In the late 1970s, mainstream American radio was ruled by the painstakingly produced, pristinely polished sound of bands like The Eagles and Steely Dan, but the rise of punk a few years earlier had changed rock ‘n’ roll forever. And a harder, faster, even more politically aware genre was about to explode, one that took punk’s frenzy, fury, angst and aggression to extremes even Johnny Rotten and Iggy Pop might not have imagined.
That genre was hardcore, of course, punk’s cranked-up cousin. Slam dancing and stage diving replaced the inanity and innocence of the pogo – leaving blood on the dance floor, not just the occasional stubbed toe – and shows became what former Boston Globe music writer Jim Sullivan once called “an unrefereed rugby match to jackhammer tempos.”
And among hardcore’s most defining bands was Gang Green, formed in 1980 in Braintree, Massachusetts. Along with contemporaries like Circle Jerks, Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag and The Minutemen, the group paved the path for thrash and speed metal, crossover thrash, crust punk, crunkcore, emocore and other varieties of what’s become an almost meaningless catch-all category – “alt rock.”
With lightning-fast, three-chord odes to teenage rebellion, sexual frustration, boozed-fueled destruction and skateboarding obsession, Gang Green was by far the best-known Boston-based band to arise from the hardcore scene that originated in Los Angeles around 1978. With their irreverent, goofball humor and boozed-up, coked-out shows, the group built a rabid local following in the early ‘80s, then became a major presence on the burgeoning East Coast scene and eventually on the national and international ones.
Like most of their contemporaries, the band’s foundations had nothing to do with instrumental chops or vocal training. “We weren’t singing. We don’t know how to sing,” said frontman Chris Doherty in the 2006 documentary American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1980-1986 (Sony Pictures). “We were just screaming against authority, against our parents and everything else that was pissing us off in our life.”
Unlike most of their contemporaries, though, the vast majority of Gang Green’s songs were not overtly political. Instead, the group’s calling cards were their totally DIY approach, unapologetically party-hearty ethos and staunchly anti-establishment attitude. When it came to blasting out buckets of anger and angst, liquored-up laughs and fist-in-your-face fun, Gang Green had few rivals.
The band recorded just four studio albums, one live LP and four EPs – with four different lineups – but stands shoulder-to-shoulder with ska-core icons The Mighty Mighty Bosstones in terms of significance in New England’s musical history. “When it comes to reckless, speedin’, boozin’, fightin’ Boston hardcore, Gang Green’s Chris Doherty and crew are the kings,” wrote the Miami New Times‘ Jacob Katel in 2014.
Formation, Early shows, This is Boston, Not L.A.
Guitarist-vocalist Doherty formed the first incarnation of Gang Green in 1980, when he was a 15-year old student at Braintree High School, with fellow teens Bill Manley (bass) and Mike Dean (drums). After cutting their teeth primarily at parties in friends’ backyards, in 1981 the trio began playing at notable Boston venues including Cantone’s, The Channel, the Rathskeller and the Paradise Rock Club.
In 1982, seven of the band’s song’s appeared on the 30-track compilation This is Boston, Not L.A., issued by Modern Methods Records. Only three were over a minute long, “I Don’t Care” (1:01), “Kill a Commie” (1:07) and “Rabies” (1:26); the others were “Snob” (0:26), “Lie Lie” (0:33), “Narrow Mind” (0:41) and “Have Fun” (0:54). The LP also included previously unreleased material from six other acts – The F.U’s, Jerry’s Kids, Decadence, The Proletariat, Groinoids and The Freeze – and was named after a 25-second-long Freeze song. Gang Green appears on the jacket in a photo taken by Bostonian photographer Phil In Phlash at Streets nightclub in Boston.
Unsafe At Any Speed, Sold Out, First lineup change
In early 1983, Modern Methods released the six-song EP Unsafe at Any Speed, which included Gang Green’s “Selfish” (1:44), and in mid-1983 the original trio went their separate ways. Doherty joined Jerry’s Kids, as did Dean after a stint in the military, and Manley moved to Hawaii. Later that year, Doherty left Jerry’s Kids to join Stranglehold, then The Cheapskates and in mid-1984 Taang! Records issued Sold Out, an EP featuring three of the trio’s supremely short songs.
In late 1984, Doherty reformed Gang Green as a four-piece outfit with a completely new lineup consisting of former members of D.A.M.M. (Drunks Against Mad Mothers), The Freeze and Smegma And The Nunz: guitarist Chuck Stilphen, bassist Glen Stilphen and drummer Walter Gustafson.
Another Wasted Night
In 1986, Taang! released the band’s debut album, Another Wasted Night, which The Boston Phoenix and WFNX put at #19 in their top-50 “Boston Rocks” list that year. The 10-track disc includes a cover of ‘Til Tuesday’s 1983 hit “Voices Carry” – the longest song on the LP at 3:28 – and the two-minute-long “Alcohol,” which has been covered by bands from the US, UK, Europe and Australia. Dropkick Murphys included it on their 2002 album Live on St. Patrick’s Day from Boston, MA and in 2010 it was part of the soundtrack for the film Jackass 3D.
Second lineup change, P.M.R.C. Sucks, Roadrunner signing
Gang Green’s lineup changed again soon after the release of Another Wasted Night, with the Stilphen brothers leaving to form Mallet-Head and Gustafson joining The Outlets. The new incarnation consisted of Doherty, guitarist Fritz Erickson, bassist Joe Gittleman of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and drummer Brian Betzger of Jerry’s Kids.
In 1987, after Taang! issued the four-song EP P.M.R.C. Sucks – a reference to the Parents Music Resource Center, a censorship-advocacy group – Gang Green signed with heavy metal-focused Roadrunner Records. The move from punk-centric Taang! made sense, critics said, since the band’s sound was evolving rapidly toward heavy metal.
You Got It, I81B4U
Gang Green’s first LP for Roadrunner, released on its Emergo imprint, was the 12-track You Got It, recorded in Carlisle, Massachusetts, at Blue Jay Recording Studio. Gone were the days of jingle-length jolts as the album included “Born to Rock” (4:36) and “Sick, Sex, Six” (6:11), though there were exceptions like “L.D.S.B.” (1:11) and “Haunted House” (1:39).
In 1988, the band cut their second Roadrunner disc, the EP I81B4U, meaning “I ate one before you,” a play on Van Halen’s OU812 (released in May that year). Recorded at Newbury Sound in Boston, it firmly established the group as the halfway point between hardcore and speed metal, a mix eventually labeled “crossover thrash.”