Just recently, a friend asked me what my all-time top ten favourite punk records were. That’s quite a tall order but I gave it some thought and what follows is the result. With the exception of the number one and number ten spots, this list is not in any particular order. Feel free to argue the toss but don’t expect me to change my mind on this one.
1. Conflict – The Ungovernable Force. When the revolution comes, this record will be the score to it. It could easily be retitled ‘Class War – The Musical’. Conflict were always slightly at odds with the more pacifist nature of their Crass label counterparts, they were far more street; they didn’t denounce pacifism as such but they weren’t prepared to take a kicking at the hands of fascist thugs either. ‘Increase The Pressure’ set the tone but TUF marks the point when they clearly drew that line in the sand.
2. Stiff Little Finger – Hanx! I saw SLF during the tour when this album was recorded, only the second live gig I’d been to (the first was The Clash), and it captures them at their absolute finest. People always go on about how The Clash brought politics and punk together, but to my mind SLF always did it better.
3. Crass – Stations Of The Crass. An obvious band to include, a hard choice to make. But everything about this record – the music, the lyrics, the price, the packaging, the three sides played at 45rpm and the fourth at 33 – nicely summarises just how vital and important Crass were. Anarchy in the UK took on a whole different meaning after they took to the stage.
4. The Ruts – The Crack. The Ruts got their breaks on the Rock Against Racism reggae circuit and their incorporation of the dub sound with punk’s energy united working-class kids at a time when the far-right were trying to tear us apart. The Crack opens with the sound of a police siren and an alarm bell before launching into ‘Babylon’s Burning’ and it doesn’t let up ’til the last sweat-drenched shout of ‘Human Punk’.
5. MDC – Millions Of Dead Cops. I knew nothing about this band until I saw them supporting the Dead Kennedys in the winter of ’82 and I was stunned. It was a wall of noise but so perfectly controlled and directed. Me and my mate Rut were the only ones ‘dancing’. Everyone else seemed shellshocked. Some idiots even started throwing cans at them. That’s not the close-minded attitude I associated with punk, and we just danced more furiously, dragging them into it (with me getting a busted nose in the process). When I got a copy of the album I knew I was right and they were wrong.
6. Antisect – In Darkness There Is No Choice. Antisect brought a much darker and more intense sound to the anarcho-punk table, heavy and metal without being heavy metal, and matched it to some very thoughtful and emotive lyrics, in places seeming almost to be at odds with the brutality of the noise behind them. At certain points it’s still able to send a shiver through me even after twenty or so years.
7. The Mob – Let The Tribe Increase. Although lumped in with the Crass bands, The Mob took a different path from the shouty politics of their comrades and looked more at how it felt to be an individual in the middle of it all. Love and loss, fears and hopes, looking for a light in the darkness, all wrapped in minor scale melancholy. When they did explore the ‘bigger picture’ they did so far more indirectly, using dream/nightmare-like imagery to paint their visions. A haunting classic.
8. Operation Ivy – Energy. This album still puts a big smile on my face and a shuffle in my step every time I play it. The slightly raw and unpolished nature of the recording just adds to it and keeps it sounding as fresh as the day I first heard it. Sharp, sassy and humourous, the maturity in this record belied the ages of the band members. And let’s face it, ska and punk were destined to mash it up together. Op Ivy showed the rest of the world how to do it and do it well.
9. The Levellers – Levelling The Land. The Levellers took the more folky punk sounds of The Pogues and partnered them up to a very English rebel yell which sprang from the free festival scene of the 1980’s. This record paints a very pastoral vision of anarchy which, while far-removed from my urban roots, demonstrates just how varied and inclusive punk (and, by extension, anarchism) can and should be.
10. Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks. Cos you’ve got to have a reference point and this, for me, was the record that started it all. Forget about all the art-school crap that the Yanks claimed as punk before the Pistols, this album was the catalyst for a musical and social revolution. It taught me how to say ‘Fuck You’ and mean it, and I’ve been putting it into practice ever since.
Punk: it’s a state of mind not a musical style.