Consequence’s Punk Week continues with a staff list of the genre’s Top 50 songs. Keep checking back throughout the week for interviews, lists, editorials and videos — it’s all things punk, all the time.
Three chords and a bit of attitude can go very far in terms of writing a decent punk song. But the greatest punk tunes stand out among the rest for a myriad of reasons — from historical significance to sociopolitical importance to undeniable catchiness.
Punk isn’t just a genre of music. It’s a way of life. It can very well be argued that the Ramones were the first true punk band, but there were certainly elements of what would eventually be termed punk rock on records that came before Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy offered up their iconic 1976 debut album.
For the most part, this list of the Top 50 Punk Songs of All Time eschews the proto-punk that preceded the Ramones, though we included a couple of exceptions (namely Iggy & The Stooges and The Velvet Underground).
While the Ramones’ songs provided a soundtrack for outcasts and misfits, UK acts like Sex Pistols and The Clash would soon emerge with tunes that challenged authority and governmental policies. From there, a hardcore movement would emerge in the U.S, as bands like Minor Threat and Bad Brains recorded songs that brought heightened speed, aggressiveness, and consciousness to punk rock.
Punk has continued to evolve over the past few decades (we also avoided pop-punk, for the most part, for this particular list), but the essence of a great punk song remains intact: fast-paced music, lyrics rooted in anti-establishment, and a welcome sense of danger.
So, hey ho, let’s go … with our sure-to-be-scrutinized picks for the Top 50 Punk Songs of All Time. Scroll to the end for a full playlist of all 50 tracks.
— Spencer Kaufman
Managing Editor, Heavy
Editor’s Note: Celebrate Punk Week by picking up our Punk Is Dead, Long Live Punk! T-shirt via Consequence Shop.
50. Johnny Thunder and the Heartbreakers – “Chinese Rocks”
Few songs have as much punk pedigree as “Chinese Rocks,” written by Dee Dee Ramone and Richard Hell. It was intended to be a Ramones song, but the band rejected it due to the overt heroin references. Instead, Hell took it to the Heartbreakers, his band with Johnny Thunders. It would become a staple of the latter’s career, even after Hell left the Heartbreakers in 1976. — Jon Hadusek
49. Against Me! – “I Was A Teenage Anarchist”
Is there anything more punk than an anti-punk punk song? Against Me! were already getting slack for “abandoning” (read: progressing from) the thrashing sounds of their earlier releases when they dropped “I Was a Teenage Anarchist,” a melodic cut that calls into question the rigidity of punk’s “bloodless ideology.” The line “the revolution was a lie” is screamed out as the music drops away, drawing a rebuttal from Rise Against on “Architects.” But damn if Laura Jane Grace didn’t have a point. — Ben Kaye
48. Misfits – “Last Caress”
The demented mind of Misfits frontman Glenn Danzig brought a new subgenre called horror punk into the world, and the song “Last Caress” contains some of the most infamous lyrics in rock history. Hearing Danzig sing “I got something to say/ I killed your baby today” on top of an upbeat, ’50s-inspired rock instrumental is one of punk’s most disconcerting moments, but, hot damn, it’s catchy as hell — so much so that Metallica famously covered it, as did a bevy of other bands. — Spencer Kaufman
47. The Jam – “In the City”
Punk is often seen as a rejection of the status quo. Fittingly, The Jam’s 1977 debut single celebrates the power of youth rebellion — with some exasperation, vocalist Paul Weller pleads, “I wanna tell you about the young ideas/But you turn them into fears” — while incorporating nervy, mod-influenced sounds. — Annie Zaleski
46. Black Flag – “TV Party”
Damaged is Black Flag’s strident hardcore masterpiece, but it just wouldn’t be the same without a goofball novelty song with handclaps and references to “Hill Street Blues” and “Dallas.” In a way, “TV Party” foreshadowed Henry Rollins’s eventual fate as a television star, acting on shows like Sons of Anarchy and booking talking head appearances on VH1. — Al Shipley
45. The Replacements – “Unsatisfied”
Don’t let its gentle score distract you: “Unsatisfied” is brimming with a bona fide punk attitude. The genre’s history is rooted in an expression of disaffection, and Paul Westerberg’s lyrics about disillusionment and, well, feeling unsatisfied encompass this fully. While punk’s sonically heavy origins are important, tracks like “Unsatisfied” prove that the genre’s essence can prevail without them. — Lindsay Teske
44. Rancid – “Time Bomb”
Helping to fuel the rise of punk rock to the mainstream in the mid-’90s, Rancid stood apart from bands like The Offspring and Green Day for the ska influences of songs like “Time Bomb.” Released as the second single from their breakout album, …And Out Come the Wolves, the story of a gang member’s rise and fall was a mainstay on MTV and rock radio, peaking at No. 8 on the Modern Rock Tracks (now Alternative Airplay) chart. — Eddie Fu
43. The Clash – “Complete Control”
By 1977 in England, punk was perceived as something to be tamed — and that didn’t sit right by The Clash. “Complete Control” was released shortly after the band had participated in the widely-cancelled Anarchy Tour alongside the Sex Pistols, which conjured up a hefty amount of scaremongering about punk in the media. The track is The Clash’s response to the leash subsequently being tightened over everything from their music to their behavior, and it expertly taps into the feeling of being a cog in the wheel — a feeling that drives many to turn to punk as a catharsis. — L.T.
42. PUP – “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will“
Playing over 240 shows in the span of just one year can entice your ugly side. Canadian band PUP indulge in their close-quarters traveling woes on the ripper “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will,” which disses a bandmate in a record number of kiss-offs per minute. “I don’t wish you were dead; I wish you’d never been born at all!” singer Stefan Babcock howls. You needn’t be concerned, however — the song is meant to be taken sarcastically. (Required additional listening: The transition between “If This Tour…” and “DVP,” a staple of PUP’s live shows.) — Abby Jones
41. Wire – “12XU”
Of all the punk bands who debuted in 1977, arguably none were further ahead of their time than Wire. With 21 brief songs sprinting through a wide range of sounds, their debut album Pink Flag was a blueprint for post-punk to come, but the catchy closer “12XU” became a hardcore standard, covered by Minor Threat, Bad Brains and Dag Nasty. — A.S.