L.A. isn’t like other cities. As Joe Cardamone explained in a 2012 interview with Trebuchet, it’s a place with no center, and that means you “build your own reality.” He would know. The Icarus Line singer and guitarist grew up in the City of Angels, and in addition to fronting one of its most vicious and exciting rock ‘n’ roll bands, he’s a lifelong student of its music. And there’s a lot to study. Just as New York City has its signature albums — the debuts by the Velvets and Ramones, to name a couple — L.A.’s sprawling layout and strange mix of grit and glam have inspired some classic records. Scroll down to read Cardamone’s picks for the 6 essential L.A. albums — then check out the Icarus Line’s latest, ‘Slave Vows,’ to hear how he’s rolled his influences into the gnarliest psych-punk racket you’ll hear on either coast.
‘Animal God on the Streets’ (1975)
Kim is obviously a cult legend around L.A. ‘Animal God’ is kind of Kim doing his version of the Stooges and maybe Zappa meets the Doors. You can hear it in his voice that he isn’t taking any of it all that seriously, and why would he? Kim had made a fortune in the early ’60s with a string of No. 1 hits written and produced for radio. You’d be surprised to find out what oldies he has credit on. This record is just vicious, though. Kim’s voice is completely f—ed, and his lyrics are pure genius. Speaking of the Stooges, included on the reissue of this disc is a track called ‘Ain’t Got No Transportation.’ Kim decided he would write a hit for the Stooges, and he came up with that track. Pretty hilarious as an offering to Iggy, but on its own, it’s a completely badass tune.
For some reason, Sparks are not often mentioned as an L.A. band. Perhaps it is due to their popularity in the U.K. Sparks have a slew of great albums, but this one, for me, is my favorite. Georgio Moroder was the producer for this sort of disco era of Sparks. At that time, he had been working on some stuff with Bowie, and his soundtracks were full force. I can’t help but think dance music owes more to this record than it will ever know. Plus, there’s a Hitler ‘stache involved.
This record is often over looked in the Don Van Vliet cannon because it’s much later in his career. Also because people wanna pose and act like they listen to ‘Trout Mask.’ I always doubt that. ‘Doc at the Radar’ sounds so timeless that it could be released today on Drag City or some cool-school indie and no one would think twice about when it was made. The lyrics are seething and pissed. I would think there would be no Birthday Party or Jesus Lizard without this record. It’s a nearly perfect offering by a true musical outsider. A true vanguard. Something that most artists could use as compass to lead them toward what it means to be a badass. Everyone who loves rock ‘n’ roll should own and know this record.
I first heard ‘Fire of Love’ when I was living in some crap extended-stay hotel behind Hollywood Blvd. I was between housing, to put it whitely. It’s probably one of the most insane-sounding mixes that I have ever heard. Really odd sonic choices — like, is there even a bass guitar on it? The songs were so great, though, that you pretty much forget about what it sounds like within the first listen.
There was a period when Black Flag were signed to a major label called Unicorn and wasn’t legally able to play or record under the name Black Flag. These demos are all we really have to document to be what I consider the bands greatest lineup. Henry [Rollins] was fresh in the band still and had fire under his ass. The vocals are pure hate. Stylistically the group has changed. Tracks like ‘Nothing Left Inside’ and ‘My War’ marked a completely different era for the group with slowed down power. This is also the only two-guitar era of the band, which just sounds f—ing insane. One of the biggest contributing factors to my love for these demos is that Chuck Biscuits — who my my money is the best drummer the band ever had — is playing drums and just bashing with confidence. It’s really a shame that this lineup didn’t make any proper record, because I feel like the proper LP versions of these tunes lack the backbone that Chuck provided. If you don’t have this bootleg, you don’t love Black Flag.
What can I say that hasn’t been said a million times. This record still goes platinum every year. Nothing has really hit the public consciousness like it since. One of that last mainstream rock ‘n’ roll acts to truly not give a f—. Axl would talk about being raped as a child in front of thousands of kids — some of which perhaps shared similar horrific stories — and in the same breath let them know that there’s nothing that people can do to take your spirit away. Can you imagine Will I Am or Dave Grohl doing that? Unfortunately, Axl probably wont be remembered for his brazen honesty anymore — just another casualty of the modern “keep ’em in your cross-hairs” media. The rest of the group is a parody of their former selves. This record defined an end to an era of mainstream rock ‘n’ roll. Nowadays, you can see corny dicks from all walks of pop music sporting GNR T-shirts while they pimp their asses out to the complete opposite of what this band stood for. Yeah I said, it: They stood for something.
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