“Rise Above” by Black Flag is punk rock self-help music, an inspirational rallying cry for punk rockers fed up not only with hippies and cops but with everything and everyone that stands in their way. I first heard this song when I was nineteen years old, and it felt like a wake-up call to burst through all of the problems that were weighing me down and break through into a better, stronger life. It still feels that way today, twenty years after I first heard it.
The other thing about this particular clip is that it shows rare, live footage of Black Flag in performance with a very young Henry Rollins on vocals. Grainy and shaky as the video is, it does capture at least a little bit of what made the Black Flag live show such a legendary experience.
“Los Angeles” by X has always been a controversial song because of its opening lines, which are explicitly racist and homophobic. What a lot of people don't realize is that singer Exene Cervenka isn't identifying personally with the racist woman in the song. She's just describing a type of person she met sometimes in Los Angeles.
Before the term “punk hardcore” was invented to describe the music of Black Flag and other LA bands, Black Flag was just seen as another punk band. “Nervous Breakdown,” their first release, sounds much more like old school punk rock rather than punk hardcore per se.
Black Flag went through a number of different singers before settling on Henry Rollins, and this track is from well before Rollins' time with the band. The singer is actually Keith Morris, later of the Circle Jerks. After he left and started his own band, Black Flag continued under the leadership of guitarist Greg Ginn. Since Ginn was the band's primary songwriter, it wasn't too difficult for them to just hire a new singer whenever they needed to.
There's an old proverb that says “even a cornered mouse will bite the cat.” I can hardly think of a more appropriate saying for either this song or the current political and economic reality.
The song is “Backed Up Against a Wall” by the Circle Jerks, as sung by Keith Morris (the original singer for Black Flag, way before Henry Rollins joined the band). The video is from the documentary “Decline of Western Civilization.” Even though the words of the song tell punk rockers that they're not going to get anywhere trying to fight the police, the feeling of the song is one of desperate defiance.