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The best punk bands of all time

From the genre’s old-school originators to their pop-punk progeny, these are the best punk bands of all time

Green Day
Photograph: Virginia Rollison Green Day
By Bryan Kerwin |
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For the best punk bands, penning the perfect punk song is a tricky task: Often, the resulting tune will rock harder than the best classic rock songs, be more hummable than the best pop songs and make you want to lose control of your body more than the best party songs. But then, what makes it punk? To paraphrase another definition, you just know it when you see it. And there’s no doubt these bands are punk in spirit and in sound.

Best punk bands of all time

1
Ramones
Photograph: Ian Dickson/REX/Shutterstock

Ramones

Forget excess, pageantry or even practice—the threadbare efficiency of the Ramones’ songwriting defined the punk spirit while they perfected a deftly ragged, inspirationally goofy and prodigiously catchy sound that few could equal, no matter how little they tried.

2
Johnny Rotten
Photograph: Courtesy Sex Pistols

Sex Pistols

The vaunted brats of cynicism, nihilism and anarchy, there seemed to be nothing they cared about, no one they respected and no amount of controversy that could satisfy their hunger to shock and offend. And they also played music.

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3
The Clash, NYC, 1981
Photograph: Courtesy Laura Levine

The Clash

Whether through the cavernous wallop of “London Calling” or the facile groove of “Rock the Casbah,” the Clash’s revolutionary rock gave us the most musically adventurous punks ever, and even their most ramshackle compositions overflowed with political passion and unencumbered romanticism.

4
Black Flag
Photograph: Steve Appleford

Black Flag

Black Flag were both minimalist and extreme, cramming entire sermons into two-minute gauntlets and swinging from low comedy to high drama like a tattooed, bipolar wrecking ball.

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5
Dead Kennedys
Photograph: Courtesy Ian Dickson/REX/Shutterstock

Dead Kennedys

The perverse surf-rock, monster mash parody of the Dead Kennedys took the fight to their targets in exceedingly personal terms: This is the giant bug America has metamorphosed into, and it’s too late to squash it now.

6
Minutemen
Public Domain

Minutemen

Eclectic, contradictory, and endearingly humorous, the Minutemen’s steadfast refusal to entertain any ideas they regarded as “commercial” was the definition of underground purity, though they flaunted that rigid culture just as much as they exalted it.

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7
Bad Brains - Afropunk Fest
Photograph: Filip Wolak

Bad Brains

Bad Brains were legitimate outsiders in a genre that always professed to be for them, bringing a slew of bona fide outré influences into their heavy jazz-rock fusion with technical mastery and righteous fury.

8
Billie Joe Armstrong and Iggy Pop
Photograph: Schwab/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock

The Stooges

Blasting out of the tail end of the ‘60s with a desperate, propulsive noise, the Stooges seemingly saw what would come after the Woodstock generation—and judging by their dangerous aura and Iggy Pop’s grimy feline sexuality, none of it was good.

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9
The Misfits
Photograph: Courtesy The Misfits

The Misfits

No one went as campily dark as the Misfits, Glenn Danzig’s murderous flights of fancy dripping with black, black irony when delivered in his Sinatra’s-evil-twin croon over the top of the band’s sugar-rush anti-dynamics.

10
Husker Du
Photograph: Courtesy Husker Du

Husker Du

Vulnerability was unexpected given the relentless, turbulent wall of sound on Husker Du’s records, but the band’s deeply felt melodies and uncommon lyrical poetry conjured just that, and made them the missing link to alt-rock’s more sentimental pursuits.

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