Top Ten Punk Bands of All Time – Your list sucks, don’t even argue.

One day, in 1985, a kid I went to school with invited me over to his house after school.  His brother had given him some cassette tapes, and he wanted me to hear them, because they were “amazing”.  So we went down into his basement, and he put in the first tape.  It was a copy of The Butthole Surfer’s early stuff.  Now, you all know the Butthole Surfer’s song “Pepper”.  My first introduction to them was Gibby Haynes screaming “I shot the pope”, over and over, to a cacophony of questionable musicians playing behind him.  The other songs were somewhat similar, the lyrics a bit more intelligible, but I was pretty dubious to the next selection.

  Some band called The Replacements, from blustery Minnesota, was next, and I was hooked.  Songs of dentistry, boners, and everyday living filled up my ears, and a quick pace, and wasn’t as weighted down by the metal that I was growing disillusioned with. (stupid Home Sweet Home)

  After that, the love affair began.  Luckily, the one town had an independent record store, so you could actually find some of the albums you read about in the fanzines.  It’s not like today kids, fanzines were of low quality, mimeographed (look it up) pictures, typewritten pages, with adds for shit you’ve never heard of, of places you’d never see (local stuff), and I would digest it all, learning about bands like The The, Gang Green, TSOL.  You learned not to trust an album that was widely released to a Disc Jockey, or Musicland, because those bands sold out.

1. Black Flag

 The greatest punk band of all time was Black Flag.  I am combining all forms of the band, and resisting the four versions I recognize by singers, and combining them into number 1, instead of 4 of the top 5.  If I had to rank the singers, I’d go Keith Morris, Ron Reyes a very close second, Henry Rollins third, with Dez Cadena a distant fourth.  He filled in when Reyes left because he was turned off by the violence.  Keith Morris has the ultimate punk voice.  Tinny, wobbly, frantic, yet confident, he was the first.  Ron Reyes followed, had probably the best voice, his lyrics a bit more socially active, and was a big part of Rise and Fall of Western Civilization.  Henry is the voice everyone thinks of.  Where Morris’s voice was a knife to the back, Reyes’ was a chord slipped around a neck, Rollin’s voice beat you over the head, and kept beating you until you were a puddle.  Dez didn’t sing for them long, preferring to play guitar, and allowing Rollins to sing.  If I had to pick an album for you to listen to, I’d go with “My War”, or maybe “Slip It In”.  Filled with images of anti establishment, buck authority…a punch in the gut.

2. Sex Pistols

Sex Pistols   I realize this may be considered a cliché pick, but with the sneering, snotty sounds of Johnny Rotten at the helm, you can literally hear his disgust of the British government and royals.  If you think that the Sex Pistols were Sid Vicious, you couldn’t have been more wrong musically, or more right image wise.  Music wise, he was never recorded, they often left his bass unplugged, and he was mostly there to stir up the crowds.  Image wise, his spiky hair, junkie body, chains and leather makes him the poster child for late 70’s, early 80’s punk.  At most, he was a dullard, though there’s a good chance he invented pogo dancing, because he couldn’t see the local bands, and would hop up and down to the music.  “Never Mind the Bollocks, We are the Sex Pistols” is their best album.  The other album is outtakes put together by Glenn Matlock and producers, so Malcolm McLaren could cash in on a movie.  Rotten’s personality really comes through his lyrics and sound, and definitely a must have.

3. Dead Kennedys

Dead Kennedys   With a singer that had a personality as big as, if not bigger, than Johnny Rotten, the Dead Kennedys ruled the punk world for a good decade, until they started suing each other, and split up.  Biafra’s high pitched, wobbly, tinny voice comes right behind Keith Morris as the voice of punk.  Not refined, not smooth, but draws your attention because it was different.  The manic pacing of the songs, the occasional political statement, the questioning of any authority, and the dating of the politics don’t matter.  East Bay Ray played so fast, yet so smooth, just perfection.  Very tough call to pick out an album, but I’m going to go with “Give Me Convenience, or Give Me Death”

4. Bad Brains

Bad Brains   What do you get when you take a Jazz Fusion band, throw in Rastafarian beliefs, have a singer so wired onstage its like electricity is coming out of him, and if you saw them on the street, you would believe they were a Reggae band?  Well, that’s Bad Brains.  Brought up in the Washington DC scene, H.R., Dr. Know and the boys took a white dominated genre, turned it on their ear, and became one of the top punk bands of all time.  Best part, they are one of the best punk bands of all time, not the best “black” punk bands.  Then, to top it off, they did play reggae, infused it into their sets, and still dominated the scene.  If you are going to check them out, and you should, start with the great “I Against I”.  It’s their second official album, and crackles with energy

5. MC5

MC5 predated the Stooges, not considered “punk” in most cases, “proto punk” at best, but for my money, they were a godfather of punk.  Short for Motor City 5, they grew a large following.  Short, crunchy guitar sounds, a fast place, and a willingness to do whatever they wanted. Kicked off their original record label for using their logo in an add telling a local department store chain to go fuck themselves in an underground paper full page ad, they.  Heavy into left wing politics, somewhat aligned with the White Panther Party, often playing at rallies considered radical, they were like a flaming arrow, and burned out much too quickly.  Three albums, none of them catching the live aggressiveness that were a stalwart of their shows, they split, reforming occasionally in various forms, but never in the original lineup.  “Kick Out the Jams” is their best effort,  When you listen to it, you can tell that it’s like listening to a band through water, that the true live sound just isn’t there.

6. The Vandals

The Vandals have been around forever.  Started in 1980 in Southern California, they come out with the occasional album.  Joe Escalante is the only founding member, joined by Warren, Josh Freese, and Quackenbush, but they’ve been together almost 30 years.  They rarely take a political stand, most of their songs are comedy bits put to music, and full of live energy, they are just a great band, let alone punk band.  I recommend “The Vandals Play Really Bad Original Country Music”, or “Oi To the World”.  They will be the only Country or Christmas albums on my list, and you won’t be sad for listening to them. It’s not Christmas until I post “Christmastime for my Penis”

7. The Germs

The Germs were everything that was bad about punk.  I often think of them as performance art moreso than a band, but in their day, they were the epitome.  Led by Darby Crash, a young Pat Smear on guitar, Lorna Doom, and Don Bolles.  I can only recommend one album “(GI)”, and it’s pretty much garbage.  Darby sings off key, off beat, and sounds like he drank a gallon of codeine cough syrup (though probably heroin).  In actuality, from all video’s and accounts, they captured their show live perfectly.  Pat Smear has said the biggest joke is none of them barely knew how to play their instruments, and literally got better every show they played.  Maybe the most shocking moment in Spheris’ documentary was the fact that Darby Crash had enough skill to cook eggs and toast.

8. The Minutemen

The Minutemen were a band, that if still together, would still be making amazing music, that fit right in today.  If D. Boon hadn’t been killed in a van accident, I see no reason why they would have broken up.  Mike Watts has had a nice career making a few solo albums, playing on a few more, and being a punk godfather that he deserves to be.  A little hardcore, a little funk, a little jam band, they were incredible musicians, who easily glided into whatever style they felt like playing, and then glided back out.  They take their name from the Revolutionary war group, mocking the 80’s protest group, though the fans believed it was because many of their first songs were under a minute.  A ghost of times past, go listen to “Double Nickels on the Dime”, and then look for their other stuff.

9. The Ramones

The Ramones are on here, just for what they did for punk rock.  I never considered them a great band.  I never thought they were great musicians.  I thought much of their music sounded the same.  That being said, they were prolific, sang about everyday things from comics to scoring dope, and every god damn kid in the 90’s had a Ramones T Shirt, because they were smart enough to have someone market them well. (Though I’m pretty sure they didn’t make near as much as they should have)  You aren’t getting experimental music here, you are getting downstroked guitar chords, basic drums, and nothing too heart wrenching lyric wise.  Whenever I hear them, it’s almost like Joey is singing about the gossip on the block, or hanging out with high school friends bullshitting about life.  They were voted #2 behind the Beatles as the greatest band of all time, which goes to show how stupid Spin readers are.  I will say, when you saw a Ramone, you knew it, because they all looked the same.  I saw Osaka Popstar and it was their drummer’s band, and he still was working the gimmick.

10. The Rotating List

Finally, the last one to make my list.  But I don’t have a 10th band, because they all rotate in and out, depending on how often I listened to them, or how recently.  So I’m going to list who comes to mind, and their best album in my humble opinion, and you can do with it what you want…more than likely forget about it…so here they are 

  • Offspring “Ixnay on the Hombre” 
  • Suicidal Tendencies “Suicidal Tendencies” 
  • Descendants “Everything Sucks”
  • Devo “Q: Are We Not Men” 
  • New York Dolls “Too Much Too Soon”
  • Siouxie and the Banshees “Kaleidoscope” 
  • Minor Threat “First Two Seven Inches”
  • Misfits “Earth AD/Die Die My Darling”
  • The Dwarves “Blood, Guts, and Pussy”  
  • Screeching Weasel “Teen Punks in Heat”
  • Dead Milkmen “Big Lizard in My Backyard”  

Look, I can list these bands all day.  I’ve had a blast listening to them on Spotify (cheap plug).  I often have the old punk playing when I work out, because it really helps set the pace.

Well gang, I hope I didn’t bore you, or maybe I inspired you to try something new, or made you mad enough to get in touch with me because you’re a poser and like Green Day (Dookie) or The Clash (London Calling).

If  you absolutely have to call me an idiot, or genius, please look me up on Twitter or Instagram (@jaycanchu), or complain to the Overlords, and they’ll send you my way, because I’m not afraid!

Images are used for reference purposes and owned by their respective copyright owners. 

Author: Jay Roach

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