Retrospective 1: fIREHOSE - "Ragin' Full On"

fIREHOSE - Ragin' Full On
(SST 1986)
  To kick off this venture into my music collection I bring you an album that changed both the way I view music today and the way the world views indie rock forever. By creating a bass driven sound that infused punk, blues and jazz, Ragin' Full On was fIREHOSE's masterpiece and possibly the most unique album of the 80s. This album singlehandedly broke down the conventions of music and bridged the gap between hardcore punk and modern alternative. It is simply that important. If you don't believe me, listen for yourself.

 If one wants to completely appreciate fIREHOSE's music, they have to know the story first, so I'll do my best to tell it. Once upon a time, there were three college age kids from San Pedro, California. There names were D. Boon, (Vocals, Guitar) Mike Watt (Bass, Vocals) and George Hurley (Drums). In 1980, their band, Minutemen, released an EP called Paranoid Time on Black Flag's label SST. The band played the same fast-paced, sloppy hardcore punk music that their favorite bands like Dead Kennedys and Sex Pistols were producing. Their music wasn't that much different from many other hardcore acts until about 1984 on their 44-track album Double Nickels on the Dime.

 At this point, Minutemen began its experimentation phase. Loud, fuzzy punk music gave way to a tight, jazzy sound with spoken-word vocals. It was unlike anything anything that had ever been heard before. Soon after, Minutemen released one more record before the death of vocalist D. Boon. Watt and Hurley were devastated and decided to break up the band. A college student and fan named Ed Crawford wrote the band a letter (signed Ed fROMOHIO) convincing the band to continue making music. Not only did Crawford get his wish, but he became the new singer and guitarist for Watt and Hurley's next project, fIREHOSE, whose first record was called Ragin' Full On.

 Ragin' Full On wasn't just a continuation of Minutemen's sound, though. fIREHOSE created a style of music as unconventional as the capitalization of their name. It's evident on the very first track, "Brave Captain", which also happened to be on the Santa Cruz skate video "Streets on Fire". The song's bouncy bass, skittering beats and Michael Stipe-esque vocals make it a favorite among skaters and punks alike. fIREHOSE also flexes its experimental side on tracks like "Under the Influence of Meat Puppets" and "Chemical Wire" which are accentuated by their jazzy guitars and stop-on-a-dime rhythm sections.

 The album experiments with more conventional song structures on the B-Side, which houses the more memorable tracks. The Spanish guitar/bass combo on "Candle and the Flame" nicely contrast the catchy chorus that would feel at home on any R.E.M record. The bluesy "Choose Any Memory" is another must have. Two acoustic tracks are included too. "This" shows off Ed Crawford's talents as both a singer and a songwriter, and "Things Could Turn Around" is a great closer to an amazing album.

 fIREHOSE released four follow-up albums, but only on If'n did they come even close to capturing the lighting in the bottle like they had on Ragin' Full On. If you like bands such as Dinosaur Jr, Yuck and Grass Widow, just remember that they wouldn't be around today inf it weren't for fIREHOSE.