In the mid-1970s, punk rock took the rock music world upside down with its back-to-basics approach and abrasive style. In 1977, bands like the Ramones, the Clash, and the Sex Pistols who all were trying to make rock music interesting again ruled punk rock. In Los Angeles, a new punk scene was growing led by bands like the Dils, X, Circle Jerks, and Black Flag that would become a new sub genre of punk known as hardcore. Hardcore is a more abrasive approach to punk rock that is louder and faster. One of the most notorious bands that came out of the L.A. scene was a little group of misfits called the Germs.
From 1977 to 1980, the Germs were the L.A. punk band of that era that was dirty, loud, stupid, everything you would expect in a hardcore punk scene. Formed by singer Darby Crash and guitarist Pat Smear in 1977 along with early member and fan Belinda Carlisle (who would eventually gain fame as a solo star and singer for the Go-Go’s), the Germs pretty much made punk rock look dirty and dumb at the same time. Mainly because of lead singer Darby Crash who was pretty much the sickest lead singer at the time that liked to spit at the fans even if he was drinking beer and did a lot of drugs and said he was going die very young like Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious. He pretty much represented L.A. punk at its best and worst. In 1993, the Germs released “Germs (MIA)-The Complete Anthology” which is a look at the band’s notorious impact including singles, rare tracks from EPs, live tracks, and their only studio album during their timeline known as “(GI)” along with liner notes from Nicole Panter and an old 1982 article from Pleasant Gehmen on the band’s history. The Germs’ “Anthology” album is a great look at band that pretty much made Los Angeles look pretty good or bad (depending on what side of L.A. you like, the rich or poor side).
The anthology album is in chronological order from their first single in 1977 to their final contributions in 1980. The first two tracks are from an old 1977 single. The first and last track on the anthology is the song “Forming”. The first version sounds like a really bad demo that featured Darby Crash in sneer-like vocals as if Cartman of “South Park” was singing with distorted guitars from Pat Smear and badly recorded drum tracks from original drummer Donna Rhea. The second version, which is the album closer, is a much faster and shorter version that featured a loud drum track from Don Bonebrake and a clearer bass track from Lorna Doom. The second track from that single is “Sexboy” which sounds like its recorded (very badly) in a club or something with very unclear vocals from Crash with a background of people throwing glass bottles with Smear’s distorted guitar sounding like sh*t.
From an old EP released in early 1978 are three tracks that feature drummer Nicky Beat. First is the thrash-core punk of “Lexicon Devil” that feature snarling vocals from Crash along with powerful guitar tracks from Pat Smear. There’s another version of “Lexicon Devil” later in the anthology, which is a much harsher, faster and clearer version that’s on the “(GI)” album. “Circle One” is a fast, rockabilly-like track that features more snarling vocals from Crash and powerful guitars from Smear. Many of the songs on this anthology are pretty much about life in the Sunset Strip in L.A. where its filled with drugs, crime, booze, sex, and everything that’s f*cked in 1977 Los Angeles. “No God” starts off with a little guitar solo of “Roundabout” by Yes until it becomes a powerful thrash punk track filled with loud drums and abrasive guitar tracks.
From the “(GI)” album that is produced by fan and Runaways guitarist Joan Jett is the entire album. Sixteen tracks fill that entire album, which are all mainly dirty and hard L.A. punk rock at its best. First is the forty-two second thrash of “What We Do Is Secret” that features powerful drums from Don Bolles and excellent guitar work from Smear. “Communist Eyes” is a powerful bass-driven track “Communist Eyes” that is highlighted by Lorna Doom’s quirky bass hooks that sounds like a prototype for the punk rock style heard in skateboarding or any other type of extreme sports. “Land of Treason” is a powerful punk track highlighted by Doom and Smear’s bass and guitar assaults with Crash’s abrasive vocals. “Richie Dagger’s Crime” is a powerful rockabilly-like track that shows Smear’s ability as a guitarist who combines punk and old-50s rock styles. “Strange Notes” is a fast, punk rock tune that is driven by Bolles powerful drums and Crash’s angst-ridden vocals. “American Leather” is a short and fast one minute-and-nine seconds track that is fast and loud thanks to Bolles drums and Smears guitar assaults. Next is the second version of “Lexicon Devil” which is then followed by “Manimal”, which starts out slow and then become fast as Doom’s abrasive bass and Smear’s powerful guitar drive it.
“Our Way” is a harsh and powerful mid-tempo track that is driven by Bolles abrasive drums and Crash’s snarling vocals. “We Must Bleed” is a fast and abrasive punk rock track highlighted by Crash’s vocals that says “We must bleed” and Smear’s distorted and abrasive guitar. “Media Blitz” is a powerful hardcore track that features a television background of someone talking with Crash singing about television in L.A. backed by Bolles’ drumming. “The Other Newest One” is a powerful rocking track led by Smear’s abrasive guitar and Crash’s sneering vocals. “Let’s Pretend” is a powerful hardcore track that is led by Bolles drumming and Smear’s guitar assault. “Dragon Lady” is another hardcore track that features fast bass from Lorna Doom and fast guitar solos from Smear. “The Slave” is a fast one-minute-and-nine-second track that is total hardcore with fast instrument tracks and snarling vocals from Crash. “Shut Down (Annihilation Man)” is a nine-minute-and-thirty-nine-second track that is driven by Doom’s bass and Smear’s guitar while Crash sings for about nine minutes which should’ve been shortened to about a few minutes but hearing repeated bass lines and guitar riffs can be very boring. Besides, only Television can do nine-minute punk jams really well. The Germs sucked at doing a nine-minute track.
After the release of “(GI)”, the Germs were now the most notorious band in the L.A. punk scene driven by Crash’s stage antics where he would cut himself onstage with a knife or sharp glass like Iggy Pop would used to do or do drugs and booze onstage. The band would be kicked out of many clubs at that time but would come back under the name “GI” meaning Germs Incognito. During the release of “(GI)”, the band released an EP for “What We Do Is Secret” that featured the powerful “Caught In My Eye” that features a New York Dolls guitar-like assault from Pat Smear and a Iggy Pop-snarl vocals from Crash. Also from that EP is a cover of the Chuck Berry classic “Round And Round” which is a great cover thanks to Smear’s guitar work that sounds like Chuck Berry doing punk rock himself. By late ’78 and early ’79, the Germs start to fall apart as they were gaining a huge following in L.A. and places where punk was popular.
In 1979, the Germs were approached to do music for the controversial gay film “Cruising” starring Al Pacino. Produced by the legendary Jack Nitzsche, the tracks the Germs made for “Cruising” still gave the band their punk edge but many of the music recorded for the film never made it to the soundtrack except the hardcore-thrash punk song “Lions Share” which is a powerful hardcore punk song. The rest of the songs produced by Jack Nitzsche are some of the best songs the Germs have made. “My Tunnel” is a powerful hardcore punk track driven by Smear’s guitar and Crash’s vocals. “Throw It Away” is another powerful punk track that is driven by Bolles’ drum tracks and Crash’s snarling vocals. “Not All Right” is a powerful hardcore track that is driven by Smear’s fast guitar and Crash’s vocals that starts to get on your nerves since he just snarls most of the time. “Now I Hear Laughter” is a bass-driven track highlighted by Doom’s bass hooks and Bolles powerful drum tracks. “Going Down” is a powerful punk track dominated by Crash’s vocals along with Smear’s guitar and Bolles’ drum tracks.
After the sessions for the “Cruising” soundtrack, things start to fall apart for the Germs. In 1980, Bolles and Doom quit the band and on December of ’80, the Germs played their final gig at the Starwood in Los Angeles. Less than a week later, Darby Crash like his hero Sid Vicious died of a heroin overdose and then on December 7, 1980 (one day before John Lennon died), his body was found in an L.A. apartment. His death was a blow to the L.A. punk community and they hailed Darby a martyr. (In all honesty, Darby Crash was no martyr. Sure he gave the punk community in L.A. some attention and was a wild singer but he died like an *sshole and he was a just a punk kid from L.A. I’m sorry but it’s true, he may have put himself in history for his contributions to punk but he shouldn’t be remembered for shooting himself up full of smack.) After his death, the Germs music continued to influence bands including Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Nirvana. Pat Smear meanwhile, came back to the limelight where he served as an auxiliary guitarist for Nirvana on their ’93 tour and then played in Dave Grohl’s post-Nirvana band the Foo Fighters for a few years. He is now a record producer in Los Angeles.
The Germs “Germs (MIA)-The Complete Anthology” is a must-have for any fan of punk rock especially hardcore. Though the band’s career was brief, they helped pave the way for the underground music of Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s. Any fan of punk rock must have this record for historical background on punk rock and it is an essential collection for true punk fans. For some dirty, L.A., silly hardcore punk at its best, pick up the Germs.