Song: "Wild In The Streets"
Album: Wild In The Streets
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Throughout history, so-called "beach towns," specifically those in California, have earned the reputation for being extremely laid back places, and has been the inspiration for everything from the "surf rock" of Dick Dale to the iconic harmonies of The Beach Boys. While this perceived attitude certainly has a massive amount of evidence to support it, the truth of the matter is, these same beaches are largely responsible for some of the most aggressive and fierce punk and hardcore music that the world has ever heard. Many of the beaches in the greater Los Angeles area are synonymous with the hardcore music movement, and largely due to their legendary live performances and the unique, "in your face" style on their albums, few bands better represent this idea than Hermosa Beach's own Circle Jerks. Originally formed by former Black Flag singer, Keith Morris and former Redd Kross guitarist Greg Heston, the band took the attitude of the punk rock movement and fused it together with the aggressive, violent reality of life in these beach towns. It is the music of the Circle Jerks that would pave the way for bands ranging from Pennywise to Operation Ivy to Dropkick Murphys, and one can easily make the case as Circle Jerks being one of the most important influential bands of the entire West coast punk/hardcore scene. Having already solidified their sound with their lightning fast debut, Group Sex, the band unleashed another round of provocative, rage-filled anthems with their follow up, 1982's Wild In The Streets. While the entire album is pure hardcore bliss, it is the title track that stands far above the rest and remains one of the most memorable songs in the history of the genre.
While many know the song, most are not aware that "Wild In The Streets" is in fact a cover song, as it was originally written and recorded in 1969 by Garland Jeffreys. The sentiment of the song remains the same with the Circle Jerks version, yet it is far more savage and menacing in nature, which is a reflection of the general population from which they came. Though they share a similarity with the likes of Minor Threat and The Germs, the pure, unrestrained ferocity that emanates from every one of their songs is what makes Circle Jerks so instantly recognizable, and it is rarely more present than on "Wild In The Streets." Greg Heston is on the attack from the onset of the song, and he never relents, delivering a guitar performance that is still able to tear the roff off of any club in the world. The rhythm section of bassist Roger Rogerson and drummer Lucky Lehrer are equally fantastic, and the combined sound surely whipped any and every audience into a frenzy, and gives an idea of how intense their live performances must have been. It is this combined sound that sets the Circle Jerks aside from their peers, and it is also the sound that in many ways defines the specific style of hardcore which came almost exclusively from the L.A. beaches. The band sounds as if they are riding the edge of chaos the entire song, and as the energy keeps building, it almost seems as if the song is simply going to explode. It is this amazing power that separates the Circle Jerks version of "Wild In The Streets" from the host of other covers, and one of the key reasons that the song remains one of their finest recordings.
As powerful and aggressive as the music is, it is the phenomenal vocals of Keith Morris that truly make "Wild In The Street" an absolute classic of the genre. While one can easily hear remnants of his former band within both the music and vocal approach, there is no question that the Circle Jerks are an entity onto themselves, and it is on songs like "Wild In The Streets" that Morris makes his claim as one of the greatest vocalists in the history of the genre. Though he takes the "standard" screaming-singing approach that most vocalists within the hardcore genre do, the tone of his voice, as well as the natural grit within it makes his sound instantly recognizable. As he rips through each verse of the song, he keeps building the energy and tension until it drops in brilliant fashion at the onset of the songs' final chorus. It is at this moment that the tongue-in-cheek nature of the band comes across clearly, as one can feel the grin when Morris questions, "...Mrs. America...how's your favorite son? Do you care just what he's done?" The snide, almost menacing feel that climaxes at this point is where one can see that although it is not their song, Morris and the band easily make the lyrics their own. One can easily feel the emotional connection he has to the words, as they once again become a rallying cry for youth. This, in many ways, is the true brilliance of the vocals of Keith Morris, as his ability to get a listener up and moving is largely unparalleled across music, and the images of youth in the streets that he songs of here are as inspiring as any other lyrics in history.
Thankfully for music, one can feel secure in the knowledge that teen angst and rebellion will never fade, and with each new generation, new musicians will put their spin on this theme. During the youth uprisings of the late 1960's, Garland Jeffreys released a song called "Wild In The Streets," which attempted to grasp the mood and anger of the youth of that time. Though his version is worth hearing, just over a decade later, the Circle Jerks would take the song and turn it into an absolute classic of the hardcore genre. Driven by the proven, yet somewhat inexplicable aggression that emanated from the beaches of the greater Los Angeles area, "Wild In The Streets" remains one of the Circle Jerks greatest anthems, and it remains as relevant and powerful today as it was nearly thirty years ago. With the core of Greg Heston's screaming guitars, "Wild In The Streets" remains one of just a handful of songs from the genre that never loses even a bit of "steam" at any point. At times, it almost seems as if Lucky Lehrer is trying to destroy his drum kit as he plays with a vicious style that is almost unsettling at some points. Yet even with the entire band playing as loud and aggressively as possible, the song simply would be nothing without the extraordinary vocal prowess of Keith Morris. Standing today as one of the most important figures in the history of the hardcore movement, "Wild In The Streets" remains one of his finest performances, and the unforgiving, yet inspiring vocals here are nothing short of legendary. While many bands attempt to make it seem as if they "are" hardcore, few bands have clearly "walked the walk," and it is on songs like the Circle Jerks' 1982 classic, "Wild In The Streets" that one can learn to separate the posers from the authentic.