Crime’s “Hot Wire My Heart” is a blast of ’70s punk rock up there in greatness with “New Rose,” “Oh Bondage Up Yours,” and “One Chord Wonder.” Beats the pants off the Sonic Youth cover version, which is pretty great itself.
Where San Francisco’s STILL Doomed has a weakness, though, is in its overall sameness. The singing punches the music home, but doesn’t lift the songs; one reason “Hot Wire” and several other standouts—”Frustration,” “Monkey on Your Back”—work so well is that the call-and-response (voice calls, guitar responds) leaves space for the vocals, so they’re not struggling to keep afloat amid the overall sound. (Mixed metaphor! How do you lift something you’re floating in? Well, that’s my point.)
Crucial ingredient is the guitar playing of Johnny Strike. He plays high-distortion riffs, like Johnny Thunders’s but truncated, so you’ve got molten licks snapping at you. Good concise note selection—I’d describe it as Raw Power–era Stooges abstracted to simplicity, played with Dolls thickness and Thunders’s tendency to bend notes into nowhere. Basic setup: Singer shouts a lyric, guitar snakes forth and tears into the wall, bass and drums pound holes through the floor.
Crime started in 1976, made three singles, received accolades such as “They look funny and don’t wipe themselves,” and broke up in 1981, leaving these murky tapes to be rediscovered later. They billed themselves as San Francisco’s first and only rock and roll band. This is hardly accurate, since a decade earlier the Great Society and Jefferson Airplane had rocked and rolled fine. For that matter, Grace Slick was even more of a punk than these guys. But you can see the slogan as reclamation. Amid ’70s mass rock normality, a corrosive band on the fringe declares itself the one real deal and everyone else an apostate. There’s also conscious or unconscious patricide: A key predecessor to this kind of punk-guitar sound was Jorma Kaukonen’s psychedelic guitar experiments (check the riff with which he opens the Airplane’s “Have You Seen the Saucers” and compare it to James Williamson’s near identical riff at the start of the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy”). And Paul Kantner’s self-isolating Starship and “Wooden Ships” sci-fi fantasies (“We are leaving; you don’t need us”) foreshadow Crime’s sounding like they’re in a concrete basement pretending to claw their way out. But Crime don’t even claim to be the future. Just the sound of one band clawing.