25 Essential Punk Albums

With so much punk rock around, it's time to compile a list of 25 albums that should be in any sincere punk rocker's collection. One album per band, in order to spread the wealth around and to throw in a few "influences", though I passed over early touchstones like The Stooges' Fun House and Raw Power, the MC5's Kick Out The Jams and the Shaggs' Philosophy of the World to make more room for albums that happened during the late 1970s-early 1980s when the music was in its "golden age."

There are still plenty of bands missing and more albums to collect, for sure. Some punk bands weren't good for more than a single or two, or never released a definitive album during their brief -- or not too brief -- careers. Most great punk rock was done by single, however, the truly great bands did manage at least one album.

What do you say we clear the mosh pit and put in some chairs for those of us whose backs can no longer handle the slam dancing of old?

Turn down the hearing aids, it's going to get loud!

25) The Angry Samoans -- Back From Samoa:

With such tracks as "My Old Man's A Fatso," "They Saved Hitler's C**k" and the 23 seconds of "You Stupid Jerk," the Angry Samoans hit their stride. Only "Ballad of Jerry Curlan" breaks the three minute mark. It's like they can't wait for the songs to be over.

24) The Dictators -- Go Girl Crazy!: Led by the charming Handsome Dick Manitoba and Andy Shernoff, the Dictators were among the first groups to create the modern mix of junk culture love and enthusiasm over chops. Their rough and tumble cover of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" never sounded more lovely. But "Master Race Rock" sounds like they're tripping over one another for the TV remote.

23) The Germs -- GI:

The lone real Germs album, GI is often considered the first hardcore punk album for its superspeed, aggression and general disdain for anything too musical. You'd think the California sun would mellow out potential punks, but I guess some people hate sunshine. Oh, dear, someone got too hot!

22) The Damned -- Machine Gun Etiquette: As punks better learned their instruments, they began reaching out to other styles of music that made their punk attack ever more interesting. While punk rock has little to no reason for existing today in its manicured form, back in the late 1970s it needed all the modifications it could handle. Standing on the dole line is boring. The Damned got the idea to make it sound like fun. Remember when poor people weren't the enemy?

21) Avengers -- Avengers:

Penelope Houston gave the band a steely edge, a striking visual counterpoint and a sense of purpose that helped the band resonate beyond the playground where all the punks hung out. That they nailed it early and often just shows that pent-up aggression has its purpose.

20) Circle Jerks -- Group Sex: Black Flag took on the darkness, while their singer Keith Morris took off for lighter pastures with the hilarious Circle Jerks. Group Sex is fourteen songs in fifteen minutes. The ADD generation starts here.

19) Descendents -- Milo Goes To College:

Don't blame the Descendents for the endless California punks who love their hooks more than their aggression. Milo Aukerman and crew played with the rough edges intact. Though admittedly, they were at their best when they slowed it to 55mph. Everyone gets better mileage that way. Youth music that sounds young.

18) Black Flag -- Damaged: Though Henry Rollins is synonymous with Black Flag, much of the group's legacy is rooted in a time before he joined the ranks. Rollins' angst would slow the band down, but the stuff written before he showed his face careens out of control like pure hardcore. Maybe "Damaged I" is more emotionally "true," but "Rise Above," "TV Party" and "Six Pack" are better songs. Only a churl doesn't love a TV Party.

17) Suicide -- Suicide:

Suicide may not sound like a punk band, but no one confronted audiences like this dynamic duo. In many ways, they were more punk, since they didn't give listeners any easy fixes. Modern times make this music sound pretty prescient. But at the time, it sounded like it was from outer space. Do yourself a favor and turn up the volume and drive to "Frankie Teardrop." If you make it home alive, you WIN!

16) Dead Kennedys -- Plastic Surgery Disasters: Some might pick Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables or In God We Trust, Inc. But I'm partial to this ambitious collection that manages to work the entire field, from thrashers to grinders to rockabilly. Due to the band's provocative nature, East Bay Ray may be the world's most underrated guitarist. Remove the shock value and there are some killer riffs waiting to do real damage.

15) Bad Brains -- Bad Brains:

The idea that punk bands could not play their instruments is correct for many bands. Not this one. Washington, DC's hardcore punk and reggae band Bad Brains assault with precision. Just listen to those guitar solos! They kept branching out, though, since playing at 140mph gets unexciting once you've perfected it twenty times over. Guys? You want to jam out some Boz Scaggs? Guys??

14) The Clash -- London Calling: I think I'm supposed to take the Green Album, but I just can't. Maybe the original Black Market Clash ten-inch record, but definitely London Calling, which broadens the punk palette until it's so many shades of grey that it can be played over and over without your arms getting tired.

13) Gang of Four -- Entertainment!:

It's said this album is heavily political, but I don't listen too closely to lyrics, so I couldn't tell you exactly what "Guns Before Butter" is about, but I have my suspicions. Said to be "post-punk," Entertainment! is all about Andy Gill's guitar and a rhythm section that's designed for whiplash. That I know for sure.

12) Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers -- L.A.M.F.: Such a glorious mess in its first edition that it's been remixed several times since to better point up its attributes. The New York Dolls split the difference between glam and punk, but Thunders directed his new band to go in for the kill. If this music sounded dangerous, it's because it was dangerous. Would you let your daughter marry a Heartbreaker? I don't think so. Unless you hate your daughter.

11) X-Ray Spex -- Germ Free Adolescents:

You think Mars Needs Women? Punk rock needed all it could get. I don't blame the ladies for walking off the set of the hardcore years. Mosh pits aren't the place for any sane person. But when punk first exploded and was about self-expression in a variety of forms, well, it made sense for everyone to get involved. Poly Styrene had a voice that could curdle milk and remove the rust from your car.

10) Bedlam -- Bedlam: New Jersey had more popular hardcore punk bands, but never one that sounded more like a cement mixer running over your creepy uncle. Love songs to NJ include "Dioxin" and "New Jersey: Chemical Dump State," while the, ahem, tribute to "MTV" and covers of "Burnin' Love" and the Flintstones theme (twice!) made them popular with kids of all ages. Best song title: "Hated You Then and I Hate You Now." Best line: "I don't want to take her out to eat / I just want to spend my money on me." Don't we all!

9) Richard Hell and the Voidoids -- Blank Generation:

Not punk? Ha! Just shows how limited the term has become. When it began, these guys were the walking, talking definition of the attitude. Don't blame them that no one else could play like Ivan Julian and Robert Quine. It's still called music no matter how many razor blades you own.

8) Minor Threat -- Out of Step: Taking "Complete Discography" seems like a cheat, even if it all does fit on one CD. "Salad Days" is the perfect culmination of this Washington, DC hardcore band's narrative. And in a righteous world I would be allowed to add the single to stretch out this EP, but sticking to the rules somewhat, I say at eight or nine songs, this thing kicks harder than most full-length rock albums and even lasts longer than at least two dozen punk albums I can think of. Ian MacKaye was ok, but his disciples were often thick and ordinary. Not his fault.

7) Wire -- Pink Flag:

Defiant minimalism that still tangles up the entire history of rock 'n' roll on the way to the pub. Or is that the art college? Either way, there isn't much punk that makes you work it like a Rubik's Cube, but damned if I can't get only one side to match at a time.

6) Misfits -- Walk Among Us: Recently re-listened to this one and dang if it didn't come racing out of the speakers like I owed it money. The unison chants mean anybody can sing along and the ratty sound erroneously convinced aspiring punks that anyone could play it. But that isn't so, as thirty years of schoolin' haven't put nobody on no day shift.

5) Buzzcocks -- Singles Going Steady:

Glen Matlock might've been thrown out of the Sex Pistols for knowing how to play a Beatles tune, but the Buzzcocks would've kept him. What are songs but hooks to hang your hopes and dreams on? Writing songs people remember ain't no capital crime.

4) Dead Boys -- Young, Loud and Snotty: "Sonic Reducer" would be the National Anthem for the country I would want to rule. Or at least be a semi-conscious citizen of. "Caught With the Meat In Your Mouth" is fun, but "I Need Lunch" is to the point. Don't forget there's even a Younger, Louder and Snottier version for those of you who are never satisfied.

3) X -- Los Angeles:

The Chuck Berry riffs are perfect while the harmonies are not. Deliberately so. Future records would feature production, while this one sounds like it's ripping right from the soundstage. Who knew you could slamdance to the Doors? Like Randy says, I love L.A.

2) The Ramones -- Leave Home: Picking one Ramones album is the real Sophie's Choice. The first self-titled one is the blueprint and Rocket To Russia is the full-on actualization. That leaves Leave Home, which Carbona-full or no should never be discounted. I'll be your Pinhead, if you'll be mine.

1) The Sex Pistols -- Never Mind the Bollocks:

Credit producer Chris Thomas for having the foresight to ignore the punk credo of loud, fast and sloppy and to insist on creating a wall of guitar sound that no mortal could penetrate, except for Johnny Rotten, who snarls beyond what the hype claimed for his then-skinny butt. Sure, the singles are the apocalypse, but if "Bodies," "No Feelings," "Seventeen" and "EMI" are the deep album cuts, let me drown.