There have been many hardcore and punk rock compilations released in recent years, mostly by small independent labels and longtime fans of the movement. Such releases—most of them transferred from battered old 7” records, lo-fi plastic cassette tapes, and long missing master copies—are put together and distributed for reasons beyond simply making a buck. Usually, the reasons are considerably more personal. That is to say, those responsible for resurrecting these old recordings were undoubtedly part of the scene in its day, and now they endeavor to keep such essential music from being lost to the passing of the years. One such compilation is a newly released collection of ‘80s punk and hardcore songs, “Drop the Needle: Boston Punk Anthology,” from Trev Records. An excellent selection of songs by a handful of significant bands whose music is altogether representative of the Boston punk scene at that particular point in time.
Throughout the ‘80s, when the underground music scene was in the midst of capturing the collective voice of a generation’s outsiders and misfits, freaks and fringe artists and socio-political radicals, the hardcore and punk rock scene was gaining receptive audiences in several geographical locations across the U.S. From small town Pennsylvania and Ohio to the sprawling gray metropolises of New York and Washington, D.C., this loud, fast and heavy music wasn’t meant solely for entertainment; it was a medium and a platform, in addition to a lifestyle and a religion. Or rather, it served as a way of life beyond the status quo of everyday society, as well as a way to embrace one’s individuality while simultaneously devoting oneself to a unified scene. Moreover, it was less of a religion than it was the outright rejection of Christian propaganda, the vehement refusal to be governed by the established political order, with the resounding statement of “No gods, no masters.” At that time, punk rock was the ultimate form of artistic expression, and the subject matter covered in the bands’ lyrics was extensive. And such things, to some extent, are easily indentified within this new comp’s selection of songs by the likes of Smega and the Nunz, Gang Green, Scratch, Mallet Head, and Celebrity Death Certificate.
But let’s be completely honest; for many, the punk scene in general was simply a way to have a good time, to attend shows and hang out with friends, and maybe even to feel part of something. If one stuck around for a while, however, one eventually understood the need for the movement, both the music and the philosophy, and thus adopted the outlook and behavior, the values and beliefs and so on. This wasn’t always the case, but it became fairly common. As for my own experience in the Pennsylvania hardcore and punk scene of the late ‘80s and all of the ‘90s, I spent my weekends at shows, played in a band, and faithfully listened to many of the scene’s better bands, like Propagandhi, Oi Polloi, Nausea, Fleas and Lice, Inside Out, Severed Head of State, Society Gang Rape, and so on. In some ways, those were the best days of my life. Even now, all these years later, I still adhere to punk values and underground ethics. And I am obviously still very fond of the music.
Just like the seminal California punk scene, with bands like T.S.O.L., The Dead Kennedys, Social Distortion, Agent Orange, Black Flag, and The Vandals, there were equally significant scenes across America. Take Washington, D.C., for example, where Minor Threat, Teen Idles, Government Issue, Youth Brigade, Bad Brains, and a number of other hardcore and punk bands ruled the scene. Boston had a similarly strong set, with bands such as Smegma and the Nunz, Jerry's Kids, Gang Green, Scratch, The F.U.'s, Mallet Head, and Celebrity Death Certificate. And it is in acknowledgment of this last scene, and realizing how important it is to keep these old songs in circulation, that Trev Records has released this thirteen-song compilation…this blast from the punk rock past! Dedicated to the Boston scene of the ‘80s, this comp, the aptly titled “Drop the Needle: Boston Punk Anthology,” features songs by all of the above-mentioned Boston bands. And it is definitely worth a listen.
It is interesting to listen to some of the songs on this compilation and realize that these early bands weren’t so much paving the way for the hardcore and punk bands to come; they were laying the much-needed foundation, upon which future generation could build, using their own music and philosophies for mortar and brick. Scratch’s Wayside, for instance, sounds remarkably like Quicksand, a band that wouldn’t form until several years later. And, to some degree, Celebrity Death Certificate’s First Nickel brings to mind Clutch, while Dead Reckoning has a slight early Sick of It All quality to it. Signs of things to come, it would seem.
If you’ve never heard of some of these bands, there is a chance that you’ve come across their later projects. Members of Smegma and the Nunz went on to be part of The Freeze and Gang Green. The 1985 Gang Green song that appears on this compilation, Let’s Drink Some Beer, has never been released on compact disc until now. A little known fact about Let’s Drink Some Beer is that is was co-written by friend and fellow musician Dicky Barrett of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Three members of Gang Green were also in Mallet Head. And Celebrity Death Certificate’s lineup featured Erich Thaler from Stompbox on vocals. If you don’t remember Stompbox, they released the somewhat popular album “Stress” on Columbia Records in 1994, and also made a video for Mtv a short time later. Just like in many of the other hardcore punk and punk rock scenes throughout the US, many of the bands had revolving lineups featuring members from other equally well-known bands in those areas. The scene as a whole was strong and unified, with a great deal of focus on musical expression and political activism and unconventional living, among other things. And it is a scene that is something very different today, but not without its merits. Be that as it may, hopefully this little blast from the past will serve as a reminder of how important it is for us to carry on the punk rock traditions of old.
Check out this awesome tracklisting:
- Smegma and the Nunz – “Bourgeois Land”
- Smegma and the Nunz – “Joke’s On You”
- Gang Green – “Let’s Drink Some Beer”
- Celebrity Death Certificate – “First Nickel”
- Celebrity Death Certificate – “Dead Reckoning”
- Scratch – “Wayside”
- Scratch – “Centralia”
- Mallet Head – “Give and Take”
- Mallet Head – “Mother Sunshine” (live)
- Scratch – “El Monstro”
- Smegma and the Nunz – “Insanity”
- Smegma and the Nunz – “Napalm and Sticks to Kids”
- Smegma and the Nunz – “Nuns of Guatamala”
Available from Trev Records.