Those who say punk is dead tend to be those who wish punk were dead, either still somehow threatened by the culture or -- and this is more likely -- chagrined that punks don't give a shit what they think. Punk is, of course, very much alive in 2013, particularly in regions like Southern California. It also lives on through the below albums, punk's twenty greatest. Hey! Ho! Let's go!
20. Bad Brains
When Washington D.C.'s Bad Brains released their self-titled tape (it didn't come out on vinyl until later) it was the long awaited punk explosion, ignited originally by black rock pioneers like Death and Black Merda and fueled by late jazz fusion. HR and company "learned" punk from the Sex Pistols and other first wave punkers, but jackhammered the shit out of that whole scene with something newer and more furious. Punk does not get any more incensed than in "Pay to Cum."
--Paul T. Bradley
... And Out Came the Wolves (1995)
There's a reason that Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong writes songs for Pink and Gwen Stefani; He's a damn fine songwriter. From the opening blast of "Maxwell Murder" to the lazy oi pop of "The Way I Feel," every last note on ...And Out Came the Wolves is perfect. Along the way Armstrong pines for lost love ("Olympia, WA"), tells urban folk tales ("Junkie Man") and sings anthems to his stomping grounds ("Journey to the End of the East Bay"). This is more than just stiff-necked power chording; Armstrong crafts not just a series of beautifully nuanced rock classics, he makes a compelling documentary tale of the life of a young punk, a spiky-haired Born to Run, if you will. -Nicholas Pell
See also: The 20 Greatest Metal Albums in History
18. Richard Hell & The Voidoids
Blank Generation (1977)
The way he tells it in his recently released autobiography, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, it was Richard Hell, and NOT the Sex Pistols, who begat punk's tattered sartorial aesthetic. True or not, Hell and the Voidoids were still a remarkably progressive band. Born of the CBGB scene during punk's first wave, Blank Generation is a loud, shambling, and cocksure record with giddy vocal hooks and lines like, "I was sayin' let me out of here before I was even born." It set the standard for punk nihilism.
Los Angeles (1980)
Musically, X's Los Angeles is no-wave in its aggressive crawling phase. But emotionally, it's the end of punk's adolescence -- its hormones have plateaued and it has started to realize that there are more proper things to be angry about than one's parents. (Although it's kind of weird that mom and dad kinda dug the Doors, and here's Ray Manzarek in the producer's chair.) The overall tone of the work is of being stuck in the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate asphalt Los Angeles romper room of fucking, snorting, and rocking. When singer Exene Cervenka mewls about her shitty racist friend who can't handle that callow punk discord of our city in the 1970s on the title track, the rest of the album stays in that perfect orbit.
--Paul T. Bradley
See also: Exene's column for OC Weekly
A little grandstanding can't kill a perfect punk record. Whether or not you find lines like "everything is greed" and "never mind what's been selling / it's what you're buying" particularly profound, there's no doubting the passion with which they're delivered on Repeater. Fugazi's greatest aesthetic triumph is artfully weaving its politics into its song structures: amid chaos, there are moments of restraint, respect for the sanctity of the rhythm section. Plus there's simply no match for the call-and-response vocal (and guitar) exchanges between Guy Picciotto and Ian MacKaye.
15. Hüsker Dü
New Day Rising (1985)
Hüsker Dü's greatness is often linked to their landmark double album Zen Arcade, but New Day Rising is tighter and more melodic. It's devastating, heavy punk with a pop skeleton that harvests the taut tension and lyrical lucidity of Grant Hart and Bob Mould, two men who may not have gotten along but propelled each other. Is there a more simple, poignant, brutal relationship critique than "I Apologize"? Minnesota acts of many stripes in the '80s had a unique ability to encapsulate frustration into couplet form, and none did so more powerfully than Hüsker Dü here. -Ben Westhoff
Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing (1982)
British hardcore group Discharge shared much of the same political outrage and nihilism of their contemporaries, but their brand of punk was more metallic and abrasive. The buzzsaw guitars of Tony "Bones" Roberts were as ferocious as anything found on a Motorhead album at the time. Drummer Terry "Tezz" Roberts left the group before this work, but his hugely influential drum sound was emulated to perfection here by replacement Garry Maloney. The sound, known as "D-beat," is still copied to this day by crust punk and crossover thrash bands alike.
13. Green Day
Green Day's 1994 breakout release Dookie introduced pop punk to the masses. The Grammy award winning record was the band's first major label release and, with singles like "Basket Case" and "When I Come Around" propelling them into the tape decks of snotty teens around the country, Green Day legitimately impacted the youth of America, for better or worse. Simply structured, occasionally vulgar and always infuriatingly catchy, Dookie stands today as a landmark release in mainstream punk music.
The Shape of Punk To Come (1998)
A petty critique of The Shape of Punk to Come is that it doesn't sound much like the punk that came after it. But that's perhaps a good thing. In fact, "New Noise" still feels deliriously new -- all building tension and explosive release. The Swedish hardcore outfit's swan song features band members completely in sync sonically, but also near a breaking point. No matter; what better way to fight the self-satisfaction of capitalism than by blowing up the band right after you release your masterpiece?
Kick Out The Jams (1969)
MC5's debut album was recorded live to capture their raw energy, and featured essential tracks like "Kick Out the Jams" and "Motor City is Burning." It could be said that, with the line, "Kick out the jams motherfucker," MC5 ignited a punk rock revolution. The expletive use of "motherfucker," in fact, was so controversial in 1969 that it got this work banned from Detroit department store, Hudson's. In response, the band took out an ad in the paper bashing the place, which caused them to get dropped from their label. Punk!
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!