The year was 1980. Spring had sprung. I was a pre-teen living in the Los Angeles suburb of San Marino, getting ready to leave elementary school and enter middle school. My regular afterschool activities consisted of me riding my bike to the Pasadena Winchell’s Donuts, hanging out with my friends, and listening to my limited record collection. My beloved collection included many Olivia Newton-John albums, as well as some from The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and The Monkees.
It was a treat when my mom and dad took us out to eat at Bob’s Big Boy because Licorice Pizza, the local record shop, was directly behind it. My brother and I would always ask our parents if we could pop in afterwards to buy a new album to add to our collections. Sometimes I had a specific album in mind, and other times I sifted through the new releases. On this occasion, I did the latter. After sifting through a few albums, BAM, my innocent eyes fell upon the black and white image of a burning X. I was mesmerized by it. I had no idea who X were and hadn’t heard any of their songs. But I just knew I had to buy it. After all, I was going to be joining the “big kids” at the middle school soon, so I had to have something “cool” to talk about. Plus, I instantly fell in love with the hot brunette pictured on the back of the album, who I later figured out was John Doe, my third crush (the first being Rocky, and the second Han Solo).
I listened to the entire album repeatedly. Side one contained greats like “Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not,”” Johny Hit and Run Paulene,” and “Soul Kitchen” which is a cover of The Doors’ 1967 song. Side two, which was my favorite side, included the tracks “Los Angeles,” “Sex and Dying in High Society,” and “The Unheard Music.” It’s funny how I remembered now, as I am writing this, that we all used to have a favorite side of an album. The title track “Los Angeles” was my favorite song on the album, so much so that I even made up a dance to it.
All of the tracks were written by John Doe and Exene Cervenka (except the previously mentioned cover, “Soul Kitchen”). The album was produced by ex-Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who also contributed his musical skills to the album, playing organ and synthesizer on multiple tracks.
I had the opportunity to chat with John Doe and ask him how Ray Manzarek got involved with this album. I assumed that X were fans of The Doors and approached Manzarek. However, Doe explained that it was the other way around. Manzarek and his wife Dorothy had come to see a band called Levi and The Rockats at The Whiskey A Go Go, and X happened to be opening. During X’s set, Dorothy recognized they were playing a sped up punk version of The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen,” and brought it to Ray’s attention. That sparked Ray’s interest to check out the rest of their set, which he was very impressed with. He approached the band afterwards and asked them if he could work with them.
What I found interesting and unusual about X wasn’t that I was hearing punk for the first time, or the controversial subject matters they were writing about, but rather the male/female minor harmonies sung by Doe and Cervenka. Their voices descended so beautifully together. Their sound was so new to me. It was a mixture of country (provided by Doe as lead singer and bass), punk (provided by Cervenka on vocals), rock (provided by D.J. Bonebrake on drums), and rockabilly (provided by Billy Zoom on guitar). And it wasn’t just new to me; it was new to everybody. According to Doe, Billy Zoom was the first to bring rockabilly to all punk bands.
The “Los Angeles” album was so groundbreaking that Rolling Stone placed it in the top 100 albums of the 1980s. The song “Los Angeles” was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. Many tracks from the album have been featured in movies, television shows, and video games. “Los Angeles” was even mentioned at the very end of Bret Easton Ellis’s debut novel, “Less Than Zero.”
X planned a tour in 2020 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of “Los Angeles,” but COVID had other plans. Now, they are finally able to reschedule and they will be playing the “Los Angeles” album in its entirety at the Greek Theatre on Saturday, October 23rd. I will definitely be there, doing my choreographed dance to “Los Angeles,” revisiting the album I have held so dear over the past four decades.
Now, did this album make me “cool” in middle school? No. In fact, it had the opposite effect. I played it for one of my friends, excited to show off how cutting edge I was. When she saw the album cover, she freaked out because she thought I was a Satan worshiper, so I became the weird, scary kid instead.
To this day, I really can’t believe my mom agreed to buy me, an 11-year-old at the time, this iconic album, but I’m so grateful she did! I’ll see you, and all my other weird, scary friends at the Greek.
Playing with X at the Greek will be The Blasters and Horrorpops.
X will also go on the road for their traditional Holiday West Coast tour. Be sure to catch them at the Observatory in Santa Ana on December 19th!