I’m sure a great many of you know and love this Bad Religion track. But did you know that it was originally released in 1990, as part of their fifth studio album “Against the grain”? And that it was only released as a single in 1994 after being re-recorded for their first major label album “Stranger than fiction”? I certainly didn’t know all of this back in ’94 when I was busy getting hooked on the song through regular airplay on Toronto’s CFNY. But it’s all true.
“21st century (digital boy)” was written by guitarist Brent Gurewitz and this fine American punk rock band had been performing it during their legendary live sets as early as 1989, the tune becoming a fan favourite in the process. Depending on who you believe, the song was re-recorded for “Stranger than fiction” either because Gurewitz felt that the band was performing it better in 1994 than when it was originally recorded or because their new label, Atlantic, wanted a single for the album that wasn’t yet there. Regardless, the song did become Bad Religion’s biggest hit and their most easily identifiable track.
By the time that I sat down to put together this list, I was more familiar with the history of the track and I momentarily hesitated to include it. Should it be considered a 1990 track because that was when it was originally written? Or does it belong with the best of 1994 because the re-recorded version is the one that everyone (including me) knows and is more familiar with? In the end, it obviously found a place in this series because it’s too great a track not to rave about, right here and right now. (I’ve got both versions below so that you can enjoy the version of your choice.)
Bad Religion has been a going concern since 1979 with a fluid roster whose only static member has been lead vocalist Greg Gaffin. The band toiled in the punk underground for years but started to gain traction in the late 80s and amassed a following on the back of their electrifying live shows. It was here they attracted the attention of the majors and signed with Atlantic during the gold rush of alt-rock band label signings post-Nirvana. The aforementioned “Stranger than fiction” long player is their best selling album, attaining gold status in both Canada and the US, and featuring a number of fan favourites, including this one and the thundering title track. The band is still quite active, touring with Pennywise and The Offspring as recently as 2014.
“21st century (digital boy)”, like many of Bad Religion’s tracks, has plenty of raging guitars, hammering percussion and angry sounding, three-pronged vocals. With its apparent diss at all things technological and commercial, and all the toys that we can dream of, it is as relevant today as it was twenty five years ago. And yes, I smile knowingly at this as I listen to this track and jot down these very ideas on my Apple iPad.
Original version from 1990’s “Against the grain”:
Re-recorded version from 1994 (including a music video):
For the rest of the Best tunes of 1990 list, click here.