This article was originally published in online magazine Pointless Banter on May 14, 2006.
Okay kids, this was originally going to be a list of a top ten, or twenty, or whatever essential punk rock albums. How, though, does one choose what counts as “essential”? Elitists are going to cite the obvious: The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The New York Dolls, Sham 69 – all of the classic punk rock of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The godfathers who started it all. Modernists will tell you about Blink-182, Green Day, and post-modern radio punk. Elitists will tout Ruth Ruth, Husker Du, and Sleater-Kinney. Still others will count among the ranks Nirvana, Bad Brains, Rage Against The Machine, Public Enemy, and Black Flag. Clearly, it depends on what sort of list you’re making in order to dictate “the essentials.”
I’ve decided to make a list – my personal list – of punk rock albums that I think everyone should own. And it’s all punk – no rap, metal, grunge, or anything else masquerading under a punk rock label. Some are commercial and popular, some are a little more under the radar, but all are available if you look hard enough, and all are completely worth a listen. But you won’t find most of these on anyone’s “essential” punk rock album list. You won’t find them on many lists at all. Some are bands you’ve heard of, some may not be. My goal was to pick kickass punk albums that are also eminently listenable, even for those who perhaps aren’t huge on punk. What I mean is – there’s something about each one of these that will appeal to the sneering, leather-wearing punk in each one of us. Plus, you can impress your friends by owning music that not every Abercrombie-wearing clone has arbitrarily deemed “punk.” I’ve really worked hard to not make this a “music snob” list of crap no one has ever heard of and no one likes to demonstrate my amazing knowledge of music. No one cares about that crap. These are all albums that I think are genuinely GOOD.
FIFTEEN PUNK ROCK ALBUMS YOU NEED TO GO BUY:
(In no particular order.)
15. The Grabbers – “The Way That I Am.” Released in 1994 on Dr. Dream Records, this thirteen-track album brings up the best of old-school surf punk with an oi attitude. Also contains a cover of “Days of Wine and Roses”, by The Dream Syndicate. Singable: “Take your picture, things don’t get any better.”
14. Hagfish – “Rocks Your Lame Ass.” Anyone who knows me knows that Hagfish is one of my favorite punk bands. It’s just a fact. I’ve got their logo tattooed on my shoulder. I bought this album after reading a review of it in Maximum Rock and Roll at age 14, which said “If you like short, three-chord music with juvenile lyrics, this one is for you.” Well, it was precisely what the doctor ordered. Terrific album. Released 1995 on London records, you can’t go wrong with an album called “Rocks Your Lame Ass.” It lives up to its promise; plus even with 14 tracks, the entire album is about 38 minutes long. Now that’s punk rock at its finest. It’s also very listenable. Even if you don’t like punk, you might like this one. Singable: “And she said ‘Will you remove my shoes and lift up my skirt? Will you eat my box while I work? Eat it while I work!” (No, this ain’t a girl band; they just like to sing about ‘em.)
13. Lars Fredriksen And The Bastards – Self-titled. Hey, isn’t he that guy from Rancid? Yeah, Lars Fredriksen is that guy from Rancid. And this is his solo project. Hard-driving oi punk, this one makes you want to affect a cockney accent and raise your Guinness in indignation. Released 2004 on Hellcat, there is NO valid reason why this one has gone largely unnoticed by most people other than Rancid fans. Singable: “In ‘82 I was the young one in the bunch. Initiation started and it ended in a punch. Whoa-oh oh, can’t you see? You’ll never take the gang outta me.”
12. Guttermouth – “The Album Formerly Known As Full-Length LP.” This 23-track fast-as-fuck diatribe was released on Nitro records, half.com claims in 2005. I know that ain’t true, because I bought my first copy in what must have been around 1994. This is a sneering, immature, absolutely hilarious album that you can’t help but want to jump in the pit to. Yeah, Guttermouth has been around for years. But you haven’t lived until you’ve been to a live show and watched Mark Adkins (lead singer) stuff lunch meat down his pants. This is one of the most popular unpopular bands in the history of Jr. High Punk. And by “Jr. High punk”, I mean not quite old-school, definitely not nu-school. Singable: “So, you think your kung-fu is pretty good, huh? I want to fight your brother! Him against me. Let’s kung-fu!”
11. The Dropkick Murphys – “The Singles Collection.” Yeah, it’s kind of a cop-out to recommend you the equivalent of a “greatest hits” album for a band that arguably are the kings of the Boston punk scene. But if you’re not familiar with this band, and I can’t very well recommend that you buy ALL of their albums, this one is a good start to unwrap all of the oi goodness. Can you tell I like oi? Released in 2004 on Hellcat, you get 24 tracks – exactly HALF of those live. Can you say “Fuck yeah”? I knew you could. Singable: “Face down in the gutter, won’t admit defeat, though his clothes are soiled and black. He’s a big strong man with a child’s mind – don’t you take his booze away.”
10. Bad Religion – “The Process of Belief.” If you insist on buying a newer punk album, this one is not only one of the finer punk albums of the last couple of years (you may have heard snippets on popular radio), it is Bad Religion’s most amazing effort in many, MANY albums. Released on Epitaph, the craftsmanship, vocal harmonies, and energy on this record will give you chills if you have a soul left at all. Of course, if you’re buying old-school Bad Religion, pick up Recipe for Hate or No Control. Either way, you can’t go wrong with a little BR. Singable: “When all soldiers lay their weapons down, and all kings and all queens relinquish their crowns…..well then, I do imagine there will be sorrow no more.”
9. NOFX – “White Trash, Two Heebs, And A Bean.” Okay, NOFX is an INSANELY popular punk band. And everyone knows who Fat Mike is, especially if you’re into political punk (check out punkvoter.com.) This one is right in the middle of their catalog of work, and I think one of their best efforts, although it’s hard to beat “I Heard They Suck Live”, if you’re into live albums. This one will make you rock out and crack up. It’s the kind of punk rock album that you won’t realize you’ve fallen in love with until you put it in one day and you know every word of it. Singable: “She said I’ll never forget the first time you kissed me. Now I want you to fist me.”
8. Face to Face – “Over It.” Released on Victory in 1994, this is a 7-track EP, filled with B-sides and other singles, and EASILY my favorite Face to Face record, which is saying a lot. This is filled with the kind of songs that put a lump in your throat. This is filled with the kind of songs that you could have written yourself. You absolutely can’t go wrong with this one. It’s a bit harder to find, but worth tracking down. Singable: “I really don’t know much of anything at all, but I believe we want the truth.”
7. Operation Ivy – “Energy.” Released in 1991 on Lookout, any punk worth his or her salt gives these guys props for being among the grandfathers of modern punk rock. OpIvy was what the guys in Rancid were doing before they were Rancid. This album has a whopping 27 tracks, including “Knowledge”, “Take Warning”, “Sound System”, “Bombshell” and oh, I love them all. This one is a must-own. OpIvy is widely credited for paving the way for such bands as Green Day and Sublime. Bringing in elements of 50’s surf-rock, ska, punk, and grunge, you’ll be amazed how many musical styles this group not only does, but does well. Singable: “New generation coming up, you know you’ve gotta stand up to them. Take warning, take warning.”
6. Die Toten Hosen – “Learning English, Lesson One.” I stumbled upon this import in a shop years ago, and now I wouldn’t be without it. DTH are a German punk band who sing primarily in German (this is the album that I can recommend – the rest are not in English), and they decided to do a tribute to old-school the right way – they invited all of their punk idols to guest-star on the album with them. The import version (the only one to have) was released in 1993 on Virgin. This album is all covers and features Joey Ramone (The Ramones), Matt Dangerfield (The Boys), Pete Stride (The Lurkers), Jimmy Pursey (Sham 69), Nick Cash (999), Andy Ellison (The Radio Stars), Knox (The Vibrators), TV Smith (The Adverts), Johnny Thunders (The Heartbreakers), Martin Mitchell Rockafella (The Rockafellas), Ronnie Biggs, Gene October (Chelsea), Wreckless Eric, Captain Sensible (The Damned), Charlie Harper (The U.K. Subs), Neil O’Connor (The Flys), and Graeme Douglas (Eddie and the Hot Rods.) And with such a distinguished lineup, DTH manages to cover many of these songs (by virtue in part of a more modern recording style, a fresh take, and guests from each original artist), dare I say, BETTER than the originals. I know, that’s practically blasphemy, but you haven’t heard this album. Harder to track down. I suggest half.com. It’s well worth the extra effort. Singable: “We never took shit from no one, we just didn’t give a fuck. If you didn’t like our music, that was just your bloody old luck.”
5. Elastica – Self-Titled. Okay, I had to include a British girl band on this list. And it’s probably the least punk rock album on here. But before there was Veruca Salt, Garbage, and many of the other “revolutionary” girl bands, there was Elastica. Justine Frischman and company tear it up on this one, which is at once funky, punky, angry, and sexy. I’m sure you heard “Connection” or “Car Song” during their fifteen seconds of fame, but the album is worth a listen. Released 1995 on Geffen. Singable: “Don’t stop shaking, it’s my head that makes me want to second guess at a distance. Hoping there’s a method to your madness, baby. I might just understand if you obey me.”
4. Local H – “As Good As Dead.” You probably heard “Bound For The Floor” on the radio in 1996 when this came out. And yeah, that’s a great song. You may not have bought the album, thinking “What if the rest isn’t as good?” I’m here to tell you that it pretty much is. You can’t go wrong with a two-man band (bass and drums) who scream songs about jocks entitled “High-fiving motherfucker.” Because let’s face it. We ALL know a high-fiving motherfucker. Also “Eddie Vedder”, “As Good As Dead”…the list goes on. Terrific album. Singable: “Your haircut is a joke, it’s been the same since ‘83. Your glory days are over and so’s your stone-washed jeans. You crass fat ass. You stupid steroid fuck. I bet you even named your grand prize monster truck.”
3. Social Distortion – Self-Titled. Released in 1990 on Epic, I’m going to go ahead and recommend this one over “White Light White Heat White Trash”, even though both are absolutely fantastic. Hell, anything Mike Ness puts his name on pretty much kicks ass. This one contains “Story of my Life”, “Sick Boys”, “Ring of Fire”, “Ball and Chain”…too many greats to list. This one is the quintessential illustration of Social D’s place as the king of Rockabilly/Punk crossover bands. Singable: “I strum my guitar and I sing an outlaw love song and I think about what you’re doing now, and when you’re coming back.”
2. The Vandals – “Hitler Bad, Vandals Good.” Released on Nitro in 1998, this is a hard choice for me – each Vandals record has something about it which makes it necessary to buy each one – if you’ve heard one, you haven’t necessarily heard them all with these guys. This is a really good all-purpose record. Includes 14 of their finest tracks, and it’s guaranteed to make you smile. These guys are smart, sarcastic, and funny as hell. Singable: “There’s too much drama, there’s too much drama Dad and Mama, pass him back and forth until he turns eighteen.” (Not a funny example. God damn I forgot how great this record is. Scurry off and buy this one.)
1. The Descendents – “Everything Sucks.” Again, these guys are legendary, and I should recommend each and every one of their efforts to you, but this is a great all-purpose album. Reflective, regretful, funny…and also very, very well written. This one is poetry. Released 1996 on Epitaph, this one includes “When I Get Old”, “I’m The One”, and “Coffee Mug.” And yeah, when you hear Sublime singing “I’m gonna be the only one” (Only One, 40 oz. to Freedom), it was these guys that wrote the song. Singable: “Nice guys finish last, no one knows as good as me. We’re just good friends and you come to me for sympathy.”
Enjoy, friends. And I’d love to hear your additions or subtractions.