My Chemical Romance's Frank Iero: the 10 greatest punk albums of all time
"My father and grandfather are both drummers, so music was a big part of my childhood," says My Chemical Romance guitarist Frank Iero. "On the weekends, I used to go to clubs to see my grandfather play Dixieland and standards, and then I'd go somewhere else to watch my dad play the blues. A lot of times these were after-hours places where I shouldn't even be. The owners kind of looked the other way."
According to Iero, these experiences were his introductions to the punk-rock ethos. "It was about doing things the way you want, for sheer love of the music," he says. "The blues was my dad's punk rock – guys writing their own music, recording it in their basement and totally playing from the heart. People looked down at the blues at one point, but it really hit a nerve with him. When I discovered my own punk rock, I'm sure I felt the same way that he did."
While in high school, a friend played Iero a mix tape of of local, New Jersey-based punk bands, which the guitarist recalls as a defining musical moment. "Here were people my age putting on shows, making their own music, doing it DIY-style. It blew my mind! You didn’t need to be a virtuoso to start a band – all you needed was passion. I took that idea and ran with it."
Following family tradition, Iero became a musician. “I fell in love with the entire thing," he says, "Starting a band, putting up flyers, playing shows wherever I could – I loved the whole experience. It might have come from my dad and my grandfather, bit it also came from punk. The music was vital, but so was the mindset.
In Iero's view, punk still lives today. "It doesn’t matter what year you were born or what shows you went to," he says. "You can be a teenager in your bedroom, making music on your laptop. It’s about self-expression, going against the grain. As long as you’re doing it for the right reasons, you’re punk rock.”
On the following pages, Frank Iero lists what he calls the 10 greatest punk records of all time - in chronological order. "To me, that's the only way to do it," he says. "Saying one record is the best, as in THE BEST...I just couldn't go there."
The Stooges - Raw Power (1973)
“You can’t look at Iggy Pop without the words ‘punk rock’ or ‘freedom’ popping into your head. This is a guy who always did it his way.
“In addition to being a musician, my father used to work at The Record Plant in New York. He saw so many of the greats making records. He told me how Iggy Pop, at the end of a session one night, threw up all over the recording console. Now, that’s punk rock! [laughs] I think he blew out the entire day's worth of work.
“Raw Power has amazing songs. When my wife was pregnant with our twin daughters, we went to see Iggy play, and he did a couple of the songs from the album. I’m pretty sure that my girls were forever changed by that experience.”
Ramones - Ramones (1976)
“Talk about taking it all back. If punk rock was around before the Ramones, they sure made it what it is today. Listen to this record. It’s so direct, it doesn’t waste your time, it’s so…New York!
“People get so heated about what is and what isn’t punk, but check out a song like Blitzkrieg Bop – it’s a pop song, and a beautiful one at that. At the same time, it’s punk rock to a T.”
The Clash - The Clash (1977)
“The version that was first released in the United States was different from the original UK album, but no matter how you cut it, this is an incredible record. The Clash were the driving force behind putting politics into punk rock.
“They would also break down doors musically, bringing in reggae and disco, among other genres – killing off arguments about what punk rock had to be.
“But it all started with this record, which is brilliant in so many ways.”
Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols (1977)
“You can’t even start the conversation about punk rock without the Sex Pistols. To many people, this record was the Big Bang.
“The greatest thing about Never Mind The Bollocks is that it ends everybody’s elitist argument about what punk rock really is. Here’s one of the best punk albums ever, and it was on a major label. Don't even go on about ‘selling out,’ because these guys gladly took the money and did what they wanted.
“Musically, it’s savage and unlike anything else that came before it. Even so, there’s amazing, tried-and-true melodies – which probably makes it even scarier. It's familiar and new...even now.”
Minor Threat - First Two 7"s on a 12" (1981, reissued 1984)
“If we’re talking about freedom and empowering a youth culture, here’s some guys who really did it. Originally, they felt like they were outcasts because they didn’t want to drink and take drugs, but they ended up spearheading a lifestyle and a movement.
“The songs are fierce. Filler, I Don’t Want To Hear It and Small Man, Big Mouth – incredible tunes. And they even had a song called Minor Threat! I always thought it would be cool to be in a band that was named after one of our songs…or vice-versa.”
The Misfits - Walk Among Us (1982)
“Being from New Jersey, I can’t have a conversation about punk rock without bringing up The Misfits. I grew up very close to Lodi, which is where the band was from, so as you imagine, they loomed quite large.
“Walk Among Us is an amazing record. Forget punk rock for a second – if you love rock ‘n’ roll, this album will do it for you. Just imagine Elvis Presley being a fan of horror movies – that’s the spirit on every track here. It's impossible to listen to this record and not get caught up in the the whirlwind of The Misfits.”
Black Flag - The First Four Years (1983)
“One of my favorite bands of all time. A lot of people would pick Damaged as the best Black Flag album, but I believe that even Henry Rollins has said that the The First Four Years is a better record – and I agree with him.
“It’s a testament to what starting a band is really like. You can’t get a better frontman than Keith Morris. The guy’s just incredible.
“If you’re a young band, you should seek this record out. It’ll show you what you can do even in your earliest days. Fantastic stuff.”
Beastie Boys - Licensed To Ill (1986)
“Here you had this hardcore band, The Young And The Useless, and they found this new form of expression in hip-hip. To me, that's punk rock. They tried something new and helped pioneer a musical genre that millions would embrace. Three Jewish kids making rap music? Pretty cool!
“It’s an amazing record. I think my favorite track might be Paul Revere – such hooks, such attitude. A brilliantly made piece of work, the entire album, and it still holds up.”
Operation Ivy - Energy (1989)
“We’re probably getting a long ways from the original punk rock bands, but to me, Operation Ivy – and this album, in particular – harkens back to the spirit of The Clash. Operation Ivy came from California, and no matter what they did or how they did it, they made you feel good.
“People seem to think that punk rock only came from the ‘70s and early ‘80s, but there was some important music being made in the ‘90s and beyond, and for a lot of fans in my age range, a band like Operation Ivy was very important. This is a fantastic record.”
Nirvana - In Utero (1993)
“The reason why I would pick this album over Bleach or Nevermind is because, as hard as it was for Nirvana to break through with their first releases, it was probably just as difficult to do what they did after they had achieved success. To sell millions and millions and then make a Steve Albini record? Wow! [laughs] That is the epitome of punk rock.
“Even today, there’s nothing that sounds like this album. It’s bold, harsh, uncompromising. I mean, the poppiest song on the whole record is called Rape Me. My God, the people at the label must have been going crazy! What do you do with something like this?
“I hold this record right up there with Sgt. Pepper. I dream of making something so overwhelming. It’s one of my favorite albums of all time. You can’t listen to In Utero and feel uncertain about it.”