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Five Unsung Punk Rock Guitarists

Bad Brains
Bad Brains

You can't please everyone. No sooner had my list of the five best punk rock guitarists gone up than the complaining started. Folks were annoyed that there was a tie for first, yes, but that was only one of the things they found to complain about. Mostly it was about how their no-talent low-life favorite didn't appear.

See also: The Top 5 Punk Rock Guitarists

Remember: These lists are science. They're my (super well-informed, rock solid, but nonetheless subjective) opinion. But I'm willing to accept the idea that, in an alternate universe, other people might have been included. Here are some of them.

The Ramones
The Ramones

5. Johnny Ramone

The Ramones

Why He Belonged on the List: Ramone more or less laid down the template for punk rock guitar on the first four Ramones records.

Why He Wasn't on the List: Listen, I get that technical prowess isn't "punk" or whatever, but that's what my original piece was highlighting: Guys in punk bands who can play their asses off. Incessant downstroking does not a good guitar player make.

X
X

4. Billy Zoom

X

Why He Belongs on the List: Everyone knew that rockabilly was the original punk. Billy Zoom took things one step further, updating his love of the original hillbilly sound for a modern age. His silver leather jacket said it all -- this was roots rebellion for a new generation.

Why He Wasn't on the List: He actually was on my larger list of guitarists that got pared down, as were East Bay Ray and Johnny Ramone. When I sat down to make the final list, Zoom got cut because I just didn't see how his brand of punkabilly guitar made him objectively better than the guys who made the list. That's how these things work, kids. Just like the federal budget, tough choices have to be made.

 

Bad Brains
Bad Brains

3. Dr. Know

Bad Brains

Why He Belonged on the List: In the beginning, there was Bad Brains. If the DC-based fusion jazz band Mind Power had been able to stand still and hadn't acquired a taste for Wire, there would be no hardcore. We'd all still be blitzkrieg bopping along to post-Bowie bubblegum rock on cheap speed. Bad Brains fused the sound of Detroit's proto-punkers Death with Chick Corea's Return to Forever, creating an unholy brew that, along with Black Flag, showed people just what could be done with this new kind of rock.

Why He Wasn't on the List: For some reason, when I think of the great bands of punk rock, I think of Bad Brains pretty quickly. When I think of great punk guitarists, I don't think of Dr. Know. I'm not sure if I'd put him on the list in retrospect, but there's certainly a strong case to be made.

2. Dead Kennedys
2. Dead Kennedys

East Bay Ray

Dead Kennedys

Why He Belonged on the List: Without East Bay Ray, Dead Kennedys would have been just another punk rock band with a loudmouth singer not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. His psychedelic-tinged, surf-inflected rock guitar is the highlight of Dead Kennedys, not Jello Biafra's histrionics.

Why He Wasn't on the List: Because I really, really, really hate Dead Kennedys. In fact, I hate Jello Biafra so much that my hands won't stop shaking.

 

Minutemen
Minutemen

1. D. Boon

Minutemen

Why He Belonged on the List: Boon took the nervy energy of guys like Robert Quine and Dave Byrne and made it accessible to the youthful, inexperienced hardcore punk audience. Minutemen were never a band that reproduced the punk formulas by rote, bringing a degree of experimentation and playfulness to the early American hardcore scene that it was sorely missing, laying the template for the post-hardcore of bands like Jawbox and Quicksand.

Why He Wasn't on the List: With the copious amounts of due respect, I've never really been a Minutemen fan. I get that I'm the idiot here and that everyone else is right and I'm wrong, but it's my list. Also, were they really a punk band by any definition that doesn't rely on time and place? Cue the Greek chorus of punk rock outrage.

See also: The Top 5 Punk Rock Guitarists

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