As anyone who keeps tabs on this site already knows, I’m a huge fan of the post-punk genre that has its roots planted in late-’70s punk and then expanded throughout the length of the ’80s in many different forms. The purpose of this is to identify the ten most essential post-punk records ever recorded, which is far from an easy task to tackle. This genre has been responsible for spawning some of the best records and bands in the history of popular music, but I’ll condense it down to the ten essentials for everyone.
- ‘Marquee Moon’- Television
First things first, post-punk was born with the release of this landmark record in 1977. Television took the poetry of Patti Smith and the attitude of the Ramones, merged them, and became one of the legends of the late-’70s musical climate. This record has an alienation to it that had never been heard up to this point in time; this alienation would become the defining attribute in the early days of the genre.
- ‘Talking Heads: 77’- Talking Heads
Talking Heads made their unique stamp on the scene later that year in ’77, adding to the mix of bizarre sense of humor that was capable of lightening the mood a bit. These guys were, generally speaking, much less invested in the cold, distant emotion that Television and Joy Division reveled in and were more about the blatant experimentation that one would also find in art rock.
- ‘Unknown Pleasures’- Joy Division
This record, released in 1979, is generally viewed as the record where post-punk fully culminated. This is one of the coldest, darkest records I’ve ever heard so take warning if you’re uninitiated. This is NOT for everyone. Nevertheless, it’s absolutely essential. If it weren’t for Joy Division, we probably wouldn’t have the genre as we know it today. Just be warned, this record will get under your skin.
- ‘Metal Box’- Public Image Ltd.
Building off of the Joy Division sound, adding traces of Berlin trilogy David Bowie, and driven by John Lydon’s unstoppable charisma, this is one of the ultimate triumphs of the era. Lydon was absolutely driven by the creative energy to distance himself from the chains put on him by being with the Sex Pistols and this record shows it. This band was looking to push the boundaries wherever and whenever possible in any way they could.
- ‘Three Imaginary Boys’- The Cure
The Cure’s 1979 debut masterpiece helped show the world where the genre could go in terms of its versatility. The Cure have long been one of the most flexible bands to fall under the post-punk umbrella. Balancing the distant energy with a sense of what is more traditionally tuneful, this record and band set in place a new movement for the genre with new rules to follow.
- ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’- Adam & the Ants
Don’t laugh. This is an essential choice. Completely shedding any preconceived notions of the genre, Adam & the Ants created what is quite possibly the most fun, carefree record of the post-punk era. Side note: This band makes use of what is perhaps the most unique drum sound in the history of popular music. Discarding the Ants as nothing more than a gimmick is a huge mistake.
- ‘War’- U2
U2 showed on this 1983 record just how anthemic and powerful the post-punk format could be. Many will argue that U2 aren’t a post-punk band. I understand the argument, but I maintain that their first handful of records are indeed staples of the genre. U2 also paint the genre in a much more optimistic light than many of their contemporaries did at the time. Essential listening. Perhaps U2’s best record.
- ‘From Her to Eternity’- Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ first record after the dissolution of Cave’s previous band, the Birthday Party, is simply essential for having Cave’s unique touch all over the record and the post-punk style. It’s difficult to pin the Bad Seeds down in the post-punk category, because they’re so enigmatic, but there’s no denying that this debut release is essential to the genre. This is possibly the most menacing post-punk record ever recorded.
- ‘The Smiths’- The Smiths
The combined powers of Morrissey and Johnny Marr make this record an absolutely flawless listen in every way. This record showed where the post-punk format could move beyond being about jagged guitars and a cold, urban vibe; it showed that powerful personalities could be at the forefront of the focus. Morrissey has never been one to play it safe by any standards and he revolutionized the entire alternative field in doing this.
- ‘Ocean Rain’- Echo & the Bunnymen
This record represents the creative peak of the post-punk genre. An absolutely impeccable work of art, the Bunnymen had been building up to this 1984 masterpiece throughout their prior releases, each of which showed pieces of what would become this record. It isn’t often that a band is at this level of control over their art, even at the peak of their powers. This is an absolute triumph of a record, as Ian McCulloch himself will definitely tell you.