Cheat Sheet: Greaser Punk 'n' Roll
by Justin Farrar | July 24, 2012
Have you heard the new Gaslight Anthem album, Handwritten? It's damn good: rousing, Misfits-style chorus-howls riding a bash 'n' pop bounce that mixes up The Boss, Social D and a little Radio 4 even. In other words, it's the kind of raucous music that sounds great while hanging with the boys with a pack a smokes wrapped in your T-shirt sleeve. The band definitely has a lot in common with The Hold Steady, especially when it comes to meditating on the redemptive powers of rock 'n' roll and the magic that comes with hearing a killer tune on the radio. At the same time, they're way less Brooklyn and way more Jersey. Which is where they're from, not surprisingly.
"Greaser punk 'n' roll" is the phrase I use to describe the tradition to which Handwritten belongs. It's not a terribly scientific term (what genre tag is, really?), but I believe it does a decent enough job tying together a breadth of bands with a lot of similar traits. The Clash are, of course, ground zero, thanks to the punk-meets-rockabilly-meets-ska-meets-twang of 1979's London Calling. X dropped their Los Angeles album a year later; inspired by The Clash's ability to fuse punk to vintage rock tropes, the quartet ratcheted up the twang factor and kickstarted the whole cowpunk thing (which, just to point out, parts ways with greaser punk 'n' roll when it gets too sh*t-kicker).
As it turned out, L.A. in the '80s coughed up a slew of acts that explored greaser punk 'n' roll, including The Blasters ('50s revivalism), The Flesh Eaters ('50s revivalism meets art school weirdness) and the mighty Social Distortion, whose 1990 self-titled album contains two classic songs that cast long shadows over American punk rock: "Ball and Chain" and "Story of My Life." Case in point: Exploding out of San Diego, Rocket From the Crypt carried the Social D sound deep into the '90s by filtering it through post-hardcore's muscular, hyper-charged whir.
Minneapolis legends The Replacements also need to be mentioned. They didn't go for finely etched sideburns and pomade like the groups out California way, but they sure did love penning rock 'n' roll anthems with a Springsteen-like earnestness. They're very nearly as important as The Clash for us Americans.
Also here, you'll also find a few bands/albums that merely flirted with greaser punk 'n' roll, yet igorning them seems weird. Specifically, I'm referring to Rancid and Dropkick Murphys. Both bleed neo- Sham 69, street-punk 'tude. Yet each group in its own unique way is committed to a kids-are-alright sincerity that seems to jibe with everything else found on the list below.