7 Seconds: Old School LP (Headhunter Records, 1991)
The other day Angela, Jeff, and I were working at the warehouse together. Angela was listening to this new Operation Ivy bootleg LP we got in, and between that and Jeff pricing a stack of used Casualties records, the conversation turned to music we were into as teenagers. Before I knew it, Angela was blasting Less Than Jake for like an hour straight. Less Than Jake was my favorite band for a couple of years when I was in high school. I listened to Pezcore incessantly, and I would have thought I could still sing along with every word. It turns out that I remembered some parts, but most of it seemed only vaguely familiar to me. I guess it was like 30 years ago at this point! Still, it choked me up a little to remember so many nights of driving to the beach with my best friend Billy, blasting “My Very Own Flag” and “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts” and singing along at the top of our lungs, stopping at the Waffle House at like 4AM and driving home as the sun rose, still jacked on shitty coffee.
I always say that 7 Seconds is a band I’m glad I discovered when I was younger, because their sunny melodies and somewhat naïve politics would grate on my ears hard if I heard them for the first time as a full-grown adult. Somewhere in the punk network at my high school, someone passed me a dubbed tape of Walk Together, Rock Together, and I just loved it. At the time I was listening to a lot of Minor Threat and a lot of Screeching Weasel, and 7 Seconds seemed to fit in the sweet spot between them, with some of SW’s goofy poppiness and some of Minor Threat’s speed and aggression. I always kept an eye out for 7 Seconds records when I was shopping, but after picking up Soulforce Revolution and Ourselves, I realized there were some 7 Seconds records I didn’t want to own (nowadays I think those albums have their merits). I needed a more strategic approach.
I entered college in 1997, just as computers and the internet became ubiquitous. By my second year of college, I still didn’t own a computer, but both of my roommates did, and whenever one or the other of them wasn’t at home, I was on one of their computers reading about punk and scoring things on ebay that I still tell tales about today. Once I realized 7 Seconds had a bunch of records before Walk Together, Rock Together, I set about chasing it all down. The Crew was easy to get and pretty mind-blowing when when I did. It was rougher, faster, and punker than Walk Together, but just as easy to sing along with. Two compilations of earlier material were even more exciting. Alt.music.hardcore (talk about a dated title!) collected the songs from their early 7”s, and if The Crew turned up the rawness and aggressive knobs from Walk Together, these earlier recordings cranked them even further. Of course today I own all those original 7”s, but I still blast Alt.music.hardcore with surprising regularity.
And then there’s my staff pick from this week, Old School. The recordings that make up Old School were meant for 7 Seconds’ debut LP, which was supposed to be called United We Stand, but it never came out. A few of these tracks came out on a 7” titled Blasts from the Past, but they scrapped most of the songs from this session and re-recorded them for The Crew and other records. I did some quick googling, but I wasn’t able to find any info about why they scrapped these sessions. Does anyone know if there’s somewhere I can hear that story? Why hasn’t anyone made a book or a movie about 7 Seconds yet? Get on that, punk nostalgia industrial complex!
Making your way through the 7 Seconds’ discography is all about how the band balances their impulses toward hardcore aggression and big pop melodies, and for me Old School is where they achieve the perfect balance. Only a handful of tracks have blatant, Sham 69-style singalong choruses with lots of whoa-oh-type singing, and even those are backloaded onto the end of the record (“Red and Black,” “Clenched Fists, Black Eyes”). The more straightforward hardcore songs that make up the rest of the album benefit from the band’s songwriting chops, but the emphasis is on getting across that feeling of pissed-off rambunctiousness. “Wasted Life (Ain’t No Crime)” sounds like it might have drawn some musical inspiration from early Minor Threat, and tracks like “War in the Head” and “You Lose” are just perfect early 80s US hardcore.
The song that was doing it for me as I blasted this while driving around this week, though, was “Diehard.” “Action’s being taken cause of this / you fucked with us, and now we’re fucking PISSED!” Maybe I’m a little too far from my Less Than Jake fanboy days to sing along with those songs, but driving around this week yelling along to “Diehard,” I felt like I’d been transported right back to 1998, when I was a dumb-ass teenager hearing this stuff for the first time.