Sunday, January 09, 2005

Not So Quiet on the Western Front


Various Artists

Compiled by Tim Yohannan, Jeff Bale and Jello Biafra (Maximum Rock 'n' Roll)
Alternative Tentacles Records (double LP), 1982

Most notable for the Flipper cut and about 89% of the reason I bought it, this compilation claims to be one of the first regional compilations of a punk band scene; and like a tsunami wave, many similar efforts followed. We'll get to the best songs but first I gotta get on my soapbox and attack a beloved punk icon.

This record claims to "document" the scene, but it spends too much time elevating the people that compiled the songs and plugging their radio show. Maybe the original 48 page booklet had more information on the bands but either I lost my copy or just chucked it in disgust (I seem to remember it just being crammed with black and white Winston Smith collages). There is a rote call-to-arms essay by Jeff Bale that was on one of the record sleeves that suggests "the youth of America may not be rioting in the streets yet, but in greater numbers than ever they're flaunting ossified social conventions and starting to embrace alternative values, a necessary first step in America's peculiarly sterile cultural and political context." Damn those "ossified social conventions" that are only present in America's "peculiarly sterile cultural and political context"... I mean, really?

So instead of saying anything meaningful about the bands themselves and using precious space for their lame screeds, all we get are their names and their cities of origin. Not alot to help someone trying to get more info on such and such band. Other later regional comps would include band member names, addresses and so on. Eh, maybe I'm just being a crank.

924 Gilman, NYE 2005Still, Maximum Rock 'n' Roll bills itself as a fanzine but music takes secondary status to lengthy political diatribes and conspiracy theories in tiny font, bloviating "columns" about "the scene" and band "interviews" (usually sent in by the band in question). The "fanzine" rarely takes a stand on music except in requiring that most bands it features hew to some sort of anarcho-leftist political kant. It favors quantity over quality - most reviews are about two sentences long and rarely provide much information beyond a pat on the back. Music is a "hook" in MRR, not its reason for its being. It should be called Maximum Youth Indoctrination. That said, let's give them props for 924 Gilman, a great and wonderful venue (once you get past the pamphlet tables) in downtown San Francisco. And I enjoy the occasional 50,000 word Noam Chomsky reprint as much as the next guy. Cheers, MRR!

So alot of the cuts here are pretty forgettable but there's about 25% worth saving and, about 15% is worth noting. Here are my top selections followed by some notes on each song:

"Dead Men Tell No Lies" - No Alternative
"Worker Bee" - Angst
"Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" - Impatient Youth
"Dan With The Mellow Hair" - Naked Lady Wrestlers
"No More Riots" - Bent Nails
"Turmoil" - The Frigidettes
"Sacrifice" - Flipper

SONG NOTES/LINKS:

No Alternative was one of the original '77 Bands who along with The Dils and The Avengers were a big part of the early San Francisco punk scene. By 1982, when this comp was put together, they were about the only surviving band. They've got a pretty good cut here called "Dead Men Tell No Lies." Here's a page (from IRS Corner) with some biographical information (more than what's provided on Western Front's liner notes). Some of their music has been reissued but hard to find - look for their classic song: "Johnny Got His Gun" if you do the file sharing networks. (IRS Corner is trying to document every band ever released or distributed via IRS Records - I'd mention Sisyphus but then look at what I'm doing)

Angst were an unknown when they appeared here. By the end of the decade, the Pope Bros. made a name for themselves by putting out a series of incredible eclectic (pop/punk/folk/dance) albums on SST - part of the "second generation" of SST bands. Here's their minute-long pogo dance unknown classic - based on that surreal slogan from Auschwitzz - "Worker Bee". See Angst's Trouser Press review.

Impatient Youth's "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" has become a sort of punk folk song and is a satirical take on the World War II song -- it is one of those obscure songs that gets covered by other bands, the most notable being the folky (Young) Pioneers. Some Impatient Youth background from IRS Corner. Here's the story behind the original song (which is not the same as this one) inspired by an incident during the Pearl Harbor attack.

Naked Lady Wrestlers kind of remind me of the New Jersey/Phillie jokeband scene. They used to play shows with Free Beer (another band on this comp) during Fleet Week in San Francisco just to see the look on the sailor's faces when they realized there were in fact no naked lady wrestlers or free beer (link to story). Cruel but kind of funny. Their cut "Dan With The Mellow Hair" utilizes a recognizable Scottish highland melody and has some stupid patter before and after the cut. Here's IRS Corner's page on them.

Bent Nails "No More Riots" is distinguished by the offbeat twangy guitar lead on top of an otherwise decent punk pose anthem. Members of the band went onto the Mister T. Experience (aka MTX).

The Frigidettes have a SF/Brit female punk sound. Their antiwar cut, "Turmoil", has some off-tune singing, a snakey guitar riff and cool sound effects that I accentuated by setting the iTunes equalizer to Loudness (one of my favorite settings). Here's a page with some bio information on the band.

Flipper was the major draw for me to buy this compilation - at one point I was a record collector scum when it came to Flipper. This cut is "free and legal" from the Alternative Tentacles website where they are selling this entire thing on CD. There are links to other cuts - most of which I rejected. You can check them out if and see if you disagree with my assessment. "Sacrifice" is a sonic treat for Flipper fans and like most of their best stuff it appears to be live. It, like some of the tracks above is like nothing else on the rest of the album. Highly recommended for noise rock fans. This cut also appears on Sex Bomb Baby, a 1988 release that compiled their singles and comp tracks. A Flipper fan page with appropriately blurry photos.

Some other notable cuts are Fang's drugged-out "Fun With Acid", Rebel Truth's speed-noise "All I Know", Risby's "Collapse" - sorry, don't have enough webspace to include them.


SAVED ROUNDS:
  • Dance of Days, a history of DC 80's - 90's punk by Mark Anderson and Mark Jenkins. It's a shame nothing similar was included with the reissue of this compilation.
  • Maximum Rock 'n' Roll
  • Alternative Tentacles
  • Winston Smith's art has gotten better even if it is still one-note Johnny when it comes to subject matter
  • Buy the CD reissue here
  • Gilman photo by Gwen (hosted by Flickr)

BORING SAUSAGE MAKING NOTES:
I encoded all of these cuts using RazorLame 1.1.5, an open source WAV-to-MP3 encoder, which is appropriate for single cuts that you are trying to digitize that don't need any noise reduction. You can convert all the cuts in a single batch. I'm not sure I had the settings correct (I used the default settings) so if you have any comments on the sound or your own experiences with this software, please chime in. I did some post-processing in iTunes by setting the volume level up, setting song endings in case I picked up some of the next cut during the recording, and using their equalizer algorithms (everything has been set to Loudness). As you can see I also added the album cover art.

13 comments:

Jim H said...

Y'know I may be totally wrong and the booklet included with this album DID document the bands - I just remember it as being mostly Winston Smith pictures... so forgive me if my memory is faulty. Does anyone know?

Eric said...

I'll check my copy and let you know about the insert. Of course, I've most likely lost it, as I have with about 75% of my collections inserts, lyric sheets, etc.

The MRR comps really haven't aged well. It's now apparent that band selection was more of a function of geography and politics than actual music ability. On average only half of each comp is relatively listenable anymore. Just MHO.

Jim H said...

Eric, My assessment was worse than your general assessment of MRR comps - only about 25% was worth putting on the ol' iPod - I listed all the songs above. I'd like to hear sometime which songs you thought were keepers - I checked your site and you haven't reviewed this one yet (or at least the "google" search which I've noticed someetimes fails didn't yield a posting on it).

Eric said...

Jim... I didn't get around to posting on it. I did Welcome to 1984 and I'm planning on They Don't Get Laid at some point soon. I was being generous with 50%, it's most likely less. It's so disappointing to listen to something you once thought was godhead and walk away scratching your head. The blogging experience has led to so many of those instances.

Jim H said...

The Jukebox Jury is in session...

Anonymous said...

This is a blast from the past. I agree with your asessment of the album--most of it's pretty awful, and a prime example of what was wrong with the punk scene, MRR and most punk bands c.1984 (or whenever this came out): the idea that being "punk" was more important than being "good," or that making some kind of political statement was more important than writing a decent song, or that "No War, No KKK, No Facist USA" and "System sucks, system sucks, system sucks, OK" count as political statements. On the micro-level of the local punk scene, I did like the idea that anyone could start a band, and the scene would support them no matter how lousy they were because it was a community, but when you get to the level of actually buying records by bands from another state, you should be able to expect them to be of some quality.

Anyway, sorry for the babbling, I think you missed one really prime cut from that disc: "The Oven Is My Friend" by The Church Police." Granted, I haven't heard it since high school, but I remember it being kind of Flipper-esque and having a great guitar sound. It was my favorite track after the Flipper song.

Anonymous said...

any talk of MRR must note the "departure" point from when the zine went from being a unifying force to polarizing (sp?) the scene with it's rehashed yippie politics.
One must remember to keep it in historical perspective though, in '82 the idea that hardcore thrash was a political act seemed like a valid one...this being before the umpteenth rhyme of "war" and "el salvador".
that being said, I kind of like the crappy regional production values!...and the fact that a lot of different influences are still being tapped, as opposed to the generic hardcore that was to follow.
...even if was played like crap!
I seem to recall Bad Posture, and Intensified Chaos being the standout favorites among friends.

Anonymous said...

I guess it hasn't aged too well, but in the context of the time it was not only a document, but a road map to a burgeoning underground punk/diy scene and idea. They took a bunch of primarily suburban teenage bands with a stance and it went all over. Totally seminal, having the name of the band and where they were from on the back created a larger sense of a network and broad reach of this "thing." Each band got a page in the insert and put whatever they wanted on there. As for the one dimensional politics, it was a different time and that kind of political voice was unusual. I believe Jeff Bale later said something to the effect that if he'd known how thin and politically correct things would've got he would've done something like the Dwarves. Social unrest, mdc, 7 seconds (when they were good), and a couple of others.

Dave

Jim H said...

Thanks Dave for clarifying what was in the insert.

Your points are well taken regarding how new it was at the time ... i tried to get that across and I hope I made it clear that some of the cuts are important.

There was some 7 Seconds on the record but I didn't much like the cut so didn't bother to mention it.

Anonymous said...

Dave is right - regional comps like this or say 30 Seconds over DC, Big Apple Rotten to the Core, Flex Yoru Head, or Mastertape, have to be judged in context, or at least that really needs to taken in consideration. That is especially so when you are talking about idealistic 16 - 20 years olds with guitars. Whatever your feelings about MRR, I WAS a catalyst and an inspiration for many and it was the single most important punk institution to foster an international scene and expose fans from the US to Finnish Hardcore bands and Italian fans to Japanese hardcore bands. After Mykel Boards ROIR tape comp, MRR's international vinyl comp was the first of its type.

Also, you need to know much more about the political workings of MRR and the people involved to make any insightful critique of them. Yes they were political or politically minded, but the dozens of people involved with it - from the radio show to the zine to gilman to epicenter record store - didnt fit into one political mindset, nor were they expected to. There was a basic credo - no sexism, racism, or homophobia - and that was pretty much it. Believe me Jeff Bale's politics did not jibe with Tim Yo's and Tim Yo's did not with Ruth Schwatrz and Ruth's did not with Jello Biafras, etc. There was (and still is a big tension there). However because it often came out as shrill and attacked large issues, like nuke war and US involvement in Central America, it is difficult to see the nuance. If you were there or around those folks or knew those folks, you would know that MRR was primarily a music rag and the interest of those involved was music first, politics second. However because politics were second, instead of say beer or hotrods or pussy, that often was their focus.

Hamfisted? Sure. Heavyhanded? Often. But still, not as much as their critics claim. And less strident than many of their critics were in their anti-MRR-ism.

A couple more things: As noted there was an insert, a 100+ page booklet with no political content that wasnt made by the bands. The bands had free reign on what their page was. Second Gilman St. is in an indudtrial area of Berkelely, not Downtown San Francisco. There has never been a punk club of any kind in Downtown San Francisco.

Anonymous said...

Dave is right - regional comps like this or say 30 Seconds over DC, Big Apple Rotten to the Core, Flex Yoru Head, or Mastertape, have to be judged in context, or at least that really needs to taken in consideration. That is especially so when you are talking about idealistic 16 - 20 years olds with guitars. Whatever your feelings about MRR, I WAS a catalyst and an inspiration for many and it was the single most important punk institution to foster an international scene and expose fans from the US to Finnish Hardcore bands and Italian fans to Japanese hardcore bands. After Mykel Boards ROIR tape comp, MRR's international vinyl comp was the first of its type.

Also, you need to know much more about the political workings of MRR and the people involved to make any insightful critique of them. Yes they were political or politically minded, but the dozens of people involved with it - from the radio show to the zine to gilman to epicenter record store - didnt fit into one political mindset, nor were they expected to. There was a basic credo - no sexism, racism, or homophobia - and that was pretty much it. Believe me Jeff Bale's politics did not jibe with Tim Yo's and Tim Yo's did not with Ruth Schwatrz and Ruth's did not with Jello Biafras, etc. There was (and still is a big tension there). However because it often came out as shrill and attacked large issues, like nuke war and US involvement in Central America, it is difficult to see the nuance. If you were there or around those folks or knew those folks, you would know that MRR was primarily a music rag and the interest of those involved was music first, politics second. However because politics were second, instead of say beer or hotrods or pussy, that often was their focus.

Hamfisted? Sure. Heavyhanded? Often. But still, not as much as their critics claim. And less strident than many of their critics were in their anti-MRR-ism.

A couple more things: As noted there was an insert, a 100+ page booklet with no political content that wasnt made by the bands. The bands had free reign on what their page was. Second Gilman St. is in an indudtrial area of Berkelely, not Downtown San Francisco. There has never been a punk club of any kind in Downtown San Francisco. ___Scott S

Jim H said...

Thanks, Scott - your points are well taken and appreciated!

G O D said...

buy the 30th anniversary tribute cd here:
http://sluggisha.blogspot.com/2012/12/buy-it-now-30th-anniversary-tribute.html