When Madonna famously sent nude polaroid photos to Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong in a bid to lure his band from Epitaph records to her own Maverick imprint in the mid ‘90s, it was both a ridiculous metaphor for punk rock’s belated assimilation into the mainstream and an acknowledgement of the huge commercial potential of the former Operation Ivy man’s songwriting. The pop star’s instincts were proven entirely correct when Armstrong went on to write hits for Pink, Gwen Stefani and a host of other artists, but Rancid is Armstrong’s home and the vehicle for his very best songs. Here are the quartet’s 10 finest works.
10. The Wolf (1998)
The sprawling Life Won’t Wait album is Rancid’s own Sandinista! and there are a host of brilliant, under-rated anthems (New Dress, Lady Liberty, Bloodclot) buried amid its eclectic 22 tracks. One of the album’s more conventional punk rock tracks, Wolf is also one of the albums very best deep cuts – punchy, lyrically savvy, ultra-melodic and with a chorus that double dares you not to clench your fists and scream along.
9. I Wanna Riot (1994)
“I’m the kid who’s got a lot of problems. If I throw a brick, maybe the brick will go and solve them…” Now there’s a punk rock lyric. Perhaps best known due to its inclusion on Epitaph’s classic Punk-O-Rama Vol. 1 compilation, I Wanna Riot is officially a Rancid b-side (featuring on the Roots Radical single), but it’s a firm fan favourite. While the skanking rhythms carry little of the tension inherent in its obvious forefather (The Clash’s White Riot) it’s a rollicking listen from the very first “Oi!”
8. Who Would’ve Thought (1998)
A nakedly emotional love song to Brody Dalle, Tim Armstrong’s teenage fiancée at the time, newly relocated to the US, this highlight of the Life Won’t Wait album is a rather poetic and touchingly sincere dedication to a girl who brought light into the darkness of the singer’s life. Matt Freeman’s bass playing here is superb, but this is Armstrong’s song, and that chorus – “Who would’ve thought that dreams come true? And who would’ve thought I ended up with you?” – could hardly be more direct and open-hearted.
7. Indestructible (2003)
The flips-side of Who Would’ve Thought, this is the painful sound of love falling apart and a man desperately trying to piece together a broken heart. When Brody Dalle left Armstrong for QOTSA frontman Josh Homme, the Rancid man was deeply wounded and on the title track of his band’s sixth studio album, bitter lyrics such as “I’m ashamed now to say I ever knew you” are as raw as songwriting gets. A defiant ‘fuck you’ fight song for those who’ve loved, lost and are desperately trying to prove to themselves that they’re just fine, actually, thank you very much.
6. Avenues and Alleyways (1995)
If one were to pare back Rancid’s breakthrough album …And Out Come The Wolves to just ten tracks it could stand toe-to-toe with any punk record ever made, and a Rancid Top 10 could easily be composed solely of songs from that collection alone. Like so many of the songs on that record, Avenues and Alleyways is a song about punk rock community and family and the unquenchable, fearless optimism of youth, and its anthemic chorus rings with the confidence of a band who know their time has come.
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5. Salvation (1994)
An anthem for the underclass, with wide-eyed gutter punk Armstrong looking at how the other half live in the affluent planned community of Blackhawk – spitting distance from Oakland but a world away with its country club and golf courses - and concluding that there’s more heart and soul on his own streets. Ultra-infectious, this single from Let’s Go, hinted that the East Bay quartet had the potential to follow their peers Green Day and The Offspring out of the underground punk scene.
4. Roots Radicals (1995)
Drawing an explicit line from Jimmy Cliff and Desmond Dekker through to Stiff Little Fingers and beyond, this joyous hymn to roots reggae, punk rocker and “moon stompers” is an evocative sketch of a formerly lost teenager realising he’s found his spiritual home in music, and sharing that new-found sense of wonder and awe with his best friends.
3. Radio (1994)
Co-written by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and Rancid bassist Matt Freeman (surely the finest four-stringer in punk since Mike Watt), Radio is perhaps Rancid’s signature composition, a pure love song to the power of music, which will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever had their life transformed by a spinning black vinyl disc. Turn it up, fuckin’ loud, as the lyrics suggest.
2. Time Bomb (1995)
The biggest single of Rancid’s career, this ridiculously catchy ska-punk anthem, powered by a vamping Hammond organ, taps 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. Basically it’s side one of London Calling distilled into two minutes and 24 seconds.
1.Ruby Soho (1995)
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. A true punk rock classic.