10 Killer Tracks From Huge Bands’ Early Punk Days
It’s no secret that a lot of rock bands form with a heavier or punkier sound in mind and then get softer with age. Most of the time that’s due to changing personal taste and not some elaborate conspiracy to dominate mainstream radio and get a Coca-Cola sponsorship. In many cases, bands who pivoted from their initial sound – which was often underdeveloped or half-baked – wrote their best stuff later on in their careers. Other times, a band’s early material will always be regarded as their best.
We dive deep into the discographies of now-famous bands to look at killer songs from early in their careers that are way faster, heavier, or rougher around the edges than what they’d eventually become known for. From radio-pop staples with ska roots, to hip-hop legends with hardcore origins, to pop-punk heroes with heavy metal pasts, these are 10 badass deep cuts you should know from some household names you already do…
No Doubt – Sixteen
In our modern pop climate, it’s really hard to imagine that a ska-punk band once won GRAMMYs for Best New Artist and Best Rock Album. Long before they pivoted to trendy dance-pop, and years prior to Gwen Stefani’s successful solo career, No Doubt single-handedly launched ska’s third wave into commercial territory with their 1995 album Tragic Kingdom. It’s a great record all around, but the deep cut Sixteen resonates as one of their most frenzied songs with its snarling bassline and scream-along lyrics. In it, Gwen urges her teenage girl fans to not rush into adulthood, reassuring them that their time will eventually come. It’s a perspective that was virtually unheard of in that overwhelmingly male scene of ska bands, and the way the singer furiously pleads, ‘Well, you’re only 16!’ during its spunky crescendo is electrifying.
Read this: In defence of ska-punk
Bring Me The Horizon – Pray For Plagues
If you played someone Bring Me The Horizon’s recent material and asked them to describe it, they probably wouldn’t say ‘heavy’ or ‘metal’ – as frontman Oli Sykes alludes to on the aptly-named heavy metal on 2019 album amo. The Sheffield crew are a straight-up rock group now, and clearly it’s working great for them. But once upon a time, BMTH were revered as one of the world’s premier deathcore bands, and their 2006 debut Count Your Blessings begins with an absolutely monstrous breakdown fest that sees Oli trying his hardest to scream open a crack in the earth.
The Goo Goo Dolls – Living In A Hut
If you’re a millennial, then the name Goo Goo Dolls probably triggers long-repressed memories of swaying sweatily at a high school dance while their 1998 power-ballad Iris played in the background. If that’s the case, then you’d be shocked to hear that the Buffalo, New York group actually started as a punk band and were eventually signed to Metal Blade Records. The track Living In A Hut from their 1987 debut sounds like a poor-man’s version of The Replacements or The Buzzcocks. It’s sloppier than it is charming, but it is fun to hear a band that gets airplay at Kohls singing about being broke, booze-addled degenerates.
Sublime – New Thrash
On their 1992 debut 40. Oz To Freedom, Sublime rolled reggae, hip-hop, ska, folk, jam and punk into one fat joint and passed that shit for 22 tracks. The highs are high and the lows are really low (a song that glamorizes prison rape, crass lines like ‘pinching girlies’ asses’), but a song like New Thrash offers a glimpse into the raucous punk sound they could’ve fully committed to if they wanted. The minute-and-a-half long track is spliced with the live cheering that appears throughout the whole record, except here the hollering pops up in the middle of the song. It sounds like a drunken backyard gig in action, and the clumsy cut in the middle sounds like a blacked-out hooligan stumbled into the power cable and they had to pause to plug it back in. It’s a way different energy than the chillness of later hits like Doin’ Time or Santeria.
Weezer – Why Bother?
After the unexpected Top 40 embrace of their 1994 debut, Weezer tried their best to disassociate from the mainstream rock world. The plan kind of worked: their 1996 follow-up Pinkerton was deemed a commercial failure for not providing another Undone (The Sweater Song) or Buddy Holly. But despite his effort to be noisy and abrasive, Rivers Cuomo can’t not write great pop songs, and Pinkerton has gained a loyal cult following for its brilliant mixture of overblown guitar rock and pristine power-pop. But compared to any song the band’s released since, Pinkerton’s short and snappy Why Bother? remains the punky outlier in their massive catalog. It’s a song about jerking off and dramatically quitting romance to avoid the potential heartbreak altogether, and its rattling instrumentation personifies that pithy sentiment.
Beastie Boys – Egg Raid On Mojo
Beastie Boys are one of the most legendary hip-hop groups of all time. But it’s important to remember that in their teenage years they were a scrappy hardcore punk band that sounded like an even more youthful version of Black Flag, Bad Brains, and the Dead Kennedys. Egg Raid On Mojo is an exuberant barn-burner from their 1982 debut EP Polly Wog Stew that they continued to play live long after they pivoted to hip-hop. The song is allegedly about the teenage gang egging a bouncer who didn’t let them into a club. Whether or not that story’s true, the track’s undeniably fun delivery does inspire that sort of juvenile mischief.
The White Stripes – Broken Bricks
Even after their 2003 hit Seven Nation Army became a quintessential sports arena sing-along, The White Stripes never really abandoned the ragged garage rock production of their early work. Even their 2007 swan-song Icky Thump was rough around the edges for a band of their tier. However, the track Broken Bricks from their 1999 debut is a particularly raw, noisy, and punky little stomper compared to the bluesy side of their sound that was leaned into during the 2000s. The song begins with ringing distortion that almost sounds like Jack and Meg are about to dive into a savage hardcore riff; while that never quite happens, the track’s gut-punching drum beat, jangly bells, and Jack’s loose playstyle could be suitable for a push-pit.
Avenged Sevenfold – Streets
Avenged Sevenfold have shifted their sound a lot over the years. They’ve gone from metalcore, to speed metal, to groove metal, to hard rock, and these days the best way to describe them is good ol’ fashioned heavy metal. There’s even one song from their very early days where they dabbled in melodic hardcore a la H2o or Sick Of It All. Unlike every other song on their debut album Sounding The Seventh Trumpet, frontman M. Shadows doesn’t scream at all on Streets, and the track begins with a bouncy bassline that could be mistaken for a Bane intro. It’s essentially A7X’s version of a punk song, and it slaps a lot harder than you might think.
Sum 41 – Grab The Devil By The Horns And Fuck Him Up the Ass
While Avenged Sevenfold fiddled with punk and then doubled down on metal, Sum 41 did the opposite. The Canadian group’s 2000 debut Half Hour Of Power sounds like a bunch of kids who loved Green Day and Iron Maiden equally just goofing around for 25 minutes. Most of the record contains a less refined version of the bratty pop-punk they’d later master, but its minute-long intro track is a convincing ode to ’80s power metal. Featuring the ludicrous title Grab The Devil By The Horns And Fuck Him Up the Ass, the song is at once ridiculous, completely non-essential, and fucking awesome, with a galloping rhythm and a sword-swinging lead lick that’d make Dio proud.
New Politics – Yeah Yeah Yeah
Before they sounded like an Imagine Dragons-adjacent pop act, Copenhagen trio New Politics broke into 2010 rock radio with a song called Yeah Yeah Yeah that actually owns. The crunchy, Nirvana-esque power chords; the sticky yet piercing ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah’ refrain; and the palpable joy they get from yelling the line, ‘You’re just fucking killing me.’ Plus, there’s a simple yet satisfying solo and a pretty raucous outro for a band whose stylist wanted to make them The Hives for American Eagle shoppers. Just ignore its dated rap-rock verses (hello, Flobots influence) and focus on the way that chorus fucking pops.
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