Punk's Most Influential Albums

Sid Vicious with Nancy Spungen
Images Press / Getty Images

Some punk albums are influential; some are innovative. Here, in no uncertain terms, are 20 of the albums that span that gap. If one of your favorite bands didn't make the list, odds are it's because everything in it is derived from, learned from or directly ripped off from one of the bands on this list.

These records should be an integral part of the music collection of anyone who wants to be well-versed in punk.

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Ramones: 'Ramones'

Cover art for Ramones - "Ramones"

Sire Records

When the Ramones hit the scene in 1974, people didn’t know how to take them, despite the fact that they weren’t really doing anything new. Essentially, the band was taking ‘50s and ‘60s pop music but playing it much louder and faster. They were taking the music that influenced them, and in turn, helped to create and influence the American (and international) punk scene forevermore.

The band rarely devoted more than two minutes, three chords or a handful of lines to a song, and they almost always started with a “1-2-3-4!” This has become a typical punk sound for many similar bands, despite the fact that it really stemmed from the band’s lack of musical ability, rather than any actual stylistic choices.

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The Clash: 'London Calling'

Album art for The Clash - "London Calling"


The third album by “the only band that ever mattered” is not only an essential punk record, but it’s also considered by many to be one of the best albums of all time; London Calling is the Clash's finest moment.

From the opening title track to "Train in Vain" at the end, every song is a masterpiece, without any filler to be found. This album also saw the early days of the Clash's experimentation with reggae, before they took it too far in later albums. Songs like "Rudie Can't Fail" featured forays into Jamaican rhythms that were innovative at the time and still hold up now.

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Sex Pistols: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

Album art for The Sex Pistols - "Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols"


By the time this album hit in late 1977, the Sex Pistols had already shaken up the UK with the release of their first two singles, “Anarchy in the U.K.” and “God Save the Queen.” The full album featured these two songs along with 10 other doses of snotty punk rock from a young, leering Johnny Rotten.

The album featured original (and most-recent) bassist Glen Matlock, even though the infamous Sid Vicious (who couldn’t really play) had by that time replaced him. Despite many re-releases and repackages, this is really their only “true” album, and one that should be a foundation stone for your record collection.

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Misfits: 'Walk Among Us'

Album art for Misfits - "Walk Among Us"


Glenn Danzig’s first band, The Misfits, was a groundbreaking outfit that wasn’t breaking any new ground. Like the Ramones before them, they were taking the things that they loved–-metal, ‘50s rock and roll, and B-grade horror and sci-fi music--and mashing them up into a sound. What emerged was the birth of horror punk. The band painted themselves up like corpses yet looked like greasers, and Glenn Danzig performed with a deep melodic voice that often was compared to Elvis or Jim Morrison.

With tracks like "20 Eyes,” "I Turned into a Martian,” Hatebreeders,” "Mommy Can I Go Out & Kill Tonight?” and "Skulls,” Walk Among Us is the first full-length by the Misfits to be released, as well as their quintessential album.

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Bad Brains: 'Bad Brains'

Album art for Bad Brains - "Bad Brains"


When the Bad Brains began exploring punk rock in D.C. in the late ‘70s, they already had a jazz-fusion background. Because of this, they were one of the only bands at the time to emerge into the growing punk scene already knowing how to play. This musical ability allowed them to play punk rock at blistering speed, which played an undeniable part in the development of hardcore and the idea that punk doesn’t need to be sloppy.

The band was composed of religious African-American Rastafarians who also were adept at reggae. That part of their sound influenced a range of bands from Fishbone to the Beastie Boys. Later on, the band would stray from hardcore, but their self-titled album is easily one of the greatest hardcore albums in existence.

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Husker Du: 'Zen Arcade'

Album art for Husker Du - "Zen Arcade"


Bob Mould's initial outfit, Husker Du, began as a hardcore band, albeit a very talented one. 1984’s Zen Arcade, while still predominantly a hardcore record, began exploring other sounds, including jazz, psychedelia, acoustic folk and pop -– all sounds Mould still explores today.

An ambitious undertaking, Zen Arcade was released as a two-LP recording. It consisted of 23 tracks (including a 13-minute instrumental), yet was recorded in only 40 hours, for $3,200. The band’s label, being overly cautious, didn’t press enough copies initially, and when the album quickly sold out, they were unable to keep up with demand. Due to this, one of the most innovative punk records of all time probably never reached the sales numbers it could have.

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Black Flag: 'The First Four Years'

Album art for Black Flag - "The First Four Years"


A West Coast punk counterpart to the Ramones, Black Flag’s take on punk rock was drastically different. While the Ramones were playing fast punk with friendly vocals, Black Flag was heavier and often slower. They drew from metal influences, and their lyrics were much darker.​

While many like to argue whether Keith Morris or Henry Rollins-era Black Flag was better, I have to go with Morris. 1983's The First Four Years is a compilation of Morris's work with the band, and through tracks like "Nervous Breakdown,” “Fix Me,” “Six Pack” and the band’s famous cover of “Louie Louie,” you really get a grasp of the anger and influence of Morris-era Black Flag.

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Operation Ivy: 'Operation Ivy'

Album art for Operation Ivy - "Operation Ivy"


Arguably the most influential ska/punk band of all time, Operation Ivy created a sound that bands would imitate and emulate for years afterward (and indeed still do today). While members Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman would go on to find commercial success in their later band, Rancid, they have yet to reach the innovative, influential or sheer energy level their former band held.

1991’s self-titled release is a great way to grab Op Ivy, as it combines Energy, the band’s only full-length release, with their Hectic EP and Turn It Around 7”, thereby creating a comprehensive collection of their music.

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Minutemen: 'Double Nickels on the Dime'

Album art for Minutemen - "Double Nickels on the Dime"


Released on the same label (SST) in the same year as Zen Arcade, Double Nickels on The Dime was another ambitious, innovative two-album set. Like Husker Du, the Minutemen took their punk roots and then explored other influences. In this case, there was spoken-word over freeform jazz and funk mixed in with punk. Their rhythms were memorable, yet they shied away from the verse-chorus-verse structure, playing the music they referred to as “jamming econo,” which also came to reflect the DIY nature of their touring.

Only one song out of the 45 tracks on Double Nickels on The Dime clocks at longer than three minutes; most run around two—short, yet complex enough to prove that you can know more than three chords and still play punk rock.

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MC5: 'Kick Out The Jams'

Album art for MC5 - "Kick Out the Jams"


This is one of the records that started it all in the States. The MC5’s debut album, Kick Out The Jams, was recorded live on October 30 and 31, 1968, at Detroit's long-gone Grande Ballroom, where the band was a fixture.

With such tracks as the title track and a version of John Lee Hooker's "Motor City is Burning," the MC5 were breaking free from peaceful protest into violent advocacy. With their attachment to John Sinclair and the White Panther Party, the MC5 knew how to party but had an agenda as well.

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Buzzcocks: 'Singles Going Steady'

Album art for Buzzcocks - "Singles Going Steady"

United Artists 

The first punk band to come out of Manchester, Buzzcocks formed in early 1975 after witnessing a Sex Pistols performance in London. Their style was fast and frantic while maintaining a pop influence as well. These pop overtones lead them to be a primary influence on today's pop-punk bands.

Like any band with a long history and a pop sensibility, the best way to grasp the hooks of the Buzzcocks is through their singles compilations. Singles Going Steady, released in 1979, is the first Buzzcocks record anyone should own. It captures much of the Buzzcocks' classic sound, including such classics as "Orgasm Addict," "What Do I Get," and "Ever Fallen In Love?"

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Minor Threat: 'Complete Discography'

Album art for Minor Threat - "Complete Discography"

Another short-lived outfit, Minor Threat's influence on punk music is undeniable. Not only did they create an influential hardcore sound, but they also inspired the straightedge movement. A song on their first EP, “Straight Edge,” with its anti-drug and alcohol stance, launched a dedicated following that continues today.

In addition to straightedge and hardcore, the band has had a hard, fast influence on the DIY movement, through the creation of Dischord Records, a vehicle for releasing all of the band’s recordings. 1989’s Complete Discography gathers all the band’s music in one package, creating a clear picture of the band that spawned straightedge.

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Iggy and The Stooges: 'Raw Power'

Album art for Iggy and the Stooges - "Raw Power"

A band that was playing on the same scene at the same time as the MC5, the Stooges were at first more well-known for their onstage energy and antics (specifically those of frontman Iggy Pop) than for their music.

It wasn’t until their third and last (at the time) album, 1973’s Raw Power, that the band really solidified the raw garage sound that would become a foundation for punk rock, especially in the States.

Produced by David Bowie, Raw Power (as well as the band’s prior two albums) met with little reaction when it came out, and the band broke up shortly after. It would be a few years before the album would really be discovered when American punk bands would begin to emulate it.

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Bikini Kill: 'The C.D. Version of the First Two Records'

Album art for Bikini Kill - "The C.D. Version of the First Two Records"
Kill Rock Stars

By far the most recent release on this list and the only band from the ‘90s, Bikini Kill—their music and their politics—are the impetus behind the Riot Grrl movement and its feminist punk ideals.

Bikini Kill’s music is abrasive, with hooks that are addictive and loose at the same time, and while some elements of their sound may have been derivative of punk bands that came before them, their innovation came from their politics.

Dealing heavily with issues like rape, domestic abuse and female empowerment, Bikini Kill focused on inspiring a girl-powered revolution. Theirs was one of the successful political punk movements, and while they weren’t the first or last women to have a band, they were some of the most vocal and most active.

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The Pogues: 'Rum, Sodomy and the Lash'

Album art for The Pogues - "Rum Sodomy & the Lash"


Taking traditional Irish folk music of their past and blending it with punk rock, the Pogues created an entirely new sound—Celtic punk.

While If I Should Fall From Grace With God would chart much higher and contain most of their “hits,” the foundation of their sound rests soundly on Rum, Sodomy & the Lash. The album’s opening track, “The Sick Bed of Cúchulainn,” is the quintessential Celtic punk tune, combining the reel of traditional Irish dance music with the energy and attitude of punk rock.

Elsewhere on the record, the band interprets traditional music ("I'm a Man You Don't Meet Every Day"), protest ballads ("And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda") and drinking tunes (just about everything else).

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The Damned: 'Damned Damned Damned'

Album art for the Damned - "Damned Damned Damned"


Often overshadowed by the Pistols and the Clash, the Damned (whose first performance saw them open for the Sex Pistols) were actually the first UK punk band to release an album. The band’s 1977 Damned Damned Damned is exemplary, not only for its place in history but also for the way the music holds up today.

Take a listen to “Neat Neat Neat” and you’ll not only hear an honest sonic portrait of punk’s earliest UK moments, but also a great tune that holds up today.

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Dead Kennedys: 'Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables'

Album Art for the Dead Kennedys - "Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables"

Alternative Tentacles

The best album by the Dead Kennedys, one of the founders of American political hardcore punk, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables is a timeless primer for anyone looking for advice on raging against the machine.

While its specific political namedropping dates it firmly in the Reagan era, the attitude, anger, and sarcasm expressed on tunes like "Kill the Poor,” “Let's Lynch the Landlord,” “California Über Alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia” keep this record relevant, and frontman Jello Biafra’s delivery keeps this record enjoyable.

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The Cramps: 'Songs the Lord Taught Us'

Album art for The Cramps - "Songs the Lord Taught Us"

Illegal Records 

Lifting the sound of early rockabilly and surf musicians, speeding it up, distorting it and combining it with campy, trashy themes was the forte of the Cramps, who can be credited with creating the oft-imitated psychobilly sound.

Like the Misfits, the Cramps loved B-grade science fiction and horror. This was already evident on this, their debut album, with song titles like “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” and "Zombie Dance.”

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The Dead Boys: 'Young, Loud and Snotty'

Album art for the Dead Boys - "Young, Loud and Snotty"

Sire Records

Formed from the remains of another legendary group, Rocket From The Tombs, Cleveland’s The Dead Boys, were influenced by Iggy Pop’s legendary live performances and sought to outdo them. A typical performance by the band included lewdness intended to provoke the audience and self-mutilation by band members (frontman Stiv Bators was known for slashing his stomach on the mic stand). As such, the band paved the way for performers that were more about violent shocking performances than about the music.

Even so, a listen to 1977’s Young, Loud and Snotty quickly points out that they were musically talented and influential as well. Just one listen to the album’s opener, “Sonic Reducer,” justifies this album being on this list.

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New York Dolls: 'New York Dolls'

Album art for New York Dolls - "New York Dolls"


Known more for being a glam outfit, the Dolls avoided the punk moniker simply because they were a few years too early. But they shared all of the same influences and in-your-face live aggression as the first punk bands.

The band was even briefly one of Malcolm McLaren’s “projects.” Using the same sort of stunts he later used for the Sex Pistols, McLaren dressed the band in red leather and Communist imagery. It flopped.

Their self-titled debut offers up a glimpse of what punk was about to be. With one foot in the past and one in the future, tunes like “Trash” and “Personality Crisis” are innovative for their time, making this an album that is historically important, as well as one that warrants heavy rotation on your stereo now.