When I think of all-time-great first wave punk bands that nobody ever talks about, the original Subhumans are among the first that come to mind. While the majority of punk rock fans are far more familiar with the later, vastly inferior U.K. Subhumans, it was the Canadian Subhumans that made some of the finest and most ferocious punk rock to come out of North America in the late 1970s. Respect!
Often compared to Vancouver’s other classic early punk group, D.O.A., The Subhumans were similar for good reason. Singer Brian “Wimpy-Roy” Goble and original drummer Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery were in The Skulls with D.O.A. singer Joey Shithead. The Skulls then splintered into two bands. D.O.A. and The Subhumans frequently played shows together and shared passionately strong opinions on socio-political matters. If both bands sounded kind of the same, that was strictly a blessing to the punk world. What could be better than a great political-minded punk band from Vancouver? How about two great political-minded punk bands from Vancouver? And as in-your-face as Shithead and company were in espousing their world views in song, the boldly anarchistic Subhumans took it to another level entirely! Incorrect Thoughts, the band’s 1980 debut album, relentlessly attacks on musical and lyrical fronts from the first raging strains of “Big Picture” to the final note of that tender love ballad “Let’s Go Down to Hollywood (& Shoot People)”. This is angry, explosive music that goes for the kill and never lets up. If you took the righteous indignation of The Clash, multiplied it by 100, and set it aflame on a runaway train, you’d get the seething ferocity of “The Scheme” or “Death to the Sickoids” (the band’s debut single from ‘78, ragingly reprised here). In essence, this is hardcore punk before the term really existed. Yet because it’s some of earliest hardcore known to man, it’s got just as much in common with ‘77 punk rock as it does with ‘82 hardcore. Basically it’s rock n’ roll played louder, faster, and way more angrily than it ever had been played before, and in these blazing tunes you can hear an affinity for everyone from the Avengers to The Ramones.
Like D.O.A., the Subhumans were propelled by one of the hottest & tightest rhythm sections of their time. And although Montgomery (older brother of Chuck Biscuits) did leave the band in 1979, replacement drummer Jim Imagawa was no downgrade. Imagawa and bassist Gerry “Useless” Hannah set a breakneck pace on Incorrect Thoughts, while Mike “Normal” Graham unleashes a righteous blend of melodic leads and heavy, scorching guitar. On lead vocals, Goble atones for a lack of a traditionally good singing voice with passion, conviction, and the sheer force to move mountains. The man sounds flat-out pissed, and he’s got a lot to say! While the term “anarchist punk” would be sullied in the ensuing years by several generations of really awful bands, what you hear on Incorrect Thoughts is some of the best music ever. It’s aggressive and hard-hitting, no doubt, but at the same time you’re pumping your fist, singing along, and itching to get out there and wage war against the powers that be! Whether he’s railing against new wave rock (“The Scheme”), bully jocks (“Greaser Boy”), poser punks (“Dead at Birth”), brainless sheep (“Model of Stupidity”), the mass media (“Death to the Sickoids”), or the forces that oppress (“Big Picture”), he’s at 11+ on an anger scale of 1 to 10. And the band behind him is bringing it hard! It may strike some of us as odd that the new wave bands we music geeks now romanticize are the object of derision in “The Scheme” (Goble did most definitely not get The Knack!). But there’s just no denying that it’s one of the greatest punk rock songs of the early ‘80s.
“Big Picture” opens the album with a proverbial bang. Hot on its heels are the classic anthems “We‘re Alive” and “Firing Squad”. At that point a lesser band might have shot its wad. But The Subhumans are just getting started, and the action doesn’t really hit its peak until midway through the album. The all-time classic “Death to the Sickoids”, the furious call-to-arms “New Order”, the satirical & metal-tinged “Slave to My Dick”, and the melodic sing-along “Greaser Boy” are four of the best songs the band ever did. They spearhead the album’s inspired back half, which seems to be gaining momentum even as closing track “Let’s Go Down to Hollywood (& Shoot People)” eases off the gas pedal a tad. What a rush! If you need a musical recording to get you fired up, or if you’re in a foul mood and crave some good old angry punk rock, this is the album you want! If punk rock music is about saying “Fuck you!” via song, then this is one of the punkest records ever made.
If you were actually there to see The Subhumans circa 1980-81, what an experience that must have been! Those were wild times, with many shows literally culminating in riots. The band gigged throughout Western Canada and the U.S. West Coast, playing with kindred spirits the Dead Kennedys as well as Husker Du, Black Flag, Bad Brains, X, and Minor Threat. Even after Hannah and Graham left the band in 1981, reinforcements were brought in and a second album was recorded for release on SST Records. By the time it came out, however, Goble had left to play bass for D.O.A. and the Subhumans were no more. Hannah would gain notoriety in 1983 for his role in the bombings of an environmentally unfriendly hydroelectric substation on Vancouver Island and a missile manufacturing plant near Toronto. He served five years in prison. Dormant since 1982, The Subhumans reformed in 1995 with Hannah and Goble on board for a Canadian tour. And in 2005, the band reformed for the long haul with Graham back on guitar and SNFU’s Jon Card taking over on drums. They put out a new LP in 2006 and last year re-recorded Incorrect Thoughts in its entirety due to a contractual inability to re-release the original album. I have not heard the new version, Same Thoughts, Different Day. But come on: if you’re gonna get Incorrect Thoughts, accept no imitations. Find the original album! A classic of hardcore punk and one of the best punk LPs of the early ‘80s, period, it’s worth tracking down. And if you don’t feel bad about screwing the band out of royalties, the CD Presents reissue adds two bonus tracks and comes with quite the nice booklet. Talk about a moral dilemma!