Monday, January 16, 2012

A Beginner's Guide to the Mighty Lookout! Records

Posted By on Mon, Jan 16, 2012 at 1:01 PM

Lookout! Records, 1987-2012.
  • Lookout! Records, 1987-2012.

Influential punk label Lookout! Records, the one-time home of Green Day, Operation Ivy, the Donnas, the Queers, Rancid, and dozens more, is no more, according to Ted Leo. On his website, Leo wrote of the Berkeley, California-based label, which first formed in 1987: “Our beloved Lookout Records, which ceased releasing new material in 2006, but carried on keeping the catalog in print until this past December, has, sadly, shuttered it’s windows for good.” All of the records Leo released through Lookout! are now under his ownership, though they have been taken down from digital services. It’s still unclear what this means for the label’s other acts, though bands such as Green Day (who effectively bankrupted the label—click here for Rob Harvilla’s great account of the label’s struggles) already reclaimed ownership of their work in 2005 and 2006. To honor the label you were probably obsessed with as a teenager, here are 10 great Lookout! releases throughout the years.

Green Day, 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours

The label’s most famous alumni, Green Day released two full-length albums through Lookout!: 1991’s 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours (a collection made up of 39 Smooth and their first two EPs, Slappy and 1,000 Hours) and 1992’s Kerplunk. I know it’s probably a dick move to admit that the first song on a band’s first album is your favorite, but “At the Library” is my favorite Green Day song.

The Queers, Love Songs for the Retarded

The Queers released six albums through Lookout!, including career highlight Love Songs for the Retarded (the lyrics were cleverer and the hooks catchier than anything that came before or has come out since—meaning, they sounded like the Ramones’ goofier younger brothers), before rescinding their masters from the label due to unpaid royalties.

Operation Ivy, Energy

The ska-leaning Operation Ivy only existed for two years, but they made quite an impression in those 24 months with the release of their first-and-only EP, 1988's Hectic, and first-and-only LP, Energy. The band’s final official show was held at the famed 924 Gilman Street on May 28, 1988, the same night Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and John Kiffmeyer played under the moniker of “Green Day” for the first time.

Screeching Weasel, My Brain Hurts

It’s tough to still like Screeching Weasel—or, more specifically, Ben Weasel—after this happened, but My Brain Hurts makes A LOT of sense when you’re a pissed teenager looking to have some pop punk fun.

Pansy Division, Undressed

One of the few openly gay bands in the punk scene, Pansy Division confronted (with much success) the stereotype that all homosexuals enjoyed disco rather than rock. They were very tongue-in-cheek, but never to the point that the music felt inauthentic; Undressed, in particular, is one of Lookout!’s best releases.

Go Sailor, Go Sailor

Lookout! wasn’t just for punk bands—they were also the home to charming twee pop band Go Sailor. The label released an LP made up of the Rose Melberg-led group’s three EPs in 1996; it was re-released by Slumberland last year.

Oranges Band, The World & Everything In It

Lookout! gone indie.

The Donnas, Get Skintight

Before becoming a lifeless Billboard-charting, Nissan Xterra commercial-scoring, classic rock-reaching group for Atlantic Records, the Donnas played concise, fun, Runaways-inspired pop punk for Lookout! Those hooks!

Mary Timony, Ex Hex

After Helium and before Wild Flag, guitarist/vocalist Mary Timony released her third solo album on Lookout! Produced by Fugazi’s Brendan Canty, Ex Hex was more garage rock than punk, and signified the different direction Lookout! was taking at the time.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, The Tyranny of Distance

Ted Leo & Co. released their best work on Lookout!, including 2001’s The Tyranny of Distance. It’s expansive and melodic, and a far cry from the label’s early output. The Pharmacists were Lookout!'s most recent success and they’re still listed on the label’s “official” (read: Blogspot) website.

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