Was 1994 a great year for punk? No. Was it an important year? Yes. There’s a big distinction between the two. Twenty years ago was the beginning of the so-called “punk revival,” when Green Day’s Dookie and the Offspring’s Smash, which is celebrating its anniversary today, saved a moribund genre that once sounded so raw when sung through Joe Strummer’s sneers. That’s only half-true: Green Day and the Offspring, and later blink-182 and Sum-41, made punk commercially viable, but they didn’t make it any better or worse (no matter the year, there’s always great punk rock being recorded; you just have to look hard to find it), and they certainly didn’t revive it. For an entire generation, though, they made punk matter.
The Offspring is the gateway drug to Johnny Thunders, to Fugazi, to Hüsker Dü. In 1994, I had no sense of what I wanted to listen to, only that I knew I didn’t like Toni Braxton. When I heard “Come Out and Play” on the radio for the first time, I was struck by how alive it sounded, how unlike “I Belong to You” it was. I eventually bought Smash, got my crash-course in pop-punk, then later fell in love with punk and all its various sub-genres. The album has aged relatively well (not as well as Dookie, but still), though I’m struck by how thin some of the songs, such as “Bad Habit,” sound now. “1994’s fresh punk is 2014’s stale rock” might be overstating things, but it doesn’t really matter how the Offspring sound now; it matters that they were NEW and EXCITING 20 years ago when I, and millions of others, needed them the most.
Here are eight (pop) punk songs that you put on every mixtape in 1994.
1. The Offspring, “Self Esteem”
2. NOFX, “Linoleum”
3. Green Day, “Burnout”
4. Down by Law, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”
5. Blink-182, “Carousel” (Buddha release)
6. Bad Religion, “Infected”
7. Rancid, “Salvation”
8. Jawbreaker, “Indictment” (though Jawbreaker actually gets better with age