Consequence’s Punk Week continues with a staff list of the genre’s Top 30 bands. Keep checking back throughout the week for interviews, lists, editorials and videos — it’s all things punk, all the time.
The general consensus is that punk music had its transatlantic origins in the mid-’70s, simultaneously birthed out of a junky New York City club under a flophouse at 315 Bowery and an underground London fashion boutique at 430 King’s Road. There was the cheeky, intelligent weirdness of Ramones in the US, and the snarling, aggressive spitfire of the Sex Pistols in the UK — and that was punk rock.
At least, that’s been pinpointed as the dawn of what we’ve come to understand as punk. We can look back a few years and find its genesis in the avant sounds of The Stooges in the late ’60s. Jump forward to the late ’70s, and you get the pop playground of Buzzcocks. Hit the ‘80s, and you run into the hardcore styles of Minor Threat and the ska resurgence of Operation Ivy. Enter the next decade, and you find Green Day reigniting mainstream punk and Bikini Kill pioneering riot grrrl.
Honing in on what punk is has never been easy — probably because the whole idea of punk is to rip your preconceived notions to shreds. At its core, the genre is a foil for whatever is established at the time, whether it be political or pop cultural, societal or sonic. In that way, regardless of what it actually sounds like, punk is the refuge for the DIY rebels and the angry outsiders. All you need are three crappy chords and something to scream, and you can form a band.
Bands that have been molded out of that ethos have impacted decades of culture, with connective threads too long and numerous to properly count. Whether it’s the evolving influence of The Clash or the college rock of The Replacements or the sonic distortion of Social Distortion, each iteration of punk has made its mark on the scene.
That makes it damn near impossible to figure out the best punk bands of all time. Don’t be surprised if your favorite group didn’t make this list; we probably left them off because they didn’t fit whatever arbitrary, self-imposed criteria we came up with when deciding who to even consider. But rest assured, every act included here is worthy of wearing the hastily stitched-on patch of honor as one of the greatest punk bands ever. Scroll to the end to hear a playlist of essential tracks from each act.
— Ben Kaye
Editor’s Note: To keep punk alive even after Punk Week, pick up our new “Punk Is Dead, Long Live Punk” shirt at the Consequence Shop.
30. Dropkick Murphys
Dropkick Murphys play a unique brand of punk music influenced by their Irish-by-way-of-New England upbringing: Celtic Punk. With bagpipes and all, Dropkick Murphys are ferociously fun rockers who sing with their hearts and turn their amps up even louder. Look no further than their signature anthem, “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” which famously featured in Martin Scorcese’s The Departed 15 years ago. It’s a perfect summation of their glorious and unabashed style of punk, with as much grit as there is heart. — Paolo Ragusa
Essential Track: “I’m Shipping Up to Boston”
29. Bad Religion
Going strong for more than 40 years, Los Angeles punk veterans Bad Religion have consistently pumped out songs that could serve as a Social Studies curriculum. Singer Greg Graffin is a literal professor, having earned his PhD in Zoology; he’s taught classes at various universities, and his intelligence shines through on the band’s thought-provoking lyrics. Guitarist Brett Gurewitz, meanwhile, has had a profound impact on the history of punk, having founded the legendary label Epitaph Records. — Spencer Kaufman
Essential Track: “American Jesus”
28. Against Me!
Against Me!’s career transformation is one of the most fascinating in modern punk. Shifting from anarcho-folk-punk to slick arena punk over seven albums, they’ve gained and lost cred within “the scene” seemingly with each release. But through it all, Laura Jane Grace has proven one of rock’s most poignant lyricists and viciously emotive singers. — B.K.
Essential Track: “True Trans Soul Rebel”
Though their original iteration was sadly cut short after the suicide of singer Darby Crash, Germs made a lasting mark in the late ‘70s as punk began trickling out of New York and erupted in Los Angeles. They drew from iconic rock acts like Iggy Pop and David Bowie; after their initial breakup, founding member Pat Smear would go on to perform with both Nirvana and Foo Fighters. — Abby Jones
Essential Track: “Forming”
26. X-Ray Spex
Poly Styrene knew she wanted to be in a punk band the moment she saw the Sex Pistols live. She would go on to do just that in X-Ray Spex, defying any expectations in the process: As a young, petite, biracial woman, she couldn’t be much further from the dudes who dominated London’s rock scene in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But as a mesmerising clip of X-Ray Spex performing their seminal anthem “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” circa-1977 indicates, the punk world was where Styrene belonged — braces, kitschy outfits and all. — A.J.
Essential Track: “Oh Bondage Up Yours!”
25. The Blue Hearts
The greatest punk band to come out of Japan, The Blue Hearts wrote and recorded some of the genre’s most infectious songs of all time during their decade-long existence from 1985 to 1995. Tunes like “Linda Linda” and “Train-Train” are so undeniably catchy that they even became big hits in Japan, and remain staples at karaoke clubs throughout the country. Their influence continues to make an impact on the scene, with young punk sensations The Linda Lindas naming themselves after the band’s signature song. — S.K.
Essential Track: ”Linda Linda”
24. Circle Jerks
Circle Jerks cemented their status as hardcore titans through an album that clocked in at less time than it takes most of us to run an errand around the corner. Distilling their winning combination of cheeky lyrics and frenzied riffs into bite-sized blasts is not only a nod to their extraordinary ability to pack a punch, but something that earned them a large and devoted listenership. With tracks about rebellion, individuality, and raising an eyebrow at the world, Circle Jerks are forever among the slickest punk has on offer. — Lindsay Teske
Essential Track: “Question Authority”
Few punk bands better represented the American underground than Minutemen. Fronted by the imitable D. Boon and anchored by the funk-inspired rhythms of bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley, the band laid the groundwork for post-hardcore by incorporating a diverse range of influences into its music. This is best illustrated on the legendary 1984 double-album Double Nickels on the Dime, which explores many musical styles across its 45 songs. You could always rely on the Minutemen to “jam econo,” maintaining a staunchly DIY approach until D. Boon was killed in a tragic van accident while on tour on December 22nd, 1985. — Jon Hadusek
Essential Track: “Corona”
22. The Dead Milkmen
During a time when punks were competing for speed and loudness, The Dead Milkmen proved that the level of energy can still be achieved without a distortion pedal — and with a little fun. After “Bitchin’ Camaro” became an underground hit thanks to rotation on college radio stations, it was their fourth album, Beelzebubba, that culminated in international attention thanks to 1988’s “Punk Rock Girl.” In a 1989 interview with MTV’s 120-Minutes, founding member Joe “Jack Jack Talcum” Genaro offered up some backstory for “Punk Rock Girl,” revealing that the woman in the video (though we never get a good look at her face) is named Miriam, and that she was in a band called God’s Crotch. True story or fabricated? Hard to know with DM, who have always been quick with a joke. — Steven Fiche
Essential Track: “Punk Rock Girl”
21. Operation Ivy
Together for only a brief amount of time even by punk standards, Operation Ivy had as much impact on the scene as almost any ’80s band. Not only did they give rise to Rancid when Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman re-teamed following their original band’s split, but they paved the way for a new wave of ska, one that embraced hardcore punk rock more than ever. — B.K.
Essential Track: “Knowledge”
Jawbreaker are frequently touted as the torch bearers of emo music in the 1990s, as they represented a more contemplative side to punk and hardcore. Yet across their four highly influential studio albums released from 1990 to 1995, their slacker-core style — paired with frontman Blake Shwarzenbach’s gritty baritone and deeply poetic lyrics — is one that can be heard in each ensuing decade of emo, pop-punk, indie, and all other offshoots of punk rock. — P.R.
Essential Track: “Kiss the Bottle”
19. Dead Kennedys
Punk was meant to be sloppy and defiant, but Dead Kennedys found ways to wield those attributes with technical intelligence. Their satire was funny yet principled, their song structures aggressive yet controlled. They were at once immediately offensive to the narrow-minded mainstream and mind-opening to the subversive underground, the very things that led to them facing an obscenity trial being what led to their indelible impact on the scene. — B.K.
Essential Track: “Holiday in Cambodia”
18. Social Distortion
On their 1983 debut Mommy’s Little Monster, Fullerton, California’s Social Distortion helped cement the sneering attitude and fast, anthemic sound of Orange County punk. But by the time Social D recorded their self-titled 1990 album, frontman Mike Ness had hit rock bottom, gone to rehab, and reemerged with the soulfully wounded songs and country and blues undertones that made them rock radio mainstays. — Al Shipley
Essential Track: “Story of My Life”
17. Patti Smith Group
Patti Smith has always brought a relentless and almost hypnotic energy to her music. From her John Cale-produced Horses to her stellar LP Gone Again recorded 21 years later, Smith remains a legend of punk, mixing jagged poetry with full-throated roars and minimal instrumentation. She introduced a completely different way of making music, pioneering punk while at the same time creating a lane that was entirely her own. — P.R.
Essential Track: “Gloria”
After breaking out with 1994’s Let’s Go, Rancid became one of the faces of the punk rock revival one year later with …And Out Come the Wolves. Yet despite songs like “Time Bomb” going mainstream, the ska-influenced band pushed forward by further integrating roots reggae and hardcore punk into their sound on subsequent albums like 1998’s Life Won’t Wait and 2000’s Rancid. Between side projects and solo releases, Rancid’s output has slowed down over the past two decades, but they’re not done quite yet. A follow-up to 2017’s Troublemaker has been rumored over the past few years. — Eddie Fu
Essential Track: “Ruby Soho”
15. The Replacements
The Replacements were the face of the ’80s indie/college rock explosion. The hard-drinking Minneapolis miscreants only played punk during the early portion of their career, but they cut their teeth in the hardcore scene and could rip out a two-minute blaster with the best of them — especially when the late Bob Stinson, the band’s founding guitarist, was in top form.
But the band’s knack for melody and Paul Westerberg’s gift for honest, relatable lyrics would soon lift the band out of punk circles. Before the end of the decade, The Replacements would ink a major label deal with Sire Records and achieve worldwide recognition. A backlash ensued, but even after they were signed, the ‘Mats still acted like punks. Tales of their debauchery are well-documented in the thoroughly-researched band biography Trouble Boys. — J.H.
Essential Track: “Bastards of Young”
14. Black Flag
Black Flag are punk to the dirty, rotten core. Driven relentlessly by their chief mastermind, guitarist and SST Records founder Greg Ginn, the California group has much to its legacy: a massive family tree of collaborators, numerous classic albums to its name (Damaged, My War), and iconic art design by Ginn’s brother Raymond Pettibon. The band’s logo has since become seemingly more ubiquitous than their music, but the vital, scene-defining importance of record’s like Damaged can’t be understated. Frontman Henry Rollins would become a legend in his own right for his stint in the band from 1981 to 1986. Meanwhile, Ginn would eventually revive Black Flag in 2013. — J.H.
Essential Track: “Rise Above”
Born on the streets of Los Angeles, X were the flip side to the Hollywood glamour of the Angel City. Their sound is defined by the haunting harmonies of John Doe and Exene Cervenka and the master musicianship of guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer DJ Bonebrake. The music was rooted in punk, but transcended the genre sonically, borrowing heavily from Americana, rockabilly, and folk. The songs also possessed a heavy literary angle via Cervenka’s poetic lyrics. Fortunately, X are still going strong, having released an excellent comeback album in 2020. — J.H.
Essential Track: “Los Angeles”
Simultaneously angsty and melodic, Fugazi — the band that Ian MacKaye formed after the dissolution of his hardcore punk band, Minor Threat — are often seen as one of the earliest examples of punk having splintered off into post-hardcore, though the tenets of punk ethics were still present in their music. Post-hardcore would then eventually develop into emo, meaning you can technically thank Fugazi for all the times you cried to Fueled by Ramen bands in 2007. — A.J.
Essential Track: “Waiting Room”
Undeniably catchy and frequently meditative on suburban woes, the legacy of the Descendents’ music has trickled down into some of the most popular pop-punk bands in recent history, namely blink-182 and Green Day. Lest we forget the oft-imitated caricature of vocalist Milo Aukerman, which is nearly just as influential in and of itself. — A.J.
Essential Track: “Suburban Home”
10. Bikini Kill
The early riot grrrl scene wasn’t perfect by any means, but there’s a lot to be said for the effect that the movement’s pioneers made on the music industry as a whole. Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna’s legendary “girls to the front” motto has become a critical touchstone in radical feminism. — A.J.
Essential Track: “Rebel Girl”
Spearheaded by vocalist Glenn Danzing, Misfits were pioneers of horror punk. At the time of their 1977 formation, much of existing punk music was a response to real situations. Yet with songs about zombies, gore, and ghoulish imagery, Misfits integrated a sense of fantasy into the scene. They gave punk permission to be escapist and dark, and coupled this with catchy scores that bursted with snarl — a clear indicator that the quintessential punk attitude was never lost despite their different lyrical approach. This formula led to a long and celebrated career, best hallmarked by the fact that Misfits are still gigging to this day. — L.T.
Essential Track: “Skulls”
Buzzcocks brought a much-needed slice of humor and pop sensibility to the UK punk explosion. Not unlike The Kinks a decade prior, Buzzcocks could unleash wry social commentary or a delectably catchy love song, depending on the occasion. The band released three acclaimed studio albums in the late 1970s, but the 1979 singles compilation Singles Going Steady is arguably the Buzzcocks’ most essential document, collecting such classics as “Orgasm Addict” and “Ever Fallen in Love” — J.H.
Essential Track: “Ever Fallen in Love”
07. Minor Threat
With just two EPs and a sole full-length, Minor Threat only released 28-and-a-half minutes of music in their time together. (The Salad Days EP would add seven minutes to their catalog two years after their split.) Yet that blistering not-even-half-hour was enough to spark hardcore and straight edge followers alike for decades to come. The band — and particularly frontman Ian MacKaye’s — influential intensity outstrips many with multiple times the output. MacKaye would continue to make an impact with the formation of Fugazi. — B.K.
Essential Track: “Straight Edge”
06. The Stooges
Led by the “Godfather of Punk” Iggy Pop, The Stooges were punk before there was punk rock. The ultimate proto-punk band, The Stooges brought a danger to rock music like no other act before them. Not only did they set the sonic foundation for punk rock, with songs like “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “Search and Destroy,” they also created the mold for punk rock shows. Just about everything you see at a punk concert to this day can be traced back to Iggy, perhaps the greatest live performer of all time. — S.K.
Essential Track: “I Wanna Be Your Dog”