1981's Flex Your Head compilation LP may be the greatest historical document of any punk scene. Ever. Now, I'm a huuuuuge fan of Dischord, but mostly the late-`80s to mid-`90s post-hardcore. Most of the early hardcore releases seem a bit dated, at least compared to the more progressive punk bands Ian and Co. released later in the decade. Still, Dischord Records managed to successfully distill the early DC hardcore scene into less than 45 minutes. Unfortunately, I don't have the writing skills to give an overall review of the disc, so I'm going to follow in the grand tradition of such reviews as The Year in 7 Inches and give a band-by-band breakdown.
Teen Idles: This is, of course, the band that started it all, with members Nathan Strejcek (later of Youth Brigade), Ian MacKaye (every good band ever), and Jeff Nelson (Minor Threat, Three, etc.), plus some other guy. Their tracks include two of their best songs, "I Drink Milk" and "No Fun." The third track, "Commie Song," is certainly there.
Untouchables: The Untouchables were Alec MacKaye's (Faith, Ignition) first band, and, unfortunately for him, his best. "Nic Fit" is a hardcore classic, and "I Hate You" is pretty much as misanthropic as this comp gets. The vocal sound is a little thin, but otherwise, the recording is good.
SOA: SOA were Henry Rollins' band prior to Black Flag, and they were hugely influential to later thrash and speedcore bands. These songs are much, much better than the No Policy EP, in terms of both songwriting and sound quality. Their cover of "Stepping Stone" (if I was an ignoramus, I'd say "the Minor Threat song 'Stepping Stone'," but I'm not) is surprisingly fun for such a serious, angsty band.
Minor Threat: Obviously, you know what you're getting. The two tracks Minor Threat contributes are included on Complete Discography, so they're not essential. Minor Threat is probably the best band on the album, and one of the few to actually stand the test of time.
Government Issue: "Hey Ronnie" and "Lie, Cheat, & Steal" aren't as bad as the songs on Legless Bull. That would be impossible. Still, the songs are pretty much teh sux, proving that GI didn't become a good band until later on in their career.
Youth Brigade: Everyone seems to rip on Youth Brigade's Possible EP, although I happen to think it's one of the best recordings on The Year…. These songs are much more obviously Oi!-inspired, and suffer from it. The choruses have that little Oi! thing where it goes...
Title of the Song! - Clarification
Title of the Song - More Clarification
Title of the Song - Even More Clarification, or Sometimes that First One Again!
You know, the thing Oi Polloi does.
Red C: One of several bands on the comp to never record anything else. These songs are more than just a historical document, though. They actually kinda kick ass.
Void: Void has been one of my favorite DC-area bands, and was one of the first to start combining punk with heavy metal. Their three songs are as good as the ones on the Faith/Void Split, and may even have been from the same session. Good stuff.
Iron Cross: America's first true Oi! band. Whoop-de-fucking-doo. Iron Cross were always criticized for the prevalent violence at their shows, but with songs about how stupid fighting is and youth empowerment, it seems kind of odd. Not great overall, but for about 30 seconds, "Live for Now" is damn catchy.
Artificial Peace: OK, this is the best overlooked band on the comp. There's some interesting guitar work, and a few actual melodies thrown in to the basic hardcore template. The bass and guitar both have a great, almost anarcho-punky tone to them, and the vocals are best described as ripping. Artificial Peace has intelligent political lyrics, too. To top it all off, they hailed from my specific corner of the DC suburbs (I won't tell you where I live, you have to look it up).
Deadline: Deadline are one of the heavier, better produced, and more talented musicians on Flex Your Head. Musically similar to SOA, but, you know, better.
So, there you go. Overall, it's a great release, with a few misses that manage to fully illustrate the DC hardcore scene from around 1979 to 1981. I can't believe that I didn't mention the packaging or anything like that, like I normally do, but this gets a good score solely because of the music included. Get it after you have The Year in 7 Inches.