Top 30 All-Time Greatest Punk Albums - Guitar World

Top 30 All-Time Greatest Punk Albums

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1) THE SONICS—Here are the Ultimate Sonics (Etiquette, 1991)
No history of punk would be complete without a bow to Tacoma’s Sonics, who, in 1964 and 1965, anticipated the whole thing on two LPs worth of crazed noise before terminal obscurity set it. Amid a spastic frenzy of riffs lifted from Chuck Berry and lots of demented screaming, the Sonics ravaged the classics of rock and roll. They also came up with three twisted originals: “Witch,” “Psycho” and “Strychnine” indicated that when they weren’t pillaging rock’s roots, they were seeking inspiration from comics and bad horror flicks—all this an easy 10 years before the Ramones had similar ideas. This compilation includes two albums, alternate versions and some live cuts as well.

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2) MC5—Kick out the Jams (Elektra, 1969)
Back when punk was something you didn’t want to end up becoming in jail, these boys thundered out of Detroit with a live record inspired by Motown, free jazz and drag racing that spit high-energy guitar scree in the face of all that laid-back Sixties hippie rock. As defiant as a molotov cocktail, the original pressing of the album included the word “motherfucker” and even had liner notes that called for a revolution based on “smoking dope and fucking in the streets.”

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3) IGGY AND THE STOOGES—The Stooges (Elektra, 1969)
Iggy Pop hasn’t made a record worth listening to in years, but back in 1969 his band virtually invented punk on this, their premier outing. It’s all here: the bad attitude, the three chords and the mind-and-body-in-the-gutter-imagination. From the dead-eyed desperation of “1969” to the twisted sexual references of “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” this lean masterpiece became a primer for the next generation of drug-addled idiot savants, proving that less was ultimately more.

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4) NEW YORK DOLLS—New York Dolls (Mercury, 1973)
Some say the New York Dolls created punk rock; others say it was the MC5 or Iggy. But in reality, the Dolls were just a poor man’s Rolling Stones in drag with more heroin and dirtier clothes. The reason they and this album remain important is because of guitarist Johnny Thunders, who created the classic punk rock lead (ultimately derived from the style of Chuck Berry) which changed the face of guitar playing forever. His haunting string bends and primal wailing live on today.

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5) ELECTRIC EELS—God Says Fuck You (Homestead, 1975)
This slab of fear and loathing came out of Cleveland. Recorded in 1975, it is a prime example of punk’s first wails, when it was still covered in slimy afterbirth and before anybody suspected it might survive. This album features 17 primal poundings straight from the ugly subconscious, none of which were released during the band’s short life span (give it a spin and you won’t have to ask why). No venue in town would give this dangerously disturbed brat pack a gig.

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6) DEAD BOYS—Young, Loud, and Snotty (Sire, 1977)
The very essence of punk rock, distilled like the cheapest, nastiest rotgut you have ever imbibed. With songs like “Sonic Reducer,” “I Need Lunch,” and “Caught With the Meat in Your Mouth,” this band, with vocalist Stiv Bators and psycho guitarist Cheetah Chrome, captured the ears of the Blank Generation. The album title says it all.

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7) SEX PISTOLS—Never Mind the Bollocks (Here’s the Sex Pistols) (Warner Bros., 1977)
The Sex Pistols were always scammers. Created by Malcolm McLaren to advertise his clothing store, the Pistols embodied everything the entrepreneur had learned from his brief stint as manager of the New York Dolls. But true to the best traditions of rock, the Pistols proved greater than their inspiration and made an album of raw, passionate pop tunes that foretold of the collapse of England well before all the university-trained pundits had a clue that there was no future left for that soggy isle.

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8) THE DAMNED—Damned Damned Damned (Frontier, 1977)
This one holds the honor of being the first punk album released in England. In 1977, when lumbering guitar heroes ruled the earth, the masses were blown away by the Damned’s raw speed, muscular energy and radical disregard for technique. Alas, 20 years later, the kids probably just file it away as Rolling Stones outtakes. But a true aficionado will appreciate the afterburn of this steaming load of unabashed rock as it clears their speakers.

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9) THE CLASH—The Clash (CBS, 1977)
Until the Clash, punk was merely a bad attitude with no place to go, but on their 1977 debut, these working class wanabees introduced the rhetoric of class revolution into the genre and gave losers on both sides of the Atlantic something to believe in. It may have been just another defiant posture, but it was also great rock and roll. Inspired by Mick Jones’ fiery garage guitar and Joe Strummer's cockney rage, rebel anthems like “White Riot” and “London’s Burning” infused even the most passive art student with an incendiary ardor.

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10) STRANGLERS—No More Heroes (A&M, 1977)
Unlike most of their peers, these Brits didn’t blow their wad their first time out but left the motherlode for their sophomore effort. Always iconoclastic, the Stranglers managed to imbue this rabid late-’77 assault with a little pop flair to further hone the ironic edge of anthems like “Bring on the Nubiles” and “I Feel Like a Wog.” It all made for a great album, but also unfortunately laid the foundations for New Wave.

See below for a gallery of the remaining album covers.

11) ADVERTS—Crossing the Red Sea with the Adverts (Link Classics, 1977)
One of the least celebrated of punk’s class of ’77, these Brits were in reality musical primitives who made up for their lack of technical finesse with a bellyful of imagination and came up with a nearly perfect album for their trouble. Taking punk’s snotty pretensions seriously, they neither spared themselves (“One Chord Wonders”) nor their audience (“Safety in Numbers”). The Adverts are also notable for being the first punk band to have a female rhythm section, an innovation that seemed wildly radical at the time.

12) DEVO—Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (Warner Bros., 1978))
This record was to punk rock what the Residents and Captain Beefheart are to rock and roll—a deranged mutation that somehow manages to catch the essence of the genre. Devo’s music was off-the-wall and extremely catchy. Their dress style—yellow chemical suits and 3-D glasses, new standards in the art of punk-rock show biz. And the track "Gut Feeling" is as soulful as any song ever written.

13) STIFF LITTLE FINGERS—Inflammable Material (Rough Trade, 1979)
These Belfast natives put out an album that was a poppy, punky, raw-vocaled masterpiece and an utter joy to behold. Listening to it now, it sounds like everything the Clash wished they could be, but never were. Stiff Little Fingers also inspired a great number of bands to come, including the Undertones.

14) BUZZCOCKS—Singles Going Steady (Sire, 1979))
Great, snappy songwriting, hilarious lyrics and tons of cool harmonies. They did great takes on teenage life that hadn’t been dealt with in such an upfront, funny way before, as with the song “Orgasm Addict.” The Buzzcocks’ sound was the predecessor for the whole Gilman Street scene in San Francisco and, by extension, most of Cali punk.

15) THE GERMS—(GI) (Slash, 1979)
Darby Crash was the L.A. scene’s poster boy for the joys of self-annihilation, but then where would punk be without its share of ugly death? On this 1979, Joan Jett-produced album, which is catapulted into greatness by Pat Smear’s raging guitar, the ultimate casualty bawls and brays his way through desperately ravaged tunes like “Manimal” and “We Must Bleed,” making the need for writing a suicide note a year later utterly superfluous.

16) GANG OF FOUR—Entertainment (Warner Bros., 1979)
A very influential album with regard to what we now recognize as alternative music. With power-soaked guitar noise, angular riffs and angry, witty political lyrics, this album is the reason bands like Fugazi exist. Their second album, Solid Gold, was equally awesome—but after that, they completely lost it.

17) MISFITS—Misfits Walk Among Us (Plan 9, 1980)
Fronted by Glenn Danzig, the Misfits always looked like a zombie football team—ready to crack someone's skull and eat their brains at the sound of the whistle. Misfits Walk Among Us, their first album, was a compilation of many of their early seven-inches, and the music and vocals influenced such major acts as Metallica, Slayer, and every other metal/punk band out there. Lyrically, they were into old movies and scary monsters. They have now returned to the punk arena (sans Danzig), proving you just can't kill a zombie.

18) MOTORHEAD—Ace Of Spades (Mercury, 1980)
This is the only album in history that can possibly be called the best speed metal, hardcore, punk, and heavy metal album of all time. Ace Of Spades is a vicious juggernaut of inspired nastiness, with despicable lyrics, Lemmy’s untouchable bass playing and more bad attitude than Pat Buchanan on PCP.

19) PLASMATICS—New Hope for the Wretched (Stiff America, 1980)
Frontwoman Wendy O. Williams was probably best known for having the greatest rack in punk rock¬—firm, proud and mostly covered in electrical tape. The music on this album is fast and furious, and severely punk rock in the sense that, during the recording of “Dream Lover,” the band went into separate isolation booths and played simultaneously without hearing or seeing one another! And it sounds like it.

20) X—Los Angeles (Slash, 1980)
On their 1980 harmonies-with-an-attitude debut, X anticipated Cali-punk by almost a decade, but they are saved from onus of being the forefathers of that genre by the sheer nastiness of songs like “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline” and “Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not.” Billy Zoom’s manic rockabilly guitar injected an extra dose of barbed frenzy into the tunes, and the Offspring would be well served checking him out the next time they’re looking to steal a winning riff.

21) CIRCLE JERKS—Group Sex (Frontier, 1980)
The Circle Jerks’ first record shows how a bunch of bored kids from the suburbs of California can be just as pissed off as anyone and play some real punk rock. The tracks "I Just Want Some Skank" is truly classic.

22) DEAD KENNEDYS—Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (Alternative Tentacles, 1980)
Undeniably the best-named band in history, the Dead Kennedys brought politics into American punk on this, their fast and furious debut. Equipped with a vox that claws its way under your skin, Jello Biafra heaped ridicule on the “father knows best” illusions of Reagan's America with an irony and incisiveness that was unfortunately lost on the legions of P.C. punks who followed in his wake.

23) MINUTEMEN—Paranoid Time (SST, 1980)
This was the first and purest expression by these San Pedro, California, cultural radicals and it really delivered on punk’s anti-pop promise with a sonic spew that only by the most liberal standards could be called songs. There are no choruses or versus here, just one minute blasts of inspired rage loosely held together by D. Boone's ranting vocals and Mike Watts’ blurting bass. The seven cuts rendered in under seven minutes on this 1980 EP are probably mistakenly credited for inspiring hardcore and are now available on CD as part of the Minuteman compilation, Post-Mersh, Vol. 3 (SST).

24) MINOR THREAT—Minor Threat (Dischord, 1981)
Punk's first straight-edge band. Minor Threat, fronted by Ian MacKaye (now of Fugazi, who are on indefinite hiatus, and the Evens), defined that early hardcore Marshall stack sound, with lyrics that were truly personal, serious and not about getting fucked up at all. This record is considered a landmark in punk history, and other members of this band have since joined such acts as the Meatmen and Bad Religion.

25) MEATMEN—We're the Meatmen, and You Suck! (Touch and Go, 1981)
Originally released on Touch and Go Records, this album was as hilarious, raw and angry-as-hell now as when it was released. When lead singer Tesco Vee belted out lyrics like "Oh Mr. Tapeworm, you make my ring burn,” and “Buttocks, I love buttocks,” you knew this band meant business. The Meatmen pioneered a style that later became a major factor in the sound of hardcore.

26) BLACK FLAG—Damaged (SST, 1981)
From the first notes of “Rise Above” to Henry Rollins’ ending screams on “Damaged,” this album defined the early crossover from punk to hardcore. Every song on this album is a classic, and Greg Ginn's guitar leads set a new standard in eardrum-piercing insanity. Damaged is the best thing Black Flag—or Rollins, for that matter—ever did.

27) ANGRY SAMOANS—Back From Samoa (Bad Trip, 1982)
Early veterans of the L.A. punk scene, the Samoans came together to create what is now considered the funniest and most psychotic punk album of all time. With songs like “They Saved Hitler's Cock,” “Gas Chamber,” “My Old Man's a Fatso” and much more, this band injected a brand of much needed, willfully politically incorrect humor into the punk scene.

28) CRASS—Christ,the Album (Crass, 1982)
The ultimate album from the ultimate English “Do it Yourself” anarcho-punk outfit originally came with a 24-page booklet of assorted political rants and a poster when it was released in ’82, but you don’t need to sit down for an evening of heavy reading to figure out where they were coming from. In every song these cockney rebels wail away at the injustices of the system, with racism, sexism and militarism all getting their just due. But what could be an hour-plus spent in strident politico hell isn’t because, while Crass may have been crude, they weren’t completely artless. Unlike their hardcore brethren on this side of the Atlantic, they paid attention to individual song structures and delivered their blows in a lively combination of styles. Strings even make an appearance on one tune.

29) BAD RELIGION—Suffer (Epitaph, 1988)
In the face of the onslaught of their imitators, it’s easy to forget what a breath of fresh air Bad Religion was in ’88. Suffer broke the brutal testosterone-infused chokehold of hardcore on punk and along the way introduced a new generation to the forgotten art of writing lyrics and melodies. It also didn’t hurt that Brett Gurewitz and Greg Graffin knew how to balance their rage with heavy doses of intellect and weren’t such tough guys that the thought of adding a little harmony into a tune didn’t fill them with mortal terror.

30) RAMONES—RamonesMania (Sire, 1988)
Clad in leather jackets and holding cheap guitars, the Ramones are the quintessential punk rock band. They, along with writers Legs McNeil and John Holstrom of Punk magazine, coined the term "punk rock." The music on this greatest hits/sampler album is simple, straightforward and it changed history forever. This is the Ramones at their best. Of course, you can’t go wrong with their debut, Ramones, either.