Friday, May 18, 2012

The Most Underrated Bands of the Classic Punk Era (1976-82)

So I was thinking about the greatest bands of the early years of punk rock, and some seem to be generally agreed upon. The Clash was great. So were The Ramones. Duh. But then there are others who I might put into that first tier that are, for whatever reason, not as universally acclaimed. Some might be a little obscure, while others could just be overlooked. Putting together a list like this is always tricky, because some smartass will inevitably ask, "Underrated by who?" Okay. I get it. You and the six people on your message board are all well aware of the greatness of The Kids. But if we polled 100 punk rock fans at random, the majority might not have even heard of The Kids. And how many of the ones who have would rate The Kids as true greats of first wave punk? Not many. So the purpose of this list was to come up with ten lesser-acclaimed bands that I'd personally put on a par with the all-time greats of their day. Some of these bands are way under the radar, while others are well-known but not as revered as I believe they should be. I guarantee that I overlooked one of two that should have made the cut, so by all means you should fill the comment box with additions to the list. Here we go! I believe in more bang for your buck, so my top ten is actually a top eleven.

11. The Nips
Their claim to fame, obviously, is that Shane McGowan went on to become a beloved and notorious figure in popular music. But The Nips/Nipple Erectors were, in their own right, one of the great unheralded bands of '77 punk rock. Their recorded output, while limited, is pretty damn classic.

10. The Testors
This legendary New York City outfit is generally overlooked even by the most knowledgeable punk fans and critics. Sonny Vincent and his crew never signed to a major label and only managed one proper release in their day. But they made some of the rawest and wildest punk music ever - which has been rescued from the dustbin of history by the Complete Recordings 1976-79 retrospective. In this time when trashy punk rock n' roll thrives, it's great to remember one of the earliest and best trashy punk rock n' roll bands. 

9. Pack
Perhaps this German trio was more unknown than underrated. Either way, they were bad-ass! Who doesn't love a band that records in a World War II bunker? The band's debut single ("Com' On') and LP rank amongst the finest punk recordings of their time. Sadly, they were never heard from again. "Nobody Can Tell Us" will still blow your head off.

8. Subhumans (Canada)
The other Subhumans are more known, but the Canadian Subhumans were the balls! Not dissimilar in sound and spirit from their Vancouver associates D.O.A., the Subhumans were emblematic of a time when radical/activist/political punk music was actually good. Check out my lengthy review of their classic debut album Incorrect Thoughts over at Dirty Sheets.

7. The Kids
If The Kids had been from England, New York, or California, they would have been absolutely massive. Listen to any of their first three albums, and it will quickly become obvious why we record collector/punk historian geeks have such a hard-on for these Belgian firecrackers. When it comes to raw and rockin' punk music, I put The Kids on a par with The Saints, Pagans, early Damned, and anyone else from the legends class.

6. The Simpletones
The importance of The Simpletones cannot be denied. Not only were they one of the originators of the So-Cal "beach punk" sound, but they were also one of the first punk bands to write lyrics from an entirely adolescent/high school delinquent point of view. In a lot of ways, they were a direct antecedent to "pop-punk" music as well (Were The Descendents fans of theirs? They had to have been!). Songs such as "I Like Drugs", "Kirsty Q", and "Dead Meat (Killer Smog)" are stone-cold classics of California punk rock. If you can find it, their I Have a Date compilation is one of the coolest punk collections ever. At the very least, get yourself a copy of Beach Blvd.!

5. La Peste
I thought about a lot of Boston bands for this list. And in my mind, the most overlooked of the lot was La Peste. While any English punk band worth two shits could get a label deal in the heyday of punk, a lot of American groups were on their own. Had La Peste done a proper LP circa '77/'78 with the backing of a decent label, surely it would have been on a par with the all-time punk classics of the era. They were that good - a scorching powerhouse of a band with the songs to back it all up. As it is, their patched-together debut album belongs in the record collection of anyone who professes to enjoy punk rock. Everyone knows "Better Off Dead", but "Don't Wanna Die In My Sleep Tonite" is the jam!

4. The Professionals
When I think "classic U.K. anthemic punk", few bands fit the bill better than The Professionals. With all due respect to Johnny Rotten, I have to say Steve Jones and Paul Cook were the musical heart of the Sex Pistols. You can have P.I.L. I'll take The Professionals!

3. Ruts
Perhaps Ruts were more unfortunate than underrated. Prior to Malcolm Owen's untimely death, Ruts had tremendous chart success. They had three top 40 singles in the U.K., and their only studio album, The Crack, peaked at #16. And what a band! Ruts were original, musically diverse, and exceptionally good at playing their instruments. There's no telling how great they could have become.We'll never know. But even with only having left behind one album and a handful of singles, Ruts were one of the greatest punk bands ever.

2. The Adverts
While hardly off the radar, The Adverts always struck me as a band that never really got its due. I personally put The Adverts in the very top tier of English punk, on a par with The Clash, Damned, and Buzzcocks. And T.V. Smith has got to be one of the most underrated songwriters that ever lived.

1. Angry Samoans
The Samoans underrated? Am I nuts? But consider this. I don't think any band besides The Ramones has been a bigger influence on the last 15-20 years of good punk music. I mean, just think of all the Rip Off Records bands that "borrowed" from the Samoans! With their songs averaging barely more than one minute and wildly offensive lyrics delivered with tongue-in-cheek vitriol, these guys practically invented "snot-punk". Their first two albums are two of the best punk LPs ever made, and their blending of three-chord punk with the burgeoning hardcore of the day was darn near revolutionary. I'm not saying the Samoans have been completely overlooked. But for their era and region, they ought to be as highly regarded as, say, Social Distortion or The Dead Kennedys.

There you have it, folks. Now tell me who I forgot or neglected. A list like this is always a "work in progress".



Lord Rutledge said...

And for the record, my final cut was The Forgotten Rebels.


In some ways I was thinking THE AVENGERS are sorta underated... not NOW but then...

Lord Rutledge said...

I totally get where you're coming from. Next to The Ramones, Avengers may have been the greatest American punk band of the first wave. But more on them in a few weeks when their album gets reissued!

Maximum Jack said...

Cool list, some stuff on there that I need to investigate-- thanks.

Some of my picks for the topic:

Desperate Bicycles
Suicide Commandos
The Flys (why "Love and a Molotov Coctail" isn't on every Punk Anthology ever made, is beyond me)
Toy Love
Human Switchboard
The Cigarettes

Lord Rutledge said...

Wow! Great list! You may have inspired a future post with some of these selections!

Anonymous said...

Great bands. But i wonder, where the fuck are the saints from australia?

Lord Rutledge said...

The Saints have got to be one of the five greatest punk bands of all-time. Never considered them underrated, but who knows? I guess it depends on how you define underrated.

Carbonas_NotGlue said...

I really enjoy the gun club, one of my favorite under rated bands

Anonymous said...

Thank you for actually knowing your shit! So many of these type of lists are over-written and under-researched. La Peste is absolutely one of my fave bands of any genre. As for the rest, looks like I've got some exploring of my own to do!

Anonymous said...

"piss on television". Hard to take you seriously at this point.

cheeseburger said...

This list is tremendous. However, it can't be completely complete. Were XRAY-SPEX under rated? It took 15 years for me to hear them! I knew Poly was in the scene in the U.K., but I didn't listen to her original band till late '89 with the Xray Spex reissue on 2 7"s. Now, you can listen to them on CD, download with extras; yada, yada, yada!!! But when I was struggling, searching for music in the '80's I had to look long and wide for just one punk record. New or old! Now we have the internet, and I so, I MEAN, SO WISH I HAD THIS RESOURCE WHEN I WAS GROWING UP IN HS AND COLLEGE! MAIL ORDER/TAPE TRADING WAS MY ONLY OPTION WITH GUIDANCE FROM THE OCCASIONAL ISSUE OF MAXIMUM ROCK AND ROLL AND FLIPSIDE ISSUE HERE AND THERE. The INTERNET would have been the greatest resource for those punks just like me, looking to listen to new punk bands! In L.A. KLOS and those kind of FM radio stations would have lost ratings like nobody's business! Imagine KROQ's broadcast through your computer in 1978,9,1980,81,82,83,84,85,86. Number ONE in the ratings!!!!!! Fur Shure! The greatness of the Internet is of course anyone's interpretation, but it was Punk/Hardcore music that was shunned in the late '70's and the '80's so yeah, the Internet would have a very GREAT outlet to get this music out. It just was not a part of our lives then. Well, howabout under rated bands? I got one. The band is called.............The Reducers. Find their record called 'Redux'. It is a collection of essential tracks from their records through the 1980's. They got together in 1978 in Connecticut. If you like The Plimsouls, you will like The Reducers. Great stuff and incredibly UNDER RATED!!!!!!

New Wave Drummer said...

La Peste would have been my #1 ... great list.

In no particular order ...

The Contractions : SF female punk trio

The Plugz : LA punk trio, 1st album Electrify Me is great!

Mission of Burma : another Boston trio with another member who manipulated tape which emitted strange sounds

Tuxedomoon : I don't have enough space here to describe these guys

The Mekons : Just their first album with the monkey on the cover ... listen to it closely ... it won't take long to be hooked.

The Controllers : LA punk trio with a black female drummer

Eight Eyed Spy : I have a live bootleg from 1980 ... one minute your spine is shivering, the next you are high like you just smoked some purple haze ...

David Zoller said...

The Spits - Doesn't get much more punky then them.