If the ‘70s was the decade punk exploded, in the ‘80s things became a whole lot more serious. Punk as a marketable aesthetic had had its day; in its place were bands with no financial backing doing things for themselves, often genuinely raging against the system instead of just cultivating the appearance of doing so.
For fans of the first wave, which often took inspiration from glam and pop roots, this was a shock. Songs were shorter, grimier, louder, even more in your face. The big new movement was hardcore, where speed was king and aggression a must.
But as the decade progressed, bands began to branch out, incorporating other styles into their music, embracing minimalism, venturing into ska, and even trying their hand at that prog rock staple, the concept album.
This period of punk, often adventurous, often purely visceral, may just be the genre’s finest moment, and these are 10 of the truly great albums from that time. They illustrate a fantastic era in which the rule book was written, ripped up, and then rewritten time and again.
10. Black Flag - Damaged
For all its diversity and myriad influences, all you really need to know about punk rock comes in the first 30 seconds of “Rise Above”, the first track on the first record by seminal band Black Flag. A simple, fast paced beat, a shock of feedback, a gritty riff, and Henry Rollins stepping up to the mic to deliver the track’s eponymous refrain.
Rollins was the face of the operation but Black Flag was the brainchild of Greg Ginn, whose SST Records was behind a great deal of the decade’s very best punk music. Black Flag were a hard working, hard partying outfit with tunes like “Six Pack” to back up that lifestyle.
They could play as good as they talked, though, Chuck Dukowski’s gurgling bass set the template for most punk rock four stringers, and Ginn’s ear for a riff is almost unsurpassable. He hurls notes around, making his refrains busy and technical, but always with those earworm tendencies that make this near-50 year old record timeless.
They could have a laugh, too, on the likes of “TV Party” - Rollins is an imposing figure but he’s a dynamite frontman knowing the importance of entertainment.