The Worst: The Worst of the Worst CD (Parts Unknown Records, 2004)
Here’s a peek behind the SSR curtain: I spend all day Wednesday drafting the Record of the Week and Featured Releases descriptions for the newsletter, then when I wake up on Thursday morning I throw together my staff pick at the last minute. Sometimes I know what my staff pick will be ahead of time, but often what I just scan my “recently listened” pile and see what I feel like writing about.
This week I noticed this CD reissue by New Jersey’s the Worst sitting near my stereo. I listened to a podcast yesterday in which Brian from Night Birds talked at length about the Worst, and that’s close enough to serendipity in my book. So here we are.
The Worst of the Worst compiles four sessions by New Jersey’s the Worst: their self-titled 7” and Expect the Worst 12” (both on legendary New Jersey label Mutha Records), a 6-song “unreleased LP,” and a 1979 live gig from Max’s Kansas City. It’s a lot of music, but it’s all worth hearing.
The Worst was unique in that they played with the big sound and blistering tempos of early 80s hardcore, but their sound was rooted in the nihilistic punk of the Stooges circa Raw Power and the Dead Boys.
As the date on that live set hints, the Worst started early in the game and gigged in the late 70s NYC punk scene (particularly at Max’s) until they were essentially banned and retreated to their home turf of South Jersey. There they joined the scrappy scene around Mutha Records, playing alongside fellow Mutha bands like Fatal Rage and Chronic Sick. Despite jumping scenes, the Worst’s sound stayed the same, and even the unreleased 2nd LP tracks on this CD have that mix of early hardcore speed and power and punk sleaze (though, having lost their original vocalist, they aren’t quite up to par with the released records).
The story of how the Worst got banned in New York is worth repeating. I wouldn’t say it’s the Worst’s claim to fame (the music on their two records is claim enough in my book), but it’s significant. As the tale goes, someone affiliated with the Worst’s camp (in Stuart Schrader’s excellent liner notes for this CD, it’s a roadie; in Brian’s account from the podcast, it’s the guitarist) was hanging out in NYC in a party that included Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. Sid was whining for drugs and the aforementioned Worst affiliate was elected to go score. They completed their task, returning to the party with enough drugs for the entire room, but Sid commandeered the stash, took it all, and overdosed. (This isn’t the overdose that killed Sid; it was one of the earlier ones that almost killed him.) The Worst were already on thin ice with NYC clubs thanks to their singer’s Iggy-inspired antics, and almost killing a punk icon was the straw that broke the camel’s back, making them personae non grata in the NYC scene.
It’s kind of crazy that, aside from a dodgy bootleg in the early 00s, we haven’t seen any vinyl reissues by the Worst. I would love to have vinyl copies of their Mutha releases, both of which are top shelf punk records. The 7” is a little punkier and catchier, and the songs (particularly the anthemic “High Velocity”) stand toe to toe with the Dead Boys’ nastiest recordings. Things get more straightforward on Expect the Worst, which has an FU’s-type punk-informed-hardcore sound, and while this flattens out some of the dynamism in the songwriting, that’s counterbalanced by the more vicious playing style. While this CD’s booklet notes there were 1,000 copies pressed of the Worst’s 7” and 2,500 copies of the 12”, the records are difficult to find and sell for north of $500. I’m skeptical there are 2,500 copies of the LP out there given how infrequently it turns up, but at least that number gives me some hope of laying my hands on one.