News, music, movies & restaurants from the editors of the Silicon Valley's #1 weekly newspaper.
Serving San Jose, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Campbell, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Fremont & nearby cities.

January 18-24, 2006

home | north bay bohemian index | music & nightlife | band review

Hard, Loud and Fast

Classic punk catalog comes to an iPod near you

By Greg Cahill

It's been called the soundtrack of American youth gone wild. During the 1980s, SST Records became the prototypical indie label and enjoyed a successful run with a glorious punk roster that included Black Flag, the Minutemen, the Meat Puppets, Saccharine Trust, Dinosaur Jr., Bad Brains, fIREHOSE, Get Me High, Screw Radio, the Killer Tweeker Bees, Saint Vitus and many others. Now punk-rock fans have a chance for the first time to savor this exhilarating music as legal music downloads.

On Jan. 11, eMusic announced an exclusive two-week deal that permits the giant online music distributor to offer tracks from 94 of SST's top albums. Beginning Jan. 24, those downloads will be made available industry-wide through other online services, including iTunes, Napster, MSN, MusicMatch, Real/Rhapsody and Yahoo!

It's impossible to downplay the importance of the SST catalogue or its impact on modern rock. The brainchild of Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn, SST (the name derives from Solid State Transformers, a remnant of an earlier business enterprise founded by Ginn, a ham-radio nut) was started in 1978 as a way to record and distribute Black Flag's pioneering, aggressive punk rock. Eventually the label grew to become a major force in the punk and post-punk scenes. As a DIY project, Ginn, Black Flag front man Henry Rollins and their band mates took a very hands-on approach to the label, even stuffing album sleeves and crashing on the floor of the label's suburban Southern California office in Downey, Calif.

SST had moved there in an attempt to keep a low profile and discourage fans who in some instances traveled cross-country to the office on a rock pilgrimage and sometimes slept on the company's modest suburban lawn.

In time, SST moved far beyond its SoCal surf-punk roots to attract even big-time New York experimental band Sonic Youth. In the process, SST became the inspiration for such influential indie-rock labels as Sub Pop and Touch-and-Go, which, beginning in 1990, stole most of SST's artistic thunder.

Today, SST Records is little more than an online superstore trading on the label's past glory. But the label's legacy has long since been clinched. Black Flag and the rest of the SST roster helped fuel the rock dreams of Kurt Cobain and his cohorts in Nirvana as well as a whole generation of post-punk acts that have pushed punk rock into the musical mainstream.

Green Day and their ilk owe a huge debt of gratitude to Ginn's wild child.

Spin Du Jour

The Mothers of Invention, 'We're Only in It for the Money' (Ryko/Mobile Fidelity)

In the nascent days of '60s underground rock, few had the nerve to skewer the fledgling genre's burgeoning acts. But in 1968, the Mothers of Invention, spearheaded by bandleader Frank Zappa, found the then-trendy scene ripe for parody. Hot on the heels of the Beatles landmark Sgt. Pepper's album, Zappa proved an equal-opportunity put-down artist as he mustered his wit for a scathing satire of the Beatles, the record industry, the hippies, the squares, et al. To that end, he employed everything from classical orchestration to Dadaistic sound collages. We're Only in It for the Money, reissued here as an audiophile-quality Ultradisc II recording, remains one of the era's most brilliant rock artifacts.

Send a letter to the editor about this story.