Edited by Brett Buchanan
Kurt’s favorites is a series where Alternative Nation takes a look back at some of Kurt Cobain’s favorite albums. This will give a better understanding of what helped shape Nirvana and Grunge’s sound. In our first entry, we took a look at one of the worst albums of all time. We then took a look at his favorite hip hop album. Now, we will be looking at two of his favorite 80’s hardcore punk albums. These albums are Damaged and My War by Black Flag.
The brain child of guitarist Greg Ginn, Black Flag, along with D.R.I, Fear, Bad Brains, and many other bands, helped form the U.S hardcore punk sound. Black Flag formed in 1976 with a very Stooges inspired sound mixed with elements of early hardcore. During this time they would go through members like tap water with only Ginn being a consistent presence.
In 1981, Black Flag released their first full length album, Damaged. Being the first Black Flag release to feature iconic vocalist Henry Rollins, Damaged stripped away the band’s early punk elements for a more straight up hardcore sound. Many of the band’s traits can be found here, including Ginn’s anti-solos, and the band’s politically charged, in your face lyrics. Many of their most popular songs are featured on this album, including “Rise Above,” “Depression,” and the hilarious “T.V. Party.” While not a commercial success, the album was huge in the underground and is seen as an important hardcore album, as well as an influence on thrash metal. Over the years, music magazines such as Rolling Stone and Pitchfork have cited Damaged as one of the greatest albums of all time due to its influence. Kurt Cobain considered Damaged to be his 40th favorite album of all time.
Three years later, Black Flag would release their follow up album, My War. While Damaged painted the band as a fast hardcore band, My War slowed everything down. Taking influence from Black Sabbath and St. Vitus, this tempo change really divided fans. Rollins’ vocals became more varied and aggressive, while Ginn’s guitar work would became more unorthodox, taking influence from free jazz. All of these elements helped the band move forward.
The title track showcases all these elements, with Rollins shouting like a crazy man, and bizarre jazz solos from Ginn. This song pretty much sets the tone for the first side of the album. The third track, “Beat My Head Against the Wall,” is full of constant changes which show off Rollins’ vocal range. “I Love You” features melodic guitar work from Ginn and sounds like a typical love song, but then transitions into a story of revenge and murder.
Side B of this record divided even more fans than Side A did. Here we get three long, doom metal inspired tracks. These songs can be seen as some of the earliest examples of sludge metal, a fusion of doom metal and hardcore punk pioneered by bands like Melvins, Crowbar, and Eyehategod.
My War is without a doubt Black Flag’s musical peak. The album is a huge influence on a variety of artists, and is ranked at number 11 on Kurt Cobain’s top 50 albums of all time. This album and the ones that followed, along with records from bands like the Butthole Surfers, helped bring experimentation to the 80’s punk scene. Both Damaged and My War are perfect for someone looking to get into hardcore punk. Damaged to help the listener ease into the style, and My War to help show them the scene’s true potential.
If you would like to listen to more music Kurt loved, linked is a nice gift from Alternative Nation reader Jim La Rosa. The long time Nirvana fan has made a Spotify playlist of around 8,000 songs. This not only includes his list of his 50 favorite albums, but pretty much everything he has mentioned liking from notes and interviews. Stay tuned as several of these will become future “Kurt’s Favorites” articles.