Punk doesn’t have the most varied emotional palette, but beneath every crusty jacket, does not a beating heart also lie? If their safety pins prick them, do they not bleed? And don’t a few of them really know their way around hooky melody? Here now are the best expressions of punk rock love ever bashed out on an out-of-tune guitar.
25. “You Drive Me Wild,” The Runaways
It’s more sludgy hard rock than by-the-book punk, but Joan Jett’s voice practically sets speakers on fire in this tune. That she probably wrote it about a woman makes it that much more badass.
24. “I Love You,” Johnny Thunders
Johnny Thunders gave a whole generation of Les Paul-slinging wastrels license to bare their hearts. “I Love You” is as disarming and honest a love song ever written — it’s the pleading, hopeful Act 1 to his better-known ode to heartbreak, “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory.”
23. “Baby, I’m An Anarchist,” Against Me!
Okay, so it’s a faux-’50s ballad, and Against Me! has since recanted their anarchist politics. That said, you cannot hate a song that paints a star-crossed love affair between an anarchist and a “spineless liberal,” particularly one with lines like, “But when it came time to throw bricks through that Starbucks window, you left me all alone, all alone.”
22. “Stay With Me,” The Dictators
The Dictators were loud, drunk, and crude, but in between salvos like “Avenue A” and “Pussy and Money,” they found time for boozily honest tunes like “Stay With Me,” proving that even the most besotted punks could be heartbroken too.
21. “Your Name is Tattooed On My Heart,” Screeching Weasel
Combining one of the best band names ever with The Ramones’ cartoonish sense of hooks, Screeching Weasel’s best work seems like pure, distilled adolescence. Take “I Wanna Be With You Tonight:” if a line like “If you kissed me, I would blow up / If you kissed me, you would throw up,” doesn’t bring you back to ninth grade, nothing will.
20. “Barbed Wire Love,” Stiff Little Fingers
Criminally underrated Irish punks Stiff Little Fingers have a ton of great songs, all fueled by singer Jake Burns’ kicked-dog yelp. “Barbed Wire Love” made the personal wonderfully political, as Burns narrates a tale of teenage love with Ireland’s Troubles as its backdrop.
19. L7, “Till the Wheels Fall Off”
Quibble all you want about whether they’re more grunge, or heavy metal, or whatever, but any band whose lead singer has thrown a used tampon into a crowd while still managing to be voraciously seductive and delivering lines like, “You and me ’til the wheels fall off / you and me, we just fit” is punk as fuck in our book.
18. “Things That Make No Sense,” Dag Nasty
D.C.’s hardcore scene wasn’t exactly known for its nuanced emotions, but Dag Nasty, arising from the ashes of Minor Threat, broke through the scene’s macho posturing and holier-than-thou attitude with a boatload of hooks and musical chops.
17. “Why Can’t I Touch It?” The Buzzcocks
Since “Ever Fallen in Love… (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)?” made it onto our list of the best breakup songs of all time, we’re obliged to put this sneakily seductive tune on this list. Pete Shelley is probably talking about love as a concept, but there’s just enough innuendo to make this song truly great.
16. “I Have A Date,” Vandals
If you can’t relate this song, you were never a teenager.
15. “She’s Automatic,” Rancid
Rancid wasn’t afraid to combine confessional tunes about alcoholism, addiction, and heartbreak problems with more rabble-rousing, stereotypically “punk” fare. “She’s Automatic” off the band’s 1994 juggernaut, …And Out Come The Wolves is bouncy, infectious, and barely two minutes long: everything you want in a punk rock love song.
14. “Clavicle,” Alkaline Trio
Trafficking as they did in gothic, theatrical heartbreak, Alkaline Trio were a lightning rod for detractors. But they were also honest songwriters who could deliver as violently as their opponents, and “Clavicle” is a prime example of how they silenced the haters: with volume and heart-rending sentiment.
13. “At the Library,” Green Day
Green Day’s had quite the varied career, but twenty years before they were on Broadway, they were at 924 Gilman, bashing out wonderfully-sketched odes to high-school love like this to pogoing East Bay kids. (Now get off our lawn.)
12. “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone,” Sleater-Kinney
Sleater-Kinney is not to be trifled with. When Carrie Brownstein says, “Invite you back after the show, I’m the queen of rock n’ roll,” your only answer should be, “Yes.”
11. “Love Song,” The Damned
Considering they counted members named Rat Scabies and Idiot Asshole among their ranks, The Damned didn’t seem like the first band you’d turn to for a love song. But lines like “Just for you here’s a love song / And it makes me glad to say / it’s been a lovely day” make them seem like absolute sweethearts.
10. “I Am Yours,” The Adicts
While it might cause a little confusion coming from the mouth of a man wearing joker makeup, surrounded by burly Englishmen dressed as Droogs, “I Am Yours” is a straightforward declaration of devotion from a band who knows a thing or two about commitment: The Adicts have the honor of being the longest-running punk band in history.
9. “Feeling Called Love,” Wire
“Feeling Called Love” captures ambivalence, fear, enthusiasm, curiosity, conviction, and lust in under 1:30. That’s punk.
8. “Sacred Love,” Bad Brains
Personally erratic, musically deadly, and a live force to be reckoned with, Bad Brains were legends on the ’80s hardcore circuit. Love wasn’t a common theme in their lyrics, which is why “Sacred Love” remains such a touching outlier in their repertoire.
7. “Come Hither,” Bratmobile
From oft-forgotten riot grrrl pioneers Bratmobile, “Come Hither” is a song about the most punk-rock way to approach love and sex: exactly on your terms and no one else’s. “I got an all-girl band, I got nails to file / I got a thing for you, I’ll only wait a little while.”
6. “Favorite Thing,” The Replacements
“You’re my favorite thing.” There are few better expressions of powerful-but-simplistic teenage affection, and few bands who could better pull off clumsy adolescent yearning through song like The Replacements.
5. “Punk Rock Love,” The Casualties
Come on, how could it not make it on here? It’s called “Punk Rock Love,” fer cryin’ out loud. It’s a tale of heartbreak, delivered through broken teeth.
4. “Marriage,” The Descendents
The Descendents might have the honor of being the only punk rock band to write a pro-marriage anthem, but that was always their strength: writing sincerely about the mundane, wonderful parts of life that other bands were just too punk to touch on.
3. “Want,” Jawbreaker
“Chesterfield King” made it onto our list of the greatest love songs of the 1990s, but fortunately, there’s a whole catalog of brutally honest and eloquent Jawbreaker songs to takes its place on this list. Nobody knew their way around a black-lunged ode to love like Blake Schwarzenbach, and “Want” is among his finest.
2. “Lover’s Rock,” The Clash
Unlike The Ramones, whose concept of love appeared to stop at fourth grade, or The Sex Pistols (Johnny Rotten famously dismissed love as “two minutes and fifty-two seconds of squelching”), The Clash weren’t afraid to get seductive, and with great results. Coy punning aside, this is one of the band’s most tender tunes, and one of their best.
1. “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” The Ramones
Achingly honest without being cloying, and simple without being boring, “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” will forever be an anthem for lovelorn teenagers, and Joey Ramone their eternal spokesman.