Punk rock is in its fucking forties — a frightening thought if there ever was one — and over that span the genre has produced many more than 50 great albums. Therefore, it's likely that anyone who reads this list will be outraged by some glaring omission — some of you might even pogo right over to our offices and deliver us a fresh knuckle sandwich. If we're lucky, however, most of you will just be content to enjoy the dazzling writing of those who contributed, and maybe learn about a few choice records that you've never heard of. Never mind the bullocks, here's the list.
(Touch and Go, 1987)
About as comfortable as an unanesthetized root canal, Big Black's second album capped a four-year career that proved punk needn't be straightforward to be strong. Industrial grinds and cacophonous percussion complement Steve Albini's grisly portraits for an acerbic effort that's as defiant as anything that's ever existed.
The Gun Club were among the first bands to combine roots music with punk rock in the early Eighties, birthing the ear-splitting tribal spectacle known as blues-punk. Their debut, Fire of Love, saw freewheeling frontman Jeffree Lee Pierce directing his compatriots' fugue like a mad preacher on iconic songs like "Sex Beat" and "She's Like Heroin to Me." Decades later, an acolyte by the name of Jack White would ask, "Why are these songs not taught in schools?"
Charismatic, racoon-eyed frontsiren Siousxie Sioux and her banshees already had a Top 10 U.K. single in "Hong Kong Garden" when they dropped this debut album a few months later. Angular, claustrophobic and goth before there was such a thing, The Scream is not only a seminal moment in punk rock, but arguably also marked the kick-off point for British post-punk, paving the way for everyone from Joy Division to Savages.
Formed by brothers Shawn, Mark and Adam Stern, Youth Brigade helped spearhead the Eighties DIY revolution, providing a hub for West Coast hardcore with their Better Youth Organization. This mandatory collection houses the best of the brothers Stern's emotive, Oi!-inflected invectives against social injustice.
The Feeding of the 5000 was not just the debut LP of the seminal U.K. outfit Crass — it was a rallying cry. Crass created more than a musical style (peace punk), they also launched a resistance movement and defined an entire way of living with their watershed first LP, focused around anarchism but incorporating animal rights, feminism, environmentalism and more. Consider tracks like "Punk Is Dead" and "Do They Owe Us a Living" serve as essential gateways into the Crass universe.
The clown princes of British punk, the Damned stopped fighting and puking long enough in 1979 to capture this brilliant collision of power pop, glam rock, gothic psychedelia, and rampaging punk on tape. "Love Song," "Smash it Up" and the brash title track remain required learning for any budding punk guitarist.
(Corpus Christi, 1983)
These U.K. gloom-'n'-doomers morphed Eighties anarcho-punk into seething death rock via the nightmarish poetry of certifiably schizoid frontman Nick Blinko, who also provides the band's fretwork and lunatic album art. Crust punks, art rockers and enlightened goths, bow down.
Bands like X helped widen the palette of what could be called punk in the early days, and X Ray Spex widened that palette even more. Fronted by the great Poly Styrene, the band's excellent Germfree Adolescents LP is a rigorous exercise in what many would call post-punk or new wave today, incorporating keyboards and saxophone in addition to melodic vocals to create a wholly new approach to the genre. If punk is supposed to push boundaries and be truly adventurous, then Germfree Adolescents is punk as fuck.
Long before gangsta rap, Suicidal Tendencies had suspected gang affiliations. Of course, that just made their vicious debut seem more badass. Containing such instant classics as "I Saw Your Mommy" and "Institutionalized," Suicidal Tendencies brought street credibility to L.A. punk and paved the way for speed metal.
(Captain Oi, 1979)
The Dickies' first LP was a combination of new tracks and singles, of which there were many for record collector nerds. Amphetamine-fueled L.A. power pop with a twisted sense of humor.
Latecomers to New York's CBGB scene, the Dead Boys wasted no time establishing themselves as the ugliest, sleaziest and most socially unacceptable band around. Featuring ferociously raunchy tracks like "Sonic Reducer," "I Need Lunch" and the immortal "Caught with the Meat in Your Mouth," their debut more than lives up to its title.
The term "pop punk" is often co-opted and repackaged as power pop or some variation therein, yet the core concept is simple — melodic songs packaged with a punk slant. Dixie is one of the pinnacles of the subgenre, mixing clean vocals with ripping guitars to create the total package. Richmond's Avail sailed into the picture with this modern classic and never left the consciousness of punk fans from then on. Here's to a reunion we actually want and will probably never get.
Poppy, but not too poppy, Maniacal Laughter delivers mosh-friendly singalongs that don't sacrifice the Souls' ample street cred. Oi!-friendly tunes mix and break-your-neck rhythms, putting the band — and, amazingly, its home state of New Jersey — on the punk rock map.
(Total Treble, 2014)
Against Me! have always been a band defined by identity clashes — in particular, diehards love to lament how the group's origins as a anarcho-punk outfit were left far behind following their signing with Island and ensuing pivot to more Warped Tour–friendly fodder. On the band's sixth album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, frontwoman Laura Jane Grace confronted — and transcended — such shallow, binary perceptions by way of personal narrative, developing her experiences as a transgender woman into one of queer punk's watershed moments.
Hands down the catchiest record to come from the youth crew pre-1990 HYHC scene. Walter Schreifels (later to form Quicksand and Rival Schools) covers all the important topics of the time, like vegetarianism, friendship, racism and, of course, the scene.
With its 11 tracks clocking in at just under 15 minutes, Victim in Pain is a furious exercise in politicized rage that perfectly reflected the seething violence of the NYHC scene that spawned it. When vocalist Roger Miret closes the album's title track by blurting "Why am I the one to fucking blame?" one is tempted to answer, "Because it all started right here, Holmes."
With its discordant male-female harmonies and turbo-charged Chuck Berry riffs (courtesy of madman guitarist Billy Zoom), X's 1980 debut sounded like nothing else in punk rock at the time. Exene Cervenka and John Doe's poetic lyrics dripped with sex, blood and urban anxiety, painting a darker picture of contemporary L.A. than Jim Morrison could have ever envisioned.
Minutemen's rhythmically adventurous sound is widely imitated but never equaled. With this album, the band introduced hardcore to a world of possibilities, where socially conscious ideas steep in a boiling melting pot of punk, jazz, blues and folk.
It is no understatement to say that the Faith/Void split inadvertently mapped out two major paths for future hardcore to follow. On the Faith side sits well-written, tightly structured punk with subtle hooks and heart-rending lyrics, foreshadowing melodic hardcore. Void's side, meanwhile, laid the groundwork for crossover thrash, reaffirming in the process that punk rock doesn't need to be played perfectly to be perfect.
Ian MacKaye produced this assault of raw punk anthems, triumphing equality, and youth power for Minor Threat's West Coast straight-edge counterparts. The quartet's cover of Nena's "99 Red Balloons" is one of a handful of schlock interpretations to emerge as a punk classic.
If L.A.'s late-Seventies punk scene had one true superstar, it was unquestionably Darby Crash. The Germs' leader fatally overdosed in 1980, but his bratty brilliance on this 1979 album, a volcanic pre-hardcore assault featuring such disturbed missives as "Lexicon Devil" and "Richie Dagger's Crime."
A double-length concept album about a teenage runaway, Zen Arcade smashed the stylistic boundaries of hardcore — utilizing everything from gentle pop melodies to psychedelic tape loops — and vaulted Hüsker Dü to the forefront of the American underground scene. Still, cuts like "Turn on the News," "Broken Home, Broken Heart" and "Masochism World" were classic punk all the way.
The Day the Country Died is a landmark for anarcho-punk, and one of the key records of its era. Leaning heavily on the strong vocals and biting lyrics of Dick Lucas, the album is not only a batch of ripping tracks, but also a scathing dystopian indictment of modern society, with pointed nods to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Political punk at its best.
Fear were a jalopy of a band that mowed down every sacred cow with wild, drunken abandon. Their penchant for being equal-opportunity offenders is epitomized on The Record, whose song "Let's Have a War" is as relevant as ever.
Before striking gold with Rancid, Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman created 51 minutes of the most rousing, socially-conscious ska-punk ever recorded as half of Operation Ivy. This anthology captures the Berkeley, California, legends in all their fleeting glory.
(Kill Rock Stars, 1993)
After laying the cornerstones of riot grrrl on 1991's cult demo Revolution Girl Style Now! and 1992's self-titled EP, Bikini Kill shoved the scene to the cultural forefront with Pussy Whipped, their debut album. Its emblematic feminist anthem, "Rebel Girl" had a "Smells Like Teen Spirit"–sized impact on those who heard it, immortalizing a heretofore unfocused musical movement with searing guitars, syncopated beats and, most importantly, solidarity.
Buzzcocks were a singles band, hence Singles Going Steady, their definitive release. Sixteen of the band's finest hormonally charged A- and B-sides are corralled here in all their quirky glory. from the punk classic "Orgasm Addict" to the 'Cocks' single Top 40 hit, "What Do I Get?" to the frenetic "Ever Fallen in Love?"
In 1980, Black Flag's original singer, Keith Morris, left to form his own band, Circle Jerks. Named for a nasty frat house initiation rite, the band ejaculated this rip-roaring, beer-breathed debut full of hilarious classics like "Wasted" and "World up My Ass."
Hare Krishna junkies playing hardcore? It sounds like a joke, but Cro-Mags were always serious as a heart attack. Their 1986 debut combined the belligerent thrash of NYC hardcore with the metallic heaviness of Motörhead and Black Sabbath; impossibly brutal tracks like "Show You No Mercy" and "Street Justice" make the record an old-school classic.
There's no disrupting that Descendents were the originators of bratty, nasally voiced emo punk. Fueled by angst, caffeine and sophomoric humor, Milo Goes to College is endearing and undeniably catchy — a blueprint for acts like Blink-182 and NOFX.
One of extreme music's most influential bands, Discharge took the outraged politics of punk and injected them with a hair-lengthening jolt of metal. One of the late, great Metallica bassist Cliff Burton's favorite albums, Discharge's debut was a revolutionary call to arms for everyone from Rancid to Sepultura.
Fishnets and eyeliner are nothing new to the punk rock scene, but AFI present an image that's more Addams Family than Epitaph. Nonetheless, The Art of Drowning's indulgent mix of the Misfits, 7 Seconds and Bauhaus remains as powerful as it does dark.
SOIA's brand of hardcore is as synonymous with New York as the Yankees, but what made their proper debut, Blood, Sweat and No Tears, so memorable was its thrashy crossover sound and the unrelenting raw edge of songs like "My Life" and "Disillusion."
Punk is working-class music, and there is no record that better exemplifies that blue-collar spirit of the music than Cock Sparrer's Shock Troops. Bursting with classic tracks wall to wall, it's the pinnacle of the Oi!/skinhead movement before racial separatists gave the scene a bad name. Indeed, if there were any justice in this world, these songs — a mix of punk, pub rock and glam — would be played alongside the Clash on classic-rock radio.
Before they were modern rock darlings, Bad Religion were one of L.A.'s premier hardcore bands, and this album offers ample evidence why. Greg Graffin brings his master degree from UCLA to bear on songs that tackle politics, philosophy, ecology and other egghead topics. Fortunately, the band had as much balls as Graffin had brains, and it makes sure the full-throttle assault never lets up.
Dag Nasty's Can I Say remains one of the most enduring albums born from punk rock's Revolution Summer. Sonically, it represented a less aggressive style of "melodic hardcore" that would prove hugely influential to the post-hardcore movement, but even more important were its truly introspective lyrics, which don't try to offer solutions for problems, instead allowing words to hang in space, and let feeling and energy take over. As a result, Can I Say resonates with genuine emotion to this day.
Like many of the bands on this list, the Cramps not only wrote great songs, but they also created an entire subgenre. In the case of the Cramps, that subgenre was psychobilly, a swampy, spooky middle ground between rockabilly and punk that is clearly on display on Bad Music for Bad People. Featuring classics like black-on-black smash hits "Human Fly," "I Can't Hardly Stand It" and "New Kind of Kick," the compilation LP is a perfect cross-section of what the goth- and kitsch-obsessed NYC weirdos were up to, and what made them so groundbreaking and essential.
Punk went Platinum with Dookie, and suddenly boredom and alienation weren't just the province of high school's freaks and geeks anymore; now every mall rat in America had a stake in adolescent angst. But Dookie is still a potent brew of insight, irreverence and ferocious rock & roll — everything punk's supposed to be.
(Epitaph/Fat Wreck Chords, 1992)
Tales of lesbian fisting sit side by side with those of disenfranchised youth, Minor Threat cover songs and tirades against corporate radio. NOFX perfected the art of musical sarcasm, all without sacrificing musicality, as Fat Mike's snotty vocals cut through some of the most frenetic punk rock of all time.
Flipper's ALBUM is ground zero for discordant noise rock, spawning legions of copycats and creating whole subgenres in its wake. Alt-rock pioneers such as Nirvana and Sonic Youth have cited the band as key to their development, yet the group's approach has also been co-opted by death rockers, noise musicians and more. "Sex Bomb" is the big "hit" from the LP, a saxophone-laced exercise in rock discordance that comes off like a more deviant track by the Stooges. ALBUM is decidedly punk, but much like Godflesh's Streetcleaner, had a lasting affect across almost every genre of heaviness.
The Stooges were the most dangerous band of their time, an unrelenting cyclone of destruction that left a trail of blood, broken bottles and dirty syringes in their path. Considering Iggy's heroic intake of pharmaceuticals, it's a wonder the band could compose itself long enough to make such a savage and succinct work.
Combining their love of B-movies, Fifties greaser rock and horror imagery, the New Jersey-bred Misfits forged a legacy based on catchy songs and a ghoulish stage show that has never been surpassed — plus they introduced the world to the force of nature known as Glenn Danzig. Walk Among Us captured these fiends in all their gory glory.
Rancid's Clash fetish came to full flower on ...And Out Came the Wolves, particularly on "Ruby Soho" and "Roots Radicals." But the influence wasn't just stylistic: they soaked up blues, reggae and other world styles with the same ravenousness as their idols and brought a breadth to Easy Bay punk that's still unequalled.
(Alternative Tentacles, 1980)
America's answer to the Sex Pistols — singer Jello Biafra sounded like Johnny Rotten on helium — Dead Kennedys assaulted religion, capitalism and the government with a double dose of rage and humor. "Kill the Poor," "Holiday in Cambodia" and "Let's Lynch the Landlord" are just some of the rapid-fire highlights of their influential 1980 debut.
Upon its release, Damaged was perceived as a public threat, and it's easy to see why: The lyrics are unremittingly bleak, Henry Rollins rails like a caged animal and the cacophony of choked riffs and hyperspeed drumming makes prior three-chord punk bands sound like Julliard grads. California hardcore is born.
Minor Threat only released one album during their brief lifespan, but that's all it took. The album's harmonious marriage of fiery punk and pointed emotion laid a blueprint followed by virtually every hardcore band to follow, while the group's much-espoused clean living inspired a whole straight-edge subculture. Today, it's a touchstone of American punk.
Hardcore's unlikeliest heroes, these African American former jazz musicians not only waxed some of the most searing punk rock ever heard ("Pay to Cum," "Sailin' On," "Banned in D.C."), they were also the first American punk band to successfully throw dub and reggae into the mix ("Leaving Babylon," "I Luv I Jah"). Originally released on cassette, their 1982 debut is still absolutely vital.
In 1977, American record execs were still too busy snorting lines off the Hotel California gatefold to notice a cultural shift was imminent. Epic initially deemed The Clash's lo-fi production and Anglo-centric politics unfit for American consumption and refused to release it stateside. Of course, they were right. Record buyers scarfing up disco and Debbie Boone records would have been stymied by tracks like "White Riot," "London's Burning" and other snapshots of pre-Thatcher England. The album's essential vitality struck a chord with some, however, and it became the biggest-selling import ever, eventually seeing U.S. release in an altered version. And it's still the quintessential punk album.
Its best riffs may have been stolen from classic rockers like the Who, the Kinks and the Small Faces, but 1977's Never Mind the Bullocks... still stands as the defining artifact of British punk. Johnny Rotten howls like a demonic leprechaun over Steve Jones' tidal wave of distorted guitars, viciously hocking diseased wads of phlegm into the eyes of the royal family and other worthy targets. Without the cathartic sound and fury of "God Save the Queen," "Holidays in the Sun," "Pretty Vacant," and especially "Anarchy in the U.K.," punk as we know it today would be virtually unimaginable.
In an attempt to recreate rock & roll's pre-Sgt. Pepper innocence, the Ramones pillaged the sounds of their childhood (surf music, girl groups and British Invasion pop) and distilled rock down to its three-chord essence while celebrating their own twisted culture in tracks about huffing, horror movies and hustling. In a perfect world, the album would have cut a swath through the treacle of the American Top 40, but instead it merely sparked an underground revolution, shaping the sound of punk and the attitude of all alternative music to come.