10. Alkaline Trio
Emerging from Chicago’s fertile punk scene, Alkaline Trio amassed quite a list of associated bands from touring, splits, and side projects. (Blink-182 fatefully tapped them as an opening act way back in 2001; they released an EP with Hot Water Music; and bassist Dan Andriano’s supergroup The Falcon also features members of The Lawrence Arms and Rise Against.) In tandem with their touring with Blink-182, Alkaline Trio’s three Vagrant studio albums (From Here to Infirmary, Good Mourning, and Crimson) reflected a shift to a sound that leaned more pop than punk. From “Stupid Kid” to “Mercy Me”, their singles of this era perfectly blended angsty emo lyrics with punchy pop punk instrumentation. The band created their own label, Heart & Skull, in conjunction with Epitaph for their last two LPs, and Andriano has expressed interest in a new record. Of course, those plans may have hit a snag as guitarist Matt Skiba replaced the estranged Tom DeLonge for Blink-182’s latest chapter, both touring and hitting the studio with the former mentors for California. –Killian Young
Essential Track: “Stupid Kid”
09. Brand New
Perhaps the only thing more frightening than the intensity of Brand New is their own fans. The Long Island-but-technically-Merrick, New York, four-piece formed in 2000 and immediately garnered a cult following with the release of their debut LP, Your Favorite Weapon, which stands as their most pop punk record to date. Turns out post-breakup anger is pretty dang relatable. As the band transitioned from bitter insults (“Seventy Times 7”, “Mix Tape”) to the witty one-liners of Deja Entendu (“Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t”, “Me Vs. Maradona Vs. Elvis”), frontman Jesse Lacey flexed his lyrical prowess in ways that captivated the lyric-obsessed.
Yet when they rolled out their crowning achievement, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, in 2006 — Vincent Accardi’s guitar work on “You Won’t Know” and “Degausser” never loses its edge — Brand New didn’t cash in. They still haven’t. All four members avoid the spotlight as much as they can, and it drives their fans all the more crazy. Perhaps that works to their benefit; they’re the only band on this list whose fanbase considers an unreleased album essential, guaranteeing those rabid listeners will sell out shows less than an hour after tickets go on sale. Brand New haven’t faded the way other 2000s pop punk acts have because their music is too well composed to be forgotten — as if the angsty girls of New York and Narragansett-crushing bros of New England would ever let us forget that. –Nina Corcoran
Essential Track: “Seventy Times 7”
Goddamn, Hayley Williams can sing. It’s not the Williams pipes alone that make Paramore such a hoot although that’s not a small piece of the pie. The group so earnestly captures the feeling of being young, heartbroken, blissed-out, and stupid that it’s nearly impossible to listen to one of their records — particularly 2013’s eponymous release and its Grammy-winning single “Ain’t It Fun” — without grinning like an idiot. The music, like the band, has grown up since first hitting the scene, but the patina that covers the music simply adds shimmer without dimming that infectious authenticity. Hell, even the inter-band drama feels authentic, complete with breakups, nasty notes, and probably some controversy over who can sit with them in the cafeteria. It may not be hip, but it’s undeniably real.
So yes, Paramore may not sound much like the Paramore of 2007’s RIOT!. People, and bands, do eventually mature. But that honest, foolish, wonderful spirit comes through in just the same way. They said it best themselves: That’s what you get when you let your heart win. –Allison Shoemaker
Essential Track: “Ain’t It Fun”
07. Jimmy Eat World
While from album to album, Jimmy Eat World could shift from emo to pop punk on a dime, the band’s greatest legacy, i.e. their massive radio hits, are firmly pop punk masterpieces. That isn’t to say Jimmy Eat World didn’t make great albums. Far from it. Clarity, Bleed American, and Futures all sit as high points of both pop punk and rock and roll as a whole from that period. But the Mesa, Arizona, band’s legacy to the public as a whole will always be songs like “The Middle”, “Sweetness”, “Pain”, and “A Praise Chorus” that delivered pop punk to the masses without the snottiness or sophomoric attitude of Blink-182 or Green Day. Jimmy Eat world were never sophisticated, per se, but their allegiance to emo contemporaries imbued their music with wide-eyed sentimentality that resonates still. –Philip Cosores
Essential Track: “A Praise Chorus”
06. Operation Ivy
Few, if any, bands can claim as much influence through as little recorded output as Operation Ivy. Only active for three years and with one recorded album to their name, the Berkeley band successfully bridged influence of two-tone ska and The Clash into what would become the template for pop punk. And, obviously, the group would splinter into Rancid, another one of the most important bands of all-time for pop punk. Musically, Operation Ivy is gritty and muscular, its pop leanings sometimes obscured by loose playing and a cavalier attitude. At its heart, as much as the band would likely recoil at the idea, pop punk runs strong in the project’s veins, the band’s “ska man” logo becoming one of the great symbols of the genre. –Philip Cosores
Essential Track: “Take Warning”
Buzzcocks were in many ways a blueprint for the pop punk bands that came after them. They weren’t afraid to fully lean into catchy riffs and repeatable choruses. Yet, amazingly, they still felt dangerous. They scoffed at normalcy in music on “Boredom” with a guitar solo featuring only two notes repeated 66 times. Yet they could be undeniable with love ballads like “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldnt’ve?)” or “Why Can’t I Touch It?” They skirted that line between anti-establishment and universal appeal without losing credibility. The fact that guitarists Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle are still out there touring the material is a testament to the music’s timelessness. Young punks and old punks can see themselves in the Buzzcocks, and that’s a beautiful thing. –Dusty Henry
Essential Track: “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’tve?)”
Sometimes it seems the Descendents fell into pop punk based on their absolutely nerdy likability. They were fueled in writing their head-rush jams, after all, by copious amounts of coffee rather than speed. They came and went periodically based on the availability of frontman Milo Aukerman and his advanced biology studies. Their logo (a drawing of “Milo” with glasses, tie, and spiky hair) graced many a Hot Topic-sold T-shirt, but was decidedly less menacing or tough than the Dead Kennedys or Misfits. Songs like “Everything Sux” and “Suburban Home” played out like the smartest kid in class getting frustrated and snarky, complete with earworm hooks. That encapsulation of youthful frustration is done in perfect nyah-nyah-nyah mockery — quite literally on “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”. From Milo Goes to College forward, Descendents have been delightfully self-aware, over-caffeinated, hyper-fun, and proud of it. –Adam Kivel
Essential Track: “Suburban Home”
Toughness has always been an ancillary (some might even say contradictory) quality in the world of pop punk, but Jawbreaker could have chewed your damn head off. It all started with Blake Schwarzenbach’s snarling vocals, fringed with cynicism and never quite easy to swallow, like bubble gum mixed with glass. Underground rock music needed a bridge from the bitter torments of late ‘80s emo and post-hardcore to the sunnier, three-chord pastures of the ‘90s, and Schwarzenbach’s bleeding-heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics built one half of that bridge. The other half came with the music — catchy enough to stick in your head and nasty enough to keep your darkest thoughts company. Though they eventually earned a devoted fan base and legions of posthumous admirers, Jawbreaker were never built like their Gilman cohorts in Green Day. The trio’s recently reissued 1993 classic 24 Hour Revenge Therapy is a reminder that, before snot, piss and vinegar were the fluids that mattered most in pop punk. –Collin Brennan
Essential Track: “Kiss the Bottle”
Much like emo, the definition of pop punk is split into two sides: an older, “original” sound that brings pop elements into punk, and a newer, “easier” sound that dresses up pop song structures with punk stylings. Depending on who you’re talking to, the genre’s definition is clear as day, and usually that factor’s determined by age. The latter interpretation has no more obvious band to thank for legitimizing its existence and equalizing its definition than California trio Blink-182. Right from the get-go, back when Scott Raynor drummed for them, they made it known that Buddha’s wavering pitches and Cheshire Cat’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics were exactly what a generation needed to hear. Punk had to lighten up, and boy, Blink-182 were happy to take that on themselves.
The three of them changed the way pop punk acts wrote songs. Lord knows Tom DeLonge’s vocals have been mocked a million times by now, but they work. His yapping, whiny pitch makes every UFO dream, every sophomoric joke, every sappy The Nightmare Before Christmas shout-out stick in your head long after the song ends. Travis Barker went to town on his solos, encouraging drummers to bring whatever background they wanted to poppier songs (“Anthem Part Two”), even roping in hardcore techniques (“Stockholm Syndrome”) without squashing the giddiness of a song (“Dumpweed”). Then there’s Mark Hoppus, the bassist whose basslines and melodic vocals bring elasticity to numbers like “Man Overboard” and “Apple Shampoo”, yet he remains modest at heart (even for his solos).
In 1997, Blink-182 first acknowledged this is what growing up feels like, and yet they refused to actually do so, later acknowledging that they didn’t act their age. They exaggerated the toilet humor. They mocked themselves in videos. They wrote music for listeners praying for prolonged youth and delivered it in a way that got you to sing along, even if you happily accepted adulthood. Even now, more than 20 years since their first album dropped, Blink-182 still stick to their pop punk roots. California may not boast the fart jokes and infectious riffs we hoped for, but it offered D-beat drumming on “Cynical” and choruses you can sing to on “Rabbit Hole” — keeping the teenage dream alive even when no one wants to admit they, nevertheless us, have grown up. —Nina Corcoran
Essential Track: “All the Small Things”
01. Green Day
Say what you will about Green Day, but here are the facts: No other punk group since The Clash can reasonably lay claim to being “The Only Band That Matters,” an honor that necessitates sold-out arenas in Asia, sold-out theaters on Broadway, and a fixed place within the cultural conversation for two decades and counting. No other punk group has weathered the slings and arrows of time more gracefully, transitioning from snotty, Buzzcocks-inspired punk (Dookie) to middle-aged dad rock (Warning) to rock operas built on a teenager’s understanding of political systems (American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown).
Has Green Day lost fans and gained detractors along the way? Of course, but that’s been the case ever since they left behind the cozy stage at 924 Gilman Street and became the first pop punk band to properly “sell out,” in scene parlance. Since that fateful day, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool have morphed into bona fide rock gods whose appeal spans several generations. Go ahead and ask a 30-year-old what record got her into punk; she’s as likely to say Dookie as anything else. Then go and ask a 20-year-old the same question, and don’t be surprised if he says American Idiot.
Pop punk is still a relatively young genre, but it’s been around long enough to spawn a single giant, cross-generational band that gives all the others something to aspire to or — as has always been a cherished tradition in punk — react against. The best bands are built on a multiplicity of identities that allows fans to love them and hate them and argue incessantly about them. Sure, some of Green Day’s identities may contradict one another, but isn’t the phrase “pop punk” slightly at odds with itself as well? No band embodies the highs and lows — the glories and embarrassments — of the genre more than the one that started out as Sweet Children and ended up on top of the world. Let’s put it this way: Without Green Day, this list would have no reason to exist. –Collin Brennan
Essential Track: “Basket Case”