Tens of thousands of bands have adopted the “punk” moniker. From Sting to Avril Lavigne, thousands of artists have taken up the legacy of “punk.” But not all of them meet the requirements. While punk as an idea is rooted in fighting toxic social norms, not all artists are willing to do so. But others are, and this is reflected in the ten incredible, iconic, and influential bands on this list. Let’s take a look at some amazing punk rock.
Related: 10 Interesting Facts About Bands From The Golden Age Of Music
10 black flag
Black Flag was one of the first, biggest and best hardcore punk bands from the United States. For decades, since their formation in 1976, they’ve been a punk rock institution, crafting countless songs that are perfect for moshing, partying, or blasting your car speakers after a particularly awful day at work. They were the blueprint for DIY punk bands all over America, building their own record label from scratch, and touring the country while sleeping, eating, and living out of a single van.
It’s because of these brutal tours that we have many of the ’90s grunge bands, as Black Flag inspired thousands to start their own band while going places most artists wouldn’t even dream of. They took on the world, proven by their all-time classic album. Damaged, which almost didn’t get published because it was too “anti-parenting.” Black Flag was self-made, self-distributed, and self-evident; they left a mark on rock ‘n’ roll that is still visible to this day, and nothing is more punk than leaving your mark.
The Stooges are one of the bands that created a movement through sheer force of will. After forming in 1967, their unique and powerful combination of speed, noise, and personality laid the foundation for all punk rock to come. Lasting only about seven years, The Stooges were plagued with issues of substance, gang feuds, and whatnot; however, they made their mark in a way most bands can only dream of.
Not only was his music fast and raw in the manner of later punk albums, but Iggy Pop’s relentless confrontation on stage set the stage for punk singers to do the same for years to come. While they may not be “punk” in the traditional sense (ending their troubled initial run 3 years before the Sex Pistols), they were punk in attitude and effect. They didn’t see much initial success in the ’70s, but they started a punk tradition of being the band that made every listener want to start one too.
Crass is one of the lesser-known entries on this list, but they deserve it no less. They started in England in 1977, and from the very beginning, Crass was different from most other bands. For one, they were formed into an anarchist commune by a few residents who lived there. Their commitment to their anarchist values was strong, and throughout their career they consistently organized political actions and protests and mobilized citizens for causes such as environmentalism.
While they were a heavily politicized band, they also delivered on the musical front. Crass self-released classic songs like “Banned from the Roxy”, which was recorded after the band was kicked out of the famous Roxy music club in London for being too loud. Crass stuck to his ideals relentlessly for years despite the UK government trying to stamp them out. Sounds pretty punk to me.
7 year surfers
The spirit of the Butthole Surfers can be assumed just by looking at their name. They were irreverent, weird, loud, and a bit immature. All of these things are true, as well as the fact that the Butthole Surfers (whose name was decided upon after an advertisement forgot what the band was called) made some of the strangest and most challenging music ever. They recorded and released many classic punk tracks themselves during the ’80s and are still alive today.
Their shows were noted for their relentless and boorish antics on stage, the often gruesome images played on a projector behind them, and the music itself, a combination of punk madness and the experimental weirdness of Musique Concrete. They were notable for not being able to keep a bass player for long due to the brutality of their off-stage lifestyle and also for their relentless commitment to doing whatever they wanted to do. After all, the Butthole Surfers were distilled punk in its purest form: pure chaos in the form of singer, guitar, bass and drums.
6 Minor Threat
Minor Threat was a hardcore punk band formed in DC by 17-year-old boys in 1980. However, just because they were young doesn’t mean they didn’t have a huge impact on music in general. Their combination of lightning-fast guitar work and angry-everything vocals set the stage for hardcore punk, and their influence doesn’t stop there.
They started the infamously divisive “straight edge” movement and set the example for ’80s indie bands that you could self-distribute your own music. Because no major label would take them, lead singer Ian Mackaye phoned a record plant and hand-packaged Minor Threat’s first EP himself. Minor Threat taught millions that all you needed was a few instruments and a lot of anger to get your voice heard, and what’s more punk than that.
5 sonic youth
Sonic Youth is as cool as the bands. They started in the dark and gritty New York “No Wave” scene and only worked their way up from there. Known for their oddly tuned guitars, poetic lyricism, and beautiful soundscapes, Sonic Youth seems like the opposite of what most people would consider punk. The truth is quite the opposite of this, however.
Sonic Youth embodies punk to the core; artistic expression, not compromising for other people and finding new ways to do things that no one thought possible. Sonic Youth were artistic, yes, but they showed the rock scene in general and the world what was possible with the music they were making. Without them, the world would be a lot less interesting and diverse, which is punk to perfection.
4 bad brains
Bad Brains were a highly interesting punk band that formed in DC in 1976. They stood out for a number of reasons, one of which was that they were an all-black band in a largely white, late-1970s DC music scene. . Another was his insistence on including reggae in his music, which persisted until his eventual demise. Another was his crazy, lightning fast game.
Bad Brains might have the claim to being America’s first hardcore band, as they had challenged themselves to beat their songs as fast as humanly possible. No matter what, Bad Brains were an incredible and iconic punk band, and their contribution to hardcore punk is countless. From the aforementioned Minor Threat to the Beastie Boys, tons of bands trace their lineage back to Bad Brains. They were true originals, creating their own style from many small pieces and making it big.
The Minutemen always did things on their own terms. Whether that was the way they organized their band, the way they executed their tours, or the way they played their songs, the San Pedro band took what it meant to “be a band” completely into their own hands. From their genesis in 1980 by two best friends who just wanted to be heard to their untimely demise (along with guitarist D Boon), the Minutemen did what they wanted to do.
Over the years, they’ve crafted hundreds of short, smart, and considered punk songs, and amassed a truly impressive body of work during their very short time as a band. They represented the idea that two normal guys with some ideas could pick out some instruments and inspire people. They never had any illusions of becoming rock stars; they just wanted to play, and play they did. The Minutemen’s musical skills still touch and inspire as much as they did 40 years ago.
2 Kennedys killed
The Dead Kennedys were another California punk band that changed America. Fronted by their eccentric and instantly recognizable vocalist Jello Biafra, the Dead Kennedys are perhaps the most popular hardcore punk band around. Its distinctive logo graces many jerseys around the world, and it’s not hard to see why that would be the case. The Dead Kennedys took the world by storm and sounded great while doing it.
Whether sued over the content of their songs or airing anti-government messages, they became known across the country. Their sound was iconic, too, mixing almost Beach Boys-esque surf rock with the searing hardcore punk of Black Flag. All this makes the Dead Kennedys a unique band, iconic in every way. They perfected the punk rock art of standing out from the crowd and looking good while doing it.
Fugazi is widely revered by just about everyone who cares about punk. It’s not hard to see why. They were formed by underground punk legend Ian Mackaye (of Minor Threat fame), and played some of the best and most innovative punk rock of all time. Their biggest claim to fame, though, might be how they stayed true to their ideals. Fugazi never gave up his ethos amid huge record label deals, overzealous fans, and almost adoration by everyone in the know.
But through it all, they stayed grounded and chose money over art. They held their guns so tightly that Fugazi is surrounded by myths, such as the one that claimed they lived together in a house with no heat and ate nothing but rice. While this is not true, Fugazi is the type of band that collects these kinds of rumors like darts on a dart board. Fugazi might as well be the ultimate punk band, and it’s obvious why. Over the years, they still refuse to commit.
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