The following is the first of many looks into the magical rock and roll looking glass to bring to light some righteous tunage that may have slipped under your musical radar. Tonight’s lesson: The Bad Brains…
Slayer. Rage Against the Machine. System of a Down. Ministry. White Zombie. Nirvana. Beastie Boys. Janes Addiction. Deftones. Doctor Dre. Lil’ Jon. The list goes on… and on… and on, covering pretty much any heavy band that’s come out since 1987… They were ALL inspired/influenced by The Bad Brains.
The Bad Brains were one of the few TRUE fathers of the American Hardcore scene (though they themselves have never referred to themselves as a hardcore band). They influenced punk, hardcore, thrash, metal, reggae, and even hip hop and techno, on a level that will be felt for years to come.
In 1977, while most people were dancing away to disco and top 40, The underground punk movement was beginning to hit the shores of the U.S. It was then that a group of working class inner city kids into jazz fusion and reggae (with a soft spot for Black Sabbath) started listening to the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. And the Bad Brains were born.
Combining their love of punk with their jazz/rock time signatures and song structure, as well as reggae style grooves and a growing belief in Rastafarianism, they took the blossoming Washington DC punk scene by storm. Their live shows were best described as a tornado touching down in a mosh pit during an earthquake. They were faster (and tighter) than any punk band before them. And while everyone else was singing about hate and war, the Bad Brains preached PMA (Positive Mental Attitude). And they did it while kicking massive amounts of ass at every show they played. People had never seen anything like them before, especially given the fact that they were an all black, dreadlocked, rasta punk band. (At this point it should be noted that in the late 70’s/early 80’s, to be a punk rocker was effectively taking your life in your hands, as the whole world essentially thought you were the epitomy of antisocial scum. It was like wearing a target around your neck, and it was open season. There was even a term, “freak beat”, that was used by mobs of kids that went around beating up punks and anyone else who didn’t “fit in”. Now add being a black punk to this equation and well, you get the picture…)
The Bad Brains kicked so much ass when playing shows, in fact, that they were effectively banned from performing in any club in DC. This forced the band to move to New York City, where they were quickly and lovingly embraced (and copied…Oops! Did I say that out loud? Pretend I never said that!).
In 1982 they released their first, self titled album as a cassette only release on the legendary, long gone Roir label. This brought them to the attention of Ric Ocasek (Singer of 80’s superstar new wave band, The Cars), who produced their next album, the seminal, ground breaking/shaking “Rock For Light”. This was essentially a re-do of the first record, but with superior recordings (especially for a punk band). It can honestly be said that the release of this album changed the way the scene (as well as the critics) looked at punk bands.
After the release of “Rock For Light” the band began in-fighting with the singer, HR (short for Human Rights), who pretty much was beginning his downward spiral from what most of us might call “mental stability” (let’s just say he was becoming “eccentric”.) The band eventually broke up.
In 1986, they reformed and and released “I Against I”, focusing on a more mature, metal sound this time around. With “I Against I”, The Bad Brains did to metal what they had done to punk just a few years before, effectively turning the concept of what it “could and should” sound like on its ass. The album was critically praised, but HR had become even more of a loose cannon (he recorded the vocals for “Sacred Love” over the phone from jail, after getting locked up for marijuana possession, and that was while they were still making the record), and the band soon broke up again.
This trend has continued for over 20 years, with the band reforming just long enough to make a killer album, only to break up shortly after it’s released. In the interim the band has even tried recruiting other singers (at one point, I auditioned, but that’s another story for another time), but the chemistry was never the same as it was with HR at the helm.
Anyway, these guys are amazing, and were a huge influence on Adam and I growing up. You should check ’em out… Or not… Whatever… I don’t care… Your loss…
Albums to check out-
(And if you feel like going WAAAY back, you can check out “Black Dots” a collection of early demos and stuff…)
Yours in Rock,