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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.

Minor Threat; Complete Discography
27

Minor Threat, ‘Complete Discography’ (1989)

Minor Threat defined a new hardcore code with their anthem "Straight Edge" — down with drugs, down with booze, up with keeping your wits about you and fighting the power. The D.C. scene leaders didn't stay together very long, but they remain hugely influential thanks to Ian MacKaye's true-believer intensity, as he spread the straight-edge gospel of how to bring revolutionary values to everyday life.

Flipper; Generic
26

Flipper, ‘Generic’ (1982)

Named after a dead dolphin their singer found at the beach one day while tripping on acid, San Francisco's Flipper had two bassists and played long, crushingly slow improv jams like the eight-minute "Sex Bomb," which caps off Generic. Their fuck-you freedom inspired Kurt Cobain, who often sported a homemade Flipper T-shirt.

Mission Of Burma; Vs
25

Mission of Burma, ‘Vs.’ (1982)

"I think we're just a closet prog-rock act that happened during punk," Mission of Burma's Clint Conley once said. But the Boston avant-screech band pioneered an arty approach to punk with its 1980 debut indie single, "Academy Fight Song." Vs. is a complex headphone record, yet it's also a festering racket — with the anti-Reagan screed "That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate," and the throbbing tremolo trance of "Trem Two."

The Jam; All Mod Cons
24

The Jam, ‘All Mod Cons’ (1978)

Dubbing himself "the Cappuccino kid," the Jam's Paul Weller channeled punk fervor into a Mod revival, inspired by the Kinks and the Who. Their third album is a snapshot of London life, from "'A' Bomb in Wardour Street" to "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight," a salvo against rightwing punkers.

Pere Ubu; Terminal Tower
23

Pere Ubu, ‘Terminal Tower’ (1985)

As punk was heating up in New York and London, it was also percolating in Cleveland, where Pere Ubu created an "industrial folk" that sounded post-punk in 1975. This archival set peaks with the chillingly anthemic heartland noir of "Final Solution," where singer David Thomas yowls over Peter Laughner's rustbelting guitar. The hard-living Laughner drank his way into an early grave by the time he was 24, but the band he co-founded is still at it today.

Bikini Kill; The Singles
22

Bikini Kill, ‘The Singles’ (1998)

Bikini Kill demanded "Revolution Girl Style Now" on their cassette-only debut in 1991, and delivered just that as leaders of the Nineties riot-grrrl movement. The highlight of this singles collection is "Rebel Girl," featuring riot foremother Joan Jett on guitar and vocals; when singer Kathleen Hanna hollers "in her kiss, I taste the revolution," thousands of rebel girls were ready to storm patriarchy's barricades.

Richard Hell and The Voidoids; Blank Generation
21

Richard Hell and the Voidoids, ‘Blank Generation’ (1977)

Television co-founder Richard Hell pretty much invented what he called the "patchy raggedness" of punk fashion and hair care. When he went solo on Blank Generation, he enlisted Robert Quine, a Velvet Underground fanatic whose appropriately jagged guitar style was ideal for anti-love songs "Betrayal Takes Two" and "Love Comes in Spurts." And with the title track, Hell gave us what might be punk's ultimate anthem of liberation ripped from the void.

X-Ray Spex; Germfree Adolescents
20

X-Ray Spex, ‘Germfree Adolescents’ (1978)

Teenage multiracial London girl Poly Styrene had braces on her teeth and wore Day-Glo rags, screeching anthems like "Oh Bondage Up Yours!" over saxophone blasts, and chanting, "I am a poseur and I don't care! I like to make people stare!" X-Ray Spex's explosive debut went criminally unreleased in the U.S., but it became a word-of-mouth cult classic, influencing Sleater-Kinney, the Beastie Boys and many others.

Bad Brains
19

Bad Brains, ‘Bad Brains’ (1982)

The African-American Rastas in Bad Brains had roots in jazz and reggae, yet they helped found the D.C. hardcore scene with their self-proclaimed "P.M.A." — positive mental attitude. Named after a Ramones song, they were already local legends by the time they dropped their 1982 cassette-only debut, with its terrifyingly fast thrash-dervish attack "Pay to Cum."

Green Day; Dookie
18

Green Day, ‘Dookie’ (1994)

Green Day's major-label debut exploded across teenage America in the wake of Kurt Cobain's death like sweet, manic relief. Dookie was an irresistible paradox: 14 songs about despair detonated with Who-ish zeal and radio-tight pop craft. Singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong called it his "journal about what it's like to live as a street kid" — desperate for connection and frustrated to an atomic degree.

Television; Marquee Moon
17

Television, ‘Marquee Moon’ (1977)

Television spent years woodshedding at CBGB, to arrive at a sound as thrilling in its ambition as Ramones was in its simplicity. Marquee Moon drew on surrealist poetry and free jazz, connecting Sixties psychedelia with a more aggressive brand of derangement. The result was punk rock's first — and greatest — guitar landmark, making New York's mean streets seem like a mystic playground.

Descendents; Milo Goes to College
16

Descendents, ‘Milo Goes to College’ (1982)

L.A.'s Descendents thought their debut would be their only record because singer Milo Aukerman was, in fact, heading off to school. He earned his degree in biology, but the Descendents still managed to become a pop-punk institution, turning stunted rage toward their miserable middle-class existence on "I'm Not a Punk" and "Suburban Home" to pave the way for Green Day and every Warped Tour band that followed.

New York Dolls
15

New York Dolls, ‘New York Dolls’ (1973)

"What the Dolls did to be influential on punk was show that anybody could do it," singer David Johansen said. Aggressive, sloppy, androgynous and loud, they blazed through the gutter glam of "Trash" and "Personality Crisis" like a demented Rolling Stones. The Dolls' Todd Rundgren–produced debut exudes sleazy swagger, one reason punk impresario Malcolm McLaren managed them before assembling the Sex Pistols.

Sleater-Kinney; Dig Me Out
14

Sleater-Kinney, ‘Dig Me Out’ (1997)

When Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein proclaimed "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" on 1996's Call the Doctor, they were laying down a dare to themselves and the Nineties indie-rock scene. The band's next album, Dig Me Out, made good on that promise. Adding powerhouse drummer Janet Weiss, the Olympia, Washington, trio's feminist punk hit hard — from the elated rush of "Words and Guitar" to the raw romantic torment of "One More Hour."

Husker Du; Zen Arcade
13

Hüsker Dü, ‘Zen Arcade’ (1984)

The Minnesota power trio broke all the rules of three-chord hardcore with this double-vinyl concept opus — the story of a young guy escaping a broken home and making his way in the city. Bob Mould and Grant Hart traded off­ spit-and-growl vocals in savagely emotional hardcore blasts, but the music expanded into psychedelia, acoustic-folk rage and the closing 14-minute feedback instrumental, "Reoccurring Dreams."

Patti Smith; Horses
12

Patti Smith, ‘Horses’ (1975)

Before punk even existed, it already had its queen — a Lower East Side poet fusing Sixties garage rock and Rimbaud to create her own ecstatic vision. Working closely with guitarist Lenny Kaye, pianist Richard Sohl and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty (as well as CBGB buddy Tom Verlaine, who co-wrote the Jim Morrison tribute "Break It Up"), she made the New York scene's first major statement. Her record company hated Robert Mapplethorpe's classic cover photo, an image as boundary-shattering and beautiful as the music inside.