The rise of the Orange County punk scene of the late 1970s was such an assault to the quiet, upscale suburbia that dominated the OC that it was viewed as a gang movement. Police shut down punk clubs and often hassled kids on the street that fit the punk profile. This was the scene that spawned one of the movement’s greatest bands, Social Distortion, in 1979.
A Huntington Beach police sergeant summed up the sentiments toward the punk movement in a Los Angeles Times story that year when he was quoted as saying: “Basically, they’re into violence. There’s no motive, no rationale. They just do whatever they feel like at the time.”
And that was before the band’s frontman, Mike Ness, got a chunk of his ear bitten off in a brawl with a rival musician outside a club in the early ‘80s.
The band’s membership revolved through most of the ‘80s (two of the founding members left when Ness insisted on bringing in Dennis Danell, who didn’t yet play any instruments), during which it produced three albums and saw its MTV debut in 1984 — prior to which Ness built up somewhat of a history of brief incarcerations, hospitalizations and a 1985 stint in drug rehab.
It wasn’t until 1990, though, that the band — which was now Mike Ness, vocals and guitar; Dennis Danell, guitar; John Maurer, bass; and Christopher Reese, drums — saw its first (i.e. not band-funded) release, “Social Distortion.”
Two years later, the band released “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell,” after which the band took an extended hiatus before releasing only one more album together in 1996. The next Social Distortion album would not come out until 2003, with new members, two solo albums by Ness, and following the death of Danell in 2000.
Released in 1992, “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell” is packed with 11 tracks of emotion-driven punk, Ness’s signature gruff vocals and killer guitar riffs that makes this the kind of album that the repeat button was created for.
In “Heaven and Hell,” the band holds nothing back in addressing the highs and lows of life, disappointment and broken hearts.
“Cold Feelings” exudes high-energy frustration with the inability to detach oneself from the “uninvited feelings” that “come without warning and stay too long.” “Making Believe” is about the refusal to come to terms with a breakup, while “When She Begins” deals with getting dangled along by a girl while on the rebound.
Like “Cold Feelings,” “Bad Luck,” a song that enjoys pointing out the shortcomings of an unlucky guy, is one of those songs that makes your ears ring before you realize that it’s because you’ve skyrocketed the volume and went hoarse screaming along with the music.
“Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell” was released at a time when the hardcore punk scene’s best years were quickly fading into the past. It’s an album worth every penny from a “real deal” band that not only played punk (back before there was indie punk and punk-pop), but lived it during the peak years.