Formed: Washington, D.C., USA, as Mind Power
Band Bio / Discography
Don't care what they may say
We got that attitude
Don't care what they may do
We got that attitudeHey we got that PMA (positive mental attitude)
Hey we got the PMA
Hey we got the PMA.
For several years, the Bad Brains were amongst the elite of the hardcore bands: not only the most musically adept but probably the first. Initially formed in Washington in 1975 playing jazz-rock, but in 1977 they discovered the Sex Pistols and The Damned and turned to punk, changing their name in the process, but losing original singer Sid McCray (who had actually introduced them to punk in the first place). They kicked off their punk phase playing Pistols/Clash covers, but came into their own once they began writing their own material. Taking inspiration from British punk and their growing interest in rastafarianism (introduced ironically to them by The Clash and Ruts!), which lead them into dodgy territory later on, they alternated their punk blasts with reggae songs. Their high-speed songs and high-intensity shows proved integral to the DC punk sound of the early 80s: future members of bands like Minor Threat saw them and sped up their sound accordingly.
Their first recording sessions have been issued on CD and are essential. Black Dots (1996), a rehearsal tape from June 1979, proved that even then they’d more or less honed their craft to a fine art. ‘Black Dots’ itself is almost impossibly speedy, while ‘Redbone In The City’ shows how well H.R. can impersonate Johnny Rotten. Most of the material was later re-recorded for "proper" releases, but the music on here is simply astounding. The Omega Sessions EP (1997) catches the band’s first proper recording session on a 4-track. Recorded in 1980, it is chiefly notable for an early version of ‘I Against I’.
Their self-released debut single, Pay To Cum (1980) was astonishingly fast, impossible to find, and quite simply one of the finest singles ever recorded. It was certainly one of the first true hardcore singles: some might cite Black Flag's much slower Nervous Breakdown or The Middle Class' Out Of Vogue (both 1978), but this was much quicker and, well, better than either.
PAY TO CUM
I make decision with precision
Lost inside this manned collision
Just to see that what is to be
Perfectly my fantasy
I came to know with now dismay
That in this world we all must pay
Pay to write, pay to play
Pay to cum, pay to fight
And all in time,
With just our minds
We soon will find
What's left behind
Not long ago when things were slow
We all got by with what we know
The end is near. Hearts filled with fear
Don't want to listen to what they hear
And so it's now we choose to fight
To stick up for our bloody right
The right to sing, the right to dance
The right is ours... We'll take the chance
A peace together
A piece apart
A piece of wisdom
From our hearts
In 1981 they moved to New York and recorded the tape-only Bad Brains (1982) as a debut LP, consisting of rough but exhilarating studio work and a handful of live recordings. It showcases their propensity for alternating the fastest, most complicated speedcore songs imaginable with truly authentic dub reggae. Although it sounded like a collection of well-recorded demos and was issued on a stupid format, it put them on the map, the song ‘Big Takeover’ eventually inspiring Jack Rabid’s fanzine.
BANNED IN D.C.
Banned in D.C. with a thousand more places to go.
Gonna swim across the Atlantic, cause that's the only place I can go.
You, you can't hurt me, me I'm banned in D.C. D.C.
We, we got ourselves, gonna sing it, gonna love it, gonna work it out to any length.
Don't worry, no worry, about what people say.
We got ourselves, we gonna make it anyway.
You, you can't hurt me, why I'm banned in D.C.
And if you ban us from your clubs, it's the right time, with the right mind.
And if you think we really care, then you won't find in my mind.
Noooo! You can't afford, to close your doors, so soon no more.
My oh my i lay you down upon the ground so soon no more.
Nooo you can't afford to close your doors so soon no more.
My oh my i let you down upon the ground
Later that year they played Austin, Texas with The Big Boys and The Dicks which lead to a very public spat between the Brains and the other bands, both of which contained openly gay members. The Bad Brains' clearly had problems with gays, and left town under a hail of accusations, not only being labeled homophobic but also thieves (some drug money went missing). (MDC later immortalised H.R.’s homophobia on ‘Pay To Cum Along’.) As the punk community - including the influential Maximum Rock N Roll fanzine, sided with The Big Boys, the Bad Brains suffered a backlash from which they never recovered. The Brains' rep sunk even lower when the NY punk studio 171A went bust. The studio was the epicenter of the NY hardcore scene and was home to the likes of Beastie Boys and Cro-Mags. 171A financed the group's 1982 tour but the band kept all the money and sent nothing back. As a result, 171A fell behind with the rent and the landlord evicted them.
Nonetheless, their debut proper, Rock For Light was brilliant, reprising many of the tape's songs in a more polished setting – Ric Ocasek produced it! - and adding a brace of top-notch new numbers (‘At The Movies’, ‘Destroy Babylon’, ‘How Low Can A Punk Get?’, ‘Rally Round Jah Throne’, ‘The Meek’). A remarkable record in every respect, this pinnacle of US hardcore is highly recommended, but the band split in 1984, with H.R. cutting a boring solo album, 'It's About Luv' (1984).
They didn't see fit to leave it at that and spent the rest of their career splitting and reforming, sometimes with H.R. on vocals, sometimes not. If H.R. was a great singer, he also had a rep for being a complete prick, which is why the rest of the group were forced to recruit new singers. Either he had decided to leave them in the lurch mid-tour, or he fucked up record deals.
They first reunited in 1985 to cut the meandering/classic (insert your own opinion here) I Against I, which in my opinion has only its zippy title song to recommend it, amid a batch of dreary funked-up semi-metal dirges. Even the reggae stuff, at which they excelled, is kept at bay. If H.R.'s vocals sounded like they were recorded via telephone, that's because they literally were: he was in prison at the time, doing porridge for drugs possession.
The following year, H.R. and Earl left the band and they carried on with a new lineup, recording Quickness in 1990. H.R. rejoined just before the sessions ended and wiped all of his replacement's vocals and recorded his own. The LP was a morass of slow and fairly tuneless hybrids of hardcore, metal, funk and grunge. Despite good reviews, there were no tunes herein. H.R. left after the tour to promote it, but and his replacement Chuck Mosely (Faith No More) didn't last long and the band called it a day. Again.
Rise in 1993 was the first fruit of a newly reunited band, albeit with new vocalist Israel Joseph-I making an ideal replacement. But once again the magic on the fast tracks was missing and the slower ones dragged interminably.
All of which makes one wonder why Madonna – of all people – would sign them to her Maverick label, other than seeing some kind of chart-busting potential in the wake of Nirvana. God Of Love reunited the original band with producer Ric Ocasek, but they concentrated on reggae more than rock, and rarely rose above the mediocre. In fact, it often sank below it.
In the late 1990s they had to tour as Soul Brains (legal reasons, natch) and as such released A Bad Brains Reunion Live In San Francisco, but disinterested-sounding vocals from H.R. and pedestrian performances, buggered what may have been a decent alternative career retrospective. I And I Survive (Dub) is just that, an instrumental dub album, good if you like that sort of thing but very far removed from punk rock.
In 2007, they got together with producer and Beastie Boy Adam Yauch to release Build A Nation, to mostly favorable reviews.
H.R. aka Joseph I rn Paul Hudson - throat
Dr. Know rn Gary Miller - guitar
Darryl Jenifer - bass
Earl Hudson - drums
The best and most famous lineup. This lineup was constant except for a short period in 1985 when Ras Michael Jr replaced HR. and Mackie Jayson replaced Earl' and from 1988-1989 when Taj Singleton replaced H.R. and Jayson again replaced Earl.
Singles / Albums
|Pay To Cum!
|I Luv I Jah
|I And I Survive
|Rock For Light
|I Against I (LP, 1986)|
|Attitude - The Roir Sessions
|Bad Brains / Black Market Baby
(7", split, 1990)
|Omega Sessions (8"/10"/CDS, 1997)||Banned In D.C.: Bad Brains Greatest Riffs
|Live At CBGB 1982 - The Audio Recordings
|House Of Suffering
|Cum To Play
|Quick Take Over
|Banned In D.C.
|Live At The 9:30 Club 29.4.82 (LP)||Pay To Cum 1979-1981 (LP, 2006)|
|Rebel In The City: Live Max's Kansas City, New York 02/79 (LP)||Soul Music For Bad People (7")||171A 1981 Sessions
|Live At The Fillmore 03/20/1982
|Reefer Madness (7")|
The Best Of Limp (…Rest Of Limp) US LP 1980 (Limp): Don't Bother Me
New York Thrash US Tape 1982 (ROIR): Regulator / Big Takeover
Rat Music For Rat People US LP 1982 (Go!): How Low Can A Punk Get? / You
Where Is J.R. ? Germany Tape 1982 (Schrott): Don`t Need It / Attitude
Rat Music For Rat People Vol I, II & III US CD 1987 (CD Presents): You
New York Rockers US Tape 1989 (ROIR): Banned In D.C.
Sunday Matinee: The Best Of NY Hardcore US LP/CD 1994 (Another Planet): Sailin' On
Punk Anderson's Favourites Germany 2xCD 1995 (Starving Missile): Don`t Need It / Attitude