The influence rock n’ roll has had on the world since its inception in the ‘50s is without question. Not only has it dramatically transformed the music scene, but is has also left its mark on general cultural norms, human behavior, and fashion. But which is the most influential rock band of all, and which band is the greatest? Read on to see our ranked list of the best rock bands in history.
Canadian rock band, Rush, concluded their rockin’ n’ rollin’ days in 2015 after 40 years in the music scene. Forming all the way back in 1968, we’d say they had a pretty good run, having changed their music style a number of times over the years. While their inception was marked by a bluesy, hard rock tune, they later introduced the use of synthesizers and made the move into a more progressive rock style.
Rush re-adopted their hard rock, guitar-driven sound in the ’90s and this style stuck for the remainder of their career. Guitarist Alex Lifeson, lead vocalist Geddy Lee, and drummer Neil Peart’s experimentation with musical diversity earn them a place on this list.
We’ll never stop believing in the talent and legacy of this group. Journey’s 1981 hit song, “Don’t Stop Believing” is but one example of their triumph as a band, as in 2009, it became the top-selling track in iTunes history for a song not released in the same century. And as one of our favorite go-to karaoke songs, we’re so glad this track made it big.
But Journey is known for a lot more than just this banger. Recognized for their power ballads, they’re most praised by fans for two things in particular: having one of the best vocalists in rock history, Steve Perry, and for Neal Schon’s unparalleled guitar licks. Beginning in San Francisco, they have sold over 75 million records worldwide, earning them a place on Wikipedia’s list for the world’s best-selling bands of all time.
23. Van Halen
Back in the early 1980s, the use of keyboards and synthesizers in hard rock and heavy metal was a big no-no. There were, of course, a few rock artists who managed to gain a fan base for their innovative sound, but generally speaking, keys and synths were associated with pop and new wave music. But one band started by two brothers was bold enough to shift this perception and pave the way for hard rock in the music industry.
A heavy metal band from Pasadena, California, Van Halen is distinguished for their high-energy live performances and their acclaimed leading guitarist (Eddie Van Halen)’s ingenious electric-guitar playing. Together with vocalist David Lee Roth, the band gave us some serious headbangers – and not to mention – a different outlook on M&Ms, following reports that they request a bowl of the candies backstage for every performance… but with the brown ones removed.
22. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
The Floridian misfit band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, rightfully earned their place on this list of best rock bands thanks to their longevity, consistency, and popularity among both older and younger generations alike. Their frontman, the late Tom Petty, is revered by many as one of the greatest musicians the US has ever seen.
With a unique identity of rock n’ roll, Petty and the ‘Breakers have channeled country, blues, soul, Southern rock, and Bob Dylan vibes all into one to create swampy Florida sound of their own. With Petty’s songwriting and Mike Campbell’s guitar leads, we’d say that “American Girl,” “Refugee,” and “Learning to Fly” have all justifiably earned their place as radio regulars.
21. Creedence Clearwater Revival
The voice of the Vietnam War era, Creedence Clearwater Revival is revered for their folk rock anthems. Hailing from California, the music produced by this quartet was light, soft, and magical enough to remove you from current chaos and transport you to chilling on your front porch. Their musicianship can appeal to the broadest of audiences: kids and grandparents, men and women, and all ethnicities.
Despite their San Francisco origin, the quartet – made up of lead vocalist and guitarist John Fogerty, guitarist Tom Fogerty, bassist Stu Cook, and drummer Doug Clifford – are known for their Southern rock music with lyrics about the Mississippi River, bayous, and catfish. Amazingly, they were only active for four years but managed to give us seven studio albums. That’s pretty unheard of nowadays, isn’t it?
KISS is recognized for far more than their music – they’re recognized for their brand. Known for their over-the-top makeup, outfits, and shenanigans ranging from Gene Simmons’ tongue action to live fire-breathing, blood-spewing, shooting rockets, and levitating drum sets, KISS created quite the rock n’ roll legacy while also becoming a successful business venture.
Though the band has gone through a number of lineup changes, their best-known grouping consisted of Paul Stanley on rhythm guitar and vocals, Gene Simmons on bass and vocals, Ace Frehley on lead guitar, and Peter Criss on drums. These rock n’ roll hall of famers have sold over 100 million albums around the world thanks to their release of 20 studio albums. We think it’s pretty safe to say they’re one of rock’s most influential groups.
19. The Eagles
Consistent chart-toppers, The Eagles, are considered by many to be one of the most successful musical acts in the ’70s. Makes sense since they have five American Music Awards to their name, six Grammy Awards, five #1 singles and six #1 albums.
The “Hotel California” producers consisted of guitarist and lead singer Glenn Frey, drummer Don Henley, guitarist Bernie Leadon, and bass player Randy Meisner. But in 1980 there came a time for the band to face the music and the band members unfortunately went their separate ways. It seems as though the relationship between the Eagles wasn’t as harmonious as their music blend.
18. The Ramones
Despite not being biologically related, this quartet adopted pseudonyms with ‘Ramone’ as their last name back in 1974. Hailing from Queens, New York, lead singer Joey Ramone, bassist Dee Dee Ramone, guitarist Johnny Ramone, and drummer Tommy Ramone acted as the antidotes to the era’s progressive rock influx and introduced the world to punk rock.
The “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “Blitzkrieg Bop” musicians gave listeners – for lack of better word – a trip when hearing their catchy, straightforward, and shocking (for the time) tunes. With a mix of simple chords played quickly, their high-energy songs rarely exceeded two and a half minutes but were thus easy to emulate and highly memorable.
17. The Velvet Underground
Though the first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, English musician Brian Eno so famously said that everyone who bought it ended up forming their own band. It’s a big assertion to make but reflects the impact this NYC-native band had on the music industry at large.
Under the management of Andy Warhol starting in 1965, Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Moe Tucker approached their live shows in a way that resembled art shows instead of conventional music performances. Their consistency in pushing the conventional music envelope of the ’60s and ’70s is what earned them a place on this list for best rock bands.
16. Fleetwood Mac
Unbeknownst to some, Fleetwood Mac traces back to 1967 in London, when the group started out as a blues rock band. It wasn’t until late 1974 that Americans Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the bluesy Brits and transformed the band into famous FM rockers in the US.
The addition of the these two not only introduced the mix of English and American, men and women, but proved to be a highly successful commercial move, as it took their music in a dramatic new direction. Their 1977 album, Rumours, introduced us to tracks like “Go Your Own Way,” “Dreams,” and “The Chain” that helped them establish a lasting musical legacy.
15. The Kinks
Four working-class lads from northern London – Ray and Dave Davies, Mick Avory, and Pete Quaife – became idols in Britain in the mid ’60s. They emerged amidst the hype of British rhythm and blues and produced a number of chart-topping records that reflected the English culture and way of life. Fueled by the clever songwriting of Ray Davies, The Kinks’ rebellious image largely influenced a number of other bands including Blur and Oasis.
Their musicianship wasn’t the only thing that rubbed off on Oasis, though. The rivalry between brothers Ray and Dave Davies also predated the feud between Oasis brothers, Liam and Noel Gallagher. But luckily for all you Kinks fans out there, it seems a reunion is in the cards, as the brothers have recently announced that they’ve been recording new tracks following their split more than two decades ago.
14. The Doors
Following their big break in the LA music scene in 1965, The Doors made a tremendous impact on American rock in only six short years. Their success was in large part due to their iconic frontman, Jim Morrison’s brilliant poetry and unhinged, visceral stage presence. Complimenting Morrison’s intense and erratic delivery were the unique sounds composed by keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, and drummer John Densmore.
Together, The Doors created a truly unique mix of psychedelic grooves that had the power to suck any listener into a vortex of unconventional sound. At their core, they represented a meeting point between rock and avant garde, music and poetry, thus solidifying their place in the rock zeitgeist predating Morrison’s unfortunate death in 1971.
13. The Beach Boys
Consisting of brothers Carl, Dennis, and Brian Wilson, alongside cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine, The Beach Boys’ feel-good California sound took the world by storm in the early 1960s. Their catchy tunes, like “I Get Around” and “Surfin’ U.S.A,” exploded onto the music scene like a tidal wave crashing onto the beach.
Considered by many to be pioneers in the recording studio, the quintet gained a large following thanks to their brilliant harmonies and melodies that perfectly blended surf rock and pop. Their crafty vocals were praised by many and they had over eighty songs make it to the worldwide top charts between the 1960s and 2010s. Talk about commercial success!
12. Black Sabbath
There are several bands that contributed to the creation of heavy metal as a musical genre, but none quite like Black Sabbath. Formed in 1968 in Birmingham, England, the band’s signature sound was in large part due to their guitarist, Tony Iommi, who lost the tips of two fingers in a factory accident. To make it easier for him to strum, he tuned down his guitar, making the sound lower, heavier, and more sinister.
Though the band went through quite a bit of bandmate changes over the years, it originally consisted of drummer Bill Ward, bassist Geezer Butler, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, and guitarist Tony Iommi. The band led Osbourne to become a star in his own right and Iommi actually remained a constant throughout. Fun fact: he’s best buds with another band member who appears later in this list. Can you guess who it is?
Power metal group, AC/DC was formed by two Scottish brothers, Malcom and Angus Young, in 1973 in Sydney, Australia. They are one of the few bands to successfully survive the death of their frontman – lead singer, Bon Scott – and come back swinging. Actually, they considered disbanding following his death in 1980, but ultimately decided against it, bringing on Brian Johnson as Scott’s replacement.
This lewd, raucous group has some pretty distinctive characteristics. Firstly, their band name – which stands for ‘alternating current/direct current’ – so fittingly represents their electrifying, energetic performances. What’s more, their guitarist, Angus Young so famously dressed in a schoolboy uniform that he topped off with a small hat. Fitting, isn’t it?
With just four chords, Nirvana changed the world. Together, lead vocalist and guitarist Kurt Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic, and drummer Dave Grohl seemingly managed to destroy the increasingly commercialized hair metal of the ’80s, hitting the nail on the coffin and introducing the world to grunge.
Nirvana gave a voice to an angry generation and though they only released three studio albums before Cobain’s passing (who is considered by many to be a rock n’ roll martyr), just two albums managed to set the world on fire. Their hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is arguably one of the most genre-breaking songs out there. How could so few band members change the world so rapidly? We’re wondering the same thing.
Few have made such a lasting impression on the modern world of music like Aerosmith lead singer, Steven Tyler. Tyler gained notoriety for his membership in the Boston bad boy group that emerged on the music scene in 1970. And even though Tyler famously failed to recognize his own band’s song playing on the radio due to notorious memory problems in 1984, we’ll never forget the endless number of stadium anthems Aerosmith gave us.
The band’s up-tempo music, rooted in bluesy hard rock with elements of heavy metal and pop rock, has contributed to their impressive longevity. Not only have they made over 150 million record sales, they also helped make rap more mainstream thanks to their Run DMC collaboration on song, “Walk This Way.” We don’t know about you, but we certainly don’t want to miss a thing when it comes to Aerosmith’s music.
8. Guns N’ Roses
Name a vocalist-guitarist duo better than Axl Rose and Slash. We’ll wait. Infamous for debauchery and fighting, their band, Guns N’ Roses allegedly earned themselves a reputation for being the world’s most dangerous band in the late 1980s. But the band’s legacy doesn’t stop at their hedonism. Maybe you remember watching their elaborate music video for “November Rain” on MTV all throughout the ’90s. It literally played 24/7.
Though its members – originally consisting of Axl Rose (vocals), Slash (lead guitar), Izzy Stradlin (guitar), Duff McKagan (bass), and Steven Adler (drums) – disbanded, Axl Rose and Slash are still touring together, and we’re all for it. Axl Rose may have dated every model in the ’90s, and we may not know what Slash actually looks like beneath his top hat and big hair, but what we do know for sure is that the power of their music is undeniable.
After coming together in 1981, Metallica helped mold the sound of music genre thrash metal. There’s no denying that frontman, James Hetfield’s fierceness, coupled with Lars Ulrich’s dexterous drumming and Kirk Hammett’s masterful guitar playing made for a powerful and influential lineup. And though they had to face their demons as a band – even having to go to therapy together at some point – they’ve given us some great music through the years.
And let’s not forget about that questionable album with Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed, Lulu. Call it what you want – ridiculous, artsy, flat out weird. We definitely wouldn’t say it was their most well-liked creation, but hey, let’s raise our glasses to both parties for trying something different.
6. Pink Floyd
Ever tried to sync up Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” with The Wizard of Oz? Urban legend declares there’s unbelievable synchronicity between the two if you play them at the same time. But this is just one example of the band’s artistry. Known for their concept albums, each rocking its own theme, the band was given the nickname ‘first in space’ for their role in reinventing the genre known as progressive space rock.
It’s amazing that a band as internationally acclaimed as Pink Floyd was founded by a group of English students in 1965. Their distinguished sensory experimentation, psychedelic sounds, philosophical lyrics, extended melodies, and intricate live shows have reputably earned them a place as one of the most commercially successful and influential bands in the history of music.
British rock band, Queen, boasts some of the greatest talent in the game. With an impressive four-octave range, lead singer Freddie Mercury is regarded as one of the best vocalists in music history. Together with guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor, and bassist John Deacon, the band arguably gave us some of the most popular and widely-known songs in the world.
Surely “We Will Rock You” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” ring a bell. Fun fact – the latter almost wasn’t released as a single because it was originally considered to be too long for radio. With so many hits, Queen clearly knew a thing or two about music. These brainy dudes actually met in the ’60s while studying at university and guitarist Brian May actually has a PhD in astrophysics. Oh, and in case you were wondering, he’s best friends with Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, referenced earlier.
4. The Who
The legacy created by this English rock band hailing from London, England back in 1964 is simply undeniable. Rocking a variety of personalities, the band’s classic line-up was composed of singer Roger Daltrey, guitarist Pete Townshend (who apparently trademarked the whole jumping in the air, pinwheeling the arm, and smashing the guitar thing), animalistic drummer Keith Moon, and bass guitarist John Entwistle, who in stark contrast with his bandmates, stood totally still in the corner.
Aside from their legendary performance at Woodstock in 1969, the band is also known for their 1969 album-turned-film, Tommy that recounts the story of a deaf, blind, and mute child who is a pinball aficionado. Written by Pete Townshend and recorded by The Who in their album, the song “Pinball Wizard” was performed by fellow icon Elton John in Ken Russell’s 1975 rock opera film.
3. Led Zeppelin
Powerhouse, Led Zeppelin, boasts a long list of accolades. Signed in 1968, Atlantic Records apparently offered the band the biggest deal of its time without ever having seen them perform. We don’t know about you, but given Robert Plant’s vocals, Jimmy Page’s intricate guitar work, John Paul Jones’ keyboard-based arrangements, and John Bonham’s epic power drumming, we aren’t surprised they managed to pull this off.
Their deal also granted them autonomy over their release and tour dates and gave them the power to refuse single-song releases, thus establishing album-oriented rock. Yes, that’s correct – this does mean that “Stairway to Heaven” became the highest requested FM radio song in the ’70s all based on its own merit despite never being released as a single. What’s more, the band apparently sold an upwards of 300 million records.
2. The Rolling Stones
Nothing says ‘longevity’ like The Rolling Stones‘ music career. Having been rocking n’ rolling as a unit for 60ish years, they apparently hold the title for having the longest run in history. Heck, they’re still performing! Even after undergoing heart surgery, 76-year-old Mick Jagger performs like he’s 20, quite literally proving that he’s still got moves like jagger. As for the rest of its members – they’ve all been special and influential in their own ways.
For example, guitarist Keith Richards was the inspiration behind Johnny Depp’s rendition of Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean films and actually appeared in At World’s End and On Stranger Tides as Captain Sparrow’s father, Captain Teague. That aside, The Rolling Stones have certainly made their mark on the world since their inception, having released an unbelievable 30 studio albums.
1. The Beatles
And finally, The Beatles take home first place for their undeniable influence on the history of rock music. In only ten short years, icons John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr managed to release a groundbreaking number of albums… 12! Presumably considered history’s best-selling band, The Beatles boast an endless list of accolades.
Not only have they sold more singles in the United Kingdom than any other musician, but they’ve claimed the title of best-selling musician in the United States thanks to their recorded sales that exceed 178 million units. What’s more? They’re the winners of seven Grammys and one Academy Award, and the record-holders for having the most #1 hits on the Hot 100 chart (they’ve had 20). And in the off-chance that you’re not yet convinced of their position as #1 on the list for best rock bands, they’ve sold an estimated 800 million albums worldwide. *Mic drop*
Honorable Mention: Cream
They created one of the most immediately recognizable guitar riffs (of all time?) on “Sunshine of Your Love” and for that alone Cream deserves to be canonized. Cream isn’t even called a band, they’re referred to as a “supergroup” and with good reason.
Drummer Ginger Baker’s style was all his own, Jack Bruce made playing the bass look effortless, and if we need to tell you why Eric Clapton is always at the top of almost every “Greatest Guitarists” list then you clearly haven’t listened to the man play. Without Cream, countless rock bands wouldn’t have existed, and how many bands can boast that kind of legacy?
Honorable Mention: Def Leppard
We’re not foolin’, Def Leppard easily earned their spot at the top of the 80s heavy metal heap. Their third and breakthrough album Pyromania veered toward a more polished sound, and with some eminently catchy choruses everyone could shout-sing along with, their popularity skyrocketed.
The British band boasts two certified diamond albums, including Pyromania and their 1987 follow-up Hysteria, an album so perfect you’ll want to pour some sugar all over it (sorry, we couldn’t resist). In the time it took them to put out Hysteria, drummer Rick Allen lost an arm in an unfortunate car crash, and yet kept his job – because that’s metal baby.
Honorable Mention: U2
There really is something to be said for the lasting popularity of U2. Now more than 40 years in the music industry those four Irish lads, Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr., can fill a stadium with ease. And one listen to “Where the Streets Have No Name” explains exactly why.
U2’s music always has drums and bass that perfectly balance the effects infused guitar tracks, creating a sort of epicness, so that when a song like “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” comes on the radio, everyone hearing it can’t help but feel lighter, lifted, almost infinite.
Honorable Mention: Deep Purple
You don’t go down as the “globe’s loudest band” for nothing, but as pioneers of heavy metal, Deep Purple paved the way for so many of the modern hard rock bands that followed. Queen, Metallica, Aerosmith and so many others have openly admitted that they owe a great deal of their sound to the inspiration they found listening to songs like “Highway Star.”
And of course we’d be remiss not to mention the guitar riff that opens “Smoke on the Water,” one of the most easily recognizable, and iconic 50 seconds in music history. The band still changes up their sound for live shows decades after first making their mark on metal.
Honorable Mention: Blondie
If you ask us, there isn’t enough credit given to the ladies of rock, so we’d like to take this time to properly praise Debbie Harry and Blondie. Rising from proto-punk rock like the bleach blonde phoenix of our 70s dreams, Debbie Harry heralded in the new wave with hits like “Heart of Glass” and “One Way or Another.”
Blondie’s third studio album Parallel Lines perfectly expressed what new wave was all about: punk rock, mixed with a little pop, a touch of disco, and you have a recipe for an experimental sound so infectious and so New York City cool, you can’t help but belt it out.
Honorable Mention: The Clash
It’s a question for the ages, “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” and we’re staying with The Clash until the end of time. The Clash isn’t about highly skilled musicians excelling at their craft, so much as it’s about an energy and a commitment to rocking as hard as they could.
There is too much thanks to be paid to The Clash for being one of the premiere voices of British punk. And because The Clash couldn’t give a damn about what anyone had to say, they experimented with their sound, fusing punk with reggae, or rockabilly, and not only pulling it off, but absolutely killing it.
Honorable Mention: Talking Heads
Famous for four or three chord songs, punk got a much needed punch-up when the Talking Heads started experimenting and practically invented art punk. When you’re listening to a Talking Heads song, you’re taken in so many different directions. First there’s the bass, but then the keyboard kicks, and then the guitar, and lastly the lyrics.
Somehow these seemingly incongruous elements come together to create emblems of a collective conscience. “Once in a Lifetime” spoke and still speaks to so many adults in transitory stages of their lives. And when you listen to “This Must Be the Place,” wherever you are, you’re home.
Honorable Mention: Allman Brothers Band
So much of rock is rooted in the blues, and the Allman Brothers Band not only respected that, they honored it with every song they wrote. There is something so quintessentially comforting about an Allman Brothers Band song, it has come to represent a sort of Americana to be proud of.
Their sound is simple yet artful, and completely unified, just like brothers Gregg and Duane Allman. They took jamming to new heights, blending blues, and Southern soul with rock n’ roll. You can just imagine driving cross-country, listening to “Midnight Rider” or “Ramblin’ Man” — that’s the sort of nostalgia the Allman Brothers Band evokes.
Honorable Mention: Mötley Crüe
Don’t let the hair fool you, Mötley Crüe wasn’t some group of “good boy” glam rockers — they brought a sense of danger and energetic unpredictability to their performances every single time. Borrowing from the music of the seventies and inspired by figures like David Bowie, primary songwriter/bassist Nikki Sixx wanted to inject a sense of raw energy to rock music.
Taking a similar frenetic energy that punk employed, Mötley Crüe turned it up a few notches, rocking out to stages fired up (in actual flames) and with roller coaster drum kits. The Crüe is rough, rowdy and the essence of 80s rock.
Honorable Mention: Heart
We love ladies who rock, and the Wilson sisters Ann and Nancy rock really really hard, making Heart one of the best rock bands to come out of the 70s. You can hear the development of their sound, starting with their first mainstream hit “Crazy On You.”
Released in 1976, “Crazy On You” has just a hint of how far they were capable of taking their music. A year later Heart came out with “Barracuda” and the guitar riff already kicks things up. Then the drums come in, and finally Ann Wilson wails out the lyrics, and you’ve got a bona fide hit.
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