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”