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10 of the Best.. 80s American Hardcore Bands

  • By MisterCharlie Author Avatar
  • 1 December 2011


Earlier this week we reported Fugazi were releasing a head bludgeoning 130 live show recordings. In homage to this onslaught of neck thrashing and bile screaming joy, I thought we’d dedicate this weeks 10 Of The Best to the group of angry young men (and very occasionally women) who made up America’s amazing hardcore punk scene of the early 1980s.

These were bands that took the artiness and esoteric image of the 70s first wave punks and stripped this to at times wilfully crude essentials- hammering drums hitting sudden changes in tempo, screaming atonal guitars, ferocious hooks and raging, socially conscious lyrics. Some of these innovators went on to huge mainstream success, leading to such notorious sights as Henry Rollins flogging T Shirts for Gap, but most of them have remained punk outsiders to this very day. This is only a primer, and a tiny selection of bands- I’ve missed millions off the list, and if you like what you hear here, then you’re in for some happy exploring...



OK, so not strictly from America (D.O.A. formed in Vancouver, Canada) but possibly the first to use the term hardcore, and definitely the ones to popularise it with their second LP Hardcore ’81. D.O.A. had members with quality, ridiculous punk rock names (Joey Shithead, Randy Rampage and Dimwit if you must know) and have maintained a serious anarchist stance throughout their long career, with song titles Smash The State, Police Brutality and Class War giving you a fair idea what to expect. Here’s the opening track from the seminal Hardcore ’81-



Black Flag

The big daddies of Hardcore, Black Flag were formed in 1976 by guitarist Greg Ginn. However, it was with the recruitment of motor mouthed singer/poet Henry Rollins in ’81 that the band earned there still massive fanbase. With a hyper kinetic stage personality that would attract violence from fans and bouncers alike, Rollins was an electrifying presence. The band constantly evolved there sound, moving on from the thrashing hardcore of 81’s album Damaged to the sludgy doom laden riffs of ‘84s My War-  often sited as a massive influence on the grunge and stoner acts that followed them. Here’s tracks from both works-

Six Pack (Damaged)


Nothing Left Inside (My War)


The Adolescents

The Adolescents were a kinda Hardcore supergroup made up of members of California punks Social Distortion and Agent Orange. Both of those bands could easily make this list as well, but seeing as space is limited we’re going to have The Adolescents, primarily for their first, self titled album, a bona fide Hardcore classic. The original incarnation of the band split after recording Adolescents, but, to be fair, a group who open their debut album with the song I Hate Children has already done everything they need to do anyway.

Kids of the Blackhole


I Hate Children


Youth Brigade

Formed of the 3 Stern brothers, Youth Brigade were the first Hardcore band to tour the states, as documented in the amazing film Another State Of Mind (which you can watch, and maybe even read my essay about, here). Going on the road with the aforementioned Social Distortion, YB faced all the paranoia and hostility America could throw at punk kids, and often found themselves spokesmen for America’s teen tearaways. Their career stretches from the early 80s right through to today, but it’s the stuff off first album Sound & Fury that really hits the spot--

Sound & Fury


Minor Threat

Formed around Ian McKaye, later of Fugazi, Minor Threat were the forefront of the straight edge scene- which meant no boozing and no drugs. Just straight A headbanging. Whilst I’ve always been too much of a boozehound to get into the straight edge philosophy, Minor Threat rock like bastards and should be cherished by everyone—


Existing from 76-80 The Germs are often considered the hardcore prototype. They recorded just one album and a couple of singles before the heroin induced suicide of lead singer Derby Crash bought them to a sudden tragic stop. Guitarist Pat Smear later found himself playing with Nirvana and Foo Fighters, bands massively influenced by his own early punk mania. The Germs first and only LP is all killer, check out Circle One for shambolic snot nosed  genius

Circle One


Bad Brains      

Bad Brains played faster, like waaaaaaaaay faster than anyone before them. The group had previously been in a jazz funk outfit, and wielded their technical skills to brutal high speed riffing. In front man H.R. (Human Rights) Bad Brains had one of the all time great musical mavericks. Despite fans in their millions worldwide, and critical plaudits from everyone who matters, Bad Brains will never be mainstream. Why? Because H.R. is a genuine, don’t make em like they used to Rock N Roll lunatic. Whether it’s somersaulting into crowds, attacking band members, recording vocals from prison, or just refusing to sign major label record deals, H.R. has constantly pushed the envelope in more ways that I can count here. Look him up (his Wikipedia page is crap so don’t bother there, dig deeper) and you’ll hear some great stories of talent and excess..


Dead Kennedies

Probably the world’s biggest selling hardcore group, The DK’s made hilarious, vicious and sarcastic attacks on mainstream society set to demented surf guitar. Lead singer Jello Biafra was constantly accused of paranoia when he claimed the CIA were watching him- until that is, they kicked in his door and impounded one of his spoken word albums for obscenity charges. Now the band have fallen out, with Biafra refusing to perform any more, and the DKs performing with stand in singers. Call me a sell out, but I went to see them like this in London 8 years ago and they were still fucking brilliant. Sorry Jello.  



Formed in California in 1980 and mockingly named after a right wing nationalist movement of the day, Minutemen also became known for their ultra short songs and eschewing of any commercial trappings. Recording their first EP with Black Flag’s Greg Ginn, the band gained hardcore notoriety with extensive touring and a willingness to experiment. A bonus to their songs being so short is the whole first album fits into a single youtube clip—here ya go—




Often seen as more melodic than many of their hardcore contemporaries, The Descendents debut album Milo Goes To College is also fast, funny and more goofy than a lot of their contemporaries. Think a prototype for Dookie era Green Day. Again, cos the songs are so short you can listen to (nearly) the whole album in one Youtube clip. God bless the internet—