The following post originally appeared on Geek Force Network, August 9, 2013. Some of the video links have been updated.
In life there is music that one likes, music that one dislikes, music that one tolerates enough to not tune out, and music that deeply and immediately connects with one’s soul. That intimate connection occurred the first time I heard Bad Religion. It didn’t, however, suddenly transform into someone with a pink mohawk, Doc Martens, and a ear full of safety pins – I’ve never been quite so blatant with my hobbies. But after my first BR encounter, I had to have more. Their cerebral music and smart tones spoke to me. I had to know everything I possibly could about this incredible band, their music and their message. And then, of course, I had to know more about punk music. And so began the descent.
For me, Bad Religion served as the perfect gateway into the genre – they’re as intellectual and thoughtful in their music as they are rough and tumble. To those unfamiliar with but curious about BR, the place to start is their first album, How Could Hell be Any Worse?, which contains a particularly poignant and pointed diddy about armageddon. As for singles, “American Jesus” from Recipe for Hate might be their most well-known song. It’s a great song that sits squarely in the middle of their success. But for anyone who wants a quick sampling of some of their offerings before diving into the heady waters, here are six to get you started. (Note that the occasional curse word is flung here and there in their lyrics. Best to not put these songs on blast at the office. Unless your office is totally cool like that.)
“Do What You Want” (Suffer, 1988)
I need not add more glowing praise to the album Suffer than has already been heaped onto it. Simply stated, it’s truly a masterpiece in sound, word, and design. If I could only have one song off this album, it would probably be “Do What You Want.” It’s a quintessential BR song – fast, jarring, and a little sarcastic. Maybe. Is the message really as simple “do what you want, but don’t do it around me?” Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t…
“I Want to Conquer the World” (No Control, 1989)
If I kick the bucket anytime soon, I want this song to be played as my ashes are strewn about the lands. Just thinking about the massive guitars in “I Want to Conquer the World” makes my heart beat a little faster. While it doesn’t have the chant of, say, Pennywise’s “Bro Hymn,” it’s the best BR to sing (or yell) along with. Because who doesn’t want to conquer the world? Seriously, play this song and give “I want to conquer the world!” your all. You’ll totally feel better afterwards.
“Anesthesia” (Against the Grain, 1990)
The best bands are able to combine both outward and inward lyrics; and the really great ones make you question which are which. I’ve read that “Anesthesia” is about Charles Manson. I’ve also read that it’s about heroin addiction. I would tend to side with the latter idea here, but I don’t really know. All I know is that mystery and melody combine into one hell of a song.
“No Direction” (Generator, 1992)
If you know this song, can you pick out the one word that lead singer Greg Graffin changed in the lyrics in this recent live performance? (The guys of BR certainly aren’t slouches when it comes to pop culture, ha!) To me, “No Direction” sums up the single most important message of BR (if they have a message to tell, that is): follow yourself not the “leader.” And the whole “tell ’em” bridge might be one of the best climaxes in a BR song, or in any song, ever.
“A Streetkid Named Desire” (The New America, 2000)
The New America marks one a several departures in sound that BR has taken over the years; and it’s a great album that’s both political and personal. “A Streetkid Named Desire” tells the very relatable of growing up as an outsider. It’s perfect song for when you’re feeling out of sorts or can’t seem progress over a rut. I like this song in tandem with All’s “I’ll Get There,” because, as Graffin says, “I know that paradise is some other place, and I’ll get there another day.”
“Sorrow” (The Process of Belief, 2002)
What exactly is “Sorrow” about? War? Family relationships? A story from the Bible? There are several different ways to interpret this song, which is what makes it one of my favorite off The Process of Belief. There’s a bit of melancholy imbued in the lyrics, which is offset by the driving harmonies. As much as I like the quick, in-and-out of a one minute punk song, sometimes a little more time is needed to tell a story. BR knows exactly when a little more is just enough; and “Sorrow” is a great example of this.
So now that I’ve sounded off, it’s your turn. If you’re a Bad Religion fan, what’s your favorite song or album? If not, have you experienced “love at first listen” with a particular song or artist?