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

See Also:
* Top 25 Greatest OC Bands of All time: 25-15
*Top 25 Greatest OC Bands of All Time: 14-6
*Top 25 Greatest OC Bands of All Time: 5-1

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

21. Atreyu

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
“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
. 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.

18. The Vandals

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.

17. Ignite

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

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.


14. Reel Big Fish
Zany, wacky, ska-rooted (though they rock harder now) Reel Big Fish elevate self-deprecation to an art form, thanks to a malcontent lead singer in Aaron Barrett, who beats you to the punch with peppy lyrics like “I'll never be anything, anything at all.” He lays down these anti-What Color is Your Parachute? salvos over bright horns and zippy uptempo rhythms, which just add to the dark humor of it all. But if Barrett's insecurities are a grease fire, then fame–or the prospect of–is the water that spreads that shit around. More than two decades into their career, the band is regarded are more than just a popular band with horns, they're a touchstone of the hodgepodge of alt-rock culture specific to OC– loud, sunny, sarcastic and ever-changing.
13. RX Bandits
By the time they took an official hiatus in 2011, the RX Bandits were almost unrecognizable to the average fan who lapped up their quirky, horn-happy ska-punk in the mid '90s. Tracing a stylistic evolution that dates back to their 2001 effort Progress, you can hear a more sophisticated ployrhythmic version of the band (formerly the Pharmaceutical Bandits) taking shape with several line-up changes and a decade of experience behind them. Over several more albums, the sun-baked soul of vocalist/guitarist Matt Embree aligned more with Sam Cooke and Nina Simone than it did with No Doubt or Reel Big Fish. Though the eventual departure of sax player Steve Borth and trombonist Chris Sheets was a major hit to the band, it also pushed them to finally, once and for all drive a nail into the coffin of their ska band label. Musically, guitarist Steve Choi, bassist Joe Troy and drummer Chris Tsagakis rocketed off to an entirely different proggy planet, where reggae, salsa and cerebral punk riffs intertwined to create an identity that was as effectively reinvented and re-invigorating as any band could hope for. Reemerging this year with a handful of shows in Brazil, were hopeful that one day the bandits will ride again on a full-time basis.
12. Cold War Kids
A lot of the praise (and blame) for the current state of indie rock can be traced back to bands like the Cold War Kids. In effect, the explosion of the Fullerton-bred quartet (who wound up leaving us for Long Beach) was a bi-product of what we'll call the Garden State era of indie rock–bands ushered in by a Zack Braff film that, for one reason or another, basically helped kickstart our modern love affair with all things folky, depressing and old-sounding (face it folks, without bands like these, Instagram wouldn't exist). Watching them develop in tiny concert dens like Plush Cafe (R.I.P.), even we couldn't have predicted how big they'd get on the heels of their 2006 debut Robbers and Cowards. We guarantee you that even half a decade and two albums later, there is a generation of hipster bands who still hold that songs like “Hospital Beds” and “We Used to Vacation” close to their flannel-covered hearts.


11. Righteous Brothers

Anaheim High School has quite a few luminaries on its Alumni list: Tony Kanal, Reuben Droughns, and some editor of an infernal weekly. Oh, yeah, and Bobby Hatfield— one half of The Righteous Brothers. The duo that epitomized blue-eyed soul have rightfully earned their spot on this list with classics that could easily be the sound track to that transitional and transforming decade that was the '60s. After meeting at Cal State Long Beach, Hatfield and Bill Medley went on to become a musical power duo with hits such as “(You're My) Soul and Inspiration,” “You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling,” now a staple of every karaoke bar in America (thanks,Top Gun!). And of course, lest we forget, “Unchained Melody”– whose appearance on the 1990 movie Ghost catapulted it to the Top 40 charts some 25 years later. They parted ways after three years of recording together, but Medley later went on to collaborate with Jennifer Warnes for the (I've Had) The Time of My Life duet for the 1987 movie Dirty Dancing, making The Righteous Brothers the OC group with the most hit songs on movie soundtracks.
–Elena de la Cruz

10. Avenged Sevenfold
This Huntington Beach four-piece occupy a weird space in the annals of OC metal, or metalcore, whatever you want to call it. Despite being rejected by the majority of old-school metal fans (i.e. anyone with a sleeveless denim jacket, a Napalm Death concert stub and tattoos older than you), Avenged Sevenfold have one of the most rabid young fan bases in the game. Coming up alongside the brutal shredding of colleagues like Eighteen Visions and Atreyu, the band dubbed A7X were one of the first bands to really embrace a more glammed-out '80s resurgence of noodling guitar riffs, guy-liner, and a ghoulish identity that had a touch more humor than the blood-splattering, gut ripping aesthetic perfected by metal bands of old. You could say they've become the official bro band of their home city, but then again a lot of those lifted truck jockeys don't appreciate just how musically proficient these guys are. Despite the untimely death of drummer James “The Rev” Sullivan, vocalist Matthew “M.Shadows” Sanders and company have persevered. To date, they've sold more than 4 million albums worldwide. What can we say, obviously someone's diggin' it.


9. Sublime

For all of us who came of age in the '90s, Sublime offered us that rare musical common ground
with our peers — there was something for the stoners, the hip-hop kids, the punks, the preps,
and the kids who didn't identify with any of it. Sublime brought people together, so in turn they became the
soundtrack to the keg parties, smoke sessions, road trips, and workouts of our youth. It was
extraordinarily important music for us back then, and still is today for generations reaching party
age.The band captures the tough-guy whimsy of the place –punk-rock aggression and a crass sense of humor, juxtaposed against the sun-and-surf reggae vibe, embodied in a hard-living DIY aesthetic that's just as much LA rap as it is OC punk. And it didn't matter that they were technically from Long Beach, they
were always down here anyway engaging in their friendly rivalry with No
.To this day, Brad Nowell's voice sells you on whatever he's singing: His mom hit the bottle and smoked
rock? He gets handjobs in Spanish? He loots stores during the LA riots? Whoa, right on. The formidable Eric Wilson-Bud Gaugh backline along
with Mike Happoldt's production made the we're-going-to-do-whatever-the-fuck-we-want attitude
sound great. And at the end of the day, Sublime did
whatever the fuck they wanted. That's the essence of rock 'n' roll, isn't it? That's why we love it.–Adam Lovinus
8. The Offspring

After watching a Social Distortion concert in Irvine, Dexter Holland and Greg Kriesel decided to start a band — originally called Manic Subsidal — out of Garden Grove. Later, they would change their name to The Offspring and become a band whose palm-muting brand of alt-rock has become indelible to Orange County music. Their most famous albums, Smash and Americana, have sold over 20-million copies combined, including ear-worm hits like “Why Don't You Get a Job” and “Self Esteem.” And despite the gimmickry of “Pretty Fly For a White Guy and their latest single “Cruising California (Bumpin' in My Trunk)”, we could never bring ourselves to disown these guys…ever. Because besides their breakneck speed and strangely catchy melodies that are executed with a perfect OC blasé, songs like “The Kids Aren't All Right” captured a true OC sound and feeling. Their lyrics depict a suburban angst, a privileged frustration — the ugly truth of growing older and the fallout of an American Dream. Their songs remind us that below the sunshine, below the California dream are “fragile lives, shattered dreams.”–Joseph Lapin

7. The Middle Class
They're best known for kicking off West Coast hardcore in 1978 with the still-bracing “Out Of Vogue” single, but Fullerton's The Middle Class have yet to get the slash marks in the history books they deserve. Out of step when Minor Threat were just idle teens–and with a 15-year-old drummer hopped up on Dr. Pepper, too!–the Middle Class were blazing past contemporaries like the Weirdos, the Bags and even the Germs (with whom they shared the 1979 Tooth And Nail compilation; a great LP if you can get it), with Gatling-gun tempos and prototypically sociopolitical lyrics. And when hardcore finally caught up with them (and related demo-level-only band Der Stab–find that tape, sucker!), the Middle Class rose to another level entirely, transplanting the urban gloom of British bands like Joy Division and Gang of Four to OC as part of an even more historically neglected suburban post-punk scene. To this day, they're widely considered to be one of the first bands to play hardcore punk (did we mention they were on the very first Vans Warped Tour lineup?). Guitarist Mike Atta used to sell semi-discography CDs out of his vintage store Out Of Vogue in Fullerton; almost three decades years later, they're still as DIY as the first time around.
6. The Aquabats 

If there's a band that can get away with wearing bright blue neon costumes and singing
about two headed cats without feeling silly, it's The Aquabats. Originally an eight-piece
ska band in 1995, the band evolved into a theatrical superhero rock band with an
eclectic mix of sounds throughout their 17 years together. As a ska band, they performed
alongside acts like No Doubt and Reel Big Fish. When the third wave ska era began to
die down, the Aquabats reinvented their sound by incorporating synthesizers, surf and
punk rock elements, allowing them to adapt to a new phase of sound in their career. The latest shifting phase of their existence has them breaking barriers on their very own T.V. (a major trump card no matter how you slice it). The Aquabats! Supershow!–created by mustachioed frontman MC Bat Commander (a.k.a Christian Jacobs)–somehow managed to squeeze the band's cartoonish personalities into one of the greatest kid shows since Yo Gabba Gabba! (also co-created by Jacobs). For most aging ska fans, this band has given them the ability to sit down with their younglings to watch show rated TV-G that doesn't suck–what a gift! —Priscella Vega

5. Thrice

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.


2. No Doubt

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.

Follow us on Twitter @OCWeeklyMusic and like us on Facebook at Heard Mentality.

5 Replies to “Top 25 Greatest Orange County Bands of All Time: The Complete List”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *