Top Twenty Proto-Punk Bands: An Incomplete List

Top Twenty Proto-Punk Bands: An Incomplete List

This past July, our sister paper LA Weekly pulled its collected sources at their West Coast Sound music blog and delivered a list of the "Top 20" punk albums in history. A fairly grandiose scheme on their behalf, and thus bound to fall short in some respects, especially for those committed to the genre. Sure, you have your Ramones and your Bad Brains in there, but Internet punkers took offense to the inclusions of Refused, Green Day, and Rancid.

Personally, I wasn't offended by the listing. But, given the scope of the undertaking, and in concern of subgenres, today we'll start to complete the list with twenty proto-punk acts that laid the path followed by many of the acts included in LA Weekly's list. Your comments on the topic are most welcome below.

See also:

- Top 20 Punk Albums in History: The Complete List

20. Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs

Domingo Samudio and his Pharaohs traveled the land in a cosmic hearse, spreading a gospel of piano-driven rockers that were silly and fun. Though unfortunately relegated to the "oldies" stations of today, they still provide some of the finest offerings in the kingdom of rock and roll. Campy, surfy, and progressive with those swank Arab duds, Sam and the Pharaohs were no sham!

19. Ralph Nielsen and the Chancellors

I do not know too much about this band, but I do know that this track in particular "Scream!!!," a 1962 B side, is by far one of the few songs in the whole planet that can rev up my mornings and deserves inclusion in any real rockers' musical arsenal.


18. The Stooges

Iggy Pop has rapidly become a South Florida institution and his second outfit, the almighty Stooges' presence in this list is a no-brainer.

17. The MC5

Also a no-brainer is Detroit's MC5. These last two are almost obligatory.

16. Death

The three brothers of Death would be household names if they had received the attention in their day that they receive now. A bit of delayed musical reckoning, but they belong on this list. In conversation recently, someone even claimed they provided a direct proto link to today's Afropunk movement.


15. 13th Floor Elevators

Texas' contribution to the arts and culture is a whole 'nother animal that we will not confront within these digital pages anytime soon. But that the relatively short-lived 13th Floor Elevators are continuously name-dropped to this day is a testament of leader Roky Erickson's commitment to the raucous arts.

14. NEU!

Bitch all you want about how these guys are more proto-kraut than proto-punk but while this begat Klaus Dinger, it also influenced performance styles and experimental notions in some of punk's first acts and the synth-punk outfits of the '80s.

13. Question Mark & the Mysterians

"96 Tears" is one of the greatest punk rock tunes of all time. Bar none! Actually, their entire catalogue is a good intro to punk rock. Steady rockers with discordant keyboards that are sure to infect. Can you picture the Cramps existing without this as an obvious reference point? No, no you can't.


12. The Night Walkers

Given their ominous nomenclature, it's funny Puerto Rico's the Night Walkers first popped into the spotlight on a television show and achieved fame with their rendition of a popular Peruvian telenovela theme song. But more importantly, their poppy rock was a direct influence on many bands that would eventually form throughout the Latin American and Caribbean diasporas. How much more proto can you get?

11. Los Saicos

These Peruvian cats only released a handful of 45s in their day before fading to day jobs and musical obscurity. However, they might be one of the first fully considered punk rock bands of all time. Their banner anthem "Demolicion" is a rocking number of home-grown terrorism concerning the violent destruction of train stations. And in 1965 no less. ¡¡¡Demoler!!!

10. The Small Faces

The psychedelic, blues-influenced pop rock of the Small Faces might be a hard one for some to swallow as far as a proto-punk listings are concerned, but trust me, all the elements are there, especially the lackadaisical attitude of the song above.


9. The Velvet Underground

Musical Svengalis like Andy Warhol and Malcom Maclaren just might've been onto something. Artsy, rambunctious, the Velvet Underground were the daddies of New York's punk scene; filthy and glamorous in the hindsight way of having fucked in the CBGB's bathroom. A happy memory that can only be chalked up to nostalgia. Go get your Chinese rocks.

8. Hawkwind

Ignoring their personal intra-band turmoil, Hawkwind did unleash Lemmy unto the world, and for that, the world should be eternally grateful. Not only do you look better already, your value's going up like prices at Christmas. Oh, yeah.

7. Destroy All Monsters

Proving yet again that for a glorious era, Detroit was the mecca of all things good, Destroy All Monsters have been one of the most diverse influencers in this subgenre of music. The arts/musical collective was also a side ventilation for Stooge Ron Asheton for awhile there. Their blender-on-high amalgam of blues, psych, noise, and rock is as fun today as it was confusing then.


6. Zakary Thaks

Hailing from Corpus Christi, the Zakary Thaks are a good introduction to "region rock" and a good, early lead for musical devotees who would want to embark on a journey of discovering one-hit wonders that never left their neighborhood bar. These guys should've been bigger in their day.

5. The Monks

Bored servicemen stationed in Germany could get themselves into a lot more trouble than forming a rock band.

Got cute, shave your head in the Franciscan fashion, and eat some drugs: This is a recipe for fun we are obligated to deny. But check out the Monks' catalogue; these guys would've been right at home in LA sharing a stage with the Germs.

4. Amboy Dukes

Ted Nugent can be, at times, a bit of an ass-clown, but when he tenured with the Amboy Dukes, he was right on. The track above is nearly flawless. Especially in the dips.

3. Flamin' Groovies

The Flamin' Groovies influence on punk rock and power pop is undeniable. At times imbued with a country twang, the song above is one of my all-time favorites. Head-bopping and lip-biting.


2. Rocket From the Tombs

Why is your favorite Dead Boys song "What Love Is?" Well, because not only did Rocket From the Tombs' breakup beget that band and Pere Ubu, but because a large repertoire of both of those bands' set lists took shape in a rocket shot from a tomb.

1. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band

Yeah, yeah, Trout Mask Replica is the tits, but I posit that Safe as Milk is a straight-up punker, and that Don Van Vliet was a punk rock genius. Bluesy and experimental at times with touches of primal hardcore, this is ground zero for punkers who've read books and visited museums in attempts to further culturize themselves.

Voice your disfavor below!

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >