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Top Ten Most Influential Punk Bands

Black Flag certainly had a huge influence on punk. Did they make our list? Black Flag certainly had a huge influence on punk. Did they make our list?

In its early days, punk represented underground anti-establishment music at its most extreme. Now, over 30 years later, punk and punk-influenced bands like Sum 41, Green Day, Blink 182 and the Offspring top the charts, sell out stadiums, and appear on network television. With the increasing proliferation of styles and popularity of this genre, RosebudMag.com takes a look at ten of the punk bands that paved the way for today’s superstars.



10. Buzzcocks

On their trio of late ‘70s albums, England’s Buzzcocks blasted out some of the catchiest tunes of punk’s early days. Their ability to craft songs with genuine hooks centered on vocal melodies represented the dawning of what has come to be known as pop-punk. From the Buzzcocks' legacy grew bands like The Descendents, Bad Religion, NOFX, and the best known adopters of the pop-punk formula – Green Day, who themselves paved the way for pop-punk to intermittently dominate the mainstream.

9. Social Distortion

Southern California’s Social Distortion is the brainchild of singer-songwriter Mike Ness. Social Distortion added a new twist on punk by introducing a strong roots influence, evolving an amalgam of Americana and punk rock. Social Distortion was nowhere near as twangy as cowpunk/psychobilly acts like The Cramps or Mojo Nixon, but Social D’s sound combined with Ness’s lyrics, which were reminiscent of outlaw country acts, made the band one of the first and most prominent to give punk a bit more of a down-home feeling, all without losing a second of punk’s essential volatility.

8. Black Flag

Black Flag’s influence in punk rock is difficult to overstate. Their relentless touring and self-released albums formed the paradigm for the do-it-yourself ethic that is an earmark of punk culture to this day. Sonically, the band developed from its early years into a project that pushed the limits of punk and its fans. While always chaotic and powerful, Black Flag went from a proto-hardcore punk act to something increasingly progressive, with longer, slower, and more challenging songs as time went on. Original singer Keith Morris went on to form seminal L.A. punk band Circle Jerks, which made way for the eventual arrival of Henry Rollins, who became a punk icon in his own right.

7. Misfits

As much an aesthetic influence as a musical one, the Misfits are still one of the most loved groups from punk’s early days. In the ‘70s, they incorporated lyrical themes inspired by horror, B-movie, and sci-fi flicks, signaling the dawn of horror-punk. They dressed completely in black, and styled their hair into a “devilock” – short hair with long bangs combed down the front of their faces. Relentlessly catchy, their early recordings revealed a surprising capacity for hook-filled songwriting. As punk continued to evolve, the Misfits again proved essential with their early ‘80s recordings becoming highly influential to the hardcore punk movement. The Misfits provide one of the earliest examples of vocal melody combined with hardcore’s blazing drum beats. Singer Glenn Danzig would go on to fame as the singer of his own metal-influenced band, Danzig.

6. Minor Threat

Another group of nonconformists, Minor Threat turned the punk world on its ear by becoming the foremost champions of “straight edge,” a philosophy that eschewed the use of alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes. They popularized the term with their song “Straight Edge,” which launched a subgenre that grew into one of the most prominent styles of the ‘90s and persists in popularity around the world. Vocalist Ian MacKaye’s lyrics emphasized not only anti-establishment values but positive thinking. MacKaye’s post-Minor Threat project, Fugazi, became almost as influential, while guitarist Brian Baker’s subsequent band, Dag Nasty, was one of the earliest examples of a punk subgenre that has come to be known as “emo.”

5. Bad Brains

Take what the best punk bands had to offer and distill it into one hard, fast, energetic package, and you get Bad Brains. The Washington, DC quartet was electric, serving up a raw version of punk rock sharpened to a devastating point. Not only does Bad Brains stand out as the biggest influence on what became hardcore punk, but the fact that the band was composed of four black musicians in a scene composed almost exclusively of white people was revolutionary. Their incorporation of Rastafarian themes and reggae songs also made them an anomaly, splitting the seams of the genre and broadening punk’s horizons for the decades to come.

4. Dead Kennedys

San Francisco’s Dead Kennedys broke the mold when they hit the scene in 1979 with their 7” single, “California Uber Alles.” The band would become known for their biting socio-political satire and sarcastic lyrics poking holes in the fabric of middle-American life. Dead Kennedys weren’t the first snotty band with a social or political conscious, but their wit, humor, and relentlessness set the gold standard for bands to come. Their lyrics were delivered via singer Jello Biafra’s unmistakably shrill vibrato and signature lisp.

3. Sex Pistols

The band whose sound and fashion is most closely associated with punk rock is London, England’s Sex Pistols. The band’s genesis was heavily nurtured by local clothing entrepreneur Malcolm McLaren, who was inspired by a trip to New York, where the punk scene was in its nascent stages. McLaren recruited Johnny Rotten as singer of the Sex Pistols, and was later instrumental in adding bassist Sid Vicious to the fold. Singles like “Anarchy in the U.K.” and “God Save the Queen” are now classic numbers that once seemed like the harshest blasts of sonic rebellion in the world. As for the punk look, short spiky hair (often flamboyantly dyed), along with sleeveless shirts and clothes held together by safety pins became de rigueur thanks largely to the Sex Pistols.

2. The Clash

The Clash influenced not only future punks, but future rock musicians of all stripes. Joe Strummer’s ear for catchy tunes fueled The Clash’s socially aware lyrics, and although punk already had its roots in the counterculture, The Clash redefined the genre’s anti-establishment aesthetic by making it more intelligent. They were also broad-minded and talented enough to incorporate influences from other genres, including reggae and folk. For their boot stomping rebellion and iconic songs, The Clash are universally praised as one of punk’s most important bands.

1. Ramones

Of all the bands that emerged from New York’s punk scene in the ‘70s, none exerted more influence on the bands to come than The Ramones. The Queens quartet stripped rock n’ roll down to its basic elements and perfected the punk rock songwriting formula – up-tempo, three-power-chord ditties played with maximum intensity in about two-and-a-half minutes or less. Even the most progressive of their punk rock descendants have retained something essentially Ramones-esque.

Who’s Missing?

New York Dolls, MC5, Television, & Iggy and the Stooges

All four of these bands deserve to be a part of the discussion when it comes to punk and its influence, but the New York Dolls, MC5, Television, and The Stooges all fall more under the proto-punk umbrella, having had their biggest impact in the years leading up to the birth of punk.

The New York Dolls sounded very much like a punk band, with their motto of “don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” Their simple, catchy rock songs were free of extended solos and ostentation, even if their appearance was opposite in its garishness.

MC5 laid similar groundwork musically and thematically with their volatile anti-authority ethos. They played hard-driving, stripped down songs that started to change the way other musicians approached rock n’ roll.

Television was something of a milder band sonically than most of those in this discussion, but their singer Richard Hell is widely credited with having inspired the spiked-hair-and-safety-pin fashion that is most closely associated with punk’s formative years. Hell also fronted The Voidoids, whose song “Blank Generation” was a big influence on the punks of the era.

Iggy and the Stooges’ excellent album Raw Power was highly influential on the punks to come. The Stooges left an indelible footprint on the landscape as punk was being born, but disbanded before punk really burst onto the scene.

Cock Sparrer & Sham 69

Cock Sparrer and Sham 69 were among the British bands in punk’s formative years whose sound led to a subgenre known as “Oi!” Unlike the art school students that formed many of the more prominent and fashionable English punk bands of the ‘70s, the proto-Oi! bands were working class Englanders whose back-to-basics pub rock was marked by large, multi-voice choruses pulled directly from the chants heard at soccer matches.

Dead Boys, the Damned, & D.O.A.

These three bands were all around at the birth of punk and played influential roles in the international scene, even if they were overshadowed by acts who went on to produce more grandiose legends.

The Damned were contemporaries of the Sex Pistols and The Clash, and are credited with having released the first British punk rock single, “New Rose.” They were also the first British punk band to tour the U.S., which helped cement their immortal status.

D.O.A. put Canada on the punk rock map. The Vancouver, British Columbia group’s diligent touring set the bar high for other hardworking D.I.Y. punk bands, and their extra aggressive brand of punk helped push the genre to produce its harder, faster little brother - hardcore punk.

After relocating from Cleveland, The Dead Boys escalated the New York punk scene’s nihilism to new levels, and produced one of the best punk songs of all time – “Sonic Reducer.”


Probably the most overtly political punk band ever, Crass’s influence on modern underground punk is still heavily present. Unlike the nihilistic strains of anarchy promoted by their more popular British contemporaries, Crass advocated anarchism as a political ideology, and introduced radical ideas like feminism, animal rights, and direct action into punk rock.


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The history of punk from Chuck Berry to the hippies to proto-punk to the birth of punk rock in earnest. Part 1 of 9 of this excellent documentary.
Last modified on Monday, 17 September 2012 18:24

Happy is a regular contributor to RosebudMag.com and has written for various other publications, including Black Belt, Inside Hockey, and FoxSports.com. He transitioned to life as a writer following a decade-long career as a touring musician. He lives with his son in Vancouver, British Columbia

Website: www.rosebudmag.com/hkreter

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