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The 50 Albums That Shaped Punk Rock

on January 08, 2018, 12:00am
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sex pistols never mind the bollocks The 50 Albums That Shaped Punk RockSex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks (1977)

It’s no exaggeration to say the Sex Pistols reinvented punk rock with Never Mind the Bollocks, stripping the genre of its nostalgia for ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll and replacing it with a razor-edged nihilism that has no home but the here and now. (Johnny Rotten said it all in those first two words of “Anarchy in the UK”: “Right … now!”). Whereas the Ramones made punk rock manic and playful, the Sex Pistols made it into something downright dangerous, a weaponized force of nature aimed directly at the Queen’s precious head. Speaking of the Queen, Never Mind the Bollocks was the first punk album to truly politicize punk, forging an inextricable connection between grimy power chords and the goings-on of modern governments. As such, it is perhaps the most important album in the history of punk rock, and its seismic impact on the genre is impossible to overstate. –Collin Brennan

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the clash The 50 Albums That Shaped Punk RockThe Clash – The Clash (1977)

By the mid-’70s, Britain was an avalanche of noise, no doubt inspired by the echoes of New York City’s punk rock scene that were ostensibly funneled through luminary figureheads like Malcolm McLaren. Much like any avalanche, that sound splintered off into a multitude of rich and compelling voices, and among those voices were Mick Jones and Joe Strummer of The Clash. Yet, unlike their peers, the two sounded less like bashful brats and more like hyper-literate smart alecks who knew how to break windows without getting caught. They proved that right from the get-go with their 1977 self-titled debut. Punchy songs like “Janie Jones” and “Remote Control” tell well-articulated stories while seemingly boozy anthems like “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.” and “White Riot” fully grasp the political themes they’re lambasting. This scholarly approach to the genre is what would inevitably push punk to not only shape its own scene but the world at large — and The Clash did just that. –Michael Roffman

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marquee moon The 50 Albums That Shaped Punk RockTelevision – Marquee Moon (1977)

It would be criminally reductive to claim Marquee Moon solely in the name of punk, as Television’s 1977 magnum opus permanently altered the course of genres ranging from new wave to noise rock. And yet! Is there not something intrinsically, undeniably punk about the album’s complete lack of regard for precedent? Frontman Tom Verlaine saw no meaningful separation between French poetry and his own Manhattanite mythologies, nor did he draw a musical line between abrasive power chords and avant-garde jazz melodies. It’s too easy these days to pin punk rock down to a relatively simple formula. But Television set the stage for a few glorious decades of experimentation within the genre, paving the way for a bunch of weirdos (Joy Division, Talking Heads, Sonic Youth, etc.) whose main attraction to punk was the chance to be anything but boring. –Collin Brennan

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wirepinkflag3ew The 50 Albums That Shaped Punk RockWire – Pink Flag (1977)

Who says you don’t learn anything from art school? Tell that to Colin Newman and see how long it takes you to get a fist to the face or a mouthful to the ear. As singer, songwriter, and guitarist of Wire, the art-school graduate opted for the six-string over the easel, but he didn’t stop painting. No, as the wildly subversive Pink Flag suggests, his art was in taking a minimalist approach to punk rock and hitting the genre with broader strokes. Like his contemporaries, there’s volume to his sound and angst to his songs, but it’s splattered across every facet to the music in wildly unpredictable ways. That’s why you can leap from the crunchy pop of “Ex Lion Tamer” toward the plodding psychedelia of “Strange” and over to the doo wop bliss of “Mannequin”. Basically, you never get the sense that they’re leaning on any one thing in particular, and that’s one of the many distinctions of post-punk. –Michael Roffman

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buzzcocks The 50 Albums That Shaped Punk RockBuzzcocks – Another Music in a Different Kitchen (1978)

“You’re a bloody swine,” Pete Shelley seethes on “You Tear Me Up”, one of 11 rip-roaring tracks on the debut album from English outfit the Buzzcocks. Throughout Another Music in a Different Kitchen, the quartet charge forward at full speed, recorded in pristine condition. Shelley warbles and wobbles like Bowie, but drummer John Maher’s insistent, muscular rhythm keeps everything on piece even at their wildest — inspired by an obsession with Krautrock. The haunting transitions between album sides stands out as well, a chopped experimentation unlike its surroundings. And in case you didn’t know their involvement in the Manchester scene, get one listen to Steve Garvey’s bass on “Fast Cars” and note its uncanny connection to the same school as Peter Hook. –Lior Phillips

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devo The 50 Albums That Shaped Punk RockDevo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)

It’s easy to get distracted by the yellow jumpsuits, red energy domes, and “Whip It”, but Devo are one of the most intriguing punk bands of all time — and a fascinating art project and philosophical statement, at that. The Akron, Ohio, outfit became the champion of nerds, geeks, dweebs, and spuds everywhere following their excellent debut, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!”. They start out by expressing their “Uncontrollable Urge”, the champions of de-evolution chugging away. Next they show not only the gall to cover The Rolling Stones but to take the excessively swaggery “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and flip it into a spastic mechanical anthem. Throughout, they analyze the potential that we’ll all devolve into mongoloids and the meatheads that surrounded them at home. Devo took Jonathan Richman’s nerd punk and quintupled down on it and somehow still helped usher punk into the mainstream. –Lior Phillips

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blondie   parallel lines The 50 Albums That Shaped Punk RockBlondie – Parallel Lines (1978)

Blondie didn’t just leap with 1978’s Parallel Lines; they went into hyperdrive. As one of the early progenitors of the highly influential NYC punk scene, singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein ditched the grime and grit and embraced what would become their own signature brand of glossy power pop and disco-tinged new wave — you know, the stuff that wound up shaping the next decade. “Heart of Glass”, the album’s state-of-the-art third single, was a total game-changer for the outfit, welding European electronica with Harry’s natural falsetto. Every left turn felt like a natural extension of their late-night sound, and the way it blazed a new trail kept them in line with their pioneering roots. As such, it’s the kind of transformative album that artists and bands, both inside and outside of the punk rock genre, continue to study, emulate, and execute for themselves. Spoiler: It’s not easy. –Michael Roffman

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the scream The 50 Albums That Shaped Punk RockSiouxsie and the Banshees – The Scream (1978)

There’s a sort of near-impenetrable, mystic cohesion to the music of Siouxsie and the Banshees, even on their debut record, The Scream. The album pushes and challenges, yet somehow simultaneously allures and engages in its icy darkness. Even while punk was still being formed, Siouxsie and co. were helping establish the language of post-punk. And rather than merely reflecting the chaos and grime of the city, the banshees find the cold emptiness of the suburbs. And throughout it all, Siouxsie Sioux is the magnetic presence at the core, their propulsive drone pushing punk further into wild, artistic territory. –Lior Phillips

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crass The 50 Albums That Shaped Punk RockCrass – The Feeding of the 5000 (1978)

Is there a more important band to punk than Crass? This English art collective set fire to the movement just as it was beginning to take shape, rejecting the Sex Pistols’ commercialization of punk subculture in favor of, you know, actual ideals. Their debut album, The Feeding of the 5000, is notable for its impressive profanity as well as for its revolutionary means of production. A controversy over the lyrics of opening track “Asylum” (probably the most offensive tract ever written against Christianity) prompted the group to set up their own record label and self-release an uncensored version of the album. This uncompromising DIY ethic would eventually become a core aspect of punk’s ideology, paving the way for similarly minded record labels like Dischord and SST. –Collin Brennan

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7608e unknown2bpleasures2b 2bjoy2bdivision The 50 Albums That Shaped Punk RockJoy Division – Unknown Pleasures (1979)

The cover to Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures is both immediately familiar and entirely mysterious — much like the music within. The only album from the band to be released during frontman Ian Curtis’ lifetime, he undeniably drives their debut, whether with an aggressive isolation or a hand reaching out hopefully. But that’s not to say this is a one-man show. The rest of Joy Division do their fair share of heavy lifting, producing cavernous, eerie sets to surround his tortured mental explorations. A touchstone for post-punk, new wave, electronic music, and indie as a whole, Unknown Pleasures feels like listening to the deep breaths and mumbled self-analysis of an astronaut as he drifts out into space. –Lior Phillips

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