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The 50 Best Punk Albums Of All Time

20) NOFX – Punk In Drublic (1994)

Favourite NOFX albums are harder to pin down than jelly on latex, but with Punk In Drublic it felt like perennial losers NOFX had hit paydirt without heading to Majorlabelsville. Opener Linoleum is still one of their best and sums up the classic NOFX lineage: urgent and furious punk that still manages to maintain melody and poignancy. Despite Fat Mike’s satirical Anglophile humour, as with all the best comedians NOFX have an undercurrent of sadness. They could have been as big as Green Day, but were picky about exposure. As a result, they maintained a modicum of punk rock DIY credibility and relevance.

“To me, that was our best album,” guitarist El Hefe told Alternative Press in 2014. “That was where we reached our peak. I had no idea that it was going to sell that big. Gold? That was probably the furthest thing from our mind. We were doing pretty good off White Trash, Two Heebs And A Bean. We were making a living. I was thought, ‘Wow, this is great, but okay, it’s punk music, and how much money can you really make in the punk scene?

“I think we perfected our sound with that album. I get fans coming up all the time, going, ‘Your music totally influenced my life.’ It ended up coming out amazing-sounding. Something magical happened within that time.”

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19) The Saints – (I’m) Stranded (1977)

If you ever needed proof that punk was a global phenomenon, it’s this: (I’m) Stranded was released just three days after the launch of the first British punk album, The Damned’s Damned Damned Damned. The band may have avoided using the term themselves, but they shared the fire and fury of their Northern Hemisphere counterparts – the title track is a bona-fide classic – and they did music an enormous favour by introducing the magnificent Ed Kuepper to the world.

“The Saints were seers,” wrote critic Andrew Stafford for The Guardian in 2016. “They’d formed in mid 1973, the same year as the release of the first New York Dolls album and Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power, and, while they hadn’t beaten the Ramones on to record – the New Yorkers had released their first album four months earlier – they were ahead of all the UK punks, and Sydney’s Radio Birdman, with the release of the (I’m) Stranded single in 1976.”

“Australia didn’t even have its own national anthem in 1976. (I’m) Stranded was more like an anti-anthem, with its central theme of alienation. The singer, Chris Bailey, with the gritty sneer of a young Van Morrison, is marooned ‘far from home’. The literal meaning was actually more prosaic, the song’s music coming to guitarist Ed Kuepper on a midnight train home to the Brisbane’s far-flung suburbs.

“The cover is as much a harbinger of the Blank Generation as the first Ramones album. But there are no uniforms in sight, much less leather jackets. The band stares sullenly back at the camera, a large hole in the floorboards beneath their feet in front of them.”

“What a great record,” said Undertones bassist Michael Bradley in 2016. “This came out before everything else and it was like the Ramones, but tougher. I remember The Undertones trying to learn this, but we never played it that well. We were just trying to keep up. It’s an absolute stormer.”

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18) Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady (1979)

Originally compiled for a US-only release, this compilation album sold decently on import in the UK and eventually emerged on release in the UK on the United Artists label in 1981 – just after the Lancastrian band first split. It then flopped, despite being a fiercely focused set of lovelorn punk-pop songs.

If the Pistols and The Clash brought the rage to the age, Buzzcocks brought the (twisted, thwarted) romance through Pete Shelley’s witty, woebegone words, as lasers such as What Do I Get? and I Don’t Mind soundtracked our falling in love with someone we shouldn’t’ve. “To describe it as wonderful would be doing the lads a gross injustice,” wrote Melody Maker at the time. “Fast, funny and memorable.”

The album is an exhilarating collection about being young, dumb and sort-of in love. The BBC-banned opener Orgasm Addict is a vintage blast of Shelley/Devoto provocation about the joys of wanking, while What Do I Get documents Shelley’s infectious buzzsaw plea for ‘a lover like any other’, allegedly reflected his unrequited feelings for Manchester musician Linder Sterling, who was dating Buzzcocks frontman Howard Devoto at the time.

“The Buzzcocks spoke my language,” Goldfinger frontman John Feldmann told TeamRock in 2016. “They were talking about heartbreak and falling in and out of love and all these things that I could relate to. I was a super hopeless romantic growing up and all I watched was John Hughes movies. I was obsessed with the idea of true love and finding that soul mate, and Pete Shelley had such a great way of singing about those ideas.

“I went and got Singles Going Steady from Tower Records. When I first heard that record, I thought it was the best album ever made. On the cover there was a picture of them in the studio with all these wires and cables hanging out of their guitars and plugged into their amps, and as a young kid I remember thinking, ‘These guys are actually recording an album together as a live band,’ unlike the REO Speedwagon albums that sounded so glossy and not real to me. Buzzcocks sounded like a real band that actually played together. They were all wearing suits too, and they looked so cool and British. They really lined up with all the shit that I wanted to be: looking smart and writing really concise pop songs about heartbreak.”

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17) Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures (1979)

On their debut album Unknown Pleasures, Joy Division – the one-time outsiders of Manchester punk – had, through sheer hard work and a crucial relationship with producer Martin Hannett, defined a compelling and audacious landscape of apocalyptic dread.

Factory Records boss Tony Wilson famously staked his life savings on the pressing of the band’s debut album, and while it gave negligible payback in 1979, the suicide of frontman Ian Curtis enshrined its posthumous mythology, with the smoke-blackened romance of Shadowplay and She’s Lost Control trickling down through every band of serious young men that followed.

The charged and foreboding soundscapes were the work of four intensely driven young men, inspired by the Sex Pistols to create a new rock music of fearsome power – and meaning – out of post-industrial pre- gentrification Manchester’s urban decay.

“The first time I heard Joy Division was on Downtown Radio in Northern Ireland,” Therapy? Frontman Andy Cairns told TeamRock in 2015. “Shortly after that, I got their Unknown Pleasures album. A friend – who also played bass – and I spent the whole summer listening to nothing but Joy Division. We’d sit there and work out the bass lines to the records. My heroes were Jean-Jacques Burnel of The Stranglers and then Peter Hook from Joy Division.

She’s Lost Control has got an amazing bass line. That’s one of the things I loved about Peter Hook’s playing is that it was quite fearless. It’s also got a Can-like trance-like guitar riff. What’s lovely about the original version, there’s an echo on at the end of Curtis’ lines, which warps the vocal and gives a complete sense of dislocation. It’s about Ian Curtis witnessing a girl have an epileptic fit. There’s a disembodiment in the sound and the instruments are all pulling at different places and it gives the sense of someone on the floor having a fit. It messes around with convention, too. Some bands at the time would use a cowbell, but they’d use a synth drum. It gave it an otherworldly feel.”

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16) Blondie – Parallel Lines (1978)

Blondie may be the only band on this list to have had a song covered by Atomic Kitten, but that shouldn’t be allowed to detract from their achievements at the forefront of punk.

Parallel Lines was not only the album that broke Blondie worldwide, it also brought millions of new listeners to the 70s New York punk scene. That might have pissed off the purists, but the likes of stand-out single One Way Or Another dripped with the necessary sneering anti-authority attitude to keep them in the same bracket as their peers, while adding an element of charm and chic that punk had previously lacked. With its seductive snarl and hooky riff, One Way Or Another provided a bridge between Blondie’s grimy, CBGB past and glossy commercial future. In many ways, it was the quintessential moment from the ultimate new wave album – one which yielded six singles in the US and UK and sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.

“Blondie was pop music, but within that was a rock band. If you listen to Clem Burke play, he’s a very powerful rock drummer” Rival Schools frontman Walter Schreifels told TeamRock in 2016. “There’s a lot of diversity and dynamics within the band; lyrically, it’s dope and the cover is amazing. Parallel Lines was just the whole package for me. I just really picked up on how rock’n’roll the band were – they were cool and they were punk, but they were popular. They were kind of a sensation at that time. Everyone was into it, and it was good to be a part of it all.”

Parallel Lines didn’t just present a new take on New York punk, it supplied the world with a whole new type of female role model in frontwoman Debbie Harry: one who was intimidatingly glamorous, every bit as tough as Poly Styrene or Siouxsie Sioux, but with added boho, SoHo chic, as though Patti Smith had been remade/remodelled by Warhol. With the success of Parallel Lines, Blondie became one of the biggest bands of the era. They also invented a new paradigm: catchy, danceable punk, the influence of which has been unavoidable ever since.

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15) The Heartbreakers – L.A.M.F. (1977)

L.A.M.F. is one of the great New York albums. Alongside the debut recordings by Richard Hell & The Voidoids, The Dead Boys, Blondie and The Ramones, it sums up the spirit of CBGB and the scene that spawned American punk; equal parts spiky, streetwise smarts and superior pop nous. It’s an album that includes five bona-fide classics in Born To Lose, All By Myself, Chinese Rocks (written by Hell and Dee Dee Ramone, it was later recorded by The Ramones on their End Of The Century album), Get Off The Phone and One Track Mind.

The album should have been an instant hit, but there was a problem: it sounded terrible. It was was actually recorded in London after the band had flown in to play on the Sex Pistols’ shambolic Anarchy tour, but the mixing process was a disaster as the band, their critical faculties dimmed by drug addiction, produced an album that was muddy and failed to capture the well-oiled ferocity of their live shows. The mix was so bad that The Heartbreakers ultimately split.

“That mix can be completely laid at the door of Jerry Nolan,” former Heartbreakers manager Leee Black Childers told Classic Rock in 2016. “He went into this kind of control freak thing where he had to mix it. But everyone was stoned. Walking into the studio was like walking into a crack house. I should have gotten a gun and shot a couple of them dead.”

Despite its muddy sound, the album went on to become an enduring punk classic. “Like their peers in the city, the Heartbreakers took classic rock’n’roll archetypes and gave them extra doses of fuzz, muscle, and bite,” wrote Pitchfork in 2013. “Considering there were two New York Dolls in the band and that band’s self-titled debut had a masterful handle of tough, glammy rock’n’roll, it makes sense. The impressive thing on L.A.M.F., then, isn’t the power – it’s the diversity in their songs. At the center of the album, there’s Nolan’s hamfisted caveman crash in I Wanna Be Loved, which is followed by the jangling ballad It’s Not Enough, and that leads to Chinese Rocks. Unlike the Ramones, the songs don’t come across as loose clones of one another – they each have their own feeling and sound. Some of them, like Goin’ Steady, even have killer guitar solos. It’s a solid bunch of punk rock songs, and it’s Johnny Thunders’ most essential document.”

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14) Descendents – Milo Goes To College (1982)

This album is instantly recognisable both for its album cover – the first to feature the iconic doodle of their bespectacled frontman, a parody created by Milo Aukerman’s high school classmate who would draw posters depicting him as a loveable nerd – and the number of stone-cold punk rock hits it gave the world.

The Descendents of the early ’80s bore little resemblance to the Californian punk which was, at the time, overdosing in its own rock’n’roll excess. The underground splintered into a feral style of music pioneered by local bands like Black Flag and Fear. It was called hardcore and inspired the Descendents to retire their surf pop roots. Milo Goes To College is a far cry from modern pop-punk, a genre that the Descendents are widely credited for starting. And while today’s genre leanings are more towards the pop end of the musical spectrum, this record is as punk as it comes.

Opener Myage has a hint of the new wave stylings first heard on Descendents’ single Ride The Wild, but the trashy guitar tones and Aukerman’s snarl reveal a far more confrontational band not out to make friends. The album’s not without its faults; I’m Not A Loser and Parents distil teen angst – and some severely uncomfortable language they would later denounce – into two-minute ferocious blasts: ‘Well you can fuck off, I’m not a loser!’ proving one of the more palatable couplets on Loser’s lyric sheet.

But the song Suburban Home is a scathing commentary on the conformist way of life in America – ‘I want to be stereotyped, I want to be classified, I want to be a clone, I want a suburban home’. Backing the frontman’s dry wit is the kind of musicianship rarely seen in the early punk days. Lombardo, Navatta and Stevenson steer the music through tempo changes and together display a level of skill beyond their youthful years.

Milo Goes To College is significant because it establishes many of pop-punk’s nuances, such as vocal harmonies (Statue Of Liberty), infectious choruses (Kabuki Girl) and lovelorn lyrics (Hope). Not only did the create the blueprint of an entire genre, this record stands as one of the most important albums to come out of the California punk scene.

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13) Rancid – …And Out Come The Wolves (1995)

For those not wholly in sync with the punk rock underground, Rancid first garnered international attention when it was reported that Madonna had attempted to lure the band to her record label Maverick, in the wake of the phenomenal success of The Offspring’s Smash and Green Day’s Dookie, by inundating the band with nude photographs of herself. Undoubtedly a novel and unorthodox approach for a record mogul, the Material Girl’s entreaties ultimately proved fruitless, though her enthusiasm became more understandable when the quartet dropped their third full-length album, …And Out Come The Wolves, in the summer of 1995.

With a cover knowingly referencing the artwork of Minor Threat’s debut EP, three solid gold radio singles – Roots Radicals, Ruby Soho and Time Bomb – and a fistful of gnarled underdog anthems, the 19-track collection was an instant classic which passed the half-million sales mark in the US before Christmas.

At their best, Tim Armstrong’s lyrics conjure up wonderfully vivid portraits of life on the margins, with bruised hearts and wandering souls seeking out connections as the world swirls around them. Ruby Soho, the third and final single from …And Out Come The Wolves, is one such tale, reading like a beautifully open-ended screenplay, but boasting a truly irresistible, scream-along chorus which speaks to the liberating power of independent though and actions. Time Bomb, the biggest single of Rancid’s career, was a ridiculously catchy ska-punk anthem, powered by a vamping Hammond organ, which tapped into both gangster movie imagery and ska iconography to tell a tale of a rebellious kid fighting his way up from the streets to become a respected, feared and ultimately marked for death underworld king-pin.

“…And Out Come the Wolves is an amazing album,” Millencolin frontman Nikola Sarcevic told TeamRock in 2016. “It’s one of the best punk rock albums ever made in my opinion. Every single song in it is great: Maxwell Murder, The 11th Hour, Time Bomb, Olympia WA, Old Friend, all of them. That whole album is just amazing. I think Tim Armstrong is one of the best singers and songwriters around. His voice isn’t perfect, but that’s what’s so interesting about it.”

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12) Skids – Scared To Dance (1979)

For a band that had several top 20 hits, a Top 10 album, a genuinely gifted guitar hero and a unique (and uniquely Scottish) sound, the Skids were in danger of being forgotten. There was no dedicated website. Reissues came out on specialist punk label Captain Oi! to very little attention, and even Scottish rock acts fail to namecheck a band that were one of the most distinctive and ambitious of the time. Thankfully, with the Manics namechecking them, U2 and Green Day covering The Saints Are Coming and the band themselves back on the road with a new album, that’s all changed.

Their debut album, Scared To Dance, was a flawed but brilliant mix of keening guitars and anthemic choruses. The critics hated it. “It had a high production value and at the time people found that kind of offensive,” frontman Richard Jobson told Classic Rock. “Stuart [Adamson, original frontman] was influenced by Bill Nelson and Nils Lofgren – that guitar-led thing – and he did guitar solos.”

Signed to Virgin and championed by John Peel, the album yielded a trio of classic singles: Sweet Suburbia, The Saints Are Coming and the Top 10 hit Into The Valley – famously lampooned in an 80s TV ad for Maxell tapes that got all the lyrics wrong. “I really loathed that commercial that took the piss out of the words,” says Jobson. “Stuart gave permission for that in my absence. I would never have said yes to that because the song is about something quite potent for me. All of the early lyrics that I wrote – Melancholy Soldiers, Into The Valley, The Saints Are Coming – were all about my mates. Fife was a great recruiting ground for [former regiment] the Black Watch, and a lot of my mates joined up. Within 15-20 weeks they were in Northern Ireland. Into The Valley was about the depersonalisation of these young guys, how they were thrown into the Falls Road and these places. Hell on earth at the time, and they didn’t want to be there. And when they came back, they were changed – you would be, right? – and their attitude toward me changed too.

The Saints Are Coming was about one of my friends who got shot while he was in the army. He’d just had a kid and it was about a kid phoning his father. For me it was also about the death of my own father. Melancholy Soldiers – all those songs, there was a real militaristic sort of thing. So the words were reflections of all that, but rather than do it in straightforward Bruce Springsteen kinda folk-tales, I chose to do it in a slightly different way. It was a time for experimenting.”

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11) Green Day – Dookie (1994)

Before the release of Dookie put him on the rock star treadmill of tour bus bunks and five-star hotels, Billie Joe Armstrong lived in the basement of a dilapidated student house in the Californian college town of Berkeley. The basement wasn’t just where Armstrong ate, slept and smoked – although the bongs, empty pizza boxes and sagging couch bore witness to the fact that it was used for all three. Rather, this was the Green Day headquarters; the base from which the band fielded calls from record labels, and where they rehearsed their set and recovered from their touring schedule. It was also where Armstrong wrote much of their major label debut on his blue Fernandes Stratocaster.

When it came time to commit the album to wax, Dookie was recorded in Fantasy Studios in Berkeley (which had previously played host to Aerosmith and Creedence Clearwater Revival), with Rob Cavallo on production and the whiff of narcotics hanging in the air. Eventually released on February 1, 1994, Dookie entered the US Billboard chart at a modest No.141. But the album soon picked up momentum with the success of Longview, its first official single, aided in no small part by its chaotic accompanying video – shot in that very same basement where the album had come to life.

The album’s second single, Basket Case, went to No.1 in August of that year, beginning a five-week residency in the US chart. It was also the first Green Day single that would the UK chart, peaking at No.55 in the same month. The video for Basket Case was another belter, and was nominated for MTV’s Best Video Of The Year award. The third single was live favourite Welcome To Paradise, and was Green Day’s most successful in the UK at the time, hitting No.20. This was followed in early 1995 by When I Come Around, which spent seven weeks at the top of the chart. By the end of 1995, Dookie had become a bona fide phenomenon.

Of course, along with the decision to sign to a major, came more than just a little heat from previously die-hard fans. If not exactly hurt by the reaction from their friends in the punk underground to the news that they’d signed with Reprise, the band were still a little miffed. They spoke at the time about an experience visiting Gilman Street after Dookie’s release, only to be met with a frosty reception, and one former pal asking: “What the hell are you guys doing here?”

“Punk is not just the sound, the music, punk is a lifestyle,” said Armstrong at the time. “There are a lot of bands around that claim to be punk and they only play the music, they have no clue what it’s all about. It’s a lifestyle I choose for myself. It’s not about popularity and all that crap. When we started out, we played punk rock, the music. Then we developed, we changed our sound – but we didn’t change. We’re just as punk as we used to be. We got a lot of crap, and we’re still getting it, for being signed with a major label. So what?”

Propelled as if by rockets, Dookie would sell more than 15 million copies and remains a classic to this day.

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