Hear the 50 Best Post-Punk Albums of All Time: A Nostalgia-Inducing Playlist Curated by Paste Magazine

Post­mod­ernism began as an archi­tec­tur­al term to describe the loss of a seem­ing­ly sta­ble social order and the build­ing of new forms in the 1960s and 70s. The new archi­tec­ture was an elab­o­rate patch­work of high and low cul­ture and past and present design trends. In both the­o­ry and prac­tice, post­mod­ernism delight­ed in odd jux­ta­po­si­tions and self-ref­er­en­tial irony. It did not shy away from pol­i­tics but made sar­don­ic crit­i­cal com­men­tary its méti­er rather than the total­iz­ing agen­das of late mod­ernism.

Post­mod­ernism added to mod­ernism’s genre-hop­ping a broad­er cul­tur­al scope and wider inclu­siv­i­ty of forms of expres­sion. We can see a sim­i­lar cul­tur­al shift hap­pen­ing in pop­u­lar music in the mid- to late-20th cen­tu­ry. The pop and rock of the six­ties frag­ment­ed into dozens of radio friend­ly gen­res, all of which met their crit­i­cal match in the aggres­sive­ness of punk, a move­ment with high aes­thet­ic com­mit­ments and a cor­re­spond­ing desire to det­o­nate cul­tur­al norms by any means nec­es­sary.

When we arrive at the “post-punk,” we find all things counter-cul­ture rub­bing up against each oth­er, fill­ing the void left by the old social order with new sounds and visions, some deter­mined­ly grim, some play­ful and iron­ic, near­ly all of them dance­able.

A fine descrip­tion for what the world of “post-punk” looked like comes from a recent per­son­al essay by the poet Patrick Ros­al:

It was the ear­ly 1980s, a brief few years when punk rock kids, b‑boys, new wave freaks, and dis­co fiends might all get down on the same dance floor: this one in moc­casin boots this one in a track suit with three side-stripes down the sleeves and legs, this one in a bag­gy neon sweater and extra eye­lin­er.

This was a time when bands like Pub­lic Image Lim­it­ed (John Lydon’s post Sex Pis­tols project) and Bauhaus incor­po­rat­ed dub reg­gae rhythms, basslines, and stu­dio effects into the core of their sound. The Clash had already embarked on such exper­i­ments, and Clash gui­tarist Mick Jones took things fur­ther with Big Audio Dyna­mite, a punk/funk/reggae/hip hop hybrid that didn’t make the list of Paste Mag­a­zine’s “50 Best Post-Punk Albums,” but was cer­tain­ly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a strain of post-punk expan­sive­ness.

Bauhaus doesn’t make the list either, but Pub­lic Image Limited’s 1979 Met­al Box appears, at num­ber 14, an album of wob­bly, dub-inflect­ed “death dis­co” that won a spe­cial place in the hearts and record col­lec­tions of an eclec­tic group of fans as the eight­ies dawned. At #36 we find the equal­ly exper­i­men­tal Dub Hous­ing, the 1978 sec­ond album of Ohio’s Pere Ubu, a project that coa­lesced in the midst of Cleveland’s punk scene to make what front­man David Thomas called “avant garage.”

These dis­parate bands define post-punk as much as do the jan­g­ly, south­ern, Byrds-influ­enced sounds of R.E.M. or The dB’s, the surf-rock revival­ism of The B52’s, jazzy, angu­lar art-rock of Tele­vi­sion, jit­tery, So-Cal punk/jazz/country/funk of Min­ute­men, dark drone of Joy Divi­sion, chaot­ic blues-punk of Birth­day Par­ty, anar­chic noise and motorik beats of Swell Maps or Son­ic Youth, sham­bling rants of The Fall, new roman­tic pop of The Smiths or Orange Juice, satir­i­cal syn­th­punk of Devo…. The list can and does go on and on. You can see the full 50 at Paste Mag­a­zine, cho­sen and anno­tat­ed by the magazine’s writ­ers. Above, we’ve com­piled 48 of these albums in a Spo­ti­fy playlist—save Met­al Box and Dub Hous­ing, which are not avail­able on Spo­ti­fy.

This is music made by peo­ple “inter­est­ed in see­ing where music could go.” Many of them for­mer punks, many new to the scene. Many of them left behind these ear­ly exper­i­men­tal phas­es to become more con­ven­tion­al­ly genre-based, while some had only start­ed to push in new direc­tions lat­er in their career. Some of these bands arrived at a sound, made it their own, and rarely devi­at­ed, some shift­ed and changed through­out their career; some burned bright­ly, or dark­ly, for a short time, leav­ing indeli­ble marks of odd great­ness in a time when pop­u­lar music took more risks than before or maybe since.

At least that’s what it feels like look­ing back. If this is a nos­tal­gia trip for you, you’ll find it’s pret­ty com­pre­hen­sive, with the inevitable omis­sion of a favorite album, band, or two (where, I must ask, is My Bloody Valen­tine?) If you’re new to the range of this music, con­sid­er that, for all the vagary a term like “post-punk” might evoke, like the “post­mod­ern,” it has a spe­cif­ic his­tor­i­cal con­text, one in which a hand­ful of artists saw tremen­dous cre­ative oppor­tu­ni­ty amidst a gen­er­al sense of cul­tur­al malaise.

via Paste Mag­a­zine

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The His­to­ry of Punk Rock in 200 Tracks: An 11-Hour Playlist Takes You From 1965 to 2016

33 Songs That Doc­u­ment the His­to­ry of Fem­i­nist Punk (1975–2015): A Playlist Curat­ed by Pitch­fork

Hear the 20 Favorite Punk Albums of Black Flag Front­man Hen­ry Rollins

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (8)
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  • Munchiehk says:

    Re your con­fu­sion regard­ing the absence of My Bloody Valen­tine. The list cov­ers 1977 to 1987, Isn’t Any­thing was not released until 1988. Solved!

  • JungleBook says:

    Hours of won­der­ful lis­ten­ing here. But what a shame that Cer­tain Gen­er­al is over­looked. “Novem­ber’s Heat” can stand with any­thing on the list.

  • Danfitz says:

    Right. U2 is a post punk band now. Sure…

  • Aman says:

    Agree… and ranked high­er than the bun­ny­men??? and to boot below the weak­est of the fun­ny­men’s first four albums. Heav­en Up Here, croc­o­diles ignored… but gen­er­al­ly like the list even if i would change order and spe­cif­ic albums. And why no bauhaus?

  • MoeLarryAndJesus says:

    Prob­a­bly because Bauhaus sucked then and still sucks.

  • MoeLarryAndJesus says:

    Because Bauhaus sucks.

  • frankie teardrop says:

    Crazy musi­cal snob­bery sees Bauhaus not in the list. But then as well all know ‘music jour­nal­ists only like bands that look like music jour­nal­ists…’

  • KellyBenavidez says:

    Thanks for shar­ing this post with us.

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