Along with Black Flag and Minor Threat, Bad Brains make up the crucial three of American hardcore punk. Formed in Washington DC in 1977, they were notable as being the first black punk band of true significance to emerge from the hardcore scene, and from punk in general. Their music has contained elements of many other genres such as funk and hip hop and in later years, their output has had more of a metal tinge to it.
The band originally were a jazz fusion ensemble under the name Mind Power. When they started to play punk, their brand of hardcore was a particularly fast one, even more so than many of their peers in the hardcore scene.
In total they have released nine albums. They have broken up and reformed with different members several times. The classic line-up is currently back together, even though they are rather sporadic in terms of touring and recording. However, they have been highly influential on a wide variety of artists, so let us look at what the best is that they have given us from their career.
# 10 – Stay Close to Me
Kicking off the list we have a song that touches on romantic lyrical subject matter taken from 1980’s The Omega Sessions that musically is not hardcore. Rather, this track is an all-out reggae number that resembles the British 2 Tone scene such as The Specials or Bad Manners rather than anything that was happening in the American Hardcore Scene. Although, with that said, this is the only track on this five track ep that sounds like this.
# 9 – Gene Machine/ Don’t Bother Me
This track is taken from 1989’s Quickness and at this point the band have moved firmly into Faith No More-style funk/groove metal territory. The album was a very mixed bag, containing elements of several genres such as punk, metal, reggae, funk and hip hop. This track itself even switches genres at certain points, going from hardcore and metal to a reggae part during the middle. Despite being the band’s biggest selling album at the time, the song “Don’t Blow Bubbles” caused some controversy for its allegedly homophobic lyrics.
# 8 – At the Movies
This track is also taken from The Omega Sessions and a brilliant live version is featured on the live record The Youth Are Getting Restless from 1990. This track shows the Bad Brains at their purest punk sound, being short, fast, and energetic. Despite recorded in 1980, the ep was not released until 1997. All of the songs featured on it would appear re-recorded on later releases. The live album recorded in the Netherlands is one of their bestselling outputs.
# 7 – The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth
This track is taken from 1983’s Rock for Light album and is another of their out and out reggae tracks which once again is more reminiscent of what was happening in Britain at the time with bands such as Steel Pulse. This album alternates rather drastically between genres, featuring tracks like this alongside trash hardcore punk tracks, which was something that the Bad Brains were often known for doing.
# 6- Re-Ignition
This track is taken from the band’s third album I Against I from 1986 and is a track that see’s the band going in a metal direction. This was the band’s first album in three years after they had got back together after splitting up after the release Rock for Light. This album is generally considered to be the band’s most essential release as it has influenced many other artists and considered to be a classic album in general.
# 5 – I Against I
And here is the title track from said third album which again shows the band adapting into a sound which is in parts heavy metal and then transitions to faster hardcore during the chorus. This track has been covered by a wide variety of artists, with everyone from Jeff Buckley to Lamb of God having recorded their own versions.
# 4 – Day Tripper/She a Rainbow
This live track from The Youth are Getting Restless is a medley of two songs: The Beatles “Day Tripper” and The Rolling Stones “She’s a Rainbow” done in a reggae style. It is a very interesting sounding piece of music that shows the band’s diversity and penchant for experimentation. No studio version of this track actually exists, which is a shame because it would have been interesting to hear. The way that the two songs are very cleverly mixed in together is very impressive.
# 3 – We Will Not
Now here is a track that shows the band at their purest hardcore form taken from Rock for Light. Clocking in at just one minute and thirty-five seconds, it certainly packs a lot in to that time, being fast, furious, and full of energy. Several of the other songs featured on the album were re-recordings of songs from their self-titled debut. It was also the last album to consist of only hardcore and reggae songs before they started playing funk and metal.
# 2 – Sailin On
Just off the top spot is the opening track from Bad Brain’s self-titled debut which is another of the band’s fast and furious numbers, and a very classic one at that. Upon the record’s release, many were impressed at the band’s speed level, with the LP being one of the fastest to be ever have been released at the time. To this day it is considered to be one of the greatest albums of the hardcore genre.
# 1 – Banned In D.C.
We close out our top 10 Bad Brains songs list with their “insane in the brain” (sorry Ramones) songs entitled “Banned In D.C.” What’s he singing. Wait I just don’t want to know. It doesn’t really matter does it? You know what matters in this song? That unbelievable very tasty guitar solo. Maybe the best guitar solo ever recorded in a maddening punk song such as Banned In D.C. I love this band. They make me very happy. I don’t know why……and I don’t want to know why.