Punk rock’s not dead! In fact, the misfits’ preferred brand of music is alive and thriving, thanks to a decades-long legacy of music that has grown into a set of sub-genres spanning everything from Goth and new wave to cowpunk. Whether you’re in the mood for pop punk, classics, the new generation, or something in between, we’ve got you covered with our list of the best punk bands of all time.
These are listed in no particular order, just the 33 bands we like the most:
1. Black Flag
One of the original punk bands to come out of the thriving hardcore scene, Black Flag, and seminal singer, Henry Rollins, spent years touring and producing ground-breaking music, with lyrics running the gamut from celebrations of pop-culture minutiae (“TV Party,” anyone?) to political protests.
2. Sex Pistols
Often credited with creating the British punk movement, or at least the ones to term the coin “punk,” the Sex Pistols managed to create a cultural shift with their loud sound and brash, system-bashing lyrics.
3. The Clash
Headed by the legendary Joe Strummer, The Clash spent the better part of two decades creating undeniably great music. While many of their older standards never made it to the mainstream, they did enjoy chart success with their 1983 release, “Combat Rock.”
Three chords and a guitar were all the Ramones needed to revolutionize the NYC music scene. These CBGB regulars played fast and hard, with short songs and simple, catchy lyrics about the insanity of everyday life in America.
5. The Cramps
The Cramps created an entirely new sound, mixing genres from exotica to punk and rockabilly into a stew of dark tunes. Known for their hedonistic lifestyle, they toured for three decades before disbanding after the death of their singer, Lux Interior.
6. Dead Kennedys
Dead Kennedys were one of the top US bands to come from the early punk movement and are known for their heavily political songs and singer Jello Biafra’s later career in spoken word. While the band’s legacy may not expand to chart-topping hits, their hard-hitting lyrics have left an indelible impression on the history of punk rock.
7. Bad Brains
Bad Brains, originally known as Mind Power, were one of the first all-black punk rock bands to gain national fame in the late 70s. With undeniably loud music and compelling lyrics, they continue to influence the genre to this day, extending even beyond punk, as evidenced by their long-standing collaborative relationship with hip hop stars, Beastie Boys.
8. Generation X
English punk rock mavericks, Generation X, are well known for launching frontman Billy Idol’s career. But they were a force in their own right, making it into the UK singles chart 6 times—an impressive feat for any band but particularly unusual in the earliest days of punk rock.
9. The Exploited
A truly grass-roots punk band, The Exploited made music that was fast, dirty, and hard. Their shows inspired both rabid fandom and multiple injuries, but they maintain a strong fanbase to this day.
10. 7 Seconds
Reno-born punk and hardcore band 7 Seconds came together in 1980 and has been going strong ever since. Originally formed by two sets of brothers, the band has undergone numerous personnel changes through the years, but two of the members remain.
11. Green Day
Green Day was at the forefront of the 90s pop-punk boom that propelled so many bands into the mainstream. With bad boy good looks and catchy hooks, they continue to release music that crosses over from alternative to mainstream.
Kings of Pop Punk Blink-182 have been making music together for nearly thirty years as of the 2020s, and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight! They burst onto the scene with their chart-topping album, Enema Of The State, and while their early music is often criticized as juvenile, the band has segued into a more nuanced brand of songwriting with their last few albums.
13. Circle Jerks
Circle Jerks are yet another band to come out of America’s first wave of late 70s punk rock. Founded in 1979, the original lineup included Keith Morris, previously of Black Flag. The band was quoted as saying that they hoped to combine the more aggressive music of bands like the Sex Pistols with a California feel.
Led by charismatic frontwoman Wendy O. Williams, the Plasmatics earned a place as one of punk’s top bands. Known for their over-the-top performances, which often included her in barely-there outfits, engaging in conceptual art pieces while singing, the band’s shows were truly one of a kind.
15. The Distillers
Another in the line-up of female-fronted punk bands, The Distillers is known for its more raw vocal style. They were founded in 1998 in Los Angeles and, after taking more than a ten-year hiatus, are back to touring and recording in 2018.
16. X-Ray Spex
Headed up by the unparalleled Poly Styrene, the X-Ray Spex was one of the founding members of the original wave of UK punk, and they—like so many others—used that newfound popularity to create protest songs that spoke to disenfranchised youth all around the world.
17. The Vandals
The Vandals’ sound has been described as everything from punk to comedy rock and even cowpunk. Whatever it is, fans love it, and the band has been playing consistently since it was formed in 1980. They are famous for saying that they consider their music more of an outlet for humor than anything else and have studiously avoided making political music.
18. The Adicts
English-based band The Adicts play a showbiz-worthy mix of new wave, Goth, and drama-inspired punk rock, and are best known for dressing as “droogs” from the infamous film, A Clockwork Orange. After a nearly ten-year absence from the music scene, the band got back together to tour in 2002 and has been going strong since.
19. Sham 69
Formed in 1975 in Surrey, England, Sham 69 is one of the most successful punk rock bands of all time, having reached the mainstream charts with five songs in the top 20. They are best known for their song, “If The Kids Are United.”
20. Minor Threat
Minor Threat emerged as one of the leaders of D.C.’s burgeoning hardcore and punk scene in the early 80s. Headed by Ian MacKaye, the founder of Dischord Records, the band’s house even became the center of the scene, hosting house shows and housing bands in town for tours.
21. Social Distortion
With singer Mike Ness at the helm, Social Distortion has been playing strong since its formation in the early 70s. The band’s first two albums feature a raw, punk rock, anti-authoritarian sound that is highlighted by his gravely vocals. Since that time, they have ventured into other genres—including alternative country, rockabilly, and classic rock—to create their own unique punk rock hybrid.
22. Youth Brigade
Youth Brigade was one of the earliest stalwarts of the Straight Edge/PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) punk movement. They toured for years on virtually no money, traveling the country in a broken-down school bus, while writing songs about being broke and sticking with their friends. They famously appeared alongside Black Flag, Social Distortion, and other bands in the documentary, The Decline Of Western Civilization.
23. U.K. Subs
The U.K. Subs were arguably one of the earliest English punk bands, forming in 1976 alongside the Sex Pistols. Their sound was decidedly more professional than some bands, owing in part to vocalist Charlie Harper, who was an R&B singer prior to joining up with the U.K. Subs.
24. Voodoo Glow Skulls
The Voodoo Glow Skulls bring their one-of-a-kind brand of ska, punk, hardcore, and metal to rabid audiences of fans all over the world. Their sound incorporates many punk rock staples—lyrics about standing out and making your own way, alongside silly songs about partying—but add in their own slant, and sing it all in both Spanish and English.
The Missouri-born and bred Descendants were undoubtedly one of the earliest bands to infuse pop into their punk, playing somewhere between the speed of the Ramones and the more bubblegum sensibility of new wave. They are one of few original punk bands who have enjoyed some chart success throughout their decades-long career.
26. The Donnas
California-based all-female punk band The Donnas have always considered themselves a rock band. But their sound shows a decided bent toward the tongue-in-cheek screw-authority lyrics of punk. The band cites their influences as coming from both the classic rock and punk genres, with special shoutouts to bands like The Runaways, Girlschool, and AC/DC.
27. Suicidal Tendencies
Parents may not have been much for this California-based band’s name, but their songs spoke to a generation of disaffected youth in a way that many others could not. The band, originally formed in 1980, continues to play on with original singer Mike Muir still at the mic.
28. The Misfits
The Misfits burst onto the scene with their scorching brand of Halloween-infused rock in 1977. But, at that time, their music was considered too shocking for widespread release. The band was unable to get a store to sell any of its music until the release of the album, Walk Among Us, in 1982.
Minor Threat singer, Ian MacKaye, went on to form Fugazi to carry on the hardcore scene that he is largely responsible for starting. The band is best known for their hit, “Waiting Room,” which enjoyed some mainstream crossover in the 90s.
30. The Eyeliners
Formed in 1995, this all-female punk band originally went by the name Psychodrama. With three sisters at its core, the band tried to audition drummers to join them; unable to find one that they liked well enough, singer Laura took over both drumming and vocals.
31. The Stooges
Singer Iggy Pop is a certified punk rock legend who continues to perform to this day. While The Stooges’ music has been called everything from avant-punk to garage rock, there is no denying that Pop’s confrontational onstage antics garnered them an audience raised on hardcore and punk. His stint as the Stooges frontman has cemented him a permanent place in the pop culture pantheon, and he continues to perform individually.
32. The Damned
Living somewhere between Goth and punk, The Damned has spent decades creating haunting music that defies labels. Formed in 1976, they were the very first punk rock band to tour the United States, and a notable nine of their singles have found their way onto UK charts. Despite several hiatuses through the years, as of 2020, the band continues to tour.
NOFX is all punk and all goof. Singer Fat Mike has famously said that the band is there for his own amusement and everyone else is along for the ride. Known for their sarcastic, and often self-deprecating lyrics, they have toured steadily since its founding in 1983.
Punk rock has evolved from its revolutionary beginnings to encompass a wide range of musical influences, as the diversity of the bands on this list attests to. It’s nice seeing a genre expand and continue to gain new fans and inspire generations of music lovers.
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