Thursday, October 26, 2006

American Hardcore soundtrack

I haven’t seen the film yet. It’s not playing where I’m at. I might have to wait till DVD. But I did pick up the soundtrack, officially titled American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1980-1986 (Rhino). A lot of this stuff I already had – most on the original vinyl (no, none of it’s for sale!). But it was good to get a few of the rarer tracks on CD. YDI comes to mind. Their included song, “Enemy for Life,” is from the 1983 Get Off Our Backs comp, rather than their A Place In The Sun 7”, though both are now difficult to find I’m sure. Who would have guessed that this band would turn out to be one of the standouts of the whole album? Cool that Philly gets some kind of representation, because it actually had one of the best hardcore scenes, even if bands like YDI, Ruin, F.O.D., McRad, Sadistic Exploits, etc. weren’t as well-known nationally. But if you ever went to shows in Philly in the early 80s, then you know how great a live band YDI was.

Yet New York City had a similar problem. Aside from Agnostic Front, the Beastie Boys, and later the Cro-Mags, N.Y. bands weren’t as celebrated as say D.C., L.A., or even Boston bands. The reasons for this are varied, and probably a lot of it has to do with touring and record distribution. But again, if you went to the hardcore matinees at CBGB’s in the early 80s, or shows at A7, Gildersleeve’s, or wherever, then you know that bands like Reagan Youth, Urban Waste, Major Conflict, etc. were great bands. Their records, unfortunately, were hampered by production issues and didn’t have the same primary impact as the Dischord records for example.

Of all the bands I’ve mentioned so far, the only ones appearing on the AHC soundtrack album are YDI and the Cro-Mags (interestingly, with a 1982 demo track). Given that there were so many great bands out there, and so many hundreds of records released in hardcore’s heyday of ’80-’86, it would be impossible for one 26-song CD to be truly representative. AHC gives it a decent try, though. Geographically it is wide-ranging, but understandably gives more weight to the cities that really originated the music. L.A. has four entries here: Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, the Adolescents, and the early band the Middle Class (“Out of Vogue” is a great track, but incongruously came out in 1978, before the collection’s stated time frame – so where are the Germs?). Washington D.C. has Minor Threat, the Bad Brains of course (though I guess the latter also counts as a N.Y. band), and Scream, Void, and the Untouchables – great bands for sure. The latter’s “Nic Fit” was always one of my favorite tracks on Flex Your Head, but would you really say that the Untouchables are more representative of the D.C. scene than Government Issue, who do not appear? (Or if we’re talking about older D.C. bands, what about S.O.A.?)

Boston gets four bands – SSD, Gang Green, Jerry’s Kids, and the Freeze. Not a bad selection. The awesome Negative Approach are on it, but if we’re talking Midwest bands, how could the Necros possibly be left out? Or Hüsker Dü? San Diego’s Battalion of Saints is in, but not L.A.’s Wasted Youth? Nice to see the Big Boys getting their due, but no Dead Kennedys? I’m not a huge DK fan nowadays, although I did really like them at the time, and a lot of their stuff still holds up. In any case, they were one of the most famous HC bands ever, yet they are not on this compilation. That is very odd. I hear they are not in the film either – either a gross oversight, or there was some disagreement over the specifics of getting them involved. And the biggest absence of all...the Misfits! I hear they were left out of the film also, and this strikes me as a major, major drawback. Given that the American Hardcore book devotes a whole chapter to the Misfits, I can only imagine that again there was some disagreement, or some legal issue, or something....

It’s easy to nitpick about what bands should have been in this collection. Given the limited amount of space, it would be hard to please everybody. A truly comprehensive retrospective would take at least three discs, probably more. But without the Misfits or DK’s, the “history” aspect (which is specified in the disc’s subtitle) is going to be a bit skewed. None of which is to say that any of the material on here is weak, because in fact it’s all really good as a whole. A couple of the tracks might fall a bit flat, but this is just down to subjective personal taste. For example, Articles of Faith never really did it for me – I don’t know why – even though I still bought their records. On the other hand, I was glad to be reminded how great Die Kreuzen really were.

Aside from quibbling over what bands should or shouldn’t have been included, one serious issue with this CD is the fact that the liner notes are shit. Actually, there really aren’t any liner notes per se, just a brief statement by the writer/producer of the film, Steven Blush, about the importance of hardcore as “short dissonant blasts, angry sociopolitical lyrics delivered as a primal scream – with little regard for the previous rock tradition...” This is fine as far as it goes, but there was scope for much, much more. There’s no band info aside from the bare minimum (writing credits and a date), no listing of band members, no information about the source of these tracks, and only a handful of photos. Before I opened it, I expected better in terms of printed information. Some kind of factual history, cooler photos (the ones here are mostly marred by an overlay of title lettering) – but unfortunately it was not to be. Blush’s book was great; maybe he didn’t want to repeat himself. Nonetheless, for the uninitiated listener who perhaps has only recently heard about hardcore, or seen the film but knows little else about it, well, s/he’s not going to find out much from this package. The music at least is still amazing. But the release of this CD makes me realize how necessary a true hardcore anthology is now. The American Hardcore soundtrack doesn’t claim to be definitive, but a definitive anthology is certainly needed.

2 comments:

Che Elias said...

i remember talking to you about hardcore when you were down here From SC
it was good
i would like to hear the soundtrack maybe you can burn it for me I noticed the film was playing at the three rivers film festival!

Liammac said...

Bring back the roaring eighties ! Sans Reagan , of course.