Ranking the Top Punk Songs Ever
Punk music can be an acquired taste but to its millions of devoted fans worldwide it has brought unbridled joy and incredible soundtracks to moments in their lives. This genre is truly unique and for many of its fans, it is more a way of life than simply a genre of music. Punk cuts deep and its fans are as loyal as they come, but what of the songs and artists of this special genre? Well, they have been responsible for some of the most memorable songs and artists that we’ve ever seen in the music business. Let’s start by taking a look at the best punk songs.
What is the Punk Genre?
Punk as a genre is relatively new when compared to more traditional forms of music such as traditional rock, pop and country which date back many years. Punk as a wider genre was originally formed in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia in the mid-1970s as a follow on to what is considered more 'mainstream' rock music. We can go back somewhat further, however, as Punk has its roots in 1960s America with trailblazing groups such as The Stooges, MC5, Monks and more who led the way for those that would follow down the line.
However, it wasn't until the mid-1970s when the genre evolved to include more 'punk-rock' groups such as Ramones, Sex Pistols, and The Clash. Although punk rock mainly had mainstream success in the United Kingdom and some parts of Europe in its formative days, it also had a huge underground and cult following worldwide with people who considered punk to be a deviation from other genres that were too mainstream for them as they sought out a different kind of music that was somewhat 'forbidden'.
As for the music itself, punk rock is generally characterized by fast tempos, loud and distorted riffs, simple songs, frequent use of power chords, and shouted vocals. Many groups feature variations on these characteristics, but most early groups retained them. The genre takes heavy influence from Rock & Roll, Garage Rock, and Surf Rock with lesser influence from plenty of other genres.
Punk rock lyrics are typically very aggressive and confrontational, and deal with topics considered taboo in mainstream music. Anti-establishment attitudes are a large part of punk lyrics and this adds to the sense of belonging fans of the genre feel when they sense that they are part of something outside the ordinary - that rage against the machine mentality.
Ever since the very beginning of punk and indeed punk rock, the genre has morphed into several different sub-genres and movements that make this genre utterly unique amongst other types of music. The most notable sub-genre would probably be Hardcore Punk, which is a much more primal, violent, and aggressive genre that has an entire movement of its own, which later evolved into Post-Hardcore among many other sub-genres.
The revival and prime years of ‘Pop Punk’ in the 90s with bands such as Green Day, The Offspring, and Blink-182 finally brought mainstream success of punk music to US and of course the wider world, and punk rock has remained a strong commercial force since. The amazing different array of punk subgenres, movements, and cultures set this genre apart and mean that its fans have remained loyal to it throughout the years because it means so much more than just the amazing music it spawns. Given all this, it is fair to say punk is a unique genre.
Top 10 Punk Songs of All Time
When it comes to the top punk songs ever made, we really are spoilt for choice. The genre, although only properly established in the last 50 years or so, has produced as many classic tracks as any other led by an amazing array of artists with cult followings. From the amazing tones of The Clash to the unique instrumentals of Green Day, the songs in this genre have been a treat to listen to down the years and stood the test of time like no other.
Hence, picking a top 10 punk songs of all time was not an easy task. Some legendary songs had to be left off the list but we did our best to muster a top 10 amongst hundreds of iconic tunes.
God Save the Queen - Sex Pistols
This song showcased Sex Pistols front man Johnny Rotten at his devilish best and is undoubtedly one of the top punk songs ever made. Released to coincide with the Queen’s silver jubilee, there was simply no ignoring God Save The Queen - despite attempts by the establishment to make us do so. Banned by the BBC, it reached number two in the charts – with accusations that the charts had been ‘fixed’ to stop it reaching number one – and a blank space was left where it should have been entered, the “no future” refrain becoming symbolic of punk rock to this day. Fast forward almost half a century and this classic is still belted out by punk fans everywhere.
California Uber Alles - Dead Kennedys
Dead Kennedys are another band with multiple classic anthems from which to choose: Holiday In Cambodia, Nazi Punks Fuck Off, Kill The Poor, and the hilariously chart-bothering Too Drunk To Fuck, to name just a few. But California Über Alles, with its sinister opening beats and bass line , is where Jello Biafra and his crew first unleashed their surf-infused brand of vitriolic punk on a very unsuspecting world.
California Über Alles is a blistering attack on the California governmental regime of the time and underlined the importance of this anti-establishment band and what they really meant to their army of fans who were with them every step of the way.
Realities of War - Discharge
For a time the most ferocious band on the planet, Discharge were in a class of their own in the early 1980s when this classic punk song was released. Although it’s far rawer than anything from the album, the Realities Of War EP from 1980 is where it all began for this iconic band, later going on to inspire an entire genre of music known as D-Beat. Having taken an extremely ill-advised detour into heavy metal in the mid-‘80s, Discharge are currently back with a magnificent new album entitled End Of Days, proving that class is permanent when it comes to the untouchable punk gods of their era.
Longview – Green Day
Quite simply, Green Day could not be missing from a list that also includes The Offspring. Aside from that, they couldn't be missing from any discussion about some of the greatest songs in the history of punk music. In 1994, Green Day had its major label debut with their iconic album Dookie. This choice of song, however, is sure to raise a few eyebrows but when it comes to punk, we don't believe the legendary band have produced any finer.
Alongside more popular and well-known hits like Basket Case and When I Come Around is the iconic track Longview which always hit more deeply with its punk angst and rebellious lyrics. This is a true favorite of ardent punk fans worldwide and has stood the test of time over a quarter of a century since its first release.
Anarchy in the UK – Sex Pistols
A second entry for the Sex Pistols here and the only artists in the list to achieve such a feat, but we simply could not ignore Anarchy in the U.K. This song tore up the script when it came to iconic punk songs and proved yet again that the Sex Pistols were in a league of their own when it comes to this genre. The English punk rockers released this unforgettable song on the world as the band’s debut single on 26 November 1976 and it was later featured on their album. Johnny Rotten and company announced themselves to the world with this one and the chaos was soon to follow. Such is the love for this track, it regularly features amongst lists for the greatest songs ever written - from any genre.
I Wanna Be Your Dog – The Stooges
What can we say about The Stooges? They are rightly considered one of the greatest punk bands of all time and with good reason. The trailblazing band hit the stages and airwaves harder than anyone had expected way back in 1969, one of the very first punk bands to do so and left observers both scratching their heads and open-mouthed in amazement at what they had just heard. This track was a true one off and a diversion from the previous flower-power-pop that dominated the late ’60s scene on both sides of the Atlantic.
Self Esteem – The Offspring
Like any great punk artists - The Offspring were a band that made up their own rules and played by them. The 1990s were a wild time and most ardent fans will recognize this song as the epitome of ’90s pop punk. Such was the acclaim that met the tune, it was all over the radio and, even though that doesn’t sound very punk, it rightly deserved to be. Punk music isn't often given such exposure as this track was but that is testament to its brilliance that it simply could not and would not be ignored. This track is infectiously catchy and draws the audience in keeping them on the hook until the bitter end. A true rollercoaster of a tune.
Tommy Gun - The Clash
Given their iconic back catalog, we were spoiled for choice with which song to include from The Clash in our top 10 punk songs of all time. For some fans, The Clash became famous with their 1982 hits “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” For others it was the catchy “London Calling” that struck home - a particular favorite with UK fans. However, we have opted with their 1978 track “Tommy Gun” as their greatest punk track offering and without doubt worthy of being considered one of the top punk songs.
The Clash were a band that spoke for the working man - whether raging against the political establishment or speaking out against the mainstream music figureheads - and they were adored by their fans for it. They were controversial, too, and often showed support for groups that had advocated violence for political gains. Lead vocalist and guitarist Joe Strummer maintained his stance that the power belonged with the people and used his music as a means of communicating with the band’s legions of fans.
Growing criticism from those who didn't support the overly-political group helped inspire Strummer to write “Tommy Gun,” which renounces violence as a way to protest. The song is revered in some quarters and dismissed in others but putting everything to one side and focusing on the music, this was a truly special moment in the history of punk music.
Blitzkreig Bop - The Ramones
You simply can't have a list of the top punk songs of all time without including The Ramones. With iconic songs like “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?”, The Ramones‘ reputation as the kings of punk rock is indisputable. However, if you go back to the very beginning - it all began with the melodic classic “Blitzkreig Bop”. This was the legendary band’s debut single and announced them on the punk stage to what would be a growing army of millions of fans worldwide.
Holiday in Cambodia - The Dead Kennedys
Released in 1980, “Holiday in Cambodia” was an indictment of the mass killings by that country’s Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. The song was co-written by Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra, whose lyrics compared the lifestyle of privileged American college students with the atrocities in Cambodia and really struck a chord with punk fans all across the world. This was more than just a track; it was a letter of comparative gratefulness and empathy and without doubt one of the top punk songs ever made.
The Best Punk Artists Ever
As you can see by the list above, punk has truly spoiled us with some truly iconic songs. However, to have iconic songs you need to have iconic artists and that is exactly what has graced this genre since its very early beginnings all those years ago.
The trailblazing bands in the early years such as The Clash and Sex Pistols lit the path for what was to follow and punk has gone from strength to strength ever since, spawning bands that are still ripping it up in the present day such as Green Day, The Dead Milkmen and The Replacements. Just a short list of some of the best punk artists ever include;
Dropkick Murphys Bad Religion Against Me! Germs X-Ray Spex The Blue Hearts Circle Jerks Minutemen The Dead Milkmen Operation Ivy Jawbreaker Dead Kennedys Social Distortion Patti Smith Group Rancid The Replacements Black Flag X Fugazi Descendents Bikini Kill Misfits Buzzcocks Minor Threat The Stooges Green Day Bad Brains Sex Pistols Ramones The Clash
Is Punk Music Getting More Popular?
So, given all this, is pop music getting more popular with fans today than it ever was, or has the genre slowed down in recent years? That is the question. Well, punk never slows down.
Considering its heyday was considered to be pre-Millennium with a vast array of irreplaceable artists, one could be forgiven for thinking that punk music has perhaps seen its best days. Following the new wave punk scene of the 70s and 80s, pop-punk went mainstream with commercially successful bands like Sum 41, Blink-182, Paramore, and Green Day. It is exactly what its name implies: a more pop version of punk. The last few years have seen a revival in the genre, however, and many believe the genre is now becoming more popular than ever.
Here we are in 2022 and artists like Machine Gun Kelly have ditched other genres like rap for angsty, quaint rock songs that echoed Blink-182. Other artists such as The Anxiety, Willow, and Tyler Cole have also made punk contributions drawing in a younger crowd of fans to the genre that show no signs of letting up. Enthusiasm for the genre continues to grow and in the social media age, exposure for the truly unique artists than adorn punk has never been easier to attain. Indeed, the popularity of punk is alive and well.
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