Wednesday, April 27, 2011

100 Greatest Punk Rock Songs

When I wrote the preamble, I hadn't yet settled on what I'd post as my first list.  With Poly Styrene's passing this week, I decided to look for a list of the best punk songs to see where her band the X-Ray Spex showed up.  The common wisdom from the obituaries is that "Oh Bondage, Up Yours" was the X-ray Spex best song, and it shows up at #36 on this list.

The list includes quite a few artists with more than one song (3 Clash songs in the top 20), and I'd argue the X-Ray Spex should have been one of those as well.  My choice would have been "Genetic Engineering" from "Germ Free Adolescents", but there's a lot to choose from on that record.  "Identity", "I Live Off You", and "Warrior in Woolworths" would all be contenders for me if I made a top 100 punk songs list.

It's interesting on this list to see where being one of the first is or isn't so important.  Putting the Ramones and Sex Pistols at #1 and #2 suggests to me more of a ranking of who should get credit for starting punk and less of a proper ranking of which songs are really the greatest.  With the Ramones, "Blitzkrieg Bop" is definitely a great song, but it's more like their earliest great song than their greatest song.  The MC5 at #4 makes a statement about respecting punk's elders, but there's such a thing as too much respect.  They don't belong that high on this list.

At #6, Fugazi shows up way ahead of Minor Threat.  I know Fugazi developed a huge following, but as a ranking of punk rock songs, I have a hard time putting Fugazi anywhere close to Minor Threat.  The Husker Du choices are a little odd too with "Celebrated Summer" coming in at #15.  That's got to be a personal favorite of the listmaker - no way it's even a top 5 best Husker Du song, and the choice of "Pink Turns to Blue" from Husker Du's "Zen Arcade" over songs that are much better punk songs (not necessarily much better songs, but much better punk songs) makes it seem more like a list of best songs by punk bands.

A few other nits to pick (that's the point here, just in case you missed the preamable):  Pere Ubu is way to low on the list, particularly for a list that puts so much stock in who came early.  "Final Solution" should be part of the top 5 by that criteria.  The list is missing The Avengers, The Dils, and Government Issue to name just a few, but it's really a pretty good list.  It's interesting that Green Day was thrown in at #71 when the post-Nirvana wave of punk rock was otherwise ignored.  I think Operation Ivy at #100 is the closest Ska Revival comes to cracking the list.  I get it that including first wave ska revival on a list like this is debatable, but I feel like at least The Specials belong here.

What do you think of the list?  What's too high?  What's too low?  What's screwy about the criteria.  Don't make me quibble alone.


  1. The Dead Kennedys are very overrepresented. When I was in high school, the punks listened to the B-52s and Devo (early albums only) but never Jonathan Richman or the Talking Heads or Blondie. The goofy/stupid side of punk (Descendents, Fear, Dickies) is underrepresented as is Crass and its lineage.

  2. I agree with Frank and would add that this list seems to be a random selection of songs from the most commercial punk bands (not necessarily a bad thing) plus songs that this guy has in his collection. Three Reagan Youth tracks? The Ramones "I Wanna be your Boyfriend" but not countless others? Three MC5 but only two Stooges? Flipper? Devo? Joy Division? Subhumans?

    I think the criteria is that there is no criteria, and that you can call a lot of things "punk" and make it stick. In general, it's probably harder to make a good list of something based on an ever-changing and arguable criteria ("punk" in this case) than, say, "1978" or "British" or the like...

  3. I agree - you should define 'punk'for your purposes - I can totally see how Modern Lovers can fit into some definintions of punk (attitude) but not others (dress code). You missed my fave punk rock song - TV Party by Black Flag.

  4. Somewhat remarkably, the criteria for this list was actually provided: "Criteria: - These songs are ranked based upon their intitial and lasting popularity, as well as their influence and impact on the evolution of Punk." The web page is pretty cluttered, so it's easy to miss, but I applaud the effort to try to state criteria.

    Also, TV Party does make the list. At #55, I'd say it's way too low. It's noteworthy that it appears on the Repo Man soundtrack alongside The Circle Jerks cover of Pablo Picasso. I can't imagine Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers making the list at #53 without that cover, and I think it's a case of the cover being more worthy of the list than the original. The original version of "Tainted Love" by Gloria Jones is fantastic, but I can't imagine her version showing up on any lists of best new wave songs.

  5. I know the first Modern Lovers album is frequently cited as a proto-punk benchmark, but I always think of Jonathan as basically sui generis. Though, there is something kind of punk-rock about giving up your hipster cred to sing about Little Dinosaurs, Abominable Snowmen, and Martian Martians.

    Besides, if we're going to include Jonathan, where are the NY Dolls, or even the Sonics or Monks, all of which are at least as punk as the Modern Lovers...

  6. NY Dolls were in there at #40 with Personality Crisis, 10 slots lower that the Modern Lovers at #30 with Roadrunner.