Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Be A Star--Celebrity Skin

Celebrity Skin in their early 90's heyday.

As an American kid growing up in the suburbs of Southern California in the late 70’s and early 80’s, I was fascinated by glam rock.  NOT, mind you, the detestable sacrilege better known as glam or hair metal, which I indeed find to be perhaps the single most boring and derivative musical movement in the history of rock.  No, I’m talking about the original glam rock from the early 70’s.  As nearly everyone on both sides of the pond knows, glam rock was massive in England but barely made a blip in America.  Artists like Slade, the Sweet, and T. Rex were rewriting the singles charts and the record books in England between 1971 and 1974, but aside from one or two songs (“Fox On the Run”, “Bang A Gong”) were almost completely unheard of in the States. 

However, glam did find a niche in a couple of American urban markets.  A small scene coalesced around the Dolls in New York City during the glam heyday, and included bands such as Teenage Lust, Eric Emerson and the Magic Tramps, Sniper, and the Harlots of 42nd Street.  None of these bands ever rose above even the squalid minor celebrity of the Dolls and the scene quickly dissolved with the passing of the Dolls.

Los Angeles also had a very thriving glam scene, which I have commented upon in a previous post.  Bands like Christopher Milk, Shady Lady, the Berlin Brats, the Quick, and Zolar X took the campy sleaze of the Dolls or the moonage daydreams of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona and crafted entire short-lived careers of them.  Some of these bands made some good songs (“Vinyl” and “Juice” by the Brats are two of my favorite songs currently, and I love Zolar X’s entire back catalog), but their biggest contribution to the rock music zeitgeist was the fact that they, like their English counterparts, set the subversive table for the subsequent punk movement in both cities. 

My first exposure to anything remotely glam rock was through David Bowie.  I recently read former Runaways vocalist Cherie Currie’s 1989 memoir “Neon Angel”, where she describes how hearing Bowie’s music (and seeing him on his 1973-74 world tour) changed her life; she then famously lip synced a Bowie song for a school talent show before finding rock fame as the underage singer of the Runaways.  Alas, my first exposure and response to Bowie wasn’t quite as liberating or liberated; I can simply remember repeating disdainfully to a Bowie fan friend the “fact” that “Bowie’s a FAG!” that I’d heard from the older kids in the neighborhood.  Leave alone the fact that I didn’t KNOW he was a fag, or even what a fag WAS, that’s still a pretty shameful memory.  My first memory of actually HEARING Bowie’s music comes from around the same time, when I remember hearing his song “Fame” off his 1985 Young Americans album; I can remember this distinctly because I can remember the part where the voice says “Fame” over and over again, changing octaves from a high-pitched chipmunk voice into a deep basso (I always loved processed studio tricks like this, even then).  From then my memory skips over Bowie’s subsequent Berlin albums and the next time I recall hearing him was in advertisements for his 1980 Scary Monsters album.  From there I again lost track of him until Let’s Dance and the “Serious Moonlight” tour that accompanied it (in one of the more embarrassing episodes of my teen years, my mom tried to hook me up with a salesgirl at the Gap who for some reason mentioned that she was going to Bowie’s concert; I can remember standing there utterly mortified as my mom chirpily replied, “Well, my son likes David Bowie too, don’t you?”).

In other words, I basically missed Bowie’s entire early 70’s glam heyday, which shouldn’t be too surprising given I was born in 1967 and thus was only about five or six years old at its peak.  And as I mentioned, Bowie (and Slade and Sweet and T. Rex) were simply not very big in America at that time.  It IS a little embarrassing that I lived that close to a major American media center and was still that ignorant, but one thing this highlights to me is how little difference there is culturally between most American suburbs (regardless of where they are) and “middle America”, which often refers to a geographical location between the coasts but just as often can be taken (as it is here) to refer to “anywhere in America except maybe New York”.  The truth was NOBODY outside a few freaks and free spirits were following glam rock in America, for the simple reason that it was just too weird.  The outrageous clothes, the ambisexuality, the singalong simplicity of most glam songs—Americans were just not in the same wheelhouse in 1972—at that time, America was awash in a sea of proto-metal (Rainbow, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin), bubblegum (the Osmonds, the Partridge Family), prog rock (Jethro Tull) and 60’s leftovers (the Faces, the Stones). 

Even in the beach communities and urban areas surrounding Los Angeles there were very few kids into glam; often it seems like Brian Eno’s old adage about the Velvet Underground’s first album (i.e., that only 1000 people bought it but all of them formed bands) is true about Bowie’s albums too.  Nearly any book you read on the history of punk rock points unerringly back at the main lights of glam (Bowie, T. Rex, Roxy Music) as being the clearest antecedents of punk.  But aside from these early adopters it was a non-starter. 

But somehow that idea—that glam was the direct ancestor of punk—got passed down to kids of my generation, even though we missed out almost entirely on the glam explosion.   So in the early 80’s when I started getting into new wave and then punk in that order, somehow I just seemed to know that glam rock, far from being a campy embarrassment of plaid flares and platform boots, held the seeds of the then-dominant music and culture.  So it was that in 1985 I purchased T Rextacy:  The Best of T. Rex, a compilation of the hit singles by Marc Bolan’s seminal glam band.  Looking back I’m not at all sure why someone who was into Depeche Mode and the Smiths was motivated to make such a purchase—thinking about it, it has to be that the mid-80’s new wave supergroup the Power Station had covered “Bang a Gong” on their recent album (I still love this version, particularly former Chic drummer Tony Thompson’s unbelievably propulsive drumming).  But what was perhaps even more surprising is how much I LOVED it.  On paper it made no sense, because T. Rex represented almost everything I disliked (and to some extent still do) in music:  silly/hippie lyrics, fey vocals, syrupy production awash in strings and horns, a campy bubblegum vibe, etc.  Yet somehow all these negatives added up to one huge positive.  My favorites were the big hits—“Ride a White Swan”, “Jeepster”, “Hot Love”, “20th Century Boy”, “Telegram Sam”---but I also loved album cuts and b-sides, particularly “Groover” and “Jewel”, but my all-time favorite T. Rex song was/is “Raw Ramp”.  I don’t know what it is about this song, aside from its incredible catchiness and the lyric “baby, I love your chest, ooh baby I’m crazy about your breasts”, that just strikes such a resonant chord with me, but I’ve loved it ever since.

But as the 80’s progressed I moved away from the simple joy of T. Rex and delved ever deeper into the mostly serious and angry world of punk.  My favorite bands---Black Flag, Husker Du, Jane’s Addiction, the Pistols, DC3, G.B.H.—made music that was intense and emotional, but that had very little humor to it (some exceptions did exist of course:  “Slut” by G.B.H. and “TV Party” by Black Flag are both actually quite silly).  Even the non-hardcore bands I enjoyed were mostly serious—while the Butthole Surfers had a whimsy about them, it mostly stemmed from a form of demented glee that was almost fierce in its intensity. 

The upside was that by the time the 80’s were starting to draw to a close, I was pretty burned out on angry, serious, macho music, which is ironic because this was the exact time that grunge began to bubble up through the underground.  In other words, at the exact moment when “my” type of music was becoming THE dominant type of music, I was having less and less enthusiasm for it.  Unbeknownst to even my own self, I had started pulling away from heavy, intense music and was instead searching for something FUN.

In the fall of 1988, I found it.  Sometime around October 1988 I went to a free concert at UCLA.  Ostensibly I was there to see the headliner, Legal Weapon, a second-wave LA punk band that lately had retooled into more of a hard rock/blues/roots influenced act.  But the real reason I was going was to check out the opening band, a band called Celebrity Skin.  Celebrity Skin got their name from a 70’s porno mag that specialized in nipple slips and upskirt shots of celebrity women, which gave a perfect description of Celebrity Skin, equal parts sleaze and glamour.  By 1988 I was a pretty regular reader of the free/underground LA publication the LA Weekly, and they’d been singing Skin’s praises for some time.  All I could gather from the Weekly’s reviews was that Celebrity Skin played a punked-out form of glitter rock and that they dressed outrageously.  As I couldn’t convince any of my friends or roommates to attend, I jetted off on my Honda Elite 80 scooter by myself. 

I can still remember the exact moment I saw Celebrity Skin bassist Tim Ferris:  I’d wandered to the bathroom and was returning to the Coop when I saw this spectacle—it was a very tall, very pale, very skinny man with green dreadlocks and horned-rimmed glasses.  I can’t remember exactly what he was wearing, but even then I can remember thinking, “Wow, he must be a member of Celebrity Skin; man, the Weekly was right, they really DO dress crazily.”  Well, imagine my surprise when, after I returned to my seat and the Skinners eventually took the stage, by then Tim had changed into an off-the-shoulder yellow peasant’s blouse and a frilly skirt!!!!  ALL of the members had changed into outfits 100 times as outrageous as what they’d worn offstage, which was still stuff that would have gotten them second (and third, and possibly fourth) glances on any street in America. 

There are a few key moments in one’s life that stay with a person the rest of their life; that Celebrity Skin show was one of those transcendent, eureka moments for me.  I’d found what I was searching for, even though I didn’t even know I was searching for it until that moment.  Here was music that was raw, sloppy, crude, intense, feedback-drenched . . . but FUN!  Moreover, it was CATCHY; I just remember being TOTALLY hooked on their songs from that very first moment.  I was in an absolute trance throughout the entire concert; when Celebrity Skin finished their set and departed, I wandered out after one or two songs of Legal Weapon’s set; for the first time (and not the last) I was so impressed with an opening band that I didn’t even give a shit about the headliner.  I drove home in a total daze, and tried to convey to my friends what I’d seen. 

That was the moment that music changed for me; almost overnight I went from being a Black Flag obsessed punker to being a full-fledged glitterpunk.  Over the next 4 years, I saw Celebrity Skin every chance I got, and they rode a crest of club popularity to a signing with the hip local LA record label Triple X and released an EP and then an album (1991’s Good Clean Fun).  I got my girlfriend (who is now my wife) addicted to Celebrity Skin too and we never missed a show.

Celebrity Skin’s sound was like nothing I’d ever heard before.  While essentially a punk band, at their core they were a pop band.  Most songs, while sloppy and feedback-drenched, had a crunchy, catchy melody at their heart, and positively dripped with catchy hooks, soaring harmonies, and singalong choruses.  It wasn’t pop punk exactly, more like 70’s bubblegum overlaid with a heavy coat of punk rock attitude and amateurish underground sloppiness.  Their most obvious musical antecedents were the then-almost totally unknown prepunk LA glitter bands such as the Quick and the Berlin Brats, as well as first-wave glitter-influenced LA punk bands like the Dickies and the Germs (indeed, Celebrity Skin opened for the Dickies in the 80’s, and drummer Don Bolles was the former skin pounder for Darby and Co.).  But Celebrity Skin also incorporated elements of other glam godfathers too, including the subway blooze sleaze of the New York Dolls and the platform stomping anthemic feel of classic Slade and Mott.  Another major influence was clearly pre-new wave Sparks, particularly their quirky time signatures and sense of the ridiculous (such as on such Sparks classics as "Moon Over Kentucky", "Whippings and Apologies", and "Amateur Hour").  And finally, Celebrity Skin also really evoked classic Cheap Trick, particularly the way Robin Zander and company combined big, anthemic power chords with soaring melodies on such songs as "Elo Kiddies", "He's a Whore", "Auf Wiedersehen", "Southern Girls", and "I Know What I Want".

Celebrity Skin’s covers attest to the breadth of their musical range.  By far the most popular was their version of ABBA’s “S.O.S.”, which was recorded for the 1988 SST compilation the Melting Plot.  This song really captures the beauty of Celebrity Skin’s sweet-yet-crunchy appeal and remains their recorded high water mark.  Other, unfortunately not recorded covers included “Life’s A Gas” by T. Rex, “All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople, “Elo Kiddies” by Cheap Trick, “Golden Boys” by Darby Crash, “Godstar” by Psychic TV, and, my all-time favorite (any time they played it I could be found leaping up and down like a poging latter-day Sid Vicious in my black leather jacket in the center of the pit), “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us” by Sparks

Alas, Celebrity Skin’s recorded work never truly captured their live appeal (something that was also said of other glam artists like Slade and the Dolls), despite the fact that they had very good producers for both albums.  Their 4-song 1990 self-titled EP was produced by former Sparks guitarist Earle Mankey and while he leaves some of their live snarl intact, the recordings are too mushy and nothing comes to the fore.  Moreover, aside from another version of “S.O.S.”, the other songs they recorded (“Clown Scare” “Mother’s Day”, and “Monster”) were not exactly their most popular nor were they particularly representative of Celebrity Skin’s incredible gift of melody.

1991’s Good Clean Fun suffered from the exact opposite problem:  it was too produced, too slick, too saccharine, and didn’t contain any of the punk intensity or roughness that leavened the sweetness of their songs in concert.  This is ironic considering that producer Gexa X had made his name producing albums by many of the biggest California punk bands, including the Germs, the Dead Kennedys, the Avengers, the Weirdos, and more.  Here he and the band layered on too many studio effects and turned the guitars way too low; as a result, the rawness of Celebrity Skin’s live sound was totally absent, and what was left instead were a bunch of overly saccharine, overly produced pop confections that sounded little like Skin live.  The interplay between dueling guitarists Jason Shapiro and Bob Haas was toned so far down that they sounded less like a punk rock Thin Lizzy and more like the Osmond’s backing band. 

A few video clips of old Celebrity Skin shows are available on YouTube and these do the best job of capturing the band’s live appeal.  The video for “Long Black Yak” in particular shows what they were like live.  I believe it was taken at the old Music Machine club in West LA circa summer 1989; I’d just moved in with my girlfriend and her roommates into a miniscule bedroom in their Westwood apartment a few months before and we were a little late getting to the gig (ironically since it was one of the closest clubs to our West LA digs they ever played).  “Yak” is one of my favorite Celebrity Skin songs; its just got a wonderful foot-stomping rhythm like the best Slade songs.  A couple other clips show Celebrity Skin playing the “Splattering of Tribes” festival, which was located out past Palm Desert in the middle of nowhere that my girlfriend/wife also attended (I’m actually surprised you can’t see her in the front since she was always front row center).

Of course, it was all for naught anyway.  Celebrity Skin were marching out of step with the times, and there was no way they’d ever make it big.  The dominant sound at the time was the macho posturings of Seattle bands like Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam (and Seattle wannabes like Stone Temple Pilots).  Aside from Billy Corgan’s somewhat fey vocals and Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Ferrell’s alterna-androgyny, alternative rock was a testosterone-fest through and through; hell, even female artists of the time like Hole, L7, Babes In Toyland, and 7 Year Bitch played music that was hard and mean and angry. 

Nevertheless, from 1988-1992 a tiny, nascent scene emerged around Celebrity Skin.  They frequently played showcases with other Triple X acts, most notably Ziggy Stardust clones the Ultras (seeing them open for Celebrity Skin was like seeing Bowie on his Spiders from Mars tour opening for the New York Dolls) as well as less similar acts like Liquid Jesus (who did a punk/funk thing, different from the Chili Peppers) and Pygmy Love Circus (ham fisted, meat headed biker punk rock, kind of a Lee Ving of Fear fronting the Ramones vibe).

But even more important were the FANS.  Celebrity Skin attracted the most devoted and fanatical fans I’d ever seen.  These were people who would drive all night to watch them in a driving dust storm (which we did), AND show up wearing a purple space suit to boot.  Dressing up was the norm, not the exception, and every concert was as much a fan-based spectacle as it was a musical event.  Most notable were the female fans—Celebrity Skin had the tallest, most beautiful female fans of any band I’ve ever seen (which admittedly isn’t saying much given that most of the bands I’ve ever followed aren’t known for their female appeal), and nearly every one of them would show up in towering platform heels and highly revealing, sparkly rayon minidresses straight from 1973.  It was almost as fun to watch these gorgeous, bizarre creatures sashaying through the crowd before the show as it was to see the show itself. 

Celebrity Skin also attracted their fair share of LA’s upper crust punkerati to their shows as well.  At various shows I can remember seeing Steve and Jeff McDonald of Redd Kross (not surprising considering their love of all things 70’s), Donita Sparks and Jennifer Finch of L7 (I once saw Donita pour her full beer onto some heckling frat boy’s head from the second floor balcony of Gazzarri’s), Dukey Flyswatter of Haunted Garage and his girlfriend the Duchess de Sade (who fronted a band of the same name), and Perry Ferrell of Jane’s Addiction (whom I saw scurry across bar tables in thigh high patent leather boots following a Celebrity Skin show at Club Lingerie).

Sadly, Celebrity Skin broke up in December 1992, appropriately enough almost 3 weeks to the day after the death of Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury (at their final gig, the week after Freddie’s death, Celebrity Skin wrote “Freddie R.I.P.” in duct tape on their monitors in tribute).  For me, their breakup represented a death of sorts, a death of fun music.  Intellectually I knew that it was pointless for them to continue to play gig after pointless gig with no hope of higher level success, and in some senses I too was ready to move on.  But it was nevertheless a sad day, an ending to something that had been fun and carefree. 

After Celebrity Skin broke up, for awhile I lost most of my interest in rock music.  I stopped going to shows for the most part, and for the first time in nearly 15 years I didn’t follow contemporary music as a cultural phenomenon.  By 1996 I’d left rock almost completely and for the next 2-3 years I was really more into electronica, particularly the Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, Daft Punk, etc.  Only in the late 90’s/early 2000’s did I start to return to rock music, but what mainly drew me back was the PAST, specifically downloading stuff via Napster that I’d always heard of but never could afford to buy before the digital music revolution.  I was never an extensive pirater of illegally downloaded music; I’d say that less than an eighth of my 4000 or so MP3s comes from the Napster era.  Indeed, in most cases I’ve gone back and bought those tracks legitimately as they’ve come available.  Moreover, for every one song I took illegally from Napster I’ve now gone and bought ten on average from these artists, so you could say it was a good marketing strategy, to give me a taste that then spurred me to buy way more than I would have otherwise. 

Recently I’ve been downloading stuff that reminds me of Celebrity Skin’s heyday.  One band in particular that I’ve really gotten into recently is Slade.  I’d always heard of them and knew they were supposed to be good but was never able to find songs that resonated with me.  But a couple months ago I systematically went through their available albums on iTunes and found several songs that I just love, in particular “Gudbuy T’Jane”, “How D’You Ride, and “Take Me Back ‘Ome”.  There’s a video of a live performance of the latter on YouTube that is just incredible.  Watching it, I’m amazed at how much FUN the band is having---I can’t remember the last time I saw a band smile as much or have as much fun as they seem to be having.  There seems to be a singular lack of that type of undiluted joy in rock music today—nobody just has fun any more. Rock and roll is too much of a business, and being a “cool” rock musician usually means being too serious to actually enjoy yourself.  It’s a real pity, because if there’s one thing Celebrity Skin has taught me, its that rock and roll at its heart is meant to be FUN. 

Today I also downloaded some great stuff by T. Rex that I didn’t have, in particular “Rock On”, “The Slider”, and “Buick McKane” from the Slider; “Rapids”, “Shock Rock” and “Country Honey” off Tanx; “London Boys” off Futuristic Dragon; and “I Love To Boogie”, “Visions of Domino” and “Celebrate Summer” off Dandy In the Underworld (these four albums weren’t included in the T. Rextacy compilation I bought in 1985).  It’s rekindled the love of sweet, fun, silly music that I’d originally developed when I first got into T. Rex in 1985. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Touch Me I'm Sick--Grunge and the Seattle Sound

Malfunkshun, a grunge pioneer

As mentioned in recent posts, in the 80’s punk rock evolved past its obsession with short and fast songs; songs became longer, slower, and heavier.  The influence of heavy metal began to percolate through various punk scenes. 

Two bands that led this sea change were San Francisco’s Flipper and LA’s Black Flag.  Both independently evolved toward a slower, heavier, sludgier sound; Flipper primarily so as to be contrary and to piss their audience off, and Black Flag because of Greg Ginn’s respect for 70’s rock bands like Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. 

The influence of these two bands was considerable on the development of scenes elsewhere.  While Flipper did not tour extensively before Will Shatter’s death in 1987, their singles and their first album Generic Flipper were widely available in independent record stores.  Black Flag’s legal troubles prior to 1984 prevented them from releasing albums but Flag toured incessantly throughout this period and were a tremendous influence on burgeoning scenes everywhere.

One region in particular where the influence of these bands was strongly felt was the Pacific Northwest.  Steve Turner, guitarist for the seminal Seattle grunge band Mudhoney, has commented on how Black Flag’s slower, heavier sound was lauded in Seattle, and how punk and heavy metal weren’t seen as extreme opposites as much in the evolving Seattle scene, allowing audiences and members of local bands to appreciate the evolving Flag sound. 

The history of punk music in Seattle starts with a handful of bands that formed in the late 70’s or early 80’s.  Most notable here is the band Solger, which many consider Seattle’s first hardcore band.  Centered around guitarist Paul Dana (Paul Solger), Solger played relatively straightforward hardcore punk—loud fast, sloppy.  None of their songs are available on iTunes but two singles are posted on YouTube, “Dead Solger”, which sounds a lot like early Circle Jerks, and the even shorter, faster “American Youth”, which even at this early date (circa 1980) has a heaviness to the bottom that seems to presage the coming grunge movement.

After leaving Solger in 1982, Paul Dana joined the Fartz, who, aside from the notoriety of their name, were also notable as being the first band for future Guns n’ Roses member Duff McKagen.  The sound here is still really raw, sloppy, and fairly fast hardcore punk heavily influenced by early Germs, particularly in singer Blaine Cook’s near-incoherent vocals; “Waste No Time” sounds like a carbon copy of “We Must Bleed”.  Amazingly, a compilation album of their work called Because This Fuckin’ World Still Stinks is available on iTunes.  “Fuck Art Let’s Fart” is a 33 second guitar freakout that sounds like an outtake from “1970” by the Stooges.  “People United” and “You’ve Got A Brain, Use It” are similar brief, atonal blasts of noise and unintelligible lyrics.

Another early Seattle band were 10 Minute Warning.  Formed in 1982, 10 Minute Warning consisted of Paul Solger and then-drummer Duff McKagen of the Fartz along with vocalist Steve Verwolf and bassist David Garrigues, they again played fast, sloppy hardcore not too different from what was dominant in other places.  A post of their early five song cassette release Survival of the Fittest is posted on YouTube and aside from some slightly metal-influenced guitar solos, it doesn’t sound too different from either Solger or the Fartz.  A standout track is “Judgment Day”, which has a rumbling vibe reminiscent of “Free Speech For the Dumb” by Discharge.

The true beginnings of Seattle grunge can be heard in the early recordings of three groups:  Limp Richerds, the U-Men and Malfunkshun.  Limp Richerds formed in 1981 and played songs that were, in contrast to Solger, the Fartz and 10 Minute Warning, was extremely slow, long and heavy.  Vocalist Mark Arm and guitarist Steve Turner of Limp Richerds were indeed considered the primary architects of the eventual Seattle sound through their work in the bands Green River and Mudhoney.  Two of their early cassettes are posted on YouTube and feature their slow, heavy sound.  1983’s The War Between the States sounds like Darby Crash doing vocals for Flipper, with a repetitive, heavy riff and spastic vocals creating an atonal wall of noise, and a weird high pitched shrieking that sounds like a strangled saxophone providing counterpoint.  The second song, “My Dad Forgot His Rubber and I Was the Result” is shorter but has an identical tempo and vibe.  The final song is even more incoherent, with barely understandable, shouted lyrics and a wilder guitar accompaniment.  1984’s I’ve Only Got a Nickle On Me, Honest! Continues on in the same vein.  This is extremely difficult music.

The U-Men, who formed in 1981, also made challenging music, but it was more technically accomplished and also contained elements of psychobilly and 70’s hard rock.  “Dig It A Hole” has a Cramps-like vibe and a huge, heavy bottom and eventually blasts into a wild 70’s guitar solo in between its evil, deep refrain.  The Cramps vibe is even more noticeable on “2 x 4”, which like “Dig It A Hole” is posted on YouTube but not available on iTunes.  Here too an avante-rock sound is evident that evokes the Birthday Party or even the Butthole Surfers (who actually named a song after them on their album Locust Abortion Technician, so perhaps this connection is not surprising).  “Gila” has a rumbling bass-and-guitar that sounds like late 80’s Dinosaur Jr. 

Malfunkshun have achieved fame/notoriety for having been the first band of future Mother Love Bone vocalist Andrew Wood.  Like Limp Richerds and the U-Men, Malfunkshun pursued a much slower, heavier vibe that drew heavily from 70’s music like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin but also had a funk element to it as well.   Wood’s vocals also had an almost fey, glam-like aspect as well that drew on Bowie and Bolan.  In 1995, Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard compiled some of their early songs into an album called Return to Olympus which is available on iTunes.  This compilation gives a taste of what this band was like and why they are seen as grunge pioneers.  “Shotgun Wedding” begins with Mark’s brother Kevin’s noodling, acidulous guitar but then lurches into a heavy, Zep-like groove.  Andrew Wood’s vocals are a bit over-the-top but its easy to see why this band is considered so hallowed in retrospect.  The band this most reminds me of is an LA band from a few years later called Liquid Jesus that was mixing punk, funk, and heavy/hard rock in equal measures; clearly the Chili Peppers are another touchstone, particularly on songs like “Mr. Liberty (With Morals)”.  They also do a cover of “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” by Ted Nugent that is even more blistering than the original, sounding almost like speedmetal.   Quieter ballads like “Until the Ocean” show that this band could slow it down but not lose their emotional power; they seem to have been equal to Jane’s Addiction in this regard:  this song reminds me of the original live version of “Jane Says” off Jane’s Addiction’s album on Triple X. 

Several other Malfunkshun songs are posted on YouTube that are not currently commercially available.  “With Yo’ Heart” has an ominous, Sabbath-like guitar that echoes “Iron Man”, while “Stars ‘N’ You” is shorter and faster, sounding more like hardcore but with a heavier, more 70’s hard rock vibe too. 

In the wake of these three pioneers surged three bands that would truly establish the grunge asthetic.  The Melvins, whose supremely bottom heavy sound and slow tempos would become synonymous with grunge.  In 1986, three years after they formed, C/Z released a compilation of Seattle artists called Deep Six, which has become something of a historical landmark of the true beginning of the grunge/Seattle sound.  This compilation included four songs by the Melvins, which demonstrates their huge footprint on the Seattle scene.  “She Waits” has a roaring bottom and lurches and surges at varying speeds for 40 quick seconds.  “Scared” starts with a massive riff punctuated by vocalist Buzz Ozborne’s strange yelps and almost whiny vocals; this is a great introduction to the sound of the Melvins, at once massively heavy but lightened by an element of whimsy in the vocals and lyrics.  “The Grinding Process” sounds like exactly that:  a huge, grinding, ponderous Sabbath riff with vocals that are heavier and more evil sounding.  Kurt Cobain was such a Melvins fan that he supposedly roadied for them and tried out (and failed) on bass for them before forming Nirvana; he would eventually contribute to their major label debut after grunge broke.

Green River formed soon after the Melvins formed and are also considered one of the founders of true grunge.  Formed by Mark Arm and Steve Turner after the breakup of Limp Richerds, they were joined by future Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament.  While not as crushingly heavy as the Melvins, Green River’s sound was also bottom heavy and 70’s-influenced, but also contained elements of 80’s post-punk as well.  They had two songs on the Deep Six compilation:  “Your Own Best Friend” has a solid bass and big chunky riffs but also has a minor chord atonality that suggests Die Kreuzen or early Sonic Youth.   “10000 Things” is a little more toned down but has an ominous edge to it; it doesn’t reach the bigness of “Friend” but still shows how the Seattle sound evolved.

Like Green River, Skin Yard also had two songs on the Deep Six compilation.  Formed in 1985 by guitarist/singer Jack Endino (who achieved greater fame as a producer, particularly of Nirvana), bassist Daniel House (and future president of C/Z Records), guitarist Ben McMillan (who would later front the early 90’s grunge band Gruntruck), and drummer Matt Cameron (future Soundgarden drummer), Skin Yard’s music also had a high-end atonality like Green River and sounded a lot like Die Kreuzen.  This can be best heard on “Throb” off the Deep Six compilation.  “The Birds” has a contemplative intro, with a meandering bass line and shimmering guitars, a plaintive saxophone, but eventually lurches into a heavy, feedback-drenched segment.

Two other bands formed in the mid-80’s that would go on to reap the international acclaim most of these other bands would never receive.  Soundgarden formed in 1984 and released their first album, an EP for the then-nascent label Sub Pop in 1987.  This stuff is interesting but it doesn’t quite show how powerful this band would become.  My favorite stuff by them is off their first album, 1988’s Ultramega OK, on SST.  In particular, the song “Beyond the Wheel” starts with a repeating, clanging guitar riff and singer Chris Cornell’s ominous, cultish chanting vocals but then breaks into a piercing falsetto midway through as the band also thunders into the incredibly heavy riff at the heart of the song.  I was a college DJ in 1988 when this came out and was thunderstruck by the heaviness of this band. This was at a time when several bands were achieving acclaim for incorporating a heavier, more arena rock type of vibe into their alternative music, among them Jane’s Addiction, the Nymphs, L7, the Smashing Pumpkins, and even to some extent the Pixies (whose Doolittle came out later that year).

In 1987 Nirvana formed in Aberdeen, Washington but they played many shows in Seattle and quickly became the standard bearer for the scene.  Its hard to describe the impact now that Nirvana had on popular music.  I saw Nirvana on October 25th, 1991.  This was a “Rock For Choice” benefit concert and had Nirvana, Hole, L7, and Sister Double Happiness on the bill.  I had just started grad school and a bunch of grad students went with my girlfriend (now my wife) and I to the concert together, which was at the Palace in Hollywood, CA.  “Smells Like Teen Spirit” had been released only the month before but was already gaining momentum on the charts.  I can still remember seeing how crazy the audience was for Nirvana, who I’d heard of but hadn’t followed that much until then, and thinking, man, this group is going to be BIG (the other time I thought this was actually at another “Rock For Choice” benefit concert a couple years later when I saw Rage Against The Machine and was stunned by how they seemed to have this HUGE audience of young girls).  I quickly bought In Utero and Bleach, their first full-length Sub Pop album (which was produced by ex-Skin Yard member Jack Endino).  My favorite song of theirs is still “Love Buzz”.

Several other bands burst out of the grunge scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s, including Alice In Chains, Tad, Stone Temple Pilots, and the Dwarves (I recently got into the Dwarves, and downloaded “Let’s Fuck” and “SFVD” off Blood, Guts, and Pussy).  In 1988 Green River and Malfunkshun broke up; Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament of Green River joined Andrew Wood in Mother Love Bone, who appeared poised for major success prior to Wood’s tragic death of a heroin overdose in 1990, while Mark Arm and Steve Turner of Green River formed Mudhoney with bassist Guy Maddison and drummer Dan Peters.  Their single “Touch Me I’m Sick” has a wild feel of 60’s garage rock combined with a psychobilly shimmer combined with a heavily distorted, feedback-laden vibe.  “Burn It Clean” sounds like an 80’s post-hardcore update of “Little Doll” by the Stooges.  After Andrew Wood’s death Gossard and Ament teamed up with vocalist Eddie Vedder to form Pearl Jam, who of course went on to become one of the biggest and most acclaimed and successful bands of the 90’s. 

It may surprise some who have been reading this blog, but I was a tepid grunge fan at best.  Most of the songs above I’ve collected primarily in a historic/archival way.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved Nirvana, but like most I quickly tired (as did Cobain himself) of the global adulation of them.  It’s a weird feeling when what was once something underground and beloved by a favored few becomes overground and beloved by all.  Nirvana made the most amazing music and Kurt Cobain was an incredible lyricist—I still think “Heart Shaped Box” has the most incredible lyrics of any song from the 90’s and maybe ever—but aside from them I never became a fan of any of the other grunge bands.  There was also something very macho and testosterone-driven by that music/scene that turned me off.  Don’t get me wrong, grunge had to happen and I’m glad it did—it wiped away the horrid stain that glam metal put on popular music in the late 80’s.  And I was happy to see bands like Sonic Youth, Rollins Band, the Butthole Surfers and Dinosaur Jr. achieve a well-deserved measure of respect.  But by then I’d been listening to music by bands like Black Flag and G.B.H. for almost a decade, and was burned out on heavy, angry music.  By the late 80’s I was looking for something a little lighter and more fun, and grunge was too serious for me.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


The Welcome To Venice Compilation

In a recent post I talked about how Black Flag and other SST bands rediscovered the music of the 70’s and began incorporating blues, jazz, prog, country, hard rock and heavy metal into their own music.  Black Flag’s music became ever more indebted to the sounds of heavy metal, particularly on their albums My War, Slip It In, Loose Nut, and In My Head

But they were not the only ones fusing punk with metal.  Throughout the 80’s punk bands everywhere were starting to incorporate aspects of heavy metal music into their sound.  Lyrically these bands remained resolutely punk, talking about political issues as well as things like jealousy, rage, alienation, nuclear war, and so forth instead of the usual heavy metal lyrical topics of girls/partying and fantasy/science fiction.  The resulting music became known as crossover or thrash (often called crossover/thrash).

Right up the coast from the South Bay communities where Black Flag formed, another group of musicians was also merging punk with metal.  Venice Beach, known by locals and skateboarding aficionados as Dogtown, developed a thriving punk/metal scene centered around the group Suicidal Tendencies.   ST formed in 1981 but reached popular acclaim upon the release of their self-titled first album in 1983, which contained the single “Institutionalized”.  I can still remember seeing the music video for this song that year, and how shocking it was.  Up to that point, my friends and I weren’t really into punk, we were into new wave, but to the extent that we WERE into punk we mostly liked goofball, comedy punk like the Dickies or Fear or even the Germs.  Punk was supposed to be FUNNY—punkers dressed strangely, danced strangely, and acted strangely, and everyone knows anything that is strange is funny.

“Institutionalized” was the first video to scare the shit out of me.  It was showing me a whole other side of punk, a whole other side of LIFE, one that was WAY different from my life in many ways.  First of all, this was punk that was truly ANGRY—“Institutionalized” is essentially a long, shouted rant by singer Mike Muir about how his parents decide to have him committed, and how angry he is about that.  Second, musically this was VERY new territory for me and a lot of folks:  the accompanying music is really just a repetitive, slow punk riff that occasionally gets sped up along with some VERY squirrelly metal noodling.  It sounds as much like Iron Maiden as it does the Germs, which was EXTREMELY unusual at that time.  Third of all, the video showed me and other suburban kids what life on the OTHER side of the tracks was like.  The guys in ST as well as their fans dressed like vatos, Hispanic gangbangers.  Their untucked flannel shirts, bandannas, chinos look was EXTREMELY different from anything back then.  Nowadays gang fashion has become almost commonplace, but nearly 30 years ago it was anything but. 

ST walked it like they talked it—they were authentic gangbangers from the ‘hood.  At this time, they represented a bizarre Venn diagram of Southern California lower class youth culture, a crazy amalgam of hardcore punk, heavy metal, gang culture, and skateboard culture.  This video forever changed my view of music and of punk and of Southern California.  SoCal wasn’t just a big new wave suburban beach community, there were (gasp!) poor people, angry people, gangs, etc. 

ST rapidly developed a reputation as being the most insane band around with the most insane fans around.  Their slam dancing (it wasn’t called moshing until 1986 or later) was so violent that their shows quickly were shut down by the police and they rarely were able to play in LA after about 1983 or 1984.  Still, I remember seeing flyers for gigs they would do with their stable of similar bands around LA in the mid-80’s. 

Another song off their debut album that I like is “I Shot The Devil”, which is faster and more like traditional hardcore than “Institutionalized”.  This music is obviously an outgrowth of the music of the Germs, but with metal guitar solos.

By the time ST released their second album, Join The Army, in 1987, crossover/thrash had become a dominant musical form.  “War Inside My Head” continues the metallic punk sound of “I Shot The Devil” and other songs on the first album and has a chugging rhythm that recalls “Runnin’ Free” by Iron Maiden.  “Possessed To Skate” was the single and video released from this album and it has a quiet, ominous, lurching structure that sort of recalls “Institutionalized”.  “Suicidal Maniac” incorporates a rap-like lyrical structure that also brings to mind some of the work of Anthrax.

ST’s third album, How Can I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today moved them even further from hardcore and punk and into an even more metal direction.  This can be seen most noticeably in the single “Trip at the Brain”, which has a rhythm guitar line that sounds like the work of Metallica off Kill ‘Em All and a noodling lead.  “Surf and Slam” is somewhat less overtly speed metal in its structure but ironically perhaps is more melodic, and thus sounds even less punk .  Its minimal lyrics and soaring structure remind me of “Fade To Black off Metallica’s Ride The Lightning album.

ST continued to release albums through the 90’s and beyond.  I particularly like “Cyco Vision” and “Hippie Killer” off their 1999 album Freedumb; these recapture some of the more equitable punk-metal proportioning of the first ST album. 

Like Greg Ginn of Black Flag, ST leader Mike Muir also assembled side projects and allied bands who created a mini-scene of similar acts.    One such act was No Mercy, who recorded several songs for a compilation known as Welcome To Venice that was released in 1985.  Three of No Mercy’s songs off this compilation as well as some more recent songs are posted on YouTube.  “No Mercy” starts with a chugging guitar intro and vocals that sound like moans and groans but then launches into a speed-of-light assault with hoarsely shouted lyrics.  The solo here is pure metal.  Slightly more melodic is “Die Or Be Killed” but again the song has a speedmetal tempo that is familiar to fans of Kreator and Nuclear Assault.  “Widespread Bloodshed” has a beginning that evokes “No God” by the Germs but then settles down into some chugging metal similar to “Creeping Death” by Metallica.  It’s one of my favorite tracks by this under-rated band.  Several cuts off their 1987 album of the same name are available on YouTube but by this time Mike Muir had taken over vocals for this band too, and I preferred original vocalist Kevin Guercio.

Another Dogtown band was Los Cycos (the Dogtown spelling of ‘psychos’).  Again, nothing is available on iTunes but “It’s Not Easy”, also from the Welcome To Venice comp, is posted on YouTube.  This song starts with a crunchy, catchy rhythm guitar, which is joined by the noodling lead guitar; the song pauses then launches into a superspeedy blitzkrieg of sound, but occasionally slows for ominous vocals and squirrelly guitar solos.  An interesting track that makes me wish more was available.

Another early Dogtown band was the Brood.  Formed in 1984, their primary influences were Iron Maiden, Slayer, and Motorhead.  Again, there is nothing on iTunes but YouTube has several songs posted, including “Good vs. Evil”, with its slow, catchy riff and clear vocals.  “Going Out Of Style” has a strange, rhythmic intro but then launches into a full-out assault of metal guitar.  This band would morph into Uncle Slam, who would go on to some acclaim in the thrash arena.

Excel were even heavier and more metallic.  Vocalist Dan Clements had a voice very similar to that of ST’s Mike Muir.  “Your Life, My Life” has a very schizophrenic rhythm, lurching between rapid blasts and slow, chugging portions in a way that reminds me again of Anthrax’s complex rhythms.  Anyone who likes “Institutionalized” era Suicidal Tendencies will love this song, and its angry chorus of “This is MY life, not YOUR life!”  “Split Image” has a funky metal rhythm and another catchy, shouted chorus but otherwise can get mired in its metal sludginess.

Finally, Beowulf mined similar sonic territory as Excel and ST themselves.  Formed in 1983 they too contributed a couple of tracks to the Welcome to Venice compilation, including “Taste The Steel”, which is very similar to “Hit The Lights” by Metallica off Kill ‘Em All.  “Unicorn” has a bludgeoning assault that evokes classic Motorhead, like on “Ace of Spades”.    In addition, several songs off their album self titled debut album and off their second album, 1987’s Lost My Head are available on YouTube for your listening pleasure.  “Tool the Jewel” is fast-paced with a high pitched guitar line that mimics the sound of “God Saved The Queen” by the Exploited to me; “Drink, Fight, Fuck” sounds a little closer to classic hardcore such as “Limpwristed” by G.B.H.

Another band worth mentioning here is Hirax.  Though they hailed from Cypress (south and east of the Venice/Palms scene) and were really a first-run speedmetal band,  the rawness of their sound often got them lumped in with the more metallic elements in the Dogtown scene.  I can recall seeing posters for No Mercy, Excel, and Hirax shows in the 80’s so I’m pretty sure they played together.  Aside from the operatic metal vocals of Katon W. De Pena (one of the few African-American speedmetal artists), their sound isn’t too terribly different from that of No Mercy or Los Cycos.  “Destroy” has a similarly bouncy rhythm that erupts into a supersonic tempo punctuated by Pena’s soaring vocals.  “Blitzkrieg Air Attack” has a raw guitar sound and is even faster than “Destroy”; this is music for people who thought Kill ‘Em All was too polished and slow.  “The Gauntlet” starts with a guitar riff straight from “Whiplash” and maintains that song’s tempo as well.  “Bombs of Death” is yet another short fast blast of rough-edged speedmetal that also erupts into a slow, chugging riff midway through.  Amazingly, several Hirax albums are available on iTunes:  Not Dead Yet combines their first album with the follow-up EP into one nice package.
By the late 80’s crossover/thrash was a worldwide phenomenon.  English hardcore punk bands like G.B.H., Broken Bones, and Discharge as well as NWOBHM bands like Venom were moving closer to a shared musical vision (even if lyrically they remained fairly far apart).  I can still remember how iconic G.B.H. (also known as Charged G.B.H.) were in the post-punk, post-hardcore 80’s; literally every mowhawked punker in Southern California had “G.B.H.” written on their leather jacket.  I can still remember seeing their albums, City Baby Attacked By Rats and City Baby’s Revenge in indie record stores, along with their classic summary of the hardcore look, Leather, Bristles, Studs, and Acne.   My first G.B.H. album though was 1986’s Midnight Madness and Beyond; “Limpwristed” is still my favorite song, though I do like “City Baby Attacked By Rats” and “Slut”.  I bought Broken Bones’ 1985 album Bonecrusher in late 1986 at a grungy record store on Hollywood Blvd.; “Decapitated” and “Seeing Through My Eyes” were my favorite tracks.  I love the rumbling bass and awful, despairing guitar riff that starts the latter.  In latter years I discovered Discharge; “The End”, “Society’s Victim” and “Protest and Survive” are all good but I still love “Free Speech For the Dumb” (as well as Metallica’s cover of it) the best.

 In America the rise of speedmetal due to the work of Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax (as well as followers like Kreator and Nuclear Assault) merged with the post-hardcore metal musings of bands like D.R.I., Crumbsuckers, Corrosion of Conformity, Cryptic Slaughter and S.O.D. (Stormtroopers of Death).  I first got into Metallica around 1986 or so, primarily because I’d heard that they were influenced by G.B.H. and the Exploited.  But when I bought my first album of theirs, Ride The Lightning, I just did not hear any punk/hardcore influences.  Eventually I grew to like Metallica for what it was, and “Fight Fire With Fire”, “Ride the Lightning”, “Creeping Death”, “Trapped Under Ice”, and “For Whom The Bell Tolls” are classics in the genre of speedmetal.  Only later, around 1988 or so, did I buy their first album (well after I bought Master Of Puppets and And Justice For All), 1983’s Kill ‘Em All, and only then did I finally see the punk influences.  This remains my favorite Metallica album; “Whiplash”, “Seek and Destroy”, “Hit the Lights”, “Jump In the Fire”, “Motorbreath”, and “Metal Militia” are my all-time faves of theirs.  I also love early Slayer; I bought South of Heaven in 1988 (the title track remains my favorite Slayer song) when it came out and quickly bought their first album, Reign In Blood, after I heard the sample of “Angel of Death” on Public Enemy’s “She Watch Channel Zero” (which is still my favorite PE song of all time). 

It was only comparatively recently that I got into all of the other crossover/thrash bands.  My favorite songs there are “Ghetto War”, “Extreme Aggression”, and “Violent Revolution” by Kreator; “After the Holocaust”, “The Plague” and “Rise From the Ashes” by Nuclear Assault; “Mine Are the Eyes of God”, “Minds Are Controlled”, and “Intervention” by Corrosion of Conformity;  “Lowlife” and “Money Talks” by Cryptic Slaughter; “Life of Dreams” by Crumbsuckers; “God Is Broke”, “I Don’t Need Society”, and “Think For Yourself” by D.R.I.; “Inner Conflict” and “Race War” by Carnivore;   and “Speak English Or Die” by S.O.D.

But in the early 80’s, the fusion of punk, metal, and vato gangbanger culture that Suicidal Tendencies created was one of the first to mix these disparate elements.

50 Best Riffs

A year or so back I saw that some metal magazine had put out a list of the top/best/most memorable guitar riffs of all time.  I wish I could find this now but it seems like everyone has put together such a list subsequently and so I haven't been able to dig it back up.  I've looked over other lists and they too seem to be lacking.  So I decided to put my own list together, which I give below in descending order for a change.  To me, what makes a riff great or memorable is that its so simple, catchy, and recognizable that your brain instantly starts "humming" it.  Moreover, I feel like the most memorable riffs are ones where if I simply hum it for you, you'd recognized it almost instantly. 

1. Smoke On The Water - Deep Purple--if this isn't your first pick you don't have ears.   This is the ULTIMATE rock riff, and anyone who has been alive in the last 50 years would recognize this if you played it or even hummed it for them.
2. Layla - Derek & The Dominoes/Eric Clapton--this is a close second; again, I think you'd have to be deaf not to recognize this one. 
3. Back In Black - AC/DC--a little trickier than the riffs above but still very recognizable.
4. Frankenstein – Edgar Winter--I think most people would recognize this if you hummed it for them, but may not remember the name of the song or the artist.  Too bad because this is a fun, freaky 70's romp of a song, highlighted by its unforgettable riff, made legendary when Otto the bus driver on the Simpson's hummed this in one episode.
5.  Iron Man - Black Sabbath--Sabbath had lots of memorable riffs and hooks but none more recognizable than this one.
6.  Oh! Pretty Woman-Roy Orbison--I debated putting this higher, possibly as high as third.  Its definitely a song nearly everyone recognizes.
7.  Walk This Way - Aerosmith--this gained new life after their remake with Run DMC in '86; not sure if it would have been this high otherwise.
8. Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana--the highest song not recorded in the 60's or 70's; I'm obviously speaking here about the guitar intro here.  Its so iconic now and an entire generation considers this "classic" rock.
9. Satisfaction—the Rolling Stones--I considered putting this one higher too, but I also considered putting it lower.  For some people, this is instantly recognizable, but others might not recognize it if you hummed it.
10. Black Dog - Led Zeppelin--see #9 above, same thing.
11. Should I Stay Or Should I Go - Clash--again its the intro that catches you.
12. Day Tripper - Beatles--other than Roy Orbison this is the oldest song on the list I believe. 
13. Bad to the Bone—George Thorogood--this could also be higher for some folks; its ubiquity in movies (any time someone wimpy toughens up this song is played in a movie, particularly if its a comedy) makes it recognizable to a lot of people I think.
14. All Day And All Of The Night—The Kinks--I'd almost forgotten this song when I glanced at another list.
15.  Whole Lotta Love - Led Zeppelin--another wonderfully catchy and simple riff by Zep.
16. Wild Thing—the Troggs--another oldie.
17. My Sharona—the Knack--obviously its the bass line that's memorable here but I think most people who grew up in the 70's and early 80's would recognize it if you started humming it.
18. Bang Your Head – Quiet Riot--non-metalheads might not recognize it but in metal its one of the most memorable riffs ever.
19. Cold Gin - Kiss--I considered a lot of Kiss songs but this one is the most memorable to me.
20. Brown Sugar – Rolling Stones--a classic by the Stones.
21. Enter Sandman - Metallica--another of the most recent cuts on the list.
22.  I Love Rock And Roll – Joan Jett and the Blackhearts--this could also go higher I think but again I think some people might not recognize it.
23. Cat Scratch Fever—Ted Nugent--a classic by the Detroit Wild Man.
24. Runnin’ With the Devil—Van Halen--Van Halen had to make the list; they actually make it twice (see below).
25. Photograph – Def Leppard--another iconic 80's glam metal riff.
26. Highway To Hell—AC/DC--just hearing this riff start this song is instantly recognizable to me.
27.  Sweet Child O' Mine - Guns N' Roses--this one would have been higher but its so hard to hum or sing!
28. Crazy Train - Ozzy Osbourne--ditto!
29. China Grove – Doobie Brothers--I loved this song in the 70's (and still do).
30. American Woman—the Guess Who--my 4 year old son recently got into this song so it was in my mind.
31. Cinnamon Girl – Neil Young--a somewhat surprisingly heavy riff from a guy who has otherwise made a lot of mellower songs.
32. Born To Run—Bruce Springsteen--could be higher if you're from Jersey.
33. Rock You Like a Hurricane—the Scorpions--I was racking my brain because I knew there was a song from the 80's that had a memorable riff and finally remembered this.
34. Barracuda--Heart--this one is harder to hum or sing or whatever but everyone would recognize it if they heard the beginning of the song.
35. Start Me Up—Rolling Stones--the last truly great riff the Stones ever recorded.
36. Sunday Bloody Sunday—U2--one of the few new wave/postpunk memorable riffs.
37. Li’l Devil – Cult--people who weren't young in the 80's might not recognize this.
38. Life’s Been Good—Joe Walsh--people who weren't young in the 70's might not recognize this.
39. Don’t Fear the Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult--hard to hum/sing but still very recognizable.
40. Money For Nothing—Dire Straits--another 80's entry.
41. White Wedding - Billy Idol--I'm talking mostly about the picking riff here.
42. Killing In the Name – Rage Against The Machine--a big loud, heavy riff from the 90's.
43. Eye of the Tiger—Survivor--another classic.
44. Alive—Pearl Jam--a great grunge riff.
45. Cult of Personality—Living Colour--loved this song back in the day.
46.  Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love - Van Halen--the second Van Halen entry
47. All Right Now – Free--this one is a little harder to recognize for me but still made the list.
48.  Blue Monday – New Order--again its the bass riff that's memorable here
49. White Girl - X--might not be something non-Angelenos remember but I sure do.
50. Rebel Rebel – Davie Bowie--glam riff.

Honorable mention:
51.  Free Ride--Foghat
52.  Hair of the Dog--Nazareth.

Feel free to post comments, agreements, disagreements, ridicule, adulation, whatever.