March 19, 2007

X- Making The Music Go BANG!

X is well known as perhaps the most successful and musically ambitious of the original Los Angeles Punk bands. The band’s strengths were the vocal interplay between (at that time married) John Doe and Exene Cervenka; the rockabilly tinged guitar of Billy Zoom (who had played in Gene Vincent’s band) and the hardhitting beats of aptly named drummer DJ Bonebrake. The lyrics reflected L.A. in all its decadence and bordered on poetry.

Many first got their taste of X from the original Decline Of Western Civilization film, which focused on the LA scene and also featured Black Flag, Fear, The Germs and The Circle Jerks.

X’s first album Los Angeles (1980) had some money behind it and got a lot of promotion and press. Some of this was due to the involvement of Ray Manzarek, the keyboardist from The Doors, who produced the record and also played keyboards on it. The album is in Rolling Stone’s top 100 records of the 80’s and in the top 300 of all time.

Despite some revisionist history, I remember that the album was pretty much ripped in most reviews. Remember, this was the time when Punk and all incarnations were pretty much universally reviled by the major media (with the exception of more established bands like the Ramones and The Clash). The L.A. scene was pretty violent and excessive and although X were certainly not hardcore in any way, they were lumped in with other more excessive bands.

Still, the album contained such classics as "The Phone’s Off The Hook (But You’re Not)", "Nausea", "Johnny Hit And Run Pauline", and a cover of The Doors’ "Soul Kitchen". The album breaks the three minute punk per song barrier as well, most notably with the 4 1/2 minute "The World's a Mess, It's in My Kiss".

Much better received was their next album; Wild Gift (1981). This album featured classics such as "The Once Over Twice", "Beyond and Back" and the decidedly unpunk "White Girl" and established X as THE L.A. punk band. The album is also recognized in the (yecch) Rolling Stone top 500 records of all time.

X also appeared in the concert film Urgh- A Music War playing "Beyond And Back".

X was amazing in concert (still are, in fact). Billy Zoom would stand almost motionless, flashing a big shit-eating smile, John Doe (dressed workmanlike) and Exene (dressed in thrift store splendor) would be harmonizing, and the place would go wild.

I had the chance to hang with X a couple of times in the early 80's. John Doe and DJ Bonebrake were the nicest, most easy going guys in the world. It was tremendous to actually be able to have conversations with (at least to us) real adult rock stars. Zoom was kinda unapproachable... he looked so, well royal with the platinum blonde perfect hair. And Exene, man I was sorta scared of Exene, she had this other-worldly aura about her, like she had one foot in some mystic punk rock universe. The fact that so much of their iconography was religious didn't help either! When she sang "Riding With Mary" (about her dead sister), it was genuinely chilling.

X then signed with Elektra records and released two more fantastic albums: Under The Big Black Sun and More Fun In The New World. Both of these records have a more “produced” (ie big budget) sound, but both are still highly recommended. The record companies were shooting for hits and despite college radio airplay on songs like "Blue Spark", "The Hungry Wolf" (on Big Black Sun) and "The New World" and "We’re Having So Much Fun" (on More Fun), the big break never happened. At this point, X also covered Jerry Lee Lewis' Breathless, from the movie of the same name).

In the mid 1980’s, X released a film The Unheard Music which details the band’s history. Seek it out- it is well worth owning. The musical performances are amazing.

X actually ended up with a semi-hit, when they covered the old Troggs tune Wild Thing (which got big play in the movie Major League).

The band (with-out Billy Zoom, but adding Dave Alvin from The Blasters) than changed direction and became The Knitters, which was a country folk project. Zoom left X at this point and the band added Tony Gilkyson for the albums Ain't Love Grande, See How We Are and Hey Zeus in the mid to late 1980’s.

That was about it for X.

Exene and John Doe ended up releasing several solo albums. John Doe has also appeared in several films and TV shows.

Since then, the band has reunited to play show (especially over the last three years.)

I am offering up a fantastic entire concert soundboard recording (from live radio) of X performing at My Fathers Place on Long Island, NY from 1983. I was at this show, in fact at one point we passed Exene a bottle of homemade Applejack (grain alcohol and cider) and she swigged it and almost puked mid-song. The crowd noise in the background undoubtedly included me and my friends. Good times, good times.

I am posting this on a new hosting site, if someone can let me know if the downloads are working, I would be most appreciative.

Click on this link for:
and here are a couple of other X tunes you may not have:
From the Adult Books 7"
From the soundtrack of The Decline:


Rinjo Njori said...

"two more fantastic albums: Under The Big Black Sun and More Fun In The New World."

Glad to see someone other than me likes, Under The Big Black Sun. Believe me we are in the minority.

Toxxy said...

Hi Nazz, Cheers for the link to "X- My Fathers Place - 11-12-1983". Downing right now, lookin' forward to hear it :)

Punk Not Profit said...

Thank You for the for the great blog!!!
Keep on turning the world onto true music
,To you + all the good people out there check out our new spot (if ya Like) we just started the blog to support important anti-trend music like you do and to try to expose honest artists ,
and add us to your links if you can,as we will do with yours once we are fully up and running, just in diapers now so learning as we go!!


aikin said...

Thanks for the X post. I'm only just now rediscovering this band, even though I grew up in Calif during their heyday.

Steve said...

Gotta agree with Rinjo -- a few words about "Under the Big Black Sun" and "More Fun In The New World" would've made this post great instead of just pretty darn good.

And if there was a shout-out to the Knitters, this post would've made my week.

bitterandrew said...

Count me in as another fan of Under the Big Black Sun!

Nice post, btw.

jon manyjars said...

I read recently that you can send poems to John Doe at his website, I thought about writing one: "The albums X made without Billy Zoom/ Make me want to leave the room." Nothing against Dave Alvin, esp. his playing on the Knitters' records. But I suspect Billy Zoom wouldn't have put up with "See How We Are".

MOOKIE said...

I was at that show at My Father's Place back in 1983. Great stuff. I've seen X more than a few times. Met them as well. Do I know you?

You can reach me at my blog

Juan Duque said...

"BBlack Sun" is such a rocking album!! The first time I heard it when i was like 15 i thought it sounded too metal, but now it's one of my favorites. I looove the cover and the back pic, too!!