While this list wouldn't get me a job on staff at Pitchfork or NME, I think it is a good primer for someone who isn't familiar with a lot of these bands.
Punk was about returning to why rock and roll got started to begin with—before it had become bloated by prog and 70s arena rock. So it makes a lot of sense to have some of those early, influential artists kick it off.
The aim is to follow the thread of Rock and Roll that starts with Elvis and Chuck Berry and winds its way to modern punks like Jay Reatard and Ty Segall. A lot of the songs that I've chosen to represent these artists are their "hits," but they were ultimately selected because I think they're good gateway songs for these bands.
As with any list, there are plenty of notable omissions, especially from the 80s hardcore scene. But the 80s are well-represented and hardcore is really an offshoot of the broader punk movement that this playlist is trying to illustrate. Some other notable omissions are due to Spotify not having a good recording available—I couldn't find anything decent for MC5.
At times, like on Patti Smith's "Redondo Beach", the musical thread might be harder to hear, but you have to consider it in context. Patti, along with the other punks on the New York scene, was reacting to the bloated rock of the 70s, and her contributions directly influenced bands like Sonic Youth, which helped us reach Nirvana. As ever, with art, context counts.
The list is below along with a link and embed of the playlist from Spotify. I'd love to hear your thoughts and how you might agree/disgree. Get at me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"My Babe" - Little Walter
We're starting with Chess Records. The story begins when Muddy Waters took Mississippi up the river to Chicago and plugged it into an amp. I chose this Little Walter song because Muddy played on a lot his tracks, and this song is just too good, and a good representation of the Chess sound.
"Too Much Monkey Business" - Chuck Berry
There's a direct line from Chuck's licks to bands like the New York Dolls and the Ramones. Without Muddy plugging in at Chess there's no Chuck at Chess and there's a lot that likely wouldn't follow.
"Hound Dog" - Elvis Presley
Listen to the drum fills and guitar solo on this recording. This shit is heavy. Yeah they were rockin', and this is different vibe than Elvis' rock contemporaries like Jerry Lee Lewis. This is the thread that lead to bands like the Ramones. There's a reason The Clash took the first Elvis cover, turned it upside down, smashed the guitar and called it "London Calling".
"Twist and Shout" - The Beatles
People don't realize how much of a punk rock drummer Ringo was. If you still need convincing after listening to this track, just check out footage of their first show in the US—February 11, 1964 in DC at the Washington Coliseum. Also, John Lennon's vocal performance on this song is another hint at would fully blossom a decade later.
"You're Gonna Miss Me" - The 13th Floor Elevators
A punk vocal performance by Roky Erickson long before the word punk was coined.
"All Day and All of the Night" - The Kinks
I'd argue that The Kinks are the first true punk band. They were more aggressive than anything that came before. This came out in 1964 and The Beatles were touring America on "A Hard Days Night", and Bob Dylan was still playing acoustic guitar on "Another Side of Bob Dylan". The Kinks beat everyone to the punch.
"Demolición" - Los Saicos
Peruvian wildmen with nothing to lose. Los Saicos like to claim they were the first punk band. No doubt about it they were early, but they didn't release anything substantial until 1965. The Kinks were already in the door with "You Really Got Me" in 1964.
- "Intensamente" - Los Saicos
- "Have Love Will Travel" - The Sonics
- "Foggy Notion" - The Velvet Underground
"I'm Waiting for The Man" - The Velvet Underground
They laid the groundwork for everything that came along in the following decade. They're the bridge between the 60s and the the downtown scene in the 70s. Possibly the most influential band on this list.
"I Wanna Be Your Dog" - The Stooges
If you don't want to give The Kinks the label of "the first punk band," then I think you can't deny it starts here. "I Wanna Be Your Dog" came out in 1969, years before anything else came close. They were from another planet.
- "Search and Destroy" - The Stooges
"Personality Crisis" - The New York Dolls
Chuck Berry, anyone?
"California Sun" - The Dictators
Oh to be on the Bowery in the 1970s.
- "Chinese Rocks" - The Heartbreakers
- "One Track Mind" - The Heartbreakers
- "I Wanna Be Sedated" - The Ramones
- "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" - The Ramones
"Danna Says" - The Ramones
Morrissey once said that The Ramones "make The Stooges sound like concertmasters." Fuck you, Morrissey.
- "Love Comes in Spurts" - Richard Hell & The Voidoids
- "Blank Generation" - Richard Hell & The Voidoids
"All the Way" - Richard Hell & The Voidoids
The alpha male of CBGB. Men want to be him. Women want to have his babies.
- "Roadrunner" - The Modern Lovers
- "(I'm) Stranded" - The Saints
"Careful" - Television
Punk's Grateful Dead.
"Redondo Beach" - Patti Smith
It's harder to identify what connects this if you're just listening to the structure of the song, but the aesthetic of the "blank generation" is undeniable in Patti Smith's music, especially this song.
- "Take Me to the River" - Talking Heads
"Psycho Killer" - Talking Heads
Hey David! Come out of your head, dude.
- "Sonic Reducer" - Dead Boys
- "Pretty Vacant" - Sex Pistols
- "Should I Stay or Should I Go" - The Clash
- "Train in Vain" - The Clash
"Why Can't I Touch It?" - The Buzzcocks
Hey AC/DC, shitheads, this is how to write a guitar lick.
"Ghost Rider" - Suicide
"Disorder" - Joy Division
Punks by birth, not by choice. I guess that's what happens when come up poor in 1980s Manchester.
"Don't Want to Know if You Are Lonely" - Husker Dü
This will have to cover a shitload of 80s bands that deserve to be on this list that I'm leaving out.
- "I Will Dare" - The Replacements
- "Androgynous" - The Replacements
- "Just Like Honey" - Jesus and Mary Chain
- "Sex Bomb" - Flipper
"Something" - Butthole Surfers
Can you imagine naming your band Butthole Surfers?
"Smothered in Hugs" - Guided by Voices
I never realized that Dean Ween stole all his stage moves from Robert Pollard until I saw GBV on their recent reunion tour.
- "Becuz" - Sonic Youth
- "Teen Age Riot" - Sonic Youth
"Sugar Kane" - Sonic Youth
You're welcome, 90s. Is there another band that stuck to their guns for so long? It seems as if they never missed a step.
"Wave of Mutilation" - Pixies
You're welcome, Nirvana.
- "Cannonball" - The Breeders
"In Bloom" - Nirvana
"Turn it On" - Flaming Lips
The Lips started out as a classic punk band. Wayne still wants to be Gibby Haynes from the Butthole Surfers.
"Range Life" - Pavement
Remember: attitude, context, and posture count.
- "Only Shallow" - My Bloody Valentine
"Death on the Stairs" - The Libertines
A true John and Paul moment here. Except when Pete Doherty comes in on the second verse things get taken up several notches.
- "Phone Booth" - Carbonas
- "It Ain't Gonna Save Me" - Jay Reatard
"There Is No Sun" - Jay Reatard
A model of artistic integrity for all time. R.I.P.
"O Katrina!" - Black Lips
Black Lips are the best practitioners of the punk rock lifestyle active today.
"Imaginary Person" - Ty Segall
IMHO Ty is the one carrying the torch now.
"Where Do You Run To" - Vivian Girls
I resisted them for long enough, but they won me over with this song.
"Friendly Ghost" - Harlem
Arguably "garage rock" and not punk. I'm gonna defer to context here and say that they deserve placement for their crisp rock songs and could-give-a-shit attitude that music bloggers need a piece of more often.
"If You Wanna" - The Vaccines
Rock and Roll.
"What is Worse" - Cate le Bon
I could see how this is questionable, but it harkens back to the Velvet Underground in the best way possible. And for that, I add her to the thread.
"Get Found" - Bass Drum of Death
This is the real shit. #mississippi.