One Step Forward and Two Steps Back or, All I Can Do is Cry: Ten Essential Social Distortion and Mike Ness Songs By Anthony Perconti/ 2021/

Punk Noir Magazine

As a teenager growing up in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the band Social Distortion had a pronounced impact on me. This California punk rock outfit could certainly play fast and loud, but the interesting thing about them was that in many respects, they were backward looking, musically. Not only that, but their lyrics exhibited a degree of introspection and melancholy that was not the norm of the punk rock scene, back in the day. The songs of Social D and later, with lead singer, Mike Ness’s solo offerings, are populated with jilted lovers, bad luck losers, gangsters, teen delinquents, addicts, outlaws and prisoners. Of course, Ness and company’s early works are all speed and (young man, righteousanger, but by the late 1980’s specifically with 1988’s release, Prison Bound, a tonal shift in the band’s style becomes noticeable. This album even features a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Back Street Girl”. 1990 saw the release of their self-titled album, under the auspices of Epic Records. Social Distortion features such down and out classics as, “Ball and Chain”, “Story of My Life” and the Johnny Cash cover, “Ring of Fire”. Listening to these songs as a young man, you could feel the livewire anger coming through in Ness’s lyrics. But as I listen to these classics today as an older (and hopefully(?) wiser) person, the main emotion that filters through is heartache and regret. Social Distortion (and solo Mike Ness) songs are little four-minute, hard luckvignettes. They are about desperate folks full of regret, anger and at the end of their tetherAs an aside, given the pessimistic nature of their discography, I’ve always thought that a crime anthology influenced by the songs of Social Distortion would be a natural fit. Here are ten essential (or at least, my ten essential) Social D and solo Ness songs, in no particular order. 

“Ring of Fire” (Johnny Cash cover)

“Like an Outlaw”

“Cold Feelings”

“Bad Luck”

“Machine Gun Blues”

“Story of My Life”

“Dear Lover”

“Dope Fiend Blues” (solo Ness from the album Cheating at Solitaire)

“Let It Be Me”

“All I Can Do is Cry” (Wayne Walker cover from the solo Ness album, Under the Influences)

Anthony Perconti lives and works in the hinterlands of New Jersey with his wife and kids. He enjoys well-crafted and engaging stories across a variety of genres and mediums. His articles have appeared in several online venues and can be found on Twitter @AnthonyPerconti