Leading off this week’s punk onslaught is a three-pack from one of Southern California’s finest, Social Distortion. The fearsome, tattooed Mike Ness is long established as an underground hero, one who hit the brink of self-destruction and came back to tell the tale—The man even had part of his ear bitten off in a bar fight. . So who better to cover a Johnny Cash song? Social D caught the essence of Cash’s classic “Ring of Fire,” even if their version is a whole lot louder. From that same album (the self-titled 1990 disc) comes “Story of My Life,” a six-minute epic that lays some of Ness’ experience on the line. Hipper radio stations were all over that 1990 album, especially in California; but it took the next disc’s “Bad Luck” to bring most of the country onboard. Just last month Ness made a small bit of history by playing this song live with Bruce Springsteen.
Remember when Elvis Costello was a punk rocker? Three minutes of pure snarl, “Radio Radio” has a still-timely theme related to lame commercial programming. And the song famously got Elvis into hot water when he was booked on Saturday Night Live to play another song (“Less Than Zero,” whose lyric he figured US audiences wouldn’t understand) and switched to “Radio Radio” on-camera. He made amends many years later, when he returned to the show and did “Radio Radio” with the Beastie Boys backing him up.
Not quite punk but hardly mainstream, Steely Dan have been going their eccentric way for decades now. If you finally mastered “Bodhisattva,” try your hand at these two additions: “My Old School” features two of the niftiest guitar breaks in Dan history (courtesy of Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, who became a defense analyst for the Bush administration!). By the way, Steely Dan mentors Walter Becker and Donald Fagen met at Bard College—which despite the lyric is in New York City, not Annandale, NJ.
A slightly later Dan track, “Black Friday” takes a wry look at a forthcoming stock-market-crash…and remember, this song was released in 1975. Some things never change.
Lest metalheads start feeling left-out, wrapping up this week’s package are two songs from the “Sickness” guys, Disturbed. The band hails from the South Side of Chicago—which as everybody knows, is the baddest part of town. “Stupify” was written as an anti-intolerance song, when singer David Draiman had a Latino girlfriend and felt that both their families were making too big a deal of it. The song originally had an emotional video in which Draiman connected with his wounded inner child, but we can’t promise you a higher score for doing that.