Song: "Banned In D.C."
Album: Bad Brains/Black Dots
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Without question, one of the most time honored traditions in music of all genres is that of the protest song. Whether they are songs concerning international issues or simply a personal statement, it is often these songs that stand as an artists finest, as one can clearly hear their passion come through in the music. From Woody Guthrie's "Okie" to John Lennon's "Give Peace A Chance" to Rage Against The Machine's "Killing In The Name," music has created many of the most memorable "signs of the times." However, there is one case where a bands' song of protest in many ways was a very accurate prediction of situations that they would face a few years later. Recording what remains today one of the most pulverizing rallying cries ever, hardcore legends, Bad Brains, took a stand against their local music clubs with the iconic song, "Banned In D.C." As is often the case with songs of this nature, there is a great deal of truth within the song, but at the same time, a fair amount of incorrect assumptions can and have been made about the song over the years. The Bad Brains were, in fact, banned from the clubs in Washington, D.C., but this was after the song was recorded, and yielded the song, "At The Atlantis" (The Atlantis is now known as The 9:30 Club). However, BEFORE "Banned In D.C." was recorded, the band had been sent back from an attempted tour in the U.K. when clubs would not book them. Though they had not yet become internationally notorious for their wild live performances, word had begun to spread, and there was also the ever-present bias against punk rock in general. Regardless, the song is nothing short of stunning, and nearly thirty years after its release, it remains one of the most powerful punk or hardcore songs ever recorded.
There are in fact, two heavily circulated recordings of "Banned In D.C.," each of which carries equal power, but the sound is quite different. The original studio release came on 1982's landmark Bad Brains, and then in 1996, an alternate take was released as a part of the equally fantastic Black Dots album. The Black Dots version has a far more organic and stripped down version, as it is basically a studio demo, and H.R.'s wonderfully snarky "bye" at the end is nothing short of a classic moment n music. Regardless of which version you hear, the music is absolutely crushing, and it leaves little question as to how the band became notorious for the chaotic environment created at their live performances. Guitarist, Dr. Know (real name: Gary Miller), brings what became his trademark tone and pummeling sound to "Banned In D.C.," and it is largely his playing that surely whipped audiences into a frenzy. Similarly, the lightning-fast drumming of Earl Hudson instantly ranks him among the greatest punk drummers in history. Riding the middle ground, bassist Darryl Jenifer is by no means any less impressive, as the trio of musicians create what can only called the epitome of controlled musical chaos. "Banned In D.C." remains one of the most furious and intense recordings in history, and it is truly impossible to try and name all of the bands that the song influenced over the decades. The song is one of many on Bad Brains that instantly and perfectly defined what would become "hardcore," and they remain the finest example of the sound to this day.
Along with the uniquely amazing music, until the Bad Brains came along, there was simply no other vocalist that sounded anything like the legendary H.R. With his distinctive, higher pitched, snarling vocal delivery, H.R. (real name: Paul Hudson) possesses what is unquestionably one of the greatest punk rock voices in history. Even when he relaxes his vocals a bit and is simply speaking, the power and energy is never lost, and his delivery style is one of the most intriguing of any artist of any genre. Bringing an intensity that matches, and often surpasses that of the music, H.R. was surely the element of the band that pushed audiences over the edge, leading to the band having the reputation as one of the most explosive live acts in history. However, H.R.'s amazing vocals are also due to the fact that he is constantly delivering some of the most fantastic lyrics ever penned within the punk genre. With "Banned In D.C," things are clearly personal, and H.R. crafts one of the greatest "musical middle fingers" that one will find anywhere in music history. Speaking directly to the clubs that refused to book the band (likely due to the overall "fear" of punk rock as well as their reputation), H.R. almost laughing points out that the clubs need the band more than the band needs the clubs when he growls, "...you can't afford to close your doors, so soon no more..." Truth be told, H.R. was right in his lyrics, and aside from a short period of time, the band was able to largely play wherever they pleased due to their ability to draw fans. However, this short period of time, as well as the constant sentiment, was enough fuel for the Bad Brains to create what is without question one of the most intensely important songs in music history in the form of "Banned In D.C."
Though many have tried, it is truly impossible to ignore the massive importance of Washington, D.C. music legends, Bad Brains. Creating the blueprint for the hardcore movement, the band has served as a major influence for countless bands, ranging from Smashing Pumpkins to Minor Threat to Tool. Even Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys has often been quotes as calling Bad Brains, "the best punk/hardcore album of all time" and one of the key reasons for the name "Beastie Boys" was the B.B. initials, matching that of Bad Brains. With their almost unsettlingly aggressive music and equally ferocious lyrical delivery, Bad Brains forever changed the musical landscape, yet it is songs like "Banned In D.C." that prove that they were far more than just screaming into a microphone over chaotic music. Taking a strong stand against the clubs that were biased against the "new" sounds of punk and hardcore, the group used "Banned In D.C." to create a rallying cry for countless other bands in the same position, as well as the youth that embraced both the music and the movement. Turning the tables on the clubs, the song reminds the owners that bands will always find "somewhere" to play, and that in the long run, it is the clubs that will suffer and go out of business. Nearly thirty years after its release, "Banned In D.C." still brings as much energy and aggression, and this is much the reason that both the song, as well as Bad Brains remain truly iconic parts of music history, and are a band that everyone should experience.