Punk rock (or simply punk) is a music genre that emerged in the mid-1970s. Rooted in 1960s garage rock, punk bands rejected the perceived excesses of mainstream 1970s rock. … The term “punk rock” was previously used by American rock critics in the early 1970s to describe the mid-1960s garage bands.
The beginnings of punk rock are often furiously debated. This is partially because everyone has a different definition of punk rock, and partially because its foundation stones are found in several places. https://d60265735b56a2cc0a049aa991a7e9e0.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
“Punk Rock” was originally used to describe the garage musicians of the ’60’s. Bands like the Sonics were starting up and playing out with no musical or vocal instruction, and often limited skill. Because they didn’t know the rules of music, they were able to break the rules. https://d60265735b56a2cc0a049aa991a7e9e0.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
The mid to late ’60s saw the appearance of the Stooges and the MC5 in Detroit. They were raw, crude and often political. Their concerts were often violent affairs, and they were opening the eyes of the music world.
The Velvet Underground is the next piece of the puzzle. The Velvet Underground, managed by Andy Warhol, were producing music that often bordered on noise. They were expanding the definitions of music without even realizing it.
The final primary influence is found in the foundations of Glam Rock. Artists like David Bowie and the New York Dolls were dressing outrageously, living extravagantly and producing loud trashy rock and roll. Glam would end up splitting up its influence, doling out portions to hard rock, “hair metal” and punk rock. https://d60265735b56a2cc0a049aa991a7e9e0.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
The first concrete punk rock scene appeared in the mid-’70s in New York. Bands like the Ramones, Wayne County, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, Blondie and the Talking Heads were playing regularly in the Bowery District, most notably at the legendary club CBGB.
The bands were unified by their location, camaraderie, and shared musical influences. They would all go on to develop their own styles and many would shift away from punk rock.
While the New York scene was reaching its heyday, punk was undergoing a separate creation story in London.
England’s punk scene had political and economic roots. The economy in the United Kingdom was in poor shape, and unemployment rates were at an all-time high. England’s youth were angry, rebellious and out of work. They had strong opinions and a lot of free time.
This is where the beginnings of punk fashion as we know it emerged, and they centered out of one shop. The shop was simply called SEX, and it was owned by Malcolm McClaren.
Malcolm McClaren had recently returned to London from the U.S., where he had unsuccessfully tried to reinvent the New York Dolls to sell his clothing. He was determined to do it again, but this time looked to the youths who worked and hung out in his shop to be his next project. This project would become the Sex Pistols, and they would develop a large following very quickly.
Among the fans of the Sex Pistols was an outrageous bunch of young punks known as the Bromley Contingent. Named after the neighborhood they all came from, they were at the first Sex Pistols shows, and quickly realized they could do it themselves.
Within a year, the Bromleys had formed a large portion of the London Punk scene, including The Clash, The Slits, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Generation X (fronted by a young Billy Idol) and X-Ray Spex. The British punk scene was now in full swing.
By the late ’70s, punk had finished its beginning and had emerged as a solid musical force. With its rise in popularity, punk began to split into numerous sub-genres. New musicians embraced the DIY movement and began to create their own individual scenes with specific sounds.
In order to better see the evolution of punk, check out all of the subgenres that punk split off into. It’s a list that’s constantly evolving, and it’s only a matter of time before more categories appear.
Some punk albums are influential; some are innovative. Here, in no uncertain terms, are 20 of the albums that span that gap. If one of your favorite bands didn’t make the list, odds are it’s because everything in it is derived from, learned from or directly ripped off from one of the bands on this list.
These records should be an integral part of the music collection of anyone who wants to be well-versed in punk.
When the Ramones hit the scene in 1974, people didn’t know how to take them, despite the fact that they weren’t really doing anything new. Essentially, the band was taking ‘50s and ‘60s pop music but playing it much louder and faster. They were taking the music that influenced them, and in turn, helped to create and influence the American (and international) punk scene forevermore.
The band rarely devoted more than two minutes, three chords or a handful of lines to a song, and they almost always started with a “1-2-3-4!” This has become a typical punk sound for many similar bands, despite the fact that it really stemmed from the band’s lack of musical ability, rather than any actual stylistic choices.
The third album by “the only band that ever mattered” is not only an essential punk record, but it’s also considered by many to be one of the best albums of all time; London Calling is the Clash’s finest moment.
From the opening title track to “Train in Vain” at the end, every song is a masterpiece, without any filler to be found. This album also saw the early days of the Clash’s experimentation with reggae, before they took it too far in later albums. Songs like “Rudie Can’t Fail” featured forays into Jamaican rhythms that were innovative at the time and still hold up now.
By the time this album hit in late 1977, the Sex Pistols had already shaken up the UK with the release of their first two singles, “Anarchy in the U.K.” and “God Save the Queen.” The full album featured these two songs along with 10 other doses of snotty punk rock from a young, leering Johnny Rotten.
The album featured original (and most-recent) bassist Glen Matlock, even though the infamous Sid Vicious (who couldn’t really play) had by that time replaced him. Despite many re-releases and repackages, this is really their only “true” album, and one that should be a foundation stone for your record collection.
Glenn Danzig’s first band, The Misfits, was a groundbreaking outfit that wasn’t breaking any new ground. Like the Ramones before them, they were taking the things that they loved–-metal, ‘50s rock and roll, and B-grade horror and sci-fi music–and mashing them up into a sound. What emerged was the birth of horror punk. The band painted themselves up like corpses yet looked like greasers, and Glenn Danzig performed with a deep melodic voice that often was compared to Elvis or Jim Morrison.
With tracks like “20 Eyes,” “I Turned into a Martian,” Hatebreeders,” “Mommy Can I Go Out & Kill Tonight?” and “Skulls,” Walk Among Us is the first full-length by the Misfits to be released, as well as their quintessential album.
When the Bad Brains began exploring punk rock in D.C. in the late ‘70s, they already had a jazz-fusion background. Because of this, they were one of the only bands at the time to emerge into the growing punk scene already knowing how to play. This musical ability allowed them to play punk rock at blistering speed, which played an undeniable part in the development of hardcore and the idea that punk doesn’t need to be sloppy.
The band was composed of religious African-American Rastafarians who also were adept at reggae. That part of their sound influenced a range of bands from Fishbone to the Beastie Boys. Later on, the band would stray from hardcore, but their self-titled album is easily one of the greatest hardcore albums in existence.
Bob Mould’s initial outfit, Husker Du, began as a hardcore band, albeit a very talented one. 1984’s Zen Arcade, while still predominantly a hardcore record, began exploring other sounds, including jazz, psychedelia, acoustic folk and pop -– all sounds Mould still explores today.
An ambitious undertaking, Zen Arcade was released as a two-LP recording. It consisted of 23 tracks (including a 13-minute instrumental), yet was recorded in only 40 hours, for $3,200. The band’s label, being overly cautious, didn’t press enough copies initially, and when the album quickly sold out, they were unable to keep up with demand. Due to this, one of the most innovative punk records of all time probably never reached the sales numbers it could have.
A West Coast punk counterpart to the Ramones, Black Flag’s take on punk rock was drastically different. While the Ramones were playing fast punk with friendly vocals, Black Flag was heavier and often slower. They drew from metal influences, and their lyrics were much darker.
While many like to argue whether Keith Morris or Henry Rollins-era Black Flag was better, I have to go with Morris. 1983’s The First Four Years is a compilation of Morris’s work with the band, and through tracks like “Nervous Breakdown,” “Fix Me,” “Six Pack” and the band’s famous cover of “Louie Louie,” you really get a grasp of the anger and influence of Morris-era Black Flag.
Arguably the most influential ska/punk band of all time, Operation Ivy created a sound that bands would imitate and emulate for years afterward (and indeed still do today). While members Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman would go on to find commercial success in their later band, Rancid, they have yet to reach the innovative, influential or sheer energy level their former band held.
1991’s self-titled release is a great way to grab Op Ivy, as it combines Energy, the band’s only full-length release, with their Hectic EP and Turn It Around 7”, thereby creating a comprehensive collection of their music.
Released on the same label (SST) in the same year as Zen Arcade, Double Nickels on The Dime was another ambitious, innovative two-album set. Like Husker Du, the Minutemen took their punk roots and then explored other influences. In this case, there was spoken-word over freeform jazz and funk mixed in with punk. Their rhythms were memorable, yet they shied away from the verse-chorus-verse structure, playing the music they referred to as “jamming econo,” which also came to reflect the DIY nature of their touring.
Only one song out of the 45 tracks on Double Nickels on The Dime clocks at longer than three minutes; most run around two—short, yet complex enough to prove that you can know more than three chords and still play punk rock.
This is one of the records that started it all in the States. The MC5’s debut album, Kick Out The Jams, was recorded live on October 30 and 31, 1968, at Detroit’s long-gone Grande Ballroom, where the band was a fixture.
With such tracks as the title track and a version of John Lee Hooker’s “Motor City is Burning,” the MC5 were breaking free from peaceful protest into violent advocacy. With their attachment to John Sinclair and the White Panther Party, the MC5 knew how to party but had an agenda as well.
The first punk band to come out of Manchester, Buzzcocks formed in early 1975 after witnessing a Sex Pistols performance in London. Their style was fast and frantic while maintaining a pop influence as well. These pop overtones lead them to be a primary influence on today’s pop-punk bands.
Like any band with a long history and a pop sensibility, the best way to grasp the hooks of the Buzzcocks is through their singles compilations. Singles Going Steady, released in 1979, is the first Buzzcocks record anyone should own. It captures much of the Buzzcocks’ classic sound, including such classics as “Orgasm Addict,” “What Do I Get,” and “Ever Fallen In Love?”
Another short-lived outfit, Minor Threat’s influence on punk music is undeniable. Not only did they create an influential hardcore sound, but they also inspired the straightedge movement. A song on their first EP, “Straight Edge,” with its anti-drug and alcohol stance, launched a dedicated following that continues today.
In addition to straightedge and hardcore, the band has had a hard, fast influence on the DIY movement, through the creation of Dischord Records, a vehicle for releasing all of the band’s recordings. 1989’s Complete Discography gathers all the band’s music in one package, creating a clear picture of the band that spawned straightedge.
A band that was playing on the same scene at the same time as the MC5, the Stooges were at first more well-known for their onstage energy and antics (specifically those of frontman Iggy Pop) than for their music.
It wasn’t until their third and last (at the time) album, 1973’s Raw Power, that the band really solidified the raw garage sound that would become a foundation for punk rock, especially in the States.
Produced by David Bowie, Raw Power (as well as the band’s prior two albums) met with little reaction when it came out, and the band broke up shortly after. It would be a few years before the album would really be discovered when American punk bands would begin to emulate it.
By far the most recent release on this list and the only band from the ‘90s, Bikini Kill—their music and their politics—are the impetus behind the Riot Grrl movement and its feminist punk ideals.
Bikini Kill’s music is abrasive, with hooks that are addictive and loose at the same time, and while some elements of their sound may have been derivative of punk bands that came before them, their innovation came from their politics.
Dealing heavily with issues like rape, domestic abuse and female empowerment, Bikini Kill focused on inspiring a girl-powered revolution. Theirs was one of the successful political punk movements, and while they weren’t the first or last women to have a band, they were some of the most vocal and most active.
aking traditional Irish folk music of their past and blending it with punk rock, the Pogues created an entirely new sound—Celtic punk.
While If I Should Fall From Grace With God would chart much higher and contain most of their “hits,” the foundation of their sound rests soundly on Rum, Sodomy & the Lash. The album’s opening track, “The Sick Bed of Cúchulainn,” is the quintessential Celtic punk tune, combining the reel of traditional Irish dance music with the energy and attitude of punk rock.
Elsewhere on the record, the band interprets traditional music (“I’m a Man You Don’t Meet Every Day”), protest ballads (“And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”) and drinking tunes (just about everything else).
Often overshadowed by the Pistols and the Clash, the Damned (whose first performance saw them open for the Sex Pistols) were actually the first UK punk band to release an album. The band’s 1977 Damned Damned Damned is exemplary, not only for its place in history but also for the way the music holds up today.
Take a listen to “Neat Neat Neat” and you’ll not only hear an honest sonic portrait of punk’s earliest UK moments, but also a great tune that holds up today.
The best album by the Dead Kennedys, one of the founders of American political hardcore punk, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables is a timeless primer for anyone looking for advice on raging against the machine.
While its specific political namedropping dates it firmly in the Reagan era, the attitude, anger, and sarcasm expressed on tunes like “Kill the Poor,” “Let’s Lynch the Landlord,” “California Über Alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia” keep this record relevant, and frontman Jello Biafra’s delivery keeps this record enjoyable.
Lifting the sound of early rockabilly and surf musicians, speeding it up, distorting it and combining it with campy, trashy themes was the forte of the Cramps, who can be credited with creating the oft-imitated psychobilly sound.
Like the Misfits, the Cramps loved B-grade science fiction and horror. This was already evident on this, their debut album, with song titles like “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” and “Zombie Dance.”
Formed from the remains of another legendary group, Rocket From The Tombs, Cleveland’s The Dead Boys, were influenced by Iggy Pop’s legendary live performances and sought to outdo them. A typical performance by the band included lewdness intended to provoke the audience and self-mutilation by band members (frontman Stiv Bators was known for slashing his stomach on the mic stand). As such, the band paved the way for performers that were more about violent shocking performances than about the music.
Even so, a listen to 1977’s Young, Loud and Snotty quickly points out that they were musically talented and influential as well. Just one listen to the album’s opener, “Sonic Reducer,” justifies this album being on this list.
Known more for being a glam outfit, the Dolls avoided the punk moniker simply because they were a few years too early. But they shared all of the same influences and in-your-face live aggression as the first punk bands.
The band was even briefly one of Malcolm McLaren’s “projects.” Using the same sort of stunts he later used for the Sex Pistols, McLaren dressed the band in red leather and Communist imagery. It flopped.
Their self-titled debut offers up a glimpse of what punk was about to be. With one foot in the past and one in the future, tunes like “Trash” and “Personality Crisis” are innovative for their time, making this an album that is historically important, as well as one that warrants heavy rotation on your stereo now.