Welcome to the top punk albums of 1982. Ronald Reagan's been president for a year. His distaff British stunt double Margaret Thatcher's been prime minister a few years longer. Between the two of them cutting the legs out of their respective nation's economies and eroding freedoms, punk had plenty of grist for the songwriting mill.

Sadly, what was essentially England's hardcore scene was nowhere near as musically exciting as what the U.S. had to offer. Anarchist bands such as Crass may have had interesting messages, but they all plied a distinctly atonal racket. Meanwhile, the 1,000 MPH Mohican thrash rock of the Exploited/GBH/Discharge/etc. sounded like Motörhead without talent, recorded badly on shitty equipment. America's louder/faster/harder squad still offered distinctive rock ’n’ roll thrills, with a significant amount of variety. The U.S. was winning the punk stakes, for sure. And the best punk album of the year wasn’t even issued on vinyl until eight years later. Look below for the top punk albums of 1982.

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  1. Bad Brains – Bad Brains

Hardcore may've peaked with this yellow cassette from the tape-only ROIR label. Four D.C. Afro-Americans with phenomenal chops stoked by years of funk and jazz fusion, debut Bad Brains 45 “Pay To Cum” astonished by resembling a Sex Pistols 45 played at 78 RPM. Their first full-length, cut by Jerry Williams at his NYC performance space 171-A between gigs from August-October 1981, spat 15 more tracks in 34 minutes. It's a fusillade of lightning-fast precision riffola leavened with the deepest dub born out of their Rastafarian beliefs and a PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) philosophy healthier than typical nihilism.

  1. Misfits – Walk Among Us

New Jersey's Misfits couched their nihilism in kitschy comic book/horror movie tropes. It helped that leader Glenn Danzig was more of a crooner with superior songwriting skills steeped in ’50s rock ’n’ roll. Walk Among Us was actually the band's third attempt at a debut full-length but the first to see release. It saw them transitioning from Ramones-ish buzz-pop to something beginning to approach hardcore. It was instantly classic, thanks to Grand Guignol rockers such as “Hate Breeders” and “Night Of The Living Dead.”

  1. Circle Jerks – Wild In The Streets

“Wild in the streets! Running! Running!” No one who heard Keith Morris bellowing these words ever forgot them. L.A.'s Circle Jerks took Garland Jeffreys' almost-languid 1973 slice of post-Lou Reed R&B and made it explode. And the bombs never stopped dropping: “Stars And Stripes,” “Murder The Disturbed” and “Letter Bomb” all delivered. Circle Jerks LP No. 2 is a loud, brief scream against “the American way” led by Lucky Lehrer's hyper-kinetic drums and Greg Hetson's post-Thunders guitar blitzkrieg. 

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  1. Angry Samoans – Back From Samoa

Punk's most dysfunctionally brilliant band, Van Nuys' Angry Samoans centered around gonzo rock critics “Metal” Mike Saunders and Gregg Turner, who weaponized ’60s garage-rock 45s, Ramones and Dictators outtakes and a Mad magazine-derived sense of humor. They got banned across L.A. by attacking KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer on their debut EP Inside My Brain's “Get Off The Air.” The 14 furious rockers (“They Saved Hitler's Cock,” “You Stupid Jerk”) crammed into their debut LP's 17-plus minutes surely alienated whoever might be left. It's hilarious and rocks like a spastic colon.

  1. The Flesh Eaters – Forever Came Today

Chris D. had tired of the Flesh Eaters' unstable lineup. After dissolving the L.A. all-stars behind A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die, he based his sole permanent lineup around guitarist Don Kirk, whose rare simultaneous brutality and sensitivity belied his membership to his first band despite playing for 16 years. Their metallic, economical third LP contains some of Chris D.'s best material, including the amazing opener “My Life To Live.”

  1. Redd Kross – Born Innocent

Teenagers Jeff and Steve McDonald hailed from Hawthorne, California, home of that other famed brother band, the Beach Boys. With guitarist Hetson (Circle Jerks) and drummer Ron Reyes (Black Flag), their six-song debut EP contained such speedy trash-culture updates of the New York Dolls as “Cover Band.” On Born Innocent, Redd Kross covered Charles Manson and the fictitious Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls band the Carrie Nations, serenaded Exorcist star Linda Blair and still distilled the Dolls.

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  1. Zero Boys – Vicious Circle

Zero Boys' debut verified hardcore had not only infected the coasts but now saturated America's midsection. Beginning with a title track centered around a clever eight-note circular riff, Vicious Circle answered the question of how the Buzzcocks would've fared playing hardcore. Even the speediest tracks were hooky and hummable. Terry “Hollywood” Howe's guitar bristled with transistorized fuzz, and Paul Mahern's vocal mic seemed to be plugged into the same MXR Distortion+ pedal. Vicious Circle's an American punk classic.

  1. The Gun Club – Miami

On their 1981 debut, Fire Of Love, the Gun Club set their stall as a boho-poetic alternative to hardcore, already forming an orthodoxy preferring speed/brutality/obviousness over beauty/transcendence/roots. Hence, leader Jeffrey Lee Pierce mined a million blues and rockabilly 45s for riffs and inspiration. Pierce continued to follow rock critic Don Waller's sage advice: “Tell them what they don't want to hear.”

  1. X – Under The Big Black Sun

Moving from Slash Records to Elektra brought these L.A. punks more recording money. Meaning former Doors member Ray Manzarek gave them a bigger production job (without sacrificing raw power) than on the previous two LPs. Country strains emerge in songs such as “Motel Room In My Bed,” while raw emotions stirred by the death of Exene Cervenka's sister Mirielle in a 1980 auto accident permeate material such as “Riding With Mary” and “Come Back To Me.” Overall though, Cervenka and John Doe continue struggling with traditional marriage on tunes such as “Because I Do.”

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  1. UK Subs – Endangered Species

UK Subs continued to be standard bearers of the raw, straight-ahead Britpunk that the Clash and the Damned had abandoned. They'd been hitting Top Of The Pops regularly with raucous hits such as “Teenage” and “Party In Paris,” like a black-leather turd in a punch bowl populated by Culture Club and Depeche Mode. With growling frontman-for-life Charlie Harper and guitarist Nicky Garratt now joined by bassist Alvin Gibbs and drummer Steve Roberts in their classic lineup, their best LP offered a side of brutal punk-metal via the title track and a more experimental flipside.

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  1. Descendents – Milo Goes To College

Welcome to the true square root of ’90s-and-onward punk pop. True, punk had already long contained a more melodic strain (Ramones, Buzzcocks, Undertones, the Boys). But Descendents, four California high school nerds (drummer Bill Stevenson, guitarist Frank Navetta, bassist Tony Lombardo and singer Milo Aukerman) perfected what Stevenson coined a “coffee'd-out blend of rock-surf-pop-punk music.” Descendents' debut, bristling with hard-and-fast singalongs such as “Suburban Home” and “Myage,” set the standard. Containing hard-driving, melodic bass, tight guitar riffs, hypercaffeinated drums and Aukerman's bespectacled, adenoidal bark, every future Epitaph Records signing had to be listening.

  1. The Damned – Strawberries

The Damned declared themselves to Trouser Press magazine as “the last punk band,” but they seemingly itched to leave punk behind. True, they still cranked out plenty of what Captain Sensible called “bludgeon riffs,” such as the frenetic Strawberries opener “Ignite.” But keyboard-driven pop songs such as “Generals” were more typical of their fifth studio effort, as well as funereal psychedelia such as “The Dog,” which wouldn't have been out of place on a Syd Barrett solo record. Sensible's solo success with novelty hits such as “Happy Talk” would pry him from the band, freeing Dave Vanian to steer them into goth.

Read more: These 15 punk records from 1981 have some of the year's best music
  1. Mission Of Burma – Vs.

Boston's Mission Of Burma straddled the precipice between punk and post-punk, creating a dense, pummeling racket filled with obtuse lyrical haikus. Moreover, it was twisted into odd shapes by soundman Martin Swope's tape loop experiments. Their sonic science yielded classic anthems such as their debut 45 “Academy Fight Song” and 1981 EP Signals, Calls And Marches' “That's When I Reach For My Revolver.” Vs. hardly lacked strong tunes, including the frantic “That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate,” which ended perfectly as the tape ran out.

  1. The Birthday Party – Junkyard

The turmoil characterizing Australia's greatest post-punk outfit now permeated both their lives and art. Bassist Tracy Pew served a drunk-driving jail sentence, replaced on several of their third studio LP's tracks by Magazine's Barry Adamson. Phill Calvert was terminated, leading to guitarist Mick Harvey assuming the drums. As these players and genius guitar deconstructionist Rowland S. Howard twisted R&B into several tense, nervy shapes, Nick Cave yowled American Southern Gothic imagery like Flannery O'Connor undergoing electroshock therapy. Rock ’n’ roll's still struggling to catch up to the Birthday Party on this record.

  1. Hüsker Dü – Land Speed Record

The Minneapolitan trio of singer/guitarist Bob Mould, singer/drummer Grant Hart and bassist Greg Norton later branded the ’80s with melodically sophisticated punk. England's NME characterized them as “Buzzcocks grown desperate and huge.” Their debut LP sounds nothing like that. It's a noisy burst of frenzied hardcore, cramming 17 songs into a little over 26 minutes. Recorded live at 7th Street Entry direct from a soundboard feed for $300, it laughs at production values. It's the least musical thing Hüsker Dü would ever do.