Hey guys, YC here. I listen to a lot of punk rock music, and I was compelled to write a list of what I consider to be the best punk rock album openers of all time. Of course, this is all subjective to my tastes, so I guess I can expect some backlash, or shall we say, debate, if I know the internet! Whee!
Punk albums, in particular, have a distinction among other genres of launching into some of the most ferocious volleys of sound of any genre under the sun, doing so with a reckless abandon that is unmatched by most other genres. That’s what makes them perfect for the subject of this article, because punk albums usually tend to kick off with a bang, leaving the rest of the LP to keep up the pace with some of these blistering or simply outstanding opening tracks that grab you by the dick and pull you in, never EVER letting go.
To define punk, in my estimation, is to include any album that could qualify under that blanket term. This would include artists like Iggy and the Velvet Underground, as they are arguably two fo the first real “punks” to sneer their way onto the music scene with some of the most rebellious music of all time. Some of these 60’s guys just had a real rebellious nature, and basically were calling for society to crumble. That’s fine. The Velvet Underground is not known for playing super fast, but I still think of them as punks. Then you have bands that are almost too corporate these days to be considered punk – Blink 182, Green Day, that type of thing. Still, there was a time when these bands were as punk as any of the rest. Anyway, I could go on and on with what punk rock represents, but let’s just dive in to this list and see what you think.
The Stooges – Search and Destroy
I’m a big fan of Iggy and the Stooges, and I happen to think that this is one of the great album opening songs of all time, but it’s also pretty punk rock, so there you go. A great opening track should certainly grab your attention, and this one does just that. While it isn’t a super fast song, the attitude of the song is what makes it punk, and it leads you into an album that is one of the all time great rock / punk albums of all time – Raw Power. The production of this album is another reason that it’s punk, as Iggy mixed this album to be totally in the red when it comes to gain levels, so the instruments are on fire – hence effectively killing the album’s potential to be seen as commercial in any way. There have been attempts to tame the levels of this wild beast of an album, but fans always go back to the original because that’s how Iggy wanted it originally and so it must be. Again, as an opening track, Search and Destroy is practically unbeatable.
Green Day – Burnout
I’ve always loved Dookie as an album, ever seen it took over my high school in 1994 and the band became one of the most popular punk bands ever all of the sudden. Actually, that’s not true. I remember all of the popular kids at my school getting into this album, and feeling weird about liking it because I didn’t think it was directed at well-adjusted people like the kids on the student council. But as time went on, I couldn’t avoid the fact that Dookie is a front to back classic of an album. Burnout was always one of my favourite tracks on the album, basically kicking off Dookie with a message from Green Day that there are here and ready to rock with the best, but with punk attitude and speed. Previously, Green Day were more of an obscure indie punk band with their first couple of releases, and their production wasn’t up to snuff. You could say they were more punk back then. But Dookie basically showed off the fact of how tight the band could be, with everyone just firing on all cylinders like crazy. Punks or sellouts, the band was ready to make a huge statement. Burnout is a perfect example of this. The drumming in particular gets me every time, with Tre’s sick fills during the breakdown. This was at the time when bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and the Seattle bands were huge, and Green Day came along and was just like yeah whatever guys, blowing the average bands of the day right out of the water.
Operation Ivy – Knowledge
Speaking of Green Day, as great a band as they undoubtedly are, I don’t think they can ever touch Operation Ivy, their older and more pedigreed punk rock brothers from the Gilman Street days in Berkeley California. I’m not entirely sure how it all went down, but my understanding is that Green Day got their start at the same place that Operation Ivy had been playing for years, with Operation Ivy being one of the all time great punk ska hardcore bands, who I’m pretty sure Green Day looked up to.
In any case, Knowledge could really be the ultimate intro song for a punk rock album. Can anything top it? This song is a phenomenal introduction to the band Operation Ivy, and it just kicks total ass with the opening riff that launches into one of the most fiery punk rock anthems ever written.
Operation Ivy I think are such a unique band, with so much skill and energy and that is both righteous, angry, and yet super entertaining and fun all at once. It’s hard to pick apart their sound and analyze their chemistry. All four members make the band what it is. Knowlege is like a flying boot to your chest when you hit play on Energy, the album that the song kicks off. I can never get sick of it, and I’m always amazed how good these guys are as a band and as songwriters. Great song, great band, great album, amazing opening track!
The Soft Boys – I Wanna Destroy You
It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of The Soft Boys, a weird english punk band from the late ’70’s who crafted two of my favourite all time albums, A Can Of Bees, and Underwater Moonlight. This band is undoubtedly punk in many ways, but they can’t be pinned to one genre, due to their hugely creative members who bend the music in many different directions. They also touch upon doo-wop, prog rock, and psychedelic music, among other things.
That said, Underwater Moonlight is probably their best known album among fans and it opens with the classic track, I Wanna Destroy You, which is a song that once again serves as a calling card for the band and establishes them as serious force to be wreckoned with in the music world. The song comes crashing in with crunchy yet sparkly guitars and vocal harmonies that take the listener to another place. The attitude of the band is pure punk, but the song is as much Johnny Rotten vocally as it is Roger McGuinn guitar-istically(?).
This band isn’t hugely mainstream, so if they’re new to you, I recommend throwing this album on and letting the band do the rest.
The Violent Femmes – Blister In The Sun
The Violent Femmes are… punks? Well, listen to this album and tell me they’re not. If you don’t know the Femmes, you’re missing out. The band has been around since the early ’80’s, but to me, nothing beats their self-titled debut album. I’ve heard Blister In The Sun so many damn times, I feel like it’s been in so many shows and movies, I can’t appreciate it like I did the first time I heard it, but I must say, this song is an impressive opener for an album that, as it turns out, is a timeless classic of classics. It’s always interesting when a band jumps on to the scene with their own sound that no one has ever heard before. The way the band plays, and their instrumentation is just really cool, because it’s punk without having to be like screeching guitars and super fast drums. They just are punks, because they’re real down to earth humans rocking out on some sick jams. But it’s really Gordon’s voice that brings it back to the punk rock idiom. This guy just isn’t a pop singer, but he writes pop songs that are a little too out there for the mainstream, and yet they’re widely embraced by basically everyone who gets to hear them. They’re indie rock, but they’re also punk. Blister In The Sun is one of the greatest opening tracks of all time, and, as mainstream as it’s become, I’d still consider it punk through and through.
The Meat Puppets – Split Myself In Two
Most people know the Meat Puppets from Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York album, which is, of course, a great album in it’s own rite. However, if you really look at the Puppets, and go back and listen to what they’ve done, they’re one of America’s greatest psychedelic punk rock bands that seem to represent something that few bands do – the untamed heart of the American spirit, showing how truly unique a homegrown band can be. Who are these freaks, you may wonder? It’s a fair question.
II is the band’s most famous album because of Nirvana, and, as you may know, Kurt had great taste in music and promoted artists he liked, and he had good reason to like the Puppets, because they kick ass and have been doing so for decades. I suggest you look into them if you haven’t already. Split Myself In Two is a great punk rock opener that rides the line between punk rock, desert rock, and psychedelic jam band rock. It’s just a raw track that lures you into the strange world of the Meat Puppets, and I would say it’s a fairly unassuming track (almost) while still being really impressive in a lot of ways. In my case, this track was one of the ones that hooked me on the Puppets for good. Great opener for sure.
The Flaming Lips – Shine On Sweet Jesus
Speaking of freaks and weirdos, ladies and gentlemen, the Flaminggggg Lipssss! If you’re a regular person, you might know these guys from later in their career – The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi and the Pink Robots, or maybe you were around when She Don’t Use Jelly was on MTV. As much as I enjoy the Lips overall, I always, ALWAYS go back to In A Priest Driven Ambulance. This album is back when the band where “punks that took acid”, as I think someone called them (or maybe they called themselves this). Definitely punks, definitely wild, and without boundaries. This track I always thought was the best intro to a Lips album, and, come to think about it, one of my favourite album openers ever. And, since I consider the band punks (back then, not so much now), this song ends up here on the list.
Bad Brains – Sailin’ On
If you love punk rock, you probably love you some Bad Brains, one of the most unique punk bands to ever arrive on the scene. Hugely influential, the Bad Brains hit hard right out of the gate with their first album, first track – Sailin’ On. Known to flip between a few different styles, such as headbanging metal, and chilled out Jah-praising reggae, Bad Brains have written the book on punk rock, with fast, furious songs that have stood the test of time. Sailin’ On is just one of their great punk rock tracks, which they burn through both on albums and live. This band is so far from being just another punk band, with incredibly skilled players who can play complicated jazz but love punk rock, and the inimitable vocals of HR. Perfect album starter.
The Minutemen – D.’s Car Jam / Anxious Mo-Fo
Holy hell I love Double Nickels On The Dime. But it wouldn’t have hit me the same way if it didn’t start with D.’s Car Jam / Anxious Mo-Fo. I can honestly say when I first heard this song / album, I didn’t know what kind of music it was, and I wasn’t sure what to think about it. I knew though that I loved it, but it was too funky to be punk, right? There has never really been a band like the Minutemen, and that just makes this album all the more impactful. I love this song as an opener – I don’t know why. It just gets you revved up, and it has some really cool bits in it. I don’t know how they came up with this stuff, but I’m glad they did. This song definitely pulled me into the album, which is, as some of us know, a masterpiece of punk rock spirit. It’s not always you get a punk album that makes you think this much, but it’s not really about over thinking. It just offers up ideas, and let’s them out of the bottle. A life changing album, with a perfect opener.
Dinosaur Jr. – Forget The Swan
Depending on how you see punk rock, you may or may not agree with this one, but I personally feel that back in the early days, Dinosaur Jr. was certainly a punk band of sorts, with that same spirit that all great punk bands have which is to say that they’re impossible to imitate, and also very raw both in terms of the playing and emotionally. It’s just raw music, and early Dinosaur had that in spades, with two very introspective members in bassist Lou Barlow and guitarist J Mascis. I’m not sure, but I think Murph was the normal one? Anyway, with Forget The Swan, you get a song that is definitely interesting, if not fully blown “punk” with power chords and speed. Nah, these guys are punk in the same way early Cure is punk. Just left of center talented weirdos from somewhere. Here you get a different feel with actual minor chord changes and a slower pace, and some sadness, but I think this haunting track is still one of punk’s great opening tracks, introducing everyone for the first time to a band that would become legendary.
Pixies – Bone Machine
You might think I’m way off base with some of these songs, because when I think of punk rock, I don’t think of your typical three chord Ramones type bands (I do like the Ramones btw). I just think of bands that do their own thing, and bring a sound that is unique to the world of music, and also don’t really give a flying F what people think of them. Real punks don’t care about anything except what their musical message is, and it shows in their songs. When the Pixies came along, I don’t think anyone knew what they were dealing with. This guy screaming like a lunatic, but with songs that defy all conventional logic. Bone Machine, if you haven’t heard the Pixies or know what’s going on, is going to sound really weird as it crashes into you backwards, with some weird off-kilter riff that introduces you to a band that seems to have no real predecessors in terms of style. It sounds like a bunch of crazy people who live in the deserts of New Mexico and decided to write and record stuff. Surfer Rosa, their first album, kicks off with this song and it’s really a strange one, with abstract lyrics and just all sorts of odd stuff going on. I was personally hooked once I heard this song. It’s not my favourite song on the album, but it’s one of the best first songs I’ve heard, so that’s why it’s here.
This list could go on for a while, so I’m cutting it “short” here. If you’re into punk rock, you’re probably thinking I missed about a hundred tracks. Yeah, well… It all depends on your favourite bands, really. I love these bands, and I think these are solid opening tracks. I consider them all punk bands in some way, although many of them no longer are what I’d consider to be upholding the punk rock spirit anymore. That’s ok, we all change, don’t we? Selling out. It does happen. Anyway, if you think I missed something (I know I did, but gimme a break), mention it below in the comments please, I’d love to hear from you!