Throughout its over 30 year history, there have been varying definitions of what punk is. A specific sound, a specific lyrical content, a specific philosophy, etc. On the philosophical side, there seem to be two main ideas. Some argue that punk rock is about being loud and angry and doing what you can to screw up the system. "Live fast, die young." Others argue that punk rock is about living life for yourself. Not necessarily in the selfish sense, but living life the way you think you should and doing what you think is right. I've always been more on the second side of the fence. In tribute to that, here is part one of my list of the top 10 uplifting, motivational, inspirational punk songs ever written, or at least the top 10 in my iTunes library.
(for the purposes of this list, I've taken a somewhat loose interpretation of "punk" in terms of musical style)
10) The Dollyrots - "Because I'm Awesome" (Because I'm Awesome, Blackheart Records 2007)
Female-fronted power pop trio The Dollyrots caught my attention because of the title of their second album. I saw the American Idol-parodying video on Fuse and loved it. Seems to me like it might have been written as a "you don't deserve me" post-breakup song. The semi-tongue-in-cheek insistance of the singer that she's awesome makes this a self-empowering anthem that's fun to listen to.
9) Black Flag - "Rise Above" (Damaged, SST 1981)
Damaged was Black Flag's first album, preceded by a handful of EPs (including the amazing Nervous Breakdown and Jealous Again), and was also their first release with Henry Rollins on vocals. The first song, "Rise Above," was a powerful blast of hardcore, the kind that Black Flag fans had come to expect. Lyrically, the song encouraged listeners to rise above the limits and expectations of the world around them. As far as Black Flag songs go, it's only my fourth favorite (after "Nervous Breakdown," "Fix Me" and "Jealous Again"), but it's still a defining moment of hardcore, and a great song.
8) Bouncing Souls - "We All Sing Along" (Ghosts On The Boardwalk, Chunksaah 2010 / 20th Anniversary Series Volume 1, Chunksaah 2009)
"We All Sing Along" was originally released digitally as part of The Bouncing Souls' 20th anniversary series (to celebrate 20 years as a band, they released one song per month through all of 2009, with an extra song for people that bought a subscription for the year), then was collected in the first of four vinyls collecting those songs. In 2010, the band released all those songs as the album Ghosts On The Boardwalk. There are other songs that I could easily have put on this list ("True Believers," "Born Free" and "Sing Along Forever" just to name a few), but "We All Sing Along" stands as an empowering songs about finding comfort in the idea that we're all in this together. Your plans may fall apart and your life may not turn out like you wanted, but in the end "we all share one heart song, we all sing along." For a short time I considered getting this as a tattoo, before finally deciding to not get any tattoos.
7) Ben Weasel - "True Heart Of Love" (Fidatevi, Panic Button 2002)
After Screeching Weasel broke up again after the release of Teen Punks In Heat and before The Riverdales reformed to record Phase 3, Ben Weasel decided to record an album on his own (well, actually with Dan Vapid and some others). The result was Fidatevi, a rough-edged pop-punk masterpiece. The second track, "Tue Heart Of Love," finds Weasel advising that "to love someone, you've got to love yourself" and encouraging compassion. I highly recommend that you listen to it, then go listen to Screeching Weasel, Boogada Boogada Boogada, My Brain Hurts, and Weasel's second album These Ones Are Bitter.
6) Armor For Sleep - "Today" (The Killer In You, Reignition 2005)
Armor For Sleep didn't write this song, but since this is the version that is in my iTunes library I think it's a valid entry. AFS recorded the song, originally by Smashing Pumpkins, for a tribute album called The Killer In You. Oddly, I like AFS more for What To Do When You Are Dead, a concept album about a man regretting his suicide. But on this song, they shine through with the message of living for today. At least that's how I interpret it, as it seems like it could easily be interpreted differently.
Tomorrow I'll continue with the second part of the list. I'll have just gotten out of work, so I'll definitely be in the mood for some uplifting songs.