The 100 Top Punk Songs of All Time, Curated by Readers of the UK’s Sounds Magazine in 1981

When did punk rock die? Every­one knows it hap­pened some­time in recent his­to­ry, but few peo­ple agree on when. The music still exists, in know­ing quo­ta­tion marks, but its win­ning com­bi­na­tion of unforced abra­sive­ness and cal­cu­lat­ed offen­sive­ness seems to have dis­ap­peared. Maybe pick a year at ran­dom; say, 2010, the year the last great punk song­writer, Jay Reatard, died. It also hap­pens to be the year the last great punk band, OFF!, formed, but they’re a super­group of clas­sic punk musi­cians.

One could push that date back into any decade and make rea­soned argu­ments. One snarling purist even once wrote that punk died in 1977 when the Clash signed to CBS. Maybe he was on to some­thing. The fol­low­ing year, it was post-punk, with John­ny Rot­ten, aka Lydon, releas­ing his post-Sex Pistol’s project Pub­lic Image Limited’s first album, First Issue. Also in 1978, Siouxsie and the Ban­shees released their debut album, a state­ment for the spik­i­ness and melo­dra­ma of post punk if there ever was one.

By 1981, a year some­one might also choose to etch on punk’s tomb­stone, sur­viv­ing mem­bers of post-punk dar­lings Joy Divi­sion had reformed into New Order and released their first album, Move­ment. Declar­ing the death of punk sounds like a bum­mer, but many peo­ple found solace in the arms of new wave syn­th­pop and acid house. Still, 1981 didn’t care about anyone’s punk opin­ions. A slew of now-clas­sic punk and hard­core albums coex­ist­ed with the likes of Gary Numan—Black Flag’s Dam­aged and D.O.A.’s Hard­core ’81, clas­sic albums from Crass, The Adicts, Ado­les­cents, T.S.O.L., and, of course, The Exploited’s Punk’s Not Dead.

The list above (view it in a larg­er for­mat here), the “All-Time Punk Top 100”—voted on in 1981 by read­ers of the “music paper” Sounds—con­tains a hand­ful of songs from Siouxsie and the Ban­shees and Pub­lic Image Lim­it­ed. Some peo­ple might choose to split hairs. The Exploit­ed make many appear­ances, as do the Sex Pis­tols, The Clash, UK Subs, Dis­charge and oth­er British stal­warts. The heavy UK lean is to be expect­ed from read­ers of the short-lived UK music mag, but the fact that there are no Ramones, no Dead Boys, no Stooges, no Blondie, no Black Flag even… can begin to feel down­right insult­ing.

Maybe punk just looked dif­fer­ent on the oth­er side of the pond in 1981. If it looked like the all-time top 100 list, then it sound­ed like the playlist above (stream it on Spo­ti­fy here), which col­lects these 100 best-ofs, or greats, or not so greats, or clear­ly mis­guid­ed choic­es, or what­ev­er. Enjoy it as you furi­ous­ly cor­rect it with your own picks.

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

Stream a Playlist of 68 Punk Rock Christ­mas Songs: The Ramones, The Damned, Bad Reli­gion & More

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

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Comments (28)
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  • Dan Gibson says:

    The absence of any­thing by The Broth­ers from Queens ren­ders the list ques­tion­able.

    Some good choic­es, but no Gab­ba Gab­ba Hey? No won­der the mag­a­zine did­n’t last.

  • Deedee says:

    No Ramones, Stooges, X, Bad Brains, Buz­zcocks, Blondie, Tele­vi­sion, New York Dolls, Mis­fits, Cramps…sad list.

  • Almostred says:

    21 years (1970 — 1991)is “short-lived”? With the patron­age of con­trib­u­tor Gar­ry Bushell, Sounds became the stan­dard-bear­er for “Oi!” punk, which would explain mul­ti­ple entries for Dis­charge, Anti Pasti, Exploit­ed, Angel­ic Upstarts and Sham 69, etc. so the absence of US bands at the time should not be con­fus­ing. Hell, 80% of the list is Oi!. Also, remem­ber this was 1981: no Inter­net and the only way you could hear about cool bands was from fanzines, music papers and tape-trad­ing with friends. Although the Ramones, Blondie, etc. had mount­ed UK tours, oth­ers from the SoCal and NYC scenes would have been vir­tu­al­ly unknown to any but the hippest of hip­sters at the time, with the excep­tion of the few that found UK dis­tri­b­u­tion, like the DKs. Sounds was very much focused on region­al cov­er­age; it was a UK paper for UK music.

  • Taylor says:

    “All Time”

  • ChrisR says:

    There would­n’t have been any Mis­fits songs on an Amer­i­can list from the same time either as they were quite an obscure group in 1981.

  • Andy says:

    What he said. Sounds was an infe­ri­or and much more lim­it­ed music paper than NME and Melody Mak­er and this list is heav­i­ly weight­ed to Bush­nel’s favourite right-lean­ing, in some cas­es extreme right lean­ing Oi! bands. Not rel­e­vant.

  • Todd Kimmell says:

    When­ev­er I’m asked about my favorite punk song I’m hap­py to offer, with a smile and with­out hes­i­ta­tion At The Chelsea Night­club, by The Mem­bers. Not on this list at all? Tough toe­nails, bub. Who­ev­er both­ers to read this, look it up on YouTube and play it imme­di­ate­ly, then buy the album and share it with friends.

    Best punk show I ever saw, and I saw a lot­ta shows from 79 on in the US and Lon­don, was Man­u­fac­tured Romance dur­ing what was the annu­al rock week at one of the cen­tral Lon­don col­leges. Don’t know if they were as amaz­ing lead­ing up to that night, or if they were ever that mag­nif­i­cent again, but I can close my eyes now, all these years lat­er, and see and FEEL that set. Earth shat­ter­ing and fun.

  • zapatilla loca says:

    should be top 100 *com­mer­cial* punk bands, which tech­ni­cal­ly is an oxy­moron. Anoth­er Top..whatever.. list gen­er­at­ed by peo­ple who dont have a clue about the sub­ject.

  • Donuts says:

    No Minor Threat? Hmmm…

  • Brian White says:

    “When did punk rock die? Every­one knows it hap­pened some­time in recent his­to­ry, but few peo­ple agree on when.”

    LOL okay. It must have hap­pened some­time after last week. Maybe the bands I saw were just pre­tend­ing to be punk.

    Stu­pid arti­cle.

  • JV says:

    In 1981, a lot of the ear­ly pro­to-punk and NYC bands were still not that real­ly well known and the lin­eage was not mapped out yet, so I’ll for­give the lack of The Stooges, Iggy, Tele­vi­sion, what-have-you. But no Ramones? I mean come on.

  • Almostred says:

    This is a list from 1981. Minor Threat did­n’t release its first 7″ until June of that year. Only a very few peo­ple in the UK would have even heard of them at the time.

  • Ralph says:

    Punkrock did­n’t die.

  • Jimi LaLumia says:

    John­ny Thun­ders and the Heart­break­ers
    Wayne Coun­ty and the Elec­tric Chairs
    Cher­ry Vanil­la

  • Alex Plode says:

    I had all but for­got­ten about the Angel­ic Upstarts.

  • daveg says:

    No men­tion of The Stains — (I’m) Stranded…a punk anthem if there ever was one.

  • Joel emmett says:

    With­out any Amer­i­can bands to speak of (DKs exclud­ed), the list is sim­ply invalid. With only a few songs from The Clash, it’s even less accu­rate. Fur­ther, it does­n’t seem to incor­po­rate any­thing after the mid-80s which, what­ev­er the intent, is rather ridicu­lous.

  • Uncle Punk says:

    No Bestie Boys? WTF.…bad list.

  • John Gauvin says:

    Pret­ty good list but i don’t see any Cana­di­an Bands on it, Toron­to and Van­cou­ver were “punk rock mec­cas” back in the day TEENAGE HEAD/DOA/VILTONES/BGIRLS

  • alwayslurking says:

    You’ve put the whole “Best of Pen­e­tra­tion” album on the spo­ti­fy playlist, instead of just “Don’t Dic­tate”.

  • Jimi LaLumia says:

    Leav­ing out the first ever “fuck’ record. By Wayne Coun­ty and the Elec­tric Chairs which was a punk era sen­sa­tion com­plete­ly dele­git­imizes this list; same with Chi­nese Rocks by The Heart­break­ers

  • Kevinmartin says:

    No upstarts con­flict sub­hu­mans x Ray spex who com­piled this list .punks not dead

  • Feefiefofanna says:

    Miss­ing some Alice Bag, The Germs, Weirdos!

    Punk’s not dead. It can’t be. Too many love­ly skids and won­der­ful­ly greasy cra­zies to account for.

    At least, I hope it’s not. It’s birth was well before my time, but I hope it’s death is well after mine.

  • PJ says:

    Two words: Teenage Kicks.

  • Freddie_Bulsara says:

    Where’s Queen and Sheer Heart Attack?

  • Danny says:

    Some obvi­ous miss­ing clas­sics:
    Teenage Kicks by Under­tones
    Shot By Both Sides by Mag­a­zine
    Where’s Cpt Kirk? by Spinen­er­gi
    Oh bondage up yours by X‑ray spex
    Anoth­er girl, anoth­er plan­et by only ones
    Do any­thing you want to do by Eddie and the hot rods
    Blank gen­er­a­tion by Richard Hell
    Homo­cide by 999
    MaR­quee moon by Tele­vi­sion
    I’m strand­ed by Saints
    Sounds of the sub­urbs by Mem­bers

    I remem­ber Sounds. What prob­a­bly hap­pened was that bands like Crass,and Cock­ney Rejects, sent in hun­dreds of votes as a stunt, thus mud­ding the final count. Also, in 1981 many punks (at a time when the ’77-’78 explo­sion was over) were prob­a­bly not aware of the old­er stuff. They were just kids vot­ing for what was excit­ing at the time.

  • Victoria Johnson says:

    Fact check…The Ramones invent­ed the punk rock look and sound… the brits copied the Ramones after see­ing them play live. .The Ramones are leg­endary and will live on forever…Blitzkrieg Bop should be #1.

  • Joe Cogan says:

    I would have expect­ed The Clash’s Lon­don Call­ing at or near the top of the list, but it did­n’t even make the cut as far as I can see. Very weird.

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