Photographers: Alice Bag; The Dills; Greg Shaw; Kim Fowley; Claude "Kickboy Face" Bessy; Vickie Razorblade; Pat Smear; Rodney Bingenheimer; Randoms; X.
In the early '70s, the conventional wisdom in rock & roll was that Los Angeles was the home of all that was mellow and groovy, and New York City was the go-to place for music that was gritty and passionate. This may be why nearly all the major New York punk bands from the rise of the CBGB and Max's scenes managed to land record deals fairly early in their careers, but the groups that filled the Masque in Hollywood were poorly documented, usually recorded only on independently produced 45s, if at all. History has made it clear that, as usual, conventional wisdom was off balance, and L.A. was home to some of the very best American punk bands of the day. Soul Jazz Records' ongoing PUNK 45 series offers a concise and frantic overview of the first golden era of Los Angeles punk with the album Chaos in the City of Angels and Devils -- Hollywood from X to Zero & Hardcore on the Beaches: Punk in Los Angeles 1977-81. While that name may be a tongue twister, the 22 tunes included here are all clearly winners, and point not only to the quality of the Los Angeles punk movement, but to its diversity early on. Jumping from the purposefully awkward rants of the Urinals ("Ack Ack Ack") and the speedy blast of the Weirdos ("Life of Crime") to the grainy drama of the Flesh Eaters ("Disintegration Nation") and the off-kilter socio-sexual politics of Black Randy & the Metrosquad ("Trouble at the Cup"), these bands were fast, loud, and noisy in an impressive variety of ways, and in this context even the aggressively amateurish early work from the Germs ("Forming") and the fierce but cautious proto-hardcore of Middle Class ("Out of Vogue") sounds revelatory, or at very least like the blueprint a few thousand bands would follow in the years to come. The two cuts from the Deadbeats ("Brainless" and "Final Ride") confirm that even the lesser-known bands on the scene were often remarkable, and while the relative muscle and arrogance of T.S.O.L. ("World War III") and the Adolescents ("Amoeba") point to the more faceless direction SoCal punk would follow in the '80s and '90s, at this point they sounded bright and vital. And if there's a better snotty/funny opening line than that of the Eyes' "TAQN" ("Be like someone else! Take a Quaalude now!"), it's doubtless still in the Top Ten. Chaos in the City of Angels and Devils isn't the perfect Los Angeles punk sampler (at least not without Black Flag or the Screamers), and the presence of "I've Got a Right" by Iggy & the Stooges is questionable (not an L.A. band and a few years early for punk), but this is a well-chosen overview filled with underground classics, and if you have a taste for first-era punk from any part of the world, you'll find lots of top-notch pogo action here. ~ Mark Deming