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The 40 Greatest Punk Albums of All Time

The riot-starters and two-wonders that blew rock wide open

Rolling Stone Jul 22, 2016
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1.Ramones, ”˜Ramones,’1976


When the Ra­mones recorded their debut album for $6,400 in February 1976, the agenda was simple: “Eliminate the unnecessary and focus on the substance,” as Tommy put it in 1999. But the brilliance of punk’s most influential and enduring record ”“ how four disparate out­casts from the American adolescent mainstream made such original single-minded fury ”“ remains hard to define. Storklike sing­er Joey was a pop kid chanting “Hey ho, let’s go!” at the start of “Blitz­krieg Bop.” Guitarist Johnny pared Dick Dale and Bo Diddley down to the airtight, bluesless staccato of “Beat on the Brat” and “Loudmouth.” Bassist and primary lyri­cist Dee Dee wrote about what he knew (drugs, despair, hustling) with telegramatic wit. And drummer Tommy, a for­mer recording engineer on Jimi Hendrix ses­sions, co-produced Ramones, guarding its brevity and purity. “We thought we could be the biggest band in the world,” Johnny   recalled. In a way, they would be. This is where it began.


2.The Clash ,’The Clash,’ 1977

2.The Clash

On April 3rd, 1976, a London pub-rock combo, the 101ers, played a show with gnarly urchins the Sex Pistols. The fu­ture was “right in front of me,” recalled 101ers singer-guitarist Joe Strummer. A year later, Strummer was the bat­tle-scarred voice of the Clash and in the U.K. Top 20 with his new band’s self-titled flame­thrower debut, a brittle-fuzz volley of politicized rage and street-choir vocal hooks that trans­formed British punk from a brawling ado­lescent turmoil to a dy­namic social weap­on in songs like “White Riot,” “London’s Burn­ing” and “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.” Strum­mer and his co-writ­er, guitarist Mick Jones, were not born debat­ers; manager-svengali Bernie Rhodes pressed them to go topical. But the effect ”“ propelled by bassist Paul Simonon and original drummer Terry Chimes ”“ was piv­otal. CBS in America did not issue the album until 1979, adding later singles. The original re­mains the sound of a riot being born.


3.The Sex Pistols, ”˜Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols,’ 1977

3.Sex Pistols

“If the sessions had gone the way I wanted, it would have been unlis­tenable for most people,” Sex Pistols singer John­ny Rotten said. For mil­lions, it was. But when the Sex Pistols’ only of­ficial album made a frontal assault on the U.K. pop charts, Rot­ten’s snarled lyrics about abortion and anarchy terrorized a nation. The result remains punk rock’s Sermon on the Mount, and its echoes are everywhere.


4.The Stooges, ”˜Funhouse,’ 1970


“The Stoog­es were the perfect em­bodiment of what music should be,” said Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore. On the Detroit band’s second album (pro­duced by Kingsmen key­boardist Don Gallucci), that meant primal ga­rage chaos nearly a decade ahead of its time. Guitarist Ron Ashe­ton hammered as few chords as possible (“T.V. Eye” is just one), while Iggy Pop channeled bad-trip psychedelia and me­tallic R&B into hor­monal meltdowns that inspired generations of pent-up noise fiends.


5.Gang of Four, ”˜Entertainment!’ 1979

5.Gang of Four

Fusing James Brown and early hip-hop with the bullet-point minimalism of the Ramones, Gang of Four were a genuine rev­olutionary force in their pursuit of working-class justice. The Leeds four­some bound their Marx­ist critique in tightly wound knots of enraged funk and avenging-dis­co syncopation, slashed by guitarist Andy Gill’s blues-free swordplay.


6.Wire, ”˜Pink Flag,’ 1977


No album summed up the infinite possi­bility in punk’s radical simplicity better than this 35-minute, 21-song debut. R.E.M., Spoon and Minor Threat are just a few of the bands that have covered songs from Pink Flag, which ranges from the hard­core Rubik’s Cube “1 2 X U” to the 28- second tabloid nightmare “Field Day for the Sundays” to “Fragile,” punk’s first pretty love song. “A per­fect album,” said Henry Rollins of Black Flag.


7.Minutemen, ”˜Double Nickels on the Dime,’ 1984



Three blue-col­lar corn dogs from the port town of San Pedro, California, with zero pretensions and a gift for gab, and a hilarious taste for no-bullshit political anal­ysis like the “The Roar of the Masses Could Be Farts.” All over this sprawling, 45-song dou­ble-album classic, gui­tarist D. Boon and bass­ist Mike Watt spiel back and forth about a life­time of friendship root­ed in shared punk val­ues ”“ as Boon says in “History Lesson, Pt. 2,” “Our band could be your life.” They also stretch out into jazz noodling and folkie picking, along with Creedence Clear­water Revival, Steely Dan and Van Halen cov­ers. The combustible eclecticism would have an impact on bands from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Pavement. But just when they were starting to get some na­tional attention, Boon was tragically killed in a 1985 car accident, just after the band’s final album, 3-Way Tie (For Last), was released.


8.Black Flag, ”˜Damaged,’ 1981

8.Black Flag

“We! Are tired! Of your abuse! Try to stop us! It’s! No uuuuuuse!” Black Flag walked it like they talked it, perfect­ing the L.A. hardcore form, with Greg Ginn’s demented guitar and Henry Rollins’ muscle-bound toxic rage. Dam­aged got them mixed up with a major label, which refused to release it and denounced it as “an anti-parent record.” Which it is ”“ not to men­tion anti-cop, anti-TV, anti-beer and, what else you got?


9.X, ”˜Los Angeles’, 1980


X were way too arty to fit in with the L.A. hard­core scene ”“ married couple John Doe and Exene Cervenka sang about L.A. as a surre­al nightmare full of psy­cho speed freaks and burned-out Hollywood directors, over Billy Zoom’s junk-shop rock­abilly guitar. Their pro­ducer was the Doors’ Ray Manzarek; they paid respects with a ver­sion of “Soul Kitchen” that would have scared Jim Morrison right out of town.

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10.Nirvana, ”˜Nevermind,’ 1991


“Punk rock should mean free­dom,” Kurt Cobain said in an interview just as he was becoming alt-rock’s self-canceling messiah. Though he was embarrassed by its slick sound, Nevermind went off like a grenade in the American main­stream, turning junior-high dances into mosh pits with music that em­bodied Cobain’s dream of punk rock that the metal kids he grew up around in rural Wash­ington could love.


11.Buzzcocks, ”˜Singles Going Steady,’ 1979


These Mancu­nians broke through pop-punk bar­riers with insanely catchy gems about hor­monally charged angst, from “Orgasm Addict” to the remarkably ma­ture breakup song “Oh Shit!” (“Admit admit you’re shit you’re shit”). Not-remotely-secret weapon John Maher, the ultimate punk drum­mer, crashes through “Ever Fallen in Love?”  Like he’s leading a hu­man-sexuality seminar gone horribly wrong.


12.Patti Smith, ”˜Horses,’ 1975


Before punk even ex­isted, it al­ready had its queen ”“ a Lower East Side poet fusing Sixties garage rock and Rimbaud to create her own ecstat­ic vision. Working close­ly with guitarist Lenny Kaye, pianist Rich­ard Sohl and drum­mer Jay Dee Daugherty (as well as CBGB buddy Tom Verlaine, who co-wrote the Jim Morri­son tribute “Break It Up”), she made the New York scene’s first major statement. Her record company hated Robert Mapplethorpe’s classic cover photo, an image as boundary-shatter­ing and beautiful as the music inside.


13.Husker Du, ”˜Zen Arcade,’1984


The Minne­sota power trio broke all the rules of three-chord hard-core with this double-vinyl con­cept opus ”“ the story of a young guy escaping a broken home and mak­ing his way in the city. Bob Mould and Grant Hart traded off spit-and-growl vocals in sav­agely emotional hard­core blasts, but the music expanded into psychedelia, acoustic-folk rage and the closing 14-minute feedback in­strumental, “Reoccur­ring Dreams.”


14.Sleater-Kinny, ’Dig Me Out,’ 1997


When Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein proclaimed “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” on 1996’s Call the Doctor, they were lay­ing down a dare to them­selves and the Nine­ties indie-rock scene. The band’s next album, Dig Me Out, made good on that promise. Add­ing powerhouse drum­mer Janet Weiss, the Olympia, Washington, trio’s feminist punk hit hard ”“ from the elated rush of “Words and Gui­tar” to the raw roman­tic torment of “One More Hour.”


15.New York Dolls, ”˜New York Dolls,’ 1973


“What the Dolls did to be influen­tial on punk was show that anybody could do it,” singer David Johan­sen said. Aggressive, sloppy, androgynous and loud, they blazed through the gutter glam of “Trash” and “Person­ality Crisis” like a de­mented Rolling Stones. The Dolls’ Todd Rund­gren produced debut ex­udes sleazy swagger, one reason punk impresario Malcolm McLaren man­aged them before assem­bling the Sex Pistols.


16.Descendents,’ Milo Goes to College,’ 1982


L.A.’s De­scendents thought their debut would be their only record be­cause singer Milo Auke­rman was, in fact, head­ing off to school. He earned his degree in bi­ology, but the Descen­dents still managed to become a pop-punk in­stitution, turning stunt­ed rage toward their miserable middle-class existence on “I’m Not a Punk” and “Suburban Home” to pave the way for Green Day and every Warped Tour band that followed.


17.Television, ”˜Marquee Moon,’ 1977


Television spent years woodshed­ding at CBGB, to arrive at a sound as thrilling in its ambition as Ramones was in its simplicity.Marquee Moon drew on surrealist poetry and free jazz, connect­ing Sixties psychedelia with a more aggressive brand of derangement. The result was punk rock’s first ”“ and great­est ”“ guitar landmark, making New York’s mean streets seem like a mystic playground.


18.Green Day, ’Dookie,’ 1994

18.Green day

Green Day’s major-label debut exploded across teenage America in the wake of Kurt Co­bain’s death like sweet, manic relief. Dookie was an irresistible paradox: 14 songs about despair detonated with Who-ish zeal and radio-tight pop craft. Singer-gui­tarist Billie Joe Arm­strong called it his “jour­nal about what it’s like to live as a street kid” ”“ desperate for connec­tion and frustrated to an atomic degree.


19.Bad Brains, ”˜Bad Brains,’ 1982


The Afri­can-Amer­ican Ras­tas in Bad Brains had roots in jazz and reg­gae, yet they helped found the D.C. hardcore scene with their self-proclaimed “P.M.A.” ”“ positive mental attitude. Named after a Ramones song, they were already local legends by the time they dropped their 1982 cassette-only debut, with its terrifyingly fast thrash-dervish attack “Pay to Cum.”


20.X-Ray Spex, ”˜Germ Free,’ 1978


Teenage multira­cial Lon­don girl Poly Styrene had braces on her teeth and wore Day-Glo rags, screeching anthems like “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” over saxophone blasts, and chanting, “I am a poseur and I don’t care! I like to make peo­ple stare!” X-Ray Spex’s explosive debut went criminally unreleased in the U.S., but it be­came a word-of-mouth cult classic, influenc­ing Sleater-Kinney, the Beastie Boys and many others.


21.Richard Hell And The Voidoids, ’Blank Generation,’ 1977


Television co-found­er Richard Hell pretty much invent­ed what he called the “patchy raggedness” of punk fashion and hair care. When he went solo on Blank Generation, he enlisted Robert Quine, a Velvet Underground fa­natic whose appropri­ately jagged guitar style was ideal for anti-love songs “Betrayal Takes Two” and “Love Comes in Spurts.” And with the title track, Hell gave us what might be punk’s ul­timate anthem of liber­ation ripped from the void.

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22.Bikini Kill, ”˜The Singles,’ 1998


Bikini Kill demanded “Revolution Girl Style Now” on their cassette-only debut in 1991, and delivered just that as leaders of the Nineties riot-grrrl movement. The highlight of this sin­gles collection is “Rebel Girl,” featuring riot fore­mother Joan Jett on gui­tar and vocals; when singer Kathleen Han­nah hollers “in her kiss, I taste the revolution,” thousands of rebel girls were ready to storm patriarchy’s barricades.


23.Pere Ubu,’Terminal Tower,’ 1986


As punk was heating up in New York and London, it was also percolating in Cleveland, where Pere Ubu created an “in­dustrial folk” that sound­ed post-punk in 1975. This archival set peaks with the chillingly an­themic heartland noir of “Final Solution,” where singer David Thomas yowls over Peter Laugh­ner’s rust-belting guitar. The hard-living Laugh­ner drank his way into an early grave by the time he was 24, but the band he co-founded is still at it today.


24.The Jam, ”˜All Mod Cons,’ 1978


Dub­bing him­self “the Cappuccino kid,” the Jam’s Paul Weller chan­neled punk fervor into a Mod revival, inspired by the Kinks and the Who. Their third album is a snapshot of Lon­don life, from “ ”˜A’ Bomb in Wardour Street” to “Down in the Tube Sta­tion at Midnight,” a salvo against right-wing punk­ers.


25.Mission Of Burma, ”˜Vs.’ 1982


I think we’re just a closet prog-rock act that happened during punk,” Mission of Burma’s Clint Conley once said. But the Boston avant-screech band pio­neered an arty approach to punk with its 1980 debut indie single, “Acad­emy Fight Song.” Vs. is a complex headphone record, yet it’s also a fester­ing racket ”“ with the an­ti-Reagan screed “That’s How I Escaped My Cer­tain Fate,” and the throb­bing tremolo trance of “Trem Two.”


26.Flipper, ”˜Generic,’ 1982


Named after a dead dol­phin their singer found at the beach one day while tripping on acid, San Francisco’s Flipper had two bassists and played long, crush­ingly slow improv jams like the eight-minute “Sex Bomb,” which caps off Generic. Their fuck-you freedom inspired Kurt Cobain, who often sported a homemade Flipper T-shirt.


27.Minor Threat, ”˜Complete Discography,’ 1989


Minor Threat de­fined a new hardcore code with their anthem “Straight Edge” ”“ down with drugs, down with booze, up with keeping your wits about you and fighting the power. The D.C. scene leaders didn’t stay to­gether very long, but they remain hugely influential thanks to Ian MacKaye’s true-believer intensity, as he spread the straight-edge gospel of how to bring revolutionary val­ues to everyday life.


28.The Germs, ”˜(GI),’ 1979


The Germs only re­leased one album before waste-case singer Darby Crash killed himself in Decem­ber 1980. But the Joan Jett-produced (GI) set a standard for spoiled L.A. nihilism, masking sur­prisingly nuanced lyr­ics in a hilariously slop­py blur.


29.The Replacements, ”˜Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash,’ 1981


Definitive proof that Midwest­ern drunkards could be as fast, loud and sloppy as any New York junk­ie, with resident poet Paul Westerberg croak­ing about booze and de­spair over the band’s “power trash.” What truly set them apart was the humor that came through in lyrics like “I hate music!/It’s got too many notes!”


30.Sonic Youth, ”˜Evol,’ 1986


With their third album, the New York crew set them­selves on a course to be­coming the most impor­tant noise band of the past three decades. Amp-torture clinics like “Star­power” and “Express­way to Yr Skull” explore what bassist Kim Gordon had called “the darkness shimmering beneath the shiny quilt of American pop culture.”


31.Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ”˜Fever to Tell,’ 2003


Three New York art kids, starring a firecracker named Karen O. She howls like a cheetah in heat ”“ until she bruises your heart in the surprise slow-jam hit “Maps.”


32.The Misfits, ”˜Walk Among Us,’ 1982


Glenn Danzig and his band of New Jersey mutants brought much-needed irony to the hardcore scene with horror-punk anthems like “I Turned Into a Martian.”


33.The Slits, ”˜Cut,’ 1979


The pioneering all-female Slits fused reggae beats and punk guitars on joyously anarchic songs like “Shoplifting,” with its awesome catchphrase, “We pay fuck-all!”


34.Joy Division, ”˜Unknown Pleasures,’ 1979


No punk band ever displayed its alienation as grippingly as Joy Division. Ian Curtis’ foghorn baritone and the music’s ice-floe torpor inspired a goth-punk nation.


35.Fugazi, ”˜13 Songs,’ 1989


Ex-Minor Threat leader Ian MacKaye invents a body-moving post-hardcore sound ”“ and with “Waiting Room,” he wrote American punk’s finest karaoke banger.


36.Crass, ”˜Penis Envy,’ 1981


U.K. collective Crass embodied punk’s anarchist ideals, and the anti-sexist rants on Penis Envy were just as radical.


37.Blink-182, ”˜Enema of State’ 1999


Green Day’s Dookie as one big, undeniably catchy fart joke. This pop-punk smash stayed on the charts for 70 weeks.


38.White Lung, ”˜Deep Fantasy,’ 2014

38.deep lung

Like Black Flag fronted by the bastard daughter of Patti Smith and Stevie Nicks, with each song a nail bomb of desire.


39.Devo, ”˜Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo.’ 1978



The Akron, Ohio, spudboys’ zanily warped New Wave made devolution feel like the future. A mongoloid masterpiece.


40.Dead Kennedys, ”˜Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables,’ 1980


The ultimate hardcore comedy album, with the goofball satire of “California Ãœber Alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia.”

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