In honor of the impending home release of The Decline of Western Civilization (June 30), directed by Penelope Spheeris (whom you might know from classics Wayne’s World and Black Sheep), this week’s You Should Be Listening To is X, the seminal LA punk band. Seemingly a million miles away from the New York punk scene thriving at CBGB and Max’s Kansas City, X remains the most interesting of California scene.
X , comprised of John Doe on vocals/bass, Exene Cervenka on Vocals, Billy Zoom on guitar, and DJ Bonebrake on Drums, released their first E.P. in 78, “Adult Books”/ “We’re Desperate,” (which for those that are interested is impossible to find, and over-priced when you do), on small indie label, Dangerhouse. The interest was enough to score them a deal with a proper record label, this time on Slash records.
With their new deal they set out to record their first album, when Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for another LA Band, the Doors, offered to produce the album. That album, Los Angeles, remains his greatest contribution to music, outshining anything he ever did with the Doors. The album, part-Punk, part-Rockabilly, part-Noir, all fucking awesome, plays like a greatest hits album despite it being the only album they released at the time. It’s hard to argue against the title track being the greatest track written about Los Angeles.
The follow up, Wild Gift, continued the theme they started on Los Angeles, with Manzarek producing once again. This album would reach high critical acclaim charting on many year-end best of lists. Their first E.P. would finally see a wide release on Side A of this album. And their next two albums, Under the Big Black Sun and More Fun in the New World would continue a stream real quality punk rock, the latter being the last album Manzarek would produce.
The last three albums would be bumpy for the band. 1984 was the first year that they didn’t release an album since 1979, and 1985s Ain’t Love Grand! didn’t pack the same punch, Billy Zoom would leave by See How We Are, and 1993’s hey Zeus!, not only their second album with an exclamation point, but a mess in songwriting credits, and man things just weren’t the same.
WHO THEY INFLUENCED:
One can argue that as a member of the LA scene that also birthed the Germs and Black Flag, they helped pave the way for hardcore punk for nationwide audiences. One can also argue that with The Clash, they helped pave the way for critical acclaim in punk, especially for lyrical content. And even further, with their later albums, they helped pave the way for the rockabilly revival, cow punk, and several other genre busters that would gain popularity in the mid-80s.
But for some reason their main influence seemed to be outside of music: writers and directors seemed to love them. Browsing through Wikipedia—don’t shoot me, I’m only human—, I stumbled across a great Christgau line:
“Hippies couldn’t understand jealousy because they believed in universal love; punks can’t understand it because they believe sex is a doomed reflex of existentially discrete monads. As X-Catholics obsessed with a guilt they can’t accept and committed to a subculture that gives them no peace, Exene and John Doe are prey to both misconceptions, and their struggle with them is thrilling and edifying…Who knows whether the insightful ministrations of their guitarist will prove as therapeutic for them as for you and me, but I say trust a bohemian bearing gifts. How often do we get a great love album and a great punk album in the same package?”
Who else did Christgau give love to like that?
By 1985, the band was featured in no less than three documentaries, including one (X: The Unheard Music) that was about them alone. And when the X-Files needed a song to represent a seedy LA Vampire Club, they chose “The Unheard Music” from Los Angeles.
WHY WE SHOULD BE LISTENING TO X:
This is about right: There was a song I heard when I was in Los Angeles by a local group. The song was called “Los Angeles” and the words and images were so harsh and bitter that the song would reverberate in my mind for days.—Brett Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero
FIVE ESSENTIAL X TRACKS
Adult Books / We’re Desperate
Johnny Hit and Run Paulene (from The Decline of Western Civilization)
Breathless (Live on Letterman)
Article by: Christopher Gilson