Coming up with 10 punk albums to listen to before you die is a lot harder than you'd think. For starters, it's a morbid thought, which makes you start asking yourself why in the hell you're thinking about punk albums when you're only gonna die, so who cares?
Second, the best material of many (if not most) punk bands is featured on singles, not full-length records. That's why you won't see Minor Threat on this list because even though they are punk rock royalty, their sole album (1982's Out of Step) isn't as good as their EPs. Or, on the flipside, you got a band like Red Cross, whose first EP is
unfuckwithable, but EPs aren't albums and therefore not included in this list.
That said, there are still plenty of full-length punk records that everyone should most definitely hear and more than likely own.
Here, in no particular order, are 10.
You can not, I repeat, can not, fuck with theBad Brains
self-titled record. The uneducated music fan thinks punk is synonymous with shitty playing, but singerH.R.
, drummerEarl Hudson
, bassistDarryl Jenifer
and guitaristGary "Dr. Know" Miller
shred that misconception to oblivion. From the opening lines of "Sailin' On," you know you've never heard a voice like HR's. He's melodic like an opera singer but he's more pissed thanJohnny Rotten
. That's not fair to other punk singers, but this is the Bad Brains we're talking about. Next on the record is "Don't Need It," a track that is faster than it should be yet sound totally comfortable at its breakneck pace. How is that possible? The Bad Brains rule, that's how. From there the album includes "Attitude," "The Regulator," "Fearless Vampire Killers," "Supertouch/Shitfit," "I," "Big Takeover" and "Right Brigade." Simply put, these songs are amazing and feature musicianship far beyond what anyone associates with punk rock. The breakdown on "Right Brigade?" Forget about it. Oh yeah...did I mention that the album also includes three reggae tracks that prove the Bad Brains could have been a full-time dub group if they wanted to be? Well, it does and they could have been if they weren't too busy completely destroying hardcore for anyone who followed. In fact, fuck this list. I'm going to stop writing and go listen to this instead because I sure as hell don't want to get hit by a bus tomorrow and not have heard this one final time.
Just how essential is this record to punk? Well, theSex Pistols
' Wikipedia page has 237 footnotes.That's 168 more thanThe Doors
. But don't let Wikipedia tell you how good this album us. Just listen to the damn thing and you'll understand that the Sex Pistols were more than a traveling freak show. Lyrically,Johnny Rotten
attacks authority on "God Save the Queen" and "Anarchy in the U.K.," bashes a former record label on "E.M.I." and deals with angst and boredom on "Pretty Vacant." That's enough to make this a classic record, but what makes Bullocks so great is the Pistols' acumen for the basics of rock 'n' roll. Whereas later British punk bands thought they were picking up where the Pistols left off, the only thing those latter groups did was spike their hair and play way too fast. The Pistols, however, took the groove created by the likes ofChuck Berry
and twisted it into their own demented sound.
Similar to the Sex Pistols, the inclusion of theRamones
' first album could come off as cliched due to the fact that this entire genre was founded on these 14 songs. Historical significance is enough reason to have this record, butRamones
isn't some museum piece that sounds dated. In fact, the more time that passes between 1976 (the year this was released) and now, the songs just keep getting better. Sure, we've all heard album opener "Blitzkrieg Bop," but stand-out tracks "Judy Is a Punk," "Havana Affair" and "53rd & 3rd" make this an absolute must-have. The downstrumming barrage of guitaristJohnny Ramone
and bassistDee Dee Ramone
still hasn't been topped while drummerTommy Ramone
lays down the most perfect rock 'n' roll backbeat ever (yeah, that's right, I said ever). Then there's singerJoey Ramone
, who can get super melodic on "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" and then belts out "Loudmouth" like he's in an insane asylum. Some might argue the band got better over the course of their next three records and those people might be right. However, those records wouldn't exist withRamones
. This album is so essential that if you can buy only one entry from this list, Ramones is it. Seriously. Own this. Today. The only bummer about this record is its reminder that Dee Dee, Johnny and Joey aren't here anymore.
On 1981'sIn God We Trust, Inc.
, San Francisco'sDead Kennedys
proved themselves as a top-notch hardcore band, but a year prior onFresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
, the group showed that it could have been a damn good pop band if singerJello Biafra
, guitaristEast BayRay
, bassistKlaus Flouride
really wanted to be. Album opener "Kill the Poor," "Let's Lynch the Landlord" and "Your Emotions" would have been perfect for radio if the quarter aspired to be another throwaway mainstream act. Instead, these songs are sped up a tad and feature vitriol-filled lyrics that no program director would ever get near. To balance these pop tunes, the Dead Kennedys add hardcore elements into their unique blend of punk, surf, pop and psychedelia
(imagine Dick Dale dropping acid and joining the Ramones and you've got East Bay Ray) on tunes such as "Drug Me," "California Uber Alles," "Holiday in Cambodia" and "Chemical Warfare."
What many consider to be the first full-length UK punk album is also considered to be one of the best. Similar toNevermind the Bullocks
,Damned Damned Damned
sounds like a sped up version of traditional rock 'n' roll. As the band progressed, its sound incorporated a more ethereal, gothic style, but tracks such as "New Rose," "Stab Your Back," "So Messed Up" and "I Fall" would have been the definitive sound ofSun Records
had the famed Memphis label existed in England during the late 1970s.
The 15 songs onMilo Goes to College
set the foundation for the pop-punk genre, but we won't hold that against these four South Bay misfits. Instead, we'll scream along with the teenage angst found on "Parents," pretend to beat up jocks while listening to "I'm Not a Loser" and flip the bird to fashion punks after proclaiming "I'm Not a Punk." There's not a clunker on this record, but the final four songs ("Marriage," "Hope," "Bikeage" and "Jean is Dead") prove that you can be into punk without being the shirtless dude who wants to start the pit. You don't believe me? Go see the band and watch what happens when they play "Hope." Seriously, there's not a better girl-disses-boy song on the planet.
Your band can't cover any of the nine songs on this album because the only person on the planet who can play these wild guitar parts isFlipper
. What you can do, however, is get super high on drugs, put these songs on late at night and just stare (and I mean that in the best possible way). You won't hear many (any?) punk cliches such as power chords, super fast drumming or songs aboutReagan
on this one. Instead, Flipper brings punk into a psychedelic nightmare whereBruce Loose
trade hypnotic vocals and drummerSteve DePace
bashes away with what sounds like baseball bats for sticks. Album closer "Sex Bomb" is the "hit," but if you wanna get really spacey, start with "(I Saw You) Shine."
What's that? You think punk bands are never supposed to change their sound? That they should write one good song and then re-write it for twenty years? Well,My War
says you're wrong. The album opens with the brutal title-track before getting into two of the bestBlack Flag
tunes ever, "Can't Decide" and "Beat My Head Against the Wall." These two songs feature a distinct groove not often found in punk, but lest anyone think the band has gone soft, singerHenry Rollins
serves as the perfect lunactic for guitarist/songwriterGreg Ginn
's visceral lyrics. Side A ends with "The Swinging Man," which borrows more from Ornette Coleman than the Ramones. It's the type of song that only Black Flag — and only Black Flag during this era — could have pulled off. Then there's Side B, which features three songs — "Nothing Left Inside," "Three Night" and "Scream." Each is heavy, slow and goddamn powerful in a way that makes you want to put your first through a wall. Some claim the B Side toMy War
is the blueprint to grunge. Maybe. Whatever the case, both sides toMy War
fucking rule not only because the band successfully proved that the term "punk band" wasn't synonymous with "one-trick pony" but also because the songs are some of the visceral in the group's catalog.
Being melodic never sounded so creepy, which is probably why theMisfits
are one of the few punk bands that has transcended the genre. SingerGlenn Danzig
's harmonious baritone/tenor makes every day Halloween on tracks such as "I Turned Into a Martian," "All Hells Breaks Loose," "Vampira," "Hatebreeders," "Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight," "Astro Zombies" and "Night of the Living Dead." What's even crazier about this record than a lyric such as "Killed a girl on lover's lane/I kept her toes and teeth/Every night I stalk around until I find my keep/I'll bring back a souvenir /For it's my mommy's dream" is that these aren't even the best version of most of these songs. For those, check out the Misfits' four-disc box set.
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Song titles include "Back Seat of My Car," "Let's Fuck," "Skin Poppin' Slut," "Insect Whore" and "Flesh Tantrum." If that isn't enough to make you want to hear this before you die, I don't know what is. Awesome titles aside, the 12 songs on this record fucking slay. The longest is one minute and thirty-four seconds long, but this album lacks nothing.