We try to stay open to all types of music, but when all is said and through punk rock is our main love. And when something brings as much joy as punk brings to our lives, we want to share it with those we consider close to us. So we conceived this mix to pay tribute to the different styles found under the punk rock umbrella. This is by no means an all encompassing list. It’s like using that little spoon at the ice cream shop to get a taste of the broad spectrum of punk rock. And we want you to feel more open to try punk rock so we didn’t pick an acquired taste like pralines and dick, but the more well liked flavors like triple chocolate fudge. So grab your spoon and try the 20 flavors we think you may enjoy.
Often calling themselves “The Only Band That Matters” it’s only fitting they start the rock on this mix. While the songs from their debut album were more straight-forward in your face punk, what they did on the London Calling album is more important. The album redefined what punk rock was and what it could be. Starting that revolution was the title track. The sound was daunting and Strummer delivered chilling vocals about the downfall of London and the rise of the under belly. Early punk was known for its strong political overtones, generally about anger towards a government. “London Calling” gives us a sense of that anger as well as the feeling that we have the power to be more active and make changes. “London Calling” set a bar many bands still reach for.
At the end of SLC Punk, we see how Bob and Stevo got into punk rock. Bob comes over for a friendly, nerdiriffic game of Dungeons & Dragons, takes Stevo’s dorky Rush tape out of its player, replaces it with one he got from “a guy he knows in L.A.” and asks Stevo to “tell me this doesn’t rock.” The song? “Kiss Me Deadly” by Generation X. Sure, it doesn’t have the complex musician craftsmanship of Rush, nor its goofy science fiction-styled lyrics, but its bare bones essence, three simple chords, and straight-ahead story of two teenage punks navigating the dangerous London streets one adventurous night is brimming with raw vigor and pure life. So many places in this song and a stripped-down aesthetic gives a stark picture of authentic punk culture in 1970s England. For a snapshot of where punk sprung from, check out this song.
When we first had this idea I knew there was going to be a Rancid song on here, I just didn’t know which. I was leaning towards “Journey to the End of the East Bay” and I was making a lot of arguments for it, but while I was doing that “Ruby Soho” started to play and as soon as I heard those first four notes I knew it had to be “Ruby Soho.” This song toes the line between poppy and punk perfectly, pop enough for the casual punk fan yet not too pop for the punkers. Tim Armstrong sings in a way that makes the song feel really personal. On top of that Rancid songs all seem to have a feeling of personal familiarity, meaning it is easy to project your own situations and ideas into what is being song and no other song exhibits that better than “Ruby Soho.” While The Clash and Generation X paint a picture of the political and punk scenes of 1970s England, I enjoy it but can’t relate to it. “Ruby Soho” paints a picture of a relationship ending and the subsequent denial and eventual acceptance of it. I have been Ruby and have faded out, disappeared and realized it was time to say goodbye.
For an idea of where punk rock is heading we need to look no further than My Chemical Romance. My Chemical Romance take the basic punk formula of three chord aggression and expands it. They were able to make not one but two concept albums while still playing punk rock. Not only that, but the songs are still as personal as can be. With a term like concept album one of the first things brought to many people’s minds is Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, which musically is great, but it lacks in heart and feeling. My Chemical Romance are able to keep both of those with their concept albums. And no where is this more apparent than “Helena” which kicks off and sets the whole tone for My Chemical Romance.
In 1994 Green Day burst on the scene with Dookie, an album that went diamond (10 million copies sold – we had to look it up). You probably already know plenty about Green Day, but one thing that we like is that in the early ‘00s many of our favorite bands listed Green Day as an influence on their own music. You forget that they were once punk upstarts themselves when currently they’re like the punk equivalent of U2. We chose “Welcome to Paradise” over the bigger hits on Dookie because we felt it’s most representative of Green Day’s overall body of work better than the pop standard “When I Come Around,” or oddly quirky “Basket Case.” It’s also the only song to appear on both Dookie and Kerplunk, Green Day’s underground breakthrough effort. Without that transition from hot underground act to mainstream smash, many of the other bands on this list might not have even the recognition they do. Besides, this song’s just great.
When you think of independent punk record labels, two labels came to mind in the late 90s and early 00s: Epitaph and Fat. Fat Wreck Cords was founded by Fat Mike of NOFX, and their eponymous Punk In Drublic album encapsulates what you can expect from both NOFX and bands on Fat (e.g. Lagwagon or No Use for a Name) considering Fat Mike’s only criteria for signing a band was that “he had to genuinely like their music.” So to get a taste of Fat Wreck Cords, why not go to the source material? NOFX used to be a decent skate punk band before they went off the deep end hating Republicans and Christians. “Linoleum” is how you should experience NOFX – sophomoric, upbeat, and bursting with Fat Mike’s terrible punk voice. Pure West Coast punk fun.
As mentioned above, Lagwagon can be described as a Fat band. Hell, Lagwagon’s singer and NOFX’s singer even joined forces on a side project for another band on Fat. Lagwagon makes music that sounds and seems really fun, but as you look closer the songs have something important to say, this is just a good tactic. It’s like what Robin Williams did in Dead Poet’s Society. And this is the essential idea behind punk anyway, get a message out in a way people will take notice and pay attention. “Violins” is all about making the same mistake then making your own sympathy since no one else will. But it’s shrouded in a chord progression that would make you think otherwise. Lagwagon also throws in simple guitar solos that somehow add a lot to the song, and that’s just being smart musicians.
Operation Ivy was in existence for all of about 3 years, but during that time they became one of the most influential punk bands of the 80s. What The Ramones and Black Flag did for the New York and L.A. scenes, respectfully, Operation Ivy did for the East Bay scene in Northern California, bringing attention to bands like NOFX and Green Day. Upon their disbandment the members of Operation Ivy were responsible for creating more bands and more music, most notably The Dance Hall Crashers and Rancid. Operation Ivy was fast in your face punk, but they made a name for themselves by trying something new, there were taking ska to the next level. They didn’t think it had to be the reggae sounding music The Clash, Madness, and The Specials were making. They thought it could be punk rock with horns. “Knowledge” is probaly the best known song from Operation Ivy, and the most covered, and it is a great reminder that we don’t have all the answers and that’s fine.
Less Than Jake took the idea Operation Ivy had about ska, ran with it and did it the best. Less Than Jake is the definition of ska core, or punk with horns. Less Than Jake has always been perfect at knowing exactly when to use horns and how to best utilize the horns to make the song kick as much ass as possible. Less Than Jake have also been great at writing songs about growing up and the hardships that ensue. One such issue that we haven’t had to face is a fight. That fleeting moment of whether we should stay and fight, or run like the dickens. “Nervous in the Alley” covers all these points that make Less Than Jake the only ska band to make the cut.
For those of you that hate pop-punk, feel free to blame the Descendents who basically invented the genre nearly 30 years ago. I’m paraphrasing from Allmusic.com, but Descendents infused a hardcore sensibility with teen angst and plenty of goofball humor. Their Enjoy! album is littered with fart noises, and “Myage” linked above details an unsuccessful attempt at sexual congress. So, if the juvenile antics of blink-182 or any other skate punk band annoy the piss out of you, blame the originators. These guys knocked the seemingly prerequisite earnestness off punk rockers back in the early 80s, and I think we’ve been better off ever since. Life doesn’t have to be all political commentary and English poverty, there’s room for silliness too. God bless the Descendents.
The least punk song The Ataris have ever recorded, and perhaps one of the least punk songs in all of existence. You can’t cover Don freaking Henley, change “Grateful Dead” to “Black Flag” in the lyrics and call yourself a punk act. But The Ataris did exactly that, sold a buttload of records, and still get to ostensibly be a punk rock band. This is one of the places commercialization has taken punk rock, though. It’s inescapable, and although we give ‘em plenty of heat for this stupid cover, damned if we can’t help but tap our foot along with everyone else just like we do when I hear “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” by Good Charlotte or “Zombies Ate My Neighbors” by Single File. Pop punk isn’t going anywhere, so you might as well get out your bubblegum and enjoy it.
As punk rock has evolved over the years, and we apologize if we subconsciously ripped this off from someone, a large subset of its audience has changed from “Us Against Them” to “Us Instead of Them.” No matter who you are, you need friends, and punk rock has served as an identification call for a great many of us. No one embodies this like the Bouncing Souls, and their cheerful salute to male camaraderie is, if not their finest effort, probably their most fun. “He’s my friend / He’s my alibi / My accessory to the crime / A bond that will never die / ‘Til the end of time!” The Bouncing Souls demonstrate that while we all grow up and almost all of us lose our adorable punk idealism, we keep the ones there with us always close to our hearts.
We talked about Fat Wreck Chords and mentioned the other prominent independent record label Epitaph. Thanks to the aforementioned Bouncing Souls and Pennywise as well as Bad Religion, Epitaph became a powerhouse in the world of punk. Though much like Fat, the bands signed started to sound a lot alike and it could be said Epitaph bands sound a lot like Pennywise. Pennywise played fast and as in your face as they could get. Though the message they brought to your face usually consisted of questioning religion or authority, so if you get past hearing about that 12 times in a row, then they were great. This song is not about either of those, it is about how even if you’re not the best looking person you are always welcome in the house of punk. This song also highlights the bass guitar, which is something punk rock does better than other genres.
Face to Face is sort of like Greg Maddux. Nothing he does wows you in the traditional sense, but when you step back and look at the total body of work, you think to yourself, “Man, that’s all pretty damned impressive.” One of the most consistent and solid bands around, Face to Face just makes plain old good music. We can throw on one of their CDs anytime and listen to it all the way through smiling the whole way. Assertive but not abrasive. Energetic but not spastic. Loud but not too loud. Face to Face just always brings it, and we celebrate them with their biggest hit, and the only song that crossed over to the mainstream. Awesome band that’s damn near impossible not to like.
Widely credited as the first hardcore band of all-time, Black Flag’s songs incorporated descriptions of paranoia, neurosis, isolation, and poverty. Good times! “TV Party” is one of their biggest hits and is a satirical take on American laziness. What’s weird is that without reading that satire into it, the song works fine as a beer-drinking, TV-watching opus. Black Flag ruled the Los Angeles punk scene in the early 80s, and their ability to nuance an otherwise blunt song like “TV Party” is a big reason why.
Black Flag might be the originators of hardcore, but Silverstein and Thrice are part of the new generation of hardcore. Silverstein helps to realize that hardcore singing doesn’t have to rely solely on incoherent screaming into the microphone. In fact the song “Your Sword Vesus My Dagger” shows how awesome it can sound when the screaming is broken up with some lovely singing. The song doesn’t feel compromised by this, the guitars still tear through the chords and the drums are banged away like a cheerleader on prom night, but we get more because we understand there are actually lyrics and a point to the song. Silverstein does however make the mistake of letting their other songs be a little too emo and thus also show the sad path hardcore may heading down.
Thrice takes the punk fury and infuses it with a healthy dose of amazingly non-pretentious art. Still there is the gravelly-voiced singer wailing in front of a cacophony of drums and distorted guitars, but Thrice adds artistic layers to its sound that’s akin to drinking a really good wine. A faint, but so-pretty rhythm guitar riff in the intro, a distant scream in the backup vocals, and haunting lyrics like “We tried to bleed the sickness / But we drained our hearts instead / We are, we are the dead.” If punk rock is capable of poetry and approaches high art, Thrice, with its weighty themes and careful song construction, is my nominee as ambassador to high culture.
No punk rock list like this can be complete without The Ramones. The Ramones taught America exactly what punk rock was. It was fast, it had three chords, it was short, it was about rebellion, and you didn’t have to be good looking to make it. There is not a band we have listed that wouldn’t credit The Ramones as an influence, well maybe Generation X. But even The Clash, who were contemporaries, admitted they modeled a few songs in Ramones fashion. With its infectious opening chant of “Hey Ho, Let’s go” we are left unaware that we are about to be hit hard and fast as the songs title would warn. To sum it up, this song is punk rock.
“Barroom Hero” opens with a bag pipe and I remember the first time I heard that I knew my punk world was about to be blown wide open. The idea of incorporating a bag pipe seemed mind blowing. Then you listen on and the bag pipe is joined by punk rock that could only come from short tempered Irish guys. After the Germans, the Irish, with their years of oppression by both the English and Americans as well as that hot temper, seem the most apt to make punk rock and Dropkick Murphys prove that better than anyone else. They also managed to make punk rock more appealing to the working class. This new idea that punk wasn’t just for rebellious teenagers anymore, the Bruce Springsteen for the angry bunch, and it all started with “Barroom Hero.”
If we could choose punk rock to go in any one direction, this song would be the road map. Thoughtful, reflective, purposeful, vivid, brimming with energy and angst. Punk continues to evolve, and while there’s merit in shaking the walls with three face melting chords and a guttural scream, to remain a viable art form, additional levels of meaning and skill would be helpful. Rise Against will rock your nuts any day of the week, but their lyrical textures are so rich, you come away fuller than you went in. In this song, as I wrote in September, as you get older “…all that remains is the memories, and while that may not always seem good enough, they’re always there and you’re always the audience of one in the theater of times remembered.” That’s some good stuff to make you feel that way.
See ya in the pit…
Hart and Dagger
13 Jan 2010 CJS Staff