This article originally ran in 2017, but we’re dusting it off for Punk Week.
Where does the story of punk rock begin? Wash away the blood and spit and piss and vinegar of half a century, and you’ll end up … well, nowhere in particular. You might land inside a cramped Midwestern garage with The Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” crackling through the radio, in a gutted London loft reverberating with the clash of drum and guitar, or in any number of other places that can rightfully claim to be punk rock’s Eden.
The fact of the matter is, punk is a pretty shapeless thing. It has a beginning, a middle, and maybe an end, but things get murkier from there. The genre’s most celebrated practitioners can’t even seem to agree on the outlines of a common ideology. To Joe Strummer of The Clash, punk rock eventually came to mean showing “exemplary manners to your fellow human beings.”
Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye could probably go along with that, but good luck getting the provocateurs of Crass on board. And then there are those who would define punk by its musical freedom, but do three-chord songs completed in two minutes really sound any freer than, say, the expansive soundscapes of prog rock? Like we said: It’s complicated.
With that said, punk rock does have a story, and that’s what we’re here to tell. Our version may be incomplete, and there may be other, equally valid versions out there, but we think we’ve done right by punk by letting the music speak the loudest. What follows is the story of punk in 50 albums, each serving as a different chapter in the evolution of the genre and subculture.
Take note that we aren’t calling these the greatest punk albums of all time (though some of them certainly qualify). We’re simply saying that, without these 50 records, punk wouldn’t be where it is today: confused, chaotic, and contentious as ever.
Here are the 50 albums that shaped punk rock.
— Collin Brennan