The Top 15 Punk Albums!

Punk rock is a subgenre of rock and roll with roots in garage rock, but it's generally faster and more aggressive than garage. Punk was a rebellion against the hippie culture's idealism and appearance. The flower children’s righteous idea of making the world a better place was met with the stark reality of the punks' world in disarray. New York, the birthplace of punk, was almost bankrupt in the early 70's and when the Sex Pistols appeared in England, unemployment was severe with well over a million people out of work. Crime and drugs were rampant in NYC; parks were littered with used syringes. England incurred inflation, oil shortages and strikes. So bell bottoms were out, replaced by tight pants and those beautiful long locks were gone, replaced by hair cut short, and even cut off as skinhead culture emerged.

Punk was also rebelling against the style known as "arena rock" in the mid 70's. Bands like Journey, Queen and Kansas ruled the airwaves and ticket sales. Their songs had anthemic choruses with lyrics that appealed to a wide audience. With corporations behind them, their live shows were extravaganzas, often featuring songs with long solos, or as some British punks called it, "endless wanking."

How could a 15 year old kid practicing with a guitar in a garage relate to this big bucks, perfectly produced, lavishly packaged product? Music had become so progressive, indulgent, and bloated that it had to be torn apart and flushed, and that's exactly what punk did. These troublemaking kids with only disgust for what preceded them were about to rise up and become the nightmare of the industry. Their DIY attitude and anti-establishment lyrics were squarely at odds with governments and the corporate controlled music machine.

Ramones drummer Tommy Ramone said, "In its initial form, a lot of the 1960's stuff was innovative and exciting. Unfortunately, what happens is that people who could not hold a candle to the likes of Hendrix started noodling away. Soon you had endless solos that went nowhere. By 1973, I knew that what was needed was some pure, stripped down, no bullshit rock 'n' roll." And John Holmstrom, founding editor of Punk magazine, recalls feeling "punk rock had to come along because the rock scene had become so tame that acts like Billy Joel and Simon and Garfunkel were being called rock and roll, when to me and other fans, rock and roll meant this wild and rebellious music."

Despite the plethora of pontifications over the years that "punk is dead," in reality, it is now more popular than ever. It has been estimated that Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols has sold almost 6 million copies worldwide. The Clash has sold about 24 million records. Three modern day punk bands have far surpassed these two. The Offspring has sold 40 million records, Blink 182 has sold 50 million and Green Day has sold 85 million. What was spray painted on so many walls for over 40 years is now truer than ever in 2021, "PUNK NOT DEAD.”

THE TOP 15 PUNK ALBUMS

(In chronological order except for Rocket To Russia)

Rocket To Russia...Ramones
(I'm) Stranded...The Saints
The Clash...The Clash
Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols...Sex Pistols
Generation X...Generation X
Inflammable Material...Stiff Little Fingers
The Undertones...The Undertones
The Peel Sessions Album...The Ruts
Greatest Hits Vol. 1...Cockney Rejects
Minor Threat...Minor Threat
Bad Brains...Bad Brains
Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing...Discharge
City Baby Attacked By Rats...G.B.H.
Is This My World?...Jerry's Kids
Mush...Leatherface

Reading some of the posts on YouTube of the top punk albums really got my blood boiling. Some of these lists even included albums that are NOT PUNK. One of the posts by a very famous magazine has Nirvana's Nevermind in the top 10. Sheesh! What are these guys thinking? I was there at the beginning in 1976 in N.Y.C., bought every record that looked interesting, bought the one magazine here in America that focused on the genre, the aptly named Punk and attended many shows. So, I hope I can bring a modicum of wisdom to the subject. My picks are not going to include proto-punk like The Velvet Underground, MC5, The Stooges, New York Dolls or Electric Eels (The latter is probably the closest to punk--just listen to "Agitated," "Cyclotron" and "Dolly Boy," all recorded in April--May 1975) I'm not going to include post punk bands like Gang of Four. And if a band had a punk feeling to their music but also heavy doses of jazz, funk and art rock/rock like The Minutemen and Wire, I'm going to pass them by too. The last three bands I referenced all released top-flight, influential albums but what I'm aiming for here is the honey hole of pure punk music. And IMO all the upcoming albums fit that bill and are the cream of the crop. All my reviews are from first vinyl pressings and other than the last band on my list, these albums are not expensive to own with all in VG+/M- going for under $50 on Discogs and Ebay. So Let's begin!—W.L.

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
malco49's picture

dont' get me wrong i dug sex pistols record and the first two clash records , but not sure they were punk rockers , they both sold out to corporations. D.I.Y. bands like minor threat and bad brains had true punk aesthetics.the undertones record is my favorite punk record. i saw them once , when they opened for the clash. they blew the clash off the stage. five skinny kids from derry blew the "only band that matters" away.

culturcide's picture

I've been hoping for ERC to press Never Mind the Bollocks (it’s never had an audiophile reissue). The most important band of the bunch, with the most far-reaching influence on broader culture: music, art, film, fashion, literature, graphic design, politics, LIFE!

Michael Fremer's picture
The original sounds very good for what it is and the reissue of the last decade I think, also does. Are you serious about ERC reissuing NMTB? Not sure it's a good match!
culturcide's picture

Oh, I am 100% serious (I mean, they've just done White Stripes, which is a very odd fit). Can you imagine that iconic Jamie Reid 3 colour cover letter pressed, or better still silkscreened like the Sam Records Byrd Artisan series? And, like ERC, they are the best of British. God Bless the Sex Pistols.

joe_marsh's picture

They should totally do the Sex pistols. Have (5)ERC releases and would love for attention to the 80's.

Fsonicsmith's picture

So good to see this. So good to see GBH included (instead of "Gabba Gabba Hey" we GBH fans, upon seeing someone else wearing a GBH Tee, would say "Great Big Hands!"). My list would be slightly different but no one appointed me the number one critic of punk. That said, any reference to post punk ought to mention Pavement's "Slanted and Enchanted" and Slint's "Spiderland", again imho.

MalachiLui's picture

great record, but it's more post-rock/math rock/post-hardcore than post-punk. and pavement is lo-fi/slacker rock.

Fsonicsmith's picture

I will grant your comments on "Slanted and Enchanted" but not on "Spiderland". Slint, like Minor Threat, were young suburban self-taught kids who threw out everything that was conventional about rock music and took home-grown garage rock and created something unique and fundamentally rock. If anything it would be "garage/skater" rock. Even the Ramones borrowed heavily from other influences. "Rocket to Russia" has many Beach Boys riffs.

Pretzel Logic's picture

This list encouraged me to dig out the Leather Bristles Studs and Acne EP. What a ferocious debut it was. I even made my own backpatch of the artwork in junior high. ha!

Dubhousing's picture

Yep, I was there in 76 too. A few points. First, most bands you list rejected the label 'punk' - the word is an (American) insult. Try New Wave instead. Second, you've missed some of the stone cold classics from the era. I'm thinking Richard hell and the Void Oid's 'Blank Generation' (they blew the Clash off stage when I saw them), the Pop Group's 'Y', 'Live at the Witch Trials' by The Fall (no-one else embodied the era like Mark E Smith), The Damned's first album. Great to see The Saints in the list though - a magnificent band.

johnnythunder2's picture

Where's THE DAMNED? DAMNED DAMNED DAMNED and MACHINE GUN ETIQUETTE are undisputed punk masterpieces. Where's Johnny Thunder and the Heartbreakers LAMF? Rocket to Russia over the Ramones first LP ? BUZZCOCKS ? SUICIDE ? DEAD BOYS?

Glotz's picture

Pffft. It's one person's list.

Glotz's picture

NT

my new username's picture

As a cynical kid back then I didn't buy into the danger. Black leather jackets and boots? Fonzie had that, and he was a caricature of the 1950s. Travis Bickle in a mohawk however, was a problem precisely because he'd become unhinged.

Just as The Ventures influenced The Ramones, the impact of hardcore is interesting. Most of my friends in the early '80s thought it was comedy. We didn't dislike it; it was the coolest of cool naturally. But that didn't imply we had to listen to much of it to appreciate it on some level.

City babies attacked by rats or stupid vacationers feeding Doritos to the bears? "Honey grab, the Polaroid." (Dead Kennedys' Winnebago Warrior). Many of the others were indeed impressive musicians, but messengers of change ... I'd argue nope. Not when you can't actually hear the words and when/if fast becomes fast just to become fast.

Now in middle age I've come full circle with "modern hardcore" doing a different (and varied) thing with bands like Turnstile.

rich d's picture

But rather than argue, I'll just point out that many of us who were also "there" (wherever that was) would include X - "Los Angeles". It may be my regional bias showing but damn what a great record.

Tom L's picture

The first couple of X albums are certainly 100% "punk", and they have stood the test of time. Of course, they're hampered by the fact that the band members could really play their instruments and by the incredible, unique harmonies of John Doe and Exene. Still a fantastic band.

Jon Iverson's picture
Buzzcocks anyone?
joe_marsh's picture

Singles Going Steady

DigitalIsDead's picture

Not sure how this list could have missed the Rollins led Black Flag, X, Flipper, Suicidal Tendencies, S.O.D. and early Red Hot Chili Peppers...

joe_marsh's picture

Not punk. And I don't even know what RHCP is except for LA poseurs.

DigitalIsDead's picture

Mission of Burma. Gang of Four. Television. Richard Hell and the Voidoids. The Runaways. The Jesus and Mary Chain

Isobarik's picture

This is not a top anything of punk. There might be albums that sound punky but they aren't punk. There's New Wave in there. There's Oi. Punk albums from the 80's? These Johnny come latelys shouldn't be on the list. The Damned? The Banshees? X-Ray Spex? (any females? why not the Slits?) The Buzzcocks? Great as the Ruts are, if they make it then why not Killing Joke or Adam and the Ants?

Isobarik's picture

I almost forgot. Tory Crimes on the Clash album was Terry Chimes. The change of name was because of the poor relationship the band had with that drummer at the time.

joe_marsh's picture

You can't list the John Peel session. That does not qualify as a "real" release. Much better to list The Crack.

joe_marsh's picture

...the most Punk band to have ever existed is.....Crass. Self released everything. Held on to their socialist, collective roots till the end. Told you when they were going to disband and then they did. Done.

kleinbje's picture

Nice to read five knowledgable pages about punk. Especially the good pressings, a rare resource. Appreciated.

Trevor_Bartram's picture

I listened to John Peel's nightly BBC FM radio show during the punk period. I taped whatever I liked and his studio band recordings were often better than the LPs. I believe Peel sifted thru something like 50 singles a day during that period trying to find nuggets, talk about hard work. He played the latest rock, ska and reggae as well. I listened avidly up until 1982, by which time UK music had become generic. RIP John Peel, the savior of British music!

LLCoolBeans's picture

Circle Jerks.

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