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.

50 Best Pop Punk Albums All Time

Blink-182, ‘Dude Ranch’ (1997)

In 1997, pop-punk fans were largely allergic to the idea of major-label deals, but Blink-182 believed in their mass-market potential before the rest of the world did. They signed to MCA and got to work on their sophomore LP, Dude Ranch, still honoring the same DIY spirit that drove their early releases. Bassist Mark Hoppus wrote “Dammit,” the loser’s anthem that would launch the album, after playing around on an acoustic guitar that was missing two strings. Still, the record’s juvenile overtones often concealed real poignancy: “Dick Lips” is an empathetic ode to a teen fuckup (“Remember I’m a kid/I know not what I did”), while “Josie” is a sweet song about a considerate, burrito-retrieving girlfriend. The album’s disarming combo of humor and raw pop smarts helped Dude Ranch go platinum, paving the way for Blink’s future megastardom. But the band never lost the wide-eyed attitude on display here. “The biggest compliment of all is a kid saying we opened up his eyes to a new style of music,” Hoppus would later tell Rolling Stone. “We’re kind of like Fisher-Price: My First Punk Band.” M.S.

Generation X, 'Generation X' (1978)

Generation X, ‘Generation X’ (1978)

Though he made his biggest commercial mark in the Eighties, some of Billy Idol’s finest work can be found on the self-titled 1978 debut of London punks Generation X. Packed with zippy chord progressions, instantly catchy choruses and gobs of streetwise attitude – the patented Idol sneer was already in full effect – songs like “Ready Steady Go,” “Youth Youth Youth,” “One Hundred Punks” and the dramatic “Kiss Me Deadly” were generally considered too poppy and shallow to be taken seriously at the time, but they’ve aged remarkably well. “We were trying to communicate our experiences in a romantic but still realistic way, instead of just shouting grievances, as was the fashion at the time,” Idol wrote in his 2015 autobiography, Dancing With Myself. “This new direction pulled us away from the old punk, allowing us to maintain its aggression and attitude while advancing musically by exploring other, more complicated emotions and feelings.” The approach also left its mark on numerous pop-punk practitioners to come; as Billie Joe Armstrong put it back in 1994, when Rolling Stone asked him about being an icon for twentysomethings, “The only thing I know about Generation X is that I really liked their first record a lot.” D.E.

50 Best Pop Punk Albums All Time

Buzzcocks, ‘Singles Going Steady’ (1979)

Buzzcocks formed the same year Paul McCartney sang “Silly Love Songs” and broke up two years before Johnny Rotten declared, “Love is two minutes, 52 seconds of squishing noises.” In that time, they explored the common ground between poppy romance and punky aggression with a series of short, lustful bursts of melodic tension (and, incidentally, one of their greatest-ever songs, “What Do I Get?” lasts 2:52, for maximum squishiness). Although the Mancunian crew – which formed after seeing a Sex Pistols gig – released a number of brilliant long-players, none of their albums topped the compilation Singles Going Steady, which traces the origins of pop-punk one 45 at a time and has influenced artists as diverse as the Offspring and Fine Young Cannibals. Beginning with 1977’s confessional, hilarious “Orgasm Addict” (“Butchers’ assistants and bellhops/You’ve had them all here and there”), they’d mastered pinning quirky hooks to electrifying guitar. After original frontman Howard DeVoto split to form Magazine, guitarist Pete Shelley took over and wrote one catchy, devastating, sexually ambiguous confused-love song after another: “Ever Fallen in Love … (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve),” “What Do I Get?” “Promises.” Lyrically, the songs bemoaned how happiness is always just out of reach (literally, in the case of the downright funky “Why Can’t I Touch It?”). Musically, they were a marriage of the Kinks’ and David Bowie’s melodiousness with the bludgeon of Ramones. “To me it was just like the stuff I’d grown up with in the Sixties, like With the Beatles,” Shelley said in 2015 of his early songs. “We wanted to be intelligent, but not intellectual. We wanted to be entertaining, but not entertainers.” K.G.

50 Best Pop Punk Albums All Time

Fall Out Boy, ‘Take This to Your Grave’ (2003)

The 2000s saw Green Day and Blink-182 growing up and pop-punk becoming omnipresent, soundtracking teen flicks and filling arenas. Fall Out Boy’s debut ushered in a whole new, genre-blurring scene, in which heavy riffs and a screamo aesthetic mingled with old-fashioned teen heartbreak. The album is full of yearning, as Patrick Stump inquires where a girl’s boy is tonight, hoping he’s a gentleman (“Grand Theft Autumn/Where Is Your Boy”) and looks to the future while celebrating friendship and the freedom of the weekend (“Saturday”). The album, which began as a demo, helped secure Fall Out Boy’s future even before their sophomore LP would take them to unimaginable heights of rock success. “Up to that point in the band’s history, we were merely something to do before we were forced to give in to the pressures of real life,” singer Patrick Stump wrote in a blog post celebrating the album’s 10th anniversary. “We saw ourselves as a pretty cool excuse for a semester off of college.” B.S.

50 Best Pop Punk Albums All Time

Descendents, ‘Milo Goes to College’ (1982)

Think of Milo Goes to College as pop-punk’s Revenge of the Nerds–ian big bang. Descendents’ classic lineup came together in the late Seventies, when guitarist Frank Navetta and drummer Bill Stevenson, who bonded as teenage fishing buddies in Hermosa Beach, met up with thirtysomething local bass whiz Tony Lombardo. Bespectacled fan-turned-frontman Milo Aukerman gave the band not only its signature melodic brilliance but also its lovably dorky image. “I went through my first few years of high school trying not to be different and not get beat up, and then at some point a switch got flipped and I just said, ‘Fuck it, I don’t care. I’m just going to be the nerdiest, geekiest guy I can be,'” Aukerman recalled in 2016. That mindset soon found its way into early Descendents favorites like lovelorn anthem “Hope,” fishing-as-escape rallying cry “Catalina” and cool-kid takedown “I’m Not a Loser,” with Lombardo contributing ironic masterpiece “Suburban Home,” and its “I want to be stereotyped/I want to be classified” refrain. Though the band flaunted serious hardcore chops and shared bills with Black Flag, shameless goof-offs like “Weinerschnitzel” (a frantic fast-food order set to music) and “I Like Food” made it clear that they had no patience for stagy punk angst. True to their debut’s title, Aukerman actually would ditch the band to further his education – before returning in the mid-Nineties for the stellar Everything Sucks, and sticking around on-and-off ever since – but the trademark silly-sappy blend of Milo Goes to College would become the blueprint for pop-punk as we know it. “They were like this punk-rock Beach Boys,” Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus told SiriusXM of their forebears. “All the punk rock that I’d heard before that was really angry and political and screaming and not really my thing. … I really liked the melody and the harmony of the Descendents; you could sing along to it. It was stuff that I cared about, like food and friends and hanging out and girls and being pissed at your parents.” H.S.

50 Best Pop Punk Albums All Time

The Ramones, ‘Rocket to Russia’ (1977)

“[T]he band really wanted a hit, all of them – they wanted a hit bad,” engineer Ed Stasium told Music Radar. “So by the third album, Rocket To Russia, we started doing more overdubs, almost to soften the sound a little bit. I remember references to Steve Miller being made when we did a few of those songs.” Behind the chainsaw guitars, shredded blue jeans, breakneck tempos and disaffected idontwannas, the Ramones were always a pop band at heart, fans of vocal groups like the Shangri-Las, the Ronettes and the Crystals. And Rocket to Russia was maybe their most pop moment. It certainly was from the most quantifiable position, since it featured the only three of their songs to chart on the Billboard Hot 100: “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” “Rockaway Beach” and their cover of Bobby Freeman’s “Do You Wanna Dance?” “We came into our own on that record. We had a little higher budget, we were using really good recording studios,” Tommy Ramone told The Huffington Post in 2012. “By that time our playing was really tight. We thought we were just one step away from being successful, you know, so we had a lot of enthusiasm.” C.R.W.

50 Best Pop Punk Albums All Time

Blink-182, ‘Enema of the State’ (1999)

Blink-182 offered a new generation all the hooks of teen-geared pop without the schmaltz – even rocking white Backstreet Boys–style jumpsuits in the video for standout Enema of the State single “All the Small Things.” Enema was the album that defined Blink-182’s winning formula: palm-muted power chords, nasal vocals, earworm choruses, the airtight drumming of then-new recruit Travis Barker and plenty of adolescent lyricism mixed with adult skepticism. The album’s unapologetic mixed messages – from R-rated tracks like “Dysentery Gary” and ode to immaturity “What’s My Age Again?” to the somber, suicide-themed “Adam’s Song” – clearly resonated, as the record would go on to sell more than 4 million copies in the U.S. alone. “Everyone who starts a band dreams of being successful,” Tom DeLonge told Rolling Stone in Blink’s 2000 cover story, “But never do you dream of this.” M.S.

50 Best Pop Punk Albums All Time

Green Day, ‘Dookie’ (1994)

Naturally, a band named after a day spent smoking pot would perfect youth disillusionment, making mega-hits about masturbation (“Longview”), anxiety (“Basket Case”) and ditching suburbia (“Welcome to Paradise”) on their major-label debut. Green Day’s third LP is a pop-punk gut-punch, perfectly marrying tight melody with a get-bent mentality. After the grunge-dominated early Nineties, that irreverence was a breath of fresh air. “There was a lot of whining in rock at the time,” Billie Joe Armstrong told Rolling Stone 20 years after the album’s release. “By nature, we’re extroverts. So that’s what came across in our songs. We knew we were entering an arena of bands that we didn’t like.”

Despite its underdog spirit, Dookie was a massive success. It was the first pop-punk album that proved the “pop” part of the subgenre tag to be completely feasible, in part because Dookie was an album aimed squarely at teens: either literal ones, or those who never quite left that era of their lives behind. The LP spawned a brand new generation of punks, making the form feel younger and more accessible than ever. “I could care less if people think I’m insignificant because I’m 22 years old,” Armstrong told Rolling Stone in a 1995 interview. “That’s great. We caused a generation gap.” B.S.

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