We Are the One

The Avengers formed in early 1977 and features lead vocalist Penelope Houston, with others in the classic line-up being drummer Danny Furious (later in Joan Jett and the Blackhearts)guitarist Greg Ingraham, and bassist Jimmy Wilsey (who later joined the backing band for Chris Isaak).  Having a somewhat grammatically challenged title, “We Are the One” is one of my favorite songs of all time, not just one of my favorite punk rock songs.  Behind a driving beat that is simply untoppable, and with verses about changing the world, the chorus goes:  “We are not Jesus (Christ) / We are not Fascists (Pigs) / We are not Capitalists (Industrialists) / We are not Communists / We are the One”. 
Penelope Houston, a native of Seattle met Danny Furious and Greg Ingraham at the San Francisco Art Institute, where they were students.  After James (Jimmy) Wilsey joined up in August 1977the Avengers became one of California’s most popular punk rock bands.  A three-song EP by the band came out in 1977 on Dangerhouse Records, featuring We Are the One, “Car Crash” and “I Believe in Me”; another the following year on White Noise Records had four other monsters:  “The American in Me”, “Uh Oh, “Corpus Christi”, and “White N----r”. 
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Tensions in the band led to their break-up by mid-1979, before they were able to release a proper album.  Avengers, released in 1983 is a tough find these days; but Penelope Houston has it available as a CD-R on her website, and I managed to find a copy in an Atlanta-area record store this year.  John Dougan writes in the Allmusic review:   “Although it was released in 1983, this collection represents just about everything San Francisco's late, great Avengers recorded from 1977-1978.  By contemporary standards, it's by-the-book punk thrash:  Greg Ingraham's guitar spews up hairball after hairball of distortion, while Penelope Houston snarls in her best impression of Johnny Rotten.  However, contemporary standards diminish what great music this was and what a great band they were.  Dozens of bands came in their wake, but few could recapture the excitement and ferocity of their sound.  Houston, who re-emerged years later as a folk-rocker, is in full fury on these 14 tracks, especially the youth culture solidarity anthem ‘We Are the One’ and the tale of desperation ‘Thin White Line’.  A few spins of this and you'll hear how the Avengers influenced everyone from Black Flag to X.  Yes, they were that good.  A forgotten classic.” 
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Greil Marcus wrote the glowing and lyrical liner notes for The American in Me; they start off:  “In 1977, ‘The American in Me’ was the torn flag flown by the Avengers.  Singer and writer Penelope Houston, guitarist Greg Ingraham, bassist James Wilsey, and drummer Danny Furious made up the best punk band in San Francisco, at moments the best in the country – and what they were claiming in ‘The American in Me’ was the country itself:  the country that the Avengers’ songs said didn’t want them, didn’t recognize them, didn’t hear them, wouldn’t listen.  They left themselves no room for irony. 
“‘We Are the One’, they announced; ‘What is “the One”?’ the song makes you ask.  ‘I am the one who brings you the future,’  [Penelope] Houston chants to end it.  ‘I am the one who buries the past’.  Everything about the thing sounds ridiculous, especially the glee you can hear in the band’s voices, the Oh-my-God-we-are-actually-pulling-this-off thrill of saying what you want to say right out loud, where everyone can hear you, free speech like the Batman signal in the sky, or a rock through the window that separates the true from the false.  Everything sounds ridiculous – except what the song actually sounds like, and the frightening conviction backing up every word.  No matter how sarcastic Houston was on stage, taunting the crowd between numbers, the songs said the Avengers meant exactly what they said or they meant nothing.  The American in Me could not be a joke.” 
(March 2017)
Last edited: March 22, 2021