The Worst

Liner notes to The Worst of The Worst CD on Parts Unknown Records

Few hardcore punk bands nowadays, stripped of their name-drop references for the clued-in, their politics, their adherence to fads, or their fashion, would be memorable or even desirable. But there are a few bands in the history of this music that come to mind as essentially hardcore—louder, faster, and more in-your-face than any other "rock" bands. Italy's Raw Power, from the demos era, and The Worst are the two that I always return to in this category of pure hardcore (it's no coincidence that the influence of the Stooges is apparent for both bands, but that's another story).

This story, of The Worst, is not a happy one. During the band's life, they were ripped off, scammed, ignored, and hated. The band disintegrated into sordid drug addiction, spiteful in-fighting and girlfriend-theft. Their early history would be unremarkable if their music hadn't been so vigorously ignored by the conservative NYC punk scene. Luckily, Stiv Bators took notice of singer Do-It, who made it so Stiv wasn't the only guy nearly killing himself and others at punk gigs in the City. Stiv called The Worst "new kid punk" because they were obnoxious young kids from South Jersey playing punk rock faster and louder than anyone else around; also, they weren't yet addicted to heroin like nearly everyone else in the punk scene at the time. Neither of these attributes impressed the punk rock elders. Legs McNeil of Punk Magazine hated The Worst, but Terry Ork, who became their manager, described them as Sabbath on speed. The band did, however, serve as wide-eyed fans of punk rock heroes like Johnny Thunders, eager to fit in—unfortunately, fitting in often meant copping for the stars.

One time, Sid was having a screaming fit due to withdrawal (as always), and Ork sent The Worst's young roadie to the streets to grab poor Vicious a fix. Unfortunately, the kid didn't know where to acquire smack, so he bought a handful of tuinols from a nearby dealer. When the kid came back and presented the downers to Sid—who was supposed to share them with the room—the ex-Pistol swallowed them all. Within minutes, Sid was out cold, nearly dead on the floor. Ork and Nancy were pissed at Sid for not sharing. How many bands do you know who can say they almost killed Sid Vicious?

Though the scene was populated by tough kids such as Harley Flanagan who would go on to play in hardcore bands, when bands like Black Flag, The Fix, and Bad Brains were beginning in other cities, New York had no equivalent. The Stimulators may have been inspired to talk the loud and fast talk by The Worst, but only the latter walked the loud and fast walk.

In the early days, The Worst played with The Troggs (to whom they donated their girlfriends) and DMZ from Boston. While their hometown friends Shrapnel often played CBGB, The Worst tended to play at Max's Kansas City. Before it was a given that hardcore bands would be a clubowner's nightmare, The Worst were on their way to getting banned from every venue in NYC. Do-It would run across the tables, turn over the chairs, and jump into the laps of the people at the bar. Trezza says Do-It would destroy anything “that got in the way of beating Iggy to the grave.” The only other bands that had a chance of avoiding embarrassment when they played with The Worst were the Misfits, Bad Brains, The Mad, and when in town, GG Allin & the Jabbers. This nihilism climaxed at a gig with The Undead at Max's. After that night, The Worst couldn't get gigs anywhere. They were back to being a Jersey cellar-dweller band, but they still hung out in the City (see “Going to New York” for their take on it). Ork, along with Legs McNeil, suggested they use the ironic moniker The Bad Guys to slip under the radar and back into the clubs. Trezz is so embarrassed of the 45 that resulted, that he didn't want me to mention it in this history, but it's worth noting how the NY scene treated a real hardcore punk band: it made them change to powerpop!

At a Suicide gig at CBGB, they met the band's roadie, a leather and chains biker named Mark “The Mutha” Chesley who knew The Worst's reputation. It's tough for me to figure out if The Mutha had started with good intentions or if he was trying to run a scam from the beginning, but either way, he was lucky to have some amazing bands on his label more than they were lucky to be on it. The Bad Guys 45 had The Mutha's help, but it was a dud and didn't say “Mutha Records” on it. In contrast, I encourage the reader to count how many times the word “Mutha” appears on The Worst 12". Ironic, indeed, because The Mutha's racket was that he forced the bands to pay for their own records with the assumption they'd make their money back in the end. This would've worked if The Mutha hadn't been a con artist taking advantage of punk rockers who didn't know better and if Mutha Records hadn't released fundamentally unmarketable music. The Worst were lucky to have sold all 1000 copies of their 7" and 2500 copies of their 12", but any collector will tell you that releases such as the infamous "Cutest Band in Hardcore" 12" by Chronic Sick didn't sell very well at all.

In 1981, the Circle Jerks toured the US and The Worst realized at that point that what they'd been hearing about—“hardcore” punk —was exactly what they'd been playing all along. At this time, bands started to spring up all around the country, including in New Jersey. The Worst, of course, had been around for years and had done their time as the young kids of the NY punk scene. Soon, suburban hardcore bands, complete with new leather jackets, pretty girlfriends, and shiny amps were telling The Worst what punk was all about. The Worst's response was truly punk: they said FUCK YOU by playing louder, faster, harder, and meaner than anyone else. This message is loud and clear on the 7".

The Worst “Time Zone” 7" suffers from Chesley's dilletantish production. Ironically, the production is marred in a way similar to that of the first Raw Power LP, “You Are the Victim”—drums too strong, guitars too thin. But The Worst’s songwriting and speed is remarkable. Do-It's sleazy vocals combined with Sudz's insistently driving, but not repetitive, drumming seem to define exactly what the fusion of hardcore and punk means. In fact, I think the drumming was some of the fastest in the world at the time (and unlike, say, Canada's Neos, The Worst actually wrote songs). The sex, drugs, and Armageddon lyrics and guitar-central music leave no question that these fucked-up kids were enthralled with rock ‘n’ roll and that they saw hardcore punk as the only possible way to express this urgent, rebellious need to rock. With the guitars front and center, as they should've been, I don't doubt that this 7" would now be as highly regarded as anything on Touch and Go from the same era—especially considering that unlike any of those dudes from Michigan, these Jersey boys had a real Detroit influence (see “Futur”).

Unfortunately for the band, as much as they liked to say “Fuck you,” they liked to get high even more. Public Disturbance brought The Worst's violent antics home to Long Branch, NJ's Brighton Bar, where many a bottle behind the bar got smashed during their gigs. The younger Chronic Sick were too punk for their own good; I doubt Bobby the K's amazing songwriting kept them from getting their asses kicked every time they played live. Fatal Rage, led by the inimitable Jacko, were also a high-energy, no-restraints hardcore band. These four bands made up the core of the South Jersey hardcore scene, and they were so good that no one else mattered.

Not many hardcore bands have been able to follow a 7" with a 12" that is better than the 7". The Worst were somehow able to streamline their songs—to make them even more purely hardcore—without becoming generic or simple. And the blazing, powerful, crisp production speaks for itself. Trezz says he didn't let The Mutha near the controls, and in doing so, he produced a record that should be used by all bands as a guideline for what good production sounds like.

By ‘84, hardcore in the US had largely killed itself. Trezz and the others had, for a while, been more interested in hanging out, getting high, and seeing bands like the Heartbreakers than in cultivating the hardcore scene. When the band recorded what was to be the third record, they had severed ties with Mutha. Alternative Tentacles supposedly showed some interest, but this “heroin hardcore” record, as Trezz describes it, has never been released until now. It's not as great as “Expect the Worst” and it doesn't have Do-It singing (Trezz sings instead), but considering how awful most early '80s hardcore bands became, I think it's pretty damn good.

In an era of low-quality bootlegs, including one in ‘01 of “Expect the Worst,” I’m glad to see the band receive a proper reissue with this CD. Though many people involved in the South Jersey hardcore scene back then might like to forget those years, I think it would be a shame if The Worst remained just an obscure band from the ‘burbs. As the history of New York punk rock is repeated over and over again in increasingly mainstream venues, true punk rockers should take pride in the absence of The Worst from these false memories. They were too loud, fast, and mean back then, and these recordings show that the intensity hasn’t decreased with the passage of time. Loud and fast! Turn it up!

© 2019 Stuart Schrader