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40 Best Punk Songs of All Time (Punk Rock Hits)

December 12, 2023
best punk songs

I’ve compiled the best punk songs of all time, a selection of punk rock hits that embody the genre’s raw energy and rebellious spirit.

This article is a tribute to the tracks that have not only defined punk music but have also inspired generations to push against the mainstream.

Table of Contents

Top punk songs of all time

  • “Anarchy in the U.K.” by Sex Pistols
  • “London Calling” by The Clash
  • “Blitzrieg Bop” by Ramones
  • “Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill
  • “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by the Stooges
  • “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve” by Buzzcocks
  • “Blister in the Sun” by Violent Femmes
  • “Welcome to Paradise” by Green Day
  • “Straight Edge” by Minor Threat
  • “Sonic Reducer” by Dead Boys

1. “Anarchy in the U.K.” by Sex Pistols

“Anarchy in the U.K.” is one of the best punk songs out there!

By punk rock band the Sex Pistols, the hit was their debut single in 1976 and was featured on their album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.

It’s ranked at number 56 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

2. “London Calling” by The Clash

This punk song reflects the Clash’s growing interest in styles beyond their punk roots.

The song and album alike include themes of social displacement, unemployment, racial conflict, drug use, and the tricky responsibilities of adulthood.

Speaking on the album to which the this is the title song, Jack Sargeant remarked that “whether the Clash completely abandoned their punk roots or pushed punk’s musical eclecticism and diversity into new terrain remains a controversial issue.”

3. “Blitzrieg Bop” by Ramones

This popular punk rock song whos composition is accredited to the American punk rock band Ramones, who first released it in 1976 as the opening track to their self-titled album.

“Blitzrieg Bop” was written by drummer Tommy Ramone and bassist Dee Dee Ramone.

The song quickly became popular at sporting events, giving rise to the iconic chant “Hey! Ho! Let’s go!” that is sometimes shouted as a rallying cry.

4. “Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill

Widely considered a classic example of punk music, “Rebel Girl” continues, to this day, to remain emblematic of the riot grrrl movement of the 1990s.

The lyrics were reportedly inspired by the influential feminist artist Juliana Luecking, with the song’s theme and lyrics being viewed as an ode to feminist solidarity.

Giving voice to a newfound lesbian perspective, it is an explicit “tribute to, and love song for, another woman”.

5. “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by the Stooges

Released as the debut single from the band’s 1969 self-titled debut album, “I Wanna Be Your Dog” is one of the Stooges’ biggest hits.

The distortion-heavy guitar intro, single-note piano riff, and steady, driving beat was the cutting edge of the early heavy metal and punk sound.

Pitchfork Media placed the punk song at number 16 on its list of “The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s”, and rightfully so!

6. “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve” by Buzzcocks

Writer Pete Shelley recalled:

“We were in the Blenheim Guest House with pints of beer, sitting in the TV room half-watching Guys and Dolls.

One of the characters, Adelaide, is saying to Marlon Brando’s character, ‘Wait till you fall in love with someone you shouldn’t have.’

“I thought, ‘fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have?’ Hmm, that’s good.”

The following day he wrote the lyrics, and thus this punk rock song was born.

7. “Blister in the Sun” by Violent Femmes

Blister in the Sun” is one of the best punk rock songs of the 1980s, released by American rock band Violent Femmes on their self-titled debut album.

In 2005, it became the first English-language track to ever be allowed on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, the Republic of Ireland Irish-language radio station!

The song was covered and repopularised by drag queen and singer Trixie Mattel in 2001, for her EP “Full Coverage, Vol. 1”.

8. “Welcome to Paradise” by Green Day

“Welcome to Paradise” is a song by the American rock band Green Day. 

It is based on the band’s experience moving out of their parents’ houses and into an abandoned house in Oakland, California where the band members, along with a number of others, lived without paying rent.

The house was quite broken-down but to them it became home, and this feeling is described in this top punk song.

9. “Straight Edge” by Minor Threat

This hit was an inspiration for the movement in the punk subculture known as straight edge.

The song specifies abstinence from snorting, smoking, and using illegal drugs.

This anti-inebriation movement had been developing in punk prior to this song, but it was a major influence in giving the scene a name.

Frontman Ian MacKaye quickly became a (somewhat unwilling) figurehead.

It’s also notable for being unusually short, at 46 seconds, especially considering its cultural impact.

10. “Sonic Reducer” by Dead Boys

Written by Cheetah Chrome and David Thomas during their tenure in Rocket from the Tombs, this punk rock song became largely successful when recorded by Dead Boys in 1977 (and continues in the same manner).

The song is widely regarded as a punk classic and has been covered by popular bands as varied as Guns N’ Roses, Overkill,  Pearl Jam, Veislakt, Foetus, Dozer, Leeway, Die Toten Hosen and Saves the Day.

11. “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads

This punk rock song, released on Talking Heads’ 1977 debut album Talking Heads: 77, was first performed by the group as the Artistics in 1974.

Known as the band’s signature debut hit, it features lyrics that seem to represent the thoughts of a serial killer.

“Psycho Killer” became what AllMusic calls a “deceptively funky new wave/no wave song” with “an insistent rhythm, and one of the most memorable, driving basslines in rock & roll.”

See also: Songs About Psychos

12. “Waiting Room” by Fugazi

Taking influences from funk, hip-hop, and reggae, “Waiting Room” exemplifies Fugazi’s signature style of post-hardcore punk rock and went on to become one of their most widely covered songs (despite never being released as a single).

The song was inspired by the short-lived nature of (then-lead vocalist) Ian MacKaye’s previous band Embrace.

“[That song] was an event that changed the meaning of everything that came before it.” (Walter Schreifels, Quicksand lead singer)

13. “Personality Crisis” by New York Dolls

“Personality Crisis” is the lead track from the New York Dolls’ self-titled debut album, and was written by lead singer David Johansen and guitarist Johnny Thunders.

Jack Douglas, who engineered New York Dolls, named “Personality Crisis” his favorite song on the album.

This is reflected in its punk culture popularity; music journalist Tony Fletcher called it an “instant glitter rock anthem”, while writer and historian David Szatmary called it an “anthemic and dynamic protopunk song”.

14. “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” by X-Ray Spex

Released in 1977, this debut single is regarded by critics as a prototypic example of British punk, though it was, surprisingly, not a chart hit.

Poly Styrene, X-Ray Spex’s songwriter and lead vocalist, became motivated to join the scene as a result of attending a Sex Pistols concert, her first encounter with the band.

Concerned with issues of consumerism and disposability, the lyrics act as a brand of servitude with a “feminist […] rallying cry”.

15. “Lust For Life” by Iggy Pop

This 1977 punk rock song, performed by Iggy Pop and co-written by David Bowie, features on the album of the same name.

In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked it No. 149 on their list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”!

In a 1995 interview, Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek stated that the opening lyrics were about their deceased heroin dealer, “Gypsy Johnny”, arriving at Wonderland Avenue, with his heroin and his “motorized dildos”.

16. “I Wanna Be Sedated” by Ramones

This punk rock song remains one of the Ramones’ best known songs, and was originally released on the band’s fourth studio album, Road to Ruin, in September 1978.

Kelefa Sanneh said of the song, “I loved it because it seemed like the beginning of a tradition, pointing away from all the conventional things a rock ‘n’ roll band might do, and pointing toward anything and everything else.”

17. “White Riot” by The Clash

“White Riot” is a song by punk rock band the Clash, released as the band’s first single in March 1977 and also included on their self-titled debut album.

Writing for Melody Maker in November 1976, Caroline Coon described how the song “played with the force of an acetylene torch”.

Billboard described it as “the most controversial song the Clash ever did”, yet it remains one of their most successful.

18. “God Save The Queen” by Sex Pistols

“God Save the Queen” is a controversial song by the English punk rock band the Sex Pistols.

The song was released during (the late) Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.

Due to the controversial nature of the cover, content, and lyrics, both the BBC refused to play the song, implementing a total ban of its airing.

The lyrics themselves are a general expression of the band’s view of the monarchy.

19. “Holiday in Cambodia” by The Dead Kennedys

“Holiday in Cambodia” is a song by American punk rock band Dead Kennedys.

The song was written shortly after the genocidal dictatorship of the Khmer Rouge, which is estimated to have been responsible for the deaths of roughly a quarter of the Cambodian population between 1975 and 1979.

The lyrics are critical of disingenuous college-aged students in the Western world, contrasting their lifestyle with that of those under the Cambodian regime.

20. “Ruby Soho” by Rancid

“Ruby Soho”, written and released by the American punk rock band Rancid, was the third and final single from their third album, …And Out Come the Wolves.

The song was only moderately successful at first, but soon reached number 13 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks.

Spin listed the song on their list of the 95 best alt-rock songs of 1995, assisting it to continue to shoot to further popularity.

21. “Bastards of Young” by The Replacements

Inspired by songwriter Paul Westerberg’s sister Mary and the band’s feelings of alienation, the song features a Who-inspired guitar intro.

Since its release, it has received critical acclaim and has been named by many music writers and critics as one of the band’s greatest songs, being described as an “anthem”.

In 2021, the song was ranked by magazine Consequence of Sound as one of the 50 best punk rock songs of all time.

22. “Constant Headache” by Joyce Manor

“Constant Headache” is a 2011 punk rock song, recorded by American rock band Joyce Manor as part of their self-titled debut album.

Listeners have theorized that the song’s lyrics were written from the perspective of a dog, though songwriter Barry Johnson has expressed confusion at this:

“I can’t pin down exactly which line it is that suggests that. Clearly, there’s something there because it’s too strange of a coincidence.”

23. “Search and Destroy” by The Stooges

“Search and Destroy” is a song that was mixed by David Bowie and released by American rock band the Stooges in 1973.

Lead singer Iggy Pop said that the title was derived from a column heading in a Time article about the Vietnam War.

The song, which was named  the 49th best hard rock song of all time by VH1 in 2009, has also been characterized as garage rock, glam rock and proto-punk.

24. “If the Kids are United” by Sham 69

This punk rock song, recorded by English punk rock band Sham 69, was an enormous success, reaching number 9 in the UK Singles Chart in 1978.

“If the Kids Are United” has been covered by an extensive number of artists (Rancid, Wat Tyler, and 7 Seconds to name a few), but the most successful was by the German punk rock band Die Toten Hosen in 1991.

25. “American Jesus” by Bad Religion

“American Jesus” is the first single by Bad Religion from their 1993 album Recipe for Hate.

The punk rock song takes on the popular, if not somewhat controversial, idea that God favors America, rather than other countries.

Songwriter Greg Graffin said “During the Gulf War, George Bush said, ‘We’ll win, because God is on our side!’. What an amazing statement!”

Despite this, the politically charged song touches on antisemitism, war, and religion as an excuse.

26. “Longview” by Green Day

This is one of the best punk songs out there, and is the impressive debut single by American rock band Green Day.

“Longview” was the band’s first single to top the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart in the U.S, with the music video receiving heavy airplay on MTV.

Ranking at number 3 on the Best Singles of 1994 list by Rolling Stone, Green Day received four Grammy Award nominations thanks to this hit!

27. “Marquee Moon” by Television

This punk rock song by American rock band Television, recorded for their 1977 debut album of the same name, was written by the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist Tom Verlaine.

“Marquee Moon” frequently appears on greatest songs lists, including Rolling Stone magazine’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, on which it ranked 173rd in 2021.

Based on such rankings, the aggregate website Acclaimed Music lists the song as the 150th most acclaimed song in history!

28. “Forming” by Germs

“Forming” is the debut single by American punk rock band the Germs, released in July 1977 and regarded as the first true Los Angeles punk record.

The Germs, composed of four teenagers, was formed not long before the recording of the single while staking out Queen’s Freddie Mercury at a Beverly Hills motel.

The band’s all-female rhythm section placed them at the forefront of women’s participation in early L.A. punk.

29. “I’m Waiting For The Man” by the Velvet Underground

“I’m Waiting for the Man” is a popular punk rock song by American rock band the Velvet Underground.

Written by Lou Reed, it was first released on their 1967 debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico.

The lyrics describe a man’s efforts to obtain heroin in Harlem.

In various reviews, it is described as “tough garage rock”, “proto-punk classic”, and “one of the all-time classic rock songs”, with renditions by a number of artists.

30. “Alternative Ulster” by Stiff Little Fingers

“Alternative Ulster”, by the Northern Irish punk band Stiff Little Fingers, was released in 1978 and appeared on their album Inflammable Material.

Burns described the song as “written in the classic punk mode of having nothing to do,” describing the main frustration of Belfast youth of the time as “the sheer tedium of having nowhere to go and nothing to do when you got there.”

Its relatable nature definitely lent itself to the song’s popularity!

31. “Time Bomb” by Rancid

“Time Bomb” is a great punk rock song by the American punk rock band Rancid.

The song reached number 8 on Billboard Modern Rock Tracks, marking the highest initial charting single in Rancid’s career.

The reception of the song was widely positive with fans and critics, with Loudersound ranking it as Rancid’s second best song.

Furthermore, Consequence of Sound coined it the 44th best punk song of all time!

32. “Complete Control” by The Clash

This hit by The Clash featured on their debut album, and is often cited as one of punk’s greatest ever singles!

The fiery motivation for the song is that the band’s label (CBS Records) released “Remote Control” without asking them, which infuriated the group.

Stereogum described it as “this extraordinary airing of grievances, a desperately catchy cataloguing of the many ills visited upon a young band experiencing its first forays into corporate culture”.

33. “TV Party” by Black Flag

The popular and successful punk rock song “TV Party” was recorded three times.

To promote the Damaged album, Unicorn Records had Black Flag enter the studio and re-record the song for the EP in 1982, with their then-new drummer Emil Johnson.

Each version of the song differs, lyrically referencing different TV shows from the era in which each recording was made.

This certainly helped the song to shoot to popularity further still!

34. “Unsatisfied” by The Replacements

This punk rock song was written by Paul Westerberg and recorded by his band the Replacements for their third studio album Let It Be (1984).

The song revolves around the central lyric “I’m so unsatisfied,” and was largely fleshed out in the studio featuring improvised guitar lines from guitarist Bob Stinson.

Though not released as a single, the song has become one of the Replacements’ most acclaimed songs, being applauded by music critics.

35. “Rise Above” by Black Flag

“Rise Above” is the leading track from Black Flag’s debut album, Damaged.

Released in 1981, the song, nor the album, initially didn’t achieve success in terms of critical acclaim and record sales.

Nevertheless, it later became the template for any band that tried to produce a punk rock song.

Ranked at number 25 of Pitchfork’s top 100 songs of the 80s, they say: “Listen to “Rise Above” and try not to be incensed”.

36. “In The City” by The Jam

“In the City” is the debut single by English band The Jam from their album of the same title.

The song was the UK’s first introduction to the band, and was characteristic of Paul Weller’s anthems that commanded the band’s early output.

Musically, the song is in the vein of the band’s first album, a mod/punk number influenced by The Who’s early music, but with an energy and attitude updated for the punk era.

37. “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene” by X

This punk rock song from X’s debut album received a lot of attention, and is about a lurid combination of sex and drugs.

Explaining how the song was and is often misinterpreted, X guitarist John Doe told BAM in 1980:

“‘Johnny Hit and Run Paulene’ is about a guy who takes an imaginary drug that allows him to have sex once an hour for 24 hours. It’s about rape, forcible intercourse and s–t like that”

38. “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” by Against Me!

“I Was a Teenage Anarchist” is a song released by the Gainesville, Florida-based punk rock band Against Me!.

The music video features Laura Jane Grace in punk clothing being chased by a police officer, who begins beating her.

Members of a crowd that had formed then began attacking the officer, freeing Grace.

At the end of the video she is shown being shoved into a police car, smiling after a few moments.

39. “Last Caress” by The Misfits

“Last Caress” is a punk rock song by the American punk rock band Misfits, first released on their 1980 EP Beware.

One of the best punk songs of all time, it is commonly considered to be one of the Misfits’ greatest songs, and has been covered by a number of artists including Metallica and NOFX.

The Metallica version, a medley titled “Last Caress/Green Hell”, has achieved impressive notoriety in its own right.

40. “Chinese Rocks” by Dee Dee Ramone

“Chinese Rocks” or “Chinese Rock” is a punk rock song written in 1975 by New York punk rock musician Dee Dee Ramone, with contributions from Richard Hell.

Inspired by Lou Reed’s “Heroin”, the song openly details the day-to-day struggles and suffering of opiate addiction, based on Dee Dee’s real-life experiences.

Best Punk Songs – Final Thoughts

Congratulations – you’ve completed the list of punk through the ages!

It may have become apparent to you that the a little attitude and political rage can take you far in the punk rock world – that’s why we love it so much!

Similar Articles:

Best Rock Songs of All Time

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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