Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington D.C. (1980-90) by Scott Crawford (MVD Visual)

A documentary on the D.C. punk scene should be an easy win, yet somehow Scott Crawford’s film falls short of expectations. He tells the story of how D.C. became a key stop on the map of American punk through old band footage, and interviews with a lot of same talking heads you’ve seen in a ton of other music documentaries (Thurston Moore, Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, Dave Grohl…etc.), yet despite D.C. housing such a fertile scene, with so many unique facets and characters, Crawford’s movie sticks to the basics of what’s already known, and ignores opportunities to dig deeper and pull new angles out of old stories. So, while you get the headlines of straightedge, Dischord, Revolution Summer, and the idea/ideal factory that is Ian MacKaye, the film ignores other interesting moments.

Among other things, why not look at:

*The Bad Brains leaving D.C. to move to New York?

*Henry Rollins leaving small local band State Of Alert to join Black Flag in California?

*What was it like for Alec MacKaye to be part of the DC scene, but always under his brother’s shadow?

*Stories about the high-school aged Teen Idles travelling across the country to play shows in California?

*The economics of running a label like Dischord?

*What the local D.C. music/punk scene was like prior to Dischord and how those participants reacted to the “new kids” taking over their scene?

*D.C. punks’ fights with people from other East Coast punk scenes – specifically those from New York?

These things could have made the story behind the music a lot more human than it appears. With these elements missing you’re left with a very watchable, but dry and mild-mannered documentary that’s essentially a film version of a Wikipedia page, where facts take center stage over people and emotions.

In addition to the 103 minute film, there’s a bunch of extra interview footage and lo-fi live performances.

Top 5 Neil Young Songs

Here’s a list of my Top 5 All-Time Favorite Neil Young Songs. Enjoy them in all their “ragged glory”:

  1. “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” from After The Gold Rush

  1. “Mr. Soul” from Buffalo Springfield Again

  1. “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)” from Rust Never Sleeps

  1. “Like A Hurricane” from American Stars ‘n’ Bars

  1. “Down By The River” from Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere

Third World War – Third World War (Esoteric Recordings)

Third World War’s 1971 debut album is considered an unheralded proto-punk classic by some, but I don’t really think that’s what they were aiming for when they made it. Perhaps Terry Stamp’s politically charged “take it to the streets” lyrics got filtered down to bands like The Clash and Sex Pistols a few years later (sample song titles: “Preaching Violence” and “Get Out Of Bed You Dirty Red”), but musically the London trio has little to nothing in common with other bands that fall under the proto-punk umbrella. To me they sound a lot more like a convergence of what was popular in England when they recorded the album in late-1970 – specifically hard rock (“Working Class Man”), progressive rock (“Ascension Day”), folk (“Stardom Road Part I”) and boogie rock (“Shepherd’s Bush Cowboy”) – than they do The Stooges, MC5 and the like. Stamp’s no nonsense lyrics and the band’s yes nonsense playing, where extended instrumental indulgences are commonplace, make an awkward partnership, and Stamp’s raw-throated vocals don’t bring much melody to the party, which makes for rough listening. The only song where the energy and attitude come together well is a fiery non-album bonus track, “A Little Bit Of Urban Rock”, which sounds like a pub rock version of the New York Dolls. An album of songs like this would have been awesome.

Tess Parks and Anton Newcombe – I Declare Nothing (A Recordings)

2015 has been a very different year for Anton Newcombe, musically speaking. Though he’s best known as the singer and leader of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, this year he’s put out two anomalies in his discography – a mostly instrumental soundtrack to a non-existent French film (Musique de Film Imagine), and this collaborative album with Canadian singer Tess Parks. I’ve been listening to BJM long enough to know what to expect from Anton, who writes, plays almost all the instruments, and throws in vocals on two tracks. However, I Declare Nothing’s spotlight is really on Tess Parks, a wildcard to me, as I was unfamiliar with the 2013 album she recorded for Alan McGee post-Creation label 359 Music, titled Blood Hot. She’s got something interesting going with her voice, which combines a gravelly Joan Jett-esque tone and the dreamy melodies of a Hope Sandoval. It’s not the most flexible singing voice I’ve heard, but she does her one thing and does it well. As for I Declare Nothing, the songs are rather simple which is what you expect when one guy is playing most of the instruments, and the whole collaboration feels a bit rushed, yet despite all the limitations in place, I’m impressed with just how enjoyable the album is. “Cocaine Cat” is pure Anton-by-numbers in its melody and chord structure (both of which harken back to “Hide and Seek”) , but Parks’ voice shines hardest on the track, making it a winner. “Gone” is cool too, with a slinky garage-folk beat and Anton’s voice making a rare appearance (he also sings a bit on “Melorist”). I would like to see what kind of album these two could make with a full-on band and some additional time to further develop their ideas, but for now this will do just fine.

Various Artists – 60 Songs From The Cramps’ Crazy Collection (Righteous Records)

This is the forth compilation of songs from Lux and Ivy of The Cramps’ vast personal collections of ’50s/’60s vinyl oddities to be released on Righteous Records, which has me wondering “how is this a thing?” Don’t get me wrong, I love The Cramps, but they were just a moderately successful cult act. So, how exactly is there enough of a marketplace to warrant four discs of music taken from their record collection? As for me, I was initially excited by these comps, which focused on all shapes and sizes of pre-Beatle oddballs from rockabilly, to surf, to R&B to doo-wop; but now that I’ve spent some time with them, I hear a concept getting stretched super thin and I’m worn out on songs that focus more on “zaniness” than songcraft.

The latest volume is a double-disc with no less than sixty(!) new entries, which is simply too much volume to keep any kind of quality control in place. Worse, with four similarly-themed compilations (not even counting those on other labels) and over one-hundred songs, many musical tropes are repeated in multiple songs. There are a couple of good rockabilly numbers here, but the only track that really stands out among the sixty is a doo-wop number by The Blenders called “Don’t Fuck Around With Love”. The song is garden variety doo-wop, but it’s legitimately shocking to hear a song with cursing dating all the way back from 1953, when profanity was almost non-existent in recorded entertainment in America. I just wish the rest of the songs delivered the same shocks.

Really Red – Teaching You The Fear: The Complete Collection 1979-1985 (Alternative Tentacles)

Teaching You the Fear: Complete Collection 1978-85

Politics and punk rock have always gone hand in hand, but their relationship got a little deeper in the early-1980’s when hardcore bands in every city across the country were spitting venom towards society, Reagan, and pretty much anything else mainstream America was forcing down the throats of disaffected youth. This was especially true in Texas where outfits like The Dick, Big Boys, MDC and Really Red were all lashing out hard against their straight-laced surroundings. Teaching You The Fear compiles Really Red’s entire recorded output, some of which has been nearly impossible to find for decades.

The band hailed from the then ultra-conservative city of Houston, and they were definitely not shy about putting their opinions in their songs. Over the course of 44 tracks they mouth off on a large variety of political/cultural issues, including racism, starvation, nuclear war, entertainment as commerce, and the mob mentality of small-minded punks. With such intense socio-political fervor it should be no surprise that they found a supporter in Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra, who released this double-disc retrospective on his Alternative Tentacles label, and also handled the remastering.

It begins non-chronologically with 1981’s Teaching The Fear album. While you’d have to call the music hardcore, their approach to the genre was anything but standard, sporting a musical vocabulary that included post-punk, free jazz, and even a double-time VU-styled number called “Nico” (and yes, the song is about Nico). 1985’s Rest In Pain follows, and while the music is similar in scope, there’s a less appealing metallic edge to the recording. It does however feature a live cover of Red Krayola’s “War Sucks” and a 19-minute sound collage (“Just The Facts Ma’am” – which is separated from the rest of the album and relegated to the final track on disc two) which again show that the band had more to them than your typical hardcore outfit. Disc two features the band’s early singles, compilation appearances (punky cover of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” anyone?), live tracks, and the New Strings For Old Puppets EP from 1982, which features more of a standard hardcore sound, but also some of their best songs, like the absolutely raging “Teenage Fuck Up”.

Almost as crucial as the music are the liner notes, which feature an interview with Really Red’s singer Ronald “U-Ron” Bond, that vividly detail the struggle and frustration of being interested in underground culture in a haven of extreme Right Wing conservatism. It also explains why the band stepped outside the conventions of punk and hardcore so frequently – quite simply, they were older, and had a good decade or so of music fandom in them before hardcore was hatched, as evidenced by Bond’s stories of seeing concerts by The MC5, Velvet Underground and 13th Floor Elevators as a teen, and being totally inspired by them.

Garage D’Or Records – 11 Album Mega-Review

I recently received a package of eleven CDs from Garage D’Or Records, including many of the label’s releases from the three decades spent as prime documenters of the Minneapolis music scene. Since there hasn’t been much else to review lately, here’s a rundown of all eleven albums:

The Suicide Commandos – The Commandos Commit Suicide Dance Concert

This is a recording of the last Suicide Commandos concert, which happened at Jay’s Longhorn in Minneapolis on 11/24/78. If you’re unfamiliar with the band, you should probably investigate their lone studio album (Make A Record) first, a fiery platter of Midwest rock and roll released on Mercury’s punk subsidiary Blank Records in 1977. But, if you have that album, and you need more Suicide Commandos in your life, this live album is a corker. The Commandos (they dropped the “Suicide” from their name by this point) split time between originals and well-selected covers over the course of 32 songs (selected from 50 played that night!), attacking each with the kind of live-wire energy you expect, but also a level of musical precision that most “punk” bands couldn’t match.

The Suburbs – High Fidelity Boys: Live 1979

Another 32 track live album recorded at Jay’s Longhorn, this time documenting Minneapolis five-some The Suburbs over the course of several concerts throughout 1979. I have to admit this is my first exposure to the band, who were popular locally for about a decade from 1977-87, but couldn’t break through nationally. It’s not a good one either. While I imagine these shows were fun for those who attended, the recordings are lo-fi, and the band’s defining characteristics are an unfortunate mix of bad vocals and sloppy playing. Skip it.

L7-3 – Men of Distinction

L7-3 were Chris Osgood and Dave Ahl’s post-Suicide Commandos outfit, with local engineer Steve Fjelstad on bass. Men Of Distinction collects their recorded output for the first time, featuring 18 tracks from 1980-81 that sat on Fjelstad’s shelf until 2009. Much like The Suicide Commandos, the playing is tight and energetic, but with a meatier bottom end, likely a bi-product of having a bassist also do the engineering. This album should feel be a revelation of New Wave and Punk Rock crossing paths, but I can’t quite jive with Osgood’s goofy Devo-aping vocals.

Barefoot & Pregnant

A 1982 compilation meant to document the burgeoning Minneapolis rock scene. While the album is well known in some circles for featuring rare early recordings of The Replacements, Husker Du and Loud Fast Rules (who would become Soul Asylum), don’t go forking over your money just yet. These songs all came from really crappy cassette recordings, so it’s not a great representation of any of the bands. In fact, you can almost hear The Replacements’ contribution (a cover of “Ace Of Spades”) beneath the tape hiss if you try really hard. While the comp is commendable as a document of the different elements that made up the local scene (everything from Mecht Mensch’s thrashy hardcore to Lou Santacroce’s solo country/blues) the sound quality is consistently awful.


Similar in concept to the aforementioned Barefoot & Pregnant, the Kitten compilation ups the shitty sound quality quotient with songs recorded from two nights of live shows at local punk dive Goofy’s Upper Deck. If Husker Du sound sloppy and out of tune on their three songs, then what chance do garden variety HC thrashers Todlachen, Ground Zero and Willful Neglect stand? Loud Fast Rules, moonlighting under the moniker Proud Crass Fools, deliver the set’s only highlight with their album-opening take on CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising”.

Man Sized Action – Five Story Garage

Although Man Sized Action were part of the Minneapolis scene dating back to 1980, 1984’s Five Story Garage was just their second album. The album’s eight songs sound great and are performed with the kind of verve you want to hear from a band spawned during the hardcore zeitgeist. Perhaps you could make an argument for Man Sized Action as an alternate version of Mission of Burma or Husker Du (whose Bob Mould recorded their first album in 1983), or even a next generation take on Wire. That’s an interesting proposition; however, they’re a decidedly second-tier talent, displaying very little grasp of songwriting or band dynamics. Everything sounds pretty similar from song to song, which is a real shame. Eight bonus tracks from a 1986 concert give a glimpse into what a third Man Sized Action album might have sounded like had the band stayed together. To me it just sounds like more of the same.

Baby Grant Johnson – A Lonesome Road and All Over Your Town

Two albums, dating from 1997 and 2000 respectively, in the early folk-blues style. A mix of covers and originals, Johnson’s voice doesn’t have the natural grit and grime to successfully pull this kind of music off. He sounds a bit like Paul Westerberg, which is great for fronting The Replacements, but wrong for acoustic covers of Bukka White, Sleepy John Estes and the like.

The Blood Shot – Wake Up and Die Right and Straight Up

Early hard rock and heavy metal rule the day on these two albums, dating from 2003 and 2004. Normally that kind of thing hits my musical sweet spot, but The Blood Shot are at best clumsy practitioners, and at worst complete amateurs. Andrew Kereakos sings like any random guy in his twenties, the production stinks, and the version of Pentagram’s “Forever My Queen” found on Straight Up is as horrible as the original is amazing.