20 Essential Songs From the Late Lookout! Records
A listen back to the label that documented the scraggly, playfully defiant East Bay pop-punk scene, from Operation Ivy to Crimpshrine to Mr. T Experience
Started as a rebellious lark in 1988 by a boho Zelig named Larry Hayes (who took the sobriquet “Livermore” in a nod to a northern California nuclear facility), Berkeley-based Lookout! Records was run as a seat-of-the-pants labor of love and hate until it shuttered completely earlier this year. In addition to grooming Green Day (a 12-year-old Tre Cool played with Livermore in a band called the Lookouts), the label is best known for documenting the scraggly, playfully defiant East Bay pop-punk scene, based around, and in reaction to, the famed 924 Gilman Street club (but mostly enjoyed in countless house parties). The scene emerged as an antidote to the twin funcrushers of ’80s punk — hardcore’s Reagan-ranting political self-righteousness (most prominently voiced by Maximum Rocknroll, based in San Francisco) and macho, neck-vein-busting bluster (mostly emanating from Southern California and New York). In reaction, Lookout! stuck out its tongue, reminded everybody that the Ramones were better than Black Flag, and popped a beer.
By way of tribute, SPIN asked Frank “Dr. Frank” Portman, leader of the much-mythologized and criminally misunderstood Lookout! band Mr. T Experience, and author of instant-classic 2007 young-adult novel King Dork, to choose the label’s most essential songs, with his liner notes. Here are those picks, plus-one-more we insisted upon. CHARLES AARON
20. The Donnas “Rock and Roll Machine” (from American Teenage Rock’n’Roll Machine, 1998)
Because sometimes you simply do not care about going to school and having friends. FRANK PORTMAN
19. Blatz “Roadkill” (from The Shit Split, 1994)
In the hands of a gifted storyteller, a simple drive on a country road can comprise a riveting epic. F.P.
18. Cub “Way to Go” (from Box of Hair, 1996)
Lisa Marr is one of those “songwriter’s songwriter” kind of songwriters, with songs stretching to all corners of the map, if songwriting were a map and songs could stretch all over it. This tune, from 1996’s Box of Hair LP, is a salient point of interest in the lo-fi punk/pop region and even though I’m starting to regret introducing that map metaphor, I’d still recommend getting on your bike and riding there. F.P.
17. The Lookouts “One Planet One People” (from One Planet One People)
The “imagine there’s no heaven” world described in the title track from Lookout 001 offers a singular glimpse into the anti-Gilman ethos of founder/frontman Lawrence Livermore. F.P.