Top 20 Greatest OC Albums of All Time: The Complete List

The Vandals
The Vandals
Lisa Johnson

For almost 18 years, faithful readers of the OC Weekly have counted on our music section for its continuous cycle of sniffing out local albums. It goes something like this: We search for them (yeah, we get a shit-ton in the mail, too), we listen to them, we separate the wheat from the chaff, we remind you of release dates, we champion them when they sell a bajillion copies -- while reminding you who told you to give them a listen in the first place. Along the way, we've made sure to pay tribute to the classic albums that paved the way for OC music culture as we know it. Though there are thousands of OC-based offerings worthy of our admiration, there are always going to be a handful of albums that immediately pop into our brain when someone asks us to rehash the best albums to define OC music, to represent both a time and place in our native sound. Love it or hate it, this is what we came up with. --Nate Jackson

20) LD & Ariano, A Thin Line (2006)
Few artists have done as much to bring major label talent into the fold of OC hip-hop as LD and Ariano. A quick scan of their discography uncovers featured verses from names such as U-God of the Wu Tang Clan, Chali2na of Jurassic 5, RBX and Snoop Dogg, as well as local legends such as LMNO and DJ Rhettmattic. But none of these artists would've co-signed this duo without the deft lyrical chops and baritone hooks of Huntington Beach rapper Ariano and the turntable wizardry of his DJ, LD. It all started with their 2006 debut, A Thin Line, which boasts catchy underground beats inspired by everyone from DJ Premiere to Madlib. Aside from the fact it still holds up seven years after its release, this album--the beginning of an unbelievable avalanche of material--is one of the best entrees into OC hip-hop we can think of. (Nate Jackson)

19) Dusty Rhodes and the River Band, First You Live (2007)
Nothing says, "Fuck you" to rock & roll conventionalism quite like a curly haired guy with an accordion. In that regard, it's really no surprise an outfit ike Dusty Rhodes and the River Band created such a cult following in the mid-2000s. With a mix of classic-rock gumption, knee-slapping folk, proggy complexity and the irreverent soul of squeeze box-playing front man Dustin Apodaca, the band reached the height of their popularity with their 2007 SideOneDummy debut, First You Live. Produced by former Mars Volta keyboardist Ikey Owens, the album's gritty aesthetic, musical complexity, reliance on multiple vocalists and heartfelt lyrics helped to make this band the talk of OC's music scene for several years. Though the band officially played its last show in 2011, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the Fullerton/Anaheim music scene who will hesitate to raise a fist to the chorus of "Street Fighter." (Nate Jackson)

 

18) Matt Costa, Songs We Sing (2006)
Yes, OC is rife with history when it comes to in the singer/songwriter, and a lot of people will say that history peaked with the likes of Steve Noonan, Jackson Browne and Tim Buckley (a.k.a. the Orange County Three). But few local bards in recent years have gotten as much shine as Huntington Beach pro skater-tuned-singer Matt Costa. When his homemade demo reached Tom Dumont in 2003, the No Doubt guitarist was instantly inspired to produce and work with the voice who made the recording. Getting together with producer/engineer Phil Ek, Dumont and Costa were able to sew together the woodsy, whimsical folk-rock classic Songs We Sing. After catching the ear of Jack Johnson, Costa was signed to his label Brushfire Records, then toured the world with the likes of Oasis and Ryan Adams. Yet, if you catch him milling around outside before a big show and ask him to play an old hit such as "Astair" or "Whiskey and Wine," chances are he'll do it. (Nate Jackson)

17) Young the Giant, Young the Giant (2010)
After honing their craft playing local shows for a number of years, the band formerly known as the Jakes were signed to Roadrunner Records in 2009. One name change later, Sameer Gadhia and company recorded and released their self-titled debut in 2010, which became a surprise hit. Catchy sing-alongs such as "My Body" and "Cough Syrup" combined sunny Southern California pop with indie rock and propelled the album up the charts, allowing the quintet to tour the world, even winning accolades from the notoriously prickly Morrissey. A departure from the pop punk that defines the area, Young the Giant proved that a band from Orange County could make an album that was both radio-friendly and complex at the same time. (Daniel Kohn)

 

16) The Growlers, Greatest Hits (2008)
Before they were playing Coachella and receiving nods from Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, the Growlers an anonymous outfit of psychedelic surf punks with the good humor (or was it severe cockiness?) to title their debut album Greatest Hits. When former music editor Dave Segal reviewed it in 2008, he called the 25-track, 78-minute offering an "archival clearinghouse of ideas," adding, "Most of these songs exude a casual, understated cool, marked by winding, mesmerizing, spangly guitars and Brooks Nielsen's riveting, woebegone vocals" and, "Even 38-second scraps such as 'My Forehead's Dripping Ocean' bear close listening." Five years later, this is still one of the weirdest albums to come out of OC in recent memory. (Nate Jackson)

15) Cold War Kids, Robbers and Cowards (2006)
two years after forming in Fullerton, Cold War Kids' 2006 debut established them as one of the early bands to bring indie rock into the mainstream. Singer Nathan Willett's lyrics described painfully flawed characters, and the infectious, soulful melodies were raw and authentic. They quickly became a fixture on radio stations all over the world, with "We Used to Vacation" serving as their calling card. Combine those elements with generally positive reviews, and you have yourself a delightful debut that laid the foundation for future success for the quartet.(Daniel Kohn)

 

14) U.S. Bombs, War Birth (1997)
It's hard to fathom OC punk without the birth of U.S. Bombs. In a lot of ways, their fourth album, War Birth, was actually more of a rebirth. Released on Hellcat records in 1997, the band's undeniably sarcastic and pissed-off view of life behind the Orange Curtain is palpable in the midst of all the rocket-propelled guitars and inebriated growling. All you have to do is listen to "Orange Crush" to hear Duane Peters' frustration with the plastic people of suburbia. If you're looking for aggressive, OC skate punk at its finest, this record is a must-listen. (Nate Jackson)

13) The Vandals, Hitler Bad, Vandals Good (1998)
Among the first acts signed to the Offspring lead singer Dexter Holland's Nitro Records, the Vandals shared their boss' penchant for darkly comedic lyrics, infectious hooks and bombastically fun musicianship. Their magnum opus, Hitler Bad, Vandals Good, best exemplified their whimsical irreverence and machine-gun momentum. From the spiteful glee of "My Girlfriend's Dead" to the undeniable fun of "An Idea for a Movie" (a track immortalized in the Troma film Terror Firmer), it's an album on which the lighter side of punk's darkest humor proudly shines.(Chaz Kangas)

 

12) Reel Big Fish, Turn the Radio Off (1997)
Reel Big Fish had hardly reinvented the wheel when this album landed in the middle of the third-wave ska craze in 1997. But with a dish of interesting sonic diversions into rock and reggae, the band scored big with their sophomore release--anchored by their big hit "Sell Out." Ironically, the track was blasting almost any college or alternative radio station you could think of at the time. KROQ personality Jed the Fish even appears on the kooky, immortal cover art with a gun held to his face by a very unstable female. Few third-wave ska albums are as synonymous with the OC ska sound. And the fact they've been able to hold onto their fans and stay true to the sound even though times have obviously changed says a lot about how much this material still holds up. (Nate Jackson)

11) Agent Orange, Living In Darkness (1981)
The first album from Orange-based O.G. band Agent Orange originally consisted of a mere eight songs, but these guys were the sort who could squeeze 100,000 joules out of a tracklist that short. If you ever want to imagine what it was like to be a hopeless wastrel of a punk in an '80s Cali wasteland, give your copy of Damaged a smoke break and fire up Living In Darkness. Ringleader Mike Palm spent Darkness repeatedly reminding you of how cruel and pointless life is while senselessly indulging in materialistic pursuits (loaded dames, good booze, joyrides) and still hoping to not die young. Match Palm's existentialist-in-training lyricism with crunchy punk rock, sharp-edged surf rock and doomed, echo-heavy background chants, and you're left with a brilliant, often-overlooked artifact. (Reyan Ali)

Top 20 Greatest OC Albums of All Time: The Complete List


10) The Offspring, Smash (1994)

The best-selling independent album ever pressed, the Offspring's

Smash

became a cornerstone of '90s punk and a rite of passage for every seventh-grader with a destructive side. While the group would spend the decade continuing to have substantial crossover success, their formula of sending up social issues and personal anxieties with a distinctly OC punk sensibility was first perfected on

Smash

. One of the few punk albums to spawn several high-school pep-band staples, tracks such as "Come Out and Play" and "Self Esteem" crossed over to a mainstream rock audience without even trying, resulting in one of the most successful and influential albums to emerge from Orange County.

(Chaz Kangas)
Top 20 Greatest OC Albums of All Time: The Complete List

9) Local Natives, Gorilla Manor (2010)

It's strange to think a band that was constantly being singled out by the

Weekly

thrived on existing as a tight unit without a singular front man. Since their days as Cavil At Rest, Kelcey Ayer, Ryan Hahn, Taylor Rice and Matt Frazier (a former Weekling!) carved their own lane in the indie-rock realm, incorporating thunderous percussion, world music and pop music à la Talking Heads. As a matter of fact, their cover of that band's classic '80s tune "Warning Signs" remains one of our favorite tracks on this album littered with catchy FM gems.

(Nate Jackson)

 

Top 20 Greatest OC Albums of All Time: The Complete List

8) Dick Dale, Surfer's Choice (1962)

Certain monarchs--Queen Elizabeth, King James, the King of the Surf Guitar--have given no intention of ending their reigns soon. In the case of the third example, who would dare challenge Dick Dale? The OC-bred, Twentynine Palms-based 75-year-old is still the most famous name in surf rock, still tours nationally and can still glide between reverb-gilded Fender riffs with godly confidence. Fifty-one years ago, Dale's guitar howled its way into American pop culture with

Surfer's Choice

, a buoyant mix of doo-wop, rock & roll, rockabilly, classic guitar music and (of course) nascent surf rock. Dale jammed the debut with instantly charming tunes, including "Surf Beat," "Take It Off," "Death of a Gremmie," "Shake N' Stomp," and that song that was in some Tarantino movie. Few royals have been so generous.

(Reyan Ali)


7) Sublime, 40 oz. to Freedom (1992)

Every track is a solid winner, making Sublime's 1992 debut album nothing short of a masterpiece. Not to mention, it can largely be considered one of OC's most triumphant claims to musical fame (yeah, we know Sublime's from Long Beach, but we're claiming county cred anyway). For many who love the band and music in general, one's copy of

40 oz. to Freedom

isn't just an album; it represents a counterculture lifestyle and frame of mind. Albeit a lifestyle and frame of mind that is punctuated along the way by the sound of a bong rip as an instrument, as well as samples of everyone from Eazy-E to Led Zeppelin's "Lemon Song" (for those who have a pre-1994 copy of the disc). And it's almost guaranteed that for as long as this record's around, people will continue to call, "439-0116" to be down with Sublime.

(Tina Dhamija)

 

Top 20 Greatest OC Albums of All Time: The Complete List

6) Snoop Doggy Dogg, Doggystyle (1993)

Back in the day when there were music stores in most neighborhoods, people would get pumped about camping out for the release of the newest cassette. Yeah, we said cassette. When Long Beach native Snoop Dogg released

Doggystyle

in 1993, Orange County couldn't wait. The album pumped out chart-toppers we all bumped to in our cars and in the clubs--G-Funk classics such as "Gin and Juice," "Lodi Dodi" and "Doggy Dogg World." Snoop's flow was totally original. The beats that were delivered off this album are undeniably associated with the best of West Coast hip-hop.

Doggystyle

put Snoop on the map, and again, while we know the "LBC" isn't technically OC, fuck it, we're going straight gangsta and claiming this one.

(Ali Lerman)

5) Thrice, Illusion of Safety (2002)

Identity Crisis represented an unmistakable change of the guard for the OC music scene. You couldn't call their music punk; you couldn't call it hardcore or even post-hardcore. But you could call it angry, imaginative and, at times, even meditative. Throughout the track list of their sophomore album, Thrice became one of the first modern bands to really pull off all of that in a way that didn't sound like reheated tough guy hardcore from the decade prior. And if you can manage to get through the buzz-saw guitars, throat-shredding screams and metal-inspired riffage of tracks without getting a little bit of a charge, you may wanna check your pulse.

(Nate Jackson)

 

4) Fu Manchu, The Action Is Go (1997)
This definitely ranks as not only one of the greatest OC albums of all time, but one of the greatest skateboarding albums of all time. Capturing the brutal stoner-rock guitar assault of Bob Balch and Scott Hill, this album was a notable step forward in terms of production value, yet it stayed true to the sound and the fury of one of OC's greatest bands. Aside from the fact that "Evil Eye" made it on the soundtrack of the video game Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, this album defines the essence of skate punk culture behind the Orange Curtain. (Nate Jackson)

3) The Adolescents, The Blue Album (1981)
Released in 1981, the Fullerton outfit made their mark on the booming SoCal hardcore punk scene, and this album, a breakthrough in many ways, was well-received by their punk contemporaries but garnered little attention outside of the scene. In the years since, the lineup has shifted time and again, but tracks such as "Amoeba" in its teenage angst are timeless, and we can thank Rodney On the ROQ for putting it on the radio once upon a time. (Ian Joulain)

 

Top 20 Greatest OC Albums of All Time: The Complete List

2) Social Distortion, Social Distortion (1990)

Released in 1990, Social Distortion's self-titled, major-label debut captures the moment when Mike Ness had bled the heroin out of his punk-rockin' veins and let the cool country influences of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams seep in to establish the band's crisp, hard punkabilly sound. Never mind that for many hardcore Social D. fans, the album also points to the moment when the band officially went mainstream with radio staples such as "Ball & Chain," "Story of My Life" and the band's cover of Cash's "Ring of Fire" hitting the KROQ rotation. Two decades after its release, Social Distortion's eponymous album still plays like the ultimate soundtrack to ditching class to party with a bottle of Jack Daniels down by the railroad tracks on a hot Cali day.

(Tina Dhamija)

1) No Doubt, Tragic Kingdom (1995)

You can't make a Top 20 Greatest OC Albums of All Time list without mentioning this record. No Doubt are unarguably the biggest band to spawn from OC, and

Tragic Kingdom

is their most recognizable album, filled with radio hits that symbolized the FM domination of third-wave ska. Gwen Stefani defies America's perception of today's Orange County woman--who isn't always a blond millionaire MILF wearing designer treads . . . oh, wait. We still love you, and wish we were you, Gwen! Thanks for putting OC on the map. We'll always cherish the '90s image we have of you in that red dress, holding up an orange.

(Jena Ardell)

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