DOA’s game-changing Hardcore 81 proved an invaluable quick and loud sketch for generations of punks.

As damn good as this might sound on the day, it was the album that made DOA rock stars. And while Hard 81 never went platinum, gold, silver, tin or even tin foil at the time, this does nothing to diminish its reputation as a culture-changing landmark.

Let’s start with the obvious: at a time when “punk” was a term used to describe everything from the Clash and X to the Top Sticks and Exxotone, the second full-length of DOA drew a new set of battle lines. It also gave its name to a movement.

Hard 81 was not the first stubborn record to burn in the world. Giving full credit where credit is owed, the album’s most obvious forerunner on the fast, loud, and completely fucking furious front is the Circle Jerks. Group Sex, which hit better independent record stores on October 1, 1980.

Video of The Decline of Western Civilization (2/7) Circle Jerks Perform “Red Tape” (1981)

Hard 81 arrived on April 22 the following year. The second half of the album’s title was obvious, even without the grammatically correct apostrophe. La 81 served as a time stamp, forever linking the release to a period of right-wing Reaganomics, Cold War paranoia, and — most terrifying of all — rugby pants. There was a point in history where it wasn’t about whether you would die in a nuclear holocaust as much as when.

La Hardcore part was where history was made, and not just for DOA Go back to North America’s earliest punk records, and there’s plenty of ammunition for the argument that, more than any other, one band served as a valuable touchpoint. As much as Black Sabbath headbangers hated the punks back in the day, the original punks of North America loved Black Sabbath.

While the Germs, Black Flag, and Evil Religion may have accelerated things — amphetamines are one fucking drug — the spirit of Shabbat threatens. (DONI), la Nerve Collapse EP, and How the Hell Could Be Worse? Argue that everything you want, but not until you’ve revisited “Turn On,” “I Had It,” and “In the Night.”

There was a definite Sabbath slime — exploded with crude rage and undiluted adrenaline — in early DOA numbers like “Woke Up Screaming” and “Royal Police.”
On the production side of things, meanwhile, the Disc sucks EP and debut album Something Better Change also sounded like most of the early Vancouver punk records: confusing, for lack of a better description.

DOA Video – Woke Up Screaming

Hard 81 changed all that. The record featured DOA’s greatest and musically accomplished lineup, with Keithley and lead guitarist Dave Gregg backed by Randy Rampage on bass, and the impossibly great Chuck Biscuits on drums.

The first thing that struck you was that it was faster than anything the band had done before – the 13 songs roaring across the finish line in just under 19 minutes.

The start-up track, “DOA”, set the tone with Keithley and Gregg leading a two-man guitar war while Biscuits played an unbridled locomotive on the drums. The lines “You should have got out while you could / Before the put set in for good” could likewise have been a shot across the arc of each group that DOA started with. Medium punk is no longer suitable as a catch label. In a move no one saw coming, Keithley, Gregg, Rampage, and Biscuits had somehow become faster, slimmer, and more laser-focused – determined to burn new ground rather than live in the past. “Hardcore” was a perfect descriptor, and DOA’s contribution to the sketch was invaluable.

DOA-DOA video

Forget trying to shock with safety pins, spitting and multicolored mohawks – the hardcore was about shock and scary speed and death penalty aggression. And Hard 81 delivered that with one audio tube bomb after another, from the death-from-above opening of “Slumlord” to the Rampage anthem “I Don’t Give a Shit” to the complete savagery of Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown”.

Dropped in the middle of the cyclone was one of the band’s greatest songs ever, “Unknown,” which would have been a hit if stubborn in general, and DOA specifically, wouldn’t scare the shit out of the play-it-safe yes. -men running Canadian radio at the time.

The early 80s developers at Vancouver stations like CFOX and CFMI wanted rock stars: Loverboy, Trooper, Bryan Adams, and Prism. And ironically enough, that’s what DOA became, not to the Tequila Sunrise and Colombian nose-bomb “tasters,” but instead to a generation that would become rock stars in their own right in the years that followed. Hard 81.

Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain would proudly tell anyone with a microphone and Xeroxed fan magazine that they met for the first time at a DOA show. When the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge” shot at number two in 1992, singer Anthony Kiedis roamed the streets of LA wearing a DOA shirt in the video.

Video of Red Hot Chili Peppers – Under The Bridge [Video]

Rancid, Green Day, and the Offspring declared their fandom after blasting a great time in the post-Nirvana punk boom. And alternative icon Henry Rollins once summed things up perfectly by describing the classic DOA lineup as follows: “The shit you couldn’t fuck with.”

This description is also appropriate for that of Black Flag Damaged, Small Threat From Step, Bad Brains’ Bad Brains– all of which are deservedly honored as stubborn classics. It says a lot about that Hard 81 is not only part of that elite club, but that DOA was there first. Rock stars. And yes, that’s a huge fucking compliment, even if it doesn’t sound that way.

DOA plays Hard 81 in its entirety at the Rickshaw Theater on Saturday (November 20). You can purchase the 40th anniversary edition of Hard 81, which comes complete with a 12-page DOA Hardcore history libretto, here.

DOA Video – Unknown

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