Top 25 Punk songs
Here's the swift kick in the arse that every musician needs. Keep it simple, stupid. Punk killed the bloated rock bands, twice. Once in the 1970s and then, via grunge, again in the 1990s. One can never underestimate this genre's inherent power to rebel and revolutionise.
Punk also spawned a myriad of sub-genres which latched onto the free-spirited, do-it-yourself ethics to produce great music. For better or worse, style and attitude is a prerequisite to rock now, not musicianship.
Punk does not exactly run in my blood, but it is always a source of inspiration whenever I'm stuck in a rut. Here's 25 punk songs that captured my imagination.
25 Minor Threat - Straight Edge
Blitzkrieg hardcore punk. The title eventually became a lifestyle for punks - no drugs, no alcohol, anti-politics, self-aware. Ian MacKaye barks out the no-nos of life and screams: "I've got straight edge!" Quite a lot of punks followed his orders. Spine-tingling moment: No time to lose, just a freaking 45 seconds of raging guitars and drums.
24 Bad Religion - Suffer
Another awesome quickie. This SoCal band are much more melodic than other hardcore punk units and, on songs such as this, mow their messages across at hyper-speed. You can't help but mosh. Spine-tingling moment: The final lyric, spat out by Greg Graffin: "The masses of humanity will always, always have to suffer!"
23 Dead Boys - Sonic Reducer
Young, loud and snotty. Dead Boys rant about everything, even if you can't understand half of what Stiv Bators is screeching about. Who knows what a sonic reducer is, but hell, let's mosh. Spine-tingling moment: The middle, flanged section. A galloping rush.
22 Mission Of Burma - That's When I Reach For My Revolver
Classy, simmering vitriol from this relatively obscure but very influential band. They differ from other punk bands in scaling down the musical aggression, while delving into darker lyrics. On this, their best cut, the rumbling bass and chiming guitars make for a chilling portrait of intense alienation to the point of breakdown. Spine-tingling moment: Try watching "Taxi Driver" now, then listen to this chorus: "That's when I reach for my revolver/That's when it all gets blown away."
21 The Only Ones - Another Girl, Another Planet
Who says punks can't pen love songs? This one is so achingly romantic, so raw. When frontman Peter Perrett sings "I'm in another planet with you", and guitarist John Perry flies in with something rare in punk - a guitar solo - it's a perfect three minutes of unabashed love. Spine-tingling moment: The guitar solo remains a thing of joy, be it punk or not.
20 Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart
Massively influential in shaping British music after punk, this Mancunian band is also the first and last word in shaping songs of crushing despair. Ian Curtis penned torment with possessed urgency, and although this is their biggest hit, the melodies do not hide his brutal examination of love disintegrating. Heart of darkness, indeed. RIP Ian. Spine-tingling moment: Curtis utters the weary lyrics with little emotion, to devastating effect.
19 The Stooges - Search And Destroy
Iggy Pop typifies the devil-may-care rebel without a cause. This is his bruising statement of intent. Mixed at ear-splitting levels, The Stooges appropriate apocalypse and Iggy proceeds to dance all over it. Consider this punk's fiery root. Spine-tingling moment: The opening declaration: "I'm a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm."
18 Wire - 12XU
The strangest punk band are also one of the genre's finest. They take punk's "less is more" stance to its extreme with short bursts of rage - one verse, one chorus, one riff, then trot on to the next song. This is their catchiest, with a tick-tock riff to bob your head insanely to. Weird lyrics though. Spine-tingling moment: The metronomic riff returns near the end. Cue crazed headbanging.
17 The Undertones - Teenage Kicks
Sweet one-hit wonder. Punk belongs to the teenager in everyone, and The Undertones understand this perfectly as they paint an aching picture of adolescent love blossoming. Another punk song with more heart? I can't think of one. Spine-tingling moment: Fergal Sharkey tumbling in with the classic line: "Teenage dreams, so hard to be."
16 Blink 182 - Dammit (Growing Up)
Beneath their childish demeanour, Blink 182 are a muscular, dextrous punk band. This is where they found their style and their calling. No one comes close in capturing teenage anxiety with as much regularity as this trio. Spine-tingling moment: The opening notes sound monstrous and mosh-friendly.
15 Black Flag - Rise Above
Punk's militant extreme. Henry Rollins and gang rage through this incendiary call to arms with rabid, breakneck speed. Greg Ginn supplies the potent riffs, as Rollins spits out all his manifest anger. "We are tired of your abuse", indeed. Spine-tingling moment: Perhaps the best shouter in the punk business, Rollins will get in your face.
14 The Clash - Train In Vain
Breaking every rule in punk, The Clash were adroit enough to flit through so many genres, yet retain the fervour of their roots. Just compare their first album with this, the last cut on "London Calling". Rawness is complemented by competent arrangement, and Mick Jones sings with such enthusiasm that it hides the hurt of the broken relationship. Anything is possible for punks after this. Spine-tingling moment: The descending chords that run through the song is possibly the catchiest punk riff I've heard.
13 Elvis Costello - (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?
Punk at heart, style be damned. Costello may look like a geek, yet he proves that as long as the fervour is there, any song can be invigorated. This was originally a folk protest song, and the bespectacled one transforms it into an excellent, fiery rocker. So pulsating is the drive of this song, it is impossible to sit still while Costello tumbles through his lyrics. Spine-tingling moment: When the chorus hits you like a sledgehammer.
12 The Jam - Going Underground
The most British of all British punks, The Jam create strident anthems that harken back to a less-gloomy time in the UK. Paul Weller is a gifted lyricist who paints vivid pictures with brash authority. This is an instant favourite, with its stop-start rhythms in the verses and an unforgettable chorus which gives an adrenaline rush every time you spin this record. Spine-tingling moment: The lyrics to lead into the chorus: "The public gets what the public wants, but I want nothing this society's got, I'm going underground." Rebellion personified.
11 Dead Kennedys - Holiday In Cambodia
Perhaps hardcore punk's most political band, Jello Biafra spews out his left-wing diatribes with acidic spite. Tremendously affecting stuff, especially on this wicked spat at kiss-ass rich boys. Hey, I've seen these idiots suffer in the army and, wicked as it seemed, I enjoyed every minute of it. Spine-tingling moment: A gleeful Biafra intoning "Pol Pot, Pol Pot" before launching into the final chorus.
10 Joy Division - Atmosphere
Elegaic, atmospheric and tragic. Joy Division's most optimistic song, a soaring "walk in silence". Ian Curtis' aching vocals is married to the most beautiful post-punk music ever. The rolling tom-toms and the melancholic bass rumble through murmuring keyboards. Then... Spine-tingling moment: ...in comes the strings from heaven after Curtis finishes each verse. A celestial rush.
9 Green Day - American Idiot
Who would've expected it? After a fluke success in the 1990s, Green Day look ready to wind down their one-trick-pony career. Then ZAP!!! They hit us with this electrifying diatribe against George W Bush's USA. The rest of the world cheered madly and, like all their greatest hits, get inspired to pick up the guitar and bash away at this anthem. Spine-tingling moment: "Well maybe I'm the faggot America/I'm not part of the redneck agenda!" Finally, a sensible post 9/11 American band.
8 The Ramones - I Wanna Be Sedated
The punk revolutionaries, rock's greatest one-trick ponies. With their proverbial "three minutes, three chords and next song" antics, The Ramones booted the bloated classic rock monster into oblivion. They also set the agenda for rock's future - attitude first, melody second, lyrics next and proficiency last. For better or worse. Spine-tingling moment: All their songs are catchy, but this cut's the most fun, what with its immortal couplet: "Put me in a wheelchair, get me to the show/Hurry hurry hurry, before I go loco."
7 The Strokes - The Modern Age
Punk gets modernised, thanks to this New York quintet, who swaggered into rock's consciousness with this stunning, instant classic. Riffs fly in from all directions, drums propel at different rhythms and then a delicious guitar solo drops by. The Strokes make the hype all worthwhile. Spine-tingling moment: Julian Casablancas' utterly infectious stutter at the word "go".
6 Sex Pistols - Anarchy In The UK
Ah, what would punk be without this anarchic anthem from the foremost shockers of this genre. Johnny Rotten's nihilism sounds live-in and nasty, and his bile has not diminished even after 29 years. But it would be nothing without his underrated band, whom many think are sloppy. Quite the opposite, as Steve Jones detonates this track with explosive power chords. Spine-tingling moment: The final, drunken roar of rebellion: "Fucking destroy!!!!!!!"
5 The Buzzcocks - Ever Fallen In Love?
The paradox of punk is that regardless of the revolutionary anti-commercial ambitions, punk's very simplistic style is a direct homage to good ol' pop music. Thankfully, the Buzzcocks realised that and duly married the intense energy of punk to the pop ethos. Their best result is this irresistable track, an infectious romp about the pains of love. Spine-tingling moment: It's a singalong joyride, from intro to end.
4 The Clash - London Calling
With militaristic fervour, The Clash's urgent drive to change their world come to fruition with this powerful masterpiece. Mick Jones' staccato guitars complement the nervous energy that Joe Strummer imbues in his apocalyptic lyrics. The call-and-response verses are jagged and ragged, and the chorus speaks of no way out. A desperate call for change then. Spine-tingling moment: When the bass kicks in like a mule.
3 Bad Brains - Pay To Cum
A hurricane. There's no other way to describe the most intense 84 seconds of music recorded. Guitars rage uncontrollably, drums clatter in a mad rush and lyrics tumble out in a blur. An intoxicating battering of the senses from the craziest punk band. Spine-tingling moment: The insane speed of it all.
2 Joy Division - Twenty-Four Hours
I remember the few months when I was intoxicated by the gloomy brilliance of this band, and how I fell into a deep depression whenever I played this song. It's no fun - no other song can suck the optimism out of me like this one. The claustrophobic feeling that everything is lost is captured with dreadful vividness by Ian Curtis. Every line in the lyrics depicts a desolate and desperate hellhole. Curtis took us to the murky depths of our souls. Unfortunately, he didn't make it back. Spine-tingling moment: Once again, his band come up with an awesome surge of despondent riffing.
1 Television - Marquee Moon
Here's the exhilaration of punk, embodied in 10 epic minutes of roller-coaster thrills. Dim-wit punks may talk about do-it-yourself, free-spiritedness - yet they conform their musical and lyrical styles to basically three chords and a yell. You want to change the world? Listen to Tom Verlaine and his band rip. The angular riffing influenced bands as recent as The Strokes. The impressionistic lyrics are singular to Verlaine's artistic instincts. Then there's the guitar solo - so wildly different from blues-based jams and so jaw-dropping in the improvisations. Punk never came close to being a guitar inspiration for me after this beauty. Spine-tingling moment: At about 4:44 into the song, Verlaine begins his solo - and does not end until almost the 8:30 mark. Every second of it is a thing of subliminal beauty.