Earlier this month, we posted our list of the 40 Greatest Punk Albums of All Time. Needless to say, not everyone agreed with the selections. Some felt that groups like Devo and Joy Division weren't truly punk, while others scoffed at the inclusion of Blink-182, Yeah Yeah Yeah's, White Lung and other bands that formed long after the original punk era. We figured it was only fair to open the question up to our readers, so here are your picks for the 10 best punk rock albums.
Television have such an insane amount of punk credibility that in 1974 they actually helped construct the stage at CBGB and became the first group of their kind to have a regular gig at the dingy New York club. When they finally got around to cutting their debut album two years later, they had lost bassist Richard Hell, who defected to form the Voidoids, but they still had a stellar collection of tunes that were ready to finally be captured in the studio. The complex, twin-guitar sound that Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd established on Marquee Moon didn't bear much of a resemblance to the music being created by fellow CBGB band the Ramones, but it was equally innovative and influential. U2's the Edge cites Verlaine as one of his biggest influences and Television surely could have gone onto huge things had they not split up just one year after Marquee Moon hit.
Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman cut their teeth in the late 1980s Bay Area ska punk band Operation Ivy, and when the group split in 1989, they went on to form Rancid. Their first two records generated a lot of buzz, if not sales, but by 1995, every label was searching for the next Green Day and major labels desperately tried to sign them. Rancid ultimately decided to stick with their indie label Epitaph, calling their third album, …And Out Come the Wolves, after the experience of being hunted like prey by the corporate labels. Even on Epitaph, …And Out Come the Wolves found a big audience. MTV and rock radio began playing the songs, and Rancid were heroes to kids that found Green Day just a little too pop-sounding and popular. Rancid continues to tour and record, but they never quite managed to release an album as beloved as ...And Out Come the Wolves.
The punk movement began in New York in the mid-1970s, but by 1980, punk bands were popping up all over America. San Francisco had a particularly vibrant scene, led by hardcore group the Dead Kennedys. They wrote stunningly fast songs with shocking titles like "I Kill Children," "Too Drunk To Fuck" and their immortal classic "Holiday In Cambodia." It was music guaranteed to shock and infuriate your parents, and the wild concerts made Ramones gigs feel tame by comparison. Like many punk bands, they made their biggest statement on their first record. There isn't a weak song on 1980's Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, and it set a very high bar, which they had trouble topping during the rest of their career. The group split six years later, and when they reformed in 2001, it was without frontman Jello Biafra.
The Dead Boys rose from the tiny, but highly influential Cleveland punk scene of the late 1970s, but they didn't get a lot of traction until they moved to New York in 1977 and started playing regularly at CBGB. Many of the key members were in the proto-punk group Rocket From the Tombs, but once they added charismatic frontman Stiv Bators they found themselves playing to bigger crowds and getting the attention of Sire records. That label released their debut Young Loud and Snotty in the fall of 1977, which kicks off the punk anthem "Sonic Reducer." That singular song (which began as a Rocket From the Tombs track) would make them legends forever, but the rest of the album is equally stunning. Sadly, the volatile group wasn't built to last and they split after just one more album the following year. Bators died in 1990 when he was hit by a taxi in Paris.
The Ramones may have established their sound on their 1976 debut, along with punk as we know it, but many fans feel they didn't quite perfect it until their third album late the following year. It's the last LP with the original four members, and the track list reads like a greatest hits album: "Rockaway Beach," "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," "Cretin Hop," "Teenage Lobotomy" and "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow." There isn't a weak moment among the 14 songs, even though it peaked at Number 49 on the Billboard 200. Amazingly, that was a major achievement for the band, since their first two records never went lower than Number 111. The tragedy of the Ramones is they weren't fully appreciated until after they were gone.
The Ramones were still unknown teenagers in Forest Hills, Queens, when the Stooges laid the groundwork for punk on their first two albums, 1969's The Stooges and Fun House a year later in 1970. They're two of the greatest albums in rock history, but almost nobody bought them and the band seemed destined for obscurity. David Bowie was one of the few people to truly get them, and as soon as he became famous, he made it his mission to bring the group back from the dead. He brought Iggy Pop and guitarist James Williamson to London, eventually sending for Stooges drummer Scott Asheton and his brother Ron Asheton, who was downgraded from guitar to bass. Over just a matter of weeks, Bowie helped them craft Raw Power. Despite the participation of Bowie near the height of his fame, the album still flopped and the group soon split up. It took many years for Raw Power to be fully appreciated, but today it's hailed as one of the finest albums of the Seventies, of any genre.
The Ramones may have not made much of an impact in America after their first couple of albums, but crowds in England went crazy for them and within weeks of their first British shows, punk bands were popping up all over the country. One of the most promising ones was the Clash, which was assembled by Bernie Rhodes, an early associate of the Sex Pistols. The four members of the Clash didn't really know each other when they came together, but they quickly developed a tight bond, and singer Joe Strummer and guitarist Mick Jones proved to be an amazing songwriting team. They co-wrote nearly every song on the group's 1977 self-titled debut, including classics "White Riot," "I'm so Bored With the USA" and "Career Opportunities." Critics in England went nuts for it, but the American label didn't get it and wouldn't put it in stores for another two years.
Nobody involved in the creation of the first Ramones album realized they were making history. The label gave them a budget of just $7,000, and it insisted they cut it in a matter of days. "The engineers couldn't understand what we were doing," Tommy Ramone told Rolling Stone shortly before his death in 2014. "I'm sure the engineer thought he was just recording one song, over and over." They'd actually written 14 extremely distinct songs, like "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Judy Is a Punk" and "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World." The latter horrified many at the label with lyrics that included: "I'm a Nazi schatze/ Y'know I fight for fatherland," but they released it anyway. It peaked at #111, but Sire knew they had something special and they stuck with the Ramones. Had they dropped them, music history might have been very different.
The Clash had been around just three years when they began work on London Calling, but they were already feeling confined by the strict boundaries of traditional punk. The four members had learned to love rockabilly, reggae, ska and R&B, and they wanted to incorporate all of it into their new work. Working with producer Guy Stevens, they came up with 19 tunes unlike anything else in their small catalog. "It was a point where everybody felt very comfortable being in the studio and recording," bassist Paul Simonon told Rolling Stone in 2013. "Guy Stevens was really important, and he helped create a very positive atmosphere, even though he was a little crazy. But he was like a conductor. He brought out the best in everybody." The group's diverging musical tastes would soon create major problems for the band, but for this brief moment in time, it only lead to genius and timeless songs that only improve with age.
The Sex Pistols' brief career was marked with so many tragedies, scandals, public outrages, media firestorms and even deaths that their actual music is often overlooked. That's a shame since their sole LP, 1977's Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, is absolutely brilliant. Bassist Glen Matlock had been given the boot by the time recording began, and his replacement, Sid Vicious, couldn't play a note, so guitarist Steve Jones did double-duty and handled all the bass parts. (Matlock did co-write many of the songs.) Working alongside drummer Paul Cook, Jones came up with riff after riff and provided Johnny Rotten with great material to flesh out into songs. "God Save the Queen" and "Anarchy in the UK" are the ones played most often these days, but tracks such as "Bodies," "Problems" and "Holidays in the Sun" are equally perfect. Johnny Rotten has been wise to refuse all offers to record new material with the Sex Pistols. Topping this would be impossible.