To arrive on the scene and put a stake in the ground the way Hüsker Dü did in the early ‘80s at the height of the genesis of hardcore from the middle of the country while the Black Flags of the west coast and the Minor Threats of the east were the dominant forces in punk and hardcore all while eschewing the trappings of said genres is a remarkable feat. To try to discern which of their releases is better than another is almost as remarkable but we will humbly attempt to do so. With almost any band you can look back retrospectively on their career and their albums and have almost complete fan agreement on which are the bangers and which are the duds. But with Hüsker Dü you could probably reorder these albums at random ranking and have people still agree with it. What puts one release ahead of the other is razor-thin and almost arbitrary. Here is our attempt though to rank their catalog and since we were able to figure out how to make umlauts on our keyboard and spell the band’s name correctly we invite you to read on.
6. Candy Apple Grey (1986)
We’re kicking things off with the album that should’ve been the band’s greatest success and is by no means a “bad” album but certainly is a little… uneven? Their first major label release shows signs of the fracture that would ultimately lead to their disbandment. Apart from “Don’t Want To Know If You’re Lonely” which is arguably one of their best-known songs (Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg wordlessly driving while listening to it in ‘Adventureland’ probably introduced the band to a whole new generation) the rest of the album for the most part feels unfocused and retreads a lot of the same ideas. The aforementioned “Don’t Want To Know…” is followed by “I Don’t Know For Sure” and “Sorry Somehow” which all three use the same Grant Hart rolling snare as an intro.
Play it again: “All This I’ve Done for You”
Skip it: “No Promises Have I Made”
5. Everything Falls Apart (1983)
It’s surely heresy to not have their most punk album further up on the list or even number one and we’ll definitely be losing street cred for this but we’re smart and so are you for reading an article and not watching some hack YouTuber rank the Dü’s albums. Be sure to smash that “whatever” button! Yes, this is their first full-length and their most explicitly punk with “Afraid of Being Wrong” and “Target” just being straight-up hardcore complete with finger-pointing gang vocals. Hidden in the borrowed, angular chords are the seeds of the sound that the boys from Minnesota would become known for. The album ender “Gravity” sounds like a rough sketch of what was to come.
Play it again: “Punch Drunk”
Skip it: “Sunshine Superman” Ironic Donovan covers will be lost on your 21st-century sensibilities.
4. Warehouse: Songs and Stories (1987)
You know how you have that one uncle at family gatherings who would explain how you can always tell the difference between a Lennon song and a McCartney song but you can’t really tell the difference because all Beatles songs sound like pseudo-psychedelic nursery rhymes for Boomers? Well on Warehouse the difference between a Mould song and a Hart song is very discernable and more apparent than on any other release. Their final release is a double album that could almost be considered a split LP since it sounds like two different bands. With “Could You Be The One?” and “Friend You’ve Got To Fall” Bob Mould is solidifying the sound that would eventually become Sugar. While Grant Hart’s “She Floated Away” feels like an ethereal Irish pub singalong.
Play it again: “Visionary”
Skip it: “Ice Cold Ice” This sounds like REM which is pseudo-intellectual nursery rhymes for Gen-Xers.
Honorable Mention: Metal Circus (1983)
Not included in the official ranking since it is an EP (which the overlords here at The Hard Times deem to be “unworthy”) but it still needs to be talked about. The opening seconds of wailing guitar sound like Bob Mould announcing “Hey, I figured out how to perfect that tone I’ve been toying with for the past few years and it’s going to turn all your guitarist friends into insufferable fuckwits trying to explain how I do it.” If you were going to recommend Hüsker Dü to a first-time listener, this would be the release to start with. It’s a seven-song starter pack that plays like a sampler of all the differing song styles that would come to define their career.
Play it again: “It’s Not Funny Anymore” Lifetime deftly covered this over a decade later.
Skip it: Trying to make your guitar have “that Bob Mould sound”
3. Flip Your Wig (1985)
If you were a young Hüsker Dü fan in the ‘90s this would be the album you would pull songs from for the mix tape you made for that pixie in your Psych class who wore overalls and ringer tees (hypothetically speaking). That’s not to say it’s all sappy lovelorn songs but it is the band at their most upbeat and accessible with “Makes No Sense At All” leading the charge on a number of sun-drenched power pop tunes that would make those Fluevog-covered feet of a certain someone toe-tap along to it. (Again, totally not based on a real person). “Games” and “Private Plane” laid the groundwork for what bands like Seaweed and Samiam would continue a decade later. This is a ’90s alt record written five years too early.
Play it again: “Divide And Conquer”
Skip it: “The Baby Song” Maybe the longest 46-second song ever written.
2. New Day Rising (1985)
The first of two albums they released in the same year starts off with a title track and Mould’s sing-scream vocals repeating “New Day Rising” like a spiritual mantra and that is exactly what this album feels like, a rebirth, an awakening. If Zen Arcade is the band at their most brooding and introspective this is them emerging from a winter depression to find the sun is up and the meds are kicking in. This is the moment the trio perfected power pop (if that’s even what it can be defined as). “Celebrated Summer” with its lyrics: “Getting drunk out on the beach or playing in a band / And getting out of school meant getting out of hand” was surely the anthem to many slacker summer nights. “The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill” is a perfect example of pop song structure taken right up the edge of aggression without losing its singalong hook or charm.
Play it again: “If I Told You”
Skip it: “How To Skin A Cat”
1. Zen Arcade (1984)
There are so many tales of the “Sophomore Slump” in the music industry of a band’s second album being so lackluster it is almost completely forgotten about *cough* Jimmy Eat World *cough*. But there are very few bands who not only return for their second go to redefine a genre but maybe even create a new one of their own. In the pre-Wikipedia days, you could have someone describe to you the loose narrative of this double concept album opus if they were on the right amount of drugs. And yes, there is a story of a wayward, drug-obsessed youth hidden within but it is overshadowed by the quantum leap in genre-bending songwriting and musicianship. “Never Talking To You Again”, an acoustic treatise of betrayal and “Beyond The Threshold”, a distorted vocal assault on small-town boredom somehow make sense together. And not to be a production queen, but this album just sounds incredible. Every instrument has its place to play, even the oft-misrepresented bass. Greg Norton’s 4-string takes the lead on a number of tracks here with grit and just the right amount of gain. On the Mount Rushmore of disaffected punk albums by bands who wouldn’t even identify themselves as punk, this is surely in contention.
Play it again: “Chartered Trips”
Skip it: “Reoccurring Dreams” But only if you’re the type of impatient dullard who can’t hang with fourteen minutes of free jazz-inspired guitar noodling and blistering drum work. Seriously, you should at least listen to it once.