Back around 1996 or so, while I was record / CD shopping, I heard something great over the store’s music system. The music I was hearing was similar to a lot of the punk rock I enjoyed over the years, only it was much more aggressive, loud, and crude. It also sounded considerably less polished, like it was recorded on someone’s home tape recorder. Yet the drums, bass, and guitar still bled through loud and clear. I asked the clerk what it was. He replied it was the New Bomb Turks and showed the sampler CD it came from, a $7.99 blast of joy with over 70 minutes of music called the “Cheapo Crypt Sampler.” As more songs blasted out by such bands as the Devil Dogs, Teengenerate, The Mighty Caesars, The Gories, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Nine Pound Hammer, and The Oblivians … among several others, I knew I not only had to have this sampler, but to also check out more bands of this ilk.
By 1996, a lot of so-called punk / grunge / alternative / whatever bands had gone mainstream and signed with major labels. While some of these bands would occasionally hire someone like Steve Albini to dirty up their tracks, most of it sounded polished. The punk I was hearing on the Crypt sampler was a revelation. Unlike the Nirvanas or Green Days of the time, these songs weren’t politically correct … or even remotely political. The songs weren’t mopey tributes to alienation. They weren’t trying to change the world, nor were they full of irony and ennui. Instead, like AC/DC at their best, almost all of the Crypt songs were about drinking, f–king, and fighting and the bands played like their lives depended on it. It reminded me of wild 1950s rock, only with increased aggression and lots of really really bad language. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven.
This genre of punk rock never really had a name … and arguably still doesn’t. However, former New Bomb Turks member Eric Davidson came up with the term “gunk punk” for his book on the genre that may or may not have a name. That book “We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1988-2001” is a wonderful overview and introduction to this unheralded and indescribably awesome genre. The book covers many bands, not only the ones mentioned above, but also The Cramps, The Dwarves, Union Carbide, and my hometown favorites, The Candy Snatchers (who were previously featured on Dave’s Strange World) among many, many others. Many thanks to Mr. Davidson for not only writing this awesome tome, but for keeping the spirit of important, rarely acknowledged, and kickass genre alive.
If you’ve never heard any of these bands, please check out these fine tracks which are some of my favorites of this genre:
The Devil Dogs, “Big F–kin Party”
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, “Backslider”
New Bomb Turks, “Mr. Suit”
Nine Pound Hammer, “Feelin’ Kinda Froggy”