The 40 Greatest Punk Albums of all Time * Part I
(Warning: Explicit Language)
This is a direct reaction to Rolling Stone’s Top 40 Punk Albums of All Time, which is an abomination. Funhouse by the Stooges is one of the best Albums of 1970, but if you call it a punk album, then you have to call 1968’s White Album by the Beatles a punk album. What is punk then? All short songs are punk? Punk Music is delineated by bands, starting with the Ramones in America and the Sex Pistols in Great Britain that played short, fast tunes with an attitude and incendiary lyrics that blew up like a nuclear bomb and spread its radioactive isotopes of rebellion around the world. Emerging from the piles of shit that rock and roll was evolving into, like bloated rock and disco, the fertilizer for the seeds of a genre within the established realms of rock. My definition of punk is a harsher version of the conventional wisdom because Rock has become a big umbrella. At first Rock was the music of rebellion, but by 1976, arguably the biggest bands of the mid-70’s were the ABBA, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, and, long story short, remember the Clintons and Gores dancing to Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow by Fleetwood Mac at their inauguration? They weren’t singing Blitzkrieg Bop.
With that being said, you and I can argue all day who belongs at the 1,2, and 3 spots, but the consensus is Never Mind the Bullocks by the Sex Pistols, any one of the first 3 Ramones albums, and any one of the Clash’s first three albums get the first 3 positions that came after detonation. So instead of splitting hairs on the first three, which Rolling Stone and I mostly agree, I will add my commentary on 4-40, where we radically disagree.
1. The Ramones by the Ramones (1976)
2. London Calling by the Clash (1979)
3. Anarchy is the UK by the Sex Pistols (1977)
4. Plastic Surgery Disasters by the Dead Kennedys (1982)
I want you to go to YouTube and watch a seething, shirtless Jello Biafra wade into the crowd and sing the song Riot. The fusion of music, lyrics, and energy perfectly describe the essence of punk that all others have tried to recapture. Every song on Plastic Surgery Disasters is a classic.
5. Untidy Suicides of Your Degenerate Children by Alice Donut (1992)
Wading out of the sewer that was CBGB's, Alice Donut was the next generation of New York punk band that was focused on, wait for it, making great punk music. Honing their craft instead of OD’ing at 20, or hanging out with Andy Warhol, their lyrics were as provocative(or deviant, depending on your perspective) as anything by Lou Reed with music as raw as anything coming out of the 70’s. Why have you never heard of Alice Donut? Because Rolling Stone Magazine brainwashed you into thinking Nevermind was the best punk album of the 90’s. Alice Donut is a true American original with few modern peers.
6. Wrong by Nomeansno (1989)
As Alternative Music was percolating under the surface as Hair Metal reigned, Canadian punks Nomeansno burst onto the scene and played whatever the hell they wanted to play. Beyond categorization, Wrong was punk at its best, and, well metal at its best, too. The Collectors Guide to Heavy Metal gave the album a rare perfect 10/10 score, but Nomeansno were clearly punks. What did Rolling Stone have to say about Wrong? They were too busy promoting Uma Thurman on the cover to review a definitive punk album right under their noses.
7. Smash by the Offspring (1992)
From the landscape of Orange County, California, Smash was the first punk album that came from the suburbs that mattered to the masses. Derided as Pop Punk, Smash’s urgency and attitude was classic punk shined up with an eye on production value. A generation after the Ramones connected with alienated youth , the Offspring were able to do the same thing on a much broader scale.
For those at RS, I already have my response to you. Go to last verse of Bad Habit and read that out loud.
8. Welcome to the Black Parade by My Chemical Romance (2006)
The Black Parade is a great album, but it’s the Hot Topic kids that push this into the Top 10. My kid talks about the Black Parade like I used to talk about Ramones and the Dead Kennedys. Top to bottom, first song to last, My Chemical Romance captures the same energy and zeal as their earlier counterparts. Maybe if the editors at Rolling Stone Magazine got off of their laptops and walked down the hall and talked to their Grandchildren, maybe they’d have a more representative list. Welcome to the Black Parade is arguably the apex of the evolution of pop-punk.
9. 13 Songs Fugazi (1989)
Let’s play some word association. What band and album do you think of when I say Straight-Edge Punk? Exactly.
“Fugazi is the most important band of the last twenty years. A bold statement but whatever, I am all about them. Defining what it meant to be underground, making the local show something that could happen at a VFW hall, being constantly politically aware, etc. Listing the advancements Fugazi brought to the music world is seriously pointless because they basically redefined what a band not associated with a major label can do.” – Sputnik Music
10. Exmilitary by Death Grips (2011)
Who captured the spirit of punk best in the past 10 years? The correct answer to that question is Death Grips. People mistakenly call them experimental hip hop or punk rap, but those people are looking at them with their eyes. If you listen with your ears, you will hear the most important punk band past beyond the year 2010.
11. Singles Going Steady Buzzcocks (1979)
If Never Mind the Bollocks and London Calling are held up as punk masterpieces, then there's no question that Singles Going Steady belongs alongside them. In fact, the slew of astonishing seven-inches collected on Steady and their influence on future musicians - punk or otherwise -- sometimes even betters more famous efforts. – All Music
12. Unfun Jawbreaker (1990)
Just like the Ramones, any one of Jawbreaker’s first 3 albums would fit in here. There is something so raw about Jawbreaker that makes them sympathetic figures. Tagged as emo a decade before emo was a thing, what they were were punks that strandled the line between desperation and the pit. If you want to write your own article about the 40 Greatest Emo Albums of All Time, you can’t use Jawbreaker, that would be revisionist history. (The same reason you can’t use the New York Dolls in this article.)
13. Zen Arcade Husker Du (1984)
Bob Mould is awesome and continues to make great music today. But like Wayne Gretzky in his 30’s, he’s only competing with his own legacy. When Zen Arcade turned 30, I found this review which is written much better than I could have done, saying the same thing:
"Zen Arcade is best savored not as a CD — and for heaven’s sake not as a download — but in the old, cardboard-and-vinyl package. Each of its sides is a distinct chapter with its own temperature and architecture. Twenty-three songs is a lot of music, but this is one the rare two-record sets that isn’t bogged down by its own overreaching or conceit. The scourge of most double LPs, back when there was such a thing, is they went on for too long — padded with live cuts, covers, and extras (heck even London Calling has its throw-aways. “Clampdown” anybody?). There’s no filler in Zen Arcade. Each and every song, from the shortest (44 seconds) to the longest (14 minutes), belongs exactly in its place." – Minnesota Public Radio
14. Kill From the Heart by the Dicks (1983)
On the whole list, top to bottom, there is no bigger mystery to me than why Gary Floyd isn’t more popular. Writing this the day after George Michael died as accolades pour in from the LGBT community, I’m going to ask you a serious question: Who is braver? George Michael, who came out as gay while sitting on a pile of money? Or Gary Floyd, who was an openly gay man, singing powerful punk music, in the 80’s, in the heart of Texas?
Big fan of Gary Floyd as he moved from the Dicks to Sister Double Happiness, to Black Kali Ma, to the Gary Floyd Band, Kill From the Heart was the Dicks at their peak.
15. Appeal to Reason by Rise Against (2008)
When you get old, being a punk sucks even more exponentially. Unless you’re Rise Against, then you write great punk songs with a steady stream of underlying sadness when most punk bands have already blown apart. Powerful lyrics and catchy hooks upset the conventional wisdom that they are deteriorating with age.
16. Milo Goes to College The Descendents (1982)
When I should have been wearing this out on the tape deck, I was dating a girl who said “my last boyfriend only listened to the Descendents and played video games, so first time I hear the Descendents, it’s over.” My bad. So now that I’m married and that young lady is in the rearview mirror, I listen to the Descendents nearly every day on my Pandora Station Alice Donut’s Punk Kaleidoscope.
With that story in mind, I defer my review to Punk News:
“Hope is basically the rally cry of all lovelorne 'losers' in the 1980's. This song is the best song Milo ever wrote, and ranks up there as one of the best Descendents tunes. Any pop-punk band would have had to have listened to this album alot in order to achieve a decent pop sound. Calling this album pop-punk, though, is an unfair generalization. There are also alot of more hardcore bursts of energy... basically any song under one minute, or around there. This is why this album has influenced both popier and more hardcore bands, the album has aspects of both, but makes both work with a great sense of melody.”- Punk News
17. Stranger Than Fiction by Bad Religion (1994)
Most of the time, jumping from an indie label to a major label ruins the band. Bucking the trend, Bad Religion released their best album, Stranger than Fiction, on Atlantic. Despite being back on Epitaph today, and continuing to release great punk music today, Stanger Than Fiction was clearly the high water mark of the band.
Just an aside, I hope Bad Religion keeps releasing music on Epitaph forever (seeing that Brett Gurewitz is back in the Bad Religion fold.)
18. Mclusky Do Dallas by Mclusky (2002)
Mclusky grabs you by the throat with Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues and doesn’t let you go for the next 35 minutes. Produced by the prolific Steve Albini, he captures the bravado and fury of the Welsh band in all of its fanatical glory. Mclusky eventually evolved into the band Future of the Left, which is equally good, but the energy level is turned down a notch or two.
19. Suicidal Tendencies Suicidal Tendencies (1983)
I’ve said it a thousand times. Punk should be a little dangerous. GG Allin was dangerous, but his music was awful. To me, Suicidal Tendencies was the most dangerous punk band of all time that could carry a tune. They also turned the phrase “All I wanted was a Pepsi” into one of the most recognizable lines in punk history.
20. Dead Lizard in My Backyard by the Dead Milkmen (1985)
What the Dead Milkmen lacked in danger, they more than made up for in attitude. Snot nosed and sarcastic, the Dead Milkmen were great and horrible all at the same time, somehow pulling clever songs out of an artistic abyss.
(Please Check Out Part II Here)