After the demise of Britain’s Punk explosion in 1976-77, bands who were influenced by Punk, or had started out as Punk bands, began making music that was more intelligent, experimental, and musically sophisticated than Punk. They successfully incorporated traditional rock music structures with a wide variety of underground sounds that were emerging in the British music scene of that era, creating music that was atmospheric, darker than “classic” rock, and highly introspective and introverted, but without sounding too experimental or obscure. Most Post-Punk bands experimented with sounds and lyrical structures but never lost their pop sense, so their music is extremely listenable, but at the same time there’s a veritable feast of amazingly new and cool elements to their music that set them apart from the rock & roll that came before them.
It was an exciting era for rock music, and while most of the best Post-Punk bands did not enjoy wide appeal or huge commercial success, their music was massively influential for what would be later known as “Alternative” rock.
Update 4-26-2019: Some record companies block embedding YouTube videos of their product, so fuck them, no free promotion here, as if obscure bands didn’t need more promotion, especially free promotion. Idiots. So a couple of links I had here were changed, goodbye The Cure and Echo & The Bunnymen, hello Bauhuas and Pink Turns Blue, two bands who certainly deserve recognition as Post-Punk legends while the other two are still controlled by retarded record companies who have no idea how these here “Internets” work some 25 years into its creation.
1. The Chameleons – Up the Down Escalator (1983)
A really hot Army girl stationed with me in ’84, who had just returned from a tour in Germany, used to play the album Script of the Bridge while we fucked. It was majestic music, anthemic and bold, somewhere between the change-the-world ambition of U2 and the darker direction taken by Joy Division. I borrowed her album and burned it to a cassette that I played the fuck out of for many years afterwards. When I hear this I still think of her lying naked on my barracks room floor, a shit-ton of lit candles surrounding her like an ancient religious fertility rite, and Script of the Bridge blaring out my speakers. She always left deep scratches on my back, that one. I hear this and it evokes a good fucking memory of a great girl. The song Second Skin from the same album is also brilliant, but I can only chose one on this list from each band.
2. The Sound – Skeletons (1981)
The best band of the 1980s that no one has ever heard. Fuck me as to why this happened. Front man Adrian Borland was the Jim Morrison of his generation, a brilliant songwriter, singer, and producer, and his sparse but hugely danceable arrangements became mainstays at “Goth” clubs all over Europe in the 80s. You wanted a dark, creepy mood along with great dance chops? Play The Sound. This song in particular is about as fucking great as any song from that dark, exciting, beautiful era. Like Joy Division, The Sound could take a dark mood and make it bright with an thrilling cacophony of pulsing bass lines and kick-ass beats. And, sadly, like Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, Borland took his own life at far too young an age.
3. Joy Division – Shadowplay (1979)
Dark, sparse, moody, cool, utterly brilliant. While Punk was quite often working-class stupidness, especially American Hardcore, what emerged after Punk died in the UK in 1978 was amazing. I loved The Clash, who got better when they transitioned from Punk to more diverse rock sounds on London Calling and beyond, but I think, in retrospect, Joy Division was the greatest band to emerge from the ashes of Punk, even if we only have two albums by the band to measure its greatness. Ian Curtis was Rimbaud to Joe Strummer’s Lord Byron, when you think about it. Joe was a hopeless romantic with many socio-political axes to grind, and we loved him because he gave a fuck so passionately, with anger and rebellion in his heart like any romantic. Ian, on the other hand, was a massively depressed nihilist who veered too close to the dark side and fell victim to his own worst tendencies, and his music reflected this abjectly morose excursion into madness and gloomy introspection. Plus, holy fuck, Peter Hook was an amazing bassist who could carry a song by his sheer athleticism on the instrument. When Ian died the remaining members created a whole new band, New Order, with a completely different sound; without Ian Curtis, there was no going back for Hookey, Bernie, and Stephen, but there was certainly a future for the three surviving lads. They did quite well as New Order, a great band with many outstanding records, but never at the magnitude of greatness like Joy Division’s work. That would have been impossible, as Ian Curtis was the brilliantly powerful magnetic force that drove Joy Division’s Rock & Roll engine.
4. Comsat Angels – Independence Day (1980)
Another amazing but sadly obscure band from an exciting era in musical experimentalism and “dare to be different” Post-Punk cool. Joy Division opened the door for all these young bands to express their darker thoughts and feelings, and while only The Cure and Bauhaus are well remembered today, there were other fine bands from that period who made great music. This is one of them. Like all great Post-Punk bands, the C-S Angels delved into the darker regions of consciousness, with pounding beats and a minimalist sound that was equally beautiful and dark, and of course one could dance to the band’s songs with great gusto. This is Post-Punk magic bottled into one great record.
5. Killing Joke – Wardance (1980)
These motherfuckers were crazy, I mean batshit crazy, but in a good way. Nihilists, sure, and doomsday believers of the nuttiest sort, but they put down on record all these insane thoughts and ideas with some powerful and crushing music, which was foot-stomping hard rock without the silly macho posing of the Heavy Metal boys in Metallica or Iron Maiden, who explored the same dark themes, with the only difference being that Killing Joke was essentially a Punk band and not Metal. But Killing Joke rocked like one, and Metallica paid homage by covering one of their songs, The Wait. Wardance is, to me, a scary, superbly powerful, driving anthem of unequaled greatness, and the louder you play it, the better it gets. Doomsday never had a better theme song. Fed Astaire cheerfully dancing on the casualties of nuclear Armageddon? Best cover art ever, if you ask me. Fuck yeah, this is Rock & Roll at its darkest, creepiest, angriest, nihilistic best. Put on your Doc Martens and stomp dance like a psycho as we blow ourselves to smithereens, motherfuckers. Armageddon is coming? Let’s dance.
6. PiL – Public Image (1979)
John Lydon left the Pistols and had a little Punk left in him with this kick-ass song and its Jah Wobble killer bass line and Keith Levene’s simple yet powerful guitar licks. Meanwhile Mr. Rotten gets to purge all his angst and anger with his usual sneeringly accusatory excellence, deriding his old band and all his detractors with a barrage of fuck you, spittle-spewing eloquence as only Johnny can muster. This is, simply put, a great fucking Punk tune. Johnny was a villainous cunt, sure, but we loved joining the bad guys when their message was right. He would cease being this cool in the years to follow, but from ’76-’80 Rotten was a goddamn sage. No one today is rebelling with such beautiful bile and cogently precise articulation. Bottom line: your rebellion had better fucking rock, mate. And this tune rocks. Anarchy indeed, in’nit?
7. Bauhaus – The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1981)
Stylish Brit boys who combined Punk sensibilities with their fascination with Creature Feature horror films. Goth was born here, for better or worse. Peter Murphy was Ziggy Stardust meets Dracula, and it was kind of cool in the brief moments Bauhaus made great music somewhere in the Bowie-and-Eno-Berlin-era vein, though I think they underperformed mostly, and yet their influence was immense. Having said that, this is a brilliant work of Post-Punk art, with its minimalist instrumentation combined with a driving beat, and Mr. Murphy’s haunting vocal delivery always hit the mark. Creepy cool. Gothic chic, if you will.
8. Pink Turns Blue – Your Master is Calling (1986)
“Dark Wave” bands like The Mission and Sisters of Mercy churned out tunes like this in droves, but this obscure German band may have created the best of the lot here, obviously influenced by Joy Division and The Mission, and yet, damn, it’s just a great song. I heard it in a club in Germany in 1988 and sprinted to the DJ to find out who it was, and to my surprise it was a German band, not an English one. All I can say is that at Club Gloria Palast in Saarbrücken, Germany in 1988, this song echoed like a haunting call to Dionysian debauchery, and the girls responded on the dance floor with some schmutziges tanzen—dirty dancing—Goth style. I loved Goth girls back in the day because they were usually the most perverted ones with the most exciting sexual pathologies. Ergo I dug their music because it put them in the mood for further debauched naughtiness. Silly me. This band was relegated mostly to minor fame in Germany, but this song is legendary Post-Punk coolness.
9. Sad Lovers & Giants – Imagination (1981)
Another sadly obscure band that made vital and cool music, only to be buried beneath the deluge of more pop-influenced New Wave and Synth Pop that engulfed England in the early 80s. Sure, Gary Numan, Spandau Ballet, Japan, and the like were fun and cool, but so was this darker, more sinister branch of what came after Punk. Again, this is fantastic Post-Punk music along with which to dance, sure, especially when you’re feeling gloomy and doomy and life sucks ass, but you still want to flail around with your ass wiggling like a bloody fool. Bliss, mates.
10. The Damned – Life Goes On (1983)
These old original Punks reformed and kept making good music, and despite Captain Sensible’s strange run as a UK pop star in the early 80s, with his old Punk band he still had a few great tunes left in him, such as here, a song with a bass line and chord progression that’s been copied not once, but TWICE, first in Killing Joke’s song Eighties, and then Nirvana’s epic Come as You Are. The Captain was in form here, no doubt about it, writing a truly sad and brilliant song about how to live life after losing a loved one. Hard to imagine this was the same band that made New Rose, a nihilistically joyful Punk anthem if ever there was one, and yet, here they are, still fucking great, going all “Goth” in their later years. All hail the real Punks of old. This is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest songs from the 1980s, obscure, yes, but so sublime and touching, so goddamn good I wish everyone gave it one listen to find out why I champion it with such gusto. Of course I have weird and shitty taste in this strange mélange of borrowed and stolen styles, but that’s me, Mr. Pastiche, lover of goofy, often obscure shit that apparently only appealed to me.