When I was a teenager, I was affected by punk music for a distinct period of time. Up until I discovered it, I was very much a little metalhead – both the music itself and the politics of punk changed my life. Although I’m not the little anarchist I was at fifteen any longer, the fight for individual thought I found in punk remains near and dear to my heart.
So I thought I would list the five songs that most encapsulate what punk is. Imagine if an alien landed on Earth and asked “What is punk rock?” – these five songs are the ones that would most easily communicate what the genre was all about to said space invader.
5. “Hardcore Rules” – Hated Youth
The song begins with a young man shouting, a cappella: “My name is God – fuck you!” It then explodes into a minute of very fine hardcore punk noise. That’s enough to make me smile even still.
4. “Bodies” – Sex Pistols
I felt a Pistols track had to make the list, and for me this was always the most punk of the lot. For a start, it’s an anti-abortion song, which reminds me of one of the things I really love about punk: its politics are complicated. It never conformed to lazy left assumptions, and indeed, within its boundaries pretty much anything was up for grabs. Musically, it’s also the Pistols’ finest moment, with a riff that is the best thing they ever did.
3. Gimme Gimme Gimme” (original Keith Morris version) – Black Flag
“Sitting here like a loaded gun, I’m waiting to go off/I got nothing to do but shoot my mouth off.” That couplet pretty much summarises American hardcore punk. Fast, loud and brash, this song has it all. Were it not for the next track, would be the US’ finest contribution to the art form.
2. “Suicide’s an Alternative” – Suicidal Tendencies
When I was a teenager, this was the song I would reach for whenever I was really down, like when a girl dumped me. For this reason, I’ve always felt strongly that the prevailing idea that kids will just march like sheep to whatever rock lyrics tell them is so obviously false.
The song basically goes through a list of why life is shit and therefore not worth living. “Sick of thinking: just end up confused/sick of myself: don’t want to live/sick and tired: no one cares/sick of life: it sucks” So the logic of those who tell us kids shouldn’t be exposed to this kind of stuff is that these lyrics very well might compel a depressed teenager to end their life. However, every time I listened to this song as a kid, not only did I feel a bit better about life, I felt definitively less suicidal. The song always made me think the ending of one’s own life was rather silly, in fact.
Even the fact that Suicidal Tendencies later on became a terrible proto-Limp Bizkit metal act doesn’t diminish my love of this song.
1. “End Result” – Crass
This however is the ultimate punk song. An amateurishly played two chord riff over which a man with a very thick cockney accent lays out his existential concerns: “I am a product/I am a symbol/of endless, hopeless, fruitless, aimless games”. There’s a scene in Star Trek 4, you know, the one where they all go back in time to the 1980s to find a whale or something, when a “stereotypical punk rocker” plays music out of a ghetto blaster very loudly before Spock neck pinches him. The song he’s playing sounds like it took this one as its prototype.