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40 Greatest Punk Albums of All Time

The riot-starters and two-chord wonders that blew rock wide open

The Ramones; Patti Smith; Green Day; Greates;t Punk Albums; of All Time; Rolling Stone

Green Day, the Ramones, Patti Smith and more make the punk album list.

Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty, Ian Dickson/Redferns/Getty, Dick Barnatt/Redferns/Getty

Punk rock started in 1976 on New York’s Bowery, when four cretins from Queens came up with a mutant strain of blitzkrieg bubblegum. The revolution they inspired split the history of rock & roll in half. But even if punk rock began as a kind of negation — a call to stark, brutal simplicity — its musical variety and transforming emotional power was immediate and remains staggering. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Ramones’ toweringly influential self-titled debut, we’ve compiled a list of the 40 Greatest Punk Albums of All Time.

If Ramones was Year Zero for punk rock, it didn’t come without precedent, so we included essential forebears like the Stooges, the New York Dolls, Pere Ubu and Patti Smith, artists who were punk in spirit (if not always entirely in sound) before the style really had a name. We didn’t get too fussy about all the old “but really, what is punk?” debates either. Along with the Pistols and the Clash, Black Flag and the Descendents, Minor Threat and Hüsker Dü and the Bad Brains, and on and on, you’ll find the slashing Marxist disco of Gang of Four, the ice-storm goth of Joy Division, the warped rust-and-rubber new wave of Devo, the Mod revivalism of the Jam, the riot-born reggae of the Slits, the art-guitar revelations of Television and Sonic Youth and the 21st-century dervish-noise assault of White Lung. Anarcho-collectivists Crass spent their entire unimpeachably admirable existence trying to defend an ethical barricade against a corpo-goofball atrocity like Blink-182. But they’re both great, and they’re both here.

Because this is a list of albums and not bands, a lot of great punk acts didn’t make the cut. The Circle Jerks, Adolescents, Fear, the Big Boys, the Dickies, the Dicks and even the mighty Damned just didn’t have that one perfect LP statement that could inspire consensus among our editors. Ultimately, we found ourselves pulled toward records that embodied punk’s spirit, and even stretched it a little. “Punk rock should mean freedom,” said Kurt Cobain in 1991, just as Nevermind was exploding punk values across the middle American mainstream. Here’s a map to where that freedom has gone.

Gang Of Four; Entertainment; Rolling Stone
5

Gang of Four, ‘Entertainment!’ (1979)

Fusing James Brown and early hip-hop with the bullet-point minimalism of the Ramones, Gang of Four were a genuine revolutionary force in their pursuit of working-class justice. The Leeds foursome bound their Marxist critique in tightly wound knots of enraged funk and avenging-disco syncopation, slashed by guitarist Andy Gill's blues-free swordplay.

The Stooges; Funhouse; Rolling Stone
4

The Stooges, ‘Funhouse’ (1970)

"The Stooges were the perfect embodiment of what music should be," said Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore. On the Detroit band's second album (produced by Kingsmen keyboardist Don Gallucci), that meant primal garage chaos nearly a decade ahead of its time. Guitarist Ron Asheton hammered as few chords as possible ("T.V. Eye" is just one), while Iggy Pop channeled bad-trip psychedelia and metallic R&B into hormonal meltdowns that inspired generations of pent-up noise fiends.

The Sex Pistols; Never Mind the Bollocks; Here's the Sex Pistols; 1977; Rolling Stone; Punk Albums
3

The Sex Pistols, ‘Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols’ (1977)

"If the sessions had gone the way I wanted, it would have been unlistenable for most people," Sex Pistols singer Johnny Rotten said. For millions, it was. But when the Sex Pistols' only official album made a frontal assault on the U.K. pop charts, Rotten's snarled lyrics about abortion and anarchy terrorized a nation. The result remains punk rock's Sermon on the Mount, and its echoes are everywhere.

The Clash; Punk Albums; Rolling Stone
2

The Clash, ‘The Clash’ (1977)

On April 3rd, 1976, a London pub-rock combo, the 101ers, played a show with gnarly urchins the Sex Pistols. The future was "right in front of me," recalled 101ers singer-guitarist Joe Strummer. A year later, Strummer was the battle-scarred voice of the Clash and in the U.K. Top 20 with his new band's self-titled flamethrower debut, a brittle-fuzz volley of politicized rage and street-choir vocal hooks that transformed British punk from a brawling adolescent turmoil to a dynamic social weapon in songs like "White Riot," "London's Burning" and "I'm So Bored With the U.S.A." Strummer and his co-writer, guitarist Mick Jones, were not born debaters; manager-svengali Bernie Rhodes pressed them to go topical. But the effect — propelled by bassist Paul Simonon and original drummer Terry Chimes — was pivotal. CBS in America did not issue the album until 1979, adding later singles. The original remains the sound of a riot being born.

Ramones; Ramones
1

Ramones, ‘Ramones’ (1976)

When the Ramones recorded their debut album for $6,400 in February 1976, the agenda was simple: "Eliminate the unnecessary and focus on the substance," as Tommy put it in 1999. But the brilliance of punk's most influential and enduring record — how four disparate outcasts from the American adolescent mainstream made such original single-minded fury — remains hard to define. Stork-like singer Joey was a pop kid chanting "Hey ho, let's go!" at the start of "Blitzkrieg Bop." Guitarist Johnny pared Dick Dale and Bo Diddley down to the airtight, bluesless staccato of "Beat on the Brat" and "Loudmouth." Bassist and primary lyricist Dee Dee wrote about what he knew (drugs, despair, hustling) with telegramatic wit. And drummer Tommy, a former recording engineer on Jimi Hendrix sessions, co-produced Ramones, guarding its brevity and purity. "We thought we could be the biggest band in the world," Johnny recalled. In a way, they would be. This is where it began.

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