Bad Religion are one of the longest running American punk rock bands, formed in Los Angeles in 1980. One of the most intelligent bands around, vocalist Greg Graffin is in fact a college lecturer and the band have always been outspoken about politics and, as their name would suggest, religion. Despite their roots being very much in the underground, they have achieved much commercial success throughout their career, largely due to their melodic brand of punk which has often contained pop sensibilities. They have had a lot of line-up changes during their time, with Graffin being the only constant member.
The early releases were through guitarist Bret Gurewitz’s own label Epitaph. This label was an extremely crucial label during the 90’s as it released albums from several other bands who were the main players of the 90’s punk revival such as The Offspring, NOFX and Rancid. Gurewitz left to concentrate on the label full time in 1994. He returned in 2001.
Bad Religion have continued to tour and record frequently, remaining popular and successful. Here is a list of their ten best songs.
# 10 – Punk Rock Song
The first song on this list from The Gray Race was released in 1996. This album is from their post-Epitaph era when they were signed to a major label, Atlantic Records. It was the album’s second single and although it did not chart in the US, it is their highest charting single in several other countries. The highest was in Finland at number 5. The album was their first with guitarist Brian Barker formerly of legendary hardcore band Minor Threat, who has remained with the band ever since.
# 9 – The Devil In Stitches
This song was taken from Bad Religion’s 2010 album and was written by Gurewitz. The track sees the band in rather commercial territory and they have adapted their sound for modern times here with the vibe of the song being more than a little reminiscent of the sound of today’s emo/post-hardcore bands, many of whom owe a large debt to Bad Religion. As a result of this, it was commercially successful, reaching number 38 in the Rock charts.
# 8 – Los Angeles is Burning
Next on our top 10 Bad Religion songs list is a great song from 2004’s The Empire Strikes First. It is one of the band’s more political cuts, being about sensationalism in the American media. It reached number 40 in the Billboard Charts and the album itself reached the same position in the album charts. Many of the songs on the record were lyrically inspired by the war in Iraq which was a very current global issue during the time of its release. By this point, the Gurewitz was back in the band and they were back on Epitaph.
# 7 – Watch It Die
This track is taken from 1993’s Recipe For Hate which was their major label debut and is largely considered to be their breakthrough album. This is somewhat solidified by the fact that this track features Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam on backing vocals, who at that time were one of the biggest-selling bands of the then-massive grunge movement. The track has an element of that kind of sound to it. Grunge was often said to have been the next punk movement and Bad Religion was a punk band who were clearly taking the opportunity to make their mark here.
# 6 – Into the Night
Here we have an earlier track from the band taken from their debut album How Could Hell Get Any Worse? This track sounds quite different from the later material that the band would find mainstream success with. This is pure early 80’s hardcore and is rather reminiscent of Black Flag, with Graffin’s vocal performance being very similar to that of Henry Rollins. This record had a much rawer production than a lot of the later materials. Naturally, with it being underground hardcore, no singles were released and it did not chart.
# 5 – Faith Alone
Taken from the 1990s Against the Grain album, by this point the band was evolving a lot from the earlier sound, sounding almost unrecognizable from the Bad Religion who recorded the previous entry in this list. The melodic elements which have always been a crucial part of the band’s sound are truly coming to the forefront here, particularly with the use of the backing vocals which add a lot, making the sound become accessible enough for radio airplay.
# 4 – Stranger than Fiction
This song is the title track of their 1994 album. It was the record’s third single and is one of their most celebrated songs. The song is a live favorite with the fans perhaps because it is a very energetic sounding number as well as being very short and sweet, kicking in at just 2 minutes and 20 seconds. The single was released in multiple formats, with different countries containing different B-sides. It charted in the US at number 28.
# 3 – Infected
At number three on our top 10 Bad Religion Songs list is one of the group’s signature tracks from Stranger Than Fiction. It is one of the songs that was responsible for the band’s first true mainstream success. It charted in both the Billboard album tracks at number 33 and the Billboard rock tracks at number 27 respectively. To this day, it is a live favorite with the band. It is evident here that with this album the band was moving away from punk into more accessible alternative rock, this track in particular received a lot of radio airplay.
# 2 – 21st Century Digital Boy
This track was originally recorded in 1990 for the band’s fifth album Against the Grain and was then re-recorded for Stranger than Fiction. This is the version that I am putting at number 2 on this list, as it unlike the original it was released as a single and was a big hit for the band. The reason for the re-recording is that Atlantic wanted a single and felt that this song would make a good choice.
# 1 – American Jesus
At the number one spot on our top 10 Bad Religion songs list is the first single from the band’s 1993 album Recipe for Hate. Like Watch It Die, it also features Eddie Vedder on backing vocals. One of the band’s political numbers addresses the fact that then-President George Bush Sr proclaimed that America would win the first Gulf War because “god was on their side.” Surprisingly, it did not manage to chart despite the video receiving airplay on MTV.
Updated May 25, 2023
Top 10 Bad Religion Songsarticle published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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