The top 15 punk albums of 1978 that still rock today
In which AP’s punk professor emeritus guides us through a vortex of punk history, both known (Ramones, the Clash, Buzzcocks) and unknown to new generations of listeners.January 8, 2020
Punk in 1978: The Sex Pistols broke up in San Francisco and were about to become an asset in a legal battle, despite “new” material being issued. The Damned also dissolved and then reassembled as the Doomed, with Captain Sensible moving to lead guitar and Motörhead’s Lemmy briefly on bass before realizing they’d fare better with the old name. The Ramones lost drummer Tommy, who was tired of the road and the eternal bickering between his “brudders.” (He became their producer, making way for new bro Marc Bell, fresh from Richard Hell’s Voidoids.)
Dead Boys got sent to Miami with Mountain’s Felix Pappalardi, who apparently believed (as did Sire Records) what these Cleveland miscreants needed was a fang-ectomy. And the Clash recorded what might be their greatest single, the punky reggae party that is “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” and what many mistook to be a heavy metal album.
In some ways, 1978 was the year punk gained a rulebook, a format and a dress code. Before now, punk was essentially whatever music wasn’t Ted Nugent or the Bee Gees, made by the local outcasts who bought Stooges and New York Dolls records. Now, it basically meant 1-2-3-4/three Ramones chords/a cloud of dust in a black leather jacket. Not that there weren’t great records or bands of this variety. But when they’re all the same band, playing the same song? That gets tired.
The stronger acts figured out how to take the momentum of 1977 and build upon it. The Sex Pistols wrecked the world and said “fuck it,” walking away. The Clash and others wandered in behind, looked around the ruins, and asked, “Well, what can we build atop this wreckage?” This new world looked really exciting.
1. Generation X – Generation X
Punk’s glam roots got exposed by sneering peroxide pinup singer Billy Idol (who wrote the music), bassist Tony James (who wrote the words), whizz kid guitarist Bob “Derwood” Andrews and drummer Mark Laff in the most perfect LP of 1978 (especially in the U.S. edition featuring stomping 45s such as “Wild Youth” and “Your Generation”). Generation X were bright, colorful, melodic and hard, remembering punk was essentially still supposedly rock ‘n’ roll at its stripped-down core. The newly remastered deluxe version features everything recorded in this period, in speaker-melting fidelity.
2. X-Ray Spex – Germfree Adolescents
X-Ray Spex frontwoman Poly Styrene (known to her family as Marianne Joan Elliott-Said) kept a journal of 1977, focusing on its plastic, consumerist, junk-food heart and set it to post-Pistols punk predicated upon blazing, chunky guitars, a barely controlled saxophone and Styrene’s own shrieky vocal hysteria. It could have stood the inclusion of the amazing debut single “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” But Germfree Adolescents does contain some of the best punk anthems ever written, including “The Day The World Turned Day-Glo.”
3. The Clash – Give ‘Em Enough Rope
Just because Blue Oyster Cult producer Sandy Pearlman was behind the mixing desk doesn’t make this a “heavy metal” or “American rock” album. Play Give ‘Em Enough Rope side by side with Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols. Pearlman gave the Clash the exact same production: taking a raw punk band and letting ’em explode! It’s certainly the Clash’s most orthodox rock album, missing the reggae seasoning now firmly embedded in their DNA. Perhaps “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” should’ve been included among blasters such as “Tommy Gun”?
4. Buzzcocks – Another Music In A Different Kitchen
Original singer/lyricist Howard Devoto abandoned Manchester’s foundational punks for higher education and post-punks Magazine, leaving Pete Shelley to recreate Buzzcocks as a Ramones-speed art-pop band with a wash of abrasive guitars. But before Shelley could get to the gender-neutral anti-romance that became their trademark, he needed to liquidate Devoto’s remaining storehouse of cynical poetry such as “Love Battery” to pave the path for the punk motorik of “Fiction Romance.” Housed in a gray, modernist sleeve, this is one of punk’s greatest full-length statements.
5. Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
It’s easy to forget, but Devo were more techno-punk than techno-pop. Recorded by Brian Eno in acclaimed German producer Conny Plank’s studio, Devo’s debut is more reliant on guitars and drummer Alan Myers’ perfectly metronomic motorik drums than electronics. But jackhammered robotic hits such as “Mongoloid” and “Uncontrollable Urge” effectively communicated these subversive Akronites’ absurd, dystopian message as viciously pogo-friendly as U.S. labelmates the Sex Pistols or Ramones.
6. Pere Ubu – The Modern Dance
Released via future Metallica manager Cliff Burnstein’s short-lived Polydor punk subsidiary Blank Records, Cleveland’s “avant-garage” kings evolved out of original Cle proto-punks Rocket From The Tombs, also the spawning ground for Dead Boys. Early hits such as “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” and “Heart Of Darkness” married Stooges-style intensity with Allen Ravenstine’s industrial synths. Though missing departed founder Peter Laughner (who passed in 1977), his poetic nihilism coats angular rockers such as “Non-Alignment Pact” like warm saliva.
7. Johnny Thunders – So Alone
Now Heartbreakers-less, the New York Dolls’ trash-guitar genius marshaled various Sex Pistols/Only Ones members, old-wave icons Phil Lynott and Steve Marriott, a pre-Pretenders Chrissie Hynde and future U2 producer Steve Lillywhite to cut his first/best solo album. So Alone drips with plenty of dirty rockers, Dolls leftovers (“Downtown”) and Phil Spector-flavored ballads such as “Ask Me No Questions.” But So Alone‘s best known for “You Can’t Put Your Arms Round A Memory,” unquestionably Thunders’ best original, one that the decidedly nonpunk Bob Dylan expressed a wish he had written. Good but spotty, Thunders would never again sound this focused and muscular.
8. The Saints – Eternally Yours
The Saints escaped Australia for England, hoping they’d be embraced by the supposed “home of punk” that’d gone apeshit for their anthem “(I’m) Stranded” the previous year. But with shaggy hair and a nonchalant stage presence, England was as disillusioned with the Saints as they were with the U.K. This didn’t prevent them from outstripping their debut album with their best songs and ambition that still managed to create blistering rock ‘n’ roll, including the horn-driven anti-marketing “Know Your Product” and the supremely disillusioned “This Perfect Day”: “Don’t need no one to tell me what I don’t already know.”
9. Siouxsie And The Banshees – The Scream
The prime musical manifestation of core Sex Pistols followers the Bromley Contingent, Siouxsie And The Banshees spent the two years major labels were scared of signing them perfecting a sound that was both cold and crafty. Drummer Kenny Morris seemingly hit everything except cymbals; guitarist John McKay played anything but clichéd rock licks; and bassist Steve Severin held it all down as ice maiden Siouxsie Sioux yelped and yodeled with as little emotion as possible. Tracks such as “Jigsaw Feeling” were as vicious as they were icy.
10. Buzzcocks – Love Bites
The second Buzzcocks full-length (appearing about six months after the debut album) had strong material and weird sonics, despite Manchester legend Martin Hannett continuing his expert, nonstandard production work. It’s hard to tell if it was mastering or problems at the mixing desk, though future remasters never seemed to correct the nagging audio itch you just can’t finger. With material and performances this strong, it obliterates such questions, especially considering that it contains Buzzcocks’ absolute greatest song, “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve?).”
11. Public Image Ltd. – First Issue
Sex Pistols singer Johnny Rotten wasted no time following their January implosion in San Francisco. Gathering original Clash guitarist Keith Levene and another childhood friend/non-bassist Jah Wobble, plus Canadian drummer Jim Walker, they soon had a name and a manifesto of a single, “Public Image.” A brilliant introduction, it sounded as if John Lydon (now reverted to his Christian name) instructed them to take the basic Pistols sound and implode it, as Levene reduced his guitar to a barrage of ringing harmonics. The rest of the LP features material Lydon penned on the Pistols’ U.S. tour bus, including the withering anti-papist dirge “Religion.” It would take until their second LP for something shockingly new to emerge.
12. Wire – Chairs Missing
Virtually all early English punk came out of art school. Only Wire sounded like it, with their brutal haikus based around Brion Gysin’s notorious “cut-up” technique. Their second LP elasticated any notions of a punk rulebook, becoming less about Ramones-esque speed rock and more about toying with pop structures and electronic experimentation. “I Am The Fly” would become their final outsider pop anthem.
13. The Dickies – The Incredible Shrinking Dickies
These Van Nuys wise guys became the last American punk act to ink a major-label contract until X in the early ’80s. Many wags around the Masque, the basement shithole that served as L.A.’s CBGB, whispered that the Dickies only got the nod because of an uncle in A&M Records’ employ. Still, their hilarious, catchy, early-Sparks-at-beyond-Ramones-velocity crunch netted them several U.K. hits, and their trashy outlook led them to unveil Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” to be as protopunk as the Stooges. Sabbath’s Tony Iommi even confessed to your punk professor that they’d sped up “Paranoid” themselves after hearing the Dickies’ take on it.
14. Ramones – Road To Ruin
Road To Ruin could also have been titled Exit Tommy/Enter Marky, as their original drummer reverted back to Tommy Erdelyi and retired to the producer’s chair. The Voidoids’ Marc Bell became Marky Ramone and brought a certain Keith Moon aspect to his skin slamming. Meanwhile, acoustic guitars (“Don’t Come Close”) and Searchers covers (“Needles And Pins”) enter the mix as the Ramones strived for the hit single legend that’d forever eluded them. Maybe their label should’ve simply pushed “I Wanna Be Sedated,” as it became the Ramones’ most identifiable-to-civilians track, anyway.
Read more: The 10 most influential bands in pop punk
15. Sham 69 – That’s Life
Meet the band who marked the division between first- and second-wave Britpunk, making the music the working-class scream it was always hyped to be. Sham 69 were as stripped-down, powerful, unpretentious and sky-punchingly catchy as punk gets. But as if in response to the rock press’ and early punks’ sneering at their supposed simple-mindedness, Sham 69’s second full-length was a concept album. Meant as a day in the life of a typical proletarian British youth who was the band’s intended audience, populist numbers such as “Hurry Up Harry” and “Angels With Dirty Faces” were connected with slice-of-life dramatic parts, such as fights with the everykid’s parents or an attempted date. Frontman Jimmy Pursey’s shouty earnestness may’ve been easily parodied, but there’s no denying this band’s power and glory.