Ten important punk albums
Nearly two years ago I started this occasional series where I look at 10 albums from one genre that I consider "important". You then get to do the same. You can click back to see that it started with hip-hop, then metal, electronica, country and most recently reggae. I say most recently and that was nearly a year ago. Time to add another genre to the done-pile - but before I do I'd like to carry over what I said as part of the first "10 important albums" post. That being:
We all know that lists are subjective - that is the point of them. So I've decided to do a series of top 10 albums across genres. They'll appear sporadically. And rather than call them "Top 10" I will call them 10 of the most important - sorry if that sounds pretentious. It's not meant to. It's meant to describe the albums as being important to me, seminal in terms of turning me on to a genre, reminding me of the things I liked about a genre - reintroducing me, leading on to other similar (or disparate) musical ideas. Important in that sense.
Now punk might be a contentious subject - there's British and American strains of punk and arguments to support each side as being originators. There is a punk particular to the 1970s and then to the 1980s. From the 1990s to the present day it becomes hard to know what's going on. Green Day probably is The Sex Pistols of the 1990s and/or Ramones too in terms of influencing so much that followed in its wake. But they might just be awful to you - or really important to you.
One thing I've decided - for the purposes of this listing business with the punk genre - is that we will start from 1975. If it weren't for that stipulation I'd be including The Stooges, The New York Dolls, The Modern Lovers and The MC5. But it is a separate argument as to where/when punk started. We could go back to Johnny Burnette and several of the other rock'n'rollers and rockabilly practitioners so for the sake of brevity - since it's a big enough topic as it is - we'll start from 1975. Your favourite punk albums might be all 1970s and 1980s artists. And if you want to consider The Alkaline Trio or Sum 41 as part of your list then that's fine...but let's leave the pre-1975 stuff otherwise we could battle for the inclusion of The Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat album or The Monks or many others.
Right, all of that out of the way, here's my list of 10 important punk albums. In no ranking - just as they come to me.
I am using this to incorporate Never Mind the Bollocks - which of course (ultimately) is it when it comes to The Sex Pistols. Every track from that album is here and I heard them all first on this compilation. Bodies, still, is a revelation. I'm far more interested in PiL than The Sex Pistols these days - but right time/right place I'm transported back to when I first heard No Fun, my favourite Pistols song (a cover of The Stooges). And Pretty Vacant, EMI, Anarchy in the UK and so many others.
I really don't like Green Day. An embarrassment of a band, a group that has been sliding downhill ever since this album - and really Dookie probably isn't at all great. Nor are the earlier records. It's all thin pastiche. But I'd be lying if I said this album wasn't important to me - at the time. I was new to punk and the post-punk material and through grunge's tribute/appropriation/recontextualisation I was finding plenty of music for myself. A big step when my parents' record collection had been so vital. All of a sudden add Green Day with that song and also Longview. Awesome stuff. But it was so quickly downhill from there. I tried to listen to Insomniac recently - see here for the result - I dare not bother with Dookie. I'll just remember it for the good times.
Love Und Romance. I can't remember how I got on to The Slits - probably just from reading about them. But this album is a gem. One of my favourites. Not an album I can listen to right through all that often these days - but so important for me. A formative experience and one I treasure. Again, it's that feeling of discovering something for yourself that was a big part of the deal here. No one in my family listened to this - or would want to. I don't think any of my friends were hearing this either. And I loved the reggae-integration, the feminism, the obvious influence on so much that had followed in its wake. Love the cover of Heard It Through the Grapevine too.
Here is where punk's cup runneth over. And thankfully. There is just so much to take in here - impossible to deal with in one go (properly). A hardcore album, a post-punk album maybe - to me this is a punk album. And it's one of the handful of punk albums that really progresses the genre. I'd recommend checking out this slim volume if you're a fan of this album or of The Minutemen in general.
I heard this before I heard Double Nickels and this was the first punk album that made me realise that songwriting was a big part of the genre. That there was plenty to say. And that it could be said sharply, succinctly. Wire has had many comebacks and carry-ons but last year's Red Barked Tree is my next favourite Wire album after Pink Flag. And if you haven't heard that I recommend it. Superb.
I love a lot of Patti Smith's work, both her writing and her music. But when it comes down to it this album is it for me. If I could only have one Patti Smith album then this would be it. I like that you can hear punk in here and you can hear time was spent listening to punk's very outer influences/characters (like Bob Dylan) and even beyond that to people like Van Morrison.
My cousin told me about Dead Kennedys (and also Circle Jerks too). And it felt very naughty listening to this album - in fact I heard this before I heard any other punk or hardcore albums. I couldn't really process it at the time. But I knew enough to go back to it. Whoa, I Kill Children. And of course Holiday in Cambodia.
This is one of my favourite albums. Period. It's relentless. It's also an album that features Steve Albini in a playing capacity. And so many people knew him - first/foremost - as a producer. A producer who would go on to play with the subverted version of punk (Pixies et al). This album is brutal. And I love it.
Maybe some people will turn their noses up at Elvis Costello on a punk list but this album blows me away. And along with just a few other artists/albums this shows that you could be punk in attitude and have great players/playing. It didn't all need to be Sex Pistols-style. The rhythm section is just incredible. And Elvis was writing great songs and spitting them out with disdain, with a sneer. Again, one of my favourite albums (by anyone/ever) regardless of genre.
So there's my list of 10 very important punk albums. Some of you will have noticed no Clash. Feel free to add them to your own list. As I said here I'm not the hugest fan. But I do like the first three albums - and I won't deny they had plenty of great singles. In fact so many of punk's great bands were about the singles as much or more than they were about the albums. The Buzzcocks: great singles band.
Anyway, now it's your turn. What are your 10 important punk albums? And what makes them so special for you/to you?
And follow Off the Tracks to read 'The Vinyl Countdown' - an album-by-album review of my record collection.
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