Someone volunteered to try to clarify punk rock for me. Below is a combination of his insight with additional research I did on punk rock. The good thing about punk is that it has a broad range. For the introduction, there are the classic punk rock bands along with some of the lighter, easier to listen to bands all the way to the extremely political and more aggressive bands.
The Clash, The Ramones, and the Buzzcocks are the most well-known classic punk rock bands. The following songs aren’t their most popular songs, so you might not be familiar with them.
1. The Clash formed in the U.K. during the 1970s. Their album “London Calling” opened the door to success in the U.S. in the early 1980s.
2. Also formed in the 1970s, the Ramones is true-blooded NYC punk and the most prominent American band to influence punk rock, though they didn’t influence the mainstream.
3. The Buzzcocks basically defined “indie rock band” in the 1970s with their ability to maintain a strong following but not be influenced by mainstream entities.
Lighthearted “fun” punk doesn’t have the political or social commentary.
1. NOFX carved the path for the punk scene in California, which bands like Green Day later followed, up and down the West Coast. This band falls into almost every category, which many think of as a hallmark of a truly modern punk rock band. To emphasize this contrast in NOFX between fun and aggressive, you can listen to songs like “The Brews,” “The Moron Brothers,” “New Boobs,” “Monosyllabic Girl,” and “Johnny Appleseed” and then the list below in the next category.
2. Like NOFX, The Descendents infiltrated the punk rock scene in California during the 1980s and are a mix of hard punk rock and punk humor.
3. The Dead Milkmen are more dark humor than fun, which is one of the reasons they were so popular on college radio in the late 1980s. They did record and sell a significant amount of albums during their time together.
4. Youth Brigade promoted the different aspects of the punk rock subculture, from music to art, and were more of a band for other punk rock musicians than punk rock fans.
Aggressive Punk Rock
This section is more aggressive, and more politically charged and has more of a “message.” It’s the favorite type of punk rock for punk rock fans.
1. Bad Religion was an American band that attained mainstream success even though most of their lyrics focused on the disenchantment with humanity because of the general lack of social and personal responsibility of individuals.
2. Propagandhi is the archetype of the “got something to say” punk rock bands. Very unlike Poison Ivy, Propagandhi almost always speaks about politics, religion, and negative social influences.
3. NOFX appears in this category too. They have several songs disparaging the U.S. political system, like “Murder the Government” and “Don’t Call Me White.” The band also has a unique song called “It’s My Job to Keep Punk Rock Elite” which is about the flaws in the punk culture.
Interesting Footnotes: The last bit I will show you are two interesting footnotes of punk rock subgenres.
1. Ska Punk Rock
Operation Ivy is more of a ska style punk and they represent a whole different style within punk. Operation Ivy can fall into the different categories; it just depends on their mood. They have a lot of political type message songs, and then they throw in lots fun and lighthearted songs as well.
2. Girls in Punk Rock
One point of note is that punk rock is largely male-dominated, but there were punk rock girls who made punk rockers stand up and take notice. A documentary was made about female musicians in punk rock scene highlighting both the animosity and awe they received. If you listened to the lyrics of male punk rock bands, you definitely can walk away knowing that female punk rockers had to be more talented and more aggressive to gain any foothold. While there were feminist-charged, all-female punk rock bands, there were punk rock bands with both male and female members, like the Cramps and the Killjoys (below), though most might say these bands just barely teeter into the punk rock genre.