Two months after OC punk legend Steve Soto passed away the void of his absence is felt in the community and in every band that will never be the same without him. And while it’s not necessarily a time that inspires us to sing happy songs, it is a time to remember the songs Soto wrote that touched our lives. Though widely known as the bassist and backup vocalist for The Adolescents and Manic Hispanic, Soto had an arsenal of songs from his time in several bands that never quite got the credit they deserved. As we look back on his life in this week’s cover story, we also got a chance to reach back through his catalog and dust off some gems that share a glimpse of who he was while doing what he loved most. Here’s a brief list of his most underrated songs.
“Allen Hotel” (The Adolescents–Balboa Fun*Zone)
This is one The Adolescents don’t play live because back then Tony Reflex wasn’t singing. Back in the late ’80s Soto picked up the mic and added a metalesque growl to his voice that’s almost as dirty as the story behind one of Fullerton’s most infamous hotels. Instead Before Fullerton was gentrified, The Allen Hotel was a typical junky no-tel with a pornshop and XXX video arcade on the bottom. Steve captured it like a lyrical Bukowsi: The hanging light bulb reflecting through the broken pane/ Bullet-filed walls, the roof can’t seem to stop the rain / Out on the Streets, whores trade their bodies for balloons / Had to get away, couldn’t get too far too soon / the vibe of the whole place. Though he was too young to go in there at the time he wrote it, you can imagine Soto walking by (at a brisk pace) trying to get close without getting swept up in the seediness.
“Balboa Fun Zone: It’s In Your Touch” (The Adolescents–Balboa Fun*Zone)
This is the first time Soto ever recorded a semi-acoustic power pop song. Closing out what is mostly a pretty heavy sounding record in which The Adolescents strived to capture a more eclectic sound, “Balboa Fun Zone: It’s in Your Touch” took a more heartfelt approach to end the album, which was definitely a risk. What starts out as a slow ballad gradually picks up into a barnstorming strum-fest with Soto’s impassioned vocals on the chorus sending a final shout out to the legendary seaside hangout the Balboa Fun Zone. Given that the album starts off with the fiery Riot on the Beach about violence and hedonism, the last song showed the kind of romantic that Soto was even at an early age. Some might even say the bookending of these two tracks makes Balboa Fun*Zone a concept record kinda turns it into a concept record, something you wouldn’t expect from a punk album, but they made it work.
“Down on the Left”(Steve Soto and the Twisted Hearts–An Exercise in Blue)
For all the timeless songs Soto wrote with The Adolescents and Manic Hispanic, his solo work hardly gets the credit it deserves. Flush with rich storytelling, lush guitar tones and sobering wisdom (even when he’s talking about getting wasted), Soto’s pain comes across beautifully as the leader of The Twisted Hearts. On the opening track for An Exercise in Blue, Soto’s bluesy guitar tones and the bombastic horns behind him bring the phrase barroom blues to a whole new level.
“Thinkin’ About You” (Joyride-Another Month of Mondays)
This rager appears on the second Joyride album, Another Month of Mondays. It’s a blast of energy jolts the record into high gear–not surprisingly it’s the fastest song Soto ever wrote with the power pop band. According to guitarist/co-lead vocalist Greg Antista, Soto also wrote it pretty fast too–he had the whole thing done in about 15 minutes.
“Tracks on My Tears” (22 Jacks–Overserved)
Capturing the soul of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles is now easy task, but for Soto any cover he tackled always seemed effortless. Finding a way to combine a lounge-y swagger with classic R&B and punk grit was just his way of doing things. Released on 22 Jack’s 1998 sophomore album Overserved, the cover’s composition kicks into distortion-heavy highs on the chorus with some majestic horns in the background that pay respect to the songs origins while reminding the rest of the world that this band of punkers definitely had some soul.
Steve McQueen (Steve Soto–Songs About Girls and Earthquakes)
Songs of wounded warriors and woebegone outcasts are the characters Soto wrote about best. That’s just the crowd he ran with, and throughout his life, that was the kind of guy he was as well. Though some might have considered Soto to be the “King of Cool” for the punker who grew up with the iconic smoothness of Steve McQueen, it’s only natural he’d pen a song that gave a nod to his childhood hero while examining life as a weary adult in the real world on his 2016 album About Girls and Earthquakes.
Purple Rain (Flock of Goo Goo cover)
If you never saw The Flock of Goo Goo, you were robbed of the opportunity to see Soto dress up as Robert Smith from the Cure–somehow he made pale white skin, red lipstick and a giant black bonnet wig look damn good. You almost missed out on his trusty rendition of “Purple Rain” that never left a dry eye (or pair of underwear) in the house. When he performed the song at the memorial for Gabby Gaborno in 2016, we had a feeling the late legendary frontman was somewhere in the rafters with a lighter in his hand.
We Can’t Change the World (The Adolescents–The Complete Demos 1980-1986)
Clocking in at barely over one minute, this is a song never made the cut for The Blue Album and pretty much only exists in demo form. You can still find it on the Adolescents Complete Demos 1980-1986. It’s also worth mentioning that the one of the first Adolescents song Steve wrote for the band was a bastardized version of a church song “Blind Man Sitting By the Road”–same chords, same progression. It’s good to know that all those summers attending church camp as a kid were good for something!
One That Got Away (Joyride–Johnny Bravo)
The closing track for Joyride’s 1992 debut Johnny Bravo brilliantly encapsulates Steve’s talents as an all around musician, writing the lyrics, playing lead guitar, singing lead and backup parts and on top of it–writing a kick-ass song. Though the band never quite realized it’s full potential this album and this track in particular highlights a promising part of Soto’s career and leaves behind some stellar sonic textures and lovesick songs that still hold up today.
“I’ll Be Around” (Steve Soto- Songs About Girls and Earthquakes)
One of the most beautiful songs Soto ever wrote, this timeless Beatle-esque melody is a lullaby for those who still miss him. It’s also an assurance that he’ll always be with us. RIP Hokey.
Nate Jackson is the gatekeeper to your dreams of local dive bar stardom. If he writes about you, expect your band to be offered at least one more drink ticket than the rest of the bands on the bill. Get his attention with some groovy tunes and he might just do it. Then, boy will you feel special.