10 classic punk records that are actually awful
The Dead Milkmen: Bad? No. But classic? Also no.
Courtesy of the Dead Milkmen
I put on the Ramones' classic 1977 record Rocket to Russia recently in an attempt to join all of my Facebook friends in their collective sadness at the recent death of Tommy (Erdyli) Ramone. I used to love this record, but now, even though I wanted to feel some sense of loss, it became more and more apparent that after their eponymous first record, the Ramones just kept trying to make the same record over and over again.
This, of course, isn't really news, though -- and the Ramones will always be considered to be the epitome of punk -- but it made me think. Curiosity, as they say, kills the cat, and even though I should know better, my epiphany about Rocket to Russia has led me down the following path: What other classic punk records have not aged well?
I decided to look at my own collection, as well as Rolling Stones' Top 500 record list, some lists I found on LA Weekly, and a few other websites.
I decided that some of the 10 records I am going to discuss actually sort of suck when I listen to them with my adult ears. And to be honest, some of them I've never even really liked, but according to the pundits, they are classics. Sadly, I have realized that some of these records are really just one or two good songs with a bunch of filler surrounding them.
10.) The Dead Milkmen - Big Lizard In My Backyard (1985) I loved this record in the mid-'80s. Truly. It was snotty, brash, and full of spunky tunes that were fun to listen to while skateboarding with friends. In 1989, though, they came to Phoenix and played the Underground, which was a short-lived venue on the west side. Their show was about as inspiring as heating up yet another bowl of ramen (a typical meal for me in those days), so my enthusiasm for the Milkmen began to wane. Over the years, I listened to this album less and less and what I realize now is that the Dead Milkmen were just a snotty punk version of the Violent Femmes. While the Violent Femmes' first record has remained a classic that kids are still probably discovering, I doubt the kids are clamoring for Big Lizard In My Backyard, even if "Takin' Retards to the Zoo" is still worthy of a sing-a-long.
9.) Operation Ivy - Energy (1989) This is one that I've never gotten into and really don't think is very good at all. I know I have friends who will give me a hard time about this, but this silly punk/ska hybrid is on a lot of the lists out there on the interwebs and again, I just don't get it. Maybe it was the timing of it coming out because in 1989, when this record came out, I was definitely not into the safe, watered-down punk that this album offers. Another sticking point, at least for me, is the fact that most of the live footage I have seen of Op Ivy, as the real fans say it, is pretty great. The production on the album clearly doesn't do the band justice, and in many ways it completely galls me that it helped spawn two other albums on this list.
8.) Richard Hell and the Voidoids - Blank Generation (1977) Inspiring: check. Old, from New York, and certified founding father status: check, check, and check. Blank Generation is brilliant in its noisy discombobulating sloppiness, and it has spawned tons of stuff I truly enjoy, like Half Japanese and Sonic Youth, but if I'm honest, despite some great parts, there are not a lot of really good songs on this record. Robert Quine's guitar sound has been copied so many times that many of the folks ripping him off now probably don't even know who they are truly ripping off. If you are a fan of early Phoenix punk, you probably recognize a lot of this record in the first and second wave recordings of bands like Killer Pussy, Feederz, and even the Meat Puppets, but just because something is old or influential, doesn't mean it deserves to be listed as often as it does in top ten lists.
Which brings me to a salient point we must address. One of the great arguments for music fans is what artist/band invented whatever particular genre they are discussing. For punk enthusiasts, you can dive extra deep and try to figure out who the main influences were on the holy trinity, The Ramones (the fathers), Sex Pistols (the sons), and The Clash (the holy ghosts). If we can agree that said influences were probably doing their thing from, at very least, the mid-'60s, then punk and its roots are getting closed to 50 years old and there's been a ton of great records in that time. Heck, Fugazi alone has seven or eight releases better than everything on this entire list.
7.)Black Flag - Damaged (1981) I shall get skewered for this, but this is not even one of the top 30 punk records of all time, and for much of it, is not even particularly interesting. Tons of bands have taken the ball from this Los Angeles band and run with it since 1981, and frankly, have done it much better. No one ever talks, for example, about the brilliant 1984 record from Cleveland's Spike In Vain, Disease Is Relative, which has a very similar sonic assault, but is ultimately way more interesting than Damaged, considered by some to be the number two punk album of all-time. Maybe the band's last vocalist, Henry Rollins, is actually the one who ruined Black Flag? People jump on the "fuck [guitar player] Greg Ginn" bandwagon (even I've been tempted a few times to both climb aboard and drive that one), but Black Flag was way more interesting before Rollins joined the band. Ginn's guitar playing is as pissed off as ever on this one, but it's often more grating than anything else.
6.) Green Day - Dookie (1994) The title of this record says it all. This is "deal with the devil," pop punk dreck. I remember delivering food to a bike shop one day when I lived in Berkeley in 1991. I argued with the dreadlocked hippy punk who placed the order about who created pop punk, Green Day or The Descendents. To me this was a no-brainer, but to him, he swore up and down that there had never been pop punk before Green Day, and they were something akin to the second coming of Jesus. I'd heard Green Day on the local college station, KALX, several times and had not been impressed, so naturally I was not a fan three years later when the Illuminati decided they would be the cleaner, more accessible antidote to Nirvana. Is it ironic they rose to prominence after Cobain pulled the trigger on grunge? Is Billie Jo Armstrong the anti-Kurt? Could be.
These and many more questions will be answered in the comments section.
5.) Social Distortion - Almost the entire catalogue. Let's face it. This band has just not aged well. I loved Mommy's Little Monster in the '80s. Sure, the first couple of singles, "Mainliner/Playpen" and "1945" were awesome, but after 1983, it has been all downhill. I don't even enjoy the early stuff anymore as much as I used to. Perhaps I have become some sort of lyrics snob, but I hear a song like "Mommy's Little Monster" and I just sort of giggle at how trite the lyrics are. "Her eyes are a deeper blue / she likes her hair that color too / She can even wear a dress, that doesn't mean she'll ever confess." Deep, Mr. Ness, very deep. What was she going to confess to? Maybe that she was a middle class kid from the San Fernando Valley who dyed her hair blue in 11th grade and went to some shows? Somewhere she's raising some young punks of her own now and laughing at how lame Social Distortion has become.
4.) Bad Religion - Suffer (1988). Yes, we suffer. We suffer from having to get out the dictionary to understand the thesaurus punk of Mr. Greg Graffin, Bad Religion singer and resident smart guy. Bad Religion had to redeem itself after some seriously lame records after a pretty awesome debut effort, 1981's How Could Hell Be Any Worse. Suffer is a good record, but like Damaged, it doesn't deserve the accolades it gets. How is this record, for example, better than any of the Dead Kennedy's catalog, or even the Subhumans' (UK) Day The Country Died or World's Apart? Lyrically, Jello Biafra (ex-Dead Kennedy and current leader of the Guantanamo Bay School of Medicine) and Dick Lucas (Subhumans and Citizen Fish) were both churning out much more compelling and socially conscious lyrics at the time, yet Bad Religion's Suffer seems to constantly out-chart them on "best of" lists. It's a crime, really, a preposterous monstrosity of ignominious proportions. Take that, Greg!
3.) Misfits - Walk Among Us (1982) This record sucks. In high school, when my friend Julie discovered that I didn't like the Misfits and I remember her saying, "You've just never really listened to them" and then she pretty much forced me to listen to both Walk Among Us and Evilive and I honestly just could not get into them. If I do have a soft spot for any Misfits songs, I guess I kind of like "We are 138" and "20 Eyes," but not enough to put any Misfits stuff on my top 200 punk rock records list. My Danzig disdain has been a long time in the making and having seen various incarnations of the post-Danzig Misfits, I'm still not a fan, although their live shows can be a fun spectacle. There is just nothing on this record that speaks to me and I have tried to embrace them because many people I love think they are the cat's pajamas, but I just can't do it. Just say no to the Whoa-oh-ay-ohs.
2.) Anything by My Chemical Romance, Against Me!, New Found Glory, and their ilk.
Cringe-worthy music seems to rule the popular consensus of what is punk these days. It makes me a tad ill to think that the aforementioned bands are going to be what the current generation of 20-somethings looks back on as classic punk albums. Whiny emo crap is not punk rock and never has been, but then again, who am I to make this distinction? Looking at lists of the best punk rock records of the past 15 years just screams that even though MTV doesn't play music anymore, it won. These bands are all pretty, poppy, safe, and plenty boring. I am completely sympathetic to the plight of the transgender community, but even Against Me!, who is the product of some pretty strong and well-spoken people, is just not that compelling when you listen to the music. I wanted to like them, I really did, but I just don't. The only thing that might save y'all young'uns is the fact that there are some pretty awesome bands still kicking around the underground making noise in cities and towns around the world.
1.) Rancid - ....And Out Came The Wolves (1995) Did this record spawn Hot Topic? Was Rancid just punk rock's version of a boy band? This derivative crap did nothing to advance the genre, which I am sure was not their intention, but lord oh lord, did the critics just love this stuff. When you read about this album, you will almost always find the word "mainstream" used to describe both the music and the band, and it is definitely an appropriate adjective. To many of us, the idea of punk being mainstream was always more nightmare- than dream-come-true, and to see a band that looked like GBH all over the media was a tiny bit surreal but hugely disappointing when you heard what was coming from the speakers. The almost 50 minutes of music contained on this album is not terrible, but it is not anything that we hadn't heard before. Equal parts ska, Oi, Sid Vicious solo stuff (which has never been a good thing), and watered down Clash riffs, they were the complete t-shirt selling package new jack that corporate punk needed to go a notch or two more dangerous than Green Day. Well played, Epitaph, well played.
Post script: One thing is for sure, though. All of these records are way better than anything Guns N' Roses ever did.
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