A Ten Song Introduction To Post-Punk Music

Hal Hewlett talks us through his top ten post-punk songs.

1. Jigsaw Feeling - Siouxsie and the Banshees

Well, this one was basically a shoo-in. Siouxsie and the Banshees were the first band to really be post-punk. Made up of former Sex Pistols groupies, the band broke onto the stalling punk music scene with wild sonic experimentation, featuring a hypnotic rhythm section, abrasive and scratching guitars and widespread musical influences. What makes Siouxsie and the Banshees so listenable now is that you hear them in everything; from gothic rock to psychedelia to modern post-rock. Jigsaw Feeling provides exactly this, well, feeling. You can just hear the repetitive and irreverent Sex Pistols influences behind the ground-breaking new sound that the band were coming in with. It’s an amazing, haunting song, and really sets the stage for what’s to come.

2. Guns of Brixton - The Clash

I will fully admit that this pick is biased, but I do not care. 1979’s London Calling is an incredible, boundary-pushing album that defined punk music’s musical experimentation, and Guns of Brixton is a track that clearly took on some of the early post-punk experimentation with some added Clash weirdness. Paul Sinomon’s smooth bass and Strummer’s moaned vocals, as well as lyrics of social unrest, come together for a reggae-influenced track that still maintains the abrasivity and wide-reaching soundscapes that Siouxsie and the Banshees did so well. The “boing” sound effects might be a little overused, though.

3. Transmission - Joy Division

Continuing the trend of songs on this list sounding hauntingly futuristic even now, this Joy Division has it all. It has all the hallmarks of a brilliant post-punk track, with elevated brilliance - production smooth as an oil spill, guitar that bows and shakes over the track like a polygraph needle, and Ian Curtis’ iconic, bass-baritone voice, that make for eerie and passionate vocals. There’s not much more you can really say about Transmission, other than that it’s everything that early post-punk ever wanted to be and more. Even now, hearing the opening drumbeats echo through the empty track is one of the most simple and powerful openings to a track I’ve ever heard.

4. Damaged Goods - Gang of Four

I try to stay away from an artist’s most popular songs when making lists like these, but Damaged Goods is just too good. The jumping, frenetic guitar and punchy vocals make for a song that feels like being forced to headbang at gunpoint - it’s still just as creepy and alienated as any other early post-punk song, but presents this with a far more energetic sound than its contemporaries. The guitars scratch up and down, the bass bounces from note to note, and the call-and-response vocals never fail to impress.

5. Bela Lugosi’s Dead - Bauhaus You may have noticed so far that post-punk tries to sound pretty creepy. Well, Bauhaus obviously took that as a challenge. Widely considered to be one of the first gothic rock songs, this nine minute track features nearly three minutes of messing about with echoing, scratching guitar sounds over a simple bassline, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Horror-inspired lyrics, dogged rhythms and and devilishly brilliant production characterise this 1979 single, that went on to catalyse the creation of gothic rock as its own independent genre. I mean, the song basically invented an entire genre of both music and people. Can’t get much more influential than that.

6. The Great Curve - Talking Heads

Well, now it becomes a little harder. Talking Heads are technically more of a new wave band, but nonetheless their albums feature post-punk as a heavy influence. This track in particular features a funky, fast-paced rhythm section inspired by African percussion, layered vocals, and echoing synthesisers. As well as being a brilliant song by itself, The Great Curve is a brilliant example of just how far-reaching the influences on new wave and post punk can be. It’s certainly not standard, but then again, what great music really is?

7. Lovesong - The Cure

The Cure, perhaps one of the mid to late 1980s most enduring alternative acts, ended their decade with this single. While it contains more pop sensibilities than early punk tracks - it’s a somewhat traditional love song - it’s still a brilliant song, with dazzling melodic lines and Robert Smith’s elegant vocals. Infusing more popular trends into a genre like post-punk isn’t always easy, but Lovesong is a track that keeps all the echoing, wide-open eeriness of early post-punk mixed with all the mainstream lessons of the 1980s. Also, considering the direction that The Cure went across the 80s, it’s surprising they released such a track so late in their discography.

8. Good Morning, Captain - Slint

Foundational post-rock group Slint released this album in 1991, closing out a decade of post-punk’s transition into new wave and more radio-friendly sounds. The album represents a call-back to post-punk’s roots, as well as influences from hardcore, prog rock and emo. The wide-open sound, tortured lyrics and distorted guitar are omnipresent on this seven-minute track, complimented by tight basslines, spoken-word vocals and incredible sonic maturity. Beautifully dissonant and rhythmically eclectic, this track is a must-listen.

9. Concrete - Shame

We jump over 25 years ahead to 2018, to perhaps the most well-known contemporary English post-punk act, Shame. The roomy sound of earlier post-punk is applied on the shouted vocals and shrill guitars, which scull over a surface of tight bass and fast percussion. The influence of early post-punk is here, with a mainstream alternative sensibility and art punk brilliance - alienated lyrics, call and response and beautiful distortion build this track up and wind it down into a wonderful conclusion.

10. Basketball Shoes - Black Country, New Road

We began this list at the beginning, and end it as close to the end as it’s possible to get. 2022’s release by the self-proclaimed “second best Slint tribute act” Black Country, New Road combines the post-rock and post-punk influences with the band’s trademarks - soft, emotional vocals, widespread instrumentation (including saxophones and piano), and brutally frank lyricism. Whereas early post-punk songs sounded like an open cave, this one sounds like it’s played under an open sky, as instruments fade in and out of the ether before crashing back together to bury you under a landslide of sound. It’s a titanic closer to the album, and a brilliant picture of what post-punk and post-rock has wrought on alternative music of the present day. The song’s too long and too consistent to point to any specific highlight moment, but hearing the conclusion of the song is a legitimately tear-jerking experience. For full effect, listen to the album in its entirety, and preferably as soon as possible.

Hal Hewlett


Edited by: Gemma Cockrell

Featured image courtesy of Black Country, New Road via Facebook.