In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week: Single song highlights from 1983.
Turning 30 does funny things to people. The big 3-0 carries with it a certain presupposition that it’s time to grow up and put aside childish things, and that thought would seem to extend to my unadulterated adoration for all things punk rock and hardcore. Having just hit the milestone myself, it’s given me pause for thought as to whether it’s time for me to move on from the world of power chords and break-neck tempos.
But here’s the thing: I kind of don’t want to, even if logic says I should. Punk rock might be a youth movement at heart, but the annals of music history are cluttered with punk and hardcore gems also born in 1983 that still pass the test of time. One of those records is the self-titled debut from Suicidal Tendencies, which today sounds worlds away from the band’s current heavy-metal leanings, but to my mind still represents the L.A. outfit at its brutal peak. It’s a punk album for the ages, and contains one track that perfectly sums up punk rock’s misfit ideology better than anything else the genre has committed to record.
“Institutionalized” hits on some pretty universal punk-rock talking points, including feelings of isolation, a sense of disconnect from the world at large, and a failure to connect with parents and authority figures. But it’s the way the song approaches those oft-tackled concepts that makes it really stand on its own legs. Mike Muir’s manic, stream-of-consciousness rants sound like a kid legitimately trying to work out a mess of shit in his head, while the slowly escalating tempos build into a frenetic chorus that plays out exactly like the frenzied fit of aggression the verses allude to.
More than a song, “Institutionalized” plays like a cautionary tale, a brutal musical equivalent to those cheeseball after-school specials that preached about the dangers of drinking and doing drugs. The band flips the script on parents, teachers, and religious leaders, though, awakening listeners to the dangers that can come from trying to force outliers toward social conformity. It’s a message that rings as true today as it did 30 years ago, and in the process offers some welcome reassurance that age isn’t anything but a number.