"A great punk record should have a certain amount of humor," says John Doe, bassist and co-lead singer for the groundbreaking Los Angeles outfit X (which he also founded). "The all-important 'I'm pissed off' message has to be there, but it should be balanced. People in the initial wave of punk bands knew this, but along the way that sensibility got lost. You can't progress musically if all you're peddling is angst."
According to Doe, essential punk albums share a common theme: "Things are unfair, things are fucked up, everything's going to hell…But let's have a good time while we can."
Hearing Patti Smith, says Doe, was the first time he felt as though “there was more to music than what was on the radio.” But he cites his live introduction to punk rock, a gig by the Talking Heads early in their career, which took place at New York City’s CBGB, appropriately enough, as a true life-changing event. “Their music was an elixir,” he recalls. “It filled the space and affected everybody who was there. The band played Psycho Killer, and at the end, David Byrne took off his guitar and just walked out the door. I thought to myself, This could be his last performance.”
With X and in his solo work, Doe has broadened the scope of punk by embracing genres such as country and folk music. “But the rock ‘n’ roll spirit is always there,” he stresses. “When I moved to LA from the East Coast, things were just starting to change for the better. New groups were popping up, and The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt were on the way out. To me, that wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll; that was pop music. I was like, ‘Get the fuck out of here with that stuff.’”