The 40 best punk albums since Never Mind The Bollocks…
Punk rock was never meant to live as long as it has. It was meant to die tragically young and leave a beautiful corpse behind. Still, it’s impossible not to look back in awe at how enduring, endearing and enlightening punk rock has been in the years since its first fervent fling in 1977 with Sex Pistols scene-igniting debut album. So we decided to try figuring out our favourite releases from each year since then ’til now. Because that’s not a crazy idea and an undertaking we’d live to regret, at all. No way. Enjoy-oi-oi-oi…
SEX PISTOLS – NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS, HERE’S THE SEX PISTOLS (1977)
Though time, distance and cultural changes may have tamed its seething sense of danger somewhat, this, in many ways, was the definitive sound of disaffection in ‘77. Before punk became co-opted and repackaged as cuddly postcard novelty, Sex Pistols signified all that was great and gobby about pissed-off British youth starting bands and raging against the system. Their impact was seismic, inspiring peers and generations to come. And despite how rewritten history might sometimes make it seem – ill-advised reformations and butter adverts, notwithstanding – the scrappy London five-piece remain a vital punk touchstone, and never more so than on the purity of their one and only studio album.
X-RAY – SPEX GERM FREE ADOLESCENTS (1978)
Inspired – like so many contemporaries – to form a band after witnessing the Sex Pistols live in 1976, X‑Ray Spex were living proof that punk was an inclusive and broad-minded musical church. Led by late, iconic vocalist Poly Sterene and featuring a then-16-year-old Susan Whitby on saxophone, the London group were unlike any other in the burgeoning British scene. Boasting songs to match, rallying for liberation and feminism, they played with a joyous, cacophonic freedom that’s charmingly captured on this classic debut album.
THE CLASH – LONDON CALLING (1979)
Always one step ahead of the rest of the British scene, The Clash excelled themselves further and confirmed their legend on third album, London Calling. While all around them missed the point and used punk as a mere vehicle for hyper, angry songs, The Clash embraced its freedom of expression to explore new sounds and avenues. Refining their rage into art, across a stylistically sprawling double album filled with timeless tunes, Joe Strummer and co. achieved a calibre of songwriting and craft that’s truthfully rarely been matched in the genre, before or since.
THE RAMONES – END OF THE CENTURY (1980)
Following four albums of fast and furious street punk, this was the New York quartet’s big bid for mainstream and commercial success. And, well, it almost, sort of worked. Utilising maverick producer Phil Spector’s famous ‘wall of sound’ technique and making the most of their $200,000 (approx. £152,000) recording budget, songs swelled and bloomed; in a way introducing the world to its first taste of pop-punk.
BLACK FLAG – DAMAGED (1981)
From the barely contained, 34-second bile of Spray Paint to the listless nihilism of Six Pack, and the pseudo-frat-punk of TV Party, Black Flag’s debut album is a pioneering classic of the genre, that inspired and continues to inspire legions of hardcore bands. Overcoming its DIY, roughshod recording quality with pure, punk rock fury, the West Coast crew are captured in all of their bloody, fist-flailing glory here.
DESCENDENTS – MILO GOES TO COLLEGE (1982)
Without the Descendents, there would be no New Found Glory, blink-182, or Neck Deep. Not because those bands sound like Descendents, but because they were the first to take the punk sound, shave off some of its harsher edges, push melody to the forefront and write songs with humour and a lighter touch. Their debut is a short and speedy feast of pop-inflected punk that remains as iconic as its cover art – the band’s stickman mascot of frontman Milo Aukerman.
MINOR THREAT – OUT OF STEP (1983)
The Washington D.C. straight edge pioneers’ only studio album is a righteous blast of indignant, imperious punk rock, filled with a youthful vigour and wrath that still sounds fresh. Vocalist Ian MacKaye would of course be involved in much better records and write far more sophisticated songs over the years, but rarely has he ever been this fired up and vital, both in delivery and message.
MINUTEMEN DOUBLE – NICKELS ON THE DIME (1984)
Yep, the band responsible for the theme song from Jackass, who inspired the title of Michael Azerrad’s essential compendium on alternative music and a group who played by a set of rules entirely of their own making. This third album comprises 45 songs and almost as many styles; fearlessly artistic, esoteric, amusing and challenging, it tackles issues of politics, racism, philosophy and the everyday. A world away from safety pins and Mohawks, and a damn sight more punk into the bargain.
THE POGUES – RUM SODOMY & THE LASH (1985)
To the uninitiated who wrongly think of Shane MacGowan as a mere toothless drunk, this second album by august Celtic renegades The Pogues should put you right. In 1985 punk was in dire danger of dying off and retreating to the margins as pop music reigned supreme, but its spirit lived on strong if you looked hard enough. Produced by Elvis Costello, these poetic, bruised, barroom tales – some borrowed, mostly first-hand experiences – played with an abandon and anarchic soul, are most definitely ‘punk’. This lot just happened to favour fiddles and pipes instead of battering beatdowns.
BAD BRAINS – I AGAINST I (1986)
The Washington D.C. gang hit a new creative watermark on this, their third album, bringing together a potent and intoxicating blend of punk, metal, roots, funk, hip-hop and soul. At the heart of it all is frontman H.R. who shapeshifts and bends his voice accordingly; screeching, singing, growling, rapping and even delivering the lines on Sacred Love via a phone call from prison, while he was serving time for a marijuana charge. The Beastie Boys late MC Adam Yauch apparently considered I Against I one of the best punk albums of all time and who are we to argue.
DEAD KENNEDYS – GIVE ME CONVENIENCE OR GIVE ME DEATH (1987)
A compilation album, sure. But what a compilation, released a year after the San Francisco band had broken up and comprising some of their best songs, either unreleased before or present here in different versions. Perhaps it’s a withering reflection on where punk was at in 1987 that a retrospective compilation trumps all other releases, but as a document to the impact and creative legacy of one of its most important bands (before it all got weird and messy years later), this is a hell of a collection and a perfect entry point for anyone unfamiliar with them.
BAD RELIGION – SUFFER (1988)
On their third record, the then recently reunited, politically charged SoCal punks sounded like the Ramones on fast-forward, such was their dedication to racing through each song (not a single one of its 15 tracks breach the three minute mark). But this newly energised Bad Religion were in a hurry because they had points to prove and young minds to inspire, much like the teenager on fire depicted on the album’s cover art. Among them was NOFX man Fat Mike who lauds the five-piece as the “best punk band of all time”, citing this record in particular as the one that started his love affair with the genre.
NOMEANSNO – WRONG (1989)
Restless, nervous energy fizzles through the veins of the Wright brothers’ most finely wrought record and it’s a pulse-racing, head-spinning experience. The Canadian weirdos fused bits of their jazz and prog past into a mathy, bass-propelled punk mash-up, with knowing lyrics and oddly addictive melodies anchoring the whole thing. Still somewhat underappreciated, this is a fine starting point for those with a taste for something different, yet punk to its very fibre.
POISON IDEA – FEEL THE DARKNESS (1990)
’What makes a person wanna be a cop?’ blasts Poison Idea vocalist Jerry A on the ACAB-anthem The Badge (a song later covered by Pantera), and it’s a line that sums up the anti-authority, anti-bullshit, anti-everything spirit of the Portland punks’ superior third album. Combining barreling, machine-gun drums, metallic guitar lines and the frontman’s snarling, sneering delivery, this still holds up as a legendary slice of punk all these years later.
LEATHERFACE – MUSH (1991)
In classic punk tradition, Sunderland’s favourite sons made the most of their apparent limitations. Namely, frontman Frankie Stubbs’ infamous rasp, rising like a bellowed croak over the top of hurried, frantic drums and subtly dynamic guitars, as he delivered lines of affecting melancholia. This 1991 cult classic is their finest hour, and its influence can be felt in everything from Hot Water Music, to Against Me! And Fucked Up.
NOFX – WHITE TRASH, TWO HEEBS AND A BEAN (1992)
Pushing politically correct buttons and challenging the status quo with collective tongues lodged firmly in their cheeks, this fourth album from the SoCal punks is classic NOFX. From the satirical lounge cover of Minor Threat’s Straight Edge to the ska-punk of Bob and the Hispanic surf of Johnny Appleseed, there’s a lot of silliness amongst the more straight up and personal punk stuff. Appreciated on its own terms, it’s mostly gold, too.
BIKINI KILL – PUSSY WHIPPED (1993)
The sound of revolution on record, led by riot-grrrl rabble-rouser Kathleen Hanna. Bikini Kill’s songs bore the ramshackle charm of the Ramones’ earliest recordings, but came bursting out of the speakers with feminist ideals and an inspirational spirit spilling from every pore. And it still sounds as joyful, anarchic and incendiary today.
GREEN DAY – DOOKIE (1994)
The record that changed it all, not just for the East Bay trio, but for the genre as a whole, dragging it kicking, screaming and spitting into the ‘90s. Alongside bands like NOFX and The Offspring, Green Day carried the punk torch into the mainstream via MTV, launching almost as many new acts as it shipped in sales. This was their coming of age album, bearing some of their catalogue’s most memorable anthems and signposted the way for even bigger things to come.
RANCID – …AND OUT COME THE WOLVES (1995)
Not to be outdone by the standard bearing efforts of their peers, Berkeley punks Rancid put their best boots forward on this near-perfect third album. Taking their old school ska influences and writing about people, places and things they knew and loved, the results bear a timeless and tune-filled charm. Rumour has it that Madonna even tried to persuade the band to sign with her label, Maverick, by sending guitarist/vocalist Tim Armstrong nudes. They famously declined all major label advances though, losing out on a lucrative payday in the process. Punk. Fucking. Rock.
PROPAGANDHI – LESS TALK MORE ROCK (1996)
The Canadian punks are among the genre’s most overtly political bands, taking a staunchly righteous stand on sexism, racism, religion, and issues surrounding human and animal rights. Those messages are the prime focus on this seminal second album, with vocals pushed to the front, and the disposable skate-sound of their debut shed in favour of a more considered, nuanced and tuneful backing. Rich, preachy and right on? You bet. And proudly, fearlessly, brilliantly so.
GREEN DAY – NIMROD (1997)
This one felt like the end of a chapter of sorts, with the scene-leading trio soon straying into more mainstream-friendly waters in search of the riches that would eventually come. But here on this 18-track opus they were still kicking ass and taking names, albeit preparing for the future, with super tuneful hooks and even penning an acoustic hit in the form of Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life). But there was still lots of rebellious fun to be had here, from the balls-out thrill ride of Platypus (I Hate You) to the head rush of Jinx and the brassed up ode to cross-dressing, King For A Day.
REFUSED – THE SHAPE OF PUNK TO COME (1998)
Ahead of its time and under-appreciated as a result, much has been made of the influence this record has had on the punk scene in the years after its release in 1998. It is sod’s law that the Swedes would essentially implode months after and somewhat soften their legacy by eventually reforming and putting out a comeback album that didn’t change the game. But whatever. This is a masterpiece of the genre, mixing elements of old school sounds and ideals, flashes of funk, metal and even electronic music, wrapped up with a freedom of spirit and expression that’s simply unparalleled.
MISFITS – FAMOUS MONSTERS (1999)
Though Misfits 2.0 will never boast the same cachet as their initial Glenn Danzig-fronted incarnation, this horror-punk gem is often unfairly overlooked simply because of his absence. Michale Graves does a mighty fine job of filling those boots, with a range of vocals that allows the quartet – still featuring founding bassist Jerry Only – to dip toes into doo wop and rockabilly waters, having a lot more fun in the process, while maintaining the same gothic edge that first made their name.
AFI – THE ART OF DROWNING (2000)
Before fully embracing their love of moody electro-pop, AFI produced some of the most vicious punk rock around. This is probably the peak of that period in their career, and what a way to draw the curtain. The California quartet refined the grandiosity and frayed edges of the previous year’s Black Sails In The Sunset, placing greater focus on melody and clarity of message. It even produced the band’s first proper hit (of sorts) in The Days Of The Phoenix; the video for which enjoyed heavy MTV rotation and left the world intrigued by Davey Havok, the band’s wiry Glenn Danzig-meets-Edward Scissorhands looking frontman.
LARS FREDERIKSEN AND THE BASTARDS – LARS FREDERIKSEN AND THE BASTARDS (2001)
Like a love letter to the entirety of punk rock’s history, Rancid guitarist Lars gathered up some likely lads and found an outlet for his more personal and autobiographical songwriting. Which mostly meant tales of X‑rated fun and after-hours frolics. There’s nothing too big or clever about a band named The Bastards and that’s half the appeal, with simple, salacious stories of fighting, fucking and getting drunk the order of the day.
THE DISTILLERS – SING SING DEATH HOUSE (2002)
Brody Dalle announced herself to the wider world with a spit, snarl and swagger just two years before on her band’s self-titled first shot at a full-length, but it was here on its feral-as-fuck follow up where she and The Distillers really sparked into life. It was thoroughly, unabashedly punk rock with a claw-like grip on melody; fearlessly covering subjects both personal (domestic abuse) and political (the suffragette movement), positioning the Aussie vocalist as a star-in-the-making.
GIVE UP THE GHOST – BACKGROUND MUSIC (2003)
Okay, so this is technically a reissue of the same record released in 2001, when the band were known as American Nightmare. But thanks to a cease and desist order from another act with the same name, they rebranded as Give Up The Ghost and Equal Vision put the album out again after two years of legendary live shows, that saw the hype reach whole new levels. So groundbreaking was this record that new bands still form today because of it, but its unique spirit, and balance of great songs and performances makes for a heady brew that’s hard to replicate.
RISE AGAINST – SIREN SONG OF THE COUNTER CULTURE (2004)
The Chicago quartet have refined both their sound and sharpened the edges of their political message since this major label debut dropped, but when it arrived in the summer of 2004 it hit like a big fat fist to the face, with its earnest yet endearing combo of angst and aggression. Hard as it is to square that up with the band who would go onto headline arenas later in their career, the hooks are there for all to hear, and even over a decade on this still boasts some of Rise Against’s best recorded moments.
MODERN LIFE IS WAR – WITNESS (2005)
The creative peak of the Marshalltown, Iowa five-piece’s career emerged at a time when the majority of the alternative world seemed to be more preoccupied with their haircuts. But its uncompromising sonic assault and take-no-prisoners attitude would’ve felt explosive at any point over the past 40 years. Dripping in intense emotion without falling into the wet, woe-is-me trap contemporaries did, it tackles issues as diverse as the Iraq war and the daily grind of life in a travelling punk rock band. Anthemic and dynamic, Witness is a near flawless record.
GALLOWS – ORCHESTRA OF WOLVES (2006)
Though much of the mythology of their early days was built upon a slew of fiery, in-the-face live performances, it’s impossible to overstate the sense of excitement and hope that swirled around Gallows upon the release of this debut album. They were one of our own at a time when all the best stuff seemed like it came from elsewhere, and for a short, glorious time they were untouchable. Frank Carter and co. gave a damn fine representation of those infamous sweatbox shows across these 12 songs, with each one gripping tight and squeezing listeners into submission. Unlike a lot of the second-rate copyists that followed, Gallows understood that everything started with great songs first and foremost.
THE GHOST OF A THOUSAND – THIS IS WHERE THE FIGHT BEGINS (2007)
The Brighton five-piece deserved more love than they ever really received in their lifetime, because live and on record they certainly held up their end of the bargain. Starting with the barbed intensity of this 5K-rated debut, they were so off-the-bat accomplished they were virtually taken for granted. ‘Punk rock needs you again / Generation X is dead’ the breakdown on opener Bored Of Math intones, and sadly that’s a sentiment that still rings as true 10 years on as it did back then.
THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM – THE ’59 SOUND (2008)
Perfecting the blue-collar punk rock sound debuted on the rough-hewn and unfussy Sink Or Swim a year before, the New Jersey quartet broke big with the polish of their ambitious, widescreen second album. Packed with classic, rock’n’roll tropes repurposed via frontman Brian Fallon’s romantic worldview, it propelled the band to the cover of Kerrang! and carried them all around the globe; even leading to shared stages with their hometown idol, Bruce Springsteen. An essential, modern example of punk’s boundless possibilities.
LEATHERMOUTH – XØ (2009)
Frank Iero’s horror movie-inspired hardcore side project, made in the midst of My Chemical Romance’s most successful period, which renders its unfiltered and fiery nature all the more remarkable. With a song called I Am Going To Kill The President Of The United States Of America and others dealing with heavy issues such as mental health and school shootings, it’s fair to say this is the New Jersey native like you’ve never heard him before; the one who grew up going to basement shows with a fire in his belly and the will to change the world.
WHITE LUNG – IT’S THE EVIL (2010)
Picking up where a host of riot-grrrl bands left off over a decade before, this Vancouver quartet go at their songs with such venomous passion you’d think the instruments had insulted their mothers or something. Following a series of explosive 7” releases, this debut album made good on the band’s early excitement, hype and promise, introducing the world to a new heroine in the form of feather-spitting vocalist Mish Way. A glorious, 24-minute blast of feminist ferocity.
ROTTING OUT – STREET PROWL (2011)
Bringing a shit-kicking brand of punk rock from the streets of Los Angeles, Rotting Out were more like a gang of riff-toting hoodlums than a band. Were, because they’ve since broken up, sadly. Borrowing from pioneers like Suicidal Tendencies, the hardcore crossover crew favoured speed, aggression and songs inspired by living life on the edges of society. This debut album is filled with suitably bone-breaking anthems, big on tough guy posturing and beatdowns, but when the music backs it up this boldly, it can’t be messed with.
OBLITERATIONS – POISON EVERYTHING (2012)
Poison Everything. Imagine that. And listening to this Los Angeles quartet’s debut album it feels like that doubles up as a mission statement as well as serving as a record title. Jacked up, raw as frayed rope songs played at breakneck speed with a loose, lashing out at the world quality, this was one of 2012’s best under the radar releases, in punk or otherwise.
OFF WITH THEIR HEADS – HOME (2013)
The best gruff-punk record you’ve probably never heard. Soaked in whiskey, smelling of cigarettes and embodying other old clichés of regret, self-loathing and the stinging consequences of one too many fuck-ups, Ryan Young’s songs flash their teeth and snap at anyone who comes close enough. The Minnesotan and his revolving cast of bandmates struck a rich vein of songwriting form on this third record, with few punk collections coming close to its mix of big tunes and even bigger – albeit blackened – heart.
AGAINST ME! – TRANSGENDER DYSPHORIA BLUES (2014)
The Florida quartet have arguably written stronger all-round albums (and this is just one of up to maybe four from their catalogue that would comfortably justify a space in a countdown such as this), but few feel as important as this in the grand scheme of things. Written with unflinching candour about vocalist Laura Jane Grace’s experiences since publicly coming out as transgender, these are songs of tremendously bruised soul yet spirited triumph. And they’re ace.
G.L.O.S.S. – GIRLS LIVING OUTSIDE SOCIETY’S SHIT (2015)
A sadly all-too-short lived queercore crew with several transgender members, G.L.O.S.S. gained a degree of infamy in 2016 when they turned down a lucrative offer to release their music on Epitaph, shortly before disbanding. But as proved on this Molotov cocktail of a debut, their music deserves a greater legacy than a mere footnote in punk history, such is its clenched-fist fury and palpable desperation for societal change.
THE INTERRUPTERS – SAY IT OUT LOUD (2016)
Three brothers named Bivona and former pop-star Aimee Allen made one of the surprise breakout hits of 2016 with their riotous second full-length. Produced by Rancid man Tim Armstrong and released on his Hellcat label, these are songs in the classic tradition of goodtime, old school ska-punk, relaying stories of scoundrels and street hustles, spilling over with truckloads of charm and an infectious sense of fun.
BAD COP / BAD COP – WARRIORS (2017)
One of the rare bright hopes from 2017’s Warped Tour, the Cali-quartet’s second full-length ruminated on the personal and political with a sprinkling of humour on their driving, tune-first take on punk rock. Like a tear-up between Bikini Kill and classic Beach Boys (the Wilsons wouldn’t stand a chance), there’s a lot to chew on while you’re humming along, hitting that often-evasive sweet spot between serious issues and self-awareness.
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