NOTE: My site tracking indicates this page gets more daily hits than any other of my blog. To these cool visitors, firstly I thank you warmly, but also I’d love to get all your feedback about the tracks on this list. Which do you like? Which do you not like? What do you think about my commentary on each track? Did this guide help you to understand Post-Punk music better? Am I getting things right or am I totally full of shit? Or just tell me more great tracks that I’ve not included on my list.
Thanks! I moderate my comments, so after you submit them, please give me a day or two to approve them. I assure you I will unless they are just patently disrespectful personal attacks against me. Attack my ideas enthusiastically, but not me personally.
– Mat Scheck, 28 Feb 2020
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. These bands 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 2-15-2020: Speaking of great Post-Punk bands, upon the death of Gang of Four’s brilliant guitarist, Andy Gill, who passed on February 1, I wrote a long-winded essay about GoF and how much the band’s music meant to my life in the early 1980s when I was a young man trying to smash through an insane world around me. I needed a comparable soundtrack to my frenetic and weird life, and GoF was one of a few bands capable of providing that vital necessity. Neither American radio nor MTV presented artists who fit that purpose, so I spent countless hours perusing the import bins at hippie record shops or querying DJs at “in” clubs to find the music that truly spoke to me at my deepest intellectual level. It’s how my Army buddy Jim Torey and I discovered R.E.M., The (English) Beat, XTC, Killing Joke, Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, and many other cool but obscure (in America at the time, 1983) bands with off-beat sounds. Luckily MTV did present to me in 1983 great stuff by Duran Duran, The Cure, Psychedelic Furs, The Teardrop Explodes, and many others. Ah, but that’s all for another essay. Let’s stay on topic with Post-Punk bands.
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 for dancing, 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.
11. Gang of Four – Damaged Goods (1979)
The recent death of guitarist Andy Gill led me to write an entire piece about this legendary English Post-Punk band. This track is, in all its greatness, perhaps the seminal example of Post-Punk as it is defined. Gill’s guitar parts were sonic slashes and frenetic bursts of energy that gave the band its angry, biting sound, but bassist Dave Allen was the melody-making generator of what drove the funky side of the band, along with the highly competent drummer Hugo Burnham, and vocalist Jon King’s bitter, sneering attack against the staid but effete English meritocratic lifestyle is what gave Gang of Four its political vitality. They only made three records but their influence in the 80s and beyond is the stuff of legend. Although Marxists, their approach was more Socratic in how they deconstructed the so-called capitalist paradise that they felt was more a decadent illusion than reality. Great fucking messengers, these blokes. Let’s have a revolution, mates, but let’s dance too.
12. Siouxsie and the Banshees – Christine (1980)
Siouxsie had a ground-floor view of England’s Punk elite in 1976, and when that movement blew itself up she led the survivors out of the ashes by the sheer genius of her charisma and delicate balance between her Punk ethos and superb pop sensibility. Her music with the Banshees was dark, brooding, and introspective, and yet Sioux and the lads could get your ass wiggling on the dance floor with all the Goth girls who adored her like a supreme Goddess. Come to think of it, so did I back in the day. Even The Cure’s Robert Smith joined the band at one point to further boost Sioux’s influence on anyone who mattered when Post-Punk was gripping the scene. Her longevity while many of her peers faded into obscurity proved the sheer strength of her songwriting and power to influence the coolest kids.
13. Television – Marquee Moon (1977)
The honest truth about this band was that the lads were too damn good on their instruments to be proper Punks, and yet they were without a doubt part of the small group of NYC musicians who invented the scene and later infected London with the sound and vision that led to The Pistols and Clash and all that good stuff. I mean, come on, this record ain’t Punk, if only because they have extended guitar solos on this track, which the Punks ridiculed in the early days, mainly because none of them were good enough to actually play solos. One only wishes that Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine could have remained simpatico and Hell never left the band, but regardless of that tragedy, this is probably the perfect record to kick off Post-Punk before Punk had actually died. Verlaine and Richard Lloyd were Punk’s Duane Allman and Dickie Betts, two brilliant axe men who traded licks with effortless aplomb and verve, and unlike Prog Rock, the solos are more necessary than gratuitously excessive. Verlaine is a competent singer, but Hell would have shredded these songs with his even better vocal delivery and charismatic presence. Oh, well. What we get is not exactly a Punk record and it’s not exactly Classic Rock either, but an amazing hybrid of both. In the 80s everyone outside the mainstream wanted to sound this good, and in a way Television was the Velvet Underground of New Wave, the obscure band that lit the fire of all that followed. It’s a goddamn tragedy this band wasn’t as popular as REO Speedwagon or Rush or any of that so-called mainstream Rock of the late 70s. Marquee Moon was the future and no one but the NYC critics of the day and nearly everyone cool in the 80s understood this true fact. Rock & Roll has hardly ever been better than this, my friends. Sadly I only caught on to this masterpiece in the middle 80s, but since then I’ve savored its genius like any hopeless devotee.
14. The Fall – Big New Prinz (1988)
I always thought Mark E. Smith was an ugly and talentless cunt, but that was his appeal, yet honestly I only briefly liked The Fall when Brix married Mark E. and joined the band in the middle 80s and left at the end of the decade. Brix’s ultra-hot looks and American Punk-Pop sensibility helped give the band the musical direction and visual appeal it desperately needed, and on the album I Am Kurious Oranj, The Fall sounded and looked absolutely fantastic and weird and vital. Mark E.’s creepy and virtually unintelligible vocal delivery could be equally annoying and yet extremely cool, which sounds stupid until you listen to this track. What’s he babbling about? Who fucking cares, the band sounds tight and professional and good. Still, he was an ugly cunt and the worst lead singer in the history of pop music, which to the most ardent fans of The Fall was never a negative critique of the man or his art. I heartily agree—Mark. E. Smith was pretty goddamn cool. RIP, you ugly cunt. Loved ya.
15. The Professionals – Join the Professionals
Ex-Pistols Jonesey and Cookie teased us with this great track of what could have been, but drugs, stupidity, and legal battles with the record company sent the project to the scrap heap, sadly leaving us with a couple of good songs and a trunk full of unfulfilled promise. It would have all been lost in the trash heap of history except this track got some juice from Lou Adler’s decent but largely obscure 1982 film Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains, which suffered horribly from Adler’s stubborn refusal to listen to the two female writers and make the feminist manifesto they desired. In the film English actor Ray Winstone played a Punk lead singer who looked cooler and more authentic than most real Punks could have ever even imagined, and his backing band was like a British Punk supergroup with Jonesey and Cookie and The Clash’s bassist talisman Paul Simonon. They called themselves The Looters and it looked and felt authentic, despite the fact it was fictional. But Jonesey lent the fictional band this kick-ass song to give it some realistic Punk gravitas. Damn, what could have been. This is bloody good, in’it?
16. Cocteau Twins – Five-Ten Fiftyfold (1983)
None one knew what in the hell Liz Fraser was singing, but no one cared because it was so utterly beautifully brilliantly magical. First time I heard this it blew my mind, perhaps because I’d smoked a buttload of hashish, and I think in my insane dope-fueled mania and lust for this sound I may have cried more than a young man should; it was that good, folks. It was like a Picasso or Chagall or Dali painting coming to life, a bizarre and beautiful swirling cacophony of yummy glistening guitar effects and Liz’s amazing voice echoing across the stereo channel like a haunting apparition you sincerely would have fucked. In the 1980s there was nothing—NOTHING—quite like this intensely, weirdly, wonderfully hypnotic sound. A girl I dated back then called it an orgasmic wonderland. Yes. YES. I have never loved a female lead singer with such demonic passion like I have Liz and her gloriously unintelligible operatic sugar-coated orgasmic wonderland voice that was sonic heroin where I needed multiple fixes to even satiate the beginning of my jonesing for this beautiful brilliant magical woman. That about sums up how much I loved the Cocteaus all through the 80s and into 1990’s perfect Heaven or Las Vegas, still one of my top-5 records.
17. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Happy When It Rains (1987)
How did I explain The Jesus & Mary Chain’s sound back in 1987 to my friends? I’d posit, “What if The Velvet Underground joined The Beach Boys on Pet Sounds? Here you go.” Psychocandy had been a revelation and a truely great record, but on the band’s second record, Darklands, they toned back the noise just a smidgen and pumped up the pop melodies, and the result was, in my opinion, the finest record of the 1980s, and easily the most-listened album of my collection for many many years. Few works of Rock & Roll have brought me more joy than this album, I shit you not. This was my band from my generation, my album, and my sound. It belonged solely to me and it was my duty to proselytize its magnificence to everyone around me. Even The Smiths, a band I adored unequivocally in that period, couldn’t inspire as much love as The Jesus & Mary Chain and Darklands. It was Post-Punk music at the apex of that sound’s guiding principles, and yet it was something better at the same time, unrepentantly poppy and sweet even amid the dark shadows and fuzzbox guitars, like a delectable, tasty blend of fire and sea salt caramel. Goddamn I still love this song after 33 years. They should have been way bigger than they were, what a tragedy of the ages that in 1987 they weren’t bigger than Guns-n-Roses or Bon Jovi, because they were immensely and intensely better in every way. Such is life.
18. Flesh for Lulu – Subterraneans (1984)
Somewhere between Post-Punk and Goth was a cool land populated by bands like the Lulus, influenced by Bolan, Bowie, The Velvets, and Joy Division, call it Gloomy Glam Goth, at which the Lulus were the leaders of this new school. Nick Marsh was pretty and creepy like Bauhaus’s Peter Murphy, but put a happier face on Goth with his peppy enthusiasm for all things dark and gloomy. The band never hit it big but did get a popularity bump from the John Hughes turgid and largely stupid teen flick (using actors well into their middle 20s) Some Kind of Wonderful. Don’t let that yucky tripe poison your chance to listen to earlier, better songs by this damn fine Post-Punk band. This track is the Lulu’s finest hour by far, and it’s a doozie, really cool and bouncy and fun.
19. New Order – Dreams Never End (1981)
This was the transition song from an Ian Curtis-less Joy Division to what would become New Order, who after this brilliant song strayed into Synthpop and left behind its Post-Punk sound for posterity. Peter Hook sings lead and does a fine job, but we all imagine what the song would have been with Ian Curtis singing, and it brings tears to our eyes in our imagining. The Cure stole this chord progression for In Between Days and no one got mad because it’s also a great tune, peppier and more spirited, a happy-happy-joy-joy turn from all that Post-Punk gloom and doom. Still, this was a great healing track for everyone who thought Ian Curtis was the bee knees, because, really, he was, my friends, and this tribute is a sad but hopeful start to the fact that the remaining members of Joy Division were talented enough to carry on, and, oh, how they did in their own right!
20. Echo & The Bunnymen – Simple Stuff (1980)
Merseyside’s second invasion didn’t have the immense popularity of its first like the Beatles and Gerry and The Pacemakers and that lot, but the second wave, with Teardrop Explodes, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, OMD, Echo, and Wild Swans, et al., certainly rocked the underground and at times the pop charts with great resonance, and Echo was at the forefront with its Post-Punk, leather-clad paisley, big-haired psychedelia. On this early single they were still finding their own identity outside the obvious Joy Division devotion, but it was a good start for one of the truly great early “Alternative Rock” bands that would emerge as the 80s progressed, all of whom were heavily influenced by Punk but were most definitely not Punk. Echo, along with R.E.M., Hüsker Dü, The Smiths, Replacements, and Sonic Youth, placed guitar Rock in good hands in the 80s and moved it in some cool and interesting directions. I don’t need to say any more. Just listen.