The 20 Greatest American hardcore punk albums of all time

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L.A. Weekly posted a list of the 20 greatest hardcore albums of all time which I thought was pretty terrible since it wasn’t clear what exactly they considered “hardcore” and what the criteria were.  Some of the bands and/or albums they listed are good but they made me go “huh?”  I mean Rights Of Spring and  At The Drive In are good but if THAT’S “hardcore”, then why not include the Butthole Surfers, Melvins, Nirvana, Fugazi or Dinosaur Jr?  Like most of their music related articles (such as the 5 greatest punk guitarists), it doesn’t seem like they listened to a whole lot of music and just kind of arbitrarily made the list from  stuff they’d read.  Now, of course lists are subjective and I personally don’t even like making them since I can’t prioritize for shit but still, here is a REAL list of 20 greatest hardcore albums.

If you want MY definition, hardcore punk is that faster, more aggressive sub-genre of punk that began roughly in 1980 (although the first stereotypically sounding hardcore record was the “Out of Vogue” 45 by the Middle Class, which came out in 1978) and was stridently, willfully, anti-commercial, anti-big success and was all on dinky independent labels that grew huge through sheer perseverance while helping to launch a bazillion other genres.  But, even in the hardcore underground, there were plenty of bands who were weird and unique yet still considered part of the scene; some of which made this list!

This list only refers to American bands.  I have a soft spot for the Exploited, G.B.H., Discharge, Chron Gen, Anti-Pasti and Chaos U.K. but personally think those bands are a little goofy with their huge mohicans and intense punk rock posturing.  American bands always seemed a bit more intelligent and creative.

And I know some of my choices will make you tear your hair out by the route and yell, “are you out of your mind??!!” but these are my faves, ya know?  Here are a few runner-ups.  There were plenty more but these are the ones I could think of off the top of my head.  It was pretty tough coming up with just 20 but, alas, it had to be done.  These are all great but I simply went by which I listen to and enjoy most; also Kill from the Heart by the Dicks would have made the top  20 but they flubbed it up with that stupid 15 minute long jam at the end.

Dicks – Kill from the Heart – SST – 1982

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Fang – Landshark! – Boner – 1982

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Scream – Still Screaming – Dischord – 1981

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Adolescents – Adolescents – Frontier – 1981

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M.D.C. – Millions of Dead Cops – R Radical – 1982

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Necros – Conquest for Death – Touch and Go – 1983

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The Crucifucks – The Crucifucks – Alternative Tentacles – 1985

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And now for the list!!!

20.  T.S.O.L. – Dance with Me – Frontier – 1981

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West coast kings of goth punk, this is the shit you turn to when you want to wear your motorcycle jacket and engineer boots, paint your face white and pretend you’re part of the Return of the Living Dead crew.  T.S.O.L. put out their first E.P. in 1980; it has songs like “Abolish Government” and “World War III” but, by 1981, they probably realized there were enough groups who sang about those topics.  So they put on the “pancake” makeup, spiked up the hair and acted like vampires (with a bit of drag thrown in).  They’re not exactly the West Coast equivalent of the Misfits but they’re about the closest you’re gonna get to that mix of straight-forward, middle-upper tempo punk with that early, gothic “death rock” production (at least before Christian Death and 45 Grave came out).  Actually T.S.O.L. seem more like they’re trying to be the Damned with singer Jack Grisham sounding a bit like Dave Vanien and guitarist Ron Emory playing slashing punk chords, string bendy guitar solos and eerie, little melodies.  Bassist Mike Roche and drummer Todd Barnes make a solid, speedy rhythm section and the band create a fun soundtrack for breaking into your local cemetary and digging up a few graves.  The classic is the necrophilia anthem “Code Blue” which is the one that goes “I wanna fuck, I wanna fuck the dead/and I don’t even care how she died/but I like it better if she smells of formaldehyde” but the album also features such creepy tunes as “Sounds of Laughter”, “I’m Tired of Life”, “Silent Scream”, “Funeral March” and the awesome title track.  After Dance with Me, the band released the Weathered Statues EP before going in a more arty and gothic direction and releasing the solid Beneath the Shadow and Change Today LPs and then turning into a cheesy hair metal band albeit with almost an entirely different lineup.  Jack Grisham also pretty much confirmed that he was a HUGE dickhead in the early 80s, apparently slicing kids ears off with the spur on the back of his boot when he jumped atop the crowd.  I guess that matters not anymore since this is about the music.

19.  S.O.D. – Speak English or Die – Mega Force – 1985

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I guess most people would associate this more with metal but, as far as I’m concerned, this is the only New York crossover thrash I need to listen to because I think Agnostic Front and Cro-Mags are mediocre at best and I’d rather listen to a fun, funny and hooky album made by goofy metalheads than “serious” music made by macho skinheads.  S.O.D. consists of Anthrax members Scott Ian and Charlie Benante on guitar and drums respectively along with Dan Lilker – formerly of Anthrax, at the time in Nuclear Assault and later in grindcore gods Brutal Truth – on bass and New Jersey skin Billy Milano of some band called the Psychos on vocals.  Some people accused them of being racist but that’s bullshit.  They wrote hilariously rude tunes like “Kill Yourself”, “Pussy Whipped” and “Fuck the Middle East” along with good natured homages like “United Forces”, “Fist Banging Mania” and “Freddy Kruger” and let’s not forget those second long parody tunes “Ballad of Jimmy Hendrix” and “Diamonds and Rust (Extended Version).”  Thrash or die!!!

18.  The Meatmen – Stud Powercock: The Touch and Go Years 1981 – 1984 – 1990

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The first of what I believe to be four CD collections that I lazily threw on this list because I’m more of a quantity than quality person, Stud Powercock contains 39 tracks or the group’s entire recorded output for Touch and Go; a compilation track, the Blud Sausage and Crippled Children Suck 7″ EPs, the We’re the Meatmen and You Suck! album (which has Blud Sausage plus live tunes), the Crippled Children Suck album (which has the Crippled Children Suck EP plus outtakes, live tunes and demos) and the Dutch Hercules 12″ EP.  In Pitchfork’s Touch and Go best 25 list, they included releases by the Necros and Negative Approach but not the Meatmen and I think the reason for this is pretty freakin’ obvious.  Yes the Meatmen wrote some pretty puerile lyrics atop equally crude music but so what?  This IS punk rock, remember?  And Tesco Vee started the Touch and Go label along with writing same named zine so give credit where credit is due, k?  This comp starts with the earliest Meatmen where Tesco is joined by Ramsey brothers Greg on guitar and Rich on bass along with someone named Mr. X on drums.  This lineup unleashed tasteless classics like “Meatmen Stomp”, “Toolin’ for Anus” (both which appear on the CD three times each), “One Down, Three to Go” (about the then recent John Lennon assassination), “Blow Me Jah”, “Mr. Tapeworm”, “Orgy of One”, “Crippled Children Suck” and the amusing put-down “T.S.O.L. Are Sissies.”  Then Tesco moved to D.C., hooked up with former Minor Threat members Brian Baker and Lyle Preslar (lead and rhythm guitar respectively), Burt Quiroz from Youth Brigade and some other D.C. bands on bass and Richard Moore on drums and unleashed Meatmen mk II, the costumed, metal novelty years.  They also cover “Dance to the Music”!

17.  D.R.I. – Dealing with It! – Metal Blade – 1985

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Born in Huston, TX and relocated to San Francisco, D.R.I. were, according to Slayer, the fastest band of all time.  While Dealing with It! isn’t as “immediate” as their first album, Dirty Rotten LP, which blasts through 22 tracks in 17 minutes, it’s still a mighty righteous hardcore classic.  The production is improved but still raw and the group hasn’t totally morphed into a metal band – after all, Dealing with It! contains 25 songs and is only 35 minutes long so…  Kurt Brecht sounds awesome belting the lyrics out in his semi high pitched, teenage voice while Spike Cassidy plays killer riff after killer riff.  The album also includes four songs from Dirty Rotten LP including classics like “I Don’t Need Society” and “Reaganomics” and introduces 21 new scorchers like “I’d Rather Be Sleeping” and “Couch Slouch.”  Let’s not forget “Equal People”, the angriest “accept everyone” song you’re bound to hear.  If you must know, the rhythm section is Josh Pappe on bass and Felix Griffin on drums but I think Spike plays about half the bass parts anyway.  In a couple years, they’d grow their hair out and emerge as one of the premier crossover thrash bands but thankfully continued to play fast.

16.  Dwarves – Blood, Guts & Pussy – Sub Pop – 1990

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Keep in mind this tasteful collection of “fuck” songs was released by the same label and in the same era that introduced grunge to the angsty kids.  If you’re not familiar with the Dwarves, they began as a Nuggets influenced garage band called the Suburban Nightmare than morphed into an outrageous “shock core” band led by perverted lead singer Blag Dahlia and featured the likes of Mexican wrestling mask and jock strap wearing guitarist Hewhocannotbenamed, bassist Salt Peter and drummer Vadge Moore.  The group was like a cross between early and late period GG Allin but with a sense of irony.  Blag didn’t poop on stage but he still attacked audience members and the group’s shows were really short and violent; at least the first time around.  After they broke up and got back together, they played it more like a normal band.  Blood, Guts & Pussy is 14 minutes long and contains songs with titles like “Back Seat of My Car”, “Let’s Fuck”, “Skin Poppin’ Slut”, “Fuck You Up and Get High” and “Insect Whore.”  The album is fast and aggressive like hardcore but with garagy guitar tones and an obvious influence of 60s pop melody.  It’s really freakin’ good and short and you should listen to it a lot.  Followup albums Thank Heaven for Little Girls and Sugarfix are also great.

15.  Minutemen – Post-Mersh, Vol. 3 – SST – 1987

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Everyone else swears that Double Nickles on the Dime is the finest release from the Minutemen but I personally think the dinky, Paranoid Time E.P. is easily the best thing guitarist/singer D. Boone, bassist/singer Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley ever recorded and, since it’s an E.P. and not album, I included this dope ass Post-Mersh, Vol. 3 collection which has 46 songs on it and also contains the Joy E.P., the Bean Spill E.P., the The Politics of Time LP and the Tour Spiel E.P.  I mean, the Minutemen were sooo good; they played a bunch of minute long songs that alternate between speedy punk and danceable funk with D. Boon’s non-distorted guitar melodies dancing between and around Mike Watt’s noodly bass lines and George Hurley’s drumming holding it all together.  This shit is tight!  And it’s so melodic and catchy; at least the music is!  Boon just yells out lines like “I try to think of girls but keep thinking of World War III!” and other similar political musings.  Thus we have song titles like “Fascist”, “Joe McArthy’s Ghost”, “If Reagan Played Disco” but that’s only part of the picture.  The CD also includes covers of “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love” by Van Halen, “The Red and the Black” by Blue Oyster Cult, “Green River” by John Fogerty and “Lost” by the Meat Puppets who you will find later on this here list!

14.  Fear – The Record – Slash – 1982

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Another band whose crass sense of humor – gross songs like “Beef Baloney” and “Fresh Flesh”, deliberately absurd right-wing anthems like “Let’s Have a War” and “Foreign Policy” and overall mean-spiritedness – was confused by the more sensitive punk people as being straight-forward commentary; but how seriously can you take lyrics like “let’s have a war/it can start in New Jersey/let’s have a war/give guns to the queers” or “New York’s all right if you like getting pushed in front of the subway/New York’s all right if you want to freeze to death/New York’s all right if you like art and jazz/New York’s all right if you’re a homosexual”?  The group started in 1977 and released their first single “I Love Living in the City”/”Now You’re Dead” in 1978 but, as hardcore was born and bands started playing faster and audiences got crazier, rather than being put off like X or the Germs, Fear said “go for it, kids!  Go nuts!”  The group sped up their sound while keeping their jazz-informed musical tightness firmly intact, playing tightly but using some strange drum patterns and arrangements that typical “learned yesterday” punks wouldn’t be able to handle.  Guitarist/singer Lee Ving led the charge and was joined by second guitarist Philo Cramer, bassist Derf Scratch and drummer Spit Stix.  The band exposed square America to hardcore with their controversial Saturday Night Live performance before releasing their first (some say only good) album, The Record.  The album contains straight forward hardcore punk like “I Don’t Care About You” and a faster take on “I Love Livin’ in the City” but is also joined by potentially annoying, stop/start jazzy parts in songs like “Disconnected” and their twisted cover of the Animals classic “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”  Their next album More Beer is pretty good but then they broke up and Lee Ving “reformed” the band with all new people and pretty much lost everything that made them unique.  Also, for some stupid reason, they re-recorded The Record in 2012.

13.  Negative Approach – Total Recall – Touch and Go – 1992

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Yeah, yeah, it’s another collection containing what was then the entire catalog; a compilation track, a 10 song 7″ EP, a 10 song LP, and a bunch of demos and unlisenable live recordings; 38 songs total!… Negative Approach managed to be totally, typically hardcore yet still unique enough to skirt the stereotypes of the genre.  Sure singer John Brannon was another baldy with engineer boots barking in a mic and sure Rob McCulloch just played basic bar chords really fast and sure Rob’s older brother Graham just played the root notes of what Rob played and sure OP Moore just played basic punk and thrash beats but their songs were good and different enough from each other and catchy and fun and angry and they covered a couple oi songs and the self titled EP is more lo fi and punk while the Tied Down album is a bit more metally and “Can’t Tell No One” is one of the most awesomely catchy songs ever with its Ramonesy beat and “Lead Song” has an awesome two note guitar lead and they cover “Never Surrender” by Blitz and “Chaos” by 4Skins and “I Got a Right” by the Stooges and the song “Tied Down” totally RUUULLLLEEEZZZZ and “Evacuate” is like slow and sludgy and they have angry songs and they were angry and pissed.

Addendum: as of 2007, NA has become so stupidly popular that they’ve released a 7″ EP and two full length albums of live and demo stuff with even more songs and unreleased live versions.  Without a doubt, we need more and more Negative Approach stuff because 15 different recordings of “Why Be Something That You’re Not” just won’t do!!!

12.  Circle Jerks – Group Sex – Frontier – 1980

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Apparently Group Sex is considered by some to be the first hardcore punk album ever but that’s a pretty lofty claim considering GI by the Germs and Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables by DKs came out before Group Sex so I don’t know.  I do know that Group Sex rules!  14 songs in 15 minutes and all catchy, bratty punk and hardcore.  “World Up My Ass” and “Live Fast, Die Young” are punk.  “I Just Want Some Skank” and “Red Tape” are hardcore.  There are a few mid-tempo numbers for good measure.  “Deny Everything” is 30 seconds long.  “Don’t Care” and “Wasted” were Black Flag tunes that Keith Morris just took with him to Circle Jerks because why not?  Morris’ voice sounds nasal, snotty and very distinct (listen to Off!; he sounds like he hasn’t aged a bit!).  Greg Hetson (formerly of Redd Cross and currently of Bad Religion) plays guitar, Roger Dowding Rodgerson plays bass and Chet “Lucky” Lerer plays drums.  After Group Sex, the band went through a few rhythm sections and released the albums Wild in the Streets (1982) and Golden Shower of Hits (1983) which are good, Wunderful (1985) and VI (1987) which are a bit slower but okay, the live album Gig (1992), which is great and their only major label album Oddities, Abnormalities and Curiosities (1995), which stinks but has an awesome cover of “I Wanna Destroy You” by the Soft Boys.  Keith Morris is now tearing it up in Off! with Steve McDonald of Redd Cross, Dmitri Coats from Burning Brides on guitar and Mario Rubecalba from the Hot Snakes on drums.  He’s also singing for Flag but we’ll forgive him for that.

11.  Bad Brains – Rock for Light – Caroline – 1983

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Bad Brains started in 1978 and released the most influential hardcore single ever (“Pay to Cum”/”Stay Close to Me”) in 1980, a self-titled cassette album in 1982 and the awesome Rock for Light in 1983.  Rock for Light has 20 rippin’ tunes (or maybe that’s my CD reissue, still though).  The band was credited for an unprecedented level of proficiency on their instruments and a tendency towards ganja-fueled rasta themes.  In fact, promoting “jah” and bashing “Babylon” are about the only things H.R. sings about.  The songs are mainly hardcore but have metal parts and there are four reggae tunes on the album that don’t particularly fit but are pretty cool nonetheless.  Nobody could predict that, in a few years, they would play ENTIRE live shows of reggae jams and earn a reputation for being notorious homophobes, a view that they would later, thankfully recant.  Some of my favorites from Rock for Light include “The Big Takeover”, “Attitude”, “Sailin’ On”, “Rock for Light”, “Supertouch” and “Banned in D.C.”  H.R. was a powerful frontman, doing these crazy flips on stage while guitarist Dr. Know, bassist Darryl Jennifer and drummer Earl Hudson ripped through these tunes somethig fierce.  They went on to make the I Against I album for SST and many consider that a classic. I think it’s pretty good but prefer the earlier, faster stuff way more.  Then H.R. quit and they released another album.  They’re back now but not as good, I don’t think.

10.  The Replacements – Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash – Twin/Tone – 1981

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The Replacements were sort of like the Undead or Social Distortion of the mid-west in that they were a fun, rock ‘n’ roll influenced punk band surrounded by a bunch of pissed off hardcore dudes.  Eventually they would go on to be one of the most popular underground rock bands of the 80s and be considered one of the “alternative” bands that normal people would like.  But on Sorry Ma…, guitarist/singer Paul Westerberg, lead guitarist Bob Stinson, bassist Tommy Stinson and drummer Chris Mars let rip 18 wonderfully catchy, fast but not hardcore speed rock ‘n’ roll numbers dealing with life as a typical suburban teen in Minneapolis or just anywhere in America; basically 18 variations on songs about hanging out and having fun somewhere because you have nothing better to do.  The group’s philosophy is summed up in the classic “Careless” in the line “irresponsibility is my closest friend.”  I wanna say the group gets a little serious in the anti-heroine, Johnny Thunders bash “Johnny’s Gonna Die” but that’s about as deep as it gets.  But my favorite line is from the song “I Hate Music.”  It goes, “I hate music/sometimes I don’t/I hate music/it’s got too many notes.”

9.  Minor Threat – Complete Discography – Dischord- 1989

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The fourth and last compilation on this list, this is one that doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out.  Some of you might wonder why I placed it at #9 and not right at the top but, what can I say?  I don’t wanna be predictable and this is still MY opinion, not something taken out of Spin magazine.  Minor Threat needs no introduction.  After the Teen Idles broke up, D.C.’s leading scenester and “man with a message” Ian McKaye kept drummer Jeff Nelson and scored tight as hell musos Lyle Preslar on guitar and Brian Baker on bass and unleashed the Minor Threat and In My Eyes 7″ EPs which contain hardcore standards like “Filler”, “Straight Edge” and the needlessly controversial “Guilty of Being White.”  Then they brought in bassist Steve Hansgen, moved Baker to second guitar, released a mini LP titled Out of Step, which was a bit heavier and a bit more ahem… metal… then they dropped Hansgen, recorded a couple more songs and broke up because they all had different career aspirations.  Complete Discography has most of it (there’s a stupid EP of demos that’s not even worth mentioning); all 26 songs in 50 minutes starting with the rumbling bass line of “Filler”, ending with the melodic, chime filled, electric/acoustic melodic tune “Salad Days” and containing a whole lot of angry, classic tuneage in between; including covers of “Good Guys Don’t Wear White” by the Standells, “Steppin’ Stone” by the Monkees and “12XU” by Wire.  Flex your head!

8.  Meat Puppets – Meat Puppets – SST – 1982

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If you’ve wasted enough time to read this far down, you might be wondering if you’re ever going to see Husker Du on this list and I’m sorry; you’re not.  In spite showcasing other bands who belong in the “really great musicians who would tire of hardcore almost immediately after making their name in the genre” unlike the Minutemen, the Replacements and this here Arizona based power trio the Meat Puppets, I must admit, I’m not HUGE on Husker Du.  Anyway… the Meat Puppets classic lineup featured Curt Kirkwood on guitar and vocals, Chris Kirkwood on bass and vocals and Derek Bostrom on drums and the band’s claim to fame was introducing the first country influences into punk rock and hardcore.  These 14 songs (and now 32 thanks to the awesome CD reissue which includes the In a Car EP and a ton of comp tracks!!!) are all punk and hardcore speed but with Chris Kirkwood playing individual notes all over the place, deliberately slopping it up with country twang while Curt hilariously yells drunken and incomprehensible lyrics all to incredibly catchy effect.  And what great song titles!  “Love Offering”, “Blue-Green God”, “Electromud”… a cover of “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds”… of course, this is the last album they made that sounded like this.  They soon moved on to a more melodic alterna-country hybrid and would become indie darlings for the rest of the decade but that’s another story for another time.

7.  Flipper – Album Generic Flipper – Subterranean – 1981

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Containing former members of San Fran punk band Negative Trend and not fitting the total hardcore tag, Flipper might be one of the most influential bands on musicians from the post-hardcore, noise and grunge world with either Will Shatter’s or Bruce Loose’s hypnotically, repetitive bass lines (they took turns singing and playing bass) Ted Falconi’s guitar noise and drummer Steve Depace’s solid, slow to mid-tempo beat.  Their deliberate attention to methodical repetition and not playing everything as fast as humanly possible made them targets by the nimrod skinheads who unfortunately made up a good part of the hardcore scene.  Album Generic Flipper (or some variant of those three words) is the most perfect representation of their world view both musically and lyrically.  And lyrically they were depressing!  I mean there was an obvious left of center political twist to it but really they just sang lyrics like “feeling so numb and I’m feeling so dead/just like someone just hit my head” and “feeling so empty and I feel so old/just waiting to feel the death like cold/feeding at my life ties/not really knowing and not caring why.”  Thankfully they lightened the mood with the deliberately silly “Sex Bomb” and present a positive message in “Life.”  The band would continue through the 80s with the excellent Gone Fishin’ and Public Flipper Limited albums before Will Shatter died of a drug overdose.  Years later they reformed with Kris Noveselic on bass.  They’re still around today I believe!

6.  Butthole Surfers – Butthole Surfers – Alternative Tentacles – 1983

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I know this is considered an EP and not a full-length album but, if I’m not mistaken, Butthole Surfers (later known as Brown Reason to Live) is about 17 minutes long and in hardcore, that’s pretty epic; it’s just that this thing only has seven songs on it.  A couple years after this release, San Antonio, TX acid casualty freaks the Butthole Surfers would become one of the highest selling and biggest draws in the indie/alternative underground with some of the weirdest, hookiest and experimental albums released up to that point and some far out live shows with flashing strobes, disturbing film projections and use of strange props.  But here Gibby Haynes (vocals/saxophone/guitar/bass) and Paul Leary (vocals/guitar) are just getting started with their deranged noise.  The bassist on here is Billy Jolly while long time drummer Jeff “King” Coffey only plays drums on two songs.  The rest were handled by Brad Perkins.  But what kind of band is/was this?  Thirty years later this is still some pretty out there stuff; a bunch of ugly guitar racket atop a hardcore deconstruction, a bass-heavy dub tune, a kind of rockabilly thing with the Tazmanian devil singing, a couple kinda normallish sounding tunes, some sax bleating, some voice-pitch manipulation and song titles like “The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave”, Bar-B-Q Pope”, “Wichita Cathedral” and “The Revenge of Anus Presley.”  There are three others but they’re not as weird sounding.  The fact that the band presented such a bizarre style of music yet became commercially successful with a cut-throat business sense combined with actual musical skill speaks volumes.  Some people are still pissed over that Touch and Go incident way back in 1996 but, what can I say?  The Buttholes totally rule!

5.  Suicidal Tendencies – Suicidal Tendencies – Frontier – 1983

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It’s hard to believe that Suicidal Tendencies were as controversial as they were back in the 80s but alas, the group’s image with their bandanas combined with their name and reputation for being violent assholes followed them wherever they went.  On later albums they preached tolerance and positivity and generally lived clean, drug-free lifestyles.  However their self-titled debut is their most hardcore and violent.  Lead shouter and only band constant Mike Muir claimed that the lyrics come from personal experience but that doesn’t stop “I Saw Your Mommy” from sounding gratuitous, violent and awesome!  The lineup on this album also featured guitarist Grant Estes, bassist Louichi Mayorga and drummer Amery Smith and though it’s mostly a hardcore album with thrash beats and slashing riffs, that doesn’t stop the band from filling the songs with raging, metallic leads.  “Institutionalized” – with its rant versus and speedy choruses – was a surprise mega-hit on college radio and apparently all over MTV during 1984, spreading their brand of metal influenced hardcore to the masses.  Elsewhere Muir shouts about personal angst, the system’s corrupting forces, shooting Ronald Reagan and Anwar Sadat, asshole cops, telling some dumb broad how he won’t fall in love with her, being possessed by demons and suicide.  Many accused Suicidal of being a metal band in disguise and Suicidal kinda confirmed that fear when, a few years later, they released their speed metal/crossover thrash sophomore LP Join the Army. After that they signed a major label deal and emerged as a technically proficient, duel guitar metal band who played enormous venues and toured with mega mainstream thrashers like Megadeth and Metallica.  They even took Pantera out on their first national tour!

4.  Dead Kennedys – Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death – Alternative Tentacles – 1987

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Without a doubt the Dead Kennedys were the most popular band during the early days of American hardcore; Jello Biafra was crucial to developing hardcore by insisting on all ages shows in spite many of his peers criticizing him and the rest of the DKs for siding with hardcore.  It’s easy to see why; DKs formed in 1978 in San Francisco and undoubtedly were part of the intellectual set with collage artist Winston Smith designing their graphics and such and the rise of hardcore presented the antithesis to the arty, thinking person’s brand of music the DKs were making.  But Jello had faith that some of those underage kids were intelligent and had good ideas.  Some did and well, some became Agnostic Front :)… DKs of course were totally awesome; Jello Biafra’s creepy, quivering vibrato and paranoid, caustic lyrics about corporate domination along with guitarist East Bay Ray’s and drummer D.H. Pelliger wickedly tight and underrated playing were a fierce combination. I guess Jeff “Klaus” Flouride is a solid bass player as well.  Originally they had a second guitarist named 6025 and the original drummer was Bruce Slesinger (a.k.a. Ted).  This CD/LP contains a wide smattering of the DKs various tricks; early (and better) single versions of “California Uber Alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia”, straight forward punk rock of “The Man with the Dogs”, thrashing hardcore of “Life Sentence”, surf-punk of “Police Truck” and “Too Drunk to Fuck”, creepy lounge music of “The Prey”, Harvey Milk inspired cover of “I Fought the Law” and hilarious publicity stunt song “Pull My Strings” which the group used to bash the entire music industry at a San Francisco, Grammy-style award show!  Yeah, the group’s reputation has been tarnished with that law suit and new versions of this release are no longer released by the legendary Alternative Tentacles label but we can always remember one of the greatest bands of all time.  There will never be another, that’s for sure!

3.  Black Flag – Everything Went Black – SST – 1982

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Like the Dead Kennedys and Misfits, Black Flag isn’t just one of the greatest hardcore bands of all time, they’re simply one of the greatest bands period.  I realize that Everything Went Black seems like a strange choice for the third greatest hardcore album of all time especially since it doesn’t have “Nervous Breakdown” or “Rise Above” on it but here’s the thing; 1.) Black Flag have OTHER really great songs besides those two and 2.) Damaged is included on just about everybody’s list so I was trying to go the path less traveled.  Now, I love almost everything by Black Flag from their early punk rock/hardcore stuff to their sludgy and noisy stuff and I never felt Henry Rollins ruined the band when he joined.  I just feel Everything Went Black and The First Four Years are such great representations of this band when they were in their punk years.  And since Everything Went Black is longer… also, it’s such a neat release because it actually caused guitarist Greg Ginn and bassist Chuck Dukowski to be sentenced to jail for two weeks for breach of contract against former label Unicorn Records.  The group released it without the credits and just the performers listed but the judge counted that as a Black Flag release and thus a violation of contract and in the pokey they went.  Luckily Dukowski found enough in back tax evasion to bury the label and they eventually won all their rights back.  Everything Went Black is a double album which contains three sides of wicked outtakes from all of the group’s pre-Rollins singers – Keith Morris, Ron Reyes and Dez Cadena – and a fourth called “Crass Commercialism” which is a collection of fun radio spots.  The record showcases just how great of a songwriter Ginn was and also has neat earlier versions of Damaged songs like “Police Story”, “Depression” and “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme”, all of which appear on the album three times each.  Superfluous?  Maybe!  Other killer classics include “Clocked In”, “Jealous Again”, “I Don’t Care” (later to be stolen by Keith for Circle Jerks), “Revenge”, “White Minority”, “Louie Louie” and the Dez Cadena version of “Damaged I.”  Black Flag may not have been the fastest band in the world but damn were they powerful and catchy and don’t you just love Ginn’s crazy solos?  I’m not going to comment on the current Flag/Black Flag reunion debacle.

2.  Misfits – Wolf’s Blood/Earth A.D. – Aggressive Rock/Plan 9 – 1983

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Kids, there’s only one Misfits.  They existed from 1977 to 1983 and were led by an unstoppable singing/songwriting talent named Glenn Danzig who is 5’3″, sings in a killer Elvis/Jim Morrison baritone and apparently has some sort of Napoleon complex which makes him want to act like a macho tough guy in spite being a comic and toy collector.  Hey, nobody’s perfect100% of the Danzig-era Misfits is awesome; from their early days as a Doors-meets-Suicide keyboard band to the mid-tempo goth/doom punk, to lo fi Ramones inspired horror punk to their final days as a thrashing hardcore band.  They went through a few guitarists and drummers and the only other band constant next to Danzig was bassist Jerry “Only” Caifa, who usurped the Misfits name in 1994 to make money by releasing more and more garbage with a bunch of no-talent hacks; yeah I know Dez Cadena is currently in the Misfits, fuck you!  Anyway, I digress.  Many of the group’s fans felt they lost it when they moved away from their more melodic horror punk into straight-forward hardcore.  But I disagree.  First of all, that’s how they started to sound live anyway since they began playing faster for more aggressive audiences and secondly, devilocked Doyle plays catchy as hell riffs while former Black Flag drummer Robo plays fierce, tight thrash beats.  The American version of Wolf’s Blood/Earth A.D. has 9 songs and is 15 minutes long, the European version has 11 songs and is 19 minutes long and the 1996 Caroline reissue has 12 songs and is an epic 21 minutes long.  Of course you should get the longest version since it has “Die, Die, My Darling”, “We Bite” and “Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight” on it.  But if you’re strictly into vinyl, you can’t go wrong with dark, scary, evil and violent tunes like “Earth A.D”, “Queen Wasp”, “Devilock”, “Death Comes Ripping”, “Green Hell”, “Wolf’s Blood”, “Demonomania”, “Hell Hound” and “Bloodfeast.”  Sad to say that Earth A.D. came out in the states a week or so after the Misfits acrimoniously split up but thankfully Danzig emerged with his equally awesome though more experimental Samhain the following year and eventually started his prosperous career in the big leagues.

1.  Corrosion Of Conformity – Eye for an Eye – No Core – 1983

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Everybody has his/her/its favorite and this one’s mine.  In the 90s 3/4 of this band would be joined by New Orleans bred guitarist/singer/songwriter Pepper Keenan and become popular with their big, major label debut Deliverance and its harder edged take on the Alice In Chains/Soundgarden brand of heavy grunge and that’s all fine and dandy and I still think “Clean My Wounds” is a great song but their first album is a doozy!  It’s hard to believe this is the same band, which it wasn’t totally after all.  Here they are at age 15 just tearing it up!  Guitarist Woody Weatherman, bassist Mike Dean and drummer Reed Mullin are joined by lead shouter Eric Eycke and the band blasts through 20 tunes in 35 minutes.  “Rabid Dogs” and “No Drunk” are 40 and 22 seconds long respectively.  “What?” sounds like a normallish punk song and “Green Manalishi” is indeed a Fleetwood Mac cover.  Elsewhere the band basically plays raging speed-core/thrash but with copious amounts of Sabbath and Priest riffs thrown in for good measure just because the band felt like putting them in there and had no problem expressing their love of both early metal and hardcore.  In fact “Redneckkk” is “Symptom of the Universe” played really fast and “College Town” uses the intro to “Cornucopia.”  Lyrically Eye for an Eye is somewhat political with titles like “Minds Are Controlled” and “Nothing’s Gonna Change” but it doesn’t matter too much since it’s nearly impossible to understand most of what Eric Eycke yells in his low, gruff voice.  Still though, this shit kills and it’s produced really dirty and it’s totally underrated so go and buy it.  On their next album, they’d lose Eycke and become a crossover thrash power trio with Mike Dean singing, then they’d get another singer, release another EP, break up for a while and emerge in the early 90s as a really heavy, stoner metal band that graced MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball, then they made Deliverance and had a bit of mainstream success right through the 90s and mid-oughts.  Now they’re back as a power trio with Dean singing lead again and are doing some sort of stoner metal/hardcore/thrash hybrid.

10 thoughts on “The 20 Greatest American hardcore punk albums of all time

  1. Pingback: Punk For a Day Day – October 25th | Crow Arrow, Inc.
  2. The substance of punk is very intensive, emotional, aggressive, angry rebellion. The most of hardcore punk bands, including all I listened from your list here do not have enough emotions for that … they try to play aggressive music, but it always seems fake, going through moves – as attempt to compensate for lack of emotions.

  3. Somehow I need to make this list of awesome early hardcore albums about me. What shit can I fart out of my brain to seem like my bullshit is a contribution to the rest of society who will see this article?

    • Yes! I was actually thinking of doing a redux of this list, replacing one or two of the choices with Too Many Humans by No Trend and the first Die Kreuzen album. I’m still waiting for a proper reissue of all of No Trend’s albums; I have Dozen Dead Roses and Tritonian Nash Vegas Polyester Complex, but sadly only a download of Too Many Humans.

      • Started off as a teenager listening to deathrock/goth-punk/gothic post punk – bands like 1919 & Theatre of Ice. I liked some of the more “psychedelic” punkrock, like No Trend, some Big Black, & melencholic or weird punk, like Rudimentary Peni. Now mostly listen to noise/industrial.

      • Never heard 1919 or Theater of Ice, know the bigger bands like Christian Death, 45 Grave, Sister of Mercy, March Violets, Alien Sex Fiend, but I love that noise/punk stuff like Flipper, No Trend, Mr. Epp w/ Mark Arm from Mudhoney, Blight w/ Tesco Vee from the Meatmen. I have one Dead Church by Rudimentary Peni, but that’s it. Not totally my type of stuff. And, as for noise industrial, I really only know those big names like Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, Einsturzende Neubauten, Non and of course Skinny Puppy and early Ministry, but really, I’m kind of a hard rock ginzo, so the punk stuff I like tends to be just rip-roaring guitar punk or stuff that mixes punk and metal like C.O.C. One thing I cannot stand is neo-folk though, like Death in June. I just think that stuff is boring!

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