The 1970s were a gateway for punk music, especially the British movement with bands such as The Sex Pistols and The Clash largely dominating the landscape while mingling with deeper underground acts: X-Ray Spex, Patti Smith, and Elvis Costello being just a handful of performers at the time.
As the British punk movement began to slowly die out and retreat, it started burgeoning in various factions in the United States as a result of the influence of the 1970s live shows. In the Northwest, bands such as Black Flag, The Germs, The Dead Kennedys, The Minutemen, and Flipper started melding the visceral punk sound with (in some cases) a slowed down anti-punk movement that eventually morphed into and laid the groundwork for the sludgy Grunge sound of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The 1980s and The Evolutions of Punk
In the Northeast, specifically Washington D.C. and New York, the punk sound started becoming faster and much more aggressive soon coining the term: Hardcore. Bands such as Minor Threat and Bad Brains shifted away from the slower punk sound of The Sex Pistols and The Clash and instead emulated the blitzkrieg frenetic pace of The Ramones.
Punk continued to quickly pervade the underground music scene with Husker Du forming in Minnesota and the Gothic tinged Misfits coming out of New Jersey. Despite the pure punk sound largely still at the forefront of most punk scenes in the United States, there started a newer movement as well that would eventually earn punk yet another label as its branches started spreading out further and further: New Wave. This term would also largely influence the poppier side of the Northwestern bands, especially groups like Nirvana and The Pixies.
Standing in large contrast to the post-punk scenes of the Northeast with its Hardcore sped up vibe and the sludgy Northwest scene, this labeled punk music was pure pop and reveled in it. The 1980s started incorporating more synthesizers into the music scenes in general and several of these bands followed suit such as Devo, Blondie, and The Talking Heads. Other bands started drifting away from the pure punk side of the genre and into other breeding grounds such as the Dream Pop tinge of The Eurythmics or the standard hard rock of Duran Duran.
Several bands that varied in musical styles found themselves shooting quickly to the top as a result: INXS (1985’s Listen Like Thieves peaked at 11 followed by 1987’s Kick at 3), The Cars (1979-1984 they had 4 albums at 9 or higher), The Police (their 3 albums in the early 80’s all hit 5 or higher), and The Pretenders (their first 3 albums hit 10 or higher) being just a few acts that found themselves incredibly popular on the charts.
By the late 1980s, punk had continued to remain largely underground, at least the more pure forms in the Northeast and Northwest despite the slow growth of what would eventually by the Grunge movement exploding through the mainstream by 1991. Sonic Youth, driven by their experimental noise pop fusion would finally crack the Top 100 with 1990’s Goo (at 96) and peak at 34 with their 1994 release of Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star album.
Other bands that had continued to experiment with varied genre styles such as The Meat Puppets with their country root rock leanings remained hidden from most of the mainstream despite gaining accolades among the fandom of punk rock and other bands as well. Much like Sonic Youth, the hardcore punk band of Bad Religion went largely unnoticed and didn’t even chart in the United States until 1994’s Stranger Than Fiction, which peaked at just 87.
The Revolution Starts
Nirvana broke through in 1991, largely beheld to more of the punk rock sound similar to Sonic Youth or Devo in comparison to Pearl Jam’s classic rock or Soundgarden’s leanings towards 70’s Arena Rock. Even Alice in Chains were more heavy metal but Nirvana’s breakthrough managed to convince record executives that fans could latch onto punk rock in the mainstream.
The problem was trying to find those punk bands that could equally crossover into the mainstream and 1994 turned out to be the year where punk surged back.
Largely receiving the credit would be two bands: Green Day and The Offspring. Both bands emerged from the West Coast to little notice as Green Day had released 39 in 1990 and Kerplunk! in 1992 with neither album charting. 1994, however, saw their release of Dookie rocket up to #2 on the shoulders of a group of hit songs: Basket Case, When I Come Around, Welcome to Paradise, and Longview. Green Day’s strength was that it rooted itself back closer to the origins of punk rock which married a poppier melodic element to the genre as opposed to the hard shift of the speed based hardcore sound that made up portions of the 1980’s punk rock underground.
On the flip side were The Offspring, whom had married more of a hardcore sound to their punk rock that had stayed with them throughout the late 1980s. They too had released two albums to nonexistent acclaim chart wise (1989’s The Offspring and 1992’s Ignition) before exploding onto the scene in 1994 with Smash, peaking at #4. Much like Green Day, the band rode a slew of hit songs to the top: Come Out and Play, Self Esteem, and Gotta Get Away and had noticeably slowed down their sound in comparison to their earlier albums.
The Mid 90’s Get Punked
Along with bands like Green Day and The Offspring, other bands such as Rancid out of Berkley, CA were also forming and releasing albums. On the strength of the genre, their release of Let’s Go in 1994 peaked at 97 before they shot up to 45 with their next album in 1995: …And Out Come the Wolves largely aided by the hits Time Bomb and Ruby Soho.
By the mid 1990s, punk was officially part of the mainstream rock movement and helped spin off other punk genres such as Ska Punk which noticeably featured bands such as No Doubt, Sublime, and Sugar Ray. NOFX had been formed in 1983 and despite putting out album after album, they finally cracked the Billboard charts in 1996 with Heavy Petting Zoo, peaking at 63 and 1997’s So Long and Thanks For All the Shoes peaking at 79.
The successes of bands such as No Doubt and Sublime further cemented the punk genre as a genre that could be a hit factory. Other bands soon found their way into the mainstream marrying the conventions of pop rock music with indie punk: Weezer, Blink-182, and Smash Mouth.
The Surge Rolls Into the New Millenium
By 1997, the mainstream genre of punk was largely connected to pop and alternative rock. Bands such as 311 began to consistently dominated the US Billboard Charts and in many cases, continue to dominate through the present day. 311 finally broke through with their 1995 self-titled album thanks to hit songs Down and All Mixed Up. Even bands that many people see as one hit wonders, such as Bloodhound Gang, were peaking at 57 in 1996 with their album One Fierce Beer Coaster. Their hit single, Fire Water Burn, was a mainstay on Alternative Rock stations nationwide peaking at 18.
By the early 2000’s, punk continued to have a tie to the mainstream charts as more bands began forming and immediately cannon balling onto the Billboard Charts. Good Charlotte formed way back in 1995 but found success on the charts with their 2002 release of The Young and the Hopeless. Other bands like Sum 41 (formed in 1996) and New Found Glory (formed in 1997) also saw success on the charts in the early 2000’s. Later bands such as My Chemical Romance, formed in 2001, continued the trend and saw near-instantaneous success on the charts by the mid-2000’s.
As their punk rock success carried into the new millennium, gradually another shift began that would be termed Scream-O (for the Emo Genre + Screamed Vocals). Hawthorne Heights hit 56 with their debut album The Silence in Black and White in 2004 but rocketed to fame with 2006’s If Only You Were Lonely on the strength of the hit Saying Sorry. Other bands saw success in the mid 2000’s including The Used and Taking Back Sunday.
Many of the punk rock bands that emerged in the 1990’s and 2000’s continue to see success on the Billboard Charts in the United States with no signs of the genre slowing down.