What were the best 80s hardcore punk bands?

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Answered by: Chris, An Expert in the Punk Music - General Category
Black Flag gave us hardcore. Black Flag hipped the world to Richard Pettibone and SST Records--a label that released some of the absolute best (and worst records) of the 80s. Black Flag passed down an impossible-to-duplicate legacy of recording and touring schedules. Black Flag gave us Henry Rollins and in the beginning Black Flag gave us Nervous Breakdown and became one of the best 80s hardcore punk bands.

With an ever-changing lineup of drummers, singers and bass players (founder Greg Ginn was the only constant from beginning to end), Black Flag transformed more times in any given year than most dinosaur rock bands do in a decade. Over the span of the band's existence, Ginn's unrelenting taskmaster work ethic coupled with his “my way or the highway” attitude eventually caused the band to devolve into the most basic and base moronic metal drudgery (aided of course by Rollins' macho posturing), but in the beginning The Flag was a band not to be trifled with.

1978’s Nervous Breakdown EP was the debut release for Ginn’s soon-to-be-seminal SST label. It features, in my opinion, the best of Flag’s long list of front men. Before leaving the band to form the Circle Jerks, Keith Morris did his time in Ginn’s punk rock army and set the template for hardcore singers to follow. The title track, along with the brilliant hardcore anthem “Wasted,” make this a stunning debut for a band that would never be remembered for consistency or quality above quantity.

Black Flag followed up with the Jealous Again in 1980. This EP was a four song, seven inch blast. Despite what hardcore would be come in a few short years, this record features plenty of the nonstop chaotic guitar solos that would become one of Ginn’s trademarks. Chavo (Ron Reyes) filled Keith Morris’s shoes for the recording. “It’s not my imagination, I got a gun at my back,” shouts Chavo in his SoCal surfer accent. What sounds cliché in 2011 was still virtually uncharted territory at the end of the 70s when songs about getting drunk and high might turn into seventeen minute jams. Dez Cadena was Chavo’s replacement, but it wasn’t long before he took a bow and relegated himself to second guitar. Not only would this beef up their signature sound but it would also clear the way for the band’s most recognized and celebrated vocalist.

Enter Rollins. When Rollins entered the fray for Black Flag's first LP, Damaged in 1981 he was under a lot of pressure to produce for a group of guys he idolized. This idolization would turn into resentment by the end of his time in the band, but for this record Rollins is at his best. His performance on Damaged was a feat not to be duplicated on subsequent efforts. Yes, it was downhill for our heroes after this one, but the anger, angst, desperation and boredom that comes across as Rollins screams his voice horse is undeniably gripping.

And while Black Flag's music could never be mistaken for thinking man's punk rock, it would get pretty stupid soon enough and for many fans their first LP was the last great Black Flag record. It was enough to cement their fame as one of, if not the bast 80s hardcore punk bands.

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