The Lookouts’ Larry Livermore Made Us a Mixtape Featuring Green Day, MC5, the Supremes, and More
The former Lookout Records chief curates a collection of his greatest musical influences and inspirations
Earlier this month, Don Giovanni Records released Spy Rock Road (And Other Stories), a compilation disc by California pop-punk forefathers the Lookouts. Cherry-picking songs from every one of the trio’s releases (including compilation-only cuts and one demo from ’85), the album showcases the very early work of Green Day drummer Tré Cool, bassist Kain Kong, and founding Lookouts member, guitarist-vocalist Larry Livermore, who later went on to start the West Coast indie-punk mothership Lookout Records. In honor of this release, Livermore kindly arranged a mixtape of the Lookouts’ “Influences and Inspirations,” collecting punk staples (the Steinways, Operation Ivy), show tunes (West Side Story), classic country (Hank Williams), ’60s pop groups (the Supremes, the Shangri-La’s), and more. Listen below and read Livermore’s track-by-track commentary.
The Penguins, “Earth Angel”
When I was a little boy in the early ’50s, my family didn’t have a TV — just a radio-record player combo as tall as I was. I’d sit with my head pressed up against the speaker, twirling the dial in search of something worth listening to. Then one day I heard this song, with a beat that rumbled through my being, and harmonies so ethereal I wanted to crawl inside the radio and float up to heaven with them. “Turn that racket off,” my dad said disapprovingly as he walked past, and I knew I’d found my music.
West Side Story Original Soundtrack, “Jet Song”
West Side Story was meant as a warning against the dangers of racial prejudice and gang violence, but when I was 13, it made me want to go running through alleys and jumping over fire escapes with a gang of my own. I did turn into something of a thug, and nearly wrecked my life before I made it out of my teens. Luckily, I found healthier and more rewarding ways to rebel later on.
The Crystals, “He’s A Rebel”
The Rebels were my first gang, and this was our song. I took its opening lines as gospel, shuffling my feet with an ostentatious swagger and waiting for someone — anyone — to be impressed. Nobody seemed to notice except the police, who routinely put me up against the wall and frisked me because “We don’t like your attitude, buster.”
The Shangri-Las, “Out In The Streets”
The Shangri-Las were the queens of turgid teen melodrama, but their tragic tales rang heartbreakingly true for those of us determined to live fast, die young, and leave reasonably good-looking corpses. This one, about someone being torn between true love and the street life, might seem overblown, but I can’t hear it without thinking of my best friend from the Rebels, who overdosed and died in the men’s room at his own wedding.
Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces, “Searching For My Love”
By the time this song came out in 1966 the Beatles and other British bands had taken over the pop scene. I liked that stuff, but none of it tore my heart out like “Searching For My Love.” I was hanging out with the Pompadour Gang that year; unlike my previous crews we were more into hair and clothes than crime and violence. Still hardcore greasers, we knew in our hearts we were among the last of our kind. Most of the guys got shipped off to Vietnam, and quite a few didn’t come back.
Stevie Wonder, “Contract On Love”
I first heard this song on the tinny transistor radio I carried around on my paper route. It’s still my favorite Stevie Wonder song, and one of my favorite songs ever. Stevie was only 12 when he made “Contract On Love,” which might be why, many years later, it didn’t seem odd to ask another 12-year-old, Tré Cool, to join my band. Extra bonus: backing vocals by the amazing Temptations.
The Supremes, “When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes”
Seeing the Supremes as a teenager changed my life. My fellow Detroiters looked so happy and proud as they danced and sang along with those three young ladies who’d burst out of the projects to become what Motown rightly called “The Sound Of Young America.” That was the experience that would give me the nerve to say to some other unknown underdogs a couple decades later, “Hey, you guys wanna make a record?”
MC5, “Looking At You”
Within weeks of that Supremes show, I saw the MC5 for the first time, playing a battle of the bands on a tennis court in Champaign Park (they lost). Later on they’d re-invent themselves as acid-drenched hippie revolutionaries, but back then they dressed like mods and played something called “avant-rock” (mispronounced, with studied Downriver earnestness, “Avon-rock”). Their bare-bones defiance and passion made it the day punk rock began for me.
George Jones, “If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me”
“If you don’t keep up with your studies,” I was warned, “you’ll wind up working on the assembly line.” Sure enough, at 18 I found myself on the midnight shift at Motor Wheel. We’d get off at 7 am, head to the beer store, then drive around listening to hillbilly music and getting plastered until it was time for breakfast. This song is actually from the 1980s, but it’s what those days felt like: desperate, lonely, hopeless. What country music is all about, in other words.
Hank Williams, “Ramblin’ Man”
The boys at the Motor Wheel plant also introduced me to Hank Williams, arguably the greatest singer-songwriter of the 20th century. I got my first guitar so I could learn how to play his tunes. At least a couple dozen of them could count as my “favorites,” but “Ramblin’ Man” stands out, maybe because of its unusual minor chords, maybe because it sounds like the story of my life.
Operation Ivy, “The Crowd”
Operation Ivy flashed across the punk rock firmament with such brilliant incandescence that it should have come as no surprise when they imploded as just as quickly. This was my favorite song of theirs, both lyrically and musically. Just when you think it can’t get any better, there’s that wordlessly eloquent catch in Jesse’s voice as he launches into the line: “Drink drink in the badlands, liquid bread for the poor…”
Green Day, “No One Knows”
This is the best Green Day song that most people have never heard. I don’t think they ever played it live (if they did, I wasn’t there). I’m not sure what’s better: Mike’s hauntingly intricate bass intro, or 19-year-old Billie Joe Armstrong musing about mortality (“See my friends begin to age, a short countdown to their end”). This was from Kerplunk, Tré’s first record with Green Day, and it marks the point at which they began to morph from garage and basement punks into one of the biggest bands in the world.
Tiger Trap, “For Sure”
I could pick almost any song off their album to illustrate just how outstanding these four young women were, but I have a special fondness for this one, partly because when my own band covered it, I had the honor of being joined on vocals by Tiger Trap’s lead singer Rose Melberg, owner of what I regularly called the most beautiful voice in the Western Hemisphere (the Eastern Hemisphere belonged to Heavenly’s Amelia Fletcher, if you’re curious).
The Steinways, “Fruitmarket Fantasy”
The Steinways were probably the last truly great pop-punk band. I hate to admit it, but they were part of the reason I moved to New York (they broke up soon afterward). If they’d been around in the ’90s, they would have sold zillions of records. In the ’00s? Not so much.
The Weakerthans, “None Of The Above”
One day the Weakerthans’ John K. Samson will be named Canada’s poet laureate. It’s actually kind of an outrage that he hasn’t been already. CBC radio personality Grant Lawrence dragged me to my first Weakerthans show in 1998; midway through their set they delivered this simple, stately plaint that starts out in an “all night restaurant, North Kildonan.” I was transfixed, and have remained so ever since.