As bored teenagers growing up on the outskirts of Chicago, the first incarnation of Screeching Weasel (1986) jerry-rigged a simple, raw punk sound out of borrowed parts, meshing the snotty suburban attitude of New Jersey’s Adrenalin O.D. to the high-speed sonic assault of the early Ramones. The band also borrowed the Ramones’ convention of adopting punk-rock surnames, christening themselves Ben Weasel (vocals), Johnny Jughead (guitar), Vinnie Bovine (bass) and Steve Cheese (drums).
Whipping through 27 songs in under 35 minutes, the debut suffers from its no-budget one-day production, generic hardcore rants (“California Sucks,” “Leave Me Alone”) and an often puerile sense of humor. But there are a few keepers, including the deliciously misanthropic (and wonderfully catchy) “Murder in the Brady House” and the anthemic “Experience the Ozzfish,” a salute to Chicago scenester Warren Ozzfish.
Boogadaboogadaboogada!, some copies of which included a poster of the band bowling in the nude, offers another blast of rapid-fire hardcore punk. With a new bassist named Fish (none other than the infamous Warren Ozzfish!), Boogada‘s punk snarl is crisper and more accomplished; the songwriting is much sharper, teeming with funny, bouncy, singalong tunes like “I Hate Led-Zeppelin,” “I Wanna Be Naked” and “Hey Suburbia.” The Punkhouse EP’s grainy production and lackluster songwriting make it a disposable footnote, except that it marks the only non-compilation recording with drummer Brian Vermin and the debut of longtime bassist and guitarist Dan Vapid, who appears under the name Sewercap.
Internal squabbles led to the group’s breakup and an eighteen-month hiatus, although Weasel and Jughead continued to perform in a new band variously called the Gore Gore Girls and Wiggle. At the urging of Lookout Records’ Lawrence Livermore, Screeching Weasel re-formed in ’91 and recorded its finest album, My Brain Hurts. Fast, funny and brimming with lively melodies, it inaugurates the band’s stable lineup with whipcrack drummer Danny Panic, bassist Dave Naked and the versatile Dan Vapid on guitar and backup vocals. While Weasel’s nasty anti-everything diatribes (like “Fathead” and “What We Hate”) still take center stage, head-bobbing pop/punk tunes like “Cindy’s on Methadone,” “Guest List” and “Teenage Freak Show” turn the band’s jaundiced eye back on the punk scene itself with wry and savvy results.
For its throwaway Patsy Cline cover and dumb song about creepy girls, the Pervo-Devo EP still merits mention for its gay-porn picture sleeve and the song “I Wanna Be a Homosexual,” a silly but nonetheless courageous poke in the eye at the ingrained homophobia of the hardcore scene.
Wiggle trades Dave Naked for bassist John Personality of Chicago’s Vindictives and sounds much better than the band’s prior releases. Unfortunately, the songwriting just isn’t up to snuff, with too many one-joke Ramones ripoffs (Vapid’s “I Was a High School Psychopath”) and a lot of unnecessary guitar doodling. The album does boast one of Weasel’s best girl songs (“Jeannie’s Got a Problem With Her Uterus”) and a touching love song co-written by fanzine poobah Aaron Cometbus.
Part joke, part homage, Ramones (a complete SW rendition of the first Ramones album) was recorded as part of a series (the Queers and Vindictives later covered Leave Home and Rocket to Russia, respectively) and, given Screeching Weasel’s obvious debt to the boys from Queens, probably seemed like a good idea at the time. The band (here a four-piece, with Vapid on bass and Weasel on rhythm guitar) sounds like it’s having fun, but the arrangements copy the original so closely that this academic exercise does little more than prove it can be done.
You can certainly hear the Ramones’ influence all the way through Anthem for a New Tomorrow, but Screeching Weasel has grown up. There are still girl songs, but they’re not quite so silly anymore, and they’re mixed in with surprisingly adult meditations on loneliness, illness, hopelessness and rage, all set to a pounding 4/4 beat and the same frantically strummed three chords.
Using labelmate Green Day’s Mike Dirnt to substitute on bass for the departed Dan Vapid, Screeching Weasel recorded How to Make Enemies and Irritate People as its purported final album. If it’s not the band’s best work, it’s certainly the best-sounding, with a booming bottom and textured vocals. Production aside, it’s also one of the band’s strongest efforts, boasting a couple of pretty good Ramones knockoffs (“Nobody Likes You,” with a classically snotty lead vocal, and “Surf Goddess,” co-written by Joe King of the Queers, whose own repertoire includes an original called “Ben Weasel”), two primo girl songs (with requisite singalong choruses) and the touching “I Wrote Holden Caufield.”
Culled from out-of-print singles and EPs, alternate takes, compilation tracks, live recordings and the Ramones album, Kill the Musicians includes an extensive band history written by Ben Weasel (a longtime Maximumrocknroll columnist), some vintage photos and 31 tracks, arranged chronologically. As a guided tour through the band’s career, it’s something of a bumpy ride and far from a definitive best-of collection, but worthwhile nonetheless for rarities like the original version of “I Wanna Be a Homosexual” and the out-of-print “Punkhouse.”
After Screeching Weasel’s demise (which proved short-lived: the band resumed in early ’96), Weasel, Panic and Vapid (using their real names — Foster, Sullivan and Schafer) continued to play together as the Riverdales. Previously, Vapid had moonlighted from Screeching Weasel (along with onetime Weasel drummer Brian Vermin) as the lead singer of Chicago’s Sludgeworth. What’s This? mixes thrashy funk-rock with upbeat, Descendents-styled pop punk; with EP and compilation tracks added, it was reissued in 1995 as Losers of the Year.