Kim Shattuck's Brilliant Pop-Punk Career in Ten Songs

Kim Shattuck
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Kim Shattuck performs in The Muffs at the Palace, Hollywood on May 13, 1993 in Los Angeles.

Kim Shattuck, who died on Wednesday (Oct. 2) at age 56 from complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), was everywhere in the U.S. punk and indie rock scenes of the past three decades.

Playing in The Pandoras and, briefly, the Pixies -- reportedly fired by the latter for being "too enthusiastic" on stage -- she was best known as the co-founder, singer and guitarist of The Muffs, a pop-punk band that was a bright light of 1990s alternative.

Here are 10 songs to give you a sense of the breadth of Shattuck’s work.

1. The Pandoras, "Tryin’ Ain’t Good Enough" (1988)

Shattuck’s apprentice years were in the Pandoras, an L.A.-based group dominated by Paula Pierce (who died of an aneurysm in 1991). The band’s bassist and backing vocalist, Shattuck spent her off hours stockpiling her own compositions. A 1988 live performance of “Tryin’ Ain’t Good Enough” (from their EP Rock Hard) is a good snapshot of the Pandoras’ garage-rock sound, which Shattuck took as a starting point for her records to come.

2. The Muffs, "I Don’t Like You" (1991)

The Muffs started as a quartet -- ex-Pandoras Shattuck and Melanie Vammen (guitar), along with Ronnie Barnett (bass) and Criss Crass (drums). Their debut single, issued on indie label Sympathy For the Record Industry, was Shattuck’s developing lyrical perspective in miniature: While its A-side was “New Love” (“It’s true -- new love always feels so good!”), the B-side was a ball of snarl called “I Don’t Like You,” her motor-mouthed takedown of assorted L.A. jerks (“flashy, glitter metalboy with poodlehead attire/ wearing spandex shirts with the rips in the right place”). It ends by sounding like the studio has caught fire.

3. White Flag, "Don’t Give It Away" (1992)

A short-lived collaboration of the Muffs and White Flag, a California punk band, yielded one single: “Don’t Give It Away,” written by Shattuck and White Flag’s Pat Fear, a gorgeous power-pop song that Shattuck gives a dose of raw desperation.

4. The Muffs, "Everywhere I Go" (1993)

Among the Muffs’ few mainstream incursions in the 1990s was “Everywhere I Go,” a highlight of their first album, which was used in Fruitopia commercials. (Shattuck told Vice in 2014: “Our publisher said, 'You need to pay us a ton of money.' We ended up being able to support ourselves for a while off of it, which was nice.”) The ads served as Muffs evangelism -- see how many of the song's YouTube comments are from ‘90s kids elated to have finally tracked down “that Fruitopia song.”

5. The Muffs, "Sad Tomorrow" (1995)

By 1995, the Muffs were down to a trio -- Shattuck, Barnett and ex-Redd Kross drummer Roy McDonald. It was their ideal incarnation, with their 1995 album Blonder and Blonder among their strongest. The single, “Sad Tomorrow,” was a pure Shattuck break-up song -- a lyric of despair and heartbreak sung with such perfect attitude and dismissal it becomes clear it’s the guy on the other end of the line who’s really in trouble.

6. The Muffs, "Kids In America" (1995)

Thanks to its inclusion on the Platinum-certified soundtrack to the iconic 1995 teen comedy Clueless, the Muffs’ cover of Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” was their biggest pop moment -- and one that Shattuck regretted, saying she’d thought the lyric was dumb and that doing someone else’s song wasn’t for her. ("[It] kind of made me not want to cover songs anymore," she told Bust in 2014. "Because I don’t get any money for it!”) That said, Shattuck kicked her way into the new wave classic, making Wilde's original come off as yesterday’s news.

7. The Muffs, "Outer Space" (1997)

The key to Shattuck’s magnificent scream was that she used it sparingly -- the great tension of her singing comes from knowing that at any moment, this glorious shredding howl could appear, whether to cap off a guitar solo or as an explosion set off in the middle of a verse. It’s as if her scream is a dark sun everything else orbits around. See the performance of “Outer Space,” from their last major-label album, Happy Birthday to Me, on a Drew Carey HBO special from 1997. She’s standing on the edge throughout, roughing up phrases left and right -- until, just when things appear to be winding down, she howls the song to its close.

8. The Beards, "1000 Years" (2002)

The Beards was a side project among Shattuck, Lisa Marr and Sherri Solinger (the latter two were in the Lisa Marr Experience), with Shattuck and Marr alternating lead vocals. Shattuck’s “1000 Years” focused on her core strengths -- the rasp, lines like “I hate the things that you adore/ and I don’t need you anymore,” and a refrain that’s nothing but ay-EEEE-ohhs. “The melody for me is the best part about music,” she said earlier this year.

9. The Muffs, "Weird Boy Next Door" (2014)

The Muffs didn’t break up as much as they took a hiatus that went for longer than they expected. Reuniting a decade later for 2014’s Whoop De Doo, they picked up right where they left off, sounding barely older than they did on Blonder and Blonder and like they could have gone on for another 20 years.

10. The Coolies, "Uh Oh!" (2019)

Although suffering from ALS for the past two years, Shattuck cut another Muffs album -- an 18-track album, due to be released in a few weeks -- and formed a new group, The Coolies, a reunion with Melanie Vammen. Of the Coolies’ EP’s lead-off track “Uh Oh!,” Shattuck told Vents Magazine she’d “wrote it about people who are [so] extremely hysterical that they even talk shit about their friends.” The outpouring of grief from fellow musicians and friends upon the news of her death showed that she always worked in opposites.