Various Artists

Black Hole (Jon Savage Presents/California Punk 1977-1980)

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Never as prolific, influential, or even commercially successful as the punk produced in London or New York, early Californian punk nevertheless had a pretty rich and fairly diverse body of recordings to its credit in the late 1970s. It may be, indeed, that there was more punk, and more durable punk, recorded in California during the era than anywhere else outside of London or New York, though few of the bands would last or flourish beyond 1980. Compiled by top early punk authority Jon Savage (author of England's Dreaming), this anthology collects 26 early Californian punk recordings of the period, many of them quite obscure and hard to find even though they're acknowledged as classics of the genre. Wisely, Savage did not limit himself to Los Angeles (though there are a good number of cuts by L.A. acts), but also included quite a few of the most groundbreaking efforts from the San Francisco Bay Area. Two of these bands, X and the Dead Kennedys, did break through to a larger audience in different ways, and the songs by which they're represented on this compilation, X's "We're Desperate" and the DKs' "California Uber Alles," are among their most famous early efforts. Yet there are quite a few groundbreaking tracks by less celebrated punkers with avid cult followings, including the Avengers, the Dils, the Germs, the Zeros, the Weirdos, the Screamers, and Crime.

Vitally, there are also outings by groups known primarily to (or even barely in) punk collectordom, like Black Randy & the Metro Squad, the Middle Class, and one (the Aurora Pushups) that even Savage admits to having no information about in his liner notes. Not everything here is great; the cliché "primarily of historic importance" applies to some of the more generic songs, and the sound quality/production is sometimes substandard (and sometimes not exactly ideal even if it's not quite lo-fi). But the compilation includes some undeniable classics of early punk in the Avengers' "The American in Me" and "We Are the One," the Dils' "I Hate the Rich," and the Zeros' "Beat Your Heart Out." As you'd expect, there are a bunch of bash-it-out-and-get-it-over-with performances, but there are also items showing the style starting to branch out from its cruder origins, like the moody, early post-punk from the Sleepers, and the brooding near country-folk-rock of the Dils' "The Sound of the Rain." There's not much duplication between this and the most high-profile compilation of late-'70s L.A. punk (Rhino's We're Desperate: The L.A. Scene [1976-1979]) which, together with Savage's extensive liner notes, makes this a recommended pickup for those looking to enhance their early Californian punk collection.

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