Agent Orange – Living in Darkness: #1,000 of best 1,000 albums ever!

agent orange - living in darkness

Why is Agent Orange’s Living in Darkness on my best 1,000 albums ever list?

I spent a lot of time doing research for the best 1,000 albums ever project overall (more on that below), but figuring out what the number one thousand album should be took on a certain special significance.

It’s the entrée point to this weirdly audacious mega-project, and so it should say something, I suppose, about what else might be coming, right? A list like this is wildly subjective in all kinds of ways, and certainly Living in Darkness could have in theory landed quite a bit higher, ranking-wise, but I’m really happy that it shook out that it landed here at #1,000 to help debut the list as a whole.

Why? Beyond the fact that it’s a strong album that deserves promotion, I like that it covers a great many musical bases (see the “musical stylings” section below) while overall sounding fresh, indie, passionate, and punk, all the more remarkable for an album produced some four decades ago.

What does Agent Orange’s Living in Darkness mean to me? What does it make me feel? Why is it exciting or compelling?

When I throw on “Bloodstains,” the opening track, I dig it immediately. It’s punk, it’s fast, it’s angry, it’s in zero way “mainstream,” it’s raucous, and yet it contains a definite intelligence that underlies the operation.

I don’t know what “Bloodstains” is about, really, but that’s fine. I’m not really a huge lyrics guy (except when I am), but I’m a vibe guy (I guess?), and the vibe here is anti-authority… or at least anti-something, and it works. Which is to say it kicks ass, and there’s not much more that you can ask of a punk song than that.

All Music actually dubs these guys as surf punk:

  • Orange county punk trio Agent Orange were the pioneers of surf punk, melding the guitar figures of classic surf music with the fast-and-loud attack of hardcore punk rock, and they became one of the truly enduring bands in the West Coast punk community.

Which makes sense when you get the really fun and punk-y cover of Dick Dale’s 1962 classic, “Misirlou.”

Living in Darkness is a really short album, coming in at an efficient and punk 21 minutes and change, and it’s remarkably consistent quality-wise throughout.

This album also sounds like

I hear Black Flag here, which makes a lot of sense as both came up around the same time and in roughly the same kind of scene in Southern California. I’m also getting a dusting of Devo, and maybe throw in some Bad Religion and Descendents for good measure.

But the surf punk aspect sounds wildly original to my ears and adds an exciting element.

Pop culture stuff that’s somehow related to Agent Orange’s Living in Darkness

It took me a little while to make the tie-in that Agent Orange relates to the band’s Orange County, California roots. And obviously, the term Agent Orange is best and most infamously known as the name of the chemical agent used as part of the “herbicidal warfare” program during the Vietnam War. This is just crazy awful:

  • Up to four million people in Vietnam were exposed to the defoliant. The government of Vietnam says as many as three million people have suffered illness because of Agent Orange,[4] and the Red Cross of Vietnam estimates that up to one million people are disabled or have health problems as a result of Agent Orange contamination.

If you’re at all interested in learning more about the Vietnam War and this period in modern history, I highly recommend Ken Burns’ 10-part documentary series. It’s really long but well worth the time investment. I learned a ton of stuff that I hadn’t known previously and was often riveted by the footage and narrative of the doc.

And while we’re on the topic, the 1980s were boom times for movies about the Vietnam War era, which translated to my watching a ton of them that were in cable rotation while I was growing up. Here are some of the best:

  • Full Metal Jacket – Kind of a Stanley Kubrick masterpiece. It’s dark, sinister, and often weirdly funny, which of course meant my friends and I quoted it constantly. I revisited Full Metal Jacket a few years ago, and I was blown away particularly by the first half of the movie, which takes place at a marine boot camp designed to ingest humans and spit out killers. R. Lee Ermey, a real life military vet who plays the brutal, borderline-psychotic Gny. Sgt. Hartman, is particularly incredible. And note that he’s essentially the only character you hear speak during the first 20-25 minutes of the film!
  • Platoon – This movie was a big deal when it came out in 1986, and kicked off a major revisit of the war in American culture in addition to a slew of other movies (including Full Metal Jacket). It’s arguably Oliver Stone’s best film, but it’s not one that I wish to revisit very often. As the movie poster reads, “The first casualty of war is innocence,” and you lose a little of your own when you watch it. Looking back, the cast is absolutely astonishing: Charlie Sheen (at his very best save for Wall Street, perhaps), Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, Kevin Dillon, John C. McGinley, Johnny Depp, and even my man Mark Moses, who would go on to play Duck Phillips in Mad Men!
  • Da Five Bloods – It obviously came out far more recently, but I believe it to be Spike Lee’s best film and well worth checking out. I definitely plan on seeing it again, which I rarely do for any movie I see these days.

Personal stuff that’s somehow related to Agent Orange’s Living in Darkness

So, it turns out that not only is Agent Orange from Orange County, California, but they hail from the city of Fullerton. Which happens to be where my wife mostly grew up and a city I’ve spent a lot of time in over the years at the fabulous house of my wonderful in-laws.

I grew up on Long Island, New York myself (we say on, not in Long Island where I grew up, dig?), and I’ve always found it fascinating that I grew up in the suburbs outside of New York City whereas my wife grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles (which is largely a suburban sprawl itself, but we’ll leave that topic for another time).

At some point I glibly termed Orange County as the “sunny, well mannered” Long Island, which I think mostly holds up. Orange County has mostly incredible weather (especially if you have air conditioning), and reads as a positively ideal place to raise kids in a suburban environment. Whereas the weather is mostly not incredible on Long Island and while the place as a whole has its charms, the harsh tough guy attitudes I grew up around compelled me to be more than delighted to GTFO at as early an age as possible.

But back to Agent Orange and Orange County. I can also get how if you’re a teenager growing up in Fullerton, “idyllic place to raise kids in a suburban environment” with a strong dose of “Ronald Reagan’s 1980s” translates to “I need to form a punk band in which I can scream out an anti-authoritarian screed in the loudest and angriest way possible.” Or some such.

That’s to say, it makes perfect sense that Orange County would go on to produce a range of incredible bands over the next several decades that are… let’s say non-conformist, ranging from The Offspring to The Aquabats to Reel Big Fish.

Many of which you’ll be seeing on this best 1,000 albums of ever list!

Some stats & info about Agent Orange – Living in Darkness

  • What kind of musical stylings does this album represent? Punk Rock, Hardcore Punk, Rock, Alternative Rock, Indie Rock, New Wave, Surf Revival, Surf Punk, Punk
  • Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums ranking – not ranked!
  • All Music’s rating4.5 of 5 stars
  • When was Living in Darkness released? 1981
  • My ranking of the best 1,000 albums ever, the one you’re reading right now – #1,000 out of 1,000

Agent Orange – Living in Darkness on Spotify

What does the “best 1,000 albums ever” mean and why are you doing this?

Yeah, I know it’s audacious, a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot cray cray), bordering on criminal nerdery.

But here’s what it’s NOT: a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of All-Time. This is 100% my own personal super biased, incredibly subjective take on what my top 1,000 albums are, ranked in painstaking order over the course of doing research for nearly a year, Rob from High Fidelity style. Find out more about why I embarked on a best 1,000 albums ever project.