I mostly listen to punk when I need a cathartic shot in the arm. Recently, while cowering under a metaphorical duvet of seasonal affectedness, I picked up the 1981 debut album by LA’s The Adolescents. I’d never heard it before, but I loved it. They’re like a more serious, less tuneful American version of The Buzzcocks.
“This could make my top ten punk albums of all time,” I thought. “Hang on. What ARE my top ten punk albums anyway?” So I had a think, and here’s what I came up with.
Disclaimer: these are my personal favourites. I’m not saying they are objectively the best. Sure, I love The Dead Kennedys and The Clash’s debut (London Calling is overrated)… and you could make a case for including proto punk like The Stooges or later stuff like Nirvana or Sonic Youth, but I’m keeping this to the late 70/early 80s era that most people associate with “classic” punk. I’ve also unashamedly included collections as well as “proper” albums because… why the hell not?
(10) Ramones: Rocket to Russia (1977)
It was a toss-up between this and The Clash’s debut. The Clash is more stylistically varied and lyrically sophisticated, but The Ramones are just more… fun. And they have that unusual crossover appeal: your grandma could tap her feet to them, as well as the anarchist cider drinkers on the corner. Rocket to Russia is their best album. The debut is ok, but its production is a bit weedy, with the guitars too low in the mix. This has way more punch.
(9) Never Mind the Bollocks. Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977)
I was only a baby when this came out, but I can imagine how shocking the Pistols must have been at the time; how threatening they must have felt to the establishment and the tabloids. It’s a great album from start to finish, only marred by the fact that its singles have been overplayed. My favourite tracks are the first and last; it’s a Holidays in the Sun/EMI sandwich. Here’s EMI.
(8) X Ray Spex: Germ Free Adolescents (1978)
Poly Styrene was awesome. She looked like one of your mates from school, but she had That Voice; possibly the greatest voice in punk (operatically trained, as I’m sure you know). I always enjoyed their singles, but I never realised how good this album was until years later. Ahead of its time subject-wise, too, with its themes of environmental waste and consumerism. It’s hard to pick a track — they’re all brilliant chunks of pop art. Check out how Nirvana copied the intro to this (sounds like Breed to me).
(7) Buzzcocks: Singles: Going Steady (1977-79)
Yeah I know, it’s not a “proper” album, but it’s my website so whatever. Ever Fallen in Love could have come from the golden age of Motown. Orgasm Addict recalled the early urgency of the brilliant Spiral Scratch EP, which had Howard Devoto (later of Magazine) on vocals. But this was always my favourite.
(6) Gang of Four: Entertainment (1979)
More early post-punk perhaps, but this was another one I didn’t get around to until they came back into fashion in the early 2000s. Before then their blend of punk and funk was seen as dated and criminally shunned. Strange how fashions affect people’s taste. Damaged Goods has an austere, uniquely British feel to it. But it’s austerity you can dance to.
(5) Adolescents: Adolescents (1981)
Not sure if this is so high on the list because it’s new to me. Possibly. But I’m loving it all the same. It’s so west-coast sleazy. The core, middle section of the album is where it’s strongest, with the epic Kids of the Black Hole, the anthemic Amoeba and this…
(4) Joy Division: Substance (1977-80)
Joy Division don’t slip into the punk category as smoothly as most other bands on this list, apart from in their initial incarnation, Warsaw — as featured on the Substance compilation. My favourite of those is this, from the An Ideal for Living EP, No Love Lost (used to great effect in Anton Corbijn’s film about the band). Let’s face it, this collection is far more listenable that both of their utterly depressing studio LPs.
(3) The Fall: Live at the Witch Trials (1979)
The Fall’s debut was to be eclipsed by their work during the early 80s, when they were, for a while, the greatest band in the world. But this is their most “punk” record. Tracks like Industrial Estate took the Pistols’ snarl and added a dose of cold, Northern attitude and precocious amphetamine-fuelled lyrics. The first Fall album I heard was the singles 83-89, and I assumed they started in 83. When I first heard Live at the Witch Trials, on vinyl in a mate’s room at uni, it blew me away.
(2) Minor Threat: Discography (1981-83)
This is the only “hardcore” album on the list. And it’s probably the only hardcore album I really love, apart from maybe Black Flag’s Damaged. As I said earlier, I blast myself with punk music when I’m feeling angry or upset, and this album has helped me through some very bad times, including one particularly fucked up moment which I won’t go into here. Witness the power in this motherfucker.
(1) Wire: Pink Flag (1977)
Unlike Minor Threat, this isn’t an album I put on to purge myself of negative emotions. It very much flicks between three styles: gloomy, minor chord dirge (Reuters, Lowdown); short and speedy (Different to Me); and angular pop (Three Girl Rhumba, Ex Lion Tamer, Fragile, Mannequin). I like the poppy ones best. Unfortunately for me, they mostly followed the dirge route on their subsequent two albums. It sags in the middle a bit, but this is cool punk for the (sm)art school kids.