard of before—so it’s as much a public service as a competition. Finally, I realize this is far from a complete list.


I already mentioned the dueling Subhumans. There seems to be more polarization with these bands than the others—if people like one, they tend not to like the other. I think they’re both great. While each had socially and politically-conscious lyrics, they had differing musical approaches. The UK band (no “the,” just Subhumans) operates in an anarcho-punk vein—maybe that’s a rather vague term. It’s a mix of punk, reggae, post-punk and rock, along with sharp, observational lyrics. They still play out (having returned from a hiatus in 1999) and still play almost all tracks from The Day The Country Died album, which isn’t a bad thing since it’s one for the ages. If anything, they’re a better live band now than they were in the 80s. The earlier EPs still kick ass and Worlds Apart pushes things in a more melodic direction without losing focus. They have an extensive catalogue and most of it is worthwhile.

The Canadian band’s debut full-length Incorrect Thoughts is chock full of memorable, anthemic tunes like “The Big Picture” and “Dead At Birth,” along with slam-bang rippers like “Death To The Sickoids” and “We’re Alive.” Their best-known song is probably the sarcastic “Slave To My Dick,” which showed up on the Let Them Eat Jellybeans compilation. The original album is a LOT better than the unauthorized CD Presents reissue, which had remixed versions of the songs, a different running order and an absolutely hideous orange cover that manipulated the original artwork. There are also two decent odds and ends compilations, Death Was Too Kind and Pissed Off… With Good Reason. You can avoid their tepid-sounding No Wishes No Prayers album on SST. I never heard the re-recorded version of Incorrect Thoughts or mid-2000s album New Dark Age Parade, but I can’t imagine them being anywhere near the level of the earlier discs. Sadly, their vocalist Brian “Wimpy Roy” Goble and original drummer Dimwit (both of whom also played in DOA) are no longer with us. As I said, both have a place in my collection and it’s a shame there’s so much divisiveness.

Just about everyone has probably heard of Boston legends Jerry’s Kids, who unleashed one of the greatest hardcore albums of all time, Is This My World, which boils over with a ferociousness and intensity few other bands ever achieved. But there are two other bands with the same name, albeit spelled differently. Jerry’s Kidz were from New Mexico and their sole EP, 1984’s Marionetts (also titled Well Fed Society on a Lost & Found Records bootleg), is a dose of ripping hardcore punk, featuring sputtering guitar leads and, while they’re not the most-original sounding band, this 7” is worthy of a reissue. The final one, from Austin, spelled its name Jerrys Kids and featured two future members of Scratch Acid, Rey Washam and Brett Bradford. Unfortunately, even with the talent involved, their album What Can You Say? How Will They Take It? is not-all-that-electrifying garagey punk/post punk. It’s hard not to love a song titled “Love Theme From Sharon Tate’s” and there are moments but this is hardly crucial.


I mentioned X before. The one from LA put out some solid records—the Los Angeles and Wild Gift albums are packed with great songs like “Johny Hit and Run Paulene,” “Los Angeles,” “We’re Desperate” and “Beyond and Back.” The brooding “White Girl” is my favorite. Exene and John Doe’s crooning was distinctive and the musical skill, particularly Billy Zoom’s rockabilly-inflected guitar licks and Don Bonebrake’s fluid drumming, was high. Unfortunately, there were a couple of awful albums and there’s the matter of Exene and Billy’s right-wing politics, so that detracts a bit (even if it’s unfair). The Australian X put out a groundbreaking, ahead-of-its-time album, 1979’s Aspirations. Driving churning punk/post-punk with slashing, sputtering guitar lines and relentless bass/drums. A sinister, acerbic classic. Ugly Pop put out a collection of 1977 demos a few years back, X-Purts, that’s more straight-ahead punk but you can hear hints of what would follow. I’ve been listening to the Aussie band a LOT more in recent years.

There were three Stains that I’ve heard—the one from LA had a 1983 self-titled 12” on SST. That has some scorching metal-tinged hardcore and is one of the records on that label most deserving of a reissue. “Sick and Crazy” is a good summary of their sound. The Stains from Austin eventually morphed into MDC and their sole release under that name was a 7” with the original versions of “John Wayne Was Nazi” and “Born To Die.” Slower but also scrappy--two great songs. There was also a Stains in the early 80s who were originally from Maine but eventually moved to Boston. They had a somewhat unclassifiable sound that fused ’77 era punk (their 7” had Damned and Sex Pistols covers) with a slight arty twist. The recordings are very hit and miss (there’s a compilation on Rave Up). They eventually changed their name to Ice Age.

Before the LA hard rock band L7 (whose music hasn’t aged well at all), there was L-Seven, a band from Detroit who had the sole release on the Touch & Go’s Special Forces spinoff, a self-titled 7” from 1983. Their vocalist was the late Larissa Stolarchuk (aka Strickland), who later wielded a mighty guitar for Laughing Hyenas. L-Seven had a pulsating, yet melodic post-punk sound. The three songs are full of shimmering guitar lines and a potent rhythmic undertow, along with Larissa’s sweet-sounding vocals. Long out of print and I’d imagine likely to stay that way, which is a shame, as this is an underrated disc.

Then there’s Youth Brigade, a name shared by bands from LA and DC. The former have a three decade career, the latter came and went very quickly in the early 80s but I listen to them a lot more these days. Their Possible EP, demo EP that was issued on Dischord in recent years and tracks on Flex Your Head are pissed-off and raging as fuck. Some of the recordings by the LA band (with the Stern brothers, founders of BYO) haven’t held up too well, to be honest, although there are still-enjoyable rousers like “Fight To Unite,” “Violence,” “Blown Away” and “Sink With California,” which make up for not-so-great songs like “What Will The Revolution Change?” and “Alienated.” There were two versions of Sound and Fury, from different recording sessions. The original one, later reissued as Out Of Print, is rougher-sounding, with an enjoyable west coast meets UK/Oi! sound. The redone version subtracts and adds some songs and spruces up the production.

UK thrashers Heresy are probably better-known than their slightly more obscure Michigan brethren. The latter didn’t release a whole lot back then—the Driven demo, a few songs on a cassette compilation and one posthumous 7”. Whereas the UK version wore the Siege and DRI inspirations on their collective sleeves, the Michigan unit had a buzzsaw thrash attack with occasional metallic leads and hoarse vocals. Some raging stuff.

There wasn’t one but two kickass bands with the name Agent Orange. I’d imagine the west coast punk-meets-surf band is better-known and their Bloodstains single and subsequent album Living In Darkness still sound great 35 years later. That more than makes up for the mediocre releases that followed (although the Breakdown EP is pretty good). But if you haven’t heard the Dutch Agent Orange, you really need to. Raw, fast, blistering hardcore with a complete don’t-give-two-fucks attitude. How can you not love a song with the title “Your Mother Sucks Cocks In Hall,” especially when delivered at a full-throttle thrashing-bashing tempo? It’s impossible.

CONFLICT (US)--ca. 1982 (photo: Ed Amaud)

There was an American counterpart to the UK anarcho punk band Conflict—an early 80s band from Arizona fronted by a psychiatric nurse named Karen. They released a demo, America’s Right (still have the copy I mailordered from Karen) and a 12” called Last Hour. Basic thrashy hardcore with occasional hints of melody that isn’t exceedingly original but still worth a listen or two and there was growth between the demo and 12.” Puke N Vomit did a reissue of the 12” a few years ago. Another UK anarcho band with a US counterpart was The Mob (the UK band spelled it Møb). The US aggregation, from NYC, put out a couple of 7”s that had decent 1-2-1-2 rat-a-tat-tat-tat thrash and a terrible, more metal-sounding album later on.

The Misfits from Lodi, NJ weren’t the only US band with that name—there was also a Misfits from Albany, NY, who later changed their name to The Tragics. Their 7” was reissued on Loud Punk in 2007. Trashy, fuzzed-out tuneful punk with Liz Davies’ Styrene-esque vocals. “Mommi I’m A Misfit” is an ear-grabbing gem. 

Long before the Santa Cruz band Bl’ast—who, if you’ve never heard them, offer some crushing, Black Flag-inspired mayhem—there was the Belgian band Blast, who have been described as “proto-thrash.” Their song “Damned Flame” is certainly quite speedy for 1972, when it was recorded. It was reissued a few years ago but even that’s a bit expensive. Gloriously lo-fi, with buzzy and fuzzy guitar, drumming that can’t quite keep up (especially for the b-side “Hope”) but, yep, it’s thrash. Maybe a bit more of historical curiosity than anything else.

One of the easiest “showdowns” involves two bands who started off as The Beat—the 2 Tone-era ska band English Beat and power poppers Paul Collins Beat. I know there are people who stand by the latter but I always found them wimpy. Truth be told, the UK one only have about half a dozen songs I still listen to, but I’ll still take them for the win. I had only one friend who thought the Paul Collins one was better but his opinion is disqualified because he once told me that Black Flag’s Damaged was one of the worst records he ever heard. No wonder I’m not friends with the guy anymore... (March 5, 2017)