10 career-altering third albums from bands in the 1980s

These third albums were a bunch of excellence.

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I AGAINST I by Bad Brains (1986)

No band was better positioned to skyrocket as a result of the new interest in crossover music ushered in by “Walk This Way” than the Washington DC quartet Bad Brains. Recording for the preeminent indie label SST, their third album delivered one of the greatest evolutions of traditional hardcore punk anyone had heard to that point. The adjective that was most associated with Bad Brains was “ferocious.”

Their live shows were “ferocious.” Lead singer Paul Hudson, known as H.R., was as ferocious a frontman as you could find. The songs he wrote were constantly in attack mode. And in Gary Miller, known as Dr. Know, Bad Brains had quite possibly the most gifted guitarist in the entire hardcore universe.

The band traveled to Long View Farm in North Brookfield, MA for three days of recording. They had to finish in three days because H.R. was due in Virginia on the fourth day to serve out a stint in Lorton on possession charges. One song, “Sacred Love,” wasn’t completed, and so H.R.’s vocal tracks were recorded over the telephone from prison.

On I Against I, Bad Brains blended their two major impulses – fast-paced reggae and the heaviest of heavy metal – into their strongest collection of songs. Producer Ron Saint Germain, who has recorded major guitar-based bands from Living Colour to Sonic Youth, was able to maintain the energy (the “ferocious” energy, that is) of Bad Brains' famous live shows while offering a much cleaner mix. At one point, he moved bassist Darryl Jenifer’s cabinets to the bottom of a flight of stairs in order to get the proper sound. As Jim Ruland reports in his comprehensive history of SST, “Corporate Rock Sucks,” their positioning meant you could hear cows mooing in a nearby field on the master tapes.

I Against I should have launched Bad Brains. It didn’t. That has more to do with H.R.’s disparate interests and frequent intransigence. They are one of the great examples of “what might have been.” But at least we got a taste of what might have been on their third album.