Here are 15 forgotten punk albums you’ll wish you discovered sooner
For every bona fide punk legend, there's a stack of bands who never got their due. Here are some great records from bands you may have missed.September 18, 2020
You think you know your punk history? You’ve studied protopunk, punk rock, post-punk, hardcore, grunge, pop punk, garage-punk and every other hyphenated subgenre spinoff? You know your Stooges and MC5 and New York Dolls and Flamin’ Groovies? Your Ramones and Heartbreakers and Blondie? Well, that’s cool. But do you know about the stuff that fell through the cracks? Here are 15 forgotten punk albums for you to discover.
It happens. For every Elvis or Eddie Cochran, there are 50 rockabilly heroes such as Johnny Burnette & The Rock ’N’ Roll Trio who didn’t have a hit. You may have every note the Beatles or Rolling Stones issued but have no clue about Bern Elliott And The Fenmen. Sometimes, there’s a good reason why such acts remain obscure. For others, despite possessing all the talent in the world, the moon and stars simply didn’t align.
Some of these albums are from familiar acts. Others are collections of bands who never issued an LP. Some are eventual issues of unreleased albums. But there’s not a bad note among these. Sometimes, you just have to really dig for musical treasures. Punk was so underground, you had to search out everything. You couldn’t just waltz into some big-box electronics store and find Ramones albums. You frequently had to special order these things or even mail order them from an ad in the back of something like Creem magazine or Trouser Press. Except for hard-to-find specialty radio shows on the far-left end of the FM dial, you couldn’t hear this music otherwise. There wasn’t even YouTube or Spotify. You were frequently going in blind, purchasing your punk.
Warsaw Pakt – Needle Time
Nov. 26, 1977, 10 p.m.: London’s Warsaw Pakt entered Trident Studios to record and release an album in 24 hours. They bypassed tape, recording directly to the master disc. All songs were played in sequence live, breaking at the end of Side One, to tune up then cut Side Two. It captured a powerful band playing a white-hot set of tunes straddling the fence between the MC5 and the Who circa 1965. The masters were rushed to the pressing plant. It was manufactured overnight, inserted into brown cardboard sleeves, with all info rubber-stamped or stickered. It was in the stores the following evening. A classic forgotten punk album.
The Gears – Rockin’ At Ground Zero
The influence of ’50s rock ’n’ roll on punk rock—high-energy, stripped-down tunes, three chords and loads of enthusiasm—was frequently noted in the press. Some bands, such as the Cramps or X, made that inspirational debt obvious. With their ducktail haircuts and punky greaser garb, L.A.’s Gears were like the apocalypse’s sock-hop band. Featuring ex-Controllers guitar genius Kidd Spike and charismatic singer Axxel G. Reese, the Gears had some real anthems such as “Don’t Be Afraid To Pogo.” Like the Warsaw Pakt LP, the Gears’ album was recently reissued by Munster Records and is now easily obtainable.
F-Word – Like It Or Not Live
These short-lived early L.A. punks featured charismatic singer Rik L Rik (who never wore shoes anywhere or anytime—onstage or on the streets) and a killer guitarist charmingly named Dim Wanker. Theirs was one of the earliest releases on Posh Boy Records, cut live at San Francisco’s Mabuhay Gardens, capturing a band melding vintage Stooges/Dolls/Ramones voltage with fresh teenage energy and snottiness. Among the highlights: A typically scurrilous introduction by the Mabuhay booker Dirk Dirksen, raw anthems such as “Do The Nihil” and “Hillside Strangler” and a version of the Dolls’ “Bad Girl” that could be the early Damned. A forgotten punk album you need to stretch your ears around.
Stains – Stains
Long out of print, this SST release was one of the most dangerous of early hardcore albums, recorded by a quartet of East L.A. Hispanic teens. It’s also one of the earliest metal/punk crossover records, especially with guitarist Robert Becerra’s exaggerated Ritchie Blackmore riffs and sick whammy bar abuse. Clearly, Greg Ginn was listening. With menacing, brutal tunes such as “Sick And Crazy,” “Gang-Related Death” and “Quit The Human Race,” the Stains’ sole release is more crazed and chaotic than the Germs’ (GI) or Black Flag’s Damaged. It’s almost hardcore’s Dead Sea Scrolls—a sacred text requiring some restoration.
999 – High Energy Plan
999 are the great also-rans of early Britpunk. Pub-rock veterans who adapted to the new pogo ethic to keep working, they wrote some cracking, immortal tunes such as “Homicide” and featured imaginative guitar interplay between frontman Nick Cash and lead player Guy Days. This reworked/retitled version of their second LP, Separates, with a resequenced track order and some different songs, was America’s introduction to this still-active band. It also features “Homicide” and some of their most deathless tunes. For many years into the ’80s, if you entered any U.S. punk crashpad, this record was displayed proudly next to the stereo.
Black Market Baby – Senseless Offerings
Black Market Baby stood out in the harDCore scene like a turd in the punch bowl. They were an old-school 1977-style punk outfit in a sea of thrash bands, drinking and drugging accordingly, too. With King Hell guitarist Keith Campbell, Mike Dolfi’s subsonic bass and Boyd Farrell’s snotty holler front and center, BMB fused early Clash-style anthems with the Dead Boys’ delinquent energy. Their sole LP is out of print but is accessible via a YouTube playlist. Featuring storming rabble-rousers such as “Downward Christian Soldiers,” “White Boy Funeral” and “Gunpoint Affection,” Senseless Offerings is truly a lost American punk classic.
Red Rockers – Condition Red
New Orleans’ Red Rockers softened their attack upon succumbing to a major-label recording contract, going MTV new wave and gaining a hit 45 called “China.” But in the late ’70s and early ’80s, they were the best Americanization of the early Clash this side of California’s the Dils. Their debut was clearly patterned after the Clash’s first album, down to the sleeve art and production. But the Rockers’ was more reverb and echo-heavy. But with power-chord hymns such as “Guns Of Revolution,” “Teenage Underground” and “Dead Heroes,” Condition Red was a fundamentalist punk standard-bearer in the middle of hardcore’s ascendence.
The Cheifs – Holly-West Crisis
The Cheifs’ name was forever misspelled after bassist Bob Glassley spray-painted it thusly on some homemade band shirts from his late uncle’s white T-shirt stash. A staple on the L.A. punk circuit from 1979 to 1982, they were a bridge between the early stylings down at The Masque and the Huntington Beach hardcore sound. They never made a proper full-length—this comp drawn from various singles and comp appearances is all that remains. But Jerry Koskie’s sneer could cut glass, as could guitarist George Walker’s tone. With abbreviated outbursts such as “Riot Squad” and “The Lonelies,” the Cheifs ruled.
Avengers – Avengers
Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra claimed San Francisco’s Avengers generated three full LPs’ worth of material in their brief lifetime. Later archival releases indicate this is hardly hyperbole. After their ’77 “We Are The One” 45 and ’79 Steve Jones-produced four-song 12-inch lapsed from print, this compilation was the sole evidence they existed. Collecting those two releases and various demos and outtakes, it proved Greg Ingraham was one of punk’s finest guitarists and that singer Penelope Houston wrote phrases as ringing as Johnny Rotten’s: “Ask not what you can do for your country/But what your country’s been doing to you!”
The Victims – The Victims
Larry Hardy at In The Red Records is doing an amazing public service, excavating some of punk history’s lost heroes and zeroes and giving them the retrospective treatment. One of the highlights of the series has been this 1977 trio from Perth, Australia, whose Dave Faulkner and James Baker went on to the Hoodoo Gurus, after the latter spent a term in the Scientists. If all the Victims had released was the phenomenal “Television Addict,” they’d be legend. But the other 16 tracks are just as lethal, especially proto-hardcore thrash-outs such as “T.V. Freak” and “Perth Is A Culture Shock.”
The Dum Dum Boys – Let There Be Noise
Here’s a forgotten punk album given new life as a reissue. One of Hardy’s finest In The Red excavations is this prime blast of Stooge-rock from New Zealand. These ne’er-do-wells geeked out so hard on Raw Power and descendants like Dead Boys, the singer renamed himself “Tony Stooge,” with the guitarist rechristening himself “Norm Williamson.” In 1981, they released this explosion of delinquent bombast, filled with brilliantly wayward blasts such as the title track and “Escape From Hell.” When no stores would stock it, they apparently shoved it into the hands of any random strangers on the street holding $10, according to the liner notes. Thankfully, In The Red can now get it to those more deserving.
Angry Samoans – Return To Samoa
From the time when L.A. wise-guy punks Angry Samoans briefly lost singer Metal Mike Saunders, replacing him with Stooge-mutt Jeff Dahl, fresh from local drug-punks Vox Pop, who’d then evolve into 45 Grave. The Samoans sped up to hardcore specs and got more scurrilous, Dahl’s vicious rasp more suitable for their new attack. Essentially, this is Back From Samoa with Dahl singing, including lost material such as “Are You A Square?” and a lobotomized rearrangement of Status Quo’s “Pictures Of Matchstick Men.”
Redd Kross – Red Cross
In 1979, Tourists singer Jeff McDonald was 15. His bassist brother Steven was 12. The day after future Black Flag singer Ron Reyes became their drummer, they became Red Cross. Eventually, a certain medical organization called Steven to the principal’s office, insisting he add a “d” to their name and replace the “c” with a “k.” Meanwhile, they cut these six speedy slices of post-Dolls trash punk for Posh Boy Records, featuring future Circle Jerks guitarist Greg Hetson’s nascent Thunders imitation and Reyes’ surf beats. Recently expanded into an LP with demos and a live track, still playing at 45 RPM.
The Brains – The Brains
Late ’70s Atlanta band, led by singer/keyboardist Tom Gray, who wrote an infectious fuck-off to a mercenary girl called “Money Changes Everything” that netted them a Mercury Records contract after its brief shelf life as an indie 45. The Brains went to England to re-record it and other Gray originals with the hot producer of the moment, Steve Lillywhite. He recorded them similarly to another band he was working with at the time, the Psychedelic Furs. “Money Changes Everything” was covered in 1984 by Cyndi Lauper, becoming a huge hit. Other members of the band became the Georgia Satellites. For a forgotten punk album, that’s a lot of history.
The Reds – The Reds
Philadelphia’s Reds shared some similarities with the Brains, placing Bruce Cohen’s keyboards alongside Rick Shaffer’s coruscating yelp and slashing post-James Williamson guitar. They also signed to a major, this time A&M Records. Joe Jackson producer David Kershenbaum eventually recorded Duran Duran. Meanwhile, he applied some new-wave synth sheen to these punks, subduing Shaffer’s raw six-string attack, but not his sawtooth vocals. He succeeded in bringing out the dour moodiness of tracks such as “Self Reduction,” while opener “Victims” rocked like murder. The Reds lasted into the ’90s, eventually working with filmmaker Michael Mann on a few projects.