10 Best Bad Brains Songs
If you want to scramble your noggin with trippy hardcore punk flavored with an intense amalgam of reggae and rip-roaring metal, dive into this list of the 10 Best Bad Brains Songs. Bad Brains are unique for playing unrelenting punk with melodic sophistication, not to mention the fact that these rockers — who’ve been pumping out tunes since the late '70s — were pioneering members of the “black” punk and hard rock movements. If it weren’t for Bad Brains, other great bands like 24-7 Spyz and Living Colour might not have had the chance to get their music out to wider audiences. So crank up the volume, put on a “brain bucket” for protection and thrash along to the best of what these boys from Washington, D.C., have to offer.
‘Stay Close To Me’ is a romantic tune making use of the best weapons in Bad Brains’ musical arsenal. The bulk of this laid-back groove moves along to a ska and reggae beat, but when the chorus kicks in, so do the distortion and power chords. You might call this genre-bending ditty “Rasta hardcore.” It says a lot about a band when critics need to coin new subgenre terms to describe the music.
‘Coptic Times,’ No. 9 on our list of the Best Bad Brains Songs, is a blazing punk rock guitar fest with jackhammer drums pulsating through the core. The song cools down about two-thirds of the way through for a few drum rolls before fiery hard rock guitar riffs start burning up the fret board. Despite the tough-sounding nature of this song, at heart, it’s really a Rastafarian tune praising Jah and the virtues of living a good life while holding onto your faith. Interestingly enough, the album ‘Rock for Light’ was engineered and produced by Ric Ocasek, the lead singer for the Cars.
'At the Movies' is pure punk — the kind felt from the tips of your scrunched-up toes to the top of your tingling head. Check the ‘Omega Sessions’ version, or the superb live one on ‘The Youth Are Getting Restless,' and hear how the whirling guitars and nonstop rhythm lock in right after the gentle intro. Destined to land in the annals of punk history, this one also features lead vocalist H.R.'s (Human Rights) soulful chanting and screeching. “Here's to the maker / The film double taker," he says, expounding on themes of deception and reality. "Illusion type faker / Guaranteed shaker.”
‘Soul Craft,’ from the 1989 release ‘Quickness,’ is a Bad Brains tune that goes from punk and edgy reggae to thunderous hard rock. The ‘Soul Craft’ in question is a type of “spiritual aerial vehicle” one should fly drug-free in search of Jah and unity, melding into the power of the cosmos. Regardless of whether you’re up for hanging out with Jah, this gut-slugging song should beef up your adrenaline and prepare you for whatever journeys life has in store.
Deep, growling guitars underscore H.R.’s lead vocals and pavement-scraping lyrics on this tough-sounding track, No. 6 on our list of the 10 Best Bad Brains Songs. A thick bass line adds even more grit, and every once in a while, melodious chunks of chorus reach above the driving beat. But the essence of this song remains that down and dirty vibe: “Re-Ignition cancellation can't win / No celesty ever resting begin / When grace melts inside your hand and my heart / Is the glory that much closer or apart.
‘Day Tripper’ is a Beatle’s cover whose beautiful opening bass line eases the listener into the rest of the song. The drums — and Bad Brains' choice of reggae-style guitars — ooze with heavy doses of echo and reverb. This is a feel-good summertime jam that tells the story of a girl who’s a “day tripper” and a “big teaser.” The punk rock boys from D.C. really do the tune justice by giving their distinctive version a wicked groove tinged with an element of danger you won’t find on the original.
Eighties-sounding guitars, a Clash-like chanting chorus and a strong punk ethos makes ‘I Against I’ a classic Bad Brains counterculture anthem. The multi-tempo track rocks back and forth between a quick, bouncing rhythmic line and several chilled-out reposes interspersed throughout. It's a punk rocker’s delight, and for those who dig wild acoustic covers, Jeff Buckley happened to record a fast-paced, loose-knit version that’s pretty good, too.
Well, we won’t get too deep into the lyrical significance of this song. We’ll let you figure that one out for yourselves, although it’s not as dirty as the title might suggest. Regardless, ‘Pay To Cum’ is early, high-octane Bad Brains hardcore punk delivered at an incredibly frenetic pace. This track also happens to be Bad Brains’ first major single release. It was set loose on the public back in 1980, letting the world know that Bad Brains had arrived upon the scene.
Pure, unbridled punk rock energy races through every note of this head-thrashing song. 'Sailin' On' is a short, rough, loud track with a simple story to tell. The singer is ‘Sailn’ On’ because his lover is fed up with him. “You don't want me anymore / So I walked right out that door.” It’s a great tune that knocks you over and, like the title suggests, moves on before you know what hit you. “I'm moving, yeah I'm moving on / Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.” Living Colour's great cover is also well worth checking out.
‘Banned in D.C.,’ tops on our list of the 10 Best Bad Brains Songs, kicks off with a couple of punchy, raw chords, before H.R. screams at the top of his lungs, “We gonna make it anyway / You, you can't hurt me / Why I'm banned in D.C., D.C.” The band wrote this classic in response to the many local D.C. rock clubs that wouldn’t let them set foot onstage. And so, as the lyrics go, they moved on and left the capital behind. “Banned in D.C. with a thousand other places to go / Gonna swim across the Atlantic cause that's the only place I can go."