The Hudson Guide to X

From the October, 2006 issue of Prime:

Although X was undoubtedly the most musically adventurous band of the early L.A. punk scene, they are also easily the most underrated. Instead of pretending they were erasing rock ‘n’ roll’s history, X reveled in their influences. Guitarist Billy Zoom re-energized old rockabilly and Chuck Berry riffs, while vocalists John Doe and Exene Czervenka traded lyrics as if they were old bohemian folksingers. The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and Hank Williams were as important (if not more important) influences than the traditional punkers love of the Stooges and Velvet Underground.
Despite almost a decade of strong material, the band’s raw sound and unorthodox vocals ensured that they never made the commercial leap they deserved. Yet over 20 years later, their albums sound as vibrant as ever…something that can’t be said for the majority of the bands that shared stages with them in the early days.

Los Angeles (1980)

As one might expect, X’s debut album is the only one that really can be associated with punk rock. Los Angeles paints it’s namesake as a modern day hell, full of drugs, poverty, rape, and other debauchery. Yet Zoom’s soaring guitar and Billy Zoom’s thundering drums emerge as the perfect backdrop for Doe and Czervenka’s unorthodox vocal style.
Grade: A
Essential Tracks: “Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not”, “Johny Hit and Run Paulene”, “Los Angeles”.

Wild Gift (1981)

The country influences begin to creep in on the ferocious Wild Gift, probably the best album of their illustrious career. The songs still deal mainly with the dark side of Southern California, although the lyrics are beginning to deal with domestic and personal issues. Doe and Czervenka were married at this point, and a good portion of the album examines their struggles as a married couple.
Grade: A+
Essential Tracks: “We’re Desperate”, “White Girl”, “Adult Books”, “The Once Over Twice”.

Under the Big Black Sun (1982)

Wild Gift’s themes carry over into their third straight strong release, although road stories join marital strife as lyrical topics. There’s a bit of weariness at various points of the album, particularly on “Riding With Mary”, which tells the tale of Exene’s sister, who died in an auto accident while cheating on her husband.
Grade: A-
Essential Tracks: “The Hungry Wolf”, “Motel Room In My Bed”, “Riding With Mary”.

More Fun In the New World (1983)

Cracks begin to form at this point in the band’s career. While the album starts off great, with the anti-Reagan one-two punch of “The New World” and “We’re Having Much More Fun” as great as anything off any of their discs, but there’s little to recommend after their cover of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Breathless”.
Having said that, the 2002 reissue (and remastering) of this album causes one to rethink their initial opinion of this album. It’s still no Wild Gift, but it’s still as vibrant as almost anything released at that point of time.
Grade: B+
Essential Tracks: “The New World”, “We’re Having So Much Fun”, “True Love”, “Breathless”.

Ain’t Love Grand (1985)

There are various theories as to why this album is considered such a failure. There certainly was record company pressure to produce a hit album, and it’s also clear that the band desired some well-deserved commercial rewards.
There were also personal problems within the band. Doe and Czervenka’s marriage was crumbling, and other problems led to the departure of Zoom shortly after the album’s release.
Beyond the combination of these internal and external problems, the worst decision the band ever made was to hire Michael Wagener (Stryper, Alice Cooper) to produce what the label hoped would be a mainstream pop-metal album. While the single, “Burning House of Love”, was easily the best song on the album, there was little chance of it actually competing with Motley Crue and Winger. Few other tracks even included Doe and Czervenka’s trademark harmonizing.
Grade: C-
Essential Tracks: “Burning House of Love”, “What’s Wrong With Me”.

See How We Are (1987)

There are many huge fans of X that absolutely hate this album. Others believe it may rank right up there with the early albums. I’m one of those in the latter category. The punk energy may be completely absent, but it’s more than made up by the rootsy country-rock sound that predated Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown by half a decade.
Much of this is due to the presence of former Blasters guitarist Dave Alvin, who had replaced Zoom but had already left X by the time they hit the studio. Still, his presence looms large on this album, particularly since he wrote the best song on the album, “4th of July”.
Grade: A-
Essential Tracks: “I’m Lost”, “4th of July”, “See How We Are”.

Hey Zeus (1993)

Although the band dissolved shortly after touring behind See How We Are, they routinely reunited for hometown performances. It probably was only a matter of time before they attempted another album, but it was still a surprise when Hey Zeus was released in 1993.
The album carried on with the rootsy sounds of See How We Are, but while the album has its moments, it’s also clear that the band really couldn’t carry on without Billy Zoom (Alvin’s replacement, Tony Gilkyson, performs guitar duties on this album). While Zoom has participated in the majority of reunion tours, he has publicly stated that he has no interest in participating in a X reunion album.
Grade: B
Essential Tracks: “Country At War”, “”Someone’s Watching”.


There have been two double-disc compilation albums released in the last ten years, and both of them are highly recommended. Make the Music Go Bang may be the choice for the fair-weather crowd, as there are few rarities included in the 46 tracks. Beyond and Back is chock full of outtakes, demos, and live versions of the band’s best-known tracks. If you own the band’s catalog, this is the compilation to choose.

Live Albums

Although there’s no official live album from the band’s heyday, there’s nothing wrong with any of the three live releases that have been come out since their original dissolution. Live at the Whiskey A Go-Go documents their final shows before their late 80’s breakup, Unclogged is an acoustic release from their Hey Zeus tour, while last year’s furious Live In Los Angeles marks the first Zoom’s first released appearance in 20 years.


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