Top 25 Greatest Orange County Bands of All Time: The Complete List
Go ahead, call us a bunch of culture-less, lily-white suburbanites with a partiality to flip-flops and right-wing politics. Those kind of labels never cease to amuse us. Because one thing that instantly dooms most of the tired cliches ascribed to OC is the music--the one-of-a-kind frustration, aggression, soul, righteousness, smartassery and freaky hallucinations that erupt from our niche in pop culture's ever-changing iPod shuffle. Breaking barriers and surprising the shit out of people is just something our bands have always been good at...Google it. Whether some of them qualify as longtime legends or brilliant flashes in the pan, there's no denying that the most influential acts in OC's music scene are forever incapable of sticking to one kind of sound. In the spirit of recognizing the best our county has to offer (in totally subjective fashion), we hit you with a list of the top 25 greatest bands to erupt from behind the Orange Curtain.--Nate Jackson
25. Manic Hispanic
There are two things Orange County residents can expect when Cinco de Mayo comes around: a moratorium on Mexican-hating-- all in the name of a goodwill drink fest-- and a Manic Hispanic concert. This Orange County band that started in 1992 has made their mark in the music scene by taking punk classics, such as The Descendents' "Milo Goes to College" and "Group Sex" by the Circle Jerks and Chicanofying them into satirical covers such as "Mijo Goes to Jr. College" and "Grupo Sexo." The band itself is a conglomerate of O.C. punk history, their members summoned from the likes of The Cadillac Tramps, Agent Orange and The Adolescents. Without a doubt, no other band better represents the cultural mosh pit that is Orange County: the classic white majority meshing with the Hispanic soon-to-be majority.--Elena de la Cuz
24. Agent Orange
One of the most popular bands to emerge during the late '70s/early '80s first wave of OC punk, Agent Orange--formed by a cranky, pissed-off 14-year-old named Mike Palm--sounded distinctly Orange County, as opposed to the mostly slash-and-burn approach perpetrated by their peers Social Distortion and the Adolescents. That's because they injected Dick Dale-inspired surf-guitar breaks and more overt melody lines amidst all the usual thrashiness. In 1981, they released the Living In Darkness album, which included "Bloodstains"--not just a classic OC punk tune, but a classic tune period. The band's largest following, though, came via an army of skateboarders. They were one of the first bands to tap into the then-still-kinda-underground subculture, putting their music on the soundtracks of various skate videos. After all this time, Palm still hasn't gotten a real job, and still tours as Agent Orange with a revolving lineup of players.
23. The Growlers
Throughout their six years as a band, the Growlers have amassed a handful of bragging rights that no other OC bands of their generation can claim. The list includes playing Coachella twice (if you count the double weekend this year), garnering praise and production help from Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, becoming lightning rods for South County hipsterdom and creating a sound which combines the irrefutable twang of OC's surf rock culture with haunting, San Francisco-born psychedelics. Since releasing their 25-track opus Greatest Hits in 2008, the Dana Point band--branded by the woebegone vocals of Brooks Nielsen--continues to prove that they are a band to follow and we're sure they get off on that...even though they're often thought of as masters of the "I don't give a fuck" attitude personified in their music.As they prepare to launch their latest studio album Hung at Heart, we watch admirably as they continue to let their freak flag fly.
22. Save Ferris
There have been a handful of bands within Orange County that rode ska's third wave on the coattails of Reel Big Fish's hit "Sell Out." After that Huntington Beach band died out on mainstream radio, the majority of ska acts followed suit--many except for a a band orignially dubbed Los Pantelones. The band would ultimately come to be known as Save Ferris-- they decided on a name change and nicked the title off of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, as they were pushed into mainstream success after their cover of Dexy's Midnight Runners' "Come On Eileen." Their first album in 1997, It Means Everything, is undoubtedly their most successful with hits like "Superspy." The band's fame died out by their sophomore album as they transitioned into a pop rock genre and eventually disbanded in 2002. Save Ferris could have had the same fate as other ska acts, but in the prime of the third wave ska revival, they were and continue to be one of the leading pioneers in the genre. Despite their early end, they were able to create an album that is still prominent and cherished by OC ska fans.--Priscella Vega
In the annals of American metalcore circa 2004, you couldn't find a more impressive rise to fame than Atreyu. It's amazing to think that Yorba Linda, often considered one of the quietest cities in OC, produced one of the most aggressive, throat-shredding troupes in the counties history. But by pairing the psychotic screams of frontman Alex Varkatzas with the melodic range of drummer Brandon Saller on 2004's Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses, the band struck a combination that made them trendsetters in the genre. It's also worth mentioning that few bands could pull off as many cover songs (i.e. "Epic" by Faith No More and Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name") in a way that made us smile and simultaneously shit our pants with fear. Despite their recent hiatus in 2011, all the band members have gone on to establish their own well-received side projects. Meanwhile fans await their return--don't throw away your eyeliner and black fingernail polish just yet, kids--they'll be back.
20. Fu Manchu
It's easy to dismiss Fu Manchu as San Clemente's answer to That 70's Show, since the music they make is a sound seemingly designed to fire up a zillion bongs. Brand them "stoner rock" if you must, but they're really just a great, honest, blue-collar metal band--graduates of the Sabbath school of eardrum bleeding, with songs about pool skating, surfing, El Caminos, Mongoose BMX bikes, the beach, driving around, Dogtown, UFOs and vans (both the Chevy and slip-on shoe variety). This year, the band announced that they've begun work on a new album--looks like these guys are firing one up for another round.
19. Dusty Rhodes and the River Band
Few bands literally had the vast majority of OC's local music scene rallying behind them like the loveable Anaheim-bred bunch known as Dusty Rhodes and the River Band. Few triumphant moments from the last half-decade remain as crystal clear to us the sight of Dustin Apodaca wreaking havoc on an accordion, shouting lyrics at the top of his lungs with hell fire in his gut with the band rollicking behind him. Their sound--an amalgam of gypsy punk, gang vocals and Eagles-inspired folk could literally slap a smaile on anyone in the audience. The power to win people over with their charms resulted in a stack of OC Music Awards, brushes with mainstream success and a handful of albums like 2007's "First You Live" that still stand as a true testament to the wild west element of OC's aural landscape.
The Vandals shows circa 1980 tended to attract rough punk crowds, which got the attention of cops, which helped get them banned from clubs and cities everywhere. Songs like "The Legend of Pat Brown," about a real-life Vandals fan who tried to mow down some police with his car, and "Anarchy Burger (Hold the Government)" didn't exactly endear them to authority figures, either. Their biggest fuck-you, though, was "Urban Struggle," a middle finger aimed at the country music shitkickers who used to hang at Zubie's, a since-demolished Costa Mesa cowboy bar on Placentia Avenue that was next door to the fabled also-since-demolished Cuckoo's Nest punk club. The Vandals are still around and more popular than ever--though there are virtually no original members left (save for Joe Escalante, the sole constant member since 1980) their fans are mostly under 20, and their current music isn't nearly as provocative as it once was, unless you think that tunes about Internet dating are somehow dangerous.
As the history of OC hardcore becomes more and more,uh, historical (Revelation Records turned 25 this year!), it becomes necessary to look back at bands like Ignite who not only represented the SoCal chapter of this genre during its heyday, but also distinguished themselves simultaneously as one of the most aggressive, socially conscious and musically proficient to come out of the local scene and make it big. Since their formation in 1993, the band--fronted by new Pennywise frontman and Colonel Guile-look-a-like Zoli Teglas--has remained a guitar chord-chugging tour de force that are as melodic as they are menacing.
16. Young The Giant
As far as bands that have proven themselves to potentially be the next arena-filling rock band to come out of Orange County, plenty of people (including us) have their money on Young the Giant. Of course, the one thing that might actually allow them to do that is the fact they don't put that kind of pressure on themselves. With a sound as triumphant as it is natural, Irvine's favorite indie rock quintet have become the kind of band you want to root for--pairing the wide-eyed innocence with accomplished musicianship and arrangements that have earned the respect of rock gods like Morrisey. That alone should be all you need to know. But incase you need something more, run a You Tube search of their performance of "My Body" on the 2011 MTV Music Awards and tell us these guys aren't rock stars. Of course, they've grown by leaps and bounds since then and their forth-coming album on Roadrunner Records promises a whole new world of growth for the band.
15. Dick Dale
As he will be the first to tell you--using the third person, even--Dick Dale is a phenomenon. The style of surf guitar he created in the early '60s (or, as he tells it, mid-'50s) wasn't just a different way of playing notes, but a sound he wrested from the briny deep. Dick doesn't play notes so much as he does sensations, replicating the power and adrenaline of shooting the curl and that other surferly stuff. He was great in the '60s, and in the '80s, he recovered from a long bout of lounge-itus to again reclaim his barnacle-encrusted crown as King of the Surf Guitar. One standout performance was at a 1991 concert tribute to Leo Fender. The late guitar maker had provided the tools that facilitated Dale's then-new sounds in the '60s, and Dale did him proud, using his Fender Strat, his reverb unit and his blond Showman amp to conjure up dive-bombing pterodactyls of sound.
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.
4. Tim Buckley
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.--Patrick Montes
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 had 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.
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