If ever there was one band in the annuls of rock music who were criminally underrated, then it’s surely California’s The Blasters. Drawing on various strands of American music, they were adored by critics and fellow musicians but, for whatever reason, that never transferred into mainstream success. As if to remind the record buying public of their folly, label Liberation Hall are set to reissue the band’s discography, and as a precursor comes the aptly-titled Mandatory. Featuring 21 cuts of the tightest, smartest, most passionate music you’re ever likely to hear, it’s time to buckle up and get ready for The Blasters!
There once was a time (at least here in the UK) when punk and rock n’ roll were mortal enemies, and it seemed that never the twain would meet. I always found that ludicrous because both genres were parred-back forms of music that shared the same sort of energy, and that’s where The Blasters stepped in. Formed in 1979, their sound was vivacious enough to find them sharing bills with hardcore hoodlums like Black Flag and Fear, yet its rootsy nature saw them playing shows with the likes of Bo Diddley. That they had such an effortless crossover appeal should become immediately apparent when listening to opening track ‘American Music’. Regardless of your personal preference in music, it’s hard not to get swept up in the band’s sheer joie de vivre; this isn’t the kind of album you put on as background music, like a bare knuckle boxer it demands your full attention and engagement. Whether dancing or fighting, The Blasters would always provide the perfect soundtrack.
If there was one thing that denim-clad, retro-rocker Shakin’ Stevens knew then it was a good tune. He had a canny ability to take USA songs and turn them into hits on the UK charts, and that’s exactly what he did with The Blasters’ ‘Marie Marie’. Of course, his version was watered down and not a patch on the original, but the fact that he was able to score a (albeit minor) hit on the British Hit Parade with a Blasters track illustrates the inherent melody that was infused in their songs. There’s a malleable nature to these tracks, and as this collection progresses you can hear The Blasters confidence grow to incorporate blues (‘Border Radio’), R&B (on a cover of Rudy Toombs’ ‘I’m Shakin’’), country (‘Little Honey’), gospel (‘Samson and Delilah’), and who could forget the Bayou-nightmare of ‘Dark Night’? Yet, Mandatory works precisely because of these stylistic shifts, it feels like a natural absorption and the result is a collection of songs that flows precisely because of its authenticity.
The Blasters were “Americana” long before the term was coined, and like most pioneers they were usurped by those who followed and refined their modus operandi for mass consumption. Yet, while many of their peers now sound dated, The Blasters have a timeless quality that will undoubtedly sound fresh many years hence. If you want to hear the true sound of America, this collection is Mandatory.
- Mandatory: The Best Of The Blasters is released via Liberation Hall and is available now (from here).
- American Music *
- Real Rock Drive *
- Flat Top Joint *
- Marie Marie **
- No Other Girl **
- I’m Shakin’ **
- Border Radio **
- So Long Baby **
- Hollywood Bed **
- Blue Shadows ***
- One Bad Stud ***
- Red Rose ****
- Jubilee Train ****
- Long White Cadillac ****
- Trouble Bound *****
- Dark Night *****
- Little Honey *****
- Samson and Delilah *****
- Help You Dream ******
- Common Dream ******
- Kathleen ******
* Originally appeared on American Music (1980)
** Originally appeared on The Blasters (1981)
*** Originally appeared on Streets Of Fire: Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1984)
**** Originally appeared on Non-Fiction (1983)
***** Originally appeared on Hard Line (1985)
****** Hard Line (Outtake) Originally appeared on The Blasters Collection (1991)