We could sit here all day and discuss the ethos behind the entire punk mantra but it has been discussed to no end. Instead, we’re inspecting the spiraling consequences of the mainstream upsurge of punk that ultimately peaked in 1994/95. Three years after what many dubbed as “the year punk broke” (1991), the resurgence of the punk subculture back into the mainstream scope was in significant contrast to the 70’s and early 80’s – there was now widespread acceptance. An extension of the earlier indie rock signing spree, 1994 was the pinnacle, underscored by two California bands that saw their popularity rocket into previously unfamiliar extremes. With the success of Green Day’s Dookie and Offspring’s Smash, major labels sought to find continued and similar success in unearthing hopeful bands and signing those who had called the underground home previously.

However, the effects of a genre’s popularity often result in a number of those caught up in the wave to get left behind. Casualties of other people’s success. For one reason or another, glory did not come to them as expected, and the resulting fallout ends with bands disbanding and careers changing. The fallout of an entire movement are far too great to tackle in mere paragraphs. We will instead section the years 1994 to 1996 as a small example of these fleeting successes, a time during and immediately after Green Day and the Offspring opened the floodgates to the modern punk underground. We circle five records that the major labels released; all of which merited success in many ways, but undoubtedly lacked the mega-sale attraction their financiers had hoped for. In a different time, under different circumstances, these records would have led to more, but in the shadow of platinum records these albums just did not pay back their investment. At the height of major label power, that was the death knell for many bands.

Here are the 5 records lost in the post-1994 scramble of punk’s mainstream success.

Hog

05. Hog – Nothing Sacred
(Geffen Records, March 1996)

Los Angeles punk band Hog were fueled by frontman Kirk Miller’s monstrous anthemic handiwork and the band’s love for melody, Nothing Sacred was a blast of a time. It was a simplistic record yes, one that relied on crunchy alternative rock riffs and soaring melodies, but one that was as easily digestible as it was loud. Miller’s raspy voice rang clear in “Shut Down” and “Walls”, providing guidance for the band’s heavily distorted appeal. Perhaps in an attempt to sustain a level of ingenuity, they combined honky-tonk fragments with aggressive punk riffage in “Don’t Know Why” and took on punk acoustic in the terrific country-bluegrass fueled “You & Me”. There was no love from the public however, as stints on the Black Sheep soundtrack and limited airplay did little to bolster the band’s success. Nothing Sacred was the band’s only offering.

I wore out my cassette tape copy of Hog’s Nothing Sacred it was so good. The title track is fantastic in particular, but there are so many great songs on this album, like the aforementioned “Walls” and “Not Perfect”. To this day I still go back to this album as the perfect windows down highway album because sonically, it sounds like a damn rock record. If you ever come across this album somewhere in a record shop and you like loud guitars, melodic punk, and some attitude, don’t hesitate to spend the money on it.

Stream: Hog – “Shut Down”

Waterdog

04. Waterdog – Waterdog
(Atlantic Records, October 1995)

Atlantic’s pop-punk flag carriers depended greatly on Green Day’s popularity to carry over. This self-titled disc was surprisingly accessible (bolstered by radio-ready tracks “Can’t Let Go” and “Jessica”) but ultimately lacked a strong connection to the recently converted masses. Unlike the Berkeley trio’s unabashed, juvenile visage, Waterdog relied on slightly more cultured lyrics and less simplistic chords, but kept true to mainstream pop-punk’s then alternative sound. Waterdog was a band that had the chops and the songs, but for a myriad of reasons, just couldn’t find their ground in a crowded radio field. After the dissolution of Waterdog, members of the band spent time in (ironically enough) Mike Dirnt’s project The Frustrators.

This album was not the best produced but had some great songs- most notably the closer “Good-bye, Good-bye”, and the track below “Jessica”. I still like listening to this song today and while it isn’t as loud or as urgent as Hog’s Nothing Sacred, had plenty to like, especially if you enjoyed pop-punk with a less bouncy appeal. The band came and went after only one album, but who knows just what they could have done during a different era.

Stream: Waterdog – “Jessica”

Samiam

03. Samiam – Clumsy
(Atlantic, August 1994)

Amongst their respective discography, Samiam’s Clumsy can easily go unnoticed. Their foray into the majors did not end here but unlike some of their kind, Samiam lasted through all the troubles and are still around today. Their creative blend of chunky pop punk components with more rock-oriented mechanisms resulted in their fiery guitar powered focus. Keen on quality vocal delivery and constantly trying to rework their musical progression, Samiam are front runners of pop-punk/rock with definitive style and substance. Clumsy however, is far from being their definitive work, but thankfully, major label misteps aside, they got even better after their foray into the majors. Albums like You Are Freaking Me Out and their 2000 release Astray, proved that there was life after the majors. Clumsy was the only album they ever did for Atlantic.

Sergie Loobkoff of the band also spent time in seminal emo band Knapsack as well as indie rock band Solea. I had a chat with Sergie Loobkoff about Solea back in 2002 about his then-new band.

Samiam are one of the lucky few.

Jawbreaker

02. Jawbreaker – Dear You
(Geffen Records, September 1995)

Pulled from shelves just months after its release, Dear You is a painful reminder of the fickleness that saturates the major label landscape. Far more restrained than their previous work, Jawbreaker’s (then) final release is as mysterious as it is admired; a defining example of bad things happening to good bands. Almost completely disappearing from North American retail stores (and most definitely from the Geffen catalogue), it has been the scourge of punk record collectors who have been unsuccessful at securing a copy. Featuring the classic Jawbreaker track “Jet Black”, Dear You was re-released in 2004 via Blackball Records. After Jawbreaker’s initial break-up, Blake Schwarzenbach went on to form one of my favorite bands, Jets to Brazil.

Dear You is not such a lost commodity since its reissue. However, it’s still a fascinating example of how the majors reached deep into the underground to try and replicate Green Day’s success any way they could. Dear You was a real step away from previous Jawbreaker material and the commercial results were unfortunate. In the Jawbreaker discography, it isn’t the easiest of records to get in to, partly because it was a shift from what the band were known for. But in hindsight, it’s a shining example of a band exploring new surrounds while jumping head first into the major label game.

In 2017, against all odds, Jawbreaker reformed. Remarkably, there is new music on the way. New Jawbreaker. In 2019. Who would have thought post Dear You?

Klover

01. Klover – Feel Lucky Punk
(Mercury/Polygram Records, August 1995)

Featuring members of legendary Boston hardcore outfit Gang Green, Klover epitomized all that was the spirit of a misunderstood generation. Leering like the Buzzcocks, influential like the Jam and embodying the youthful enthusiasm of early Social Distortion, Feel Lucky Punk was an immensely competent release. Confidently portraying ideas of rebellion, social rejection and an underlying cause for unity, it was a record that exuded all that was great of the punk movement. Strengthened by the “Basket Case”-like “Our Way” (how did this song not resonate with the radio crown? I just don’t know), the gang vocals of “Beginning to End” and the truly wonderful cover of the Real Kids’ “All Kindsa Girls”, Feel Lucky Punk is a real gem that deserved far more than it received. The album sounded great, the songs were exactly what you would expect from a shiny, major label punk release- everything seemed poised for success. It never came. Klover disbanded in early 1996 after just one album.

If there was ever an album so commercially ready to be big, it was this one. Mercury Records didn’t do anything for the band, and the songs here were relegated to used bins in Tower Records all around the world. Too bad because there is so much good material on here, so much of it is still so listenable today (you could argue that it holds up better than a lot of mainstream punk of the last decade). Their cover of “All Kindsa Girls” is still one of the best covers you’ll hear. However, it is the opening track “Our Way” that really sets the tone for the album and remains one of the best things not to have been huge.

Stream: Klover – “Our Way”

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