Formed in 1977, Bad Brains was one of the pioneering acts of hardcore punk. They may not have always liked it when people called them that, but the Bad Brains’ unique brand of rasta-hardcore has made a deep impression on all of the hardcore punk rockers that followed. Having formed and re-formed many times over the years, the Bad Brains are an eclectic act with a myriad of different styles and influences. From reggae to metal to punk, Bad Brains has covered a lot of musical territory. They’re not quite the sloppy out-of-control punk rock of Minor Threat, but they’re not clean and poppy either.
The band started off as a jazz fusion outfit called Mind Power. Jazz fusion is a mix of jazz with rock music, involving some of the technical aspects and harmonic complexity of jazz with the hooks and verse-chorus-verse structure of rock and roll. The group at this point was made up of the Hudson brothers, Paul and Earl on guitar and drums respectively, Darryl Jennifer on bass. Sid McCray introduced them to rock music and they changed their name to Bad Brains, which is also the title of a song by The Ramones. This marked their transition from jazz fusion to rock music, albeit still with an eclectic palate of influences.
By 1986, the band’s style was evolving to a considerable degree. They began to incorporate new influences. One of those influences was metal, which came through with harder riffing and guitar solos. This was predictable in hindsight, because the mid 1980s were a high time for metal; seminal albums by Metallica, Slayer, and others were all released around 1986. With so much popularity around the genre at the time, it’s no surprise that Bad Brains took cognizance and added some of it to their own sound. In addition to metal, Bad Brains also began to incorporate a funk influence into their sound, with a little bit of slap bass and a funkier sound to their guitar. If you’ve ever seen someone in a Bad Brains t shirt, you may have seen the album cover to I Against I, which is part of this period of the band’s existence.
One more thing that Bad Brains is known for is their crazy antics, on stage and off. They were banned from performing in Washington DC for a long time because their fans were known for being so violent and destructive. It was not a city wide ban, per se. It was more that many clubs that ordinarily would have hosted Bad Brains refused to do so for fear of having their premises totally destroyed. Their lead singer at one point was serving time for possession of cannabis, and wound up doing his vocals over the phone while still in jail.
If you’re just now delving into punk rock and you want to hear some hardcore with a unique sound, you could do worse than digging into Bad Brains.