Crossfader’s Hardcore Punk Primer
From the beginning of eighth grade until the very end of my senior year of high school, my only real hobby was obsessively collecting punk rock albums. I was a fan of just about any form the genre took on, but hardcore punk always lay near and dear to my heart. Most of my friends were either completely nonplussed by my black t-shirts and vehement defense of DIY ethos and anarchist ideology or confused why I listened to the same music as their dads. I can understand it; in a lot of ways hardcore punk has died off and bled into hardcore, post-punk, and emo, but that doesn’t mean hardcore punk is irrelevant today. If you like any genre of modern heavy rock, it almost certainly has roots in punk. There are also plenty of great hardcore bands cranking out great music today: OFF!, Leftover Crack, and G.L.O.S.S. are still fighting the good fight. Even more importantly, the ideals of hardcore – irreverence for any form of conformity and authority, self-sufficiency, and an aggressive lust for life – are all things that remain essential in the heavily commodified, politically correct 21st century.
Many may already be familiar with the most widely celebrated hardcore punk albums, so this list will attempt to take things a little deeper into the genre. If you’ve dipped your toes into DAMAGED, FRESH FRUIT FOR ROTTING VEGETABLES, and BAD BRAINS, that’s great, and hopefully this list will take you down the rabbit hole to places you didn’t think hardcore punk could go. The genre really is about a lot more than anger at the man spewed over three chords played at breakneck speed, and these records should exemplify that.
Black Flag – SLIP IT IN
Favorite Tracks: “Slip It In”, “Black Coffee”, “The Bars”
The second Black Flag album with Henry Rollins flies way too far under the radar for how great it is. DAMAGED is obviously one of the most influential and effective albums in the history of punk rock, but it was an album three years and two frontmen in the making. The precision of pent-up anger on DAMAGED gives way to a looser and more jam-driven Black Flag. That’s not to say this record lacks anger; Rollins’ spitting rage on “My Ghetto” is on par with anything Black Flag ever released and Greg Ginn rips through his solos with the same intensity as always. This is also Black Flag showing off their sense of humor; tracks like “Slip It In” and “Black Coffee” are as goofy as they are relentless. If you want to understand why the cult of Black Flag is still going strong, this is a great record to look into.
Dead Kennedys – PLASTIC SURGERY DISASTERS
Favorite Tracks: “Terminal Preppie”, “Moon Over Marin”
Another sophomore effort chronically overshadowed by its predecessor, PLASTIC SURGERY DISASTERS does an amazing job building on the head-spinning insanity the Dead Kennedys began on FRESH FRUIT FOR ROTTING VEGETABLES. This album takes Jello and Co.’s dizzying satire of American culture to even more ridiculous places on tracks like “Halloween” and “Winnebago Warrior”. What always made the Dead Kennedys stand out as a band was their ironic use of music that traditionally supports American values, and PLASTIC SURGERY continues that tradition really well. Jello Biafra is a notorious record collector and his diverse tastes and knowledge always give the Kennedys more fuel than the average punk band to draw from. Wrap this all up with some of Jello’s most biting and bitter lyrics and you have one hell of an album.
No Cash – RUN YOUR POCKETS
Favorite Tracks: “Life Sucks”, “Wilkes Booth Style”, “Skate or Die”
The thing that makes this record stand out is its willingness to quiet down to make the listener wait for the bursts of ear-splitting noise it delivers. No Cash had an excellent sense of build and release which makes this a thoroughly satisfying hardcore punk record to take in. Throw in some of the most potent lyrics in punk rock and you have an album that should continue to be recognized as a classic. On the oh-so-offensive “Wilkes Booth Style,” the band defiantely declares, “I know this plant will keep growing, you water it without even knowing, and every time you choose to consume, another arm on the poison vine blooms.” This of course is delivered at such a snotty and blistering volume that the record takes several listens to even begin to understand the lyrics, but that’s what makes RUN YOUR POCKETS all the more rewarding.
GG Allin – HATED IN THE NATION
Favorite Tracks: “Bite It, You Scum”, “Drink, Fight, Fuck”, “Sluts in the City”
GG Allin pushed the boundaries of what even punk rockers will tolerate. Everything about him was so ludicrously offensive it’s hard to watch his live videos and not feel like he would have been in jail by the morning. His limitless hedonism, fascination with pedophilia and rape, and his scatophilic relationship with his audiences make him difficult to listen to. On top of that, even if you’re used to listening to homemade punk demos, his lo-fi recordings push the limits of what’s tolerable. If you’re just dipping your toes into GG, HATED IN THE NATION is about as good an introduction as you’re going to get. Although some might not classify GG Allin as strictly hardcore punk, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who lived by the phrase “live fast, die young” more adamantly than GG. The thing that ultimately makes him so appealing is his refusal to feel shame for anything he says or does. GG Allin is such an important punk rocker because he pushes the boundaries of what you’ll tolerate in the name of freedom. You can claim you believe in total anarchy until you confront a man who refuses to sing about anything other than drinking, drugging, and fucking. Is total freedom being allowed to strip naked, shit on stage, and then throw that shit at the audience? If it’s not, how do you define freedom? These are the essential questions that can only be answered by a drug addict with a fecal fetish.
Dwarves – BLOOD GUTS & PUSSY
Favorite Tracks: “Detention Girl”, “Fuck You Up and Get High”, “SFVD”
Another band that pushes the boundaries of what’s tolerable in hardcore punk, the Dwarves should push your buttons when you listen to them. Almost all of their album covers feature a combination of naked women and a dwarf, although never as graphically as BLOOD GUTS & PUSSY. The Dwarves have been accused of just about every form of -ism at some point in their long career, and yet they still manage to have an audience after decades of playing offensive music. That’s because the Dwarves are really just about throwing the freakiest party in history, their music a ridiculous celebration of our primal impulses set to pounding blasts of noise. They never shame anyone for having sex, they’re just brutally honest about their own desires to bump uglies. BLOOD GUTS & PUSSY is a pure adrenaline-fueled album that refuses to even pause for breath. Strap in and go for the carnival ride with them.
Subhumans – THE DAY THE COUNTRY DIED
Favorite Tracks: “Mickey Mouse Is Dead”, “No”, “Til the Pigs Come Around”
While California was skating its way through the heyday of hardcore punk, Britain was descending into a much more radical branch of anarcho-punk in response to the bleak Thatcher era. THE DAY THE COUNTRY DIED absorbs the speed and volume of the hardcore punks across the pond and hurls the Subhumans’ snot-nosed politics over it. The album cover is one of the best in hardcore punk because it really does capture the stark and spastic sound of the record. From beginning to end, Subhumans’ vitriolic frustration with the state of the world spills from one track to the next in a fantastic self-righteous pounding.
Crass – PENIS ENVY
Favorite Tracks: “Systematic Death”, “Poison in a Pretty Pill”, “Where Next Columbus?”
Any album Crass released during their peak years is worth giving a listen, especially THE FEEDING OF THE 5000 and CHRIST: THE ALBUM, but PENIS ENVY is Crass’ most unique and provocative record. Bringing Eve Libertine to the forefront to deliver a powerful and incredibly articulate message of radical feminism, PENIS ENVY goes places you don’t hear from strictly traditional hardcore punk. Crass always pushed themselves with experimentation, but no other album by them consistently works as a whole like PENIS ENVY. The thesis of the album comes through perfectly on “Where Next Columbus”: “Do you watch at a distance from the side you have chosen? Whose answers serve you best? Who’ll save you from confusion? Who will leave you an exit and a comfortable cover? Who will take you oh so near the edge, but never drop you over?”. This is the definitive Crass album that above all challenges you to think for yourself and to never settle on one ideology, a message unfortunately lost on a lot of punk rockers.
Flipper – GENERIC FLIPPER
Favorite Tracks: “Sex Bomb”
Their most willfully ignorant and straightforward record, Flipper turned being a slacker into an act of defiance way before it became MTV-generation chic in the 90s. This is an album that over-indulges, underperforms, and has a fantastic time doing so. The spirit of a bunch of friends just making noise for the hell of it oozes out of this album and reminds an occasionally very serious genre to take it easy sometimes. This is exemplified best on the fantastic closing track “Sex Bomb,” where the only lyrics are “She’s a sex bomb baby, yeah,” and a saxophone screeches wildly over the whole eight minute jam. If you need a wall of noise to get lost in, this whole album is a fantastic hedonistic blast well worth your time.
T.S.O.L. – DANCE WITH ME
Favorite Tracks: “Code Blue”, “I’m Tired of Life”, “Dance With Me”
In some ways, T.S.O.L. out-Mistfits the Misfits. With cartoonishly macabre and violent songs like “Code Blue,” TSOL revels in being creepy and cheeky in equal measure. Yet another band that wasn’t afraid to stray away from the traditional “three chords played really fast” formula, True Sounds of Liberty weren’t afraid to do spooky atmospheric builds before tearing into more traditional hardcore. These were musicians who could really play and it’s what keeps all of DANCE WITH ME engaging and exciting.
Choking Victim – NO GODS / NO MANAGERS
Favorite Tracks: “500 Channels”, “Fucked Reality”, “Money”
Simultaneously bleak, tongue-in-cheek, and almost irritatingly catchy, NO GODS / NO MANAGERS is possibly the hardcore punk record to end hardcore punk. The album was notoriously recorded in one relentless session and the band broke up immediately afterwards, but that’s really just a testament to the sheer face-melting power of this album. Incorporating the ska that was popular in 1999 and inverting its generally happy-go-lucky attitude with a menacing cynical message, there are very few albums that have such a fast-paced and self-destructive sound as NGNM. Lyrically, it’s also one of the most ideologically dense and cohesive punk albums ever. Covering everything from drug addiction, mental illness, anti-capitalism, staunch atheism, and squatting, STZA’s lyrics are as direct as they are offensive. Pair them with regular samples from radical political scientist Michael Parenti and you have one of the most dangerous and provocative records ever recorded. Keep this away from your parents at all costs.