Zero Boys – “History Of” (1984 / 2009)

Man, it feels like forever since I posted something on the blog. Yet it’s only been about five days or so. There is a certain obsession that comes along with writing for me, and when I don’t do it, I somehow feel like something’s missing. Sometimes I can replace it with reading… but these days it’s hard for me to even to listen to music without thinking about how I’d write about it, and even reading makes me want to write. Which is of course part of the reason for the volume knob. Because sometimes you need to crank it up to 11 so you can shut out everything else and just listen to the music.

History Of caught my eye the other day as I was leaving the vinyl section over at Easy Street Records. Early punk? Check. Vinyl? Check. Decent price? Check. Download codes included? Yup. Into the stack it went.

The Zero Boys came out of Indiana at the end of the 1970s, and History Of is about half of the recorded output of the original band (the balance being found on Vicious Circle). Originally coming out on cassette in 1984, my version is the 2009 vinyl re-release. In an interview singer Paul Mayhem talked about how his mind was blown when punk records first made their way to his part of the country, how he and his friend would take a 30 minute bus ride to get to the one store that carried these exotic records from the UK and New York, and how seeing the Sex Pistols on a magazine cover was basically terrifying. Holy crap, look at these guys! They look hard and crazy! I want to do that! And it didn’t take long before the Zero Boys were born and playing local shows.

I sometimes wonder if the internet and the ever-increasing graphicness of film has totally numbed us to being shocked by something as seemingly mundane as an album or magazine cover. Can an experience like Mayhem’s even happen today? That’s not to say that band’s images weren’t carefully crafted then just as they are today. But before MTV your entire exposure to a band might be a handful of photos and posters. How many kids sat in their rooms, in the middle of nowhere, and were totally staggered by just the idea of the Sex Pistols or David Bowie or the Plasmatics without ever having heard them or even seen more than a couple of pictures of them? You might have had one 7″ and a couple of photos you cut out of Creem or Hit Parader to go on, and that was it. I can remember being terrified by the cover of Dio’s Holy Diver, so much so that I never bought it. It seems almost quaint now.

But back to Zero Boys. History Of is an impressive album, one that mixes different styles of punk. There’s plenty of early hardcore here, including the great opening track “Drive In.” But there’s also rockabilly-garage on the classic “Livin’ in the 80s,” bare-bones proto-punk on “Stoned to Death” and “Stick to Your Guns,” the heavy duty Black Flag-ish “Inergy,” and even pop-punk with “Splish Splash.” The variety makes for a fun listening experience as you find yourself thinking “hmm, I wonder what the next one will sound like…”

Regardless of the style, the record’s 19 tracks are tight as hell, almost all of them shorter than three minutes, so even if you don’t like the one that’s on you only need to give it a couple of minutes before you get to something at least a little different. If nothing else, check ’em out on iTunes where you can get the whole album for less than ten bucks if you like what you hear.

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