Few names loom larger in punk rock lore than Fat Wreck Chords. Started in 1990 by NOFX frontman “Fat” Mike Burkett, the label has stood tall as a bastion of independent punk music for over 30 years. Fat has been home to countless great bands; No Use For A Name, Lagwagon, Strung Out, Good Riddance… the list goes on. If you’re like me, a good chunk of your record collection is stamped with their iconic logo, like a punk rock Nintendo Seal of Quality. Today, we’ll be discussing some of the less heralded entries in the label’s extensive catalog. Come along for a magical journey as we dive into Fat Wreck’s most overlooked releases.
Zero Down – With a Lifetime to Pay
The name Jim Cherry is synonymous with Fat Wreck Chords for me. In addition to being a bass virtuoso, the man was one hell of a songwriter. He played an integral role in Strung Out’s success, with writing credits on classics like “Bring Out Your Dead”, “Firecracker”, and “Mind of My Own”, just to name a few. Then, of course, there’s his contributions to Pulley. Prior to his untimely passing, Cherry started a new band called Zero Down. Their lone album With a Lifetime to Pay is criminally underrated. This is essential listening for all skate punk fans. Zero skippable tracks on this one.
The Loved Ones – Build and Burn
Alright, this one might be a somewhat controversial pick; not because this is a bad album or anything, but I think Keep Your Heart is generally considered The Loved Ones‘ “best” record. But you know what? I don’t give a fuck, I think Build and Burn is better. I couldn’t get enough of this album when it came out. Many regard the mid to late 2000’s as Fat’s “lean years”, but they put out a lot of good shit that didn’t have the typical “Fat sound” during this period. There isn’t a bad song to be found on Build and Burn. The first three tracks alone are worth the price of admission. Everything else is icing on this Philly pop-punk cake.
Limp – Guitarded
Limp was a pretty short lived pop-punk band that released three records through Fat Wreck imprint Honest Don’s Records. Music critic types lazily painted these guys into a corner as a Green Day or Blink-182 imitation. I personally don’t think Limp sounds anything like either of those bands. Their sophomore effort Guitarded is a mostly midtempo pop-punk record with a little ska sprinkled on top. More than anything else, this album is melodic to a fault. “Decision”, “Ten Minutes”, and “Entertainer” are my favorite songs.
Cobra Skulls – Bringing the War Home
Now, I already know what you’re thinking: “Really dude, you’re including a fuckin’ EP in this list?”. Yes, yes I am. Cobra Skulls released two killer albums on Red Scare and were quickly snatched up by Fat Wreck. They made their Fat debut with 2011’s Bringing the War Home and immediately went out on tour with NOFX and the Bouncing Souls (yours truly saw them in Orlando). For many (myself included), this was their introduction to Cobra Skulls, and the band capitalized on that opportunity in a big way. Bringing the War Home provides the perfect bite sized snapshot of a band that was firing on all cylinders. The Bad Religion cover is pretty good, too.
Only Crime – Virulence
Fat Mike and Floyd used to host a podcast where they played songs off the label’s new releases at the time. I was introduced to Only Crime for the first time when they played “Eyes of the World” off their record Virulence. I was blown away, and instantly ordered the CD. Only Crime is one of the greatest punk “super groups” ever as far as I’m concerned. You’ve got Russ Rankin on vocals and Bill Stevenson absolutely killing it on drums, that’s all you need to know. This whole record kicks ass.
American Steel – Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts
A cornerstone of the Lookout! Records roster in the late 90’s, American Steel made a strong impression with the chaotic energy of their 1999 LP Rouge’s March. Over time, the East Bay punk band’s sound mellowed out quite a bit, culminating in 2009’s Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts. This record is full of great midtempo punk-ish rock songs with big choruses that invite you to sing along – the album opener “Emergency House Party” being a prime example. Other highlights include “Your Ass Ain’t Laughing Now”, “Bergamot”, and “Meals and Entertainment”. This isn’t the best American Steel’s discography has to offer, but it’s a fun listen nonetheless.
Big in Japan – Destroy the New Rock
Hailing from Reno, Nevada and featuring members of Zoinks! and The Gain, Big in Japan made their debut in 2001 with Destroy the New Rock. This power-pop punk gem is buried deep in the Honest Don’s catalog, which sucks because it is fantastic! The songs are catchy and the production is stellar, but that’s no surprise considering this was recorded with Mass Giorgini at Sonic Iguana. This record sounds like a mix of Squirtgun and Green Day. Highly recommended listening.
Swingin’ Utters – Here, Under Protest
Call it a comeback! After going eight years without releasing a new record, Fat mainstays Swingin’ Utters made their triumphant return in 2011 with Here, Under Protest. They had a new guitarist in Jack Dalrymple (One Man Army, Dead to Me), and a slightly more polished, melodic approach. Singer Johnny Peebucks’ voice lent itself nicely to the band’s renewed sound. Standout tracks include “Brand New Lungs”, “Kick it Over”, “Heavy Head”, and the album closer “Effortless Amnesiac”, on which Dalrymple takes the lead on vocals.
Love Equals Death – Nightmerica
If you’re a fan of anything AFI did before Sing the Sorrow, you will probably like Love Equals Death‘s Nightmerica. I won’t say frontman Chon Travis sounds exactly like Davey Havok, but at certain points on this album the resemblance is almost uncanny. “Bombs over Brooklyn”, “When We Fall”, “Voice of Change”, and “Numb” offer up a high energy blend of AFI and Pennywise. “Pray for Me” is a kinda corny, on-the-nose love song but in a charming way. “The Broadcast” is complete with all the George Dubya soundbites you’d expect from a mid 2000’s punk song. This whole album holds a special place in my heart, but “Sonora” is by far my favorite track on Nightmerica.
Teen Idols – Full Leather Jacket
The undisputed champions of Ramonescore, Teen Idols mastered their formula and stuck to it. Of their three albums on Honest Don’s, Full Leather Jacket is the one I find myself returning to most often. This is a quintessential pop-punk record. Absolutely zero duds to be found here, every song is great. And with Mass Giorgini at the controls you know the production is top notch. Big shoutout to whoever sequenced this album; “The Team” is a perfect closing track.
Thank you for coming to my TED Talk! I’m certain I pissed at least a few of you off for one reason or another. But hey, that’s to be expected when treading on sacred ground. If I introduced you to an album you’ve never listened to, or just gave you the little nudge you needed to check out something you passed on when it first came out, then I’d say my mission has been accomplished. Fat Wreck Chords has been a big part of my life for a long time now. They’ve introduced me to some of my favorite bands and records, and I’m sure a lot of you can say the same. Here’s to another 30 years of awesome music!
If you think we’re fucking idiots because your favorite record isn’t on this list, feel free to let us know in the comments. Maybe we’ll include it in Part 2! 😘