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Some of the groups which most influenced punk rock have had a limited following themselves. Critically reviled at the time, hard-pressed with finances, having just a limited regional following or with a life-span too brief to move onto the worldwide stage, these records influenced my life and many others'. What are yours?
Half Machine Lip Moves, Chrome
Chrome were the ultimate sci-fi future-punks. Influenced by Can, Suicide and cinema, Chrome started life with the Visitations album in 1976. It wasn't until the introduction of Helios Creed into the fold that Chrome really started to grow into something bizarre. Using homemade tapes, dismembered vocals and strangulated guitars, they were a paranoid flight of fancy. The two following albums, Half Machine Lip Moves and Alien Visitation, were bizarre kraut-punk hybrids that utilised industrial strength noise and paranoid psychedelia. Their influence can be heard in everyone from Nine Inch Nails to the Flaming Lips.
Philosophy of the World, the Shaggs
The Shaggs struck out to set the world ablaze. The fact that they couldn't play, sing or write songs was a minor detail. These four girls from New England were tutored by their father to be the next big thing. He home-schooled them and instigated gruelling, inordinately long jam sessions. Then he booked a studio to record the extraordinary results. The recordings are ground zero in the spurious world of outsider music. The Shaggs were pioneers who created possibilities for the likes of the genius of Tiny Tim, Daniel Johnston, and Wesley Willis. Kurt Cobain, John Zorn and Frank Zappa were all enamoured with the wonderful world of the Shaggs. As if there could be any doubt about it, Zappa declared the Shaggs to be greater than the Beatles.
Youth of America, the Wipers
The Wipers were playing what sounds like 90s alternative in 1980. At a time when it was considered passe to have songs longer than three minutes, frontman and mastermind Greg Sage was penning punk epics over ten minutes long. Sage was an artist before he was an icon, turning down the support slot that Kurt Cobain offered the Wipers at the height of Nirvana's fame. Youth of America is a song which has lost none of its passion.
Walk to the Fire, Monoshock
Monoshock are a revelation. A Californian psychedelic punk band, their debut double album, Walk to the Fire, was a tribute to everything unhinged in rock'n'roll. Their sound alternates between psyched-out wah-wah blues and hard noise. Sadly, they were utterly ignored at the time of their existence. After moving to Oakland in a failed bid to escape total obscurity, they broke up. Twelve years late, Monoshock's influence (particularly on Dead Meadow and Comets on Fire) is inescapable.
No Fun, Dr Mix and the Remix
Not to be confused with Doctor and the Medics, Dr Mix and the Remix were the remarkable fallout of polarising French band, Metal Urbain. Their exploits are semi-legendary: riots in Paris, signing to Rough Trade five minutes after strolling into the shop. Their electro-punk rock, howls of noise, distorted vocals and irreverent approach inspired Steve Albini's Big Black and also Jesus and the Mary Chain. I reissued the album in the early 90s on the Revola imprint on Creation.
Hotwire My Heart, Crime
Crime were legendary San Franciscan punks. Their sound consists of molten-hot riffs and robotic yells of resounding despair. The band were a big influence on Sonic Youth who covered Hotwire My Heart on their classic LP Sister. Crime themselves never recorded an album. All that we have is a handful of self-produced, self-financed singles. Hotwire My Heart was the first punk single to emerge in the US. However, Crime rejected the punk elite. They told Seymour Stein that the Ramones were peace-loving hippies who should cut their hair. They used images of Hitler on show flyers and were banned from innumerable venues as a result. They refused to play a show unless they were headlining (because according to them all other bands were worthless). Crime were too good to last and inevitably, they fell apart.
Academy Fight Song / That's When I Reach for my Revolver, Mission of Burma
Mission of Burma still represent a pinnacle for art-punk. Their first EP, Signals, Calls and Marches, took the angular, jabbing sound of British bands such as Gang of Four and Wire and immersed it in no-wave noise. That's When I Reach for my Revolver and Academy Fight Song are Mission of Burma's infectious theme tracks. The latter urges listeners to kill their idols and start again. It was regularly covered by REM. Essentially, Mission of Burma resuscitated punk by messing with the three-chord formula. Singer, Roger Miller developed tinnitus from the amount of improvised noise that followed every Mission of Burma performance. They recorded one LP, VS, and then disbanded only to reunite 20 years later on Matador.
Generic Album, Flipper
Considered punk by some and sheer grinding noise by others, Flipper actively encouraged the audience to get on stage and often knocked their instruments completely out of tune. They spray-painted their dead fish logo all over (some say it is even to be seen on the Great Wall of China) and riled their audiences by arriving at shows late and in a hopelessly drugged-up state. Despite this, Flipper became a well-loved band. Their debut, Generic Album, was little short of a revelation: droning two chord guitar solos, two-bass sludge work-outs, and desperate vocals that exude depression. Their most renowned song, Sex Bomb Baby, was sometimes played for 45 minutes at a time. Mudhoney, Nirvana, and the Melvins all found inspiration in Flipper. Generic is a classic in need of a reissue.
The Raincoats, the Raincoats
When John Lydon tired of listening to rock and immersed himself in the world of Jamaican dub records, one band he still declared a liking for was the Raincoats. Predictably mauled by critics at the time, this all-female band proved enduringly influential. Their eccentric sound has lost none of its unique appeal and power. With lyrics that intelligently critique consumerism and patriarchy, the Raincoats opened a door and created new possibilities in punk. Their self-entitled debut and second album, Odyshape, deserves to be more widely heard. In 1992, Kurt Cobain visited the Rough Trade shop in an attempt to replace the Raincoats debut album which he had played to death.
City Slang, Sonic's Rendezvous Band
Sonic's Rendezvous Band was the explosive fallout of some of Detroit's finest-ever bands. Including the Stooges' Ashton brothers, a bassist from the Up, and fronted by MC5 mainman Fred "Sonic" Smith, this band is responsible for one of the rawest, most exciting, awesomely powerful songs in rock per se. As Patti Smith (who was married to the late Fred Sonic Smith) has remarked, that more people have not heard City Slang is criminal. It is a slightly paranoid, raging blast of hi-energy rock'n'roll which evokes the MC5 at their fiery best and then pushes even further. Other material recorded by the band did not live up to this standard. But then, how could it? They existed from 1975 to 1980, releasing the one official single and leaving a trail of bootlegs and unofficial live releases. If there was ever a case of a single song entitling a band to legendary status, City Slang is it. It direly needs to be made more available.
© Words – Alan McGee (Original article appeared in The Guardian – Used by Kind permission)