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The 8 Ball 12.07.13: The Top 8 Punk Rock Bands
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 12.07.2013

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!

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Top 8 Punk Rock Bands

Welcome back to the 411 Music 8 Ball ladies and gentlemen! December is here and it is time for holiday cheer, goodwill toward men and all of that. Therefore as a sort of spiritual cleansing this week, I thought it was a good opportunity to get all of our attitude out in one fell swoop before heading into the December holiday (or lack thereof) of your religious affiliation. And nothing has more attitude than punk. Punk is one of the most underrated and misunderstood genres in rock and roll. Sure, most of punk rock is based on attitude over musical virtuosity but the influence the genre has had on the face of popular music is undeniable and there have been a lot of very talented people within the genre. So this week we're taking a look at the top eight punk bands of all time.

Caveat: Punk is one of those genres of rock and roll whose merits are passionately debated by fans and non-fans alike. There is a lot of argument over what is and isn't punk, so in order to make it clear and cut down arguments of "that isn't punk" I specifically limited myself to subgenres that are direct descendents in sound to punk. Punk influenced and impacted many, many different genres and you could make an argument for many bands to have punk tendencies. For example, as much as I wanted to include Joy Division I did not include post-punk, which is more of an evolution toward what we call alternative rock today.

Outside of that definition, this is fairly straight-forward. I ranked bands based on influence within the genre and within popular music as a whole, musical talent and personal taste (in that order of importance).

Just Missing The Cut

Dropkick Murphys
The Misfits
Bad Brains

#8: The Stooges

The Stooges are one of the prototypical punk bands and while some might argue that their earlier sound isn't the same as the bands which would follow, you cannot deny their importance to the genre. The original lineup formed in 1968 and was fronted by, of course, Iggy Pop. The group started off with a more psychedelic sound on their self-titled 1969 debut but by the time Raw Power was released in 1973 they had moved more into the punk sway, with classics such as "Search and Destroy." There were still some more traditional-sounding rock, such as "Gimme Danger," but even that has a clear element of protopunk in there. While like most punk bands the Stooges never made an impact on the charts, their influence was felt not only in the way they helped formulate the first steps of the punk sound but in Pop's antagonistic and undeniable stage presence. The man actually, as I covered last week in my Top 8 Crazy True Rock Stories column, got in a fight in the middle of a concert that made it onto the live album Metallic K.O. The band broke up in 1974 but as their legend grew thanks to the rise of punk and many other groups citing them as influences, they eventually found their way back together and tour on a semi-regular basis. The Stooges are one of those groups without whom there wouldn't be a genre like punk music, and all of rock owes them a debt for it.

#7: Minor Threat

While the Stooges took the first steps toward a punk genre, Minor Threat was one of those groups who helped firm up the way that it sounds in a big way. The band--like many within the genre--didn't have a particularly long lifespan but during that short time had an inestimable impact on the landscape of punk rock, particularly hardcore punk. Formed in Washington, D.C. in 1980, the group is perhaps best known for their forty-seven second track "Straight Edge" which directly inspired the straight edge lifestyle movement. Ian MacKaye is one of the guys who set the standard for punk's quintessential vocal sound while the group's DIY philosophy would set the stage for the rise of a lot of independent music. Minor Threat is a good benchmark for people when determining whether you like punk as a genre. This isn't to say that pop-tinged punk is a bad thing (see below for some examples), but in many ways Minor Threat is punk in its purest, most distilled form. The band only lasted three years but their impact is still felt to this day.

#6: Bad Religion

Ranking the hardcore punk bands against each other here is almost purely based on personal preference. Minor Threat and Bad Religion (and more: see below) are all incredibly influential within the hardcore punk subgenre and while you have to give it up for Minor Threat, the longevity of this Southern California-based group just can't be denied. While Ian MacKaye and company had a lot more influence on the attitude and DIY style of punk music, Bad Religion is just a better overall band than their East coast contemporaries. Lead vocalist and songwriter Greg Graffin has a great talent for writing songs of political and social importance and albums like How Could Hell Be Any Worse? and Suffer are landmark albums within the genre. Bad Religion proved that intellectualism could be a valued commodity within hardcore punk and raised the bar for what was capable within the genre. And like Minor Threat they had their own record label, which would go on to sign other hardcore punk bands and vastly expand on the genre. The importance of these guys to the genre really cannot be overstated.

#5: Black Flag

Most people see Henry Rollins these days and think of him in terms of the Rollins Band, his acting, his activism or his regular appearances in interviews about the music industries for different shows. But for people who are fans of punk at all, he'll always be the man who fronted the incredibly influential Black Flag during the early- to mid-1980s. Black Flag are largely given credit for (along with the above hardcore groups) launching the underground label movement and giving rise to a new level of artistic freedom in rock music. The band toured throughout the 1980s like no one's business and their influence spread far and wide as a result; their insane concerts became the stuff of legend and they helped give rise to several non-traditional venues as well. One thing I always loved about the band is that they had the habit of incorporating elements of other genres in their music and brought a new level of musical artistry to punk without straying outside of the genre. The band broke up in 1986 and while they did some reunion shows in 2003 before they reunited this year, the lineup involving Rollins will always be the definitive version of the group that helped change the face of how to get music made.

#4: The Sex Pistols

The Sex Pistols are a group that inspire a divisive reaction within the punk community, to a level which would surprise casual fans (or non-fans) of the genre. The UK-based group is the one that most people within the mainstream think about when they think about punk music: antisocial degenerates screaming about anarchy with names like Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten. But it is that exact association which drives a lot of punk fans away from them; they've become a pop culture symbol within a subculture that largely hates pop culture. And truth be told, if we're just talking about their music then the influence was probably less than anyone on this list. However, their impact on the rise of punk music is absolutely inestimable. The band blew up into the mainstream consciousness and quickly brought punk into the public eye with their profanity-spitting TV appearances, violent attitudes and out-there looks. And while they only had the one album...my god, what an album it was. 1977's Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols--even the NAME of the album was controversial--is a classic in every sense of the word and a watershed album for the genre. The band would fall apart due to constant feuding (not to mention the dead of Sid Vicious) but they will forever be associated with the genre and the idea of the quintessential punk rock attitude.

#3: Dead Kennedys

As important as Minor Threat, Bad Religion and Black Flag are, Dead Kennedys will always be the definitive hardcore punk band to me. They came first and they did it best. These guys completely changed the face of the subgenre by fusing their politically-charged sentiments into their music in a way that even Bad Religion weren't quite at the level of. While Bad Religion were intellectual, Dead Kennedys took a much more abrasive yet satirical look that resonated with many people within the genre but drew the ire of those who weren't willing to listen closely enough to notice the sarcasm inherent in there. Songs like "Too Drunk To Fuck," "Holiday In Cambodia" and "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" projected a certain image of the band that gave groups like the Parents Music Resource Center to go after them for obscenity charges after a teenage girl bought a copy of Frankenchrist, much to her mother's dismay. The band reformed in 2001 without former frontman Jello Biafra and continues to tour their material. When it comes to hardcore punk these guys had it all: musical skill, songwriting talent, stage presence and a hell of a lot of attitude and that puts them near the top of this list.

#2: The Clash

Unless you want to consider Cut the Crap a killer, The Clash have perhaps one of the strongest discographies ever for a band that lasted less than a decade. The band didn't have the longest run of all-time, lasting just seven years, but look at those seven years and you'll find some of the most impressive albums in rock history. London Calling is flat-out one of the greatest albums not only in punk rock, but in rock music as a whole. The London-based group had a distinctly more pop-flavored sensibility to their music and whether right or wrong, it helped them gain a certain level of mainstream acceptance that their less melodic counterparts couldn't achieve. That certainly doesn't mean that they didn't have great punk sensibilities though; listen to songs like "White Riot" and you'll see just how great of a pure punk band they could be. The group simple had interests in doing new and interesting things within the genre and they brought a new level of quality to punk rock. If this were purely on personal preference they would by my #1, but #2 is certainly not a slight by any stretch of the imagination.

#1: Ramones

There is absolutely no getting around this fact: the Ramones are THE definitive punk band, in the United States or anywhere else. You have to respect what the group accomplished; they were essentially the first punk rock group and they influenced the entire genre more than anyone else. They defied the short lifespan that generally infects the genre, running twenty-two years as a group and inspiring thousands of groups despite never having a major successful single in terms of sales. Over many, many years the band went through several lineup changes but they always stayed true to their sound. This was a band that set out to make punk music and they did that; they never sold out to go to a more mainstream style in exchange for more commercial success. And let's not make a mistake here; they certainly could have. This is one of the key bands that proved that you don't need to break sales records to be one of the most important acts in music history. They're a brilliant band, end of story, and the greatest punk band of all time.


So rest your minds at ease, punk fans, by knowing that Green Day didn't make the list. This isn't to say that I don't have an appreciation of them as a band though; they just don't didn't rate remotely high enough to hit this list for me. As many people associate them with the genre, I decided to throw them in for this week's Music Video A-Go-Go with "Basket Case" from Dookie:

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.


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