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Punk Rock 101: Basic Punk to Listen To: 77's, 80's, 90's

Posted on Wednesday, December 16, 2009 in Punk Rock 101

1977 Punk

What is punk music? It’s three chord rock. It’s debated if it was founded by The Ramones in America or The Sex Pistols in the U.K. I say: Who cares? It exists. These are probably two of the first bands you want to give a listen to – along with The Clash, The Damned (Damned, Damned, Damned), Dead Boys (Young, Loud, and Snotty), The Germs, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bad Brains (These guys are homophobic and I don’t agree what they sing about but they are considered to be the first hardcore punk band. They sound good, just don’t listen to their lyrics. ;)), and a personal favorite of mine X-Ray Spex. Click on the links to read some of the histories of the bands.

Listening to punk is two-folds: listening to the songs plus knowing the band histories. It’s common punk knowledge that Sid Vicious from the Sex Pistols killed his girlfriend Nancy in the Chelsea Hotel and then died of a heroine overdose. Plus, Sid was famous for his lock and chain necklace given to him by Pretender’s Chrisse Hynde. Sid was a horrible musician – he could barely play the bass. Then, there was the Germ’s Darby Crash, who was gay, and committed suicide. Joey Ramone from the Ramones is often referred to because everyone wants to sleep with him – it’s a joke, his brother even wrote a book entitled, “I slept with Joey Ramone.” Johnny Rotten has since did a butter commercial.

Early punk is often referred to as “77’s punk.” There are some punks who only listen to 77’s punk and considered that to be the only true punk. My personal opinion of some 77’s punk is that it was corporate punk with money making in mind. Like, the Sex Pistols were formed by Macolm McLaren and the “Sex” of the Sex Pistol is from the name of his clothing shop. Some of the punk look was original started by Richard Hell and was taken by McLaren and Vivienne Westwood to make the big bucks. The Sex Pistols were signed to a major record label. That’s not DIY it’s EMI. Punk was about rebellion for a half a second but was really about the money. However, along came the 80’s and the punk band that would live up to what punk is supposed to be. Their name was Crass.



Crass was the ultimate embodiment of punk rock. They took the idea of anarchy seriously, were activists, and pacifists. Now-a-days, you can find Crass t-shirts at Hot Topic which is why I said they were punk rock. They used to sell their music at little above printing cost. Spreading ideas mattered more than money. Crass even stopped the Falklands War by releasing a disinformation tape of Roland Reagan talking to Margaret Thatcher that got the British public so upset that the war was put to an end. Punk is the only subculture to ever have stopped a war. Which is one of the reasons why if people are going to box me into a box – I’d like it to be punk. Crass sounds very crass but their lyrics are amazing. My favorite cd of theirs is Best Before 1984. My favorite song is Big A, Little A, Bouncing B. They were as punk rock as punk rock could be. They are the founders of the punk genre known as anarcho-punk. Some other anarcho-punk bands worth listening are Flux of the Pink Indians, Conflict, Subhumans, and Amebix.


I don’t know really what category to put this band into – so I’ll make them their own. The Plasmatics are AWESOME. Anti-corporate, anti-consumerism, and anti-materialism. The lead singer, Wendy O. Williams was in my opinion, the first riot grrrl. She promoted vegetarianism and animal rights before it was trendy. She blew up cars and did amazing stunts. She wasn’t the first person to wear a mohawk in punk but she was the first person who brought it to the mainstream. She was as tough as nails and amazing. She also killed herself 1998. I wish she didn’t, I would have loved to have met her. All their music is awesome. She was a real threat to the establishment.

Hardcore Punk

The 80’s was the time of hardcore punk. Most notably: Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Reagan Youth, Dead Kennedys (Fresh Fruit for Rotten Vegetables + all their stuff is good) and Social Distortion. I never really listened to Social Distortion but they are one of the better known punk bands. I see t-shirts and stuff for them all the time so they might be worth listening to. Also worth mentioning is the Misfits who were the first horror punk band.


This is the decade that some punk bands started making it big. This is the decade of “selling out” and the birth of the “Hot Topic” punk. If you want to know about Hot Topic punk – go to your nearest Hot Topic or browse their cataloged online. Warp Tour and all that – not punk. Time period of lots of people thinking they are punk rock when they aren’t. I’ll waste no more time on them. Two big things happened during the 1990’s: the birth of riot grrrl and queercore.

Riot Grrrl
Notice something funny about almost all the punk bands mention until now except for X-Ray Spex, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Plasmatics? Yep, punk music is dominated by men. There have been very few female punk musicians. Riot Grrrl for a brief time changed that. The girls going to Evergreen University in Olympia, WA were tired of it. Riot Grrrl is credited with being founded by either Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill or Allison Wolfe of Bratmobile. Both bands which I recommend listening too. Huggy Bear was a U.K. riot grrrl band which are pretty awesome too. Anyways, it was all DIY with zines, political actions, and activism. This ladies shared their rage with the world.


What’s better than pissed off ladies? Pissed off queers. My favorite genre of music which very few people even know about – Queercore. Queercore is about being discontented with the agenda of gays and lesbians to assimilate and oppressing other minorities to try to fit into society. This was all DIY through zines, art, writing, and film. Bands to listen to: Fifth Column, Pansy Division, Sister George, Team Dresch (my favorite queercore band!!!!! Both albums rock. Listen to them NOW.), Tribe 8 (Love the song “Wrong Bathroom” by them.), and Limp Wrist. I also highly recommend checking out The Need and Cypher in the Snow. Both very underrated and awesome.

Bring on the comments

  1. Bran says:

    Dude, this is SO helpful. (Oddly enough, of all of these groups, I know Social Distortion the best. 😉 )

    Some day, after I’ve sold some stuff, I might actually have money to buy some of these albums…

    Thank you! I posted a link to this on my Twitter, btw…

  2. mandy says:

    Yes! I like this overall definition of “punk” but I think it’s so much more than just the cords on a guitar. I think it’s a lifestyle that defines anyone trying to do something that hasn’t been done. I think it’s when people achieve the unimagined and if it’s DIY, I believe it in even more.
    I can’t agree with the kids who walk around with mohawks and fucked up clothes because that’s not punk.. those are clothes. That’s a fashion statement, not a way of life.
    Have you heard Beat Happening? They’re one of the most punk bands I know. I’m happy to know that I recognized every band you talked about!

  3. Jess Five says:

    I haven’t heard of Beat Happening before – I’ll have to check them out. Thanks! I agree. It’s in the mind. Some of the most punk people I know don’t “look” punk at all. I was defining punk in the music sense. Not the attitude and lifestyle. That’s the other entry which you later saw. 😉

  4. @angiek42 says:

    This is a great list. I used it to buy some new (to me) cds at the used music store. Thanks for this post. (Also, I enjoy the blog in general.)

  5. Jess Five says:

    Cool! Thanks for the comment. Glad it was helpful. Thanks for reading! 🙂

  6. @angiek42 says:

    Yeah, a lot I knew (Mostly queercore and riot grrrl) but I’ve never hear of the Plasmatics. Can’t wait to listen to them.

  7. Jess Five says:

    They are different. Wendy O. Williams has a real deep voice with a metal edge. They are way before their time. I hope you like them!

  8. liss says:

    Jess, what a cool post! 🙂 I liked seeing a lot of my favorite bands in a sequential and almost narrative manner. Very cool. Queercore is awesome, but I do feel like we’ve hit kind of a wall as far as punk goes. What really went on in the 2000’s and what will go on this 10’s? I hope something cool. 🙂

  9. Jess Five says:

    Thanks! Not much really went on in 2000’s. It was the decade of apathy, where kids played rock band instead of making rock bands. For punk there’s Ryan Harvey, Mischief Brew, World Inferno/Friendship Society, Propagandhi’s new album, I Object, and Witch Hunt. For Queercore, the only new albums I listen to are The Shondes and Once A Pawn. There hasn’t been any riot grrrl that’s seriously produced a cd that I heard or was impressed by.

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