As it came kicking and spitting out of the late 1970s, punk left an indelible mark on music as we know it. Sparking dozens of off-shoots and subgenres in its wake, it'd be a stretch to find a genre of music which has proven as influential or as attention-grabbing as punk.
For a genre displaying so much prolific creativity, it follows that it also spawned cratefuls of classic albums. From proto-punk to post-punk and psychobilly, where does one even begin when it comes to furnishing one's record collection with the best the genre has to offer? That's where we come in. We've assembled the quintessential collection of punk rock jams which should form the foundation of every music fan's collection.
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Dead Kennedys - Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables (Cherry Red/Alternative Tentacles/Faulty Products, 1980)
Formed in San Francisco in 1978, Dead Kennedys were a fundamental part of the US West Coast punk scene. Fronted by the acerbic, quick-witted Jello Biafra, the quartet took their cues from all over the musical spectrum – from instrumental surf rock, rockabilly and garage rock – and wrapped it up in the snarling sound of punk-rock. With tongue firmly in cheek, the band's politically-charged lyrics provided a scathing commentary on the social issues – which still rings true today.
That sense of never-miss-a-beat humour consistently refused to take any prisoners, and is what made Fresh Fruit… stand so far apart from other punk albums being released in the 80s. A wildly influential album, Fresh Fruit... went on to inspire legions of punk bands in its wake, and has been certified Gold by the BPI.
The album's been repressed a number of times on vinyl over the years, but got a deluxe reissue in late 2017 when it was pressed on 180g vinyl for the first time. That pressing, cut from the album's most recent masters, also includes the original double sided poster and two 7” sleeve replica prints.
Ramones - Ramones (Plaza Sound Studios, 1976)
"Eliminate the unnecessary, and focus on the substance.” Drummer Tommy Ramone succinctly sums up no fuss attitude of the Ramones’ self-titled debut, which was recorded in a single week for only $6,400. The record runs for a meagre 29 minutes and each of the tracks clock in at just over two and a half minutes each.
The four-piece band are largely considered to have established the entire genre of punk rock, despite their less than stellar sales upon their album’s release. The record only peaked at #111 in the US charts, and the two singles subsequently released from the album (‘Blitzkreig Bop’ and ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’) failed to chart at all. In fact the album only sold a total of 6,000 copies in the entirety its first year, eventually being certified gold with half a million sales but only 38 years later.
Having made a name for themselves regularly playing shows for two years before their debut, the Ramones had over 30 songs ready to record when the entered Plaza Sound Studios with producer Craig Leon. The band felt it was essential capture the excitement and energy of their live shows, to which end they recorded the tracks in the order they’d play them live. With its insanely catchy refrain and frantic pace, Blitzkrieg Bop is one the best album-openers of all time and alone reason enough to give Ramones a spin.
Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures (Factory Records, 1979)
Whilst met with a decidedly mixed response following its initial release in 1979, Unknown Pleasures has since become an album of regular critical acclaim. The album’s status as a cornerstone of the post-punk genre is irrefutable, and under producer Martin Hannett, the four-piece established the unmistakable Joy Division sound on their 39-minute debut LP – propulsive punk driven by lead singer Ian Curtis’ anguish. Less than a year after the record’s release Curtis committed suicide at the age of 23, further compounding the poignancy of his lyrics.
Hannett employed an array of unorthodox techniques during the album’s production, such as recording Curtis’ vocals for Insight through a telephone line. Bottles smashing, someone eating crisps and a basement toilet were amongst some of the sound effects used, as well as the Powertran Transcendent 2000 synthesiser of which so much of the LP’s identity is owed. It cost £18,000 to produce over the course of three weekends at Stockport’s Strawberry Studios, and became a catalyst for future successes for Factory Records.
The original pressing of 10,000 copies also features the groove notations 'This is the way’ on Side A (Outside) and ‘Step’ on Side B (Inside) – both prominent lyrics taken from Atrocity Exhibition, the opening track of the band’s follow-up album, Closer. No singles were released from the album and, against the norm, Joy Division didn’t include lyrics with the record.
The Clash – The Clash (CBS, 1977)
The Clash articulated the frustrations of working class kids in a way that the chin-stroking protest pop of previous generations couldn’t hope to, in a way that was more inclusive than the fury of the Pistols or the Damned’s goth theatre.
It was an album which was hurriedly-written and recorded, and it’s a messy and thrilling snapshot of two creative forces gelling for the first time. From their vocals (Strummer’s yobbish bark balanced by Jones’s boyish sensitivity) to their lyrics (famously, Strummer changed Jones’s track I’m So Bored With You to I’m So Bored With The USA), and even their guitar-playing (Joe’s choppy rhythm guitar versus Mick’s slightly weedy-but-melodic lead), the album is a true Strummer/Jones production. Both men were classic rock’n’roll dreamers. To find themselves in the right time and right place with the perfect partners must have been a buzz and, amid the anger and the outrage, the album captures that rock’n’roll woah perfectly.
All five Clash albums were re-issued on 180gm vinyl by Banquet Records in 2015, including a luxury flight case boxset for the more affluent fan – though that's now long out of print and fetches a pretty penny online.
The Stooges - Raw Power (Columbia, 1973)
Iggy Pop is punk rock's most notorious outlaw. Born James Jewel Osterberg in the industrial rust pile of Detroit in 1947, wired like a Frankenstein creature, Iggy burst onto the stages of Motor City in the late 60s, spray-painted like a killer robot, a mad bag of screaming skin ’n’ bones leading the scuzziest, loudest, most violent gang of hardcore stooges the world had ever recoiled from.
Iggy virtually invented every stock punk rock move in the book, all while stumbling through a fiery narco buzz in the searing summer of 1969. The early years of The Stooges will cement his legend forever, as Iggy took rock away from the squares and turned it into a dangerous, knife-wielding satanic sex orgy filled with criminals and thugs. And it was awesome.
The bad news about Raw Power is that the tin-eared production turned the dynamics of its songs into mud. The good news is that unhinged combat-rockers like Search And Destroy, Raw Power and Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell actually sound better buried under a wall of ear-shredding distortion. You simply cannot out-punk this perfectly-titled album. You can’t make it sound any better, either, as Iggy’s noisy, unnecessary 1998 remix attests to. Stick with the real thing.
X-Ray Spex - Germfree Adolescents (EMI, 1978)
Formed in 1976 after seeing the Sex Pistols, X Ray Spex released just a handful of singles and one album, the brilliant Germfree Adolescents, before spitting up in 1979. Their impact on punk music can still be felt, not least in the so-called Riot Grrrl movement of the ‘90s and with Russian activists Pussy Riot.
Remarkably, for a punk band, X-Ray Spex employed a saxophone player, Lora Logic, who, even more remarkably, was only 15 years old when she joined the band. They reformed in the 90s, releasing the album Conscious Consumer, but, sadly, Poly died of cancer in 2011 aged just 53.
Original pressings of the vinyl can be found on the internet for eye-watering prices, but reissues began to filter into the market after Real Gone Music issued a shocking pink pressing in 2016. Versions are now also available in clear, clear with blue spatter, yellow with blue spatter, and on, and on, with a new reissue due out in August to mark the album's 40th anniversary.
The Cramps - Off The Bone (Illegal Records, 1983)
One of the first punk rock bands in the mid-’70s emerging with other CBGB bands like the Ramones, the Cramps were also founders of psychobilly, a form a rockabilly that mixed its looks with punk and horror imagery. The band was founded in 1973 by husband and wife group of Lux Interior and Poison Ivy and have gone through countless line-up changes.
As with a lot of the Cramps’ albums, Off The Bone has a number of rockabilly covers from The Way I Walk to Surfin’ Bird that the band tweak to make their own. Due to the minimalist drums and lack of bass guitar, the focus lies on the dual guitars and the singing style of Lux Interior who adds a menacing tone with his haunting vocals.
The record is a UK-only compilation album that collects the entirety of their first EP Gravest Hits and includes other songs from their first two studio albums. A year later the album was released in the US as Bad Music For Bad People, but it had fewer tracks and seen as a weaker release compared to Off The Bone.
The vinyl release of Off The Bone has an Anaglyphic 3D image on the sleeve (the red and cyan picture) with a pair of anaglyphic glasses inside to get the full effect. All of the other versions of the album, such as the CD release, only have the artwork in plain black and white, loosing some of the quirkiness that the band always put into their work.
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The Jam - Sound Affects (Polydor, 1980)
The Jam released six studio albums between 1977 and 1982; of these, Sound Affects was the fifth, and singer Paul Weller’s favourite. The reasons for this seem obvious to any fan of this pioneering London trio: the album is razor-sharp but well-produced; ambitious while never straying too far from pop/mod focus; and without the intra-band tensions that made its follow-up, The Gift, the sound of a band in flux. What’s most astounding still is that Weller made those six Jam albums between the ages of 19 and 24.
That’s a youth well-spent, if you ask us. As a result, there’s plenty of youthful bile on this album, of course. Weller and his compadres Bruce Foxton (bass) and Rick Buckler (drums) fitted in perfectly with the punk-rock movement, critical as they were of the establishment and confrontational in image. Clad in the latest revivalist mod threads, the Jam and the punk kids got on famously – after all, what is a punk but a mod with safety pins?
And if you’re still not sure who bought all those copies of Sound Affects, listen to the sardonic That’s Entertainment (a bleak evocation of early-’80s Britain) and Start!, with its “What you give is what you get” manifesto. The Beatles must have liked the latter, by the way: even though the guitar and bass riffs are exact copies of the ones in Taxman, from the Fabs’ 1966 album Revolver, the Jam were never sued.
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The Damned - Damned Damned Damned (Stiff Records, 1977)
On February 18 1977, Stiff Records released the first British punk album. The Damned’s Damned Damned Damned combined the heads-down, no-nonsense approach of The Ramones with the demented, frantic aggression of The Stooges, and screeched to a fizzing climax in just under 30 minutes. Legendary BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel celebrated the album’s arrival by playing five tracks on his show, and shortly after the band jetted off to New York to become the first punk band to embark on a US tour.
The Damned were punk’s prime movers. The Sex Pistols and The Clash may have been more fêted by press and public alike, their reputations funded by major labels and massaged by calculating managers, but The Damned repeatedly beat them to the gate. They were the first to release a single, the first to tour the US and the first to release an album. They weren’t the most proficient of players, but God, were they effective. And nothing illustrated that more explicitly than Damned Damned Damned.
A head-spinning blast of noise, Damned Damned Damned found the band tearing through a dozen songs in just over half an hour. It was utterly devoid of any of the preening rhetoric of The Clash or the Pistols’ misanthropic bile. Instead it was just a riotous explosion of fun.
Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols (Virgin, 1977)
Looking back, it’s remarkable how little actual music the Sex Pistols made in their fleeting first run from 1975 to 1978. The band that catapulted the UK punk scene from bubbling counter-culture sideshow to bona fide musical revolution had just a handful of singles and a sole studio album to their name by the time they walked offstage for the final time at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. The band’s antics, their infamy, and their influence on a generation of punk bands that would follow are disproportionately vast when compared with their output. But then, if you’re only going to make one record, it might as well be one that changes the world.
Never Mind The Bollocks did exactly that. Arriving on the crest of a wave of publicity and scandal, its anarchic and unrefined sound was a rejection of the mainstream music peddled and consumed by the loathsome establishment. Listening now, Johnny Rotten’s leering vocals still seethe with disdain, irreverence and a barely contained violence, while the ragged guitar and propulsive percussion eschew any sort of nuance or subtlety in favour of sticking two middle fingers up at conventional, mannered rock and roll.
The production is rough, and bassist Sid Vicious’ musical talent was famously lacking (indeed, aside from Bodies, Never Mind…’s basslines were all recorded by guitarist Steve Jones). But these streaks do nothing to dull the album’s caustic appeal. Its edges just mean that the Sex Pistols’ vitriol cuts even deeper.
There have been reissues, remasters, demo collections and the occasional live recording repackaged and flogged over the last few decades. And the band has performed – in its original, pre-Vicious form – on a number of occasions since their Filthy Lucre reunion tour in 1996. But none of this music has the same power or vitality as Never Mind The Bollocks in its original form. It’s thrilling as ever, and impossible to replicate.
A number of these entries were taken from our 100 Greatest Albums You Should Own On Vinyl special edition, which is available to buy now (opens in new tab).