Readers Poll: The Best Punk Rock Bands of All Time - Rolling Stone
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Readers Poll: The Best Punk Rock Bands of All Time

You chose the Ramones, the Clash, the Dead Kennedys and more

Michael Caulfield/AMA2009/Getty Images for DCP

Two weeks ago, we asked our readers to select their favorite prog rock bands. We figured it was only logical to flip it around this week and ask about their favorite punk rock bands. What we didn't count on were fan site Green Day Authority and the band's official site at both posting the link and asking fans to vote for Green Day – which gave the group a significant boost in the final tally. Click through to see all the results and watch videos from the winners. 

By Andy Greene

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9. Social Distortion

Inspired by the first generation of punk rock bands, Mike Ness formed Social Distortion in 1978. They went out to become one of the most acclaimed punk groups of the early 1980s – and unlike almost all of their peers, they have survived to this day. In 1992 – at the height of the grunge movement – Social Distortion released Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell, their most popular album up to that point. The death of guitarist Dennis Danell in 2000 left Ness as the sole remaining original member, but the band continues to record and tour on a regular basis. 

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8. The Misfits

They took their name from a Marilyn Monroe movie, but it was horror movies and aggressive punk rock that inspired Glenn Danzig to form the Misfits in 1977. They seemed designed to shock parents, with lyrics about brutal murder and songs played at speeds that would probably have stunned even the Ramones. The group was so shocking that no record company agreed to release their first two albums, and they didn't manage to get an LP in stores until 1982's Walk Among Us. By that point, Danzig already had his eyes on a solo career and the band split up the following year. Within a few years, bands like Metallica and Guns N' Roses started citing them as an influence and the legends of the Misfits grew. A Danzig-free line-up of the band hit the road in 1995 and have been touring ever since. 

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7. Black Flag

Long before Henry Rollins was a VH1 talking head, spoken word artist and occasional movie star, he fronted the pivotal early 1980s hardcore band Black Flag. The group actually started in 1976 with frontman Keith Morris, but he quit just three years later and after flailing around for a bit with inadequate singers they hired Rollins, who was a 20-year-old fan of the band. Months after he joined, the band finally cut their legendary debut LP Damaged for SST Records. The group's wild gigs – often held at house parties or other non-traditional venues – became legendary around this time period and they inspired countless new bands to form. They broke up in 1986, but in 2003 they reformed for a series of charity shows. 

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6. Iggy and the Stooges

Few bands have a better reunion story than the Stooges. When the proto-punk icons broke up in 1974, very people even noticed. Despite a releasing three albums on a major label, the group never had anything resembling a hit, and drug addiction had been slowly crippling the Iggy Pop-led band for years.In the decades that followed, their legend slowly grew as groups ranging from the Sex Pistols to Guns N' Roses cited them as major influences. When they reformed in 2003 they were suddenly headlining festivals and making real money. Founding guitarist Ron Asheton died in 2009, but Iggy Pop brought back Raw Power-era guitarist James Williamson and they continue to tour on a regular basis. Last summer they performed Raw Power straight through at select dates around the world. 

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5. The Dead Kennedys

The Dead Kennedys really pissed a lot of people off during their initial eight-year run. With songs like "Too Drunk To Fuck," "Holiday In Cambodia" and "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" (not to mention their name was the Dead Kennedys), lots of members of the square community assumed they were a bunch of violent, anarchist freaks. Anybody who actually took the time to listen to their lyrics, learned that the songs were sarcastic, ironic and often rather brilliant. That didn't stop the Parents Music Resource Music Center from coming after them, and it certainly don't prevent them from facing obscenity charges at the height of the Reagan era. They broke up in 1986, and frontman Jello Biafra went on to become a very vocal member of the Green Party and a spoken word artist. The rest of the band reformed without him in 2001. 

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4. The Sex Pistols

The Sex Pistols generated so much attention for their obscenity-laden TV appearances, clothing, arrests, hairstyles, constant infighting and drug habits that people often overlooked their music. They just made one proper LP during their brief career – 1977's Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols – but it had an incredible impact. Nearly every song is a classic. When they reunited in 1996 it gave them enough material for an entire setlist without any clunkers. Replacement bassist Sid Vicious died in 1979, but they brought back original bassist Glen Matlock when they reformed and they still tour every few years. Check out this clip of "Bodies" from a few years ago to get a sense of how powerful they remain as a live act. 

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3. The Ramones

In many ways, the Ramones seem like a cursed band. During their 20-year run they never had a single go higher on the charts than Number 66. They rarely played venues larger than clubs, and they mostly traveled around by van. Lead singer Joey Ramone battled Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder all of his life, while bassist Dee Dee Ramone was a hopeless heroin addict. When they broke up in 1996 few people seemed to care –though within a few years their legend had begun to grow. Their music finally started to appear in movies and TV shows, and they got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and were awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards at the Grammys. Sadly, Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny all died between 2001 and 2004. 

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2. The Clash

The Clash only lasted seven years, but during that time they produced one of the strongest catalogs in rock history. The Beatles are the only other band with such a claim. The Clash began as a traditional punk band with their debut single "White Riot," but they soon embraced everything from rockabilly to reggae to hip-hop. Their 1980 LP London Calling is often called one of the greatest LPs of all-time, but all five of their albums are near-perfect. (I'm not counting 1985's Cut The Crap as a Clash album.) The band never reunited, but they were in heavy discussion about reuniting at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony when Joe Strummer suddenly died. 

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1. Green Day

Even the members of Green Day would probably object to being ranked higher than the Ramones and the Clash on this list, but the Internet has spoken and we have to honor that. It's easy to forget now, but by the early 2000's, Green Day seemed washed up. They were reduced to opening for Blink-182 in the summer of 2002, and it was hard to imagine them making a comeback – let alone becoming one of the biggest bands on the planet. Then again, nobody saw American Idiot coming. The brilliant 2004 rock opera forever changed their career, and suddenly they were playing stadiums and scoring more radio hits than any band on the planet. 2009's 21st Century Breakdown didn't quite live up to American Idiot, but it hardly mattered. 

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