Because of the folks working tirelessly from the inside -- the promoters, DIY venue owners, and others who spent every waking moment spreading the gospel of this loud, bizarre, shitstained music -- early American punk reached the unlikeliest of ears. Orange County's Robbie Fields, known in certain circles as the Posh Boy, was one such chronicler, and it's in no small part because of him that the world came to know the darker, dirtier side of sunny southern California.
Beach Blvd., a stellar compilation first released on the Posh Boy label in 1979, features the music of three disparate groups: the sunny, melodic, totally SoCal swagger of The Simpletones; the laborious, spooky ghost-fuzz of Rik L Rik; and the ADD-riddled pop-punk of The Crowd, an outfit equal parts Dead Kennedys and The Cramps. None sounded quite like the other, yet all three groups now seem insistently entrenched in a particular milieu. This is, of course, because they were. In the late 1970s and early 80s, the southern California punk scene was among the richest and most vibrant the world over, and it shows on Beach Blvd.
The major-key harmonies of The Simpletones embody the West Coast's split from the New York and UK scenes. Surf-influenced, lyrically upbeat (if quite sardonic), and often humorous, their brand of snotty garage rock, with titles like "I Have a Date" and "Tiger Beat Twist," is the perfect soundtrack for the skeevy beach bum who peers at girls over rainbow-tinted shades, knocking over sandcastles and swigging schnapps. The Simpletones most melodious tune (and perhaps the album's default theme song), the doo-woppy "California," delivers as concise a mission statement as any: "They say the chicks are really nice/ And the cars, they go so fast/ And the beach is just the most/ And the surf is really wild/ I wish that I could stay here all my life." On the surface, it reads like a schlocky, gee-golly, Mike Love sort of deal, but the song's apparent buoyancy is belied by its eerie, ironic undertone. Besides, the next track is "I Like Drugs," with the chorus "I like drugs/ They get me high." One guesses the sentiment is somewhat less satirical.
Next up is Rik L Rik, a pioneering L.A. scuzz-rocker whose work here falls somewhere between The Misfits and T.S.O.L. His is a wonderfully hazy, slurred brand of rock 'n' roll -- the flippantly dismal soundtrack to smoking dope in some unkempt necropolis. Born Richard Elerick, he spent time in various Huntington Beach bands including F-Word and Negative Trend, but is credited here under his own assumed name. The handful of his songs included on Beach Blvd., though less approachable, are damn good jams nonetheless; sloppy, fuzzed-out, and maybe a little angry, they contrast with the sunny beach punk of The Simpletones but are no less gratifying. "Atomic Lawn," in particular, is a gem, the lyrics apocalyptic and the chorus melody among the best of its type.
Finally, with full force and guitars wailing comes The Crowd. The most musically intricate of the bunch, they are also the most enjoyable, at least superficially: their tunes are filled with the manic, flailing intensity displayed by all the best early punk bands. I've always harbored a strange sort of ambivalence toward The Dead Kennedys; their impeccable panache notwithstanding, Jello's maniacal squeal paired with his annoyingly self-righteous lyrical tendencies often registered on the cornier end of the affected-vocals spectrum. The Crowd's Jim Decker does the whole shaky voice thing too, but never sounds like he's auditioning for the stage production of The Wizard of Oz; his is a far more palatable, believable timbre.
Beach Blvd. is a first-rate relic of a certain time and place, and, above all, an attitude which has all but disappeared since; music labeled "punk" today bears little resemblance to the tetchy, firebrand sort of tuneage chronicled here. How peculiar it must feel to those who helped usher in this exciting new era to hear it discussed in 2009 as old times and artifacts -- back-in-the-days and remember-whens. Such a young-folk thing, y'see, isn't supposed to get old. Perhaps music like this wasn't meant to last after all -- it is ephemeral by nature, more concerned with punch than posterity. At the very least, Beach Blvd. can help those of us who weren't there begin to appreciate what once was.
1. The Simpletones - Kirsty Q
2. The Simpletones - I Have A Date
3. The Simpletones - Tiger Beat Twist
4. The Simpletones - Don't Bother Me
5. The Simpletones - California
6. The Simpletones - I Like Drugs
7. The Simpletones - Dead Meat (Killer Smog)
8. The Simpletones - TV Love
9. The Simpletones - Rock 'n' Roll Star
10. The Simpletones - Disco Ape
11. The Simpletones - Nasty Nazi
12. Rik L Rik - Black And Red
13. Rik L Rik - Meat House
14. Rik L Rik - I Got Power
15. Rik L Rik - Mercenaries
16. Rik L Rik - Atomic Lawn
17. The Crowd - Modern Machine
18. The Crowd - New Crew
19. The Crowd - Suzy Is A Surf Rocker
20. The Crowd - Living In Madrid