This article is going to make some (or all) of you mad, and, to quote many Facebook groups that inquire about the genre and the social morés of its fans, that’s not very pop punk of you! Punk is a very polarizing kind of music, and its sub-genre “pop punk” is even more debatable. Lists rating and reviewing such genre are quite risky, but I’m up for it! If you aren’t happy, I’m leaving this town, man.
FYI: In my definition of pop punk, the indisputable “classic” punk bands like Sex Pistols and The Ramones are not included. Nor are most of the Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords Records albums that defined Warped Tour in the 90s, as I believe that they should be placed in the melodic punk or skate-punk sub-genre category. Depending upon who is reading and agreeing (or disagreeing) with my list, the condescending term “mall punk” is lumped in here as part of pop punk, but hardcore punk bands like Black Flag and The Germs are not. In addition, Green Day (who HATES the term pop punk) and The Offspring are not listed, as I believe that they fall more in line with a combination of straight up rock and melodic punk, but blink-182 and Midtown are. Also, I do NOT list more than one album by a single band even though New Found Glory could definitely have at least two full lengths in my top ten. Maybe even three.
If you follow this logic and template, this list may make sense. If you don’t, it DEFINITELY won’t. Finally, I am 38, so I don’t expect younger readers to support or agree with me, as the newest release on this list came out in 2005, but I hope the kids reading check out some of these records, and see what the older kids were listening to in the mid-to-late-90s and early-00s. After all, pop punk is a very youth friendly genre, and the kids today desperately need to learn about the roots behind modern pizza flannel pop punk favorites like State Champs, Neck Deep, The Story So Far, and The Wonder Years.
Before I started writing this piece, I polled my Facebook/twitter friend group and got responses in the triple digits. It was overwhelming in the best way. Some of their selections I agreed with (and are listed), some I loved but since I only had room for ten releases, they just missed my list, and some were WAY off base (Story of the Year is screamo or “screamo”; Devo is NOT pop-punk as they are too weird). Lastly, these albums are not necessarily my favorite releases by each listed band, but they are certainly the definitive pop punk album from each group.
Ready? Be nice to me. Here we go:
- Bowling for Soup – A Hangover You Don’t Deserve (2004)
Bowling For Soup is easily one of the funniest and tightest bands I’ve ever seen live. This album is definitely one of the longer pop punk albums, clocking in at nearly an hour, but it certainly is far from boring. Even today, the band knows the power of “1985” and a few other tracks on this release such as “Almost” and “Ohio (Come Back To Texas)”, as much of their set is comprised of (now) classics from the album. BFS has been nominated for a Grammy, has had top 40 hits, has played to huge crowds across the globe, and remains a super humble and kind band.
- The Starting Line – Say It Like You Mean It (2002)
Say It Like You Mean It is the first of three Drive-Thru Records releases to be listed here. Produced by Mark Trombino, who could easy be called the Godfather of pop punk and mainstream emo production, this record is a sleek, catchy, and multi-layered pop punk masterpiece. It’s still crazy to think that Say It Like You Mean It was recorded when singer/bassist Kenny Vasoli was only seventeen years old. He can definitely have the best of me. It’s still a sore subject to me that TSL never got the mainstream success that blink-182 and Fall Out Boy (both listed later) received, as they definitely had the hooks.
- Yellowcard– Ocean Avenue (2003)
On a personal level, this album and Billy Talent’s self-titled debut provided the soundtrack to my first few months living in Los Angeles in 2003. Like Bowling For Soup, Yellowcard had some major mainstream success (even on, gasp, Radio Disney), but unlike BFS, the band no longer exists. To quote the opening track on the band’s swan song LP, “Rest In Peace”. The thirteen tracks that make up Ocean Avenue are extremely eclectic, and Sean Mackin’s violin performances and arrangements truly shine through in an overwhelmingly unique fashion. Also, the title track may be THE pop punk anthem, and I really hope that the band plays some reunion shows over the coming years.
- Cartel – Chroma (2005)
I’ve seen a number of ten-year anniversary album shows, but Cartel’s Chroma showcase at the Roxy in May of 2015 certainly tops my nostalgia tour list. Singer Will Pugh’s angelic and gorgeous vocals definitely more than stood out from the flurry of nasal drawls that came out at around the same time. Chroma jumped the band from indie The Militia Group to major label Epic with a re-release, but the band never reached the same global success with subsequent quality albums. Still, if you love pop punk with a combination of “Clarity” era-Jimmy Eat World, Chroma will be your jam. Fun fact: Will Pugh produced the upcoming New Found Glory (pop-punk) cover album From The Screen To Your Stereo 3.
- Midtown – Living Well Is The Best Revenge (2002)
This mention may stir things up. I feel that Save the World, Lose the Girl is the fan favorite, and Forget What You Know is the band favorite. But this is MY list. I don’t think that I listened to any other album in 2002 more, and I still marvel at the band’s three part harmonies and incredible guitar leads. Midtown’s Living Well Is The Best Revenge provides quite a listen, and is the second of three Drive-Thru Records releases to be listed here. AND, it remains a staple in my current playlist. One of my favorite shows that I saw in college was Midtown headlining this album’s tour with Recover and The Reunion Show at the Shelter in Detroit. Like Yellowcard, I’d love a reunion tour, but I am definitely not holding my breath.
- Descendents– Everything Sucks (1996)
Like Midtown, this mention may also stir things up among punk and pop punk purists. My bad. Without Descendents, there would most certainly be no blink-182, and I firmly believe that they are the parents (or grandparents) of pop punk. 1982’s Milo Goes To College is definitely the crowd favorite among hardcore Descendents and punk rock fans, but this 1996 reunion release (the band’s first album since their former swan song All in 1987) is fifteen angry, bitter, gritty, whiny, and witty tracks of pop punk perfection. It’s no wonder that drummer (and former Black Flag drummer) Bill Stevenson is quite a reputable producer in demand for bands like Rise Against and A Day To Remember. Descendents is a band of legends to YOUR legends. Much respect.
- Saves The Day – Through Being Cool (1999)
It’s rumored that Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boymade eventual FOB singer Patrick Stump sing every song on Through Being Cool in his audition for the group. Saves The Day’s Through Being Cool is a non-stop emo-pop-punk onslaught that holds up just as well today as it did when it came out at the turn of the century. Like the Descendents mention above, this album may spark debates on whether the record is pop punk or not, but it’s impossible to debate STD’s influence on all subsequent pop punk releases. Chris Conley’s voice honestly sounds different on each album, but he is in prime form on Through Being Cool, and I still can’t believe that the band was comprised of teenagers when this record came out, as the musicianship is beyond pristine. Fun fact: Midtown (and eventually Cobra Starship) frontman Gabe Saporta is the dude making out with the girl on the album’s artwork. New Jersey isn’t all that bad.
- New Found Glory– Sticks and Stones (2002)
It was very difficult to pick the penultimate pop punk release from one of the penultimate pop punk bands, but I believe that New Found Glory’s Sticks and Stones certainly takes the cake. What an album. New Found Glory is without a doubt the longest reigning champion of the pop punk world, and Sticks and Stones truly sounds like a hardcore band playing Britney Spears songs in the absolute best way possible. Neal Avron’s production shines, Cyrus Bolooki’s precision drumming turns heads, and Jordan Pundik’s nasally vocals literally influenced a generation. And the band is still active and not stopping any time soon! Thank you to Drive-Thru Records (This is the third of three DTR releases listed here) for giving this band a break.
- Fall Out Boy– Take This To Your Grave (2003)
Due to its later major label albums that repeatedly departed more and more from the pop punk moniker, Fall Out Boy may be the most polarizing band on this list, but Take This To Your Grave is a fucking twelve-track masterpiece; I said it and I definitely own it. The melodies and overall one-two punch of this record are often duplicated and never replicated by thousands and thousands of tireless imitators. Patrick Stump’s powerful vocals, Pete Wentz’s unique lyrics, Joe Trohman’s quick lead guitar work, and Andy Hurley’s manic drumming created a biting tour de force that eventually took the band to multi-platinum superstardom with further releases. This album is THE hardcore fan favorite, and deservedly so.
- blink-182– Take Off Your Pants and Jacket (2001)
No one made pop punk more mainstream than blink-182. NO ONE. This album was certainly at peak blink-182 (and pop punk) success, and it’s subsequent Pop Disaster Tour with co-headliners Green Day, Saves The Day (for half of the run), and Jimmy Eat World (for the other half of the run) ranks as one of the best and fun shows that I’ve ever seen.While some people reading this may debate whether or not the band’s prior mega-hit album Enema Of The State should’ve been mentioned instead, I don’t know if anyone could argue against blink taking the top spot on this here top ten list. Jerry Finn, a rock and roll legend for the ages, truly produced this multi-platinum album to perfection, and “Anthem, Part Two” remains my favorite pop-punk song of all time. I don’t know too many people who don’t enjoy listening to blink-182.
So there you have it. Here is a playlist featuring one song from each mentioned release: