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8 Best Punk Bands of All Time, Ranked

The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in

Patti Smith on the cover of her album Horses

Punk’s origins date all the way back to the ‘70s, in the gritty underground clubs of New York and, across the pond, in the equivalent hubs over at London. The genre has been defined by its two to three chord progressions, occasional screaming, and expressions of distaste towards the mainstream. It’s seen many changes through the years, but punk music has always been, at its core, anti-establishment and an avenue for political statements.

Many punk bands have made names for themselves, but only a handful have made an impact on the genre itself. This list is a compilation of a few of the latter.  

8. Blink-182

Blink-182 is more in line with pop punk, with hints of traditional punk rock. Still, they’re perhaps one of the most influential bands of the late ‘90s and early 2000s, and they remain a consistent presence in the scene today. The band has secured themselves in the hall of the most iconic and popular bands of recent history. Their third album, Enema of the State, remained in the charts for over 70 weeks after its release. It’s a culmination of songs inspired by Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus’ friends, centering on their many heartbreaks, relationships, parties, and adolescence. The album’s iconic cover famously depicts Janine Lindemulder in a nurse’s uniform. 

7. Green Day

Led by Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day was first formed in 1987 and found early success in their breakout album Dookie. The band formed a vital part of the Bay Area punk scene back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Green Day is known for their pop punk-inspired riffs and political commentary, best embodied by their ever-iconic album American Idiot. Since their formation, Green Day has sold more than 75 million copies of their records worldwide, making them one of the best-selling bands in history. They’ve also been nominated for 20 Grammy Awards and have bagged five, including Best Alternative Album and Best Rock Album. 

6. Misfits

Founded in 1977, the Misfits are considered to be the pioneers of the horror punk subgenre. They derive their name from a Marilyn Monroe movie. In their early days, the Misfit’s music was deemed too controversial and shocking to the senses. No label would take on the release of their first two albums, up until Walk Among Us in 1982. Where most punk bands of the time often sung about teenage rebellion, unrest, and the establishment of the system, the Misfits deviated from their peers and snarled about zombies, gore, and vampires. The band is credited by several legendary bands for influencing their music. Some of these acts include Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, My Chemical Romance, and Green Day. 

5. Joy Division

Joy Division’s early origins indirectly involve another band on this list: the Sex Pistols. Lead vocalist Ian Curtis and bassist Peter Hook formed Joy Division after attending a Sex Pistols concert back in 1976. The two were childhood friends, and they would later on recruit Stephen Morris after having trying to work with three other drummers. The band is best known for being at the forefront of the post-punk movement, but they were still very much influenced by punk for their early recordings. Joy Division’s 1979 album Unknown Pleasures remains one of the most recognizable album covers of all time. Sadly, it’s also their only album to have been released during Ian Curtis’s lifetime.

4. Patti Smith

Before anyone starts hurling rocks at me, I just want to put out there that I’m well aware that Patti Smith is not a band. But her contributions to the genre merit a spot on this short list. That, and well, there’s also the run of the Patti Smith Group, so technically that is a band. Often dubbed as the “Punk Poet Laureate,” Smith was among the New York punk movement’s most important figures and is best known for her album Horses. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 2007, Smith’s jagged poetry and mesmerizing energy continue to bring both old and new listeners to the genre. 

3. Sex Pistols

Despite their status in the punk zeitgeist, the Sex Pistols only ever recorded one studio album. They are, of course, often credited for leading the punk music scene of the United Kingdom and were known for their obscene lyrics and TV appearances. All these come on top of the absurd clothing, angry lyrics, and overall belligerent behavior. That said, the Sex Pistol’s fashion and iconography became a persisting image of the punk genre to this day, spawning countless merchandise and tributes from brands like Doc Martens. 

The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 2006, but they refused to attend the ceremony. Instead, they penned a handwritten note: “Next to the SEX-PISTOLS rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain. Your museum. Urine in wine. Were not coming. Were not your monkey and so what? Fame at $25,000 if we paid for a table, or $15000 to squeak up in the gallery, goes to a non-profit organisation selling us a load of old famous. Congradulations. If you voted for us, hope you noted your reasons. Your anonymous as judges, but your still music industry people. Were not coming. Your not paying attention. Outside the shit-stem is a real SEX PISTOL.”

It probably doesn’t get more punk than that. 

2. The Clash

Often remembered as one of—if not THE—greatest punk bands of all time, The Clash labelled themselves as “The Only Band That Matters.” Decades later, the monicker somehow still rings true. The Clash was formed in ‘70s and released with a solid discography of six albums. From their iconic self-titled album, to London Calling, to Sandinista!, The Clash’s sound remains unique and almost unrivaled (save for the top dog on this list, maybe). That freshness is probably because they drew inspiration from a wide range of music, spanning from ska, reggae, and funk to all-out rock and roll. 

1. Ramones

It only makes sense for band which first defined American punk to be billed as number one. Known for their shaggy hair and adopted names, the Ramones are quintessential punk. The band has its origins in Queens, New York, and they took their name from a pseudonym that Paul McCartney often used when The Beatles were on tour: Paul Ramon. Throughout their run, the Ramones performed over 2,000 concerts and recorded at least 14 studio albums. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, 25 years after the release of their first recording. Which was, technically, their very first year of eligibility for entry. 

So that’s my argument for the top eight punk bands of all time. And if I’m wrong, take it up with the Jesus of Suburbia.

(Featured image: Robert Mapelthrope / Arista Records)

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Danielle is a twenty-something writer and postgrad student based in the Philippines. She loves books, movies, her cat, and traveling. In her spare time, she enjoys shooting 35mm film and going to concerts.