Punk is a genre that always had it’s strength in the rawness of live shows. For a lot of punk bands, making music that sounded good wasn’t really that important compared to getting their message out.
And often, the message was one of anger. The harsh economy, classism and the lingering aftermath of a series of brutal wars across the world in the previous decades were leading to disillusionment with the government in both the US and UK. The working class were increasingly under threat from every angle, and the feelings of resentment it stirred up were captured perfectly in Punk.
But thankfully, more than a few of these rebellious spirits were able to produce some pretty amazing albums too. Contrary to popular belief, many punks had an incredible level of dedication to becoming the best musicians they could be, and the recording and producing talent wasn’t too shabby either, with familiar faces such as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry turning up from time to time, cementing the common ground between the laid back Reggae music and the hard edged Punks.
So we’ve grabbed some of the best punk albums to own on vinyl and stuck them together with an old safety pin that we later used as a piercing and the leftover wood glue from last week’s mohawk.
Disagree with our list? Why not start your own list. Anarchy in the comments section and all that.
At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 7 Best Punk Albums On Vinyl
The Clash - The Clash (Editor's Choice)
Another Music in a Different Kitchen - The Buzzcocks (Budget Choice)
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Ok let's look at each album in more detail. We've provided you with a description of the album and then a link should you wish to explore the album further. So without further ado, let’s take a look...
7 Best Punk Albums To Own On Vinyl
1. Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols - The Sex Pistols
Punk wouldn’t have been punk without these lads. It was the only album they ever managed to complete due to the extremely volatile personality clashes between the band members and the manager.
In terms of musical talent they weren’t exactly legends, but their raw attitude, and unfiltered and intelligent social commentary tore a path through the British music scene. In fact, one of their performances was so inspirational literally every person in attendance went on to form successful bands of their own. How many bands can claim that?
What makes this album so great is that it shows that if you’re earnest and have something worth hearing, you should go for it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a dreadful musician today - just get started.
2. The Clash - The Clash
An absolute must on the best Punk albums to own on vinyl. It is frequently, and not undeservedly, hailed as one of the greatest Punk album of all time by multiple critics and magazines.
Unusually for a Punk album, it was released to an immediate and overwhelming positive response, reaching high chart positions.
This may be in part to the strong influences of other thoughtful and expressive genres such as Reggae, which shared many ideological similarities with Punk - particularly visible in “White Riot”. Of course, with the Reggae legend Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry being prominent in the album’s production, this is to be expected. These influences, combined with a whimsical humour on tracks such as “Protex Blue” makes The Clash a varied album with multiple facets to enjoy.
For such a great album, there’s only one logical next step.
Listen to the damn thing!
3. Another Music in a Different Kitchen - The Buzzcocks
The Buzzcocks took a different approach to Punk than their inspiration, the Sex Pistols. In fact, they stood out from the majority of Punk bands at the time due to their thematic and compositional differences.
Where others focused on intentionally rebellious lyrics and had an overt anti-authority stance, the Buzzcocks concentrated instead on more personal issues and had more melodic and catchy riffs and hooks.
This led to them being one of the few groups willing to discuss sexuality, in part fuelled by Shelley’s own (at the time) widely unacceptable preferences, but also an openness to being frank and an exploration of alternative relationships. This can be seen most clearly in the single Orgasm Addict, which can also be found on the 1996 re-release of Another Music in a Different Kitchen.
They struggled to find any widespread success outside of their local scene, but as renowned as they are now it’s hard to imagine not hearing about them. To deal with this, they were one of the first punk bands to set up their own label.
Another Music in a Different Kitchen was their first album, and more closely resembles the flavour of Punk that was most widespread, but in subsequent years they rejected the more traditional sound as being worn out and developed along new lines. Despite this, the album remains a definitive part of who they are - and their more recent endeavours still show they haven’t lost their touch.
But you gotta start somewhere, and there’s no better place than their beginnings to watch how they transform through the years.
4. Ramones - The Ramones
Initially the album was a complete flop, failing to break into the Billboard 100. But this lack of positive reception at first is quite humorous looking back, as the Ramones were the first true punks. The lyrics were shocking in nature, featuring extreme topics such as Nazism and drug use. Each track was short in length, but packed quite full due to the high tempos.
Despite, or perhaps because of these factors, the Ramones went on to inspire a whole new genre of musicians - including the British punk bands we all know. Even more miraculously, they hardly ever played outside of their native NY in the early years.
The widespread reach of their influence even outside of the Punk genre can be seen in the widely imitated album front cover - which was just a simple shot of the four members leaning against a wall. It’s currently one of the most copied designs in the history of album covers.
The dark nature of the songs wasn’t completely intended, with much of the themes and content being based around the events they witnessed around them.
If you don’t have at least a cursory knowledge of this album, you’re missing out on the single greatest defining moment of Punk. It’s not only the tracks that were important, but the ‘let’s just get it done’ attitude they had towards everything they did. Funds were tight, and many new bands today have a similar problem. In spite of these challenges, the Ramones surged on.
5. Dookie - Green Day
Unlike many Punk bands, Green Day was able to achieve widespread and mainstream commercial and critical success. They came a little later on in the Punk scene, not releasing Dookie until 1994.
Green Day are sometimes mocked as being traitors to Punk, but the truth is they simply hit on a popular sound at the right time. It wasn’t until much later in the early 2000s that they were able to follow up their initial success, but by then they were no longer readily identifiable as punk in the sense that many envisage it to be. Despite this, looking carefully the roots and influences are still there, with heavily critical themes to their songs.
Whether you’re a fan or not, Dookie is an album that’s worth checking out. The quality is good, and it represents one of the key moments in the outgrowth of Punk into many new branches.
6. American Psycho - The Misfits
The Misfits took punk into a new direction, and are still recognised today as the horror punk band. They have a more polished sound than the rough and ragged early 70’s bands, and placed more emphasis on the production values of their music videos - delving into costumes and more to create more than just a music project.
They’ve evolved more than a few times, but American Psycho contains some of their best tracks, prominently among them Dig Up Her Bones. It’s also the first album to feature the talents of vocalist Graves after the departure of Danzig. The lyrics feature plenty of the horror imagery that early era Misfits had forged into an iconic image, and the aggressive and catchy rhythms are still there - despite American Psycho being the dawn of a new era for the band.
7. Damaged - Black Flag
Damaged was the first full album recorded by Black Flag after the Henry Rollins joined as the vocalist. It marks a serious stylistic transformation for the band. Previously the content of their music had been amusing, if dark in tone.
WIth Henry Rollins, Black Flag reduced the elements of humor and took on a more aggressive edge. What makes the album truly notable is the impact it had on Punk as a whole - partly due to the influence of Rollins.
The introduction of traits found in very different genres gave Damaged a more nuanced and accomplished sound, and was centric to the development of the Hardcore style of Punk, featuring heavier instrumentation and had clearer metal influences.
They were also an offline ‘viral’ sensation that spread throughout L.A. in the 1980’s, demonstrating a powerful ability to capture the attention of the music scene.
So them be our seven favourites. Which would you add to the list?
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.