Milo goes to college by The Descendents is 22 minutes of pure teenage angst as envisioned by the Californian hard punk division. A pop-punk record in all but speed and aggression, The Descendents’ first full length has enjoyed a truly unforeseen impact on punk and rock music. Here’s the story of it and why so many still cite its importance.
The Descendents formation and the early California hardcore scene
Few other bands have made better teenage music while still in their adolescent years than The Descendents. Few were as natural and unpretentious as they were, and fewer still ended up received quite as much attention. To understand their motivation, we must first look at the thriving scene from which they originated.
California hardcore was punk-rock stripped of all pretension and delivered with plenty of speed and aggression. It was a playground for youths consumed by anger and energy, who were looking for a healthy way of expressing it. Lyrics rarely dealt with political topics, but rather everyday concerns. The music may have been loud, but it was also humorous, even joyful, perhaps, expressing, the year-round pleasant weather enjoyed by Cali natives.
During the early 1980s, a thriving music scene was born, largely, on the back of frequent live shows. The Germs, Black Flag, and the Circle Jerks were among the first groups to draw an audience. Agent Orange, T.S.O.L., and Bad Religion soon followed.
Milo Aukerman and the other members of The Descendents were among the youngest kids to join the scene. All of them were still in high school. They attended hardcore shows regularly. Frank Navetta and Tony Lombardo founded the band in 1978. Their early demos reveal a band fascinated with surf-rock and early punk. What they lacked in playing ability, they made up vision. They’d also already found their preferred song format. These were short, fast, and highly melodic.
Fat EP and Milo Goes to College
Milo Aukerman joined The Descendents around 1981. The band members already knew each other well. Their social circles used to apportion their spare time between attending punk concerts and going to the beach.
Still, by the singer’s own admission, as well as some in the hardcore scene, few were ready to bet on the success of The Descendents. For one thing, the group’s members were, usually, younger than others in the scene. They used rehearsals as a means to socialize. Many doubted their seriousness in pursuing music.
What the band did have working for it from the very beginning was a distinct sound. This was born as a result of discovering a love for coffee, the Beatles, and a personal philosophy they titled ALL. It resulted in songs that were short, fast, and contained highly memorable melodies.
Their peers may have seen them as goofs, but their first release, Fat EP, served to show just how important to the hardcore scene The Descendents could be. The EP included 5 songs. At a run-time of fewer than 5 minutes, the songs were quick, funny, and showcased the musicians’ hyperactive nature only emphasized by the usage of great amounts of caffeine.
The EP also showcased the group’s brand of fun. The title of the record was a comment on the musician’s actual body mass at the time. Weinerschnitzel is a 10-second song about their favorite restaurant. Songs like My Dad Sucks and I Like Food, could hardly be taken seriously but made many embrace the misfit nature of the band.
Milo Goes to College
By the time of the release of their first full-length, the sound and look of the band were well in place and embraced by many. It’s not like the Descendents put much planning into it. Their stage clothes would often be the ones in which they would go fishing, and their music was a straightforward representation of their lives.
The non-political, zany, overly caffeinated Descendents were soon dealt news that would force them to get serious if only just a smudge. Their singer Milo Aukerman announced that he was going to enroll in college to study biochemistry. This would mean that the group would need to be soon put on hold. With this in mind, the group decided to record an album that documented their time together.
Milo Goes to College was an even less veiled attempt at playing the classic rock musician roles. It reflected the group’s naivety in a charming way. Again, the songs were short and fast. Songs dealt with the musicians’ and their peers’ struggles as adolescents.
The soon-to-be iconic artwork, designed by Jeff Atkinson, is a caricature of Milo Aukerman, a self-described “geek”. This and the title are references to the singer running off to college. The design would be later be adopted by the band throughout their career serving as their default logo.
The Descendents may have just been writing songs about what they felt like in 1982. However, their melodic hardcore tune would hit an emotional chord with many who felt the same. Critics were also quick to embrace it offering numerous positive reviews. Against expectations, the Descendents were now the premier California hardcore group and a future influence to the pop-punk sound that would come to dominate the 1990s.
Legacy of The Descendents
The Descendents intended to keep going after Milo did go off to college. Replacing him proved difficult at first. It results in a two-year hiatus for the band. Bill Stevenson joined Black Flag for a brief time.
The band reformed in 1985. Ray Cooper had joined the band on vocals/guitar while Frank Navetta had sold off his musical equipment and had moved to another city. They released a new record, I Don’t Want to Grow Up, and toured extensively behind it. They repeated the cycle onward, with the band becoming one of the more respected groups in the punk scene.
The Descendents did reunite with Milo Aukerman in 1995 and released a new album, Everything Sucks. The band continues to perform today and has released seven full-length albums in total.
Their legacy is that of one of the most important pop-punk bands. That fame largely hinges on the reputation of Milo Goes to College, a record that has been cited by journalists and musicians as one of the most important of the era. Publications like Spin and LA-Weekly often name it among their greatest punk albums of all time. Furthermore, group members of NOFX, blink-182, Rise Against, or the Foo Fighters have name-checked it as one of their favorite records of all time.
Highly-caffeinated, overexcited, and completely honest, The Descendents rushed out a record in 1982 that continues to inspire countless musicians today. It’s a testament to the powers of youth, punk-rock, and brewing a fresh batch.