Growing up in Washington DC in the late 1970s and early '80s, Henry Rollins found punk rock to be a life-changing force. As he progressed from a Bad Brains audience member to a Teen Idles roadie to the frontman of Black Flag, Rollins became deeply entwined in the world of hardcore punk. Decades later, he retains his passion for the music. Here, Rollins recommends some of the most essential punk albums.
Disclaimer from Henry: As the title says -- some. Not "the all" or "the only". Some. Nothing's written in stone here! Just a few records considered to be in the Punk genre that are really good. There are many more. So, here are, wait for it . . . some.
The Ramones – Rocket To Russia
The Ramones' third album. The first two are great too, and you should hear them as soon as possible, maybe a few times a day. Rocket To Russia shows off what the band had learned after a lot of shows and countless hours of songwriting. Just from the opening notes of the first track, "Cretin Hop", you know you're in for a great time. Rocket marked the last studio recording with Tommy Ramone as drummer. Easily one of the most under-mentioned drummers ever. Johnny Ramone once told me that Rocket To Russia was the band's best album. I don't think in those terms, but I will say that it's my favorite.
The Clash – The Clash
The first album by The Clash. Not nearly as well known as London Calling or Combat Rock, which brought the band worldwide acclaim. Comparatively, it is a far less produced affair, but the band's obvious brilliance fairly melts the record as you play it. Fame and notoriety hit this band so hard and so fast, it's a wonder they got as much done as they did. The Clash were a band that forced change from radio to retail. Their first album perfectly captures the band before the entire world was at their door.
The Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks
You knew this was coming. Why, because you can't talk about Punk Rock without mentioning the Sex Pistols? Well, yeah. For good reason. It's a really great album. Not only is guitarist Steve Jones a monster player but drummer Paul Cook is incredibly solid. Also, you have easily one of the smartest and fearless vocalists in music history up front. Johnny Rotten's contempt for Rock music's entitlement and stagnation is barely contained. The songwriting is brilliant and ironically, mainstream Rock producer Chris Thomas gave the album a hugeness that must have been terrifying for any number of established bands. This band and this album absolutely changed things. Important is a word that suddenly sounds precious when one talks about music, so let's just say that not only can you not talk about Punk Rock without mentioning this band but you can't talk about modern Independent Music without eventually having to talk about the Sex Pistols. Forty years on, this record has not lost an ounce of power.
The Damned – Damned Damned Damned
Essential. In case the title doesn't remind you, this is the album cover that has the band covered in the remnants of a recently finished pie fight. One of the best covers ever. Even better is what's on the record. Brian James, the band's guitarist and songwriter was a true visionary. The songs immediately burn into the front of your brain pan where they will stay for the rest of your life. This album is start-to-finish perfection. I remember the first time I heard this. I was with Ian MacKaye. I think we borrowed it from someone. I remember being so happy that I had found this music. I knew then that I would be listening to this album for the rest of my life.
Generation X – Generation X
Long before Billy Idol was every third video on MTV he was in Generation X. This band had a lot going for them. The singer could really sing, the drummer Mark Laff balanced real chops and power perfectly, bass player locked in with Laff's kick and snare providing unlimited energy. And then there was the guitarist. He gets his own sentence. Bob Andrews, otherwise known as Derwood, is without question one of the most talented players to come out of Punk Rock. Incredible songwriter and player. Tone, damn does the man have tone. Next time you listen to this record, which should be as soon as possible, listen to how great the songwriting and playing is. This one of my favorite records of all time.
X Ray Spex – Germ Free Adolescents
Pitch perfect music. Brilliant lyrics and on some of the songs, saxophone, which they completely pull off. On top of all this, easily one of the greatest singers, Poly Styrene. Everyone heard the band's single "Oh Bondage, Up Yours" but the rest of their songs are amazing as well. The band made one official album, some singles and that was it. Over the years, some bootleg live recordings have appeared, understandably, as people want more. Germ Free shows you that Punk Rock was not to be ignored or written off. About as good as a record gets.
The Germs – (GI)
California can lay claim to some of the most well known Punk bands anywhere. One of the most interesting and memorable has to be the Germs. They broke the mold on vocalist Darby Crash. (GI) was produced by Joan Jett and came out in 1979. I never got a chance to see the band play but was told that quite often where they appeared, trouble was soon to follow. I don't know how to describe this band's music. Listen to their song "Manimal" and go from there.
Bad Brains – Black Dots
In June of 1979, I saw the Bad Brains open for the Damned at a venue called the Bayou in Washington, DC. The Damned were as great as I'd hoped they would be. However, it was the Bad Brains, who we had just seen for the first time, who sent us back to our lives in a state of disbelief. I had never seen anything like them in my life. None of us had. In August of that year, the Bad Brains made a demo tape at Inner Ear Studios. The songs, in varying speeds and levels of added noise, made the rounds on cassette. We listened to them over and over, never any less amazed than the time before. Many years later, the sessions were released as the album Black Dots.
Wire – Pink Flag
Some might argue that Wire were not Punk. Actually, one of those people might be me. They were around at the same time as Punk legends like the Damned, Pink Flag was released in 1977, a song from the album, "12XU", is seen as a classic Punk track, so let's say they were Punk. The only reason I am even slightly hesitant to put them on this list is because to me, they were just outside of what would be considered Punk Rock and seeing how quickly they were able to morph from one release to the next, Pink Flag was just one phase of their development. By the summer of the following year, the band had released their second album, Chairs Missing, a totally different kind of great. If you like Punk Rock, Independent or Post Punk music, you really need to listen to Pink Flag. Also, and this is really important, you need to listen to Pink Flag.
The Saints – (I'm) Stranded
The great band from Brisbane, Australia. This one will light your room on fire. The cover of the album shows the band looking like four guys who don't care about anything. When you listen to the record and it's kicking your ass every possible way, it's a lesson that looks don't mean a damn thing and it's what you're bringing that matters. By the time the last track, "Nights In Venice", has finished tornadoizing your psyche, your next best move would be to proceed immediately to their second album, Eternally Yours.