Grant Hart was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1961.
His brother was killed in a car accident when Grant was 10 years old. His brother was a musician and Grant inherited his brothers drum kit. He joined a few garage bands during his teen years, but a lot of his time was spent working at a local St. Paul Record Store, Melody Lane Records.
It was at Melody Lane that Hart met another teen named Bob Mould, who would come in to buy records all the time. They were both fans of The Ramones and The Buzzcocks. Over time they became friends outside of the record store.
Mould was born in Malone, New York in 1960, but had moved to St. Paul to attend Macalester College.
Mould had been writing songs since he was 9 years old, but he did not learn to play guitar until he was 16. He really fell in love with early punk bands and wanted to form his own.
Grant Hart met Greg Norton when they were both applying for the same job at Melody Lane. They shared a love of music, although Norton was more interested in listening to jazz. Hart and Norton started hanging out in Hart’s mother’s basement, listening to music and jamming with each other with Hart playing drums and Norton playing the bass.
Hart and Norton were hanging out at a bar in St. Paul with a friend, named Charlie Pine. They asked Pine to go get a pitcher of beer from the bar. Pine asked the bartender if they had live bands there. The manager said they did and asked if Pine had a band. Pine said that he did and that their name was “Buddy and the Returnables.” Neither was true, he was not part of a band and he had just made up the name of the band on the spot. When he got back to the table he told the guys he had gotten them a gig playing at the bar. They had not discussed even putting together a band until that moment.
Grant mentioned that he knew a guy that was a great guitarist, referring to Bob Mould. He invited Mould over the next day to join them and form a band. They jammed to a bunch of Ramones songs. Mould played guitar, Norton played bass, Hart played drums, and Pine played the organ, all of them would share vocals, though eventually Mould and Hart would take over as co-lead vocalists.
Around this time the guys were jamming in Pine’s basement, improvising lyrics to Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” Hart yelled out “Husker Du!” It was the name of a slightly obscure kid’s memory-style board game.
The guys thought it was funny, and everyone thought that would make a good name for their band. When writing the name down, Mould added umlauts above the u’s to make their name look more distinctive: Hüsker Dü.
The other three did not enjoy playing with Pine, and they felt that didn’t need an organ. After the first few gigs, the other three quit telling Pine where their next gigs would be, essentially firing him from the band.
Their first gig as a trio was at the area’s Punk rock mecca, Minneapolis’ Longhorn. From that gig, they were able to book local gigs all over the Twin Cities area throughout the summer of 1979.
The band started to move away from playing Ramones styled punk to performing the screaming/thrashing sound of “hardcore punk.” They played fast and ferocious and were gaining a huge reputation in Minneapolis, which had one of the biggest punk scenes in the country.
The band recorded some demos and had an agreement with Minneapolis-based Twin Tone Records to release a single, but they ultimately rejected what Hüsker Dü delivered. The band just decided to form their own label to release their music, which they called Reflex Records. They started releasing singles on Reflex in 1981.
Later that year, the band recorded one of their concerts at the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis. The band wanted to release the live recording as an album, but they did not have the money to release it on their own. However, friend of the band and member of the band Minutemen, Mike Watt, had started his own label called New Alliance, and he offered to release the album for them.
Released in January 1982, the live album was titled Land Speed Record.
It lives up to its name, as it has 17 songs which are played in 26 minutes.
(I will admit that I am far, far from the best person to discuss the quality of hardcore punk music. But I will do my best here.) The music is nonstop, maybe half a second pauses between some songs, but it is nonstop noise for the most part. Despite my affection of great lyrics, great vocals, and melody, I admit I can still appreciate what is going on here.
Do I understand even one screamed lyric? No. Does every song sound basically like the same chaotic thing over and over to me? For the most part. BUT, I still can hear the musicianship in there, and it is not totally displeasing.
That’s what these reviews are all about, exposing myself to stuff I would usually have no reason to check out normally, and hopefully developing an appreciation of it. Actually, the album’s last track “Data Control” is different than the rest of the album as it has a bit of melody, some solos by the band, and more understandable lyrics, being more of an example of what Hüsker Dü would become.
That summer, the band took time off from playing live to record their first studio album. With financial help from another local company, Twin Cities Distribution, the band released their first studio album through their own Reflex Records label in January of 1983, titled Everything Falls Apart.
Immediately I can hear how the band is evolving, as the opening track “From The Gut” has something of a melody and the title track has a pop song structure to it. They may still be thrashing and screaming, but you can hear their musicianship coming out on every track. They even do pretty catchy punk version of Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman.” Altogether, the 12 song LP (or EP?) clocks in at a brief 19 minutes. I admit, I’m liking this stuff a bit more.
Hüsker Dü was signed to the independent SST Record label, the first non-California band they had signed. The label, owned by Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn, was becoming the top record label for hardcore bands such as Black Flag and Minutemen.
The band left the Twin Cities for Redondo Beach, California to record their first album on SST. Titled Metal Circus, it was released in October of 1983.
I guess it is an EP since it only contains 7 songs, but it clocks in at the same 19 minutes as the previous album. That very bit of information already tells you that their music was changing and becoming more structured and not just one minute of screaming and thrashing.
The music is still basically the same hardcore style of the first two albums but for instance on “It’s Not Funny Anymore,” Grant Hart actually sings melodically, with only touches of screaming. Hart’s songs definitely show more pop sensibility than Mould’s do on this album. Hart also penned the album’s one truly great track. “Diane,” which became a popular song on college radio throughout the country. While it was mostly just in the underground, the band was having their first bit of national exposure.
The band got together while touring and decided to record something completely different on their next album. While not completely going away from hardcore punk, they wanted to, in Bob Mould’s words, “do something bigger than anything like rock & roll.”
They decided to put together a concept album. The album would tell a coherent story of a young boy who runs away from home life, and finds out that the world is even worse than his home. They wanted to add a little more musicality to their hardcore music by mixing in other instruments, such as piano and acoustic guitar.
The band returned to Redondo Beach to record the album. They recorded 25 songs within 40 hours almost all on the first take. They then spent 40 hours mixing the album, meaning that they completed the album within a week. Released as a double LP, they titled the album Zen Arcade.
While it starts out with their usual rapid-fire hardcore stuff, the third track, “Never Talking To You Again” is the first huge departure for the band, as it is a 60’s-esque folk ballad. “The Tooth Fairy And The Princess” is a psychedelic track with the music played in reverse. Each departure is followed by another hardcore track. Hart’s screaming vocals on “Standing By The Sea” sound almost like something out of soul music, if the soul singer was on the verge of a meltdown. “Pink Turns To Blue” has a commercial enough sound that it possibly could have made the top 40, but no songs off this album were released as singles. Side 3 of the album has several nice little piano interludes. For a band that is accustomed to one minute thrash songs, the album closes out on a 14 minute instrumental. Altogether, it is a really fantastic album.
Zen Arcade received high critical praise. For example, David Fricke of Rolling Stone called it “a kind of thrash Quadrophenia.” It also made several reviewers top ten lists of 1984.
The band had asked SST to press as many copies of the album as possible, but the label only pressed about 3,500 of them. The album sold out extremely quickly, but SST was unable to get new copies out very quickly which hurt sales since the buzz around the album had died down by the time they released new copies. By 1985, they had sold out of around 20,000 copies of the album, which was a huge number for a hardcore band.
The band immediately returned to the studio to record their follow-up. This time they did not travel to California to record, but they stayed in Minneapolis, recording throughout the month of July in 1984 at Nicollet Studio, which was where their label, Reflex Records was located. They brought the same producer who had produced their first two albums for the label, SST’s in-house producer, named Spot.
The band wanted to build on what they had done on Zen Arcade by expanding their sound even more, leaving behind more of their hardcore past, and moving more towards the sound that a few years later would be dubbed “alternative rock.” They would display this new sound with the release of New Day Rising in January 1985.
The Album Cover:
The cover of New Day Rising might better exemplify the title and content of the album than most album covers, and yet it at first glance appears very simple.
The top half of the album cover looks almost like a ripped brown paper sack covering the front with the band’s name and album title printed on there. The bottom half of the cover has two dogs wading in shallow water on the beach, with a beautiful shot of the sun rising and it’s rays reflecting on the water. It is a very peaceful photo, exemplifying something new, a new day. No hardcore band had ever had a nice serene shot used as their album cover. Usually it was someone breaking something or a band screaming in concert. Some bands in the past had gone the route of covering their albums in paper sacks, because ‘screw you’ and stuff. But here, these hardcore punk artists were ripping away that brown paper bag to reveal something beautiful, introducing a new sound in hardcore, and for Hüsker Dü this album was a new day rising on their career.
The back cover has another beautiful picture of the sun rising over the water and the trees. The title, track listing, and credits are printed in blue over the sky.
I am reviewing the vinyl LP release of New Day Rising released on SST Records in 1985.
(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the songs. As always, I most recommend buying the vinyl version for best listening experience, though, to be fair, the album has very thin production so there is very little difference in the sound on vinyl, CD, or mp3.)
The album opens up with “New Day Rising.” The awesome opening track streak is extended! It is basically a hardcore version of an overture. It is played like a hardcore track, the thrashing of fast paced guitar and drums, with the lyric “New day rising” repeated over and over amid screams, but it is oddly melodious. It’s just so cool to introduce the album this way. Great opener.
“The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill” is a Grant Hart penned track. It is probably one of the best known Hüsker Dü songs. It has some great guitar work on it. Very good stuff that sounds about 7 years ahead of its time.
“I Apologize” is a Bob Mould song. Most of his songs from the prior album were still of the screaming hardcore variety, but here is a song that has pleasing vocals for the most part. This is what I would imagine an R.E.M. hardcore track would sound like.
I’ve liked everything so far on the album.
“Folk Lore” is kind of a return to the old stuff they were doing. Clocking in at 1:34, it is very chaotic. Nothing too offensive, but nothing new.
“If I Told You” again has a lot of noise. It does have some really good guitar work. I admit do have trouble understanding what makes some of these tracks different than the last. However, I do like this one for some reason.
“Celebrated Summer” was one track that was actually released as a single. After a rocking opening, midway through it turns acoustic, before revving back up, and then it returns towards the ending. I like it. I’ve got to imagine every time they pulled out the acoustic guitars their hardcore fanbase probably groaned, but it makes the songs much more interesting. This one is really great.
Side one ends with “Perfect Example” is not a loud hardcore song, but I still can’t understand what Mould’s singing. This track is kinda meh. His singing reminds me of Shy Ronnie on SNL, I mean the Shy Ronnie that comes out when Rhianna is around.
Side two opens with Hart’s “Terms of Psychic Warfare.” I think on the whole, I like Hart’s songs more than I do Mould’s. People were saying that you could see a rift starting to exist between the two as they seemed to be going in different musical directions. Hart’s are more musical, which means their fanbase probably liked Mould better. I really like Mould’s guitar work on this. This is really good stuff.
“59 Times the Pain” has some odd vocals. I think it is Mould, but it doesn’t really sound like him. I looked up the lyrics, because I hadn’t a clue what was being said, and its a really depressing song, so I guess the pained vocals go with that. I can’t put my finger on it, but I do like like it.
“Powerline” is kind of different because the vocals are way back on the mix, but that means I have no clue what is being said. While that is probably the point, I don’t “get” it. It kind of gets slightly psychedelic at the very end, but then it ends. The guitar work is good and saves it from being of no interest to me.
“Books About UFOs” is kind of a doo-wop punk song, with a honky tonk piano. Once again, it is a Hart song that I really like. A lot of piano on this track. It also reminds me a little of the Ramones if the Ramones had existed 10 years earlier than they did. I like this a whole lot.
“I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About” is a little bit more of a thrash track, though a bit melodic. I guess the title sums up what I’m saying to them about their lyrics. However, I am developing an appreciation for this stuff. I think I do like it, but I say that with the caveat that I’m not sure I fully understand how to appreciate it.
“How To Skin A Cat” is an instrumental of sorts, although it has talking over it. I think whomever is speaking is talking about feeding rats to cats and other odd things about rats and cats. The guitar riff kinda reminds me of the original theme song to Space Ghost Coast To Coast.
It really reminds me of something Captain Beefheart would do, and I love Captain Beefheart, so I like this.
“Whatcha Drinkin‘ is back to the screaming stuff again. A lot of people label this album as post-hardcore, but I’m just not well versed enough in those genres to understand the difference. This sounds basically like what they were doing all the way back on Land Speed Record. Although, I do give props to Norton, on his bass playing on this track. I’m not all that big a fan of this one.
“Plans I Make” has an interesting rock guitar riff playing with it. The opening guitar blast is pretty badass. While I am not of fan of the screaming vocals, I do like all the noise on the track. I think I’ve realized that I don’t mind hardcore when it is not the same notes just pounded over and over with the screaming, but that is probably like saying “I like polka, but I wish they’d just get rid of that damn accordion.” Someone is yelling the words “plans” and “make” like a caveman at the end.
It is a pretty good song to finish on.
I again admit I’m am not well versed enough to a) explain the intricacies of hardcore punk b) explain why I like this album. As I said, I am not a huge fan of the screaming. But with that admission on my part, I do say that liked most all of the tracks individually, and I like the album as a whole.
By the time New Day Rising was released, Hüsker Dü was already recording their follow-up. While recording that album, they accepted a record deal from Warner Brothers Records. Despite being under no obligation to do so, they allowed SST to release the album that they were in the middle of recording, due to their loyalty to the independent label.
The album was released in September 1985, which was titled Flip Your Wig.
In March 1986, the band released their first major label album called Candy Apple Grey.
The band had almost completely moved away from their hardcore roots. While that lost them many of their original fans, the more mainstream alternative sound gained them a new legion of fans and for the first time, an album of theirs made the Billboard top 200 Album chart. They also got radio airplay and had videos played on MTV.
Hart and Mould had been jockeying for position as who was the leader of the band for years. Issues with who would get more of their songs on an album had been causing a rift between the two for the last 2 or 3 albums. While touring to support Candle Apple Grey, Hüsker Dü’s manager David Savoy committed suicide. The band, most notably Hart, blamed themselves for his death.
As they went back to the studio to record their second album for Warner, the band was falling apart. Mould took over as the band manager, which furthered the divide within the band. The band still came together to record enough tracks to release a double LP, Warehouse: Songs And Stories.
The album was even more successful than their prior album, reaching #117 0n Billboard’s album chart, and they reached the top 100 in the UK for the first time. Also, they made their network TV debut on the Late Show with Joan Rivers during this time, to promote the album.
During the 1987 tour to promote the album, Hart’s drug addiction started to become a major issue within the band. Hart was trying to get off of heroin through methadone treatments, but when his supply ran out, Mould took it on himself to cancel the band’s tour dates since he didn’t think Hart could perform while dealing with withdrawals. Hart said he could still play, but Mould had already cancelled the shows without asking his bandmates. Feeling that Mould had taken too much power within the band, Grant Hart quit.
Norton had just gotten married and was fine with taking time away from the band. He was also starting his own business on the side. A couple of years later he formed another band, Grey Area. The band stayed together until 1991 when Norton left the music business to start a restaurant in Red Wing, Minnesota. He eventually returned to the music and joined a punk-jazz fusion band called Gang Font feat. Interloper.
Mould would have a fairly successful solo career through 1992 when he formed a new band, Sugar.
Sugar’s debut album, Copper Blue, was his biggest success, yet, selling over 300,000 copies and it was named New Music Express’ album of the year for 1992. The band broke up in 1995, and Mould went back to recording solo. In 1999, he made an odd detour as he left music to become a writer for World Championship Wrestling. He returned to music in the early 2000’s, experimenting with electronica for a while. He has continued to record music, releasing his most critically acclaimed solo album in 2012, Silver Age.
A few months after the breakup, Hart was incorrectly diagnosed with HIV, which helped push him towards sobriety. He formed a band Nova Mob in 1989.
They released one EP and and two albums before breaking up. Hart has been recording solo records since 1996 with varying degrees of success.
Hüsker Dü has never gotten back together since their breakup in 1987. Mould and Hart still snipe at each other in the press to this day. Those two did put aside their differences to perform together one last time in 2004 at the benefit concert for a fellow Minnesota native, Soul Asylum’s bassist Karl Mueller and his cancer treatment. Mould said that it was a one time thing, and he says there will never be a Hüsker Dü reunion.
My take on Rolling Stone’s Take:
RS: “These three Minneapolis dudes played savagely emotional hardcore punk that became a big influence on Nirvana, among others. The Hüskers created a roar like garbage trucks trying to sing Beach Boys songs, especially on the anthems “Celebrated Summer” and “Perfect Example.”
I like the “roar like garbage trucks trying to sing Beach Boys songs.” It sounds like something I’d come up with. I’ll give Rolling Stone a passing grade on this blurb.
My opinion changed every time I listened to this album. The first time through, I had just listened to their preceding albums moments beforehand, and I think I was a little tired of the hardcore shouting. The second time through I liked it a little better. The third time through I really started to “get it.” I would not recommend it for everybody, but if you give it a couple of chances I think you will start to appreciate it. If you already like this kind of stuff I think you’ll like it the first time. Personally, I think it is a very good album.
4.25 Stars out of 5, recommended
My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:
1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses
2. Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
3. KISS- Destroyer
4. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters
5. ZZ Top- Tres Hombres
6. Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up
7. Outkast- Aquemini
8. Hüsker Dü- New Day Rising
9. Albert King- Born Under A Bad Sign
10. Boz Scaggs- Boz Scaggs
11. Public Enemy- Yo! Bum Rush The Show
12. Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!!
13. B.B. King- Live in Cook County Jail
14. Eurythmics- Touch