The Ultimate History of Punk Playlist, 1960-2022
BY CURT HOPKINS
A friend of mine, an accomplished bluegrass musician of roughly my age, somehow missed punk rock. So he asked me for some recommendations. In a typical instance of operatic overreach, I created a playlist that tracks the history of punk from The Sonics in 1960 to the Linda Lindas in 2022.
I built the playlist on Amazon Music because, for one thing, I already had it, and for another, none of these services is appreciably superior to another. (If you believe differently, I’m certain there’s a Reddit channel for you.)
Es lebt der Pank!
What is punk? It is a posture toward oppression that leverages change, a way of relating to the world that encompasses visual art (Raymond Pettibon, Jean-Michele Basquiat), literature (Martin Millar), fashion (Vivienne Westwood), and above all, music. All that matters is freedom. Freedom from rules of any kind, from all orthodoxy, including sexist bullshit and violence, common sense and decency, good taste, guitar solos and tedious virtuosity, homophobia, rigid instrumentation, religious and political dogma, rock posturing, patriotism, and humorlessness.
Generally speaking, I loathe rule-bound punks. If you say, “Our band is punk” then as far as I’m concerned your band is punk. If, however, your label’s PR weasel says “Their band is punk,” I feel like it’s open season. Given that context, I included proto-punk and second-wave ska bands because they’re punk. I left out pop-punk bands because they aren’t. There’s no such thing as New Wave. That was just a marketing term for punk. There’s no such thing as post-punk. That was just a rock critic term for punk.
I didn’t include bands that were garbage regardless of how good they are. I would have included Bad Brains due to their song Sail On and their importance as a black hardcore band, but their homophobia and their execrable dollar-store reggae meant I didn’t.
I didn’t include some bands — The Buzzcocks, Wire, The Fall — not because they’re not worthy of inclusion but simply because I’m not familiar with them. So this list is a function of my experience and taste. Even within that context I couldn’t have created an exhaustive list without spending a cataclysmic amount of time.
I included three songs per artist when possible. I tried to put them in order of date of formation, though I almost certainly did not succeed completely. There are 216 songs from about 70 bands and musicians. I invite anyone who thinks punk is completely mainstream to search a music service for the group Fuck U Pay Us.
Punk either throws open the doors of the world to you or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, the best you can do is appreciate it and that’s fine. But if it does, it may be an instrument of salvation or a spiritual practice. But it will never be a religion. There are no rules and there are no hierophants. I interviewed Mark Pickerel, the original drummer for the Screaming Trees, and he said they didn’t know they weren’t supposed to listen to the Sex Pistols, Black Sabbath, and Flock of Seagulls at the same time, so they did, and that’s how they broke punk open and the Seattle sound happened. No rules.
Speaking of Fea, Doll Skin, the Linda Lindas, and Fuck U Pay Us: the future of punk, as of so many things, is young, queer, and female. If you’re none of those things, it might be time to shut up and listen for a while.