Guns N' Roses' Duff McKagan Picks 7 Essential Punk and Hardcore Records | Revolver

Guns N' Roses' Duff McKagan Picks 7 Essential Punk and Hardcore Records

From Black Flag to Generation X, bassist tells stories behind "fastest, most insane" albums of his youth
duff-mckagan-cbgbs-gettyimages-183973591-crop.jpg, Theo Wargo/Getty Images
Duff McKagan, CBGB, New York City, October 10th, 2013
photograph by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Sure, Duff McKagan is best known as the man holding down the low end with hard-rock legends Guns N' Roses. But his punk credentials — he played guitar in seminal Seattle unit 10 Minute Warning, as well as drums with the Fastbacks, among others — have never been in question.

Now, another notch in McKagan's punk-rock belt has been revealed with the release of The Living: 1982. The new mini-album collects seven songs all written by McKagan and recorded 39 years ago with his punk crew The Living — and represents the first official release of material from the band.

In addition to the teenaged McKagan, who plays guitar on the recording, the Living featured drummer Greg Gilmore, who went on to be an original member of Seattle hard rockers Mother Love Bone, bassist Todd Fleischman and singer John Conte. The music, meanwhile, is a prime slice of Reagan-era hardcore punk, with each song a short, sharp blast of raucous sound and unbridled fury. What's more, reasons McKagan, "it's a link in Seattle rock, from the early punk stuff to what was to come later with Soundgarden and Sub Pop and all that."

Furthermore, he credits the short-lived band with having a long-lasting impact on his own life. "It really helped to form me as a musician and a songwriter, and convinced me this was what I was going to do forever," he says.

To celebrate the release of The Living: 1982, McKagan sat down with Revolver to look back on some of his favorite punk and hardcore records of all time. Ever the fan, we intended to have him choose five, but he wound up expanding it to seven — which still wasn't enough. "We could put up 50 punk records and they would all matter!" McKagan says with a laugh.

Black Flag - My War (1984)

My first gig ever was opening for Black Flag with [vocalist] Ron Reyes. Then I saw Black Flag with Dez Cadena. And then my band, 10 Minute Warning, got to play with Black Flag for some of Henry [Rollins'] first shows with them. We did Seattle, we did Portland, we did Vancouver. And just seeing how intense he was … My War was really a great capture of Henry. It's a really dry recording, there's nothing on the vocal, there's nothing on the guitar or bass or drums. It's a room with a microphone in it. I was maybe 18, and the angst you have and those changes you go through in your life, that record just kind of personified the feelings in my head. And Henry, I mean, that guy's fucking king.

D.O.A. - "The Prisoner" (1978)

I put the "Prisoner" single in there instead of D.O.A.'s first record, [1980's] Something Better Change, because it was the first punk single I ever got. It was 1978, and it was the fastest, most insane thing I'd heard up to that point. That's the single that gave me the wonder [about] punk rock ...

Germs - DI (1979)

So, of course, there was no internet back then … So what you would do if you were into music is you would go to the record store and you would talk to the guy at the counter. We had a record store [in Seattle] called Cellophane Square where you got the information about what was new. And our guy behind the counter was Scott McCaughey, who later went on to Young Fresh Fellows and R.E.M. and all this other stuff. And he said, "There's this band from L.A., Joan Jett produced them…" And we all loved the Runaways and Joan Jett. He played it in the store and we were like, "What the fuck?" And actually buying a record was a big deal, because you had to put some money down. But I bought the Germs record and I just listened to it over and over again. Just the lyrics and the guitar sounds and how fast shit was… that became my favorite record of that year.

Minor Threat - Out of Step (1983)

I never got to see Minor Threat. They were a long way away in D.C., but you would read about them in Maximum Rocknroll and to some extent, Flipside. So I was reading about this cool scene coming out of D.C., and I got this record and I said, "Motherfucker! These guys made a whole record!" Because they were my age. They weren't older like the Pistols or the Clash or even D.O.A. They were the same age as me! And that was also the year I stopped drinking and doing drugs. Not that I was putting the X on my hand and thinking I was straight edge, but I was trying to get really serious about my music, and I'd been doing drugs and drinking since I was really young. So I identified with what Minor Threat were about.

Generation X - Generation X (1978)

The first Generation X record is just a must-have for anybody, I think. That record taught me a lot. They were all extremely good players, and Billy Idol, you know, fucking great singer. He's like the Frank Sinatra of punk rock. And of course he went on to have an amazing solo career. That record is a true classic in any genre — punk, hard rock, whatever you want to call it.

The Vibrators - Pure Mania (1977)

That first Vibrators record, with "Baby Baby" on it, it's the fucking most fun 32 minutes, or however long it is, of perfect fucking pop songs. They're all like two minutes long and done in this really great way. There were a bunch of fun punk-rock bands, like Devo and whatnot. And I love Devo, but the Vibrators, I don't how much notoriety they got, but along with Squeeze and some other bands like that, it's just the most pure pop fun.

Motörhead - Ace of Spades (1980)

Are Motörhead a punk band? I mean, we considered AC/DC to be a punk band, you know? I don't know if it really mattered how short or long your hair was. None of that shit mattered. For me, 1980 was when punk started to branch out. And Motörhead … motherfucker! The Ace of Spades record came out and it blew everybody's mind. So ferocious. And you know, I think later on in America Motörhead became accepted into the more mainstream hard-rock thing, but I would guarantee you that their early tours of the U.S. were mainly in punk-rock clubs. They were definitely considered a punk-rock band. Because punk rock was always about being real and about the truth — and there's no truer band than fucking Motörhead.