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Bleating Gums: Goatfury's Old-School Punk Primer--Misfits, Crass, Death, DKs, Vice Squad!
Andrew Smith's guest-post from the mosh pit features the down-low on old-school punk from one who knows: Substack's "Goatfury Writes" scribe roars about the bands who started it all!
Andrew Smith: “Brad and I had a great conversation about some earlier proto-punk bands, largely inspired by Brad's recent Dead Boys piece. Over the course of the conversation, I was invited to share some old-school punk songs that matter to me, or that matter to the universe as a whole.
“These are in no way intended to be comprehensive to what I think “old-school punk” is in my mind, but they are all songs with great stories behind them. The link to my Old-School Punk Playlist can be found toward the end of this article.”
Without further ado:
“Punk Is Dead,” Crass, 1978
The Feeding of the 5000, Crass’s seminal 1978 album, is forever intertwined in my mind with my move to Richmond, VA. I heard this album for the first time when I was visiting Richmond, my eventual home, in 1994 [Editor’s note: Andrew was born in 1975].
Immediately, I wondered where this pairing of incredibly intelligent, scathing lyrics coupled with a fast UK anarcho-punk sound had been all my life, but then I remembered I had only been into punk for a couple of years.
“Punk Is Dead” is an indictment of the commercialization of the punk scene during the late ‘70s, and - even more so - of the artists who went right along with this phenomenon, check in hand. I’ll let them do the rest of the talking:
I see the velvet zippies in their bondage gear,
The social elite with safety-pins in their ear,
I watch and understand that it don't mean a thing,
The scorpions might attack, but the systems stole the sting.
Scathing. Intelligent. Punk.
[Editor’s Note: One of the foremost “guilty parties” of the “commercialization of the punk scene of the late ‘70s” was fellow UK trend-setters, The Sex Pistols. A personal account of one of their half-dozen U.S. shows can be read here]:
“Horror Hotel,” Misfits, 1980
Showcasing a completely different type of punk rock, New Jersey’s Misfits brought horror into the musical genre, which fit right in with piercings, spiked hair, and black leather. Although they used minor-chord music and other discordant elements, the Misfits really stand out because they sang relatively poppy songs.
They showed that melodic songs can have a place in punk, especially when paired with much darker elements.
“Horror Hotel” is the prototypical early Misfits song for me, before they got a little darker with Earth AD, and long before vocalist/keyboardist, Glenn Danzig, became a caricature of himself.
Related: Tune Tag with Andrew:
🎵🐐Tune Tag #4 with Andrew Smith (Goatfury): Ambrosia, Genesis, Beatles, Jennifer Holliday, Phil Collins, Stephen Stills
“Terminal Preppie,” Dead Kennedys, 1982
I love almost everything San Francisco’s Dead Kennedys produced, but their second full release, Plastic Surgery Disasters, showed a level of songwriting maturity and lyrical sophistication rarely seen in any genre. In “Terminal Preppie,” however, Jello Biafra is a great deal more direct.
He makes pointed observations about the frat-boy conformity of the ‘80s, playing into a system that incites and encourages the worst human behavior, and points out the way fun is often had at the expense of others:
I want a wife with tits
Who just smiles all the time
In my centerfold world
Filled with Springsteen and wine
For contrast, check out 1980’s “Kill the Poor” or 1981’s “Moral Majority,” each from different releases for DK.
“Last Rockers,” Vice Squad, 1980
One of my bands learned how to play this song and then played it out as a cover a few times. “Last Rockers” is an absolute anthem! One of Vice Squad’s notable features was the iconic vocals of Beki Bondage, a powerful female lead at a time when men dominated aggressive music genres.
This song in particular tells a story about the end of the world, or at least the world from the perspective of the writer, as they face nuclear Armageddon. It’s really tough for me not to sing along with this one!
“You’re a Prisoner,” Death, 2009
The punk rock narrative was shattered by three black dudes in Detroit (brothers Bobby, David, and Dannis Hackney) who recorded arguably the first ever punk record, but this record was kept largely secret for 30 years! Imagine my shock when, after making punk a central part of my life for several years and knowing all sorts of things about the origins of punk, I discovered For the Whole World to See in 2009. 2009!
This song has the punk sound I’d come to expect from late ‘70s classics: distorted guitars with fast, loud, repetitive drumbeats, minor chords, and righteous anger. Some will quibble and call this proto-punk, and I won't push back on that, but I also think they belong firmly planted in the punk category. Nobody else sounded like Death in 1975.
[Editor’s Note: The brothers’ trio initially started as a funk group in 1971, but they quickly switched their style to rock after seeing concerts by The Who and the Love it to Death Tour by Alice Cooper, according to Kathy Fennessy’s 2012 article in The Stranger.
Related: FR&B’s recent Love it to Death deep-dive:
Music critic Peter Margasak (Chicago Reader, 2013) retrospectively wrote that Death’s David Hackney (shown above) “pushed the group in a hard-rock direction that presaged punk, and while this certainly didn’t help them find a following in the mid-’70s, today it makes them look like visionaries.”
In 1975, Death reportedly recorded seven songs written by David and Bobby at Detroit’s United Sound Studios. According to the Hackney family, Columbia Records’ former president, Clive Davis (he left CBS in 1973, and founded Arista Records in ‘74), funded the recording sessions, but implored the band to change its name to something more commercially palatable.
When the Hackneys refused, Davis withdrew his support, according to Abi Bliss, in a 2009 Guardian article. Bobby and Dannis were tentative about this decision, ultimately prioritizing the brotherly relationship.]
Note: Andrew’s Pandora “Old-School Punk” Playlist is a whole lot longer than just these songs, probably closer to 200, and it’s always evolving.
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