Agony Shorthand

Friday, June 17, 2005

Few songs can convincingly be pointed to as the “first example” of anything – “Rocket 88” as the first rock and roll song, “Communication Breakdown” as the first metal song, etc. However, I am well secure in the knowledge that the MIDDLE CLASS’ “Out of Vogue” is not only the first “hardcore punk” song ever written and recorded (1978), but is one of the most blazing, innovative and exhilarating rock music songs of all time. A one-minute marvel/blur led by the methamphetamined, berzerk auction call of Jeff Atta, "Out of Vogue" approached true art like few of their peers. After the first “verse”, maybe 20 seconds in, the song actually speeds up, and Jeff's vocals effortlessly speed up with it. At this point the tempo is just incredible, drums are pounding like a 78rpm migraine and hey, wow, it's over. I know of non-punk experimental art types who adopted these guys as spiritual brothers, and while it may not be easy to spot on the surface, keep listening -- it's there. “Insurgence” from that first 1978 EP also has one of the best opening 3 seconds of any punk song, ever: a dim guitar ring – ching – and then this whumping THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP before the song rushes off. Man, I play those two constantly. The Atta brothers of punk were akin to the Alou brothers of baseball: all exceptionally accomplished, all playing for the same team. After the “Out of Vogue” EP the Middle Class wound the tempos down a bit, as everyone else was really speeding up. A lot of teeth were already being cut on their sound -- mission accomplished, I guess. Having played the fastest punk rock created to that point, they obviously had the chops to explore other terrain, and there were strong influences wafting in from all over the globe circa 1979, and many certainly on display in their own backyard of Orange County/Los Angeles.

The “Scavenged Luxury” EP was more at home with fellow LA basin travelers 100 FLOWERS (particularly the chop-static art-funk classic “Home Is Where”) or perhaps the WIPERS. The 1982 “Homeland” LP slowed things down even more and was well within the bounds of the nearly boundless term “post-punk”. It is not represented here on a strong 1995 compilation of their stuff called "A Blueprint For Joy, 1978-80" (not pictured above because no correctly-sized picture appears to exist on the WWW), which contains those first two EPs, the band's excellent contributions to Chris D.'s "Tooth And Nail" comp LP (tracksthere are still more like the first record but already unwinding & breathing a bit), and cool excerpts from shows all over SoCal in 1979 (Cuckoo's Nest, Whiskey, Starwood, Hong Kong Cafe -- for LA punkophiles, all the usual suspects of the era). The shows sort of confirm my impressions of the post-'78 band -- that they morphed into something tight, creative and occasionally explosive but a little dry. Not one of the live tracks leaps out & significantly differentiates itself from the ones that surround it, and I've listened to this CD quite a bit since its release & I couldn't hum a single bar of sound from any of the CD's latter half. But stack it up against SACCHARINE TRUST, B-PEOPLE, HUMAN HANDS, 100 FLOWERS and the rest of the LA punk-rooted experimental music lovers, and it holds its own pretty goddamn well. Guitarist Mike Atta still flies the flag in the O.C.-- he's a friend of a friend; goes on excursions with the kids together; hits the pool, etc., and when he's not changing training pants he's running his crazy vintage modern department store called, that's right, Out of Vogue. Look it up next time you're hanging out in downtown Fullerton!