Punk is a raucous, stripped-down genre of rock music that, at its best, is made of “three chords and the truth.” Punk rock is accessible and immediate, featuring artists who may only know a handful of chords, but they’re into it for the music, not the technique. Arranging them into any kind of hierarchy is bound to get punches thrown in a punk bar. Here are the 31 best punk songs of all time.
1. I Was A Teenage Anarchist – Against Me!
This song from the 2010 album White Crosses, the band’s last one before Laura Jane Grace’s transition, sears with regret. Singing that as a teenager she knew all the right slogans and read all the right authors, she understands in her late 20s that nonconformity is more than just slogans.
2. God Save The Queen – Sex Pistols
Recorded almost midway through the 70-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II, this ripping indictment of English authority is a classic punk banger. Half-sung and half-shouted by Johnny Rotten, the angry lyrics and simple message of rage toward the system and its abuses, personified by the Queen, make this a song that will long outlive its target.
3. Lust For Life – Iggy Pop
Former Stooges frontman and shirt-abhorrer Iggy Pop made this song about drugs and rock and roll a personal anthem. The rolling drums, punchy bass line, and near-incomprehensible lyrics make this one of the most punk songs ever written.
4. Chinese Rocks – Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers
Originally written for the Ramones but rejected by the band, this three-chords-and-the-truth punk song was recorded by Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers. It could not possibly more obviously be a Ramones song, and in later years, co-writer Dee Dee Ramone regretted not getting to perform it with the Ramones.
5. I Wanna Be Sedated – Ramones
Written over a Christmas layover in London where everything was closed was this curiously poppy lament about the grind of touring. The cheerful tune and bouncy melody hide a ground-down worldview of Joey Ramone’s depression at the monotony of flying all over the world to play the same songs repeatedly.
6. White Riot – The Clash
The Clash’s first single is this indictment of indolence. Written after Joe Strummer witnessed Caribbean youths fighting police, this song laments the unwillingness of white youths to fight authorities with the same vigor. He later complained that whites were “too cozy” to fight for their rights, in a rebuke to white supremacists claiming that he was on their side.
7. Crazy Little Thing Called Love – Queen
Theatrical, over-the-top, and glamorous, all can be used to describe Queen. But punk? It seems a stretch, but this tight, stripped-down 1980 song from The Game is. Fans have noted every way this song is different from everything else Queen ever recorded, including Brian May’s sole recorded use of a Fender Telecaster, not his self-made Red Special.
8. I Fought The Law – The Clash
Covering this single by the Crickets, The Clash added defiance and rage, reversing the gee-whiz tone of the original. In their version of this classic, they bring a defiant sneer to lyrics that played straight and sounded sappy and defeated. The Clash continues the pattern of taking sappy old songs and adding a new, defiant twist to them.
9. Straight Edge – Minor Threat
Loud, fast, and short, this song shows off the ethos of a then-new movement in punk. Straight-edge—i.e., sober—punk sought to show that punks could be just as loud and angry without alcohol as with it. Minor Threat succeeded at this goal with “Straight Edge,” creating a song that grabbed the world by the ears and screamed at it that a new kind of punk was here in just 45 seconds.
10. True Trans Soul Rebel – Against Me!
Laura Jane Grace’s fiery statement of identity, this song was the first written and recorded after her 2012 transition, and its fierce hooks and in-your-face chorus make it simultaneously heartfelt and aggressive. The lyrics and open contemplation of the implications of the loneliness of transness make this more than just a statement song.
11. Basket Case – Green Day
This anthemic statement of the malaise and isolation of modern life was Green Day’s explosion onto the national scene in 1994. The lead single of Dookie demonstrates Billie Joe Armstrong’s combination of self-doubt and killer hooks in a radio single that grabbed pop radio by the ears.
12. 99 Luftballons – Nena
Another potentially controversial member of this list, while this song uses the sounds and production of then-current German pop, Nena’s 1983 international hit was a rage against military overreaction and nuclear annihilation set to an incongruously poppy synth beat and an irretrievably catchy hook.
13. Should I Stay Or Should I Go – The Clash
From Combat Rock, there’s little to say about this song other than that it’s one of The Clash’s most famous tracks, and one of a handful of punk songs that consistently breaks through to pop radio. Polished, well-written, and skillfully played, this has one of punk’s most recognizable hooks.
14. Psycho Killer – Talking Heads
This David Byrne classic bridges the gap between new wave and punk. The lyrics and the song’s unsettling open chords give it punk cred that the normally strictly new wave band didn’t otherwise have. It gives the impression of hearing an insane man talk to himself.
15. Holiday In Cambodia – Dead Kennedys
This vicious criticism of the military dictatorship of Cambodia is one of the most recognizable of the Dead Kennedys’ songs. Released in May 1980, it saves some of its most aggressive broadsides for indolent American college students.
16. Minority – Green Day
After a more mainstream sound in 1997’s Nimrod, this single from 2000’s Warning announced a return to form for the band. Loud, stripped-down, and rebellious, it announced with a parade float and goth baton twirlers that Green Day was back to its punk roots.
17. No More Heroes – The Stranglers
Like many late 1970s punk songs, this crosses with new wave, and its synth hook is unforgettable. The namesake of the No More Heroes video game produced by Suda51, its social influence outsizes both its origin and its cover by the Violent Femmes in the late 1990s.
18. Teen Age Riot – Sonic Youth
This 1988 punk-indie crossover hit is an oddity for the band, with a traditional verse-chorus song structure. Its ringing intro, nearly four minutes in the album version but cut to one in the single version, seems misplaced compared to the rest of the song. But regardless of genre crossovers, this song is an all-time great.
19. Pink Triangle – Weezer
In the mid-1990s, Weezer produced this song about heterosexual expectations meeting gay reality. “Pink Triangle” laments the viewpoint character’s naivete and failure to read the signs of his crush’s doom. Semi-autobiographically written by Rivers Cuomo, the song is a classic of Weezer’s concert sets.
20. (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) – Beastie Boys
Poking fun at their own sheltered New York upbringings, the Beastie Boys combined spoken word with punk vocals. Half-shouted punk vocals were nothing new in 1986, but they were the first to intentionally drop any pretense of singing and instead fused rap technique with punk rock, which became a staple of their career.
21. Radio, Radio – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
This 1977 classic was so punk it got Elvis Costello banned from Saturday Night Live for years as he substituted it for “Less Than Zero.” A searing critique of the commercialism of British radio, Lorne Michaels forbade Costello to play it on the show, but he played it anyway.
22. Oh Bondage! Up Yours! – X-Ray Spex
This 1977 song about rage against social expectations of women’s self-annihilation is one of the classic women’s punk music. Featuring Polly Styrene’s furious vocals and a honking, barely-in-tune saxophone, it contained all the pieces that a decade later would come together in women’s punk, inspiring Kathleen Hanna and a small legion of others to form riot grrrl.
23. 200X – Kitten Forever
This Minneapolis-based band was compelling and loud, crafting neo-riot grrrl lyrics and pairing them with growling guitars and bass using a microphone built into an old-fashioned corded phone to make their unique sound. This song about failure and trying again was one of their concert staples from 2016 to 2020. The band broke up in 2022, leaving behind a legion of heartbroken fans.
24. Rock the Casbah – The Clash
The Clash is far from the first band to cover the rebellion of rock and roll itself. It’s been a classic subject for rock musicians since the 1950s. The material itself is well-worn, but the song is utterly unique to The Clash, mixing in some brief, well-chosen synth riffs to a classic punk sound.
25. American Idiot – Green Day
Written in the wake of the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and growing more relevant as time wears on, this song assures the listener that it’s okay to not be okay with the continual coarsening and stupefaction of America. As propagandists develop ever more aggressive ways to control people’s minds, “American Idiot” reminds the listener that they are not insane and the way things are isn’t okay.
26. Welcome To Paradise – Green Day
Originally recorded for 1991’s Kerplunk and re-released for the band’s 1994 national debut, Dookie, “Welcome To Paradise” is a punk reflection on the paradox of adolescence and of wanting to be cared for and also wanting to be tough enough to stand on your own. Billie Joe Armstrong’s cutting lyrics and searing guitar make this song stand out even above Dookie’s lead single, “Basket Case.”
27. Rebel Girl – Bikini Kill
One of the most recognizable riot grrrl songs and simultaneously a love song and an expression of angst and sisterhood, “Rebel Girl” covers all the moods of lesbian youth in a tight two and a half minutes. Kathleen Hanna’s lyrics make it clear that she doesn’t just feel one way about the song’s subject and neither should the listener.
28. Blitzkrieg Bop – Ramones
This song about working-class kids going to a concert and losing their minds was one of the first Ramones songs ever recorded. With incomprehensible, shouted lyrics and a mix that sounds like it was recorded in a single mass in a club, this song established the Ramones’ sound for the band’s whole twenty years of existence. It’s been a cover staple for countless other punk bands throughout the genre’s history.
29. London Calling – The Clash
The Clash billed themselves as “The Only Band That Matters,” and for a moment, they could back up that swagger with substance. This indictment of the escalating nuclear tensions of the early 1980s begins with an invocation of the legendary “This is London calling…” preface of BBC broadcasts to occupied Europe during World War II.
It was recorded as the world hung as close as it ever has to nuclear annihilation. The dark, minor-key tune and the “SOS” played on a guitar pickup in the outro remain as an unsettling reminder of danger in the world.
30. Gloria – Patti Smith
Considered “proto-punk” because of its appearance before the eruption of punk in 1976, this song starts with a melancholic piano melody and transitions into a guitar melody, snarling lyrics, and aching desire for the titular “Gloria.” Its stripped melody and completely changed lyrics from the Van Morrison original makes it an almost entirely new song.
31. Anarchy In The UK – Sex Pistols
The archetypical punk song, this 1977 Cook, Matlock, Jones, and Rotten song was the proverbial foreign object in the punchbowl of the overproduced British rock scene of the late 1970s. Dripping with contempt for the British hierarchical worldview like the rest of Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols, this is one of the classic punk songs for a reason.
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