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The Best Hardcore Song Of All Time: 1980

The Best Hardcore Song Of All Time: 1980

1980 is another sparse year for hardcore but it’s an interesting one because of its geography. You might expect the growth of hardcore to start in one central area (Southern California) and extend out from there but that’s not the case. 1980 has releases from Southern California but this year also includes Washington DC’s preamble to what will eventually become hardcore’s constitution. Beyond that, hardcore makes its way across the Atlantic and a subgenre is born already, just one year into the genre’s existence. 

Circle Jerks - “Live Fast Die Young”

Keith Morris leaves Black Flag at the end of 1979 and starts a new band called Circle Jerks. Almost immediately, the band hits the studio to record the original version of “Wild In The Streets” for a compilation and shortly follows up with their first full-length, Group Sex. It starts with “Deny Everything,” a blast of paranoid freakout energy from Morris, an avowed “Full-blown cokehead” at the time. The record peaks with Live Fast Die Young, a song about doing exactly what’s in the title. Keith Morris gives a blasé affectation to every line in the song and while yes, it’s ironic that he says, “I don’t wanna live to be 34,” and he’s twice that age as of writing this, he’s never outlived the attitude. Morris’ belief that things can’t get better is coupled with a belief that this place is dead anyway. Why stick around? Live fast, die young, leave a pretty corpse. 

Black Flag - “You Bet We’ve Got Something Personal Against You”

This isn’t the best song of 1980 and I’ll get that out of the way right now, but it is important for being the first hardcore diss track. When Keith Morris left Black Flag for Circle Jerks, he also packed up a song called “Don’t Care.” It was supposed to be on Black Flag’s debut album but when Morris left, the tapes were abandoned. Imagine Black Flag’s surprise when their song showed up in the middle of Group Sex. On Jealous Again, Black Flag re-records the song and Chuck Dukowski makes his only appearance as Black Flag’s vocalist on “You Bet We’ve Got Something Personal Against You.” It’s the best song on the 7” (Ron Reyes is nobody’s favorite Black Flag vocalist) and its threatening invective becomes the new trademark of Black Flag’s work as it moves on. Black Flag goes from “Crazy” on Nervous Breakdown and Jealous Again to “Dangerous” after, and it starts here on “Something Personal.”

Teen Idles - “Sneakers”

Hardcore is a youth movement. Let’s call a spade a spade: It’s the sound of kids who’ve finally been let off the leash. Even when made by people older than Teen Idles, it’s got the idealistic streak that only someone who hasn’t been crushed by the realities of life might have. “Sneakers” is DC’s first hardcore anthem, birthed by a proximity to politics, the most grown-up of all the professions. On the track, the Idles remind you to not grow up too fast because the world will do it for you. Of course, as we all get older, we all wonder when we start being an adult. “When does it all get real? When did I stop having fun? Why do I still feel like a kid inside?” No matter, put on your sneakers and be a kid. Hop in the mosh pit and move around.

Discharge - “Realities Of War”

And finally, we move across the Atlantic and get the first international Hardcore release. Discharge released three 7”s in 1980 and this is the first track off the first 7”, Realities Of War. Drop the needle and the first two seconds of the first song already make history. That’s the D-Beat. The very first one. From the spiked jacket on the cover and the first D-Beat on record, they’re already cooking but then the bass kicks in and Discharge, “dis-rock,” and the first wave of British hardcore is off and running. “Realities Of War” is a sign of what’s to come in music and in politics, showing us that it wasn’t just the kids in LA feeling the strain of the world and being nihilistic about it, it’s everyone across the planet. To some degree, “Realities Of War” sounds a little like Motorhead but more spun out and running amok in the streets. It’s a battle cry for peace and it’s the opening salvo of hardcore’s long-waged war against the powers that be. 

The best hardcore song of 1980:

“Realities Of War” by Discharge

I had a very tough time picking between “Realities Of War” and “Live Fast Die Young” but I landed on “Realities.” Both of these songs are perfect, slightly refined takes on the primordial hardcore soup but the D-beat reigns supreme. I think “Live Fast Die Young” is a perfect song and does a great job of distilling the original hardcore ethos down into something concentrated. But at the same time, “Realities” is a heavier, much more devilish look at the reasons why someone wouldn’t “want to live to be 34.” It’s beefier, it’s punchier, and it fights back instead of giving up and ceding the earth to tyrants.

Programming note: this is going to be weekly from now on, even if it kills me.