In rock music, words and music belong together; separating one from the other makes no sense (exhibit A: Bob Dylan lyrics books). With punk, you could go one step further and say you can't separate the music from its package. A punk song is just a pop song, only louder and cheaper sounding. A punk record, now that's something else! Its crude homemade graphics, funny catalog numbers, self-ridiculing sleeve notes ("recorded at home in their spare time"), even its smell are just as important as the actual tunes engraved in its vinyl. The best punk blogs out there recognize this fact and obsessively post scans of not only the records' front and back covers but also labels, lyric sheets, stickers, coffee stains, etc. etc.
Seen in this light, putting together a punk compilation CD is a bit of a challenge. It's not just a case of "you had to be there", but also of "you had to hold, feel and sniff the actual 45s".
Black Hole, last year's compilation of early Californian punk put together by the great Jon Savage, got reviewed in a regional newspaper last week; it got only two stars. Now the guy who reviewed it had Zucchero in his top ten year list, so I guess it's no big deal. But it got me thinking. If the aim of a punk compilation is to introduce outsiders to its greatness, then you have to separate the music from its package (and historical context) and treat punk songs like pop songs. Looking at Black Hole's track listing, I can see it's expertly put together but relying too much on historical importance and too little on killer tunes. Here's the changes I've made while compiling my own modified Black Hole (now called Ack Ack Ack Ack; easy to Photoshop!):
- Forming (Germs): the historic first LA punk record, and a mess. Changed it to Lexicondevil, their second record.
- I Hate The Rich (Dils): brilliant but an acquired taste; I went for Mr. Big, their Pop Song.
- Peer Pressure (Screamers): changed it to Vertigo for no particular reason.
- Murder By Guitar (Crime): swapped it for Hot Wire My Heart so the listener can say: hey, I know that song!
- Wimp (Zeros): replaced it with its A-side, Don't Push Me Around.
- We Are The One (Avengers): kept it of course, and used it as the CD's opening track.
- Anti Anti Anti (Consumers): great to include this little-known band (that were from Arizona, but never mind), but I went for Concerned Citizen, one of their songs later exhumed by 45 Grave.
- ABCD (Randoms): first release on the great Dangerhouse label, but you need the B-side, Let's Get Rid Of New York.
- Trouble At The Cup (Black Randy): hmmm, the Awful Noise aficionado in me says "Yes!", while the Punk Evangelist says: let's swap it for the Deadbeats' Kill The Hippies, skewed but also catchy.
- Nothing Means Nothing Anymore (Alley Cats): Classic. Stays on of course.
- Solitary Confinement (Weirdos): prefer A-side We Got The Neutron Bomb, slightly slower and with a Dolls-ish swagger.
- Beat Your Heart Out (Zeros): traded in one Zeros track for a track by those other great Mexican punkers the Plugz: Achin'.
- We're Desperate (X): Great, but changed it to Los Angeles nevertheless.
- 624803 (Offs): I'd swap this punky reggae ditty for the Nuns' classic Decadent Jew.
- Seventh World (Sleepers): We're treading sensitive terrain here, I've been a huge Sleepers fan ever since I found their first EP, and for years it seemed the only other person in the world who shared my admiration was Mr. Savage, who did all he could to revive interest in the band. So, from one Sleepers fan to another: Seventh World... great! She's Fun... ever better! Psychedelic Punk with backward guitars, how can you go wrong?
- Situations (Middle Class): Another Savage favourite and half post-punky, half ultra-fast hardcore-before-hardcore, I'd go for the hardcore bit: Out Of Vogue.
- Survive (Bags): A no-brainer, one of the greatest songs in the history of mankind.
- Media Blitz (Germs): traded it in for the equally short but catchier What We Do Is Secret.
- Love Is Just A Tool (Middle Class): We've already had Out Of Vogue, so why not give another brilliant Tooth And Nail track a chance, and add another female voice to the proceedings: UXA by UXA.
- Pony Dress (Flesh Eaters): great choice (Jay Reatard should have covered this one).
- Black Hole (Urinals): talk about Jay Reatard, but, great as this is, I'd change it for Ack Ack Ack Ack for short sharp shock value.
- Victims of Terrorism (Aurora Pushups): if we're going to do obscure one-offs, why not the Eyes' Take A Quaalude Now (aka TAQN)?
- The American In Me (Avengers): stays of course, but be sure to use the more in-yer-face version off their 12".
- California Uber Alles (Dead Kennedys): well, with Jerry Brown back, how can you go wrong? Single version, of course (slower and less smurfy).
- Sound Of The Rain (Dils): two Dils tracks and no Black Flag?? The sound of the rain gives way to the sound of a Nervous Breakdown.
- Los Gatos (Sleepers): yes, I know they're brilliant but let's just include their pals Negative Trend and the slow, haunting Black and Red (you can hear Flipper lurking around the corner).
There, that's it; I've changed 20 of the 26 tracks but I hoped I stayed true to Jon Savage's vision (I could have added some suburban pop punk like Red Cross or the Crowd but didn't).
Hope it gets 3 stars this time around.
Changed the running order around a bit and you get this:
1 avengers - we are the one
2 germs - lexicondevil
3 dils - mr. big
4 randoms - let's get rid of new york
5 crime - hot wire my heart
6 x - los angeles
7 weirdos - we got the neutron bomb
8 nuns - decadent jew
9 alley cats - nothing means nothing anymore
10 sleepers - she's fun
11 zeros - don't push me around
12 deadbeats - kill the hippies
13 plugz - achin'
14 screamers - vertigo
15 bags - survive
16 consumers - concerned citizen
17 uxa - uxa
18 middle class - out of vogue
19 eyes - taqn
20 germs - what we do is secret
21 avengers - the american in me
22 flesheaters - pony dress
23 urinals - ack ack ack ack
24 black flag - nervous breakdown
25 negative trend - black and red
26 dead kennedys - california uber alles