Popdose Flashback '90

For some people, Social Distortion is the very definition of a rock and roll band. After all, they have everything the average rock fan could ask for – the sizzling electric guitars; the pounding drums and thudding bass; the seamless blend of rockabilly, country, and punk influences; the lyrics about hard-bitten loners, hopeless losers, broken-hearted lovers, and working class heroes. The tattoos. The thing is, if everyone who says that they’re into Social D, and throws up the two-fingered “RAWK!!!” sign every time their name is mentioned was actually a fan, the band would be more than the cult (albeit a large cult) band that they are.

Frontman Mike Ness put Social Distortion together in Fullerton, Ca. in 1978, and then nearly destroyed himself, and the band. As a result of his drug addiction, the band broke up in 1985 after recording just one album, 1983’s self-released Mommy’s Little Monster. After Ness spent time in rehab and jail, the band got back together in 1986 and released Prison Bound on Restless Records. The album didn’t sell very well, but it did manage to get some airplay on KROQ in L.A., and set the stage for the band’s leap to the bigs.

Social Distortion signed with Epic Records, and entered the studio to record their major label debut in 1989. The resulting self-titled album, produced by Dave Jerden, would become the band’s most well known album, and would be acclaimed as one of the best albums of the ’90s. In addition to Ness, the band’s lineup for the album included drummer Christopher Reece, bass player John Maurer, and guitarist Dennis Danell. Ness had recruited Danell early on, and despite the fact that he had never played an instrument, Danell became the band’s bass player, later switching to rhythm guitar. Rhythm sections came and went, but Ness and Danell were the band’s constants until Danell died of a brain aneurysm in 2000.

Epic released the album on March 27, 1990. Songs like “Ball and Chain,” “The Story of My Life,” and the cover of the June Carter Cash/Merle Kilgore classic “Ring of Fire,” became fan favorites, and continue to be staples of the band’s live show. Ness counts his blessings in “Could Have Been Me,” as he recounts the fates of some of his contemporaries, and pays tribute to a certain female acquaintance in “She’s A Knockout.” The latter is a showcase for some great guitar work from Ness, as is the equally intense lament “A Place In My Heart.” The album ends on a harrowing note with the bluesy “Drug Train.”

Social Distortion went on to release three more albums, most recently Sex, Love and Rock n’ Roll in 2004. Ness also made a couple of solo albums during this time. He recently announced that Social Distortion was back in the studio working on their next album.

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About the Author

Ken Shane

Ken Shane lives in Narragansett, R.I. He is a freelance writer and far and away the oldest Popdose writer. In fact, he may be the oldest writer, period. He wants you to know that he generally does not share his colleagues' love for the music of the '80s, and he does not forgive them for loving it. (Ken passed away in November 2022. R.I.P. —Ed.)

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