Lookout! Records, the California-based independent record label that helped usher in the modern era of pop punk as we know it via such bands as Green Day and the Queers, has closed down after twenty-five years of operation. Somewhere, the laces of an anonymous teenager’s black Converse high tops have become irreversibly knotted out of frustration and sadness.
Founded in 1987 by friends Larry Livermore and David Hayes, Lookout! Records quickly aligned itself with San Francisco’s East Bay punk clique by issuing discs from that scene’s giants (Crimpshrine, Operation Ivy, et al). The signing of a nascent trio named Green Day in 1988 would prove to the be label’s wisest business decision; when that group exploded onto MTV seven years later, their first two efforts for Lookout! became an unexpected revenue goldmine. Of course, by that time, Lookout! Records had also cemented its reputation as the underground’s premiere purveyor of pop punk, having released pivotal albums by such melodically-inclined outfits as Screeching Weasel, the Queers, and the Mr. T Experience.
Things behind the scenes at Lookout! were not always as upbeat as the records they pressed; a legal kerfuffle nearly broke out in the mid-’90s after Screeching Weasel front man Ben Foster began publicly taking Livermore’s business ethics to task RE: the group’s 60/40 contract (which in fact favored the band). At the brink of lawyering up, the label decided to simply re-sign Screeching Weasel to a contract where everything money-wise was clearly spelled out. Around the same time, Larry Livermore sold his stake in the company, although he would always remain the figure most closely associated with that iconic eyeball logo.
Livermore’s departure marked the beginning of Lookout!’s decline as new management had apparent difficulty handling monies. Dodgy bookkeeping was the complaint most often leveled at the label as one flagship act after another jumped from Lookout! to competitors such as Asian Man and Fat Wreck Chords. Such maneuvering always hurt, but no blow proved bigger than Green Day’s July 2005 decision to pull their first two albums from their former home over alleged unpaid royalties. Lookout! Records would never fully recover from the defection of their poster band (and only seven figure generator); just a year later, the label ceased issuing new releases to focus on selling their storied back catalog.
Lookout! Records was to me in the ’90s what Stax was to kids in the ’60s. It was just a goldmine for all who loved snot-nosed Ramonesy junk. They released the three best Queers albums (Beat Off, Love Songs For The Retarded, Don’t Back Down), the two best Screeching Weasel albums (Boogadaboogadaboogada!, Anthem For a New Tomorrow), every Donnas album I’m embarrassed I don’t own, the only Mr. T Experience album I wasn’t embarrassed to own (Everyone’s Entitled To Their Own Opinion), and the best-sounding thing Furious George ever recorded (the Goes Ape! EP). I can’t think of another record label I ever consciously, or even subconsciously, pledged my allegiance to like that.
That said, it would be a stretch to say it’s a shame Lookout! is finally folding after x amount of years. They had a nice little dynasty for probably three times longer than they thought they would. Also, if you’re sitting on two Green Day records and you still can’t manage to pay Pansy Division on time, well, your business license should probably be revoked anyway.
Then again, what do I know about running a record label? Diddly squat. I just snap up what they poop out. Who knows, maybe a couple of those Pansy Division albums cost several million clams to make.