By Duncan Ober
The debate over the first ever punk band is as old as the genre itself. While Ramones from New York released their first record in 1976 and over in London the Damned, Sex Pistols, and the Clash all had records out by 1977, Detroit’s Death recorded their debut in 1975. Death’s groundbreaking record wasn’t released until 2009 and the trio is often forgotten in the history of punk rock.
Brothers Bobby, David and Dannis Hackney began their group as a funk band in 1971, but quickly moved towards a harder sound, eventually playing fast-paced, abrasive rock that can easily fit in with other first wave punk bands. By 1975, the group was working with Columbia Records to record and release a 12-song album. The project was scrapped by Columbia after seven songs had been recorded because the band refused to change their name to something more commercially accessible. True to the punk ethos, Death opted for artistic integrity over commercial success.
Of the seven songs recorded, two were released in 1976 as a limited-run single with only 500 copies pressed. While overlooked at the time, “Politicians In My Eyes” and “Keep on Knocking” are incredibly powerful tracks that certainly deserve a spot in the punk canon. Decades later, the single was spread around online and discovered by Drag City Records which released the album …For the World to See, containing all seven tracks recorded in 1975.
In the 26-minute record, tracks like “Freaking Out” and “Politicians in My Eyes” stand out for their blend of punk speed, tight rhythm section, and textured vocal performance. The epic “Where do We Go From Here???” however, begins with minimal instrumentation leading into a soaring chorus and a captivating bassline. Thematically the record checks all the boxes for 70s punk, touching on anger with society, isolation, angst and political disillusion. On the whole, the record is groundbreaking and addictive.
Death broke up in 1977 just as punk rock began to see some commercial success. Since then, the brothers have continued to make music in gospel rock and reggae groups, ultimately reuniting as Death in 2009 in support of …For the World to See.