By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Written By: Gustavo Arellano, Andrew Asch, Joel Beers, Claudia Figueroa, Rich Kane, Bill Kohlhaase, George A. Paul, John Roos, Alison M. Rosen, Rebecca Schoenkopf, Buddy Seigal, Jason Thornberry, Jim Washburn and Chris Ziegler.
Why spend our time ranking the 129 greatest Orange County bands and solo acts of all time? Because it was easier than ranking the worst. Because 128 left us wanting more and 130 seemed self-indulgent. Because mega-lists of this sort are hot, baby, and everyone loves lists. Because we wanted to show that OC music history runs a lot deeper than most people think. Because we want lost of pissy letters from people complaining about who we left out. Because we wanted to see how many times we could use words like "angst," "shimmering" and "broken up" in a single issue. And if you have a problem about why your favorite band didn't make the cut, trust us: they would've been No. 130, but we had to chop this beast someplace…
1. The Adolescents
The "blue" album was the only record the Adolescents really needed to make. Though worthy songs would follow, this 1981 LP ricocheted from great to classic ("Amoeba," "Wrecking Crew" and their signature song "Kids of the Black Hole," not to mention "LA Girl," "Creatures" and "No Way"—punk-dive jukebox mainstays all) and established a blueprint for OC (and beyond!) punk that still hasn't smudged. Singer Tony Cadena might have been trying to sound like Darby Crash, but you can't even count the kids since who've tried to sound like Tony Cadena. Like X before them up in Hollywood, the Adolescents had absorbed their time and place, refining their own suburban experience to an irreducible minimum: if not the definitive OC band, they're still everything gone wrong about growing up in the 714 (of course, they might lose points for actually being admitted to Disneyland, unlike every other punk band in the county and the Teen Idles). Their recent reunion shows found them polished, mature, and as tight as they were when still in high school in Fullerton. Back then, the kids in bassist Steve Soto's first-period class thought he was lying about playing shows with Black Flag and partying with she-males at Geza X's house—but it was all true.
2. Chris Gaffney & the Cold Hard Facts
Critics often cite Gaffney and his band as the best thing in OC, but they still have no record label. It's been a decade since they were last in the studio, they don't tour, and their only gig is their current Sunday evening slot at the Blue Café in Long Beach. But just when you expect they're heaving their last collective breath, they'll turn around and floor you in a set bursting with passion, slashing musical interplay, Gaffney's life-besotted vocals and all the other grand stuff that doesn't translate to paper. They're like a boxer with heart, like Injun Joe with a Bowie knife, like a fridge stocked with beer and venison, like a gored rodeo clown on ecstasy. Gaffney's skewed songs of love and loss are as good as country gets, while the band's smoldering take on "Ring of Fire" makes the Social Distortion version sound like a society tea. This is the band by which all others must be judged and found wanting.
3. Social Distortion
If Orange County music had an iconic, tattooed, greased-up figurehead, it could only be Social Distortion's Mike Ness. From the first wave of OC punk bands, Social D were initially one of the more ambitious ones, recording several sides of what would become self-defining classics: "The Creeps (I Just Wanna Give You)," "Moral Threat," "1945," "Playpen," and the song (and album) that would've become archetypes no matter what county they were made in, "Mommy's Little Monster." But when punk got supplanted by bland "new wave" in the early '80s (and when evil authority figures kept getting the few punk clubs shut down), Social D disappeared, and Ness tumbled into a black pit of smack addiction. After several stupor-steeped years, he pulled a Phoenix and cleaned up, re-formed his band (with his best Troy High School buddy, the late Dennis Danell), got signed to mega-label Epic, cut a whole slew of new classics ("Story of My Life," "Ball and Chain," "Bad Luck," "I Was Wrong"), and pretty much hasn't let up since. We don't even think the Offspring could sell out as many House of Blues shows as Social D do every year, a testament to not only survival but fan loyalty if we've ever seen one.
4. The DTs
Woe to the bands who tried to follow the duo of Travis Harrelson and Don Wilson on county stages. Here the bands had lugged in their mighty amps and attitudes, only to be shut down by two elderly fellas with ukuleles. Wilson (who died from cancer in 1997) had a sweet voice that sounded all that much sweeter when singing lines like "Old rockin' chair's got me, cane by my side/Hand me that gin, son, 'fore I tan your hide." Harrelson, meanwhile, is practically the Django Reinhardt of the ukulele, tearing up the tiny fretboard in ways that have since landed him on stages with the world's reigning uke masters Herb Ota and Lyle Ritz. Travis and Don didn't care where they played—hospitals, Costa Mesa punk clubs, on buses—they just loved doing it. Even when Don was dying, the two would play for the other patients. That's what it's all about, tortured young shoegazer.