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The Highs and Lows of Blink-182

on June 30, 2016, 12:00pm
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Rising Stars with pics

August 1992 — Blink forms in Poway, San Diego

Blink weren’t the first juvenile delinquents to work songwriting into their full schedule of skateboarding, skipping class, and playing pranks on mall security guards. Hailing from the middle-class suburb of Poway, just outside of San Diego, their music and their entire aesthetic began to take shape as a reaction to the climate around them — politically conservative, perennially sunny. It’s no wonder that SoCal’s pop punk bands, a group exemplified by the Descendents but also by younger acts like Tiltwheel and Unwritten Law, favored melody slightly over mayhem. Aside from the typical frustrations of adolescence, they had nothing to be particularly mad about. Blink didn’t initially stand out among this crop of bands, but Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge, and Scott Raynor were just getting started.

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1993 — Flyswatter demo

If you ever need a reminder of Blink’s bona fides as a snotty skate punk band that listened to way too much Descendents, grab a hold of the Flyswatter cassette. The band’s only true bedroom recording features eight songs of loud, fast, tinny punk very much in the vein of NOFX, whose “The Longest Line” is thrown in as a cover on the back end of the album. Dinosaur Jr. also gets the cover treatment with “Freak Scene”, proving that early Blink didn’t really have their mission statement or aesthetic pinned down yet; these were three guys who just wanted to crank up their solid-state amps and piss off the neighbors.

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January 1994 — Buddha

The version of Buddha most people are familiar with is the remastered Kung Fu Records release from 1998, which does a bit to save the demo’s reputation as a standalone collection of songs. Make no mistake about it, though: Buddha is a demo, with all of the warts and raw, unfocused energies the word implies. Though not an “essential” Blink release, it does feature the earliest versions of “Carousel”, “TV”, “Fentoozler”, and several other tracks that would eventually make their way onto the band’s proper debut in re-recorded versions. Buddha oozes potential, but it’s the work of a band still figuring themselves out (and having fun doing it).

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February 1995 — Cheshire Cat

The crown jewel of early Blink-182 starts off with one of the band’s biggest hits in “Carousel”, a tune fueled in equal parts by angst, adolescent heartbreak, and Scott Raynor’s hyper-caffeinated drum fills. Blink-182 would never sound truer to themselves than they do here, bopping along and completely unaware that they were on course to rewrite punk history. The same is true for much of their debut album, which finds the band identifying less with some platonic ideal of punk rock than with the things they know best: teenage boredom, raging hormones, and plenty of dick and fart jokes. The sum of Blink-182’s ambitions at this point can be found in the lyrics to lead single “M+M’s”, in which Hoppus can’t look beyond candy, cigarettes, true love, and trips to Madagascar. A large part of Blink-182’s brilliance lies in their ability to make all of that seem like enough.

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February 1996 — They Came to Conquer … Uranus EP

A step down from Cheshire Cat in scope as well as ambition, They Came to Conquer … Uranus functions mostly as a placeholder between the two major releases of Blink-182’s early career. With three songs and a total runtime of less than eight minutes, it was too slight to meaningfully expand on the success of Cheshire Cat, though it did offer a bright glimpse into the future with “Waggy”, a tune that would be re-recorded for Dude Ranch the next year. Along with the Lemmings / Going Nowhere split the band did with Swindle, it marks the last chapter of pre-MCA Blink-182, an era defined by goofiness, growing pains, and charmingly lo-fi production.

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November 1996 — Blink-182 signs to MCA

Though it wasn’t greeted with the same sense of outright betrayal that accompanied Green Day’s signing with Reprise two years earlier, Blink-182’s deal with MCA didn’t do them any favors with the local punk scene. They could hardly have cared less. By late 1996, Mark and Tom knew what they were and had an inkling of where they were going. If that meant being ostracized by their scene counterparts, so be it. While a step forward for the band in terms of exposure, the signing may have spelled the beginning of the end for Scott Raynor, who came from a slightly different school of thought than his bandmates.

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June 1997 — Dude Ranch

Welcome to the next stratosphere. Blink-182’s major-label debut rewrote the book on just how successful this band of merry pranksters could become, starting with a lead single (“Dammit”) that continues to warrant regular airplay to this day. It wasn’t totally unprecedented for a pop punk band to achieve this level of success — Green Day had already done it twice by this point — but Blink-182 seemed even less interested in staying within the rough outlines of punk than Billie Joe and Co. Their songs were unabashedly about girls, girls, and girls, and they happened to arrive just as the boy-band craze was working its way into full swing. The time and place were ripe for a band like Blink-182, and they had songs like “Josie” and “Dick Lips” to help them seize the moment.

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Mid 1998 — Scott Raynor fired. Travis Barker takes over.

Blink-182 fans will tell you they swear by either Scott or Travis, but both drummers bring their own style and personality to the table. When Raynor was kicked out and subsequently replaced with Barker (then drumming with ska punks The Aquabats), it was the end of an era and the beginning of an entirely different one. Who’s to say if Blink-182 would have reached their absolute peak without Barker’s quiet, steady, heavily tattooed presence behind the kit? Rather than speculate aimlessly, it’s best to give both drummers their due.

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