STIFF LITTLE FINGERS' seminal debut album, Inflammable Material, doesn't typically get mentioned in the same breath as the first records from the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, or the Clash. But it should. Released in 1979, that record mixes sharp hooks, snarl, and social commentary—and almost four decades later, it still explodes from the speakers.

Singer/guitarist Jake Burns remembers those days well. He was 11 when the civil conflict known as the Troubles began to simmer in Northern Ireland. By the time he formed Stiff Little Fingers in 1977, bombings, assassinations, and violence had become part of everyday life in Burns' hometown of Belfast. Curfews were enforced when things were at their most intense.

"It was boring. You couldn't go anywhere," says Burns, who's lived in Chicago since 2004. "In a way that probably led to a lot of bands. It's like, 'Well, there's nothing else to do; we might as well stay home and learn to play the guitar.'"

The unrest didn't necessarily push Burns to form Stiff Little Fingers, but life in Belfast did inspire him to write the band's first song, "State of Emergency." "We kind of felt we dealt with it in one song," he says. "Two and a half minutes, well, there's my life."