It’s been said by a whole bunch of American punk historians before and I’m just gonna go ahead and agree: the Sonics are the first REAL American punk band. And wouldn’t you know it, they also happened to be the first punk band I ever heard. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until after my father’s death a few years ago that I came to that realization.
My dad was always a huge music fan, especially music of the “moldy oldies” variety. With that in mind, my uncle Jimmy and I put our heads together to make a couple mix tapes of some of his favorite tunes for the funeral. One song, Jimmy said, that was of utmost importance to play was a 45 from the ‘60s called “Psycho.” Thanks to a local disc jockey named Mad Mike, this song was apparently a smash hit amongst Pittsburgh’s blue-eyed soul boys and other rebellious youth circa 1965. Since things like song titles and recording artists’ names weren’t usually considered pertinent info most of the time, I had no idea what song Jimmy was talking about. However, I knew I could count on him to track down the record at some point during the night.
I don’t recall exactly how long it took Jimmy to find it, but he did: “Psycho” b/w “The Witch” (I think, I’m too lazy to look) on the Etiquette label. The Sonics did this song? Well, I’ll be damned. Aside from what those old punk historian dudes wrote in zines, I only knew of the Sonics as the band that originally played “Strychnine,” which has been covered by a number of bands over the years. Then I put it on and instantly remembered that my dad used to play “Psycho” a lot when I was little. You know; I heard a lot of songs about some rather strange subjects for being a small child. I wasn’t allowed to watch R-rated movies, but I was allowed to hear songs about drinking, sex, and going crazy? You figure that one out.
It struck me as funny that “Psycho” certainly qualified as a perfect slice of American punk roots. For all I knew, my dad hated the fact that I was into punk. In his world, I looked like a scumbag who’d just been in a car wreck. He did dig Danzig’s Elvis turn on “American Nightmare.” The Bad Brains’ idea of playing both punk and reggae piqued his interest during a car trip from Madison to Pittsburgh. Aside from that, punk bands were unfit for human consumption, as far as he was concerned. Little did he know that he had an original punk record in his own collection, let alone it being one of his all-time favorite songs. Wish I could have told him that while he was still alive. Just to see the look on his face. My guess is that he would have simply said, “Get aht!” in disbelief.
Here are the Sonics is their first album. You better believe “Psycho” is on here, as well as other originals like “Boss Hoss,” “Strychnine” and one that I don’t actually care much for, “The Witch.” They cover “Dirty Robber” by the Wailers and give that song the guts that the original lacked. Actually, a large part of the album consists of cover songs, but that’s how garage bands did things back then. The recording levels are shoved all the way into the red, giving the sound a distorted quality that only makes these raunchy rockers better. For the ‘60s, this was hardcore brutality at its finest.
My dad would have turned sixty yesterday, so this post is for him. Happy birthday, Pop. I miss ya. Rest in peace here.