Top 25 Greatest Orange County Bands of All Time: 5-1
Most teenagers who strapped on a guitar during the beginning of the second Bush administration could can easily call out Thrice as an inspiration for the angry, distorted racket they created in their parent's garage. Knowing what concrete influence their music had on scores of current local bands--throngs of amazing acts from the last ten years who couldn't make this list--warrants them a high place on the countdown. Early records like Identity Crisis and Illusion of Safety represented an unmistakeable 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. They were one of the first modern bands to really pull all of that off in a way that didn't sound like reheated tough guy hardcore from the decade prior. This was new. Despite their current indefinite hiatus (three years, we're calling it!), the ability to walk away with 14 years, eight releases and countless tours and the original lineup created a collective, hometown spirit that manifested in roaring fashion during this years run of farewell shows. One important thing to note is the growth and maturity in the band's sound on their last album, Major/Minor that gave us hope that Thrice is the kind of band who is able to take a one-of-a-kind savage sound and allow it to age gracefully.
Tim Buckley was the definition of creativity. He could voyage into fresh territories whenever he picked up an instrument, blend every noteworthy style into one homogeneous form, and keep things funky even when they were at their most bizarre. Jazz, funk, folk, soul, pop -- nothing was incapable of mastering. Buckley didn't come to California until his adolescent years, but it was here in Orange County that he honed his diverse talents and built his career. He met his first wife Mary Guibert -- who would later give birth to his son, singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley -- while attending Loara High School in Anaheim. And, around the time he finished his two-week stint at Fullerton College, he became a part of the burgeoning music scene of 60's era Orange County. As a young twentysomething, Buckley was part of a group of progressive, boundary-breaking folk artists dubbed The Orange County Three (along with Steve Noonan and Jackson Browne), and went on to release more classic and influential bodies of work than any of his local peers. Unfortunately, Buckley never managed to make it to his thirties, but like many other artists who passed away before their time, he managed to forever cement himself as a visionary and an untouchable figure in music.
3. The Adolescents
The Adolescents only need one reason to be on this list--we like to call it the "blue" album. Though there's no denying the greatness of the releases that followed, this 1981 LP is an indisputable classic (see tracks like "Amoeba," "Wrecking Crew" and their signature anthem "Kids of the Black Hole," for proof). It created a blueprint for OC (and beyond!) punk that has become part of any local punk's DNA. In the beginning Tony Cadena was merely following his impulse to sound like Darby Crash. Ultimately, what he did was ultimately inspire countless kids who shredded their vocal chords trying to sound like Tony Cadena. With a sizable, rotating roster and three reunions under their belt since their original hiatus in 1985, it appears there's no way we're ever getting rid of these guys. To this day, all of their recent reunion shows exhibit signs of a band who are polished, mature, and as tight as they were when still in high school in Fullerton--playing shows with Black Flag and partying with she-males at Geza X's house. If not the definitive OC band, they're still everything gone wrong about growing up in the 714.
You either love the fact that No Doubt is on this list or you absolutely hate it--a good sign that no matter what they've earned their place here. You'd be hard pressed to find someone in OC who doesn't have an opinion about Anaheim's quirky, ska-nerds-turned-pop-royalty. We at the Weekly have certainly been torn over the legacy of ageless bombshell vocalist Gwen Stefani, bassist Tony Kanal, guitarist Tom Dumont and drummer Adrian Young. We've lauded their success, lamented over the extinction of their brass section and scratched our heads at their stylistic left turns in the studio that paid off with great commercial success. And even though 1995's The Beacon Street Collection and 2012's Push and Shove sound worlds apart, the amount of influence they've on the pop culture landscape in between those albums is incalculable. The radio success of their landmark album Tragic Kingdom continues to define the explosive strength of our local music scene and is indelibly tied to it, even after the band became rock darlings on a global scale.
1. Social Distortion
Trying to sum up the relevance of OC punk is a foolhardy venture. To save time, you might as well pull out a piece of paper and sketch out a skeleton with a wide-brimmed hat holding a martini glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other. People will get it. After all, if Orange County music has one iconic, cartoon figure, it's Social Distortion's Skelly logo. And we still can't find a tattooed, greased-up local figurehead quite like 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.
But when punk got supplanted by bland "new wave" in the early '80s and punk clubs became an endangered species, the Fullerton-based band disappeared and Ness found himself in the clutches of a a horrible smack addiction that lasted for several years. But like any heroic rockstar story, he dug his way out of it, cleaned up, re-formed his band (with his best Troy High School buddy, the late Dennis Danell) and got signed to mega-label Epic. There, he and the band recorded classics that are still standing the test of time: "Story of My Life," "Ball and Chain," "Bad Luck," "I Was Wrong" to name a few. The current lineup, including Jonny "2 Bags" Wickersham, Brent Harding and David Hidalgo Jr. is as strong as it's ever been--though the past roster basically reads like a who's-who of OC punk. One needs only to look at their upcoming string of sold-out shows at the House of Blues in Anaheim to see that neither the band, nor their local fans, have let up in the four decades they've been around. If you're looking for a definitive story of a band who put OC on the map, look no further.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.