Viewed through the distorting lens of time, the Los Angeles underground music scene of the late 70's can appeared to have been a hive of homogenous hate rock. Remembered dimly, the years and the crowds and the distinctly different bands and individuals blend into an undifferentiated and striatically non-ordered mass. Of course this was not the case. Almost all of the bands (and band-clusters) strove for discretely different goals, and their respective muses arose from widely variant sources. That said, few bands were as different from their punky peers as were the Urinals.

In a milieu in which glam-rock residue was abundant, the Urinals were as nudely uncostumed as the beach punk bands that would gush along in their wake. The Urinals evinced similar disdain for standard song formulae. Their best tunes were small jagged shards busted out of some unwritten whole. At the time, comparable only to early Wire, their songs were short enough and monochromatic enough to seem utterly unresolved the first time you heard them. One riff per song was often enough, one vocal line would suffice. While the Urinals' compositions sometimes offered more than these basics, the material frequently seemed pared down to the absolute minimum number of elements required for them to exist as verifiable songs. Many others subsequently used the same technique: San Pedro's Minutemen (a band formed in virtual homage to the Urinals), Boston's Mission of Burma, Dunedin's The Clean, and even Aberdeen's N******. Indeed, the Urinals were playing a crudely refined brand of avant-garage art-punk at a time when most youngsters were still trying to figure out the chords to "Neat Neat Neat".

first The Urinals were formed in the Fall of 1978 by two UCLA film students (John Jones and Kevin Barrett) and a philosophy major (Kjehl Johansen) who happened to live in the same dorm. Attracted by the primitive musical aesthetics of the punk scene, they assembled a five-piece combo with no musical experience to make a kind of tongue-in-cheek statement on popular culture by writing really short songs that anyone could play. But the three core members became so caught up in the powerful scrape they generated that things began to mutate immediately. By Halloween of that year their goofy faux-punk window dressing was gone, and the Urinals were creating a set of songs that pushed them straight into and through the wall of their technical abilities.

Vitus Matare of The Last attended their Halloween performance and offered to record the Urinals, in his studio (and his parent's poolhouse). Thus the tracks were laid for the band's eponymous first EP, which they released on their own Happy Squid label. Scratchy little spikes of tunage dipped into some mesmeric potion, the four tracks on this EP defined the parameters of the sounds that the Urinals would explore during their lifespan. Other recordings followed, and the band shared bills with Black Flag, the Middle Class, Circle Jerks, Roky Erikson and the Gun Club, amongst others, while their label released material by Leaving Trains, Meat Puppets, Neef, and plenty more. Then, in early 1981, the Urinals realized that their focus had changed. As their playing became more accomplished and their songwriting became more sophisticated, they started to feel that their name was no longer indicative of the music they were producing. Assessing their situation, they determined that they were no longer The Urinals. They assumed a new name, 100 Flowers, and began producing material that expanded upon melodic textures and rhythmic constructions in a way that the Urinals (by self-imposed aesthetic definition) could not.

Heard now, a decade and a half after this magnificent trio's last show, the songs demonstrate that the band was fast falling forward into the void of collapsing styles and traditions. Their cover of Soft Machine's "Why Are We Sleeping?" simultaneously celebrates and trashes the art school continuum better than any of the era's similarly intended cover tunes. But the Urinals' real strength was their original material: the three seven-inchers they recorded have long been considered classics. And rightly so. Songs like "Hologram" and "Sex" still hit my brain as hard as they did then, and I'm sure you'll have the same impression, even if you've never heard the bastards before.

The Urinals were a superb band for their time. And their time is now. And you are with them. Count your fucking stars, lucky.

— Byron Coley
Northampton, MA 1996

Notes excerpted from THE URINALS Negative Capability, Check It Out available again through Warning Label Records.

The third time's certainly charming on this Urinals 45. The Sallie Lane address indicates a first issue PS.

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