Killed by Death
Revisiting, Thirty Years Later
by Scott Bass
Considering the massive cultural impact of the Killed by Death bootleg series of compilations (just search "KBD punk" on eBay), they stem from a somewhat curious origin. Taking cues from Crypt Records' Back From the Grave series as well as the Nuggets and Pebbles and related above-board comps that compiled rare '60's garage singles, the initial volume of KBD focused on what the compiler--a truly dedicated aficionado of obscure cultural artifacts--considered to be rare early Punk records. In a collector space not yet viciously defined, ten years before internet was a common home utility; this is a somewhat random and subjective starting-point.
Unlike most compilations that concentrated on a particular sound, scene, location or label, this one defined its focus upon how arcane the vinyl tracks were, how maddeningly difficult they proved to obtain. The concept was inevitable; but it was "Redrum Records" from somewhere in Scandinavia (I only later realized that "Hell, Norway" was a nod to Helvete record shop and the Black Metal scene gurgling over there at the time) who officially got the ball rolling.
And oh how it rolled. No one could have predicted the heights to which collector frenzy would reach; since the release of this record the floodgates absolutely opened, unleashing a torrent of subsequent KBD volumes of varying quality in addition to an impressive number of competitor productions like the Bloodstains, Back to Front, and Hyped to Death series all vying to excavate and document every last vinyl scrap of the newly-realized cultural gold mine that is out-of-print late '70's and early '80's independently pressed records.
Original 1988 Volume 1 tracklist
A1 Mad I Hate Music A2 Hollywood Squares Hillside Strangler A3 Slugs Problem Child A4 Vox Pop Cab Driver A5 Controllers (The Original) Neutron Bomb A6 Dogs Slash Your Face A7 Gasoline Killer Man A8 Beastie Boys ** Jimi A9 Beastie Boys ** Holy Snappers A10 Beastie Boys ** Riot Fight A11 Beastie Boys ** Ode To... A12 Beastie Boys ** Michelle's Farm A13 Beastie Boys ** Egg Raid On Mojo
B1 Kraut Matinee B2 Child Molesters (I'm The) Hillside Strangler B3 Cold Cock I Wanna Be Rich B4 Authorities Radiation Masturbation B5 Authorities I Hate Cops B6 Nuns Decadent Jew B7 Users Sick Of You B8 Wipers ** Better Off Dead B9 Vicious Visions I Beat You B10 FU 2 ** Star In The Street
** Denotes tracks on the original but not the repress
Revisionist History Volume 1 tracklist (currently available / in print version)
A1 Mad I Hate Music A2 Hollywood Squares Hillside Strangler A3 Slugs Problem Child A4 Vox Pop Cab Driver A5 Controllers (The Original) Neutron Bomb A6 Dogs Slash Your Face A7 Gasoline Killer Man
B1 Kraut Matinee B2 Child Molesters (I'm The) Hillside Strangler B3 Cold Cock I Wanna Be Rich B4 Authorities Radiation Masturbation B5 Authorities I Hate Cops B6 Nuns Decadent Jew B7 Users Sick Of You B8 Vicious Visions I Beat You
For the sake of historical accuracy -- and we at PSF are no fans of revisionist history -- we will be using the original tracklist for this discussion. The somehow-still-in-print current version omits nine tracks (most notably the three-quarters of the Beastie Boys' Polly Wog Stew EP) and is admittedly a more focused LP. But we'd like to keep the records straight, so to speak. It's been well-established that the collectors of these records were served well by the bootleg compilations as the value of their collections shot up in subsequent years. Now, let's see how the bands fared...
Before KBD: The original NYC group released two excellent and rare singles during their brief existence -- one in '78 and another in '80 -- but had also appeared on the well-distributed ROIR New York Thrash cassette from 1982. So they were ripe pickins for a comp like KBD circa '88 as genre fans knew who they were, but very few people owned copies or had even heard the original records. That ROIR comp would turn out to be a bit of a prophetic prototype of sorts as it also included songs by several bands that would later appear the KBD bootleg series. After KBD: Listener brains collectively melted upon hearing the damaged art/punk mayhem that was The Mad and in 1999 deals were inked with Brain Transplant in the U.S. and Captain Trip Records in Japan to press up new records -- both reissues of the classic single tracks as well as newly exhumed offerings that didn't disappoint. These reissues are now collectible themselves (although far more affordable than the originals).
The Hollywood Squares
Before KBD: This 1st wave L.A. band were obscure at the time and their lone 45 output from 1977 has remained out of print. Had this record never been bootlegged, it would probably be about a $50 record -- which is quite a lot considering the "picture sleeve" was really just a stamped generic white paper. After KBD: Thousands of folks get turned on to this obscure single which now has become a $500 record, sure to go up in the future. It took a while for Italy to come calling but in 2006, Rave Up records issued an album Restrangled that compiled the original single, three unreleased studio tracks, and another four live tracks of typically dubious quality. This record is far more obtainable.
Before KBD: Featuring original New York Doll Rick Rivets, this group put out a pair of sleeveless singles in '79 and '80 which were repressed and repacked into a sleeved double-set in 1981 that now goes for more than the originals, no doubt to the cool sleeve design seen here. Truly great and obscure American roots-punk that was in danger of being forgotten, the inclusion of the amazing singalong ("lyin', cheatin', no discreetin'") "Problem Child" piqued much interest when it appeared on the inaugural volume of KBD. After KBD: For reasons not entirely clear, both in 2000 and in 2002 the group chose to self-release two CDR's; one serving as a digital repress of the two-pack that was limited to 50 copies; the other being a full-length compilation of live tracks called Latex Culture, limited to 100. These are essentially unfindable now and since no legitimate vinyl reissues of these songs currently exist, the odds of an Italian label bootlegging these recordings in the future is close to 100%.
Before KBD: Germs' drummer/musical savant/hippy weirdo Don Bolles has had his mitts in a variety of reasonably high-profile groups including Nervous Gender, 45 Grave, and Celebrity Skin. He once told me via email that he was embarrassed about his drum tracks on the Germs LP because his timing was all over the place and for the life of me, I can't hear what the hell he's talking about. It sounds to me like it sounds to everyone else obsessed with that album; fucking awesome. After KBD: A bootleg taken from a 1980 radio broadcast titled "More Drugs Than Elvis" has stayed in print but there hasn't been much else; likely because there isn't much else to reveal. As you can see in the photo from their 1982 Mystic Record 12", it seems that Vox Pop have showed us everything (insert joke here about Don's massive bolles). Don's an original and even though Vox Pop isn't his most memorable project, it has never really been in any danger of being forgotten.
Before KBD: The Controllers represent the ideal to which these kinds of comps aspire--to expose bonafide first wave Punk bands who had only a couple of late '70's singles and then fell into obscurity, known only to record collectors and tape traders. Only five songs had been officially released during The Controllers' original existence and there wasn't a stinker in the bunch. Originals were priced accordingly. After KBD: An entirely new generation of listeners got clued in to the greatness of this group and in 2000 Baccus Archives (part of Lee Joseph's Dionysus Records empire) released The Controllers debut LP, a self-titled affair that compiled all of their previously-released material along with a slew of "new" archival nuggets that did not disappoint. It was a solid album that properly documented something important that was in danger of being nearly forgotten. A licensed CD reissue in Japan from 2004 ensured that The Controllers are now officially recognized by the entire world as an important band.
Before KBD: Dogs leader Loren Molinare might not be a household name, but he should be. He was on the scene early when his group released "John Rock," the Dogs debut 7", one of only a very small handful of 1976 "pre-Ramones 1st LP" US independent punk records. The follow-up from two years later shows his group mutating from a rocking Stooges vibe to a Black Sabbath on dexedrine kind of thing: menacing, fast, intriguing, and memorable, it's no surprise that originals are now valued at several hundred times their original sticker price. After KBD: Things were quiet on the Dogs front for most of the '90's but then good ol' Dionysus stepped in again, issuing a "new" single in 2001 and new album of material; 2003's Suburban Nightmare. Another album Hypersensitive dropped in 2012, proving that the Dogs are indeed back and that the notoriety spawned by their appearance on Killed by Death has likely benefited the band. And then there's this. Supposedly, it came out in 2013, but no copies have ever been made available on discogs. Japan can be sneaky.
Before KBD: Kind of from left field after all of the American tracks, this inclusion could have been any of many other first-wave French singles of the era as far as anyone was concerned. American listeners, especially in the late '90's, have never been very knowledgeable about frog Punk. Gasoline (originally spelled "Gazoline" on their debut) released two rare singles in 1977 which solidified them as visionaries of the nascent Paris Punk scene. After KBD: Getting bootlegged on the inaugural volume of Killed by Death certainly gave some legs to the legend but it didn't do much to initiate combustion in the Gasoline engine. Obligatory reissues of the singles have already become collector items themselves. It's possible that the group was such a flash in the pan (un feu de paille) that these four tracks are all that exist. We can only hope that's not the case.
Beastie Boys **
Before KBD: Here it is, the extended play 7" that was bootlegged almost in its entirety on the original compilation--and then removed from all subsequent pressings. Why? Because the Beastie Boys committed not just one but two massive sins against the rare Punk records collecting community. First and foremost, they became popular and things that become popular by definition can no longer be coveted by elitist collectors. But even worse than that, the Beasties got their Punker Cred Passes revoked for turning into a Rap Group! Oh, the horror; how tres uncool! After KBD: musically, this record is fairly generic NY hardcore and doesn't amount to much more than a footnote in an otherwise long and critically acclaimed musical career. It's an interesting artifact but no huge loss for those that bought later-pressed editions who have yet to hear this. The Beastie Boys found their focus years after this was recorded and don't need need the collector punks' money or respect... although it could be argued that they deserve both.
Kate Schellenbach would later find some success leading Luscious Jackson
Already going off course a tad with tempos way too fast to be considered Punk, before KBD Kraut were a fairly well-known and very early representative of the now-legendary early 80s New York City HardCore scene. Kraut's other 1981 single on Cabbage records is equally hard to come by and features the superior "Kill For Cash," a more traditionally Punk-tempoed toe-tapper that would have worked better here. After KBD, or perhaps simultaneously with KBD, the group seemed to be reinvigorated in the late '80's when New Red Archives issued a recorded-live at CBGB's Night of Rage as well as reissues of all of their studio material (plus a few "lost" songs") released with the bizarre title The Movie in 1990 and then again with the much-improved title Complete Studio Recordings 1981-1986 five years later. It's hard to say if KBD helped Kraut but it sure didn't hurt.
From 1982 and ahead of the curve
The Child Molestors
Wasn't there already a Hillside Strangler song on this comp? Considering the killings happened 1977-1978 in the Los Angeles area it should be no surprise at all that more than one area band would become inspired to memorialize their tributes. And it makes perfect sense to have two different bands have songs on this album with the same title. Because in real-life, there were actually two Hillside Stranglers! Before KBD, the Child Molestors were already (in)famous not just for their memorable name but for releasing one of the rarest early California punk singles, featured here. Their follow up single was even better (IMHO) and all of the records from their groups Ace & Duce label are cherished collector items that command high prices on the second hand market. After KBD: High-profile indie label Sympathy for the Record industry found these guys on the national registry and in 1994 teamed up to issue the group's first full-length wax The Brown Album featuring a recording session from "long ago." This release raised the band's profile quite a bit; and young punks rejoiced that they finally had a group with a name even more upsetting to their parents than the Dead Kennedys. This new attention sparked additional reissues and now, the recordings are much more within reach of the average enthusiast.
Before KBD, this original Detroit combo released only a solitary single in 1979 featuring some seriously nimble basswork. That record would have only been known to dedicated collectors and Detroit scensesters. By the end of the year that this single was released, group leaders Bob Mulrooney and Vince Bannon had already moved onto The SIllies, the first in a long staircase of musical steps they'd take throughout the Detroit underground in years to come. After KBD: No new recordings have surfaced and the single has never been repressed, causing collectors to shell out some quality cash if they'd like a copy. Seems ripe for the picking; the record is still obscure but now people know how great it is and a repress seems like a no-brainer.
Before KBD, this California outfit had a lone 4-song 7" EP to their name, 1982's brilliantly-titled Soundtrack For Trouble. It was largely unknown outside collector circles and likely would have stayed that way. But after KBD, the cat was out of the bag and people started to get hip to The Authorities. It's understandable that the compilers chose to include not just one but two of the EP tracks; like the Kraut track, these songs are closer to hardcore tempos and are short and fast. I imagine my reaction upon first hearing the songs was typical as I immediately began the search to find a taped copy of the rare original EP to hear if the other two songs were also killer. They were. Increased interest prompted trendsetters at Buckwheat Headlock records (a subsidiary of Existential Vacuum, known for their Texas-centric releases) to release an unreleased album's worth of original early '80's recordings which later got reissued by the garage behemoth Get Hip label years later along with a straight up reissue of the original 7" EP. Authorities releases are currently available and their place in the ranks of U.S. music is now cemented.
Revived by Bootleg
Before KBD: The Nuns were a well-known band to Punk audiences at the time of KBD's release. Their sole album had been in print via Bomp Records and their appearance as the opening band (along with the Avengers) at the original Sex Pistols' last-ever show at Winterland is legendary so their inclusion on the introductory volume of KBD seems a bit odd. The hard-to-find EP from which this comp track is lifted from came out in 1978 on San Francisco's 415 records who were press darlings in the '80's and had a major label distribution deal with CBS, making this an even odder inclusion. But the weirdest thing is that unlike the choice studio cuts heard elsewhere on the comp, this song sounds like an audience quality live recording. Even by punk standards, the fidelity is just shit here; it's a muddled mess of in-the-red squonk with keyboards that would probably be offensive if it wasn't so poorly recorded. After KBD: The Nuns, or whoever Jennifer Miro had playing with her at the time, continued to release music in the '90's, none of which had the punky charm heard on their 1980 debut Bomp! Records debut. Being included on the first-ever KBD comp probably didn't affect them one way or the other.
Randomly back to Europe for no good reason, before KBD, this track was an indie hit in the UK, having been released as both a single and a 12" on the Raw label. This means it sold a ton of copies because "across the pond" Punk records actually got played on the radio and there's rumored to be at least twenty thousand copies of the single pressed--which is a massive number compared to the pressing sizes carried out by their average American indie counterparts. After KBD: It took a while but finally Dizzy Detour and his UK-based Bin Liner Records stepped up to put together 2008's Secondary Modern 1976-1978, which was followed up a few years later by Italian biters Rave Up with their Kicks in Style 1976-1979 compilation. 2017 saw the release of a "new" single "Now That It's Over" (as heard on both the Bin Liner and Rave Up releases) cementing The Users as class of '77 group that people remember.
Before KBD, Greg Sage's Wipers were a well-known outfit on the Portland scene. They had released at least a half dozen albums before the first volume of Killed by Death appeared. While their debut single "Better Off Dead" may have been hard-to-find and relatively unknown at the time, it's rather understandable why it would have been trimmed from the revised tracklist given the Wipers' high profile in comparison to other groups on the album. After KBD, the band enjoys their highest profile ever, having broken up briefly in 1989 but then reformed in 1993 to record more records as more and more people tuned in and clued in. Their (large!) catalog is still mostly in-print; The Wipers didn't really need KBD and vice-versa.
Randomly turning to Sweden, an incredibly fertile ground when it comes to limited pressings, this record comes from the outfield both literally and figuratively as it's blindfolded dart shot thrown at the board of Swedish punk; there's literally a hundred records from that country that were equally unknown to US audiences that could have been picked. But for this reviewer's ears, the oddest bit of it all is that this is not a traditional '77 style Punk track; it's rocking more of a demented-psyche/art-damage vibe that probably confounded most first-time listeners. While not a bad song but it seems out of place with the rest. Before KBD, as well as after KBD, these guys are pretty obscure although perhaps that will finally change as in 2019 a Swedish label issued a 1980-1983 retrospective LP and CD called Retrodisrespect. Probably not though, despite the awesome title.
Before KBD just as after, FU2 remain an semi-obscure and somewhat unusual affair. It's a reasonable assumption that the revisionists who refocused volume 1 by trimming some of the fat decided this track had to go because they couldn't get past the dirty secret; FU2 were actually a studio project from a couple of guys in The Downliners Sect (a legit mid-'60's British hard R&B combo) who were contemporaries of the Stones and the Yardbirds. That meant that they were both too old and too technically proficient to ever qualify as cool enough to qualify for this particular record club. Sarcasm aside, it is absolutely reasonable to be extremely suspicious of any 7" record that says "PUNK ROCK" on the cover. After KBD, as the side-A label graphic attributing this song to "D. Sect" testifies, the true identity of FU2 was never a huge secret and the LP they released right after this single in 1977 is currently in its tenth pressing. Just goes to show that the punk kids know how to respect their elders and that things turned out OK for FU2.
Regardless of motives or resulting fortunes, Killed by Death volume 1 was a watershed compilation and a more than adequate investigatory peek into the endless rabbit-hole that is collecting early Punk and Hardcore singles. We at PSF salute the "anonymous" original compiler for his pure intentions and heartfelt aspirations to share these raw gems with the world. There can be no doubt that countless kids who were way too young to experience the first wave of Punk firsthand (this author included) may never have been exposed to these important artifacts of independent cultural history if not for this series of comps.
But whoever is keeping the thing in print in 2020, well... y'all are bootleggers.
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