The 40 Greatest Punk Albums of All Time
The riot-starters and two-wonders that blew rock wide open
When the RaÂmones 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 outÂcasts from the American adolescent mainstream made such original single-minded fury ”“ remains hard to define. Storklike singÂer Joey was a pop kid chanting “Hey ho, let’s go!” at the start of “BlitzÂkrieg 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 lyriÂcist Dee Dee wrote about what he knew (drugs, despair, hustling) with telegramatic wit. And drummer Tommy, a forÂmer recording engineer on Jimi Hendrix sesÂsions, co-produced Ramones, guarding its brevity and purity. “We thought we could be the biggest band in the world,” Johnny Â recalled. In a way, they would be. This is where it began.
2.The Clash ,’The Clash,’ 1977
On April 3rd, 1976, a London pub-rock combo, the 101ers, played a show with gnarly urchins the Sex Pistols. The fuÂture was “right in front of me,” recalled 101ers singer-guitarist Joe Strummer. A year later, Strummer was the batÂtle-scarred voice of the Clash and in the U.K. Top 20 with his new band’s self-titled flameÂthrower debut, a brittle-fuzz volley of politicized rage and street-choir vocal hooks that transÂformed British punk from a brawling adoÂlescent turmoil to a dyÂnamic social weapÂon in songs like “White Riot,” “London’s BurnÂing” and “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.” StrumÂmer and his co-writÂer, guitarist Mick Jones, were not born debatÂers; manager-svengali Bernie Rhodes pressed them to go topical. But the effect ”“ propelled by bassist Paul Simonon and original drummer Terry Chimes ”“ was pivÂotal. CBS in America did not issue the album until 1979, adding later singles. The original reÂmains the sound of a riot being born.
3.The Sex Pistols, ”˜Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols,’ 1977
“If the sessions had gone the way I wanted, it would have been unlisÂtenable for most people,” Sex Pistols singer JohnÂny Rotten said. For milÂlions, it was. But when the Sex Pistols’ only ofÂficial album made a frontal assault on the U.K. pop charts, RotÂten’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 StoogÂes were the perfect emÂbodiment of what music should be,” said Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore. On the Detroit band’s second album (proÂduced by Kingsmen keyÂboardist Don Gallucci), that meant primal gaÂrage chaos nearly a decade ahead of its time. Guitarist Ron AsheÂton hammered as few chords as possible (“T.V. Eye” is just one), while Iggy Pop channeled bad-trip psychedelia and meÂtallic R&B into horÂmonal meltdowns that inspired generations of pent-up noise fiends.
5.Gang of Four, ”˜Entertainment!’ 1979
Fusing James Brown and early hip-hop with the bullet-point minimalism of the Ramones, Gang of Four were a genuine revÂolutionary force in their pursuit of working-class justice. The Leeds fourÂsome bound their MarxÂist critique in tightly wound knots of enraged funk and avenging-disÂco syncopation, slashed by guitarist Andy Gill’s blues-free swordplay.
6.Wire, ”˜Pink Flag,’ 1977
No album summed up the infinite possiÂbility 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 hardÂcore 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 perÂfect album,” said Henry Rollins of Black Flag.
7.Minutemen, ”˜Double Nickels on the Dime,’ 1984
Three blue-colÂlar 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 analÂysis like the “The Roar of the Masses Could Be Farts.” All over this sprawling, 45-song douÂble-album classic, guiÂtarist D. Boon and bassÂist Mike Watt spiel back and forth about a lifeÂtime of friendship rootÂed in shared punk valÂues ”“ 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 ClearÂwater Revival, Steely Dan and Van Halen covÂers. 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 naÂtional 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
“We! Are tired! Of your abuse! Try to stop us! It’s! No uuuuuuse!” Black Flag walked it like they talked it, perfectÂing the L.A. hardcore form, with Greg Ginn’s demented guitar and Henry Rollins’ muscle-bound toxic rage. DamÂaged 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 menÂtion 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. hardÂcore scene ”“ married couple John Doe and Exene Cervenka sang about L.A. as a surreÂal nightmare full of psyÂcho speed freaks and burned-out Hollywood directors, over Billy Zoom’s junk-shop rockÂabilly guitar. Their proÂducer was the Doors’ Ray Manzarek; they paid respects with a verÂsion of “Soul Kitchen” that would have scared Jim Morrison right out of town.
10.Nirvana, ”˜Nevermind,’ 1991
“Punk rock should mean freeÂdom,” 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 mainÂstream, turning junior-high dances into mosh pits with music that emÂbodied Cobain’s dream of punk rock that the metal kids he grew up around in rural WashÂington could love.
11.Buzzcocks, ”˜Singles Going Steady,’ 1979
These MancuÂnians broke through pop-punk barÂriers with insanely catchy gems about horÂmonally charged angst, from “Orgasm Addict” to the remarkably maÂture breakup song “Oh Shit!” (“Admit admit you’re shit you’re shit”). Not-remotely-secret weapon John Maher, the ultimate punk drumÂmer, crashes through “Ever Fallen in Love?” Â Like he’s leading a huÂman-sexuality seminar gone horribly wrong.
12.Patti Smith, ”˜Horses,’ 1975
Before punk even exÂisted, it alÂready had its queen ”“ a Lower East Side poet fusing Sixties garage rock and Rimbaud to create her own ecstatÂic vision. Working closeÂly with guitarist Lenny Kaye, pianist RichÂard Sohl and drumÂmer Jay Dee Daugherty (as well as CBGB buddy Tom Verlaine, who co-wrote the Jim MorriÂson 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-shatterÂing and beautiful as the music inside.
13.Husker Du, ”˜Zen Arcade,’1984
The MinneÂsota power trio broke all the rules of three-chord hard-core with this double-vinyl conÂcept opus ”“ the story of a young guy escaping a broken home and makÂing his way in the city. Bob Mould and Grant Hart traded off spit-and-growl vocals in savÂagely emotional hardÂcore blasts, but the music expanded into psychedelia, acoustic-folk rage and the closing 14-minute feedback inÂstrumental, “ReoccurÂring 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 layÂing down a dare to themÂselves and the NineÂties indie-rock scene. The band’s next album, Dig Me Out, made good on that promise. AddÂing powerhouse drumÂmer Janet Weiss, the Olympia, Washington, trio’s feminist punk hit hard ”“ from the elated rush of “Words and GuiÂtar” to the raw romanÂtic torment of “One More Hour.”
15.New York Dolls, ”˜New York Dolls,’ 1973
“What the Dolls did to be influenÂtial on punk was show that anybody could do it,” singer David JohanÂsen said. Aggressive, sloppy, androgynous and loud, they blazed through the gutter glam of “Trash” and “PersonÂality Crisis” like a deÂmented Rolling Stones. The Dolls’ Todd RundÂgren produced debut exÂudes sleazy swagger, one reason punk impresario Malcolm McLaren manÂaged them before assemÂbling the Sex Pistols.
16.Descendents,’ Milo Goes to College,’ 1982
L.A.’s DeÂscendents thought their debut would be their only record beÂcause singer Milo AukeÂrman was, in fact, headÂing off to school. He earned his degree in biÂology, but the DescenÂdents still managed to become a pop-punk inÂstitution, turning stuntÂed 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 woodshedÂding 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, connectÂing Sixties psychedelia with a more aggressive brand of derangement. The result was punk rock’s first ”“ and greatÂest ”“ guitar landmark, making New York’s mean streets seem like a mystic playground.
18.Green Day, ’Dookie,’ 1994
Green Day’s major-label debut exploded across teenage America in the wake of Kurt CoÂbain’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-guiÂtarist Billie Joe ArmÂstrong called it his “jourÂnal about what it’s like to live as a street kid” ”“ desperate for connecÂtion and frustrated to an atomic degree.
19.Bad Brains, ”˜Bad Brains,’ 1982
The AfriÂcan-AmerÂican RasÂtas in Bad Brains had roots in jazz and regÂgae, 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 multiraÂcial LonÂdon 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 peoÂple stare!” X-Ray Spex’s explosive debut wentÂ criminally unreleased in the U.S., but it beÂcame a word-of-mouth cult classic, influencÂing Sleater-Kinney, the Beastie Boys and many others.
21.Richard Hell And The Voidoids, ’Blank Generation,’ 1977
Television co-foundÂer Richard Hell pretty much inventÂed 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 faÂnatic whose appropriÂately 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 ulÂtimate anthem of liberÂation ripped from the void.
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 sinÂgles collection is “Rebel Girl,” featuring riot foreÂmother Joan Jett on guiÂtar and vocals; when singer Kathleen HanÂnah 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 “inÂdustrial folk” that soundÂed post-punk in 1975. This archival set peaks with the chillingly anÂthemic heartland noir of “Final Solution,” where singer David Thomas yowls over Peter LaughÂner’s rust-belting guitar. The hard-living LaughÂner 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
DubÂbing himÂself “the Cappuccino kid,” the Jam’s Paul Weller chanÂneled punk fervor into a Mod revival, inspired by the Kinks and the Who. Their third album is a snapshot of LonÂdon life, from “ ”˜A’ Bomb in Wardour Street” to “Down in the Tube StaÂtion at Midnight,” a salvo against right-wing punkÂers.
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 pioÂneered an arty approach to punk with its 1980 debut indie single, “AcadÂemy Fight Song.” Vs. is a complex headphone record, yet it’s also a festerÂing racket ”“ with the anÂti-Reagan screed “That’s How I Escaped My CerÂtain Fate,” and the throbÂbing tremolo trance of “Trem Two.”
26.Flipper, ”˜Generic,’ 1982
Named after a dead dolÂphin their singer found at the beach one day while tripping on acid, San Francisco’s Flipper had two bassists and played long, crushÂingly 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 deÂfined 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 toÂgether 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 valÂues to everyday life.
28.The Germs, ”˜(GI),’ 1979
The Germs only reÂleased one album before waste-case singer Darby Crash killed himself in DecemÂber 1980. But the Joan Jett-produced (GI) set a standard for spoiled L.A. nihilism, masking surÂprisingly nuanced lyrÂics in a hilariously slopÂpy blur.
29.The Replacements, ”˜Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash,’ 1981
Definitive proof that MidwestÂern drunkards could be as fast, loud and sloppy as any New York junkÂie, with resident poet Paul Westerberg croakÂing about booze and deÂspair 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 themÂselves on a course to beÂcoming the most imporÂtant noise band of the past three decades. Amp-torture clinics like “StarÂpower” and “ExpressÂway 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
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.”