Top 20 Punk Albums in History: The Complete List

Dead Kennedys
Dead Kennedys

Those who say punk is dead tend to be those who wish punk were dead, either still somehow threatened by the culture or -- this is more likely -- chagrined that punks still 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 in the below albums, punk's twenty greatest. Hey! Ho! Let's go!

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20. Bad Brains

Self-Titled (1982)

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

19. Rancid

... 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: Top 20 Greatest L.A Punk Albums

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. --Emmett Shoemaker


17. X

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

16. Fugazi

Repeater (1990)

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. --Patrick James

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


14. Discharge

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. --Jason Roche

13. Green Day

Dookie (1994)

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. --Zach Bourque

12. Refused

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? --Patrick James


11. MC5

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!

-Juan Gutierrez

10. Descendents

Milo Goes To College (1982)

Southern California has proven exceptionally fertile ground for punk rock music, and one of our finest moments came with the debut of South Bay maniacs The Descendents. Don't let the rapidfire 15 songs in just over 22 minutes fool you, Milo Goes To College's vulnerable (if occasionally snotty) lyrics courtesy of Milo Aukerman and its riffs at times feel like all-out assault. And for those of you wondering, yes, Milo did go to college. He has a PhD in biochemistry. --Daniel Kohn

See also: The Descendents Attempt To Clone Themselves

9. The Misfits

Walk Among Us (1982)

The Misfits' first official full length consists of pummeling hardcore couched in the melodic style of late '50's and early '60s rock 'n roll. That these shout-alongs deal exclusively in B-movie guts and gore is an added bonus. Singer Glenn Danzig, whose voice is the most masculine in all of punk rock, compiled and edited this collection of songs from several different performances and recording sessions, stitching together The Misfits' strongest and spookiest record. --Emmett Shoemaker


8. The Clash

Self-Titled (1977)

The late '70s weren't kind to England. The economy was in the pits and the outlook was bleak. Enter three lads from London, who managed to channel the collective anxiety of the country's disenchanted youth, courtesy of Joe Strummer's madder-than-hell, politically charged lyrics and Mick Jones' machine gun guitar riffs. The Clash was a major turning point for punk. For the first time, the establishment had to recognize the genre as a voice for social change. --Daniel Kohn

See also: Top 20 Greatest L.A. Punk Albums

7. Iggy & The Stooges

Raw Power (1973)

Those who say The Stooges' Raw Power is not really punk should shut it. Never mind that the record was mixed like a high school basement tape by David Bowie, or that it was recorded as catharsis for the band's cresting drug-induced nightmare. This album is so punk that it would still terrify your mom a little bit if she just saw the album sleeve sitting on your coffee table, what with its ghost-like, shirtless Iggy Pop in face makeup. Even the ballads that the studio forced Iggy to put on the record (like "Gimme Danger") exude strains of the dark emotional menace that would follow. --Paul T. Bradley

6. Bad Religion

Suffer (1988)

"I make a difference, too," sings Greg Graffin in the last line of opener "You Are the Government." It's easy to imagine the words shouted by the kid on the cover art, raising his fist in enflamed rejection -- of Christianity, of Southern California, of suburbia. Suffer signaled a shift toward melody for Bad Religion and laid the groundwork for everything that the group (and a generation of lesser skate-punk acolytes) would ever write: oohs-and-ahhs, PSAT vocabulary words, and that forbidden beat. With each listen, you're 15 again, fist clenched and smiling. --Patrick James


5. The Sex Pistols

Never Mind the Bollocks (1977)

Though not Britain's first punk album (The Damned's Damned Damned Damned appeared eight months earlier), Never Mind the Bollocks was the one that gatecrashed the nation's mainstream, debuting at number one despite being banned by major retailers. The Pistols' sole studio full-length is a mid-tempo rock record distinguished by belligerent, vitriolic hooks and Johnny Rotten's tremulous sneer. But on standouts like "Anarchy in the U.K." and "God Save the Queen," Bollocks' true refrains are anti-establishment cynicism and sarcasm widely welcomed in the class-ridden Britain that spawned it. --Paul Rogers

4. Minor Threat

Complete Discography (1989)

Those who weren't into The Sex Pistols, or weren't quite satisfied by groups like the Dead Kennedys, The Ramones or Sham 69, were often able to find what they were looking for in Minor Threat. The 45-minute discography isn't just a blaze of white-hot hate -- though there is plenty of that (see "Filler," "I Don't Wanna Hear It" and "In My Eyes"). It's also four phenomenal young musicians, growing from high school angst ("Guilty of Being White") into more nuanced, and indeed mournful material ("Cashing In" and "Salad Days"). All of this pointed toward the shape of hardcore to come. --Nicholas Pell

3. Dead Kennedys

Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables (1980)

Lyricist/ vocalist Jello Biafra laced his political punk diatribes with a very dark sense of humor on Bay Area group Dead Kennedys' full-length debut. Tracks like "Holiday in Cambodia" and "California Uber Alles" spoke of horrific moments of history and imparted social commentary on the ills of modern society, all backed by a catchy blast of surf rock-infused punk guitars from East Bay Ray. The album enshrined Biafra as one of punk rock's most outspoken political activists, and he's only gotten feistier with age. --Jason Roche


2. Black Flag

Damaged (1981)

Black Flag had been a favorite in the L.A. scene for several years prior to the release of Damaged. But their legacy was cemented by the work, their first full-length release. Henry Rollins had begun as their lead singer, and the combined force of his vocal energy and the discordant noise of guitarist Greg Ginn's riffs made for a powerful explosion of punk rock and hardcore. The subject matter ranged from tortured introspection on songs like "Depression" and "Life of Pain" to charmingly irreverent humor on songs like "TV Party" and "Six Pack." Meanwhile, we dare anyone to listen to opener "Rise Above" and not shout-along with the refrain. It can't be done.

--Jason Roche

See also: Henry Rollins: The Interview! Anger, Drugs and the Black Flag Reunion

1. The Ramones

Self-Titled (1976)

Forget about The Stooges, Patti Smith and The Dicatators: The Ramones' self-titled album is ground zero for punk rock. The opening chords of "Blitzkrieg Bop" are the first salvo of a takeover, even with nothing more than a simple "Louie, Louie" chord progression. "Beat on the Brat" and "Judy Is a Punk" show just how versatile this bare bones approach can be, while "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" acknowledges a debt to late-'60s bubblegum and girl group pop. "Chain Saw," "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue" and "I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement," showcase the band's sense of weirdo humor. A cover of the Chris Montez hit "Let's Dance" betrays the Ramones' revolution as a deeply conservative one, a return to form after years of "progress." --Nicholas Pell

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