Stupid PunkIt wouldn't be a punk opinion without being a little stupid. That's why I am going to list my favorite punk tunes. As everyone can agree, it's a needless, terrible idea.
Some Principles of Punk:
- There's actually nothing much like the 1977 - 1982 punk when it seemed like no rebels could play instruments and they were all in bands
- Even recent punk songs have some things in common, like:
- minimal instrumentation
- a simple tune
- a stand for something or at least a stand against something
- rebellion against over-produced music and/or pop, especially pop with nothing to say
- a reverse sense of humor (not absolutely required but important)
- reverse credibility, usually
In a basement years ago, a friend and I debated the song 'Psycho Killer.' Did it count as punk or not? We agreed that the song was punk but the band was not. And therefore, no. That's why Psycho Killer, a song with minimal instruments, a stand in favor (and maybe against) violent weirdness, and that definitely rebelled against the over-produced junk music of the mainstream still was not quite punk by our standard that we just invented right there.
It was also a song with a reverse sense of humor. By my personal measure, that's important. Still, Pscyho Killer gets demoted in my current ranking because the band that did it was not punk. They only had a few of the punk sensibilities although lyrical sense was one of them.
Pretty often, punk lyrics need you to be more of an adult than other pop lyrics. If someone screams, "Kill the poor," you're supposed to not to do that, duh. In fact, you're supposed to flip it around to, "Why do we shit on them so much? Why is it not more shocking to think someone would propose wiping them out?"
Likewise, as the narrator in "Take the Skinheads Bowling" goes on about stupid, mundane dreams, he's comparing himself negatively to people like Martin Luther King, Jr. who have noble dreams. Then he goes on to propose his not-quite-noble dream, that his friends will not be scared. It belongs to a sub-genre of punk songs that begin, "I'm a piece of shit but .." That's because punk relies on a reverse sense of credibility in addition to reverse humor.
Claiming to be an authority makes people seem credible in other contexts but not in punk. To other punks, the main way to seem credible is to know you're a piece of shit. If you start with that, you've got a chance of being allowed to speak. Then, if your opinion is shit, often even if it's good, your audience will generally agree with you that it's totally shit. No one gets a break. No one is supposed to get a break.
By using the reverse sense of humor, "Power of Positive Drinking" and "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll" were out in front. Those artists would have said they were rock, not punk. But the rebellion of rock died. Punk had to be born.*
*Or something, something ... the world would not have ended without punk. Maybe a generation of rebels would have had crappier, less-rebellious music. That's about it.
The Top Pre-Punk Punk
- Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll - Ian Dury
- Search and Destroy - Iggy and the Stooges
- Power of Positive Drinking - Lou Reed
- War Pigs - Black Sabbath
Yeah, War Pigs violates a lot of the punk principles I listed above but it's got plenty of shouty lyrics and it feels close - with any luck you can tell me why.
Should there be others on the pre-punk list? Probably.
Above, I said there's a big difference between the first generation of punk and the next. In fact, there was a major difference within the first generation. The sounds and the messages of late seventies punk are different from mid-eighties punk, which by that time included folk-punk and some ska-punk. For the sake of ranking songs, though, I've decided that none of the differences matter.
I'm ranking them together. If you want to divvy up the list better for your own sense of what's right, it's not that hard, you stupid punk.
The Best First Wave Punk
- Pretty Vacant - Sex Pistols
- Add it Up - Violent Femmes
- Take the Skinheads Bowling - by Camper Van Beethoven
- Kill the Poor - Dead Kennedys
- Nice and Sleazy - The Stranglers
- Let's Have a War - Fear
- Rise Above - Black Flag
- I Wanna be Sedated - Ramones
- Blister in the Sun - Violent Femmes
- In the City - The Jam
- Bitchin Camaro - Dead Milkmen
- Fuck the System - The Exploited
- Straight Edge - Minor Threat
- Institutionalized - Suicidal Tendencies
- Nellie the Elephant - Toy Dolls
- Bodies - Sex Pistols
- Kiss Off - Violent Femmes
- Six Pack - Black Flag
- Orgasm Addict - Buzzcocks
- Going Underground - The Jam
- Guyana Punch - The Judys
- Nazi Punks Fuck Off - Dead Kennedys
- Oi! Oi! Oi! - Cockney Rejects
- Astro Zombies - The Misfits
- Descendents - Bikeage
- Complete Control - Clash
- Gone Daddy Gone - Violent Femmes
- Mighty and Superior - Conflict
- No More Heroes - The Stranglers
- Blank Generation - Richard Hell
- White Riot - Clash