28 minutes. That’s how long it took for Suicidal Tendencies to leave a crater in the music world. With ferocious riffs and powerful grooves, Suicidal Tendencies landed with their self titled debut thirty-five years ago, and spread waves across every frequency with a very simple message; they were the real deal.
Incredibly gnarly and way out of control, Suicidal Tendencies brought something different to the hardcore punk scene in 1983. Formed within the converging worlds of Venice Beach’s skate culture, hardcore punk, and street gangs around L.A., the band lived with a never-say-die zeal that was easily represented in everything that they did.
It’s not every band that kick starts a new genre (crossover), helps revitalize an old one (hardcore punk), and practically revolutionizes a fashion statement (you know about them flip hats). Then again, Suicidal Tendencies weren’t your regular guys, and their shows were far from normal. Aside from repping the Venice 13 gang logo on the album cover (bassist Louiche Mayorga’s brother Steve was a member) and prompting the formation of the Suicidal Cycos street gang, Suicidal Tendencies had a tendency to spark violence at their shows. In 1984, fans ravenously tore apart seats at a Pasadena venue, famously resulting in the band being banned from town for more than half a decade.
Did I mention that these guys pissed off the F.B.I? Yeah, they did. How much more punk rock can you get? The song “I Shot The Devil” was originally titled “I Shot Reagan,” and somehow the album ended up in the bureau’s crosshairs. While we still get the incredibly fun and outrageously bold chorus, the feds promptly forced the group to change what appeared on the album’s tracklisting.
Somehow despite all of this, Suicidal Tendencies landed a music video on MTV; that’s where everything changes. In what was possibly the greatest Pepsi advert next to Cindy Crawford in daisy dukes, Madonna singing in a field of burning crosses, or Michael Jackson dancing in the streets with a young Alfonso Riberio, Suicidal Tendencies unleashed “Institutionalized” upon the MTV generation. The narrative of a day in the life of vocalist Mike Muir dealing with his neurotic boomer parents was the story of many Generation X youngsters, with some mildly amusing lyrics thrown in, particularly one single verse which stuck with some people more than anything else in the band’s discography. “Institutionalized” was probably the most extreme song that MTV played at that point, and it was surely one of the most important videos to expose the L.A. hardcore and emerging thrash scene.
Suicidal Tendencies were on a trek to become huge after the release of this LP. They had a song in a full length feature film (Repo Man) and appeared on one of America’s hottest television shows during the 1980s (Miami Vice), so yeah all things considered they were doing very well for a bunch of hardcore kids. Maybe it’s just the name that held them back from that next level of success, maybe it was the fact that they were banned from playing in L.A for much of the late 80s, or maybe it’s due to the band taking a four year long hiatus between 1983 and 1987. Okay, it’s probably a combination of all those things and some other mix ups as well, but without any exaggeration, the myth of S.T. was substantially larger than many of their contemporaries after they released this self titled debut on July 5th 1983 through Frontier Records.
Although Suicidal Tendencies will never get the full rock star treatment like some of the bands that they influenced, Suicidal Tendencies are not failures by any stretch of the imagination. Mike Muir will be scoring royalties until the day he dies for the popularity of “Institutionalized” alone, and the sales of their trademark flip hats might be enough to pay for a home and a few other things as well. They are largely responsible for influencing the thrash metal movement stylistically and musically, and one of the first few bands (if not the first band) to create crossover music.
In my opinion, Suicidal Tendencies’s debut album is one of the most important albums you’ll find in the heavy section of a record store. It’s every bit as important as any Black Flag or The Misfits album, and vital if you wish to explore the roots of punk or metal. Politically aggressive and socially provocative, the first Suicidal Tendencies album was an uncensored representation of life for the voiceless, and yet somehow with very little backing the band became a part of pop culture without ever losing their cred as OG hardcore boys from Venice.
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