This novel was found in unedited manuscript form after Laura Ingalls Wilder's death and published in 1971. Originally intended as a book for adults, it's much different in tone than the previous Little House books - detached, almost surreal. Almanzo and Laura set up house together on his claim, where sickness, the death of their second child and poor crops threaten their future.

The First Four Years is a compilation of the material released by the legendary California hardcore band, Black Flag. It was released in 1983 by SST Records, which put out (almost) all of the band's material, primarily because it was a label run by the band's guitarist, Greg Ginn. The release code is SST 021. It was first released on vinyl but a CD version has been released since then also.

Although Black Flag could be referred to nowadays as "that band Henry Rollins started off with" 1 none of the 16 songs on this record feature Rollins, as he didn't join until after this stuff was produced. If you want to hear Rollins, then start off with the legendary Damaged. This record contains everything up to the point when he joined, and it does sound quite a bit different to Rollins era stuff. Not just because it lacks the gravel voiced man himself, but the music is less heavy, the guitar less distorted. That's not to say this is easier listening in any way, although it's probably not as harrowing as Damaged, some of the songs on this album are an audio assault. But if you are listening to Black Flag in the first place you should be prepared for that.

Track Listing

  1. Nervous Breakdown
  2. Fix Me
  3. I've had it
  4. Wasted
  5. Jealous Again
  6. Revenge
  7. White Minority
  8. No Values
  9. You Bet We've Got Something Personal Against You!
  10. Clocked in
  11. Six Pack
  12. I've Heard it Before
  13. American Waste
  14. Machine
  15. Louie Louie
  16. Damaged I

The records these originally appeared on are as follows:

People might also want to know the lineup changes relative to each song. With Black Flag this isn't a terribly easy proposition, so I'll tell you what it says on the CD inlay:3

Greg Ginn - guitar on tracks 1-16
Chuck Dukowski - bass on tracks 1-16, vocals on track 9
Brian Migdol - drums on tracks 1-4
Robo - drums on tracks 5-16
Keith Morris - vocals on tracks 1-44
Chavo (Ron Reyes) - vocals on tracks 6-8
Dez Cadena - vocals + guitar on tracks 11-14, vocals on tracks 10, 15, 16

The lineup changes almost once every release, with the lead guitar and bass being the only real constants. As has been noted Black Flag, some of these songs do have quite a bit of a blues influence, although if you've never heard Black Flag you might get the wrong impression. This is not music to put on at a kiddies school disco, this is raw music and the singer(s) are clearly not happy with the world. Jealous Again might seem like a relatively simple "ode" (haha) from someone to their partner, but the tone of voice and breakneck delivery speed make it anything but a love song. I've seen this referenced as one of the greatest punk songs of all time5, and while I wouldn't go that far, it's certainly very good.

Six Pack has what seems like an endless run in to the main song, but when it comes you won't be disappointed. I'm not sure if the band were Straight Edge, I suspect not, but they clearly had something to say about the generic beer guzzlers that seemed to populate their world.

It's hard to attach a specific subject or purpose to many of the songs, but they are mostly about a specific mindset of being pissed off. This isn't the "fuck you mom I won't tidy my room" pissed-off-ness of nu metal, this is serious stuff. Songs like Nervous Breakdown, I've Had It, and the almighty Damaged I are songs that the word "abrasive" could have been invented for. Some songs have a more clear purpose - White Minority is a stream of invective against the racist attitudes still present in America. You bet we've... sounds like a criticism of a guy who stole songs from the band. I'm a bit at a loss to suggest who this might be.. couldn't be.. surely?. Although if you think that sinister pipe link was a bit ominous, bear in mind that a version of Wasted which is different, but still clearly the same song at heart, appears on the legendary Circle Jerks album, Group Sex. Who knows.

It's hard to pick out individual songs to put at the figurehead of this collection, although if I had to it'd probably be Jealous Again. The feeling you come away from the album with is that it defines a certain time very well.

The packaging for the album shows a load of the previous record's sleeves all put on top of each other. The artwork for Black Flag albums is eclectic to say the least, with most of it very stylised depictions of people. The cover for Jealous Again is probably the best example of this, with what looks like two high school girls, one hitting the other with a baton. On the back, one of the girls points a gun at a guy who appears to have a bullet hole in his head. Her speech bubble says "Before you die, tell me that you love me". Other album covers are probably not quite as random, but the cover for Six Pack shows a person crouched in the corner of a room with what appears to be blood stains all over the floor. Every record has the customary typeface for the band name, and also the 4 black "bars" that also came to signify the band.

The inside of the inlay card is just heaps of gig flyers on top of each other. I wish I was around to see some of these gigs - Black Flag, Minutemen and the Adolescents, anyone? It also seems that for most of the gigs where Black Flag headlined, they got the same art style for the flyer, leading to some truly, uh, interesting pictures.

Overall, this is pretty much an essential purchase for Black Flag fans, or anyone who wants to get into the band. It saves you having to buy a heap of EPs which are probably very hard to find these days (although I grabbed myself a new, still shrink wrapped copy of Jealous Again on vinyl on eBay not too long ago). If punk is your thing, and you want to know where it started, then grab yourself a copy of this. You can probably buy it direct from SST on their website, but I got mine through Amazon.co.uk's Marketplace through some American business.


1 - This isn't even correct, as Henry Rollins' first proper band was State of Alert aka SOA in Washington DC. He'd occasionally sung for the Teen Idles (at this point he was known as Henry Garfield) but only in rehearsals.
2 - I confess, I don't know what Record Labels these codes signify. Can anyone help me out?
3 - Forgive my laziness.
4 - This guy left to form another great band, the Circle Jerks.
5 - I think I read this on an Amazon review, and it has to be said people who bother to review stuff on Amazon usually either love or hate the stuff they are reviewing.

Sources:

Owning the Album
Random punk knowledge

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