Punk music has a long and storied history that includes some of the most talented artists from around the world. Choosing the best punk songs is a difficult task considering all of the different sub-genres that fall under the punk umbrella. It's also important to note that punk music, at least in its early days, was more about attitude and atmosphere than record sales and chart success. Still, there are some songs that are considered essential listening for any punk fan, new or old.
Ten of the Greatest Punk Tunes
From angry, angsty three-chord rock to poetic, lyric-driven tunes, punk music almost always makes a statement. The following songs are some of the best that punk has to offer.
Anarchy in the UK by The Sex Pistols
Fed up with disco, singer-songwriters, the monarchy, and the UK's 70s political mood, The Sex Pistols burst on the scene like nothing the mainstream had seen before. It didn't even matter that both Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious had been recruited for the band based on their looks rather than talent - this was a group of guys who had a message and weren't afraid to shout it out. Their loose playing, shouty vocals and fashion sense gave punk its identity, and Anarchy in the UK sits on many "best of" lists, including the BBC.
Blitzkrieg Bop by The Ramones
The Ramones, like the Sex Pistols, were pioneers of punk. They mastered the under three-minute, three-chord punk song like no other band ever could, and Blitzkrieg Bop is the perfect example of their style. The refrain "hey, ho, let's go" is instantly recognizable. AOL Radio named this song as the best classic punk song of all time, while LA Weekly gives The Ramones' self-titled album on which the son appears top honors as the most influential punk album ever.
Rise Above by Black Flag
Henry Rollins is punk's socially-conscious, politically active face, and his band Black Flag remains one of punk's seminal acts. Rise Above is an angry anthem and an ode to protest and demands for equality. The song is the lead-off single from the band's 1981 album Damaged, which appears on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Come Out and Play by The Offspring
The Offspring helped to bring punk back into the forefront in the mid-1990s, and have since become the biggest selling punk band of all time. Come Out and Play was the first single off their breakout record Smash in 1994, and the song reached number one on the Billboard top 100 modern rock tracks chart. While The Offspring doesn't always play strictly punk music, they have a knack for fusing punk with other genres and styles.
Holiday in Cambodia by Dead Kennedys
Another must-listen punk band, the Dead Kennedys are stars of the genre. Their politically charged brand of punk is evident on this classic track which points fingers of blame to the East and West while contrasting the life of an American youngster with a young person living under the Pol Pot regime. Respected rock music magazine Kerrang! listed Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, the album from which Holiday in Cambodia was released, the third best punk album of all time, and AOL Radio places the song at number three in their list of the best classic punk tunes.
Complete Control by The Clash
The Clash released their self-titled album in 1977, unleashing their urgent yet controlled sound to listeners who were more than ready for this kind of in-your-face sound and attitude. Much more musically inclined than the Sex Pistols, The Clash offered up the song Complete Control as a commentary on music managers working behind the backs of their artists, and the song became an instant hit. Shredding Radio, the online presence for punk magazine Shredding Paper, lists the album as the top punk album ever, and calls the song "one of the most brilliant recordings ever made."
Teenage Kicks by The Undertones
The Undertones were a punk band out of Northern Ireland in the late 1970s. Notably, their lead singer was Feargal Sharkey who would go on to moderate success in the 80s with a solo career. The beauty of Teenage Kicks doesn't necessarily lie in its sales or chart success, though listeners of BBC radio gave it a number two spot in their list of "most punk" songs. Officially however, the song only reached number 31 on the UK singles chart. What's special about this song is that everyone loved it. Legendary BBC radio personality John Peel even had some of the lyrics written on his gravestone. Teenage Kicks has been covered by dozens of artists from all genres, including Green Day, punk legends the Buzzcocks, and even boy band One Direction.
Lust for Life by Iggy Pop
Forget the fact that it is now used to advertise everything from family vacations to financial institutions (much to the amusement of music fans everywhere, given that this song is about heroin). Iggy Pop's opus to the siren song of drug addiction is produced a little slicker than many punk tracks, but that doesn't lessen its impact at all. Plus, as the lead singer for The Stooges, Iggy Pop was punk before punk was cool. Lust for Life is Rolling Stone's 149th greatest song of all time.
Blank Generation by Richard Hell and the Voidoids
Before there were Sex Pistols, there was Richard Hell. Hell is credited with inspiring the British punk icons in both look and sound, with his in-your-face attitude and torn up then re-pinned clothing. Hell was a member of a handful of influential punk bands including Television and The Heartbreakers before he created the Voidoids. Their first release was entitled Blank Generation and the album's title track became what Rolling Stone calls an "anthem for a movement." Indeed, Blank Generation eventually became a title for many retrospectives of the New York punk scene, including books and documentary films.
Basket Case by Green Day
Green Day is part of a new generation of punk, and they haven't been welcomed by punk purists because of their commercial success and pop sensitivities. What Green Day did, and still does, is entice a new group of fans into the genre. Basket Case is young Green Day - fast, angry, and loud, but with a touch of pop thrown in. The song was nominated for a Grammy award for best rock vocal performance.
Veering From the Mainstream
While some punk artists like Green Day and The Offspring have enjoyed commercial success, many punk bands never strive to hit the music charts or create a best-selling record. To truly appreciate all that punk has to offer, you need to dig a little deeper to discover the lesser-known acts, both past and present, that despite their lack of hits still enjoy a loyal following of fans.