6 Infamous Punk Album Covers Worthy of Their Notoriety

If pop music pulls your pigtails, punk rock puts gum in your hair. Grab your scissors and revisit six infamous punk rock album covers worth their reputation.

Published May 6, 2024
Collection of various vinyl albums for sale in boxes divided into music genres

If ever there was a genre of music that begged for attention — both good and bad — it’d be punk rock. And the first thing that a burgeoning punk band has to get you in its grips is awesome album art. In honor of the genre that makes breaking instruments look like fun, these are some of the most iconic punk album covers in history.

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For over 50 years, punk has been pushing limits and kicking down barriers. From smashing guitars to capturing nonchalant cool, these punk rock album covers go just as hard today as they did when they first came out.

Ramones, Ramones (1976)

Ramones was one of the first punk bands to acquire a large following. Their self-titled debut album came out in 1976 and boasted a casual picture of the band members leaning against a brick wall.

Coming off of colorful late-60s fashions, the Ramones embraced a blue-collar style reminiscent of teenage greasers from the 1950s. With overgrown shaggy hair, leather jackets, and torn jeans, this band wasn’t fooling anyone into thinking they were pop chart material.

Instead, they were catnip for the underground, and that photograph featured on their first album has gone down in punk history.

Sex Pistols, Never Mind The Bollocks (1977)

The Sex Pistols lacked the finesse of other late-70s punk bands, but made up for it in legend-making antics. After all, this is the band that brought the infamous Sid and Nancy romance to the fore. The Sex Pistols were known for their unrelenting violence and unpredictable behavior.

The word infamous was created to describe a band like Sex Pistols. Whether for good or bad, they’re known the world over. And that electric yellow album cover with cut-out letters that look like something a teenager would send as a prank to scare a friend is just as recognizable.

Related: 6 Most Valuable & Rare Records From the 70s

The Clash, London Calling (1979)

The Clash was what the Sex Pistols wanted to be. They were a serious punk band that accrued a massive cult following and a reputation for their rowdy performances. In fact, one of the most iconic punk album covers of all time comes from a Clash concert.

Memorialized on the cover of their 1979 album London Calling, this photo features bass player Paul Simonon's mid-guitar slam in a New York concert venue. Violence was a mainstay of the early punk movement. There were a ton of things that prompted these aggressive displays, from the rebellious energy emanating from the crowd to the substances freely taken in that environment to the swell of the music itself.

Today, slamming your guitar on stage is a bit of a hack. But in 1979, it was cutting edge, which makes the album that showcases it all the more important.

Los Angeles, X (1980)

Punk as a genre likes to make people uncomfortable. That’s part of its appeal. Rebellion isn’t meant to make you feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. That’s where Los Angeles’ debut album X works its magic.

A large black X is engulfed in flames against an equally black background. It’s just reminiscent enough of racist cross burnings to make you feel uneasy. The image itself isn’t inherently anything, yet it draws up such a visceral response. The best kind of album covers stop you in your tracks, and this album’s mastered the art.

Related: 9 Queen Album Covers That'll Rock You

Sum-41, All Killer No Filler (2001)

Bands like Sum-41 and Simple Plan helped usher punk into the millennium. In particular, Sum-41’s debut album All Killer No Filler, and inescapable anthem Fat Lip captured angsty teen hearts everywhere.

But the innocuous album cover boasts a grid of photos of the band members mid-punch — or at least pictures that look like they could’ve just been punched in the face. This low-resolution, boys-will-be-boys energy was rampant in the early 2000s. These reaction shots look like something you’d see captured in an episode of Jackass (which had debuted just a year prior).

Punk was changing in the 2000s. Gone were the leather jackets and mohawks, but the knocked-out teeth and raucous mood were here to stay.

Green Day, American Idiot (2004)

If the Ramones are the grandfathers of punk, then Green Day is its loving dad. The punk band to end all modern punk bands, Green Day has always been ingenious with their cover art. Dookie was one of the most interesting 90s album covers to come out of the decade. But their seventh studio album, American Idiot, takes the cake.

Splashed across the cover is an illustrated white hand holding a bright red grenade dripping blood. But with the clever use of shadows, the grenade resembles a heart. This image is plastered into millennials’ brains not only because of how cool it looks but also what it meant at the time.

It was a bold anti-war statement in a post-911 war-on-terror conservative America. The album cover harkens back to what the punk movement was all about: being bold and ruffling feathers.

Green Day CD Collection Album American Idiot Genre Rock Gifts Vintage Music American Rock Band

This Is Art on the Edge

There aren’t too many music genres where you can find these bold, in-your-face kinds of imagery backed by studio executives. Being controversial is in punk’s blood, and these punk rock album covers prove that there’s something brainy going on behind all that attitude.

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6 Infamous Punk Album Covers Worthy of Their Notoriety