The Great 1970’s L.A. Punk Band, The Germs

The Germs

Photo: By Alice Bag (https://www.flickr.com/photos/alicebag/6176521053/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As our punk series continues, we turn towards a band from Los Angeles California called The Germs. The punk scene that developed during the late 197o’s ended rather quickly, yet its influences have lasted for close to forty years. Since the scene lasted for such a short period of time, many bands that came out of the scene released only an album or two if any. The Germs released one studio album entitled (GI). The album was released on Slash records in 1979. The (GI) album was produced by Joan Jett.

At the dawn of the punk scene in 1977, The Germs released their first single entitled “Forming.” The band had originally featured the legendary Go Go’s vocalist Belinda Carlisle on drums. However Carlisle had gotten very sick and wound up quitting the band before they ever played a live show. The lead vocals on “Forming,” were sung by Jan Paul Beahm, who would eventually change his name to Darby Crash. The guitar work was performed by George Ruthenberg, who would also change his name to Pat Smear. Lorna Doom known as Terry Target performed on bass, while Donna Rhia known as Becky Barton became the female counterpart of the rhythm section on drums. The sound of the song “Forming,” is as raw as it gets, and that is exactly what we all loved about punk music. Darby Crash was a warped insane lightning rod on stage. Crash was Jim Morrison times 10 in his stage antics. This was punk!

In the late 1970s, as the punk scene began to thrive and bands like the Sex Pistols were turning rock music upside down, fan produced magazines began to appear in limited runs. Often referred to as zines, Steve Samiof and Melanie Nissen began publishing a punk zine entitled Slash. The zine was based in Los Angeles and covered the L.A. punk scene. The magazine started a record label called Slash records that produced an EP for The Germs. Reportedly the sessions that produced the EP only cost 600 dollars which is probably the entire cost of Led Zeppelin’s lunch bill during Zep’s studio sessions.

From out of the Slash Records Germs sessions came a three song EP that featured the song “Lexicon Devil.” Like many other punk artists, the lyrical content of the material could often not be understood, yet its value to the recording easily trumped the musicality of the piece. The Lexicon Devil EP was released as a 7′ inch record in a limited run of only 1000 copies. The EP included three songs. “Lexicon Devil,” appeared on side A by itself, while side B hosted the tracks “Circle One,” and “No God.” The entire running time of the EP came in at under six minutes.

While the Lexicon Devil EP may have only cost 600 dollars and lasted just under six minutes, their debut album (GI) also utilized the number six in the budget as it was reported to have cost six thousand dollars to produce. Once again the album was released on Slash Records. The (GI) album was released in October of 1979 bearing seventeen tracks. It is the only full length album that band has ever released. The title (GI) was supposedly short for the term Germs Incognito. It was a reference to them having to change their names to get into some clubs that they had been banned from.

The Joan Jett produced album is a lesson in punk sensibility. It has been regarded as one of the most important American punk releases of the era

The band The Germs defined the entire punk movement within their own actions. The persona of lead singer Darby Crash eventually led to his suicide in 1980 at the young age of only 22. The band had already broken up by then and Darby had formed the Darby Crash Band. Their music has been reissued in various compilations, live albums, video games (Grand Theft Auto) and movie soundtracks.

In August of 2008 , a great biographical film of the band The Germs was released entitled What We Do Is Secret. The movie was named after the lead off song from the Germs LP (GI) It was a great rock and roll film that seemed to capture the essence of the band from their early days to their demise. We highly recommend this film. Below is the trailer.

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