Black Flag

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The First Great Blast of L.A. Punk

The L.A. punk band Black Flag had been recording for several years when, at a New York show in 1981, a fan named Henry Rollins jumped up on stage and began singing. In a gesture that resonated throughout the punk world, the band invited Rollins to join. (The singer at the time, Dez Cadena, was more interested in playing guitar anyway.) Suddenly what had been a good band became a trailblazing one.

Rollins, who grew up in Washington, D.C., matched guitarist and leader Greg Ginn's hellbent energy, firing off bellicose screams that maximized the impact of the guitar sparks. He brought East Coast attitude to the one-time surf-punk band from Huntington Beach, California. Rollins taunted and challenged listeners. He chortled in ways that made Ginn's surprisingly cogent lyrics—about vapid consumerism and the soul-sucking offerings of network TV as well as such standby punk subjects as alienation and despair—sound like his own thoughts.

To be sure, Rollins, who after Black Flag went on to develop a separate career as a surly political commentator and spoken word artist, is plenty intense here—so much so that the band's major-label distributor, MCA Records, initially refused to release the album, terming it "anti-parent." Just as crucial, though, is Ginn, whose rhythm guitar rings with the purpose and energy of a crusade in progress. Ginn mixes dissonant serrated chords and spearing single lines (and very brief solo explosions) into a veritable index of punk guitar pulverization.

Genre: Rock
Released: 1981, SST
Key Tracks: "Depression," "TV Party," "Gimme Gimme Gimme"
Catalog Choice: My War
Next Stop: X: Wild Gift
After That: Helmet: Size Matters
Book Pages: 91–92

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