50 Greatest Pop-Punk Albums – Rolling Stone
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50 Greatest Pop-Punk Albums

From Blink-182 to the Buzzcocks, we count down the best of punk’s most lovable, lovelorn offshoot

In a 2016 tweet, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong declared war on pop-punk. “I’ve always hated the phrase,” he explained later in Kerrang! “I think it’s a contradiction in terms. Either you’re punk, or you’re not.”

But in one way or another, that contradiction – the idea of a staunchly underground art form with serious mainstream appeal – has been there all along. From hooky Seventies aces (The Buzzcocks, The Undertones) to Eighties hardcore heroes (Misfits, Descendents), Nineties hitmakers (Green Day, Blink-182) and beyond, punk bands have always championed great songwriting alongside their anti-authoritarian stance. And punk’s focus on speed, concision and three-chord simplicity is a natural fit with pop’s core values.

Over the years, what we now know as pop-punk has transformed rapidly, evolving with the times and the trends. As New Wave and college rock, followed by ska, rap, emo and even boy-band aesthetics have made their way into the mix, one feature has remained constant: Pop-punk is for the teens – or at least the young at heart. It’s inherently bratty, angsty-ridden, self-deprecating and generationally divisive. It’s also tender and romantic, thriving on nostalgic, swooning scenes of first loves, life-changing kisses and tragic heartbreaks. It is the OC, the One Tree Hill, the teen soap opera of contemporary rock. The early music of standout acts like Blink-182, Simple Plan, Sum-41 and, yes, even Green Day, was always about arrested development, a stubborn desire to never grow up. And fans returning to these classic albums 10, 15, 20 years on can feel like maybe they never did – a state of “What’s My Age Again?” bliss.

“The whole spectrum of human experience, all that longing and self-doubt, is perfectly sketched out in those formative years,” The New Yorker‘s Amanda Petrusich wrote in 2016 of the potency of adolescent emotion, while reflecting on Blink-182’s comeback. “That’s where pop-punk lives. Its rawness lies not in the music but in the heady newness of those feelings.”

In celebration of this durable, fiercely beloved movement, we count down the 50 best pop-punk albums so far. From the Buzzcocks to 5 Seconds of Summer, here is punk’s new canon.

Discount, Half-Fiction (1997)

Discount, ‘Half-Fiction’ (1997)

Long before transitioning into bluesy vamp acts the Kills and the Dead Weather, Alison Mosshart reigned as a rambling soprano during her six-year tenure in Discount. The Vero Beach natives made one of the earliest releases on the prolific label Fueled By Ramen and hadn’t even graduated high school when they became a staple of Florida’s pop-punk legacy. The follow-up to their blazing 1996 debut, Ataxia’s Alright Tonight, Half Fiction is a gloriously slapdash confessional opus, which New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert once lauded as “more of an influence [on us] than even West Coast punk.” Written during the twilight of their teens – after the band had already toured with J Church and Less Than Jake – jangly songs like “Clap and Cough” and are “Pocket Bomb” were cut, pasted and sewn together the way an Aaron Cometbus tour zine might sound if run through some Marshall stacks. Mosshart told Lenny in 2016: “When I was around 13, the kids that I skated with thought, Fuck it, let’s get instruments and start a band, because that’s what you do when you’re a skateboarder. [By] the time I was 14, we were touring. It just didn’t stop… I got to see the world at a very young age. My parents tried to say no a few times, but I was very headstrong. I was just like, This is what I need to do.S.E.


RVIVR, ‘RVIVR’ (2010)

RVIVR don’t necessarily recall the sound of fellow Olympians Bikini Kill, but these fierce feminist punks mirror the spirit of the Riot Grrrl movement – coming off as muscular while wholly avoiding machismo. Tense, alternating vocals between Erica Freas and Mattie Jo Canino – of another beloved pop-punk act, Long Island’s Latterman – deliver shout-along choruses about finding something to believe in (“Old friend, hold on/If nothing than to this song,” Canino belts on “Edge of Living”) and the inevitable losses that come with growing up (“We’ll have to dream up the ones that we missed because nothing about life is forever,” Freas shouts over a furious hardcore beat on “Grandma”). “Fuck yes there’s a sense of hopelessness,” Canino told Unbelievably Bad Mag of the RVIVR sound in 2017. “But it’s in a pendulum swing with moments of invincibility.” M.S.

5 Seconds of Summer, 5 Seconds of Summer (2014)

5 Seconds of Summer, ‘5 Seconds of Summer’ (2014)

With their self-titled debut, 5 Seconds of Summer presented themselves as the perfect marriage of boy band and rock group – accomplishing what so many pop-punk acts always seemed to aspire to, but could never quite realize. Lead single and wide-eyed, pheromone-heavy teen anthem “She Looks So Perfect” sums up the Aussie quartet’s shrewd One Direction–meets–All Time Low blend. Think of 5SOS as the more politically-correct children of Blink-182, and one of the few acts on this list writing about high-school woes (“Good Girls,” “Social Casualty,” “End Up Here,” virtually every other track on 5 Seconds of Summer) from an authentically adolescent perspective. Their youthful abandon centers around saccharine-sweet melodies, four-part harmonies and, of course, dreamy locks: As lead guitarist Michael Clifford joked with latter-day pop-punk self-awareness in the band’s Rolling Stone cover story, “Let’s face it, half of pop-punk is just about the hair.” M.S.

Joyce Manor, Never Hungover Again (2014)

Joyce Manor, ‘Never Hungover Again’ (2014)

Joyce Manor’s early years were spent oscillating between frenetic punk and heart-on-sleeve pop. “The first thing we did was pop-punk wanting to be hardcore, and we succeeded,” guitarist-singer Barry Johnson told L.A. Record after his band released their third album, Never Hungover Again. “That gave us the confidence to focus on more pop stuff, which we wouldn’t have had the confidence to do before – to really wanna write actual pop songs, for better or worse.” It was for the better: Never Hungover Again is a titanic punch of yearning, winsome pop-forward tunes delivered in an efficient 19 minutes. Here, Joyce Manor smoothed out the edges of their songs, letting their melodies breathe and clearing room for their hooks to hit the gut. Johnson’s pensive bellows and empathetic lyrics about youthful mistakes (“Heart Tattoo”) and post-adolescent malaise (“Catalina Fight Song”) helped make Never Hungover Again a pop-punk album even people who hated pop-punk could find joy in. L.G.

Good Charlotte, Good Charlotte (2000)

Good Charlotte, ‘Good Charlotte’ (2000)

“This song is dedicated to every kid who ever got picked last in gym class,” begins “Little Things,” the opening track on Good Charlotte’s self-titled album. The intro is the thesis for the whole record: 14 tracks for the underdogs, the unpopular kids, for everyone who ever dreamed of leaving their small hometown. Good Charlotte is a record that knows teenagers need pop-punk; most of the songs take place in the halls of the high school where the four friends met. Benji and Joel Madden’s songs pivot on candid lyrics like “I know that I’m not fitting in with you and your stuck-up friends” or “Motivate me/I want to get myself out of this bed.” “When we recorded our first record, I was still a senior in high school,” guitarist Billy Martin once recalled of the album. “We were super young and that record was just simple.” P.V.

all breaking things

All, ‘Breaking Things’ (1993)

After brainy Descendents frontman Milo Aukerman finally chose to pursue science over punk in 1987, the remaining members changed their name to All – the title of Descendents’ final Eighties-era LP – and kept right on pushing. They toured and recorded incessantly in the years to come with talented singers Dave Smalley and Scott Reynolds, but had trouble winning over audiences attached to their old sound. (“We all know that All is the band guilty of not being the Descendents,” drummer-songwriter Bill Stevenson joked wryly in the 2014 Descendents/All doc Filmage.) Everything clicked, musically, if not commercially, on 1987’s Breaking Things, where new singer Chad Price’s gravelly pipes perfectly complemented some of the most aggressive material Stevenson & Co. ever wrote. On tracks like “Original Me” and “Right,” the band combined all the breakneck energy and soaring melody of Descendents at their best with burly rock power. And on brutally cathartic tracks such as “Guilty” and “Birthday I.O.U.,” they traded their old band’s adolescent yearning for a darker, more adult brand of heartache. Other strong All records followed – including a lone major-label full-length, 1995’s Pummel – but Breaking Things remains a high point for this brilliant, underrated band living in the shadow of the Milo mythos. H.S.

The Distillers, Sing Sing Death House (2002)

The Distillers, ‘Sing Sing Death House’ (2002)

Distillers frontwoman Brody Dalle was just 18 when she ditched a women’s shelter in Australia, wed Rancid’s Tim Armstrong in the United States and signed to his label Hellcat Records. But she reached global demigoddess status in 2002 after her rags-to-riches gutter-punk ballad “The Young Crazed Peeling” first debuted on MTV – inspiring a wave of young women with liberty spikes and a thirst for freedom. “There should be more girls playing rock,” Dalle told Safety Pin Girl in 2002, “and not preaching about the fact that they’re female. That’s obviously a part of it when you’re up there, but you just gotta fuckin’ work.” Leave it to band as dauntless as the Distillers to sneak a song about the Seneca Falls Convention into Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4; or mine pop gold from the crusty underside of L.A. in “City of Angels.” She later expanded on the album title in an interview for Sink Hole Zine, conducted outside a New Haven restroom in 2002. I was watching a documentary on Sing Sing Death House, the prison,” she recalled. “I really liked the title as a reference for a person. Like in dream books, a house represents yourself, your body. That’s where it came from. Sing Sing Death House is not a catharsis, it’s just a representation of dealing with shit.” S.E.

The Ataris, Blue Skies, Broken Hearts, Next 12 Exits (1999)

The Ataris, ‘Blue Skies, Broken Hearts … Next 12 Exits’ (1999)

Long before they cracked the Top 40, the Ataris were kicking it in Anderson, Indiana, binging on Eighties movies and writing rapid-fire break-up songs à la Descendents. On Blue Skies, Broken Hearts … Next 12 Exits, their second LP, these Midwestern romantics take great care to season their teenage heartache with bursts of self-awareness (“My Hotel Year”) and posi infatuation anthems (“San Dimas High School Football Rules”). Frontman Kris Roe gets downright soppy when he promises to rob a Kwik-E-Mart for his crush in the slow-dance-worthy jammer “I Won’t Spend Another Night Alone” – so good it would later resurface on the band’s 2003 mainstream-crossover So Long, Astoria. What makes Blue Skies special is the genuine, unfiltered sentimentality of its contents – songs so plush you almost forget the eye-roll-inducing juvenilia of “This Is the Last Song I Will Ever Write About a Girl.” As Roe said of the tune 11 years later, “Angst is only good when you’re 19 and full of empty causes. When you’re 33, two marriages down and trying to find yourself, you look back and laugh at angst.” S.E.


Lagwagon, ‘Let’s Talk About Feelings’ (1998)

If NOFX’s Punk in Drublic is a slurring crust-punk passed out on a park bench, Lagwagon’s melodic punk masterpiece Let’s Talk About Feelings is his sensitive kid brother, handing out missing-person flyers. Sourcing material from black comedies like Welcome to the Dollhouse and Swimming with Sharks, Lagwagon largely sidestepped the toilet humor and raging sexism of their skate-punk brethren, in pursuit of murkier subject matter. “I’m not gonna watch you kill yourself to live,” Joey Cape sings in “The Gun in Your Hand”; in “Love Story,” he slams a narcissist, sighing, “Drama is exhausting and I’d rather be alone.” Throughout the album, razor-sharp metal licks and crafty rhythms complement Cape’s dry affect, a blend the Cali band perfected on “May 16,” which tells the tale of Cape being uninvited from a friend’s wedding. It would be the band’s most popular song to date, landing a Tony Hawk Pro-Skater 2 feature and establishing Feelings as an essential entry in Fat Wreck Chords oeuvre. “The band was really kind of getting tired of that silly pop persona that we seemed to have,” Cape told Noisey in 2014. “But I love the way that [Feelings] sounds. I like it sonically and it’s also really poppy. I like pop music.” S.E.

The Wonder Years, The Greatest Generation (2013)

The Wonder Years, ‘The Greatest Generation’ (2013)

Wonder Years frontman Dan “Soupy” Campbell told music blog Mind Equals Blown that the members of America’s Greatest Generation made him realize his desire to be brave: “I spent my whole life, my entire life, content with mediocrity,” he said. “Afraid of greatness because I was afraid of failure, and I hid behind anything I could.” For Campbell and his band, overcoming that mindset meant proudly flaunting their suburban Philadelphia upbringing and deep affection for the sugary pop-punk of their youth – Motion City Soundtrack’s condensed euphoria, the Starting Line’s melodic punch, Blink-182’s supercharged hooks – on this 2013 LP. Songs such as the uplifting, muscular “We Could Die Like This” make hailing from neighborhoods with well-manicured lawns feel like a badge of honor. L.G.

Bouncing Souls, Hopeless Romantic (1999)

Bouncing Souls, ‘Hopeless Romantic’ (1999)

On their fourth album, Bouncing Souls streamlined the nervy propulsion of their previous work into clean, uplifting songs that still captured the rough-and-tumble glee of an overcrowded basement show. On the goofy sing-along “Bullying the Jukebox,” these New Brunswick, New Jersey, hometown faves seem to describe their own anything-goes punk ethos when they sing about loading up a playlist full of “Songs of punk and songs of joy/Love songs about girls and boys/Songs of metal and English stuff/And some hardcore songs to make us feel tough.” When discussing the chant-heavy classic “Ole” with Alternative Press, frontman Greg Attonito said, “The lyrics are completely silly. We just went with it. Maybe it could have turned into something else, but why bother? It was just about yelling ‘Ole’ and being happy.” L.G.

Screeching Weasel, My Brain Hurts (1991)

Screeching Weasel, ‘My Brain Hurts’ (1991)

There was a time, long before Green Day blew up, and even longer before Ben Weasel was using Twitter to voice his politically incorrect opinions on or violently attacking women at his shows, when you couldn’t go to a punk gig without seeing the Screeching Weasel logo tattooed on at least one arm in the audience. There was also a time when everybody wanted to try and match the band’s snarl and speed, including Blink-182, who covered Screeching Weasel in their pre-fame days. The Ramones-influenced sound that would go on to influence a thousand imitators never sounded better than on the band’s third LP, My Brain Hurts. Weasel is at his misanthropic best here, singing about weirdo teens, a girl who cleaned up off drugs and how nice people make him sick, and even throwing in an offbeat cover of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now.” J.D. 

Yellowcard, Ocean Avenue (2003)

Yellowcard, ‘Ocean Avenue’ (2003)

It turns out that strings were the much-needed final piece of the pop-punk puzzle, as proved by Yellowcard’s violinist Sean Mackin, who added cinematic drama to tracks like “Only One” and “Twentythree.” The Jacksonville, Florida, band’s fourth album tapped directly into the adolescent heart of early-2000s pop-punk, zeroing in on the endless nights and intense beauty of teenage love and staying young forever, tropes that helped make nostalgic, arena-worthy single “Ocean Avenue” a treasured classic. “It’s funny that in particular ‘Ocean Avenue’ was the one that really put the band into the spotlight,” singer Ryan Key recalled in a 2012 interview. “The song almost didn’t make the album because I couldn’t finish writing the chorus.” B.S.

the undertones the undertones

The Undertones, ‘The Undertones’ (1979)

In post-Pistols ’79, the Clash’s London was calling to the zombies of death, and Gang of Four were searching for the dirt behind the daydream. The Undertones happened to be living in the middle of Northern Ireland conflict just a short hop across the sea, but instead they opted to be sunny and whingy, reveling in both suburban angst and pop artifice like true bubblegum heroes. “It was a positive way to fill our time rather than join in with the rioting,” guitarist John O’Neil told Noisey. “I was also a very naïve, diffident teenager. I didn’t have the confidence to write about the political situation and do it justice.” Instead they absorbed the lessons of Phil Spector, the Brill Building, the Nuggets comps and the Ramones, singing about heartbreak (“Get Over You”) and sexual frustration (“Girls Don’t Like It”) with the taut New Wave hooks that made their friendzone anthems both melancholy and fun, connecting the dots between Jonathan Richman and the Descendents. The can’t-get-no-satisfaction infatuation-rocker “Teenage Kicks” became a modern classic, covered by everyone from Green Day to One Direction. C.R.W.

Saves the Day, Through Being Cool (2001)

Saves the Day, ‘Through Being Cool’ (1999)

On their second album, Saves the Day singer-songwriter Chris Conley and the rest of this long-running Princeton, New Jersey, crew perfected their heart-on-sleeve (or, as on “Rocks Tonic Juice Magic,” heart-on-the-floor) approach to pop-punk. “You listen to the lyrics and it’s just like this lonely guy, who was longing for something more,” Conley told Alternative Press in 2014. “The record has a lot of melancholy, which would play out in the years to come. But the songs are all very exciting, full of life.” The tracks range from heartache to anger, but it’s the way Conley intertwines these emotions that makes the album so effective: one minute, he’s missing an ex dearly (“Holly Hox, Forget Me Nots”); the next, he’s lashing out at a shitty friend (“Through Being Cool”). P.V.

Pennywise, unknown road

Pennywise, ‘Unknown Road’ (1993)

By 1993, SoCal pop-punk grandads Bad Religion were slowing down and diversifying their sound, and it was up to a new generation to carry the torch. With their unabashed social conscience and gift for speedy, melodic fist-pumpers, Hermosa Beach’s Pennywise were natural successors. Their second full-length, Unknown Road, epitomizes a certain kind of Nineties West Coast pop-punk record, driven by skate-friendly, almost thrash-like riffage and clear-eyed post-adolescent optimism directly descended from Bad Brains’ Positive Mental Attitude ethos. The L.A. riots–themed “CIty Is Burning,” the anti-conformity rallying cry of the title track and the big-questions-asking “Dying to Know” all serve as a powerful reminder of pop-punk’s most earnest chapter, before Green Day’s rise nudged the genre in a goofier direction. “To some it can sound pedantic, as if we were preaching to people,” frontman Jim Lindberg told the Los Angeles Times in 1994. “Although we’re an easy target for cynics, I don’t think there are enough bands out there on the positive tip.” H.S.

The Ergs!, Dork Rock Cork Rod (2003)

The Ergs!, ‘dorkrockcorkrod’ (2004)

New Jersey trio the Ergs! went into recording their debut with low expectations: “We were just like, ‘Let’s make this thing, I guess,'” drummer-vocalist Mike Yannich, a.k.a. Mikey Erg, told Noisey. “There was no real thought process to it, just like, ‘Bands make albums, let’s make albums.'” Despite their lax attitude, the band ended up with an urgent, infectious pop-punk tour de force, the sort of album that makes you want to pogo jump while screaming about heartbreak. “I’m in love, I’m in trouble!” Erg yells on the aptly named “First Song Side One,” riffing on the Replacements and announcing a 16-song LP that lasts just 32 minutes. Along the way, Yannich & Co. touch on everything from hardcore to hip-hop and doo-wop (to say nothing of references to The Simpsons and Henry Rollins’ Get in the Van book). But the album never strays far from its speedy, melodic roots, helping to secure the band’s cult-fave status among the pop-punk faithful. P.V.

Simple Plan, No Pads, No Helmets...Just Balls (2002)

Simple Plan, ‘No Pads, No Helmets … Just Balls’ (2002)

The teen-comedy film boom of the late Nineties and early 2000s helped to push pop-punk to larger audiences, and Canadian crew Simple Plan excelled at making snappy, catchy, sweet tunes that feel like the big scenes they complemented in flicks like The New Guy, The Hot Chick and Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. The dramatic dejectedness of “I’m Just a Kid,” sweeping romance of “I’d Do Anything” and brooding family drama of “Perfect” captured the genre’s signature edge-of-seventeen mindset. “Until the day I die, I promise I won’t change so you better give up/I don’t want to be told to grow up,” Pierre Bouvier sings on the aptly named “Grow Up,” a song that also name-checks Good Charlotte, Sum-41, Blink-182 and MxPx. Adding to the album’s classically pop-punk feel, Simple Plan even got vocal assists from Blink’s Mark Hoppus and Good Charlotte’s Joel Madden on a pair of songs. B.S.

Lifetime, Jersey's Best Dancers (1997)

Lifetime, ‘Jersey’s Best Dancers’ (1997)

Lifetime’s third album blended the worlds of hardcore and pop-punk like it was the most natural thing in the world. “I had zero self-esteem and thought I should just be home and figure out how to get a job,” frontman Ari Katz told Noisey in 2016 of that era. But Katz’s anxieties only enhanced his poetic lyrics on Jersey’s Best Dancers: You sat that chair like a queen in the kitchen,” he sings in “Turnpike Gates,” “I memorized the lines your eyes made at every squint you shot my way.” Their odes to youthful indiscretions and basement-show romance gave Lifetime’s hometown of New Brunswick, New Jersey, its very own underground opus. L.G.

Tsunami Bomb, The Ultimate Escape (2002)

Tsunami Bomb, ‘The Ultimate Escape’ (2002)

“Tsunami Bomb happened at a time when a lot of punk was happening,” vocalist Emily “Agent M” Whitehurst, recalled in 2015, “but the number of female vocalists in that genre was pretty small. [We] just kind of stood apart.” In retrospect, the Bay Area band’s gender makeup remains an anomaly in the genre, but more exceptional were Tsunami Bomb’s actual songs: melancholic ragers powered by Whitehurst’s jazzy, candy-coated inflections. Following the release of their 2000 EP, The Invasion From Within!, Tsunami Bomb rapidly became a Warped Tour staple, and released their first full-length, The Ultimate Escape, on the Vandals’ Kung Fu Records. Taking cues from the brutal Youth Crew sound and ethos of the Eighties, Tsunami Bomb’s punchy debut speaks not to adolescent recklessness, but the cost of its comedowns: “Independence doesn’t start when you leave home,” Whitehurst sings matter-of-factly in “Take the Reins,” and chides aging punks to “be what you’re becoming, and not who you were” in “20 Going On.” The Ultimate Escape is an uppercut to boys’ clubs, drinking culture and victims of Peter Pan Syndrome everywhere. S.E.

AFI, The Art of Drowning (2000)

AFI, ‘The Art of Drowning’ (2000)

AFI’s fifth studio album cracked the Billboard 200 and brought the Bay Area band thrashing into the mainstream. Their gothic lyricisms and skittering NorCal rhythms positioned them as the missing link between horror-punk forefathers the Misfits and emo insurgents My Chemical Romance – most palpable in “Days of the Phoenix,” a paean to the “teenage death boys, teenage death girls” that populated their favorite hometown venue. That same year, following the departure of Michale Graves from the Misfits, androgynous frontman Davey Havok was scouted to be his replacement – yet Havok declined. It was impeccable timing: following Art of Drowning, AFI’s profile rose tremendously in the years to come, especially among young women. “When I think of those times,” said Havok in 2017, “I remember the shift in the male-to-female ratio in the audience changing. We used to only play to men. It’s cool that it swayed towards the female … from what I’ve known growing up, ladies always had the best taste in music.” S.E.