Every current genre of music has its origins and its influences. In this three part feature, we will discuss the brief history of punk music. This second piece will cover 1985 through 1999. We will throw a lot of key bands and albums at you, so you’ll have plenty of music to revisit or be introduced to.
Right around the mid-late 80s is when punk music began to change a bit. In 1985, we received a ton of albums from some of the big names in punk. Black Flag alone released three albums. The Clash released the forgettable Cut The Crap, which I personally just pretend doesn’t exist. The Damned, Dead Kennedys, the Misfits, Fear and X each gave us an album. The Descendents released two albums, I Don’t Want To Grow Up and Bonus Fat. So 1985 was still a solid year, but 1986 is when you can see the shift. This was the year No Doubt and Green Day (actually called Sweet Children at this time) formed along with Good Riddance and Propagandhi. Tragically, it’s also the year that The Clash and Black Flag disbanded. What no one knew, though, was that punk music would begin to go mainstream because of bands like Green Day and No Doubt. While neither had released during ’86, they were gearing up to take the world by storm. However, the Descendents just kept chugging along with yet another release and the Ramones cranked out Animal Boy, which brought us the single, “Somebody Put Something In My Drink.”
Now, 1987 and 1988 brought us some bands whose names should look quite familiar to you: Bouncing Souls, Fugazi, Operation Ivy, Anti-Flag, and Pennywise. Some of these bands wouldn’t last very long, but others are still releasing music today. In 1987, the Dead Kennedys brought one last album to fruition before disbanding. The Descendents released ALL along with Liveage, which is in fact a live album. The Ramones really managed to outlast The Clash and Sex Pistols and released another album. Bad Religion and Social Distortion both decided to reunite that same year. This led to Bad Religion releasing Suffer in 1988 and Social Distortion releasing Prison Bound. But the album you absolutely need to focus on from 1988 is Fugazi’s self-titled album. It’s one for the ages.
Let’s briefly touch on 1989 now before diving into the 90s. Green Day finally released some music with their 1,000 Hours EP. No Doubt had still been quiet. The Offspring released their self-titled album and Operation Ivy released Energy before disbanding that same year. And while Operation Ivy wasn’t around very long, they did have an impact on Green Day and you can see that in the fact that they’d frequently cover Operation Ivy songs and had a similar style at the start of their career. 1989 is also the year when Dee Dee Ramone left the Ramones and was replaced by C.J. until the band ultimately broke up in the mid–90s. So we might as well get to the 90s now.
While things had started to change in the punk scene, 1990 still brought great bands into the scene. Bikini Kill, Drive Like Jehu, Lagwagon and Lifetime are just a few of the new bands to the scene. Today, though, we nitpick genres and have sub-genre after sub-genre, so we’re just discussing punk music as a whole here. Fugazi and Green Day picked up the page with two and three releases, respectively. However, when 1991 rolled around, those Green Day releases meshed into 1039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours. 1991 also saw a slew of new bands, namely, AFI, Rancid, Pinhead Gunpowder, and Refused. Bad Religion’s reunion was still going strong an they’d become a mainstay in the punk scene. Around this time, Lookout! Records was becoming a prominent label in the punk scene and was run out of the Bay Area. In 1991, they reissued Energy by Operation Ivy on CD and they’re also known for being the label where Green Day got their start before launching into the mainstream. In case you can’t tell, I’m a pretty big Green Day fan so excuse me while I try to ease up on talking about them.
My year of birth, also known as 1992, brought the world blink–182 and quite a few NOFX releases. The Ramones are still busting out some music with the release of Mondo Bizzaro and we’ve now had 5 years in a row of Bad Religion releasing new albums (spoiler alert: there will be more to come). No Doubt has finally released their first album and it comes in the form of the oh-so clever self-titled form. Even more bands form as 1993 rolled around, one of the most important ones being Jimmy Eat World, even though they fall under the emo umbrella more than straight up punk. However, the 90s are when we see a spike in emo and pop punk bands, all of which would be lying to you if they don’t claim to have at least some punk influences. This is where we see a big shift and as punk heads more mainstream, it also heads in more of the pop direction. Hence, pop punk is born. Buddha by blink–182 is a prime example of this in 1993.
Well I couldn’t stay away from Green Day for very long, because 1994 brought about the release of Dookie, which is the album that launched the band into the mainstream once and for all. Blink releases Cheshire Cat and Weezer come about to bring us The Blue Album and all of these albums let us know that punk has evolved from what it was in the ’70s and ’80s. But I think it was a necessary change. The genre was booming and the major labels came calling. They all wanted a piece of the action because, quite frankly, I don’t think the suits really understood why this music was just so damn popular. Staples like 924 Gilman Street fostered a community of people who could enjoy punk music in an awesome environment.
The middle of the decade has arrived and that leaves us with five more years to cover before the turn of the century. Believe it or not, Bad Religion is still managing to bust out a release a year and I’ve now lost track of just how many releases the band has. Tragic Kingdom, which would be one of the most popular No Doubt albums, is released. No Doubt wasn’t cranking out the album like other bands, in fact, they don’t even get another release out in the 90s after this one. The Ramones released their final album in 1995 before disbanding the following year, and it’s appropriately titled ¡Adios Amigos!
You know, I always thought that the Dropkick Murphys were a much older band, but they didn’t form until 1996. The Descendents get back together to release Everything Sucks and head out on tour. The Sex Pistols also managed to reunite, but only grace us with a live album and not a new studio album. Which at this point, I’m sure most people were fine with considering how much time had passed. So many bands had formed in ’96 and ’97 so it would be hard to just pick out a few important ones. Emo music had made a strong impression on many music listeners and while the punk scene had been changing, the purpose stayed the same. Bands were building up fan bases like never before and the community was stronger than ever. Sure, some people were upset that bands were “selling out,” but ultimately the bands got the attention they finally deserved. By the 90s, the music industry was a whole different beast Labels were taking bigger risks and signing punk bands to longer contracts (which was good and bad at the time).
Anyway, let’s round this out with 98 and 99. Unwritten Law had been around for a while, but instead of their self-titled being their first album, it didn’t come around until 1998. Dropkick Murphys, The Offspring, The Living End, and Bouncing Souls all released albums. But, one to really focus on is Refused’s The Shape of Punk To Come, which was the final release before they disbanded that same year. There were a few blasts from the past in 1999 with Blondie releasing a new album for the first time in seventeen years and Joe Strummer putting out a solo record. The Clash also received some live album treatment with From Here To Eternity: Live. If you want a good transition album to listen to from the old to the new, Saves The Day’s Through Being Cool is a must listen. Now, I would suggest checking out a lot more releases than what I’ve listed here, so looking up the bands would be your best bet. there were just so many great releases during this time, that it would take a whole book to go through all of them. And well, that wouldn’t be brief now would it?
Check back soon for part three, which will be contribute by Judy Hong of Middle Part.