10 Essential Garage Rock Albums

Originally published in Alternative Press magazine

Sure, you know all about the Strokes, the Hives, and the White Stripes. And maybe you even dig the snotty posturing, the carefully crafted trashiness, and the rudimentary guitar styles that form the crux of these bands’ sounds. Well, those are also the hallmarks of the great age of ‘60s garage punk—and of the “revivalists” who’ve kept it in the garage throughout the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and now. Here, then, are just 10 of the garage records you should get tight with immediately.

The Sonics: Here Are the Sonics!!! (Norton Records, 1965)
Although most ‘60s garage bands may have been good for one brilliant single (like, say, the Del-Vetts’ “Last Time Around”) and precious little else, the Sonics packed their entire first album with greatness. Performances are over the top—everything is way too fast and way too loud, and Gerry Roslie’s guttural screaming still sounds alarming today, especially when you decipher what he’s screaming about.

New Bomb Turks: Information Highway Revisited (Crypt Records, 1994)
This Columbus quartet infused the roots sounds of fellow Ohioans the Pagans with heavy-rock muscle and tempos that’d put most hardcore bands to shame. University grads without proper jobs, the Turks concocted a fine blend of old-school punk negativism with lyrics that were surprisingly literate given the aggression levels. Best of all, a shocking sense of melody occasionally surfaced in the melee—but believe me, pop-punk this ain’t.

The Kinks: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (Rhino Records, reissued 1989)
Before they became boring concept rockers (see also: The Who), the Kinks were a gloriously gruff pub band with more snot than brains in their heads. This compilation includes a few dull ballads, but overall it’s more consistent than the average early ‘60s Kinks affair. Plus it’s got all the band’s raunchiest three-chord brawlers—rightfully still the template for all things garage.

Blacktop: I’ve Got a Baaad Feelin’ About This I(n the Red Records, 1995)
History may best remember Mick Collins (Dirtbombs) for his role in the seminal Detroit lo-fi combo the Gories, but this album from the tragically short-lived Blacktop is still the best work of his career to date. Noise-damaged garage blues is the name of the game here—and with punchy production values, stellar songwriting, and the sonic onslaught of Darin Lin Wood’s brilliant, aneurysm-inducing guitar work, no band ever did it better.

Lyres: AHS 1005 (Ace of Hearts Records, 1981)
Jeff “Monoman” Conolly was doing garage punk with his band the DMZ when practically no one else was: in 1978. Three years later, Conolly clipped the punk, sharpened the pop, and brought his Ace Continental organ to the front, paying homage to ‘60s one-hit wonders like the Standells, the Chocolate Watchband, and ? & the Mysterions, injecting the whole mess with Boston power-pop zeal.

The Makers: The Makers (Estrus Records, 1996)
Commonly called the “fuck you” album (and not just because of the cover art), this is the Makers’ most extreme recording, sizzling with fuzz-guitar hate-rockers. Distortion-heavy ‘60s R&B riffs alternate with scorching blasts of treble guitar, while Mike Maker—at this stage the snottiest vocalist since Johnny Rotten circa 1976—spits one lyrical contusion after another. It’s all powered by a reckless rhythm section that barely keeps this runaway train on the tracks.

The Miracle Workers: Inside Out (Bomp! Records, 1985)
Adding a blast of ‘60s-punk vitriol to the relatively fey Paisley Revival scene of the ‘80s, these Portland, Oregon, garage hipsters created the definitive genre album. Searing, id-saturated blowouts alternate with organ-driven proto-psychedelia, giving the record a bit of range. And Gerry Mohr’s got the perfect voice for the style—bombastic, self-pitying, accusatory, and snot-nosed as hell—and it’s a stellar complement to the treble-icious guitar and swirling organ runs.

Oblivians: Sympathy Sessions (Sympathy for the Record Industry, 1996)
Memphis trio Oblivians squeezed traditional blues and gospel through a garbage disposal of garage punk and triple-time psychobilly—and nearly came to personify the lo-fi “movement” in the process. The songwriting here is simplistic enough to border on witless, but it allows the brothers Oblivian to loose some ferociously emotional performances about never getting laid, never getting paid, and—correspondingly—having a plate implanted in one’s head.

Supercharger: Supercharger (Estrus Records, 1991)
Calling themselves Supercharger was a stretch—this California trio could barely muster the chops necessary for slow-tempo punk. Who cares? Their combination of Sex Pistols–style Chuck Berry riffs and British Invasion–era pop backup vocals, along with their deadpan, almost bashful delivery of sicko lyrical themes, makes for a true DIY gem. Bonus cool points for the fugly cover of “Are You a Boy or are You a Girl?”—originally penned in the mid-‘60s by some knuckle-dragging Beatles haters called the Barbarians.

Thee Headcoats: The Messerschmitt Pilot’s Severed Hand (Damaged Goods, 1998)
Billy Childish’s career in garage punk is long, storied, and pretty darn uneven. But here, the ale-addled Englishman’s band hit everything they’re capable of, song after song: gallon-drunk R&B howled through Childish’s so-called “Mockney” accent, sick punk ragers like “I Wouldn’t Want to Be You,” and an unhealthy dose of black humor. Even though they’re goofing around most of the time, this is still as earnest and inspired as English garage gets. Pretty bloody fair for a disc that was recorded in one afternoon.

—John Pecorelli