Los Angeles' X is one of two bands that must equally share the credit/blame for being my "gateway drug" into punk (the other, DC's Slickee Boys, is another story for another day). I hold that X's first four albums are some of the finest rock albums of the '80s. I actually worked backwards with X, starting with their then-current fourth album, not getting their first two records until they were released on a 2-fer CD in 1988. (I've more than made up for lost time since then, trust me.)
The fine folks at Rhino have seen fit to reissue X's first 6 albums - their studio releases up to their 1988 sabbatical (which lasted into the early '90s), all with essays, copious liner notes, extra photos and (best of all!) lots of bonus tracks.
X's debut album, 1980's 'Los Angeles' makes instantly apparent what set them apart from most of the other punk bands of the time: they were punk but could *really* play and really *write* as well -- great lyrics (this from someone generally disinterested in lyrics) and catchy hooks. The influence of roots music was not only apparent in guitarist Billy Zoom's coiffure, but in his playing as well (c.f. Chuck Berry for the intro to Johny Hit and Run Pauline). The interesting harmonies and vocal interplay between singers Exene and John Doe are another outstanding feature of this band.
'Los Angeles' was produced (as were the next three albums) by Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek. With the exception of the annoying (and pointless) keyboard parts he slathers on some tracks (the organ solo in The World's a Mess; It's in My Kiss is particularly excruciating!), Manzarek does a surprisingly good job at maintaining a balance between studio sheen and punk crunch. If anything, he actually beefed up the guitar sound (you can compare the title track with an earlier version released on the Yes, L.A. EP). Highlights on the disc include Your Phone's off the Hook, but You're Not, Johny Hit and Run Paulene, Los Angeles (how many people visiting L.A. have "bought a clock on Hollywood Boulevard the day [they] left" after hearing this song?) and the blazing 1977 demo version of Delta 88 (a super punker of a song which amazingly never ended up on any of their albums -- Screamer KK Barret drums on that one).
The second album, 'Wild Gift,' released in 1981, is a marked improvement (not only for the fact that Manzarek kept his cotton pickin' keyboards off-a the final mix). Yes, there are revamped versions of previously released tracks (We're Desperate and Adult Books), jackhammer workouts (I'm Coming Over) but other tracks point the way towards future albums (Universal Corner and White Girl). This really is a stellar album; great tracks other than ones I've already mentioned include Year 1, Beyond and Back, When Our Love Passed out on the Couch, In This House That I Call Home, and Back 2 the Base.
'Under the Big Black Sun' from 1982 is, hands down, my favorite X album. From start to finish it is a complete work and I love every track dearly. It is, I feel, the realization of everything that the first two albums were working toward. Roots rock and punk are melded in a perfect combination. Though he managed to not "mark" the album, producer Manzarek couldn't resist adding piano (his own playing, of course) to the single version of Riding With Mary (appearing here as a bonus track). Why? Why?!!?
X's fourth album, 'More Fun in the New World' sees the balance tilt futher away from punk but Devil Doll, We're Having Much More Fun, Make the Music Go Bang and I See Red prove that they hadn't lost their bite. Other fab tracks in a somewhat less rocking vein include The New World, Poor Girl, and I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts. Other faves are True Love, Drunk in My Past, and a balls out cover of Jerry Lee Lewis' Breathless.