Henry Rollins, an uncompromising artist most commonly recognised as the frontman of Californian hardcore punk band Black Flag, has been a strong advocate of the punk genre ever since he procured a copy of The Ramones’ eponymous debut album in his youth. From there, he was grabbed by the scruff of the neck and hurled towards his passion in life. Rollins is undeniably a pillar of punk and, as a result, his word goes a long way.
Despite his foray into the new world of punk, it wouldn’t be until 1980 – after becoming a fan of Black Flag – that Rollins got his big break. After exchanging letters with bassist Chuck Dukowski, and later deciding to invite the entire band to stay at the home of his parents while they toured the East Coast, Rollins began to make his move. At the time, Black Flag vocalist Dez Cadena was becoming desperate to move away from singing duties in a bid to focus entirely on the guitar role of the band, thus freeing up a frontman spot. The opportunity had finally presented itself.
After a partial audition for the role at Tu Casa Studio in New York City, Black Flag eventually asked Rollins to become the new face and vocals of the band. Shortly after, Rollins, who previously worked as the regional manager for an ice cream shop, quit his day job and became a rock star.
It was a crossroads moment for Rollins, as he once explained: “I looked at the ice cream scoop in my hand, my chocolate bespattered apron, and my future in the world of minimum-wage work. Or I could go up to New York and audition for this crazy band who is my favourite.” He didn’t care that the opportunity provided a chance of humiliation in front of his favourite band because “meh, I was used to it”. Now, he needed to take the leap toward stardom and finding his vocation in life and the meaning of living it at all.
“I took a train up there, I walked into this practice place in the East Village, I’m standing there with the band with a microphone in my hand and they said ‘pick the tune’,” he explained. “And I sang every song they had.” They went through the entire set twice before the band withdrew for a meeting. They came back “ten minutes later and said ‘you’re in!’” Rollins later admits, “I won the lottery.”
From then on in, Rollins never looked back. Fully immersing himself in the genre of punk, the new Black Flag vocalist became obsessed with the music and, in later years, chose to write about the music as a columnist for both Rolling Stone and LA Weekly. He has rightly been cited as one of the most influential members of the punk scene.
In one of his aforementioned articles for LA Weekly, Rollins put together what he believes to be a comprehensive list of the best punk albums ever made. “This list is in no particular order,” Rollins said while fronting his article. “Lists like these often get confusing because they beg the question, what is Punk?”
He added: “Could Wire, also be considered Post Punk? Where do you put bands like PIL, Joy Division, Television, Patti Smith, Suicide, and Killing Joke? What about Gang of Four, 999 and the Banshees?”.
Partially answering his own questions, Rollins continued: “For me, as a lean definition, I go by the classic UK 1977 graduating class, Pistols, Clash, etc., and go from there.” That’s what he has done, selecting some of the finest acts from the genre as he does. Noting everyone from The Clash through Generation X and X Ray Spex all the way to Wire, Buzzcocks and more. Despite citing the Ramones as one of his strongest influences, Rollins neglects to include them on his list.
“So many great bands and great records in this genre and the surrounding/resulting genres. Best bet is just to get the music playing for as long as possible.”
See the full list, below.
Henry Rollins top 20 punk albums of all time:
- The Clash – The Clash, 1977.
- Generation X – Generation X, 1977.
- The Adverts – Crossing the Red Sea, 1978.
- X Ray Spex – Germ Free Adolescents, 1978.
- The Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks, 1977.
- The Ramones – The Ramones, 1976.
- Eater – The Album, 1977.
- The Damned – Damned Damned Damned, 1977.
- The Fall – Hex Enduction Hour, 1982.
- The Buzzcocks – Another Music In A Different Kitchen, 1978.
- The Saints – (I’m) Stranded, 1977.
- UK Subs – Another Kind of Blues, 1979.
- Wire – Pink Flag, 1977.
- The Lurkers – Fulham Fallout, 1978.
- Alternative TV – The Image Has Cracked, 1978.
- The Ruts – The Crack, 1979.
- The Germs – GI, 1979.
- X – Los Angeles, 1980.
- The Minutemen – The Punchline, 1981.
- Stiff Little Fingers – Inflammable Material, 1979.
We’ve made a playlist of the records below, with some playing around with Spotify restrictions. Unfortunately Alternative TV album The Image Has Cracked isn’t there so we chucked in a live album for you because that’s the kind of guys we are. It makes for one of the best punk playlists you’ll ever come across.