Do you want the best 1990s heavy metal? What about rock ‘n roll? Punk, post-punk? What about underground, hardcore, indie, grunge, noise and everything in between? Well, we got you.
That’s because The Rocker—founded by Brenda Mullen and Trent Weller, later published by little old me—was there from the beginning of rock’s second renaissance. As Northeast Ohio’s #1 free metal, punk and underground music magazine from 1989-1998, U.S. Rocker staffers listened to all the new music so you didn’t have to. Then they tore it apart like a bunch of brainy yahoos—gonzo journalism at its finest.
Internet commenters have likened the USR oral history to stepping inside a time machine—one that’s set to “Awesome!” Just look at Brenda crowdsurfing at Cleveland’s notorious Flash Gordon’s club circa 1990 in the top photo (thanks for the photo, Flash’s). These were good timesand U.S.Rocker was there.
Before you say “that’s amazing” (it is!) ponder the fact that you can still get back issues in their original printed editions at a low cost (shipping is included). Double wow!
But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. And this pudding is hot, sweet and sticky with rock ‘n roll!
While scanning, uploading and tagging each issue from U.S. Rocker’s legendary first five years, I dropped the staff’s most-recommended tracks into a playlist. The rules were: the track had to be from the year that the band was first mentioned in The Rocker, and only track per band was allowed.
In order to guide you, here are the highlights (and lowlights) drawn from the 400+ songs collected on the YouTube playlist chosen by some of your favorite U.S. Rocker writers, Cleveland musicians and fans. Think of it as a virtual version of the U.S. Rocker classic gang-review column, “Demo Demons.” Please note that the writers’ opinions are strictly their own. Duh.
Enjoy the music. It was a labor of love to gather these for you. Oh yeah and TURN IT UP!
Terror “Pain and Suffering”
Malcom Ryder (Producer, U.S. Rocker Audio Magazine Vol. 1-3; lead singer, Sosumi): I watched Terror get kicked out of the Empire’s green room for drinking Gwar‘s beers. My favorite memory of that band was at one of [Mayfield Music impresario, later FBI Most Wanted felon] Cory Weinberg’s so-called benefit concerts at Flash’s. They were scheduled to play, but right before they went on they told Geo, owner of Flash’s, that they wouldn’t perform unless they got paid $200.00—and they got it. Guitarist JJ Sekula later went on to play in Mushroomhead.
Sinister “Metal Rules”
Sean Carnage (Former WRUW programmer; U.S. Rocker staff writer, art director, cartoonist, distribution & ad sales ’93-98; editor & publisher, ’97-98): It’s been noted (and confirmed from personal experience) that USR co-founder Brenda Mullen was way into the darker, more undergound sounds. She showed her cards early on, even before U.S. Rocker was officially U.S. Rocker, in precursor publication SLAM Magazine issue #3 where she interviewed NE Ohio’s own Sinister. The shape of things to come. This track could be the USR anthem. ‘Cuz you know, metal RULES.
Warrior Soul “The Wasteland”
Ron Kretsch (Former WRUW-FM programmer, former Free Times / Scene / Dangerous Minds editor / U.S. Rocker writer, musician, designer, artist) : I did have to laugh at seeing fucking Warrior Soul on the list. Pretty sure that was the song in which they dissed Donald Trump. Bless their pointy little heads, even ‘90s stupidbros can be on-or-near point about politicsy things! Good for them!
Integrity “Micha: Those Who Fear Tomorrow”
Chris Klasa (U.S. Rocker contributor, musician, DJ, football dad): I went to high school with Dan Santovin, who ended up running Speak in Tongues for a while. If you know him, you know that he is a super nice great guy that gets along with everybody. I was a 300 lb. spazz loser in high school who liked heavy metal and punk rock and Dan, because he is such a nice guy, starting taking me to hardcore matinees with him when hardcore matinees were a thing. I saw Integrity at a few of them and was blown away by how heavy and evil they seemed—more so than most of the heavy metal bands that were playing around town at the time. I will probably see Lenny at the Lakewood High School football game tonight (our kids are the same age) and scream “MICHA!!!” at him.
Clutch “A Shogun Named Marcus”
Mason “Jar” Boor (Former WRUW programmer; U.S. Rocker staff writer 1994-98): I remember we were all pining for some more Clutch after listening to their Passive Restraints EP one hundred times. “Shogun” song really set the stage for where Neil Fallon was going with his brilliantly scattershot lyrical musings (“Yes I’m a New World Samurai, and a redneck nonetheless”). On the other hand, Transnational Speedway League, in regards to style, kind of put a cap on their early hardcore-influenced sound that they pretty much moved on from by their brilliant mind-bending self-titled 2nd album.
Testament “Greenhouse Effect”
Sean Carnage: If you’re a band in the late ’80s, how do you get political without offending fans who may be on opposite sides of the aisle? Sing about the environment duh. And almost every metal band had an environmental (environ-metal?) song in 1989, of which Testament had by far and away the best and most ripping. Prescient stuff. Remember this wasn’t a right vs. left issue yet. I wonder where these guys and their fans fall on this issue nowadays…
The Spudmonsters “Garbage Day”
Martin F. Lance: The band’s big hit, with a fun video to go with it. Metal with a sense of humor, imagine that? I think Joe Gizmo originally wrote the song, but Don Foose sings it. The Spudmonsters were known for their wild live shows, with them ripping up teddy bears and tossing the innards into the crowd. Former Chris’ Warped Records owner Chris Andrews played rhythm guitar.
Lizzy Borden “We Got the Power”
Sean Carnage: How ironic that me, the Jesus-Lizard-listening dude, is picking all the power and hair metal videos. I used to cringe back then as these bands were so desperate in the face of their obsolescence. “But we write actual songs,” they cried and whined. Back in 1990 I was, like, open your minds or die, motherfuckers. Now I’m the one opening my mind and I gotta say, yeah, bands like Lizzy Borden did write some great songs. Oops. My bad. Kudos to the early Rocker staffers for sticking to their guns and elevating this one.
King’s X “It’s Love”
Stephe Sykes (Writer, musician, SEANCARNAGE.com contributor, USR fan): King’s X sits with Alice Coltrane, Aphex Twin and the Bulgarian Women’s Choir as the most inimitable acts to ever get an American major label release. Mixing spiritual prog metal with intricate three part harmonies and meat and potatoes anthemic choruses made it hard for any one genre of fan to latch on to them but have bound a cult following of devotees for almost 40 years (singer Doug Pinnick still tours well into his 70s). “It’s Love” was their attempt at a radio single and though I’ve never heard it on the radio, I’ve bumped it in my car since its early ’90s release.
The Afghan Whigs “Gentlemen”
Malcom Ryder: In 1989, I went to New York, with Jim Clevo for the CMJ music festival. My band Sosumi was playing in Hoboken at a bar down the street from that famous bar in Hoboken, and the Afghan Whigs were headlining. I just remember sitting in a van in an alley in back of the bar and John Walsh saying to me, ”Man these guys are loud.” And they were. Great band. That album is the ultimate breakup album.
Fates Warning “Through Different Eyes”
Sean Carnage: I play this playlist while I’m in the shower and if I’m lucky this one comes on right as I throw the shower curtain back and entertain my very confused cat with a Fates Warning lipsync and air guitar performance. Why is this middle-aged naked man gesticulating to this odd music? is what his face says. Or maybe he’s digging it. Either way it’s rare to find a band that tickles this part of the musical back brain in quite the same way. You know, all triumphant with a hint of dark regret.
Unified Culture “People of the Rock”
Martin F. Lance: Can a rock critic ever be wrong? Don’t answer that! I was never impressed with Unified Culture‘s rap metal—the word “derivative” came to mind within 30 seconds of hearing the tape.
But one of these guys went on to form Mushroomhead, who were quite big. For the record Slipknot stole their look from Mushromhead not the other way around.
Jello Biafra and Nomeansno “Jesus Was a Terrorist”
Malcom Ryder: Booked Nomeansno at Pat’s in the Flats many years ago. Man, these guys were heavy, super tight, started out slow then burst of energy. Been described as jazz core or math rock.
Sweet F.A. “Whiskey River”
Sean Carnage: I’m not sure where in the fuck this combo video/interview came from but it’s pretty freakin’ hilarious as Sweet F.A. brags, using all the contemporary industry jargon like “showcases” blah blah, about their journey from being Indiana farmhands to living in a van in L.A., down the street from where I live now (fortunately not in a van). Livin’ the big city/major label dream! Or something. Anyhow, this song is unforgettable and I wish I had written it.
Screwtractor “Stupid Humans”
Martin F. Lance: After Nirvana’s Nevermind blew up, record labels were bumping into each other to sign “Alternative” acts, and one of them was Screwtractor. Kind of industrial
but could rock out, they were popular in our local scene. Their label recorded an EP and made this video. They went on tour, their van broke down in Montana or somewhere,
and when they didn’t sell a billion records, so their label dropped them.
Angkor Wat “Something to Cry About”
Sean Carnage: Props to U.S. Rocker for singling out these legends as the next big thing. They weren’t of course. But that doesn’t stop me from daydreaming about a world where Angkor Wat was Top 40. Props also to this Mexican TV station for making the same call and broadcasting the rage—insane!
Cop Shoot Cop “Chameleon Man”
Malcom Ryder: Saw these guys a few times at the Euclid Tavern, two bass guitars, a drummer with a sheet metal gong and a looping sample. Bottom-heavy sinister music with a bleak outlook on life, yet somehow I liked them.
The Flaming Lips “She Don’t Use Jelly”
Mason Jar: So many fun stories about this song… the best being that infamous appearance by the Lips at the Peach Pit on Beverly Hills 90210, after which Steve Sanders confessed, “I’m not normally into Alternative, but these guys rocked the house!” (at their lip-syncing best, of course). This song always seemed like something that was thrown on to 1993’s Transmissions from the Satellite Heart after the fact because it really doesn’t fit in well with the rest of the record. Heck, the first single was the brilliant “Turn It On” which, to my ears, was a better encapsulation of their sound at the time. But for some reason, other than appearing in the soundtrack to Love and a .45, the song never took off and “She Don’t Use Jelly” was the one that caught fire. Today it exists in that weird world alongside other ’90s-hits-by-bands-we-loved like “Pepper” by the Butthole Surfers and “Stars” by Hum. We knew those guys, and for a few years, the rest of the world did too.
Ed Hall “White House Girls”
Mason Jar: Sure let’s name drop the Butthole Surfers again—in case you needed a song about Gibby Haynes wiping his John Thomas on Amy Carter’s suitcase handle in your life, then Ed Hall has you covered. I first encountered this band opening for Gibby et al back in 1991 at the Cleveland Agora on their Piouhgd tour. I knew Ed Hall would be back playing the Euclid Tavern sometime soon. They just had THAT sound, heavy and plodding but also enveloping and trance-inducing. Add glowing body paint and you had the all makings for some of the best gigs of the ’90s.
My Bloody Valentine “Only Shallow”
Mason Jar: Few are the songs that scramble your brain so badly in the first few seconds that you’re reeling, looking for words to describe what you’re hearing. This was one of them. I recall sitting in Studio-C down at WRUW, hearing this sonic mosh pit of guitars, drums, feedback, all layered with these ethereal vocals for the first time. I’d heard the Cocteau Twins by then and even A.R. Kane but they didn’t prepare me for this. I’ll admit I wasn’t immediately taken, but I was certainly interested enough to keep going back as many times as it took for this and the rest of Loveless to start sinking in. Thirty years later it’s still here, wrapped around my brain stem like some kind of shoe gazing parasite.
Megadeth “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due”
Shaun Filley: This is possibly Megadeth’s greatest hour. I don’t really get how a band that made such sub-par records for years came back and wrote the best song of their career with this monster. This song is what finally gave any sure substance to Mustaine’s complaints about not being in Metallica anymore. Totally defined what “good metal” was supposed to be at the time it came out, and holds up to this day. Every modern metal band tries to write a song like this, and none have succeeded. I still get chills when I hear that solo going back into the main riff towards the end. Such a great song.
Mason Jar: It’s been something else watching albums like Megadeth’s Rust In Peace, Metallica’s Master Of Puppets and Slayer’s Reign In Blood continue to resonate with each generation that comes to discover them, proving what we all knew about these timeless albums: great music persists. A visit to YouTube will show you. Search any song from Rust In Peace and watch these Gen Z’ers and young Millennials’ jaws drop as they react to these songs from a time before they were even born. This song, along with “Hangar 18” and “Take No Prisoners” might be the best 1-2-3 punch in all of metal, regardless of the style. I’ve always seen this as Dave Mustaine’s “Hold My Beer” album after Metallica dropped the relentlessly virtuosic (and sometimes exhausting) And Justice for All... Rust In Peace stands toe-to-toe with the best metal albums of all time. Any Metal Top 10 list would be woefully incomplete without it.
Blue Murder “Valley of the Kings”
Shaun Filley: Ya know, I totally aware that John Sykes is a legend of sorts… super tight, sick guitar player that cut his teeth in The Tigers of Pan Tang and got fired from Whitesnake after writing everything on their most successful record, and I saw him slay as a member of Thin Lizzy once. But Blue Murder is total drivel. Stock late ’80s hair metal (I HATE that term, but it totally applies in a negative way to this). Carmine Appice looks like what he is: a 55-year-old dude trying to look like a rock star. Guy is a legend, and doesn’t need to look like a total pathetic moron wearing a wig to stay relevant. He already made an ass out of himself with King Kobra. Not sure what’s up with the Egyptian thing going on in this video, but it’s been buried in history for what seems to be as long as Ramses III has. This is what my friends’ older teenaged sisters had cassingles of in the late ’80s while they scoffed at us for being immature cuz we were into Slayer and Mercyful Fate. They’re all fat housewives or regular people now. Maybe they won, but I dunno…
Faith No More “From Out Of Nowhere”
Shaun Filley: I actually really liked this when it came out. It was way better that their hit “Epic” with the silly white boy rap vocals that upset the Red Hot Chili Peppers… as if they came up with that. This was a crazy point in time where people that were influenced by underground punk and metal were starting to make their way into mainstream music, and it kind of ended when the Grunge thing died. Maybe you got your Foo Fighters these days, but this was a really interesting time for music… for better or worse. There were some cool tunes on this record, still. I still don’t get the whole cult of Mike Patton fandom, though. This song is good, regardless.
F.U.C.T. “Infectious World”
Shaun Filley: The thing I always heard was that they came to town and did a show with Integrity, and blew everyone away. They were this Corrosion Of Conformity kind of thing that blew everyone away. Chris Smith made me a tape of this years ago. I heard they stunk and had dreads before it became common. I’d like to know what became of these guys.
Danger Danger “Naughty Naughty”
Sean Carnage: This is is, like made for karaoke, don’t you think? I mean, anyone could sing this and sound like a badass. “I like it that waaay” wink wink. It’s the perfect song—it’s like spoonfed awesomeness, genius doled out by the gods (er, Danger Danger in this case) in manageable, easily digested bites. Great/stupid video too. A+
Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom “The Party Starts Now!!”
Shaun Filley: Ya know, It sound like a song if the Dictators would have made it to an eighth LP. Dick is totally the same ol’ Dick, but it’s so painfully generic that you feel your brain cells melting out of your ears trying to appreciate it some way. It’s so painfully vapid that it makes Kiss look like King Crimson, yet enjoyable to a degree just because Handsome Dick is singing like he does. I still never understood why these guys felt compelled to tease out their hair and produce such dopey music to follow trends that they had a hand in creating.
Suicidal Tendencies “You Can’t Bring Me Down”
Shaun Filley: This song is the best thing these guys ever wrote since anything on their their first LP, but it’s always been a different band for almost every record. I remember hearing this when it premiered on Headbanger’s Ball, complete with the rapid obnoxious loud beeps censoring the word “Shit.” My cousin went to see them open for Queensryche at the Richfield Coliseum on this tour, and said when the house light came on after S.T. played, everyone had ripped out the first 15 rows of chairs in every direction and threw them around. The Queensryche fans had nowhere to sit with their ruffled shirts and shit.
Judas Priest “Painkiller”
Shaun Filley: This was the song that marked Priest’s total comeback to being the most killer metal band in existence. They let their fans down with bullshit records like Ram it Down, so they responded to the negative feedback by giving the world this! This was a huge deal when it came out. Not only did they get heavy again, but they sort of created a new form of speed metal that most bands mimic today. I still talk to young’unz that say this is their favorite Priest record. Not British Steel or Stained Class…or even Sad Wings... THIS record?! I get it, though. Total metal masterpiece of a song.
Sick Of It All “NYHC Live 91”
Shaun Filley: Man, these guys are corny as hell, but goddamn… what a great live band. They really know how to get the crowd going nuts. I love the early SOIA stuff, and they really went all out live, obviously. I saw them several years ago, and it wasn’t anything like this. I didn’t even recognize any songs.
Doro “Unholy Love”
Shaun Filley: Man, Doro is so hard not to love. She’s like the German metal Deborah Harry, in the sense that she rules so hard and is so cool that it doesn’t even matter what awful music is behind her. I enjoyed her more in Warlock, but she’s so great at what she does with total substandard generic hacks behind her. I’d love to hear her backed up by an amazing band. I bet Lemmy did her. I’m jealous.
Shaun Filley: This song is the best thing Kiss did since Creatures of the Night, which is ironic because Vinnie Vincent had a hand in writing it. It’s clearly the most metal shit they’ve done after years of bending over and doing horrible glam impressions where Gene admittedly dressed like Joan Crawford. Sick riff, sick tune. Absolute classic!
Shaun Filley: This song is okay, but man… if this ain’t the most posturing video I’ve ever seen. Yeah, you can beat someone up really easy, I get it. It just starts to look REALLY homosexual at some point when that’s totally not what they’re trying to look like. I guess that singer had to prove himself otherwise by doing porn with his gross ass surgically fucked up porn star wife. Quit the band to do that, too. Me and my friends used to laugh our asses off at how everyone in this video were just straight up trying to look tough waaaay too hard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they were totally capable of kicking our asses, but what the hell is that, anyway? This is pure comedy. I don’t think I ever seen a Hardcore band look sillier. Talk about trying too “HAAAAAARRDDD.”
Trouble “Psychotic Reaction”
Sean Carnage: Oops sorry guys—I totally forgot about this legendary band. Fortunately U.S. Rocker re-hipped me to Trouble’s best song—and this badass video—and now I’m rockin’ the godfathers of Doom every g’damn day. Every single hair on the back of my neck stands up when they harmonize the words “Psychtic reaaaction!!” Fucking amazing. All hail Trouble.
The Spinanes “Noel, Jonah and Me”
Martin F. Lance (U.S. Rocker staff writer, ’92-98): One of the great things about being a non-metalhead at the U.S. Rocker was that I got tossed stuff like this. Great two-piece band with Rebecca Gates, subdued singing with lyrics like “did you give up punk for lent?” atop simple distorted barre chords and high in the mix drums. In 1993, a video with a band playing in their living room, riding bicycles, being on Sub Pop was so indie. I mean, how cool is that?
Starvation Army “Ticket to Oblivion”
Chris Klasa: After Fraser Sims and Tom Miller left Starvation Army, I tried out for a new band they were starting in April 1991. They practiced in a house in the West 30s off Clark. It was a heavy scene to the 18 year old me—a real punk rock crash pad. I showed up one Sunday afternoon to try out with my drums, set up on a dirt floor in the basement and starting working on songs with Tom. No Fraser. Eventually, I learned all of the songs that I was going to try out to and Tom left the room. He came back, counted me off and we started a song. After we got going, Fraser jumped in to the room like he was hitting the stage and did his thing. It was weird, but I was kind of impressed. I recall I got the gig but did not take it for reasons lost to time—probably because the scene was too heavy for me.
Chris Klasa: Doug Niemczura and I lived at 1344 West 91st Street with Tommy Fox and various Revelers in and out. This was the house that The Revelers practiced in and they were gigging with Quazimodo, it seemed like every other week, at the time when the old Grog Shop opened up in late 1992. Doug and I were into it and decided we wanted to be big time record moguls—like the Sub Pop guys. This was the first record I ever worked on and, of course, I screwed up the label and called the song “Free,” likely after the Paul Rodgers band. How embarrassing!
Karma To Burn “Eight”
Sean Carnage: If there’s one band I associate with the whole “early U.S. Rocker era” it’s Karma To Burn. This West Virginia trio came out of nowhere with slinky and ultra-confident instrumental groove metal and brought the house down at the Euclid Tavern. They unified all the metallists, hair farmers and post-punk rockers—no mean feat. Karma To Burn were THE band. The missing link. And then they dawdled around trying to figure out if they were going to get a singer or not—which devolved into gossip-y drama reminiscent of the hair metal era. So, yeah, full circle, and a great way to end our playlist highlights…