Our Favourite Punk Pioneers

Published on 31 July 2020

When it comes to the guitar, some people see it as a delicate instrument of beauty, while others see it as a weapon; a flamethrower designed to hurl carnage into the air. Well, today we're here to talk about the latter... Today, we're looking at our favourite classic punk anthems.

It's tough to find another genre quite as powerful, raw and packed with emotion as the divine simplicity of punk rock. With big guitar riffs, played fast and heavy, snarled vocals and relentless drums, there's no disputing the sheer force of this music. So, we thought we'd look back at some of the trendsetters, the artists with the vision and the courage to do something different... The punk pioneers! Read on for a wrecking ball of sound...

The Stooges - Dirt (1970)

Well, where else were we gonna start this list!? You don't get much more explosive than the Stooges - this folks, is a simple fact. Led by the unbelievably charismatic, volatile and downright mental Iggy Pop, the band set the world alight with their chaotic shows, howled vocals and killer guitar sounds. Now, we know what you're thinking, surely I Wanna Be Your Dog from their iconic debut album should be on the list!? Well, you're right, it should... But it was also on another of our blogs recently so we thought we'd treat your ears to this masterpiece instead! A bit like an early punk version of the Door's When the Music's Over, this track is rambling, all over the place and utterly epic at the same time. Oh and it came out in 1970, can you believe that!? To give you some perspective, Woodstock was in '69 and a year later Iggy was in full swing. Certainly not a typical punk track but waaay too nasty to be considered straight up rock, this showed the world a whole other sprawling side to the band after their debut. All of Funhouse is well worth a listen but you couldn't find a better place to start than right here.

The Ramones - Beat on the Brat (1976)

The Ramones rock 'n' roll inspired sound is hailed by many as the origin of modern punk so we had to give the leather-clad lads a look in. With big pounding drums, fast, heavy power chords and the unmistakable voice of frontman Joey Ramone, this really is the prototype of punk right here. Apparently written about an out of control child Joey saw being chased by their mother with a baseball bat, the songs simple lyrics still manage to hammer home the rawness of their New York upbringing and keep things catchy and fun at the same time. 

Richard Hell and the Voidoids - Blank Generation (1977)

Extremely influential and years ahead of its time, Richard Hell's fiery Blank Generation album was jagged, edgy and absolutely fierce. We were torn between a few tracks but decided to go for the now classic title track. Said to have inspired the Sex Pistols iconic Pretty Vacant, this track just brought a rare rawness to the rock sound at the time and Richard's snarled vocals were the perfect companion. Again, pushing the New York sound but with more nastiness to it than the Ramones surf-inspired music, Blank Generation most definitely fits into the first generation of punk and played its part in changing music forever.

Sex Pistols - Pretty Vacant (1977)

Is there anyone before or since whose fire burned quite as brightly as the Pistols? Yes, they may have been "manufactured" but a quick look at any live footage of the band at the time will be all the education you need. These guys were the real deal - no question. John Lydon may well be the most ferocious vocalist of all time and backed by Steve Jones often underrated low slung Les Paul sound and... well, whatever Sid was up to... They were truly a force of nature. Any of their tracks would've been an awesome shout for this list as Nevermind the Bollocks really is one of the most unashamedly punk records ever made but we opted for Pretty Vacant. From the pounding drums in the intro to the big chords and the epic chorus, with just the right amount of emphasis on the word Vacant to make parents everywhere look on in disgust, this really is as good as it gets.

The Clash - White Riot (1977) 

Don't worry guys, the Brits are represented too and how could we not take a look at the Clash? Joe Strummer and Mick Jones became icons in the punk world with their ska inspired, unmistakably British sound and rightly so. This absolute classic was, somewhat unbelievably, their debut and was written after Strummer and bass player Paul Simonon were involved in the riots at the Notting Hill Carnival of 1976. Utilising three chords and politically charged, snarled vocals, they don't come much more punk than this. The Clash represented punk with a message but not without the chaos and we reckon that's why their music is still held in such high regard. Punk's answer to Lennon and McCartney? Quite possibly... But I bet they'd never admit it! You've no doubt heard it before but, like any good punk tune, it's only going to take up a few minutes of your life, stick it on and try not to trash the place! 

Black Flag - Rise Above (1981)

Here we are punks, we've reached the inevitable Black Flag chapter of this saga! There's noone who quite embodies the punk ethos like these guys and this track is the perfect choice for summing up their early hardcore sound. Inspired by the likes of the Ramones and Stooges, the band was formed by guitarist Greg Ginn who's still keeping the dream alive today. Their sound is one of the earliest examples of hardcore punk and almost became a blueprint for everything else that followed. Even today we hear new bands coming out who have essentially mirrored their style, sometimes without even knowing it! This track came out when the unstoppable Henry Rollins joined the band after talking his way onstage at one of their shows and impressing the guys. Pure raw punk energy that's as influential as it gets, you don't get much better than that!

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, time to dust off the leathers, sew on a few new patches and get your head shaved 'cause you've just completed your crash course! The genre has continued to grow and develop and there are now infinite sub-genres but where would it be without these early pioneers? Each of their records still hold up today and that's partly the magic of the genre. It doesn't matter how well it was recorded or produced, in fact, it doesn't even really matter if the guitars in tune! As long as there's energy, passion, purpose and anger in music there'll always be punk. Now let's just wait to see what comes next...

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