Social Distortion has played a significant musical role in my life. Growing up in Orange County in the 80s, it was hard to ignore this perennial punk band.
I was barely a teenager when introduced to Social Distortion along with their seminal album Mommy’s Little Monster. I wasn’t much in to punk rock but it struck a chord with me. I liked it. They quickly became a favorite and I continue to follow them to this day.
Mike Ness is the cement, foundation and remaining original member of the band as he’s managed Social Distortion through several lineup changes. It’s been 15 years since co-founder and guitarist Dennis Danell died. Ness has done a remarkable job in finding a replacement with Jonny “2 Bags’ Wickersham and in 2004 a solid bassist in Brent Harding who replaced John Maurer after a 20 year stint.
Social Distortion is approaching 40 years and in 2015 toured their self-titled 1990 album that solidified their place in rock music. Today, the punk angst is mostly gone but Ness and his band still know how to bring the fury. The evolution of Social Distortion might not sit well with punk rock purists but they’re the only band to survive all the wreckage from the past.
As with the debut Top 10 list I started with Metallica this list was difficult to boil down. Social Distortion only has eight studio albums, nine if you want to count the EP 1945 that included just three songs of which the title track I opted to leave off this Top 10 Best Social Distortion Songs list. Of those albums, the compilation Mainliner: Wreckage From The Past included the three tracks from 1945, two from Mommy’s and a few other new or alternative versions of existing songs.
*Despite the small catalogue of studio albums finding 10 to take with me on that deserted island was not easy but here goes. Believe it or not, I left off “Ball and Chain” which is likely a result of its heavy radio play and a song I’ve heard so many times.
These songs are in no particular order but I have to put an all-time favorite in the #1 spot.
- Story of My Life – Social Distortion (1990)
In many respects, Social Distortion’s self-titled album turned into a high school anthem for me and many others, and a big part of that was “Story of My Life” perhaps the band’s most popular song with timeless resonation. The opening guitar hook is as recognizable as any in classic rock today. Just as good as the melody and rhythm of the song are the lyrics. Back then, little did we know we’d be singing along with Ness just a few years later for the same reasons.
- Moral Threat – Mommy’s Little Monster(1982)
Perhaps the most under the radar song in Social Distortion’s catalog, “Moral Threat” closes out Mommy’s with Ness exasperation at his finest. If there’s one song that sums up the punk rock movement it has to be this one. Ness clearly wasn’t one to back down from a fight but his best offense came out in his lyrics. He certainly doesn’t hold back.
Moreover, “Moral Threat” showed that these young punk kids not only knew how to play but arrange a song. The slow tempo jam that starts just under halfway through slowly picking up for the next minute and half along with a blistering guitar solo proved this band had some roots that just needed some fertilizer to get a little deeper.
- Prison Bound – Prison Bound(1988)
Indeed, Ness was prison bound which nearly derailed the band. A heroin addiction and other law troubles almost made Social Distortion a mere footnote in the annuals of punk rock history. He got clean and returned with a very sober and somber album, six years after the band’s full length debut, of which the title track simply shines.
- Winners and Losers – Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll (2004)
Social Distortion’s most beautiful song. This is what endears the listener to the artist. It’s a masterpiece in terms of song writing both musically and lyrically. “Winners and Losers” is as heart wrenching as it is soulful forcing the listener to reflect on their own life and ask themselves the tough questions. It emotional in any state of mind and what a thrill it would be to sit down and talk to Mr. Ness about this song. Thank God he rose from the ashes of addiction to soldier on and eventually bring us this absolute gem.
- Mommy’s Little Monster – Mommy’s Little Monster (1982)
“Telling Them” almost made the cut but every parent’s nightmare is described in the title song to Social Distortion’s iconic album. That opening guitar chord is pure sugar.
- Bad Luck – Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell (1992)
The follow-up album to Social Distortion included this guitar heavy song that sliced a little bit from the popular grunge era that was exploding at the time. Little did we know a hierarchy of songs and albums was forming, at least in my opinion. In some respects that’s what left off “When She Begins” a song I desperately tried to find room for on this list.
- I Was Wrong – White Light White Heat White Trash (1996)
Mike Ness has grown up and he finally admits it in this awesome hard rock song. It wasn’t bad luck at all, OK maybe a little, but Ness comes full circle in admitting past mistakes and says it pretty eloquently in “I Was Wrong.” I love the bridge about halfway through followed by a solid guitar solo that elevates this song to one of the band’s best.
- Far Behind – Greatest Hits (2007)
Ness might have exorcised his demons but that doesn’t mean the anger is gone. I’ve worked with and been around many people who “shake my hand while pissing on my leg,” heck who hasn’t, and “Far Behind” is well worth investing in an album that throws out this delicious new carrot despite being a “best of” compilation.
- Reach for the Sky – Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll (2004)
The opening song off the band’s first new album in the new millennium, “Reach for the Sky” is as upbeat as it is melodious. The lyrics hold on to Ness’ reflective nature as he ponders the future but surrounded by a hard rocking guitar chord and catchy hooks. The quasi acapella section helps elevate this song and shows Ness trying new and different structures.
- Machine Gun Blues – Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes (2010)
It’s been six years since Social Distortion’s last album! And this is the best song on it. Don’t think it’s an afterthought coming in at #10 to simply recognize this album. Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes clearly shows the band trying new and creative elements to song writing. It takes a few listens to embrace and though it’s not my favorite and probably not as punk rock as veteran fans would like, this song excels, and is Social Distortion at its finest. By the way, the guitar solo has early 80s written all over it.
It’s hard to include just 10 songs from a band that’s been such a companion for 30 years. Perhaps, the best solution is a list reflecting the number of songs the band plays during live performances. Then I could simply include what songs I want to hear live. Hopefully, 2016 brings a new album to make this list even more difficult! Feel free to list your favorite Social Distortion songs below.