Bad Brains Compilation Puts Seminal Punk Band Into Focus

Hard to believe, but the legendary Rastapunkspeedmetal band Bad Brains began life in the late 1970’s as a Washington, D.C. based jazz/funk group called Mind Power. Then one of them heard The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks and the first black punk-rock group was born. You’ll hear the influence of The Clash and maybe The Stooges, but these guys invented their own sound, adding a fluidity and precision to the genre’s usual breakneck speed that no other band that I’ve heard managed to duplicate. The Sex Pistols may have inspired them, but Bad Brains demonstrated punk’s micro-groove musical possibilities because they could really play.

“Blistering” is the adjective usually attached to the word “speed” when anyone tries to describe the band’s musical pace, and if you need evidence of that, try “Pay to Cum,” the first track on this 22 tune compilation, and the group’s first single. It’s fast.

How influential was Bad Brains? Consider the time (late ‘70s, early ‘80s) and listen to Dr. Know’s guitar tone, his rhythm riffs and squealing, squooshy, lightening fast leads and decide for yourself. Same with the seriously underrated singer HR rightly credited in the booklet as adding “throat” as opposed to “vocals.” He was doing a brand of controlled wailing back then not popularized until the 1990’s.

The compilation, including recordings from the band’s original incarnation and a late ‘80’s reunion is worth owning just for the first dozen or so short, adrenaline pumping tracks, but the rest is pretty good too. The band veers from punk to metal and Led Zep (listen to “Soul Craft” from 1989) and an introduction to Bob Marley added a reggae and Rastafarian dimension to the group’s look, socio-political and musical outlook. All of the reggae influenced tunes are lumped at the end, I guess to avoid clogging the deluge of a musical flow. The enhanced CD also includes a live Providence Rhode Island performance filmed in 1987.

Annotation is excellent—though the type size is very small, and reading it is not helped by the busy background graphics—with a concise, no-nonsense history, full lyrics, photos and an unusually complete source history for each track (engineer, studio, mixer, original mastering engineer, label, artwork, issue date, etc., plus the source, whether tape, CD or vinyl).

Most of the set—16 of the 22 songs—were transferred in my listening room last winter. I was given a nice credit and all of the gear used is mentioned: Simon Yorke S7 ‘table, Graham 2.2, Audio-Tekne MC-6310 cartridge, Graham IC-70 DIN-RCA cable, Vibraplane, Manley Steelhead, Harmonic Technology Magic Link One and Alesis Masterlink.

The band’s manager and the compilation’s co-producer (along with bassist Darryl Jenifer) spent a day here listening, cleaning sides, choosing pressings and cartridges and finally transferring the tracks at 96K/24 bit resolution to the Masterlink. 96K/24 bit files were transferred to CDs and later assembled, mastered and authored at West West Side Music, my friend Alan Douches’s place. There are a few minor pops and clicks, but Alan, god bless him, left everything as-is.

I’m prejudiced of course, but I think the sound is fucking awesome. If you want to hear what a $25,000 analog front end can do in terms of bass extension, control, transparency, spatiality, and just plain dynamic womp and stomp check out this hour plus long compilation. You’ll hear it. This music would cut through a wire-recorder transfer, but I’m glad the producers cared enough to take the time to do it right. Now that is about as self-aggrandizing a statement as I can make.

gimmegimme's picture

They are one of the pioneers in this kind of music. They started from a different genre and ended with this. - Mallory Fleming