While surveying the ferociously fun punk covers landscape to compile a proper best-of list, there are a few things that become immediately apparent. First, the 1980s seem to be the decade that is most ripe for the original source material to be covered. If Martha Quinn announced a song’s MTV video premiere—no matter the original genre—there’s a good chance that a punk band has taken a sonic swing at it. Second, punk bands love covering The Beach Boys. Punk mainstays like the Ramones, Pennywise, the Descendents, the Queers, Shonen Knife, the Vandals and more have all rammed (some more than once) the sun-kissed sounds of the quintessential ‘60s rock band through an amped-up, down-stroked punk filter. Third, in some exceptional cases, the cover versions unquestionably eclipse the original, as with The Clash’s “I Fought The Law,” Social D’s “Ring of Fire” and pretty much every Ramones cover.
With those things in mind, there are many punk covers that just didn’t make this list due to there already being adequate representation from a similar pick. They may still be fun to sing along to and they do their part to make a long drive more bearable when they come up on a playlist, but there are only so many tongue-in-cheek covers of ‘80s new wave songs or snotty early punk bands that were trying to do nothing more than wink at their audiences by turning in a version of a well-known ditty that’s unruly, but nothing special. (Here’s looking at you, Sex Pistols). We also self-imposed a rule of only including one cover per band, just to keep this from being unequally overrun by prolific punk cover pros like the Ramones, Dropkick Murphys, MxPx and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.
If full-length covers albums are your preferred jam, we’ve already got you covered (so to speak) with 10 of the Best Punk Cover Albums of All Time. But if you’d rather keep your rowdy and raucous reworkings to singles, please find the 30 best punk rock cover songs below.
30. The Donnas, “Dancing With Myself”
While The Donnas flirted with classic rock and heavy metal in their later albums, the Palo Alto foursome always built their sound and ethos on good old-fashioned punk music. To that extent, they’ve ceremoniously covered artists like Mötley Crüe, KISS, Judas Priest and Alice Cooper, but it’s their strutting cover of Generation X’s “Dancing with Myself” that most adequately captures The Donnas’ musical moxie. Recorded for the 2004 movie Mean Girls, the song appears over the film’s closing credits and kicks off the hit-or-miss soundtrack in style. “Dancing with Myself” features The Donnas lead singer Brett Anderson (aka Donna A) channeling Billy Idol’s agitated snarl and swagger with aplomb, while the band follows suit with a straightforward-yet-energized performance. The Donnas have always seemed to be equal parts Runaways and Ramones and their cover of “Dancing With Myself” blends the best of both influences with their own tough-girl twist.
29. Mad Caddies, “S.O.S.”
Throughout their six albums and various EPs, singles and compilations, Mad Caddies have continuously augmented their punk approach by fearlessly mixing in multiple other genres to create their distinct-yet-divergent sound (polka and sea shanties included). For example, their five-track EP The Holiday Has Been Cancelled contains elements of wah-wah horn lounge rock, ska-tinged hardcore, twangy alt-country cowpunk and an ABBA cover. Their take on the Swedish pop quartet’s 1975 single “S.O.S.” retains the original’s minor-key intro and verses while bolstering the major key chorus blasts with additional horn and guitar work. You can certainly try to listen and do your best to not sing along, but resistance is futile when the Mad Caddies meet mid-‘70s disco.
28. The Dollyrots, “Da Doo Ron Ron/I Wanna be Sedated”
The Dollyrots have recorded quite a few remarkable punk covers in their career with some of them like Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” and Melanie’s “Brand New Key” even appearing in film and television shows. However, their Crystals/Ramones mash-up of “Da Doo Ron Ron/I Wanna Be Sedated” serves the dual purpose of highlighting the band’s best selling points (lead singer Kelly Ogden’s charmingly plucky vocal delivery and Luis Cabezas’ lock-step rhythm guitar playing) while also framing their sonic influences in a cleverly meta way. By seamlessly fusing the two songs together, The Dollyrots play off their melodic similarities and pay tribute to the Ramones influence on them and The Crystals’ influence on the Ramones. It’s an ingenious sonic smirk to the genre’s lineage that’s also just a really entertaining listen.
27. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”
When The Mighty Mighty Bosstones released Where’d You Go? in 1991, the five-track EP included a trio of covers—Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.” “Sweet Emotion” and “Enter Sandman” are both fast-and-sloppy also-rans, but “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” stands out as a really solid example of early Bosstones magic. Masterfully driven along by the band’s ska-core boom and Dicky Barrett’s instantly recognizable bark, their cover of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” is made exceptional by the quick snippet of The Specials’ “Nite Klub” they throw into the cover’s bridge. Years before the platinum-selling polish they showed on 1997’s Let’s Face It, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones showed a spunky pioneering spirit on tracks like “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.”
26. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, “Leaving On A Jet Plane”
How do you pick the best punk cover from a band who’s made an impressive two-decade career out of just that? Punk cover supergroup Me First and the Gimme Gimmes released their very first 7” single in 1995 and it contained a John Denver cover on each side: “Country Roads” on the A and “Leaving On A Jet Plane” on the B. While “Country Roads” is a fun pedal-to-the-metal barnburner, “Leaving On A Jet Plane” earns extra points for Spike Slawson’s theatrical howl and Fat Mike’s beautifully rumbling bass tone. After multiple cover albums and almost 20 artist-dedicated singles, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes have perfected the art of the punk cover and you really can’t go wrong in picking any of their tracks. If you’re looking for a good place to start with the band, they just released their first “greatestest hits” album Rake It In this past May. You can also check out their recent live session in the Paste Studio in New York.
25. The Ataris, “Boys of Summer”
When The Ataris released their fourth album So Long, Astoria in 2003, “In This Diary” was tagged as the album’s lead single. However, radio stations gravitated so hard to the album’s driving cover of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” that the band decided to quickly release it as an official single. The surprise success of “Boys of Summer” resulted in The Ataris earning their highest chart rankings (No. 2 on the Billboard Modern Rock Charts and No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100) and scoring their only gold record as well. For their cover, The Ataris managed to recapture Henley’s wistfully reminiscent tone while revamping the song’s sonic palette and cleverly swapping out the lyric’s Grateful Dead reference for a more relevant punk-themed update: “Out on the road today I saw a Black Flag sticker on a Cadillac.” Within the glut of early-’00s pop-punk covers, The Ataris’ “Boys of Summer” remains one of the era’s top-shelf standouts.
24. The Damned, “Help!”
While the Sex Pistols and The Clash usually dominate any discussion about late-’70s U.K. punk bands, The Damned actually hold the distinction of releasing the first U.K. punk single (“New Rose”) and full length album (Damned Damned Damned), as well as being the first U.K. punk band to do a proper U.S. tour. The Damned released their “New Rose” 7” single five weeks before the Sex Pistols released “Anarchy in the U.K.” and they included a breakneck cover of The Beatles “Help!” as the non-album B-side. Clocking in at under a minute and a half and intentionally irreverent, The Damned’s version of “Help!” was clearly meant to take the piss out of The Beatles—who had only been broken up for six years at the time—in the same way that The Clash’s song “1977” did (“No Elvis, Beatles, or the Rolling Stones in 1977”). What more appropriate way to mark the first U.K. punk single than by thumbing your nose at the biggest band in the world on your B-side?
23. Dropkick Murphys, “Tessie”
With its roots stretching as far back as a 1902 Broadway musical, Dropkick Murphys’ interpolation of “Tessie” earns the distinction of being the oldest original on this punk covers list (although it’s certainly not the oldest original in the Celtic punk band’s catalog of covers that’s rich with Irish folk traditionals). The storied tale of “Tessie” involves its use as a rallying anthem for the Boston Americans (later to become the Red Sox) during the 1903 World Series, which they went on to win in dramatic fashion by taking the last four games after being down three-to-one in a best-of-five series. Dropkick Murphys recorded their uproarious version of “Tessie” for their 2004 EP of the same name. Released during the late summer of that year’s baseball season, the song went on to gain a second life as a Boston baseball anthem as the Red Sox went on to “reverse the curse” and win their first World Series in 86 years. After the Red Sox World Series win, Dropkick Murphys included “Tessie” as a bonus track to their Warrior’s Code album released the following summer and added famed Boston sports broadcaster Joe Castiglione’s “Can you believe it?” call of the final play as the song’s intro.
22. The 18.104.22.168’s, “Woo Hoo”
While The 22.214.171.124’s kinetically bouncy cover of the 1950s rockabilly quasi-instrumental “Woo Hoo” was originally released on the Japanese trio’s 1996 album Bomb the Twist, it gained a significant amount of popularity in the early 2000s thanks to its in inclusion in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 1. Tarantino not only featured the song on the film’s soundtrack, but he also included multiple scenes of the band performing a few different songs, including an extended sequence where almost the entirety of “Woo Hoo” ran over multiple shots of The 126.96.36.199’s playing along. Furthering the song’s serendipitous success, the band’s cover of “Woo Hoo” also popped up in quite a few commercials around that time period as well. Who knew a Japanese garage punk girl group could cover an American rockabilly song so well that it could help sell Canadian beer.
21. The Offspring, “Smash It Up”
Putting aside the Kilmer-replaces-Keaton, Jones-hates-Carrey debacle that was 1995’s Batman Forever, the film’s soundtrack was actually pretty fantastic (even if only five of the soundtrack’s 15 songs actually appeared in the film). U2’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” scored a hit single and a memorable MTV video and Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and won three Grammy awards, but it was the soundtrack’s trio of cover songs—Michael Hutchence covering Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger”, Massive Attack and Tracey Thorn covering Smokey Robinson’s “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” and The Offspring covering The Damned’s “Smash It Up”— that proved to be its most interesting component. While it’s always a respectable move for a younger punk band to pay homage to an older one, it was especially meaningful during the punk upswell of the mid-’90s when bands like The Offspring, Rancid and Green Day were getting recognition and achieving success at a level that older punk bands like The Damned never did. Batman Forever may have its share of questionable moments (nipples on the batsuit?), but its soundtrack introduced a new generation to The Damned via The Offspring, so it’s a win overall.