A Compilation Should Be Our Next Offspring
A platinum band makes a lovely 15th anniversary present.
That’s the gift the Offspring have bestowed on the Orange County punk-alternative scene. The musical movement that began shouting to the world in 1979, when the Crowd became the first Orange County punk band to get airplay on KROQ, has just produced its first million-selling album. If you don’t count Nirvana as a punk band, the Offspring’s prophetically titled “Smash” may end up the biggest-selling album in punk-rock history.
The astonishing commercial rise of the Offspring will surely focus more music-industry attention on Orange County than ever before. Some people in the local rock community are wondering whether O.C. will emerge as the mythical “next Seattle,” a trend-setting hub of musical styles, popular fashions and record-company profitability.
Before anyone gets too carried away, though, let’s remember that Orange County’s chronically anemic club scene had little to do with launching the Offspring.
While the Cypress/Garden Grove band drew its musical inspirations from its home county (Agent Orange, T.S.O.L. and the Adolescents rank high on the Offspring’s list of influences), it found its audience by getting out of town.
Let’s also remember that the music industry in Los Angeles has had no trouble finding and hiring Orange County talent. The freewheeling big city may have a supercilious attitude toward its strait-laced suburban cousin to the south (this is where the Offspring’s success could prove particularly sweet), but that hasn’t stopped a large platoon of O.C. acts (and bands from the closely allied Long Beach scene) from landing major-label record contracts during the past five years.
Social Distortion, Water, Burning Tree, the Muffs, Claw Hammer, No Doubt, Xtra Large, Slapbak and Altered State spring to mind. Many more have made their way in the world on respected independent labels--including the Offspring, who record not for a major, but for the L.A. punk imprint, Epitaph Records.
If it wants, the Orange County alternative-music community can wait for the record-company scouts to come sniffing (or, more likely, invite O.C. bands to showcase in Hollywood clubs).
Or it can pray for the scene’s most enlightened and experienced grass-roots promoters, Steve Zepeda (formerly of Bogart’s, and now the Foothill ) or Linda Jemison (of Linda’s Doll Hut) to win the state lottery and buy themselves first-rate music clubs.
Rather than wait or dream, the local scene should do something clearly within its power: Now that the world’s attention is finally on O.C. punk, the bands that created it should make it their mission to document what they have wrought over the past 15 years.
What’s needed, and soon, is a first-class compilation album making it very clear whence the Offspring have sprung.
If he has time, Jim Guerinot would be the ideal point man for this project. There may be a few music business figures who know more about punk rock than this Fullerton-bred executive, but none of them has as much cachet in the music industry.
Guerinot, 35, is a record industry boy-wonder who just resigned his job as vice president and general manager of A&M; Records to return to O.C., where he started out promoting grass-roots punk and alternative-rock shows in 1981. If he has enough time left from his other projects--which include managing both new clients the Offspring and his longtime pals, Social Distortion--Guerinot would be just the person to shepherd the O.C. punk retrospective.
If he doesn’t, his advice would be invaluable to whoever does take up the torch. On the technical side, Thom Wilson would seem to be the man. In the early- to mid-'80s, Wilson oversaw recording sessions by the Adolescents, T.S.O.L., Rikk Agnew, the Vandals and D.I.
He since has played a crucial role in the Offspring’s success as producer of all three of their albums and would be a likely candidate to serve as sound engineer to give those old O.C. punk tapes maximum clarity and presence for the digital age.
Given the well-defined links between the Offspring and the pioneers of O.C. punk, it is hard to imagine such a compilation not getting a great deal of attention if it is done right. The quality of the music should take care of the rest.
Melodic punk is the hot style of the day, thanks to the Offspring and Green Day. In Orange County, melodic punk has been the definitive sound since the Crowd first started cranking on the “Beach Blvd.” compilation.
Since I’m full of suggestions today, I’ll go all the way and point out the nuggets I think should fill this treasure chest of suburban punk. If you disagree with my favorites, send me your own picks and I’ll list them in a future O.C. Pop Beat column.
We’ll call our compilation “O.C. Life Is Not the Life for Me.” That’s the refrain of the Rikk Agnew/D.I. anthem that crystallizes the Orange County punk kids’ spirit of rowdy, spitfire resistance to the famously conservative norms of the tidy, quiet place in which they were raised.
Punk’s best revenge will be for the names Agent Orange, Social Distortion, Adolescents and Offspring to outlive the names Dornan, Dannemeyer and John Birch. Maybe, just maybe, we’ve got a shot.
The compilation’s shape? Two volumes, each with 20 to 25 songs (track lengths will average well under three minutes), to be sold separately to keep the price within the range of the teen-age audience. Kids will be the most enthusiastic market for one- or two-stop shopping for a bunch of good punk songs.
The compilation’s scope? Concentrate on the formative years, 1979-83, with some glimpses of how the formative O.C. bands fared in later years. If “O.C. Life” succeeds, it’s not hard to imagine a “son-of” compilation spotlighting bands like Joyride and Tender Fury, which branched off from the original punk bands, and Cadillac Tramps, the Offspring and Big Drill Car, the vanguard of a second punk generation.
Vol. 1 would contain the most essential tracks, the cream of Orange County punk rock. Vol. 2 would offer more good material from the signature bands of the movement, demonstrating their depth. It also would provide a forum for highlights by such secondary bands as M.I.A. (precursor to Naked Soul and Big Drill Car), the Mechanics (a Devo-inspired New Wave band that inspired Social Distortion and the other Fullerton punks) and Eddie & the Subtitles (while I’ve never heard the band’s original, 1980-vintage recording of the angry anthem, “American Society,” it’s a punk classic, judging from in-concert renditions I’ve heard from the Adolescents and L7).
Below are my picks for the compilation, with the Volume 1 “most essential” tracks in bold type.
* ADOLESCENTS: “Amoeba,” “Kids of the Black Hole,” “Who is Who,” “No Way,” and “Creatures,” all from the classic 1981 debut album, “Adolescents,” and “Allen Hotel” and “It’s Tattoo Time” from the excellent 1988 reunion release, “Balboa Fun Zone.” A band for people who like their punk rock as catchy as it is snarling, and vice-versa. “It’s Tattoo Time” includes what may be the world’s first (only?) tattoo-gun solo, recorded as it left its mark on member Rikk Agnew’s elaborately illustrated skin.
* AGENT ORANGE: “Bloodstains,” “Living in Darkness,” “The Last Goodbye” and “Everything Turns Grey” from the 1981 album, “Living in Darkness,” and “Fire in the Rain” and “This Is Not the End” from the 1986 album, “This Is the Voice.” Offspring singer-songwriter Bryan Holland has said that “Bloodstains” converted him to punk. If Mike Palm, the gifted Agent Orange singer-songwriter-guitarist, had been as prolific as he is talented, Agent Orange might be a household name today. The band still exists, but has yet to release its third album.
* RIKK AGNEW: “O.C. Life,” from his 1982 solo album, “All by Myself.” D.I.'s later version of the same song gets the nod for Vol. 1 on the strength of a cleaner, harder performance and Casey Royer’s sharper vocal. But this original rendition has plenty of fire. The versatile Agnew pulled a Rundgren and played and sang everything on the album.
* THE CROWD: “Modern Machine,” and “Trix Are for Kids” from the 1979 compilation, “Beach Blvd.,” and “Right Time” from the 1980 album, “A World Apart.” These spearheads of the Huntington Beach punk scene spared the Angst and poured on the fun. The overlooked anthem, “Right Time,” sounds to this day like a hit. Possible dubious achievement: singer Jim Decker (a.k.a. Jim Trash) is sometimes credited with having accidentally invented slam-dancing during the Crowd’s rambunctious live shows.
* D.I.: “Richard Hung Himself,” from the 1983 EP of the same name, “OC Life,” from the 1984 album, “Ancient Artifacts,” and “Johnny’s Got a Problem,” “Obnoxious,” “Pervert Nurse” and “Hang Ten in East Berlin,” from the 1985 album, “Horse Bites Dog Cries.” This Adolescents offshoot has had an uneven career, but it smokes when it’s on. The moods vary from the incendiary anti-drug tirade of “Johnny’s Got a Problem,” to the black-humor of “Pervert Nurse” and the snotty, punker pride of the minute-long “Obnoxious.”
* SOCIAL DISTORTION: “Playpen,” a 1980 single, “1945,” a 1981 single, “The Creeps (I Just Wanna Give You),” “Mommy’s Little Monster” and “All the Answers,” from the 1983 album, “Mommy’s Little Monster,” “Prison Bound” and “No Pain No Gain,” from the 1988 album, “Prison Bound.” With the exception of “1945,” a suitably explosive evocation of the nuking of Hiroshima, SD’s recordings have been defined by leader Mike Ness’ ability to turn his own growing-up-hard story into resounding, catchy punk songs. By 1990, SD had graduated to major label ranks and explored country- and blues-influenced permutations on punk.
* T.S.O.L. (TRUE SOUNDS OF LIBERTY): “Superficial Love” and “No Way Out” from the 1981 EP, “T.S.O.L.,” “Code Blue,” “The Triangle” and “I’m Tired of Life” from the 1981 album, “Dance With Me,” “Word Is” from the 1982 EP, “Weathered Statues,” “Wash Away” from the 1982 album, “Beneath the Shadows,” and “Red Shadows” and “How Do?” from the 1984 album, “Change Today?” T.S.O.L.'s high-speed evolutionary process took the Huntington Beach/Long Beach band from the minute-long politicized hard-core bursts of its debut album, to the spooky punk-noir “Dance With Me” album, the reggae-tinged “Word Is,” and the Gothic-influenced, keyboard festooned “Beneath the Shadows.” Then the personnel changes and we get a more bluesy version of T.S.O.L. emerging on “Change Today?” Naturally, there is considerable debate over which is the truest, the best version of this chameleonic band.
* VANDALS: “Urban Struggle,” “The Legend of Pat Brown” and “Anarchy Burger (Hold the Government,” from the 1982 EP, “Peace Through Vandalism,” and “Lady Killer,” from the 1984 album, “When in Rome Do As the Vandals.” Every court needs its jesters and its chroniclers, and on the O.C. scene the Vandals filled both jobs with glee. “Pat Brown” and “Urban Struggle” commented on the embattled history of the Cuckoo’s Nest, the Costa Mesa club that was the cradle of Orange County punk rock. The funk nonsense of “Lady Killer” landed the the Vandals an unlikely series of gigs supporting rap acts.