What is the best pop-punk song of all-time? There are a lot of choices, with dozens of songs that have broken ground for the genre and made a dent in our cultural consciousness — much of that thanks to the popularity of MTV and Fuse and the surge of the internet.
Over the past month, we’ve played out a bracket to crown a holder of this exact title. We seeded 64 songs in what we called Pop-Punk May Madness, letting your votes decide the matchups all the way to a single champion. But the winner was a shocker to most of us. It wasn’t Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down,” its wordy chorus propelling the band to supreme heights. It wasn’t Yellowcard’s “Ocean Avenue,” its nostalgic guitars and violins hitting us right in the heartstrings. It wasn’t either of Blink-182’s top hits off international sensation Enema of the State, “All the Small Things” and “What’s My Age Again?”
The winner was “Somewhere on Fullerton” by an early 2000s Drive-Thru Records group called Allister, and it pummeled through all four of those songs in consecutive matchups en route to the title.
If you’re as shocked as we are, don’t be. It’s surprising that, in a popularity contest decided by fan votes, a band like Allister could come out on top, as they don’t have the clout of Blink or Green Day, or even Drive-Thru label mates like New Found Glory or The Starting Line. But what this band does have is a tremendously loyal fanbase and a moment-in-time hit that still stands as a high moment for the genre.
“Fullerton” made it into the bracket as a 12-seed with the odds stacked against it, but it made it into the bracket for a reason. The song metabolizes all of the elements we love about pop-punk, from power chords to sing-along hooks to high-flying solos, blending them into one fast-paced banger. The band’s sound was an amalgamation of its peers at the time, taking in bits of Green Day’s skittering attitude, Blink-182’s spunky pop appeal, and New Found Glory’s hopeless romantic croon. It was the perfect storm of adolescent spirit.
“Somewhere on Fullerton” felt like a holistic summary of what pop-punk had become up to that point, and 2002 was the peak of the genre — not necessarily in sales or popularity but in musical output.
Drive-Thru had an outstanding year that year. Before even getting to Allister’s Last Stop Suburbia that October, you have The Starting Line’s Say It Like You Mean It and Home Grown’s Kings of Pop — these bands’ best releases — earlier in 2002. You also have arguably the strongest albums from Midtown, New Found Glory, and Something Corporate, co-released by Drive-Thru and major label MCA. Topping it all off is Finch’s firestorm of a debut in What It Is to Burn, which combines pop-punk tendencies with abrasive post-hardcore.
From that mix, you have a heaping five songs that made the field of Pop-Punk May Madness: “The Best of Me,” “My Friends Over You,” “Punk Rock Princess,” “Fullerton,” and “Like a Movie.” That’s five songs from a single label from a single year. Talk about a reputable catalogue — no wonder many fans of the genre consider Drive-Thru the premier pop-punk label of all-time during its heyday.
Up to that point, the groundwork had already been laid for pop-punk’s mainstream run. Blink-182 had music videos playing on TV alongside The Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, while the Vans Warped Tour was giving a summer-long platform to the likes of New Found Glory, Good Charlotte, and many other soon-to-be scene staples. Soundtracks to teen movies à la American Pie offered a slice of pop-punk to theatergoers. Does anyone remember hearing New Found Glory’s “The Minute I Met You” in Clockstoppers or Sugarcult’s “Stuck in America” in Max Keeble’s Big Move as a kid?
By 2002, the pop-punk genre was everywhere. If you were a teenager during that time, you might remember buying new CDs at the mall, watching Total Request Live after school, and hearing Blink and Jimmy Eat World at house parties.
The feelings of this time period come rushing back in a mere two minutes and 39 seconds.
Sonically, “Somewhere on Fullerton” is a summation of the genre up to that point. But spiritually, it was something else entirely. The song was not bound by the rebelliousness or vulgarity of many of its punk counterparts (or even some of the other tracks on the record). It instead opted for something completely wholesome and sentimental: reflecting on the good times you had as a teenager as they start to become ancient history.
It’s “Ocean Avenue” before “Ocean Avenue,” which came out the following year and immediately became a smash hit (Allister still beat it in the semifinal of the bracket). Both songs use a street name to give the memories some tangibility. Fullerton Avenue is located northwest of downtown Chicago, and it’s home to a historic music venue: the Fireside Bowl. When the venue wasn’t hosting bowling games during the day, it was hosting emo and punk bands — with Brand New, The Get Up Kids, and many others gracing the stage during the late ‘90s/early 2000s.
For Allister, the Fireside Bowl was a hometown haven, the location of a multitude of memories. The band does their best to capture this place in the song, which comes out less as angsty rush and more as heartfelt tribute.
As the song bursts from its verse into its chorus, there’s a transition between feelings of joy, remembrance, and longing. Vocalist/guitarist Tim Rogner speaks of a place they used to go “to get away from it all” and how it “felt so right four years ago.” But now things have changed, and he begs to these times, “Please don’t go away.” It’s a teenage anthem that, through its examination of nostalgia, has become the poster child for nostalgia itself.
While the Fireside Bowl is the referential location, the band goes beyond that and brings suburban life into its context. The music video for “Fullerton,” featured on an album called Last Stop Suburbia, fittingly moves from the Chi-Town skyline to the suburbs for a house show. What better setting for a gig than the exact place where we all grew up? It’s an accurate reflection of the era, when punk began infiltrating family homes and reaching a teenage audience. Here, it’s going straight to the source.
Eighteen years later, fans of the song continue to stick by it with unwavering support. Social media users from all over voted for “Somewhere on Fullerton” round after round, truly claiming it as the best pop-punk song of all-time. It didn’t matter whether it went up against Fall Out Boy, Blink-182, or Taking Back Sunday. Listeners see something in it that they don’t in more commercially successful and more culturally relevant songs: a sense of purity and connection. The bracket made it to extended family members, comrades in the music industry, and wistful listeners who had personal connections to the band.
The fact that “Fullerton” won Pop-Punk May Madness was no accident. Rather, it was the result of passions colliding, relationships resounding, and memories bubbling back up to the surface. Its victory plants a firm understanding of everything the song was, and it’s evidence of everything it has become.
Are there other songs that perhaps have more merit and are thus more deserving of the title “best pop-punk song of all-time?” Of course there are. (Personally, I was rooting for “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down,” and I’ve said time and time again that “Basket Case” is probably the objective choice if there is one). But that’s why we play out the matchups, and that’s what happens when you give the power to the fans rather than the writers. Sometimes they put you back where you need to be, reaffirming your love for music as you start to become old and jaded.
Allister’s “Somewhere on Fullerton” is a climactic anthem for our teenage years, and it turns us ageless and timeless if only for a moment. Perhaps that’s what makes for the perfect pop-punk song. It hits us hard when we’re most impressionable, earning our unwavering support for decades to come.