Punks Have Hearts Too

Classic punk ballads for hardened hearts.

The words punk rock love song might seem like a contradiction in terms, but those who have spent any time in punk's prickly embrace know better. Beneath the trappings of a costume, beneath the pent-up aggressive energy, there's usually a big softy who just wants a big ol' hug. And often, along with that, someone who appreciates a big ol' power-pop-style hook that lends itself to such a squeeze. It's these great sonic and attitude paradoxes that have produced some of the best romantic — if twistedly so — ditties from the genre. So for Valentine's Day, here's an arbitrary list of 10 of my personal favorites.

And, um, we could argue the definition of punk all day, so I stayed mostly old-school with this (with a couple of exceptions). Nothing here involves eyeliner or a flatiron to the hair — that stuff is all self-indulgent wah-wah-wah anyway, so if that's your bag, have a field day with it. Instead, my favorites are mostly made up of uncharacteristic displays of emotion from people more likely to nod off, puke, or punch a wall than say those three little words. And that's what makes these songs so touching, isn't it?

Ramones, "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" (1976)

Ah, the Ramones. So many little messy love songs. This one is special, though, because, wow, the guy is actually asking for commitment. And this is one of the band's earliest ultimate examples of the Beach-Boys-on-Carbona-glue sound at its best.

The Vibrators, "Baby Baby" (1977)

Featuring wistfully sung verses and a simplified, bare-essentials chorus, it still resonates when played to a festering, dark room in Churchill's in 2007. You should have been there.

Buzzcocks, "Ever Fallen in Love?" (1978)

The great Manchester band was always essentially a group of power poppers unafraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves, and plenty of their songs touched on themes of luuurrrvvv ("Orgasm Addict" not, technically, being one of them). In possibly their best-known song, they mourn the pain of forbidden feelings, and the resigned despair in Pete Shelley's voice is audible. Delicious.

Undertones,"Get Over You" (1978)

Everyone talks about "Teenage Kicks," but there's an aw-golly, sped-up-sock-hop feel to this indelibly catchy heartstring-tugger. Even though the girl in question is the misfit of some crappy Irish town, mocked by peers and scorned by her mother, singer Feargal Sharkey just can't get over her — no matter what she does. Awww.

Johnny Thunders, "Great Big Kiss" (1978), "Can't Keep My Eyes on You" (1979), "I Love You" (1979), "I Wanna Be Loved" (1979), "Pirate Love" (1984), etc.

This is to further hammer home the point that rock and roll fuckups usually just want someone to mend their bwoken widdle hearts. If a lover ever gives you a mix involving anything by Johnny Thunders, common sense says you should run. Those fixated on the late, great ex-New-York-Doll-turned-heroin-overdose-victim are known for an unhealthy penchant for whiskey and downers, self-indulgence, and abject fatalism. However, they are also known for having a snappy fashion sense, nice haircuts, and good taste in music. So it's a tossup, really.

The Damned, "Love Song" (1979)

Well, there's something to be said for being straightforward. The chorus here: "Just for you, here's a love song." From way before the band went all gothy, the tune has just a dash of an almost rockabilly swing to keep things moving.

X, "I'm Coming Over" (1981)

If Exene Cervenka is coming over, gentlemen, you'd better be ready, because she will regulate on your ass. And that's why we love her.

Descendents, "Good Good Things" (1985)

Here's the thing about the Descendents. They've got nerd appeal: Singer Milo Auckerman famously put the band on hiatus in 1982 to study biochemistry. So when Milo sings this, it's not only a guy in one of the best California punk bands ever, but it's also a smart guy. There are plenty of love songs in the band's arsenal ("Cheer," "We," "Here with Me," "I'm the One," and so on), but the beginning vocals-and-drum-only intro of this one kills.

Dead Milkmen, "Punk Rock Girl" (1988)

Here's a song that is essentially, utterly dumb, in the way only pure punk can be, and in the manner in which the Dead Milkmen particularly specialized. There is something so sophomoric and eventually grating about singer Rodney Anonymous's bratty goober chants. But there is also something so universally appealing about taking your squeeze to a mall and laughing at all the shoppers, because you're different from them and know you're slightly better for that. Right?

Bouncing Souls, "Hopeless Romantic" (1999)

Though this tune is unbelievably late in date, the Bouncing Souls bring it with the same sloppy energy they've had since the Eighties. Plus, who can beat the chorus "I'm a hopeless romantic; you're just hopeless"? Another good one is "Quick Chek Girl"(1996).

If anyone's following along and making a mix, also check these out. Again, it's an arbitrary list. Be DIY and add your own.

• The Stooges, "I Wanna Be Your Dog" (1969). For a chuckle, also see Sid Vicious's sad 1979 version.

• Generation X, "Kiss Me Deadly" (1978)

• The Only Ones, "Another Girl, Another Planet" (1978)

Stiff Little Fingers, "Barbed Wire Love" (1979)

• The Gun Club, "She's Like Heroin to Me" (1981)

• The Germs, "Sugar Sugar" (1981)

• The Misfits, "Die, Die My Darling" (1983)

Bad Brains, "Sacred Love" (1986)

• Flipper, "In Your Arms" (1984)

 
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