From James Brown to Bob Marley to The Rolling Stones to Nirvana, there have been a number of popular bands that have come along over the years and managed to stand the test of time, creating a legacy that has persisted far beyond the dates on the calendar. Whether they’ve played rock n’ roll, the blues, reggae or electronica their songs spoke loud enough that their names maintain a resonance that hasn’t fallen away even if they’re no longer at the tip of everyone’s tongue. While some bands have managed to be great in and of themselves, there’s another subset that has not only endured but influenced the shape music has taken. The following five bands have inspired a new generation of music and music fans, and along the way they’ve also given rise to musical genres that might not have existed without them.
5. Led Zeppelin
Whether you’re a rock and roll fan or not, no one can deny the influence of one of the most popular bands in the history of music. Formed in London in 1968 among the years that were a spawning ground for great bands, Led Zeppelin started out as the New Yardbirds. Comprised of Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham, the band switched to the much cooler moniker Led Zeppelin and signed to Atlantic Records, a record label that would allow them more creative license than many other record companies of the time. Albums like Led Zeppelin (1969) and Led Zeppelin II (1969) solidified their brand of grandiose rock and songs like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Kashmir” featured two of the most familiar riffs in rock history. While the band quickly earned scores of fans and eventually a critical following to go with it, they also became an archetype for rock and roll excess, which led to the untimely death of drummer John Bonham in 1980 by asphyxiation and the breakup of the band. Despite a slight fade, Led Zeppelin has a seat reserved among the pinnacles of rock legend and according to Brian May of Queen “created the overall blueprint of a rock band.”
Quite possibly among the least popular most popular bands to have a serious impact on the music scene, Kraftwerk started out in 1970 as a musical vehicle for Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider in the city of Düsseldorf, Germany. Dabbling in the musical style that was then known as Krautrock, Kraftwerk created their own kind of experimental rock that influenced scores of artists who came after them. It was in 1974 with the release of Autobahn, an album that was more electronic pop than their familiar experimental rock, that they made a name for themselves and embarked on a tour of North America and the United Kingdom. Utilizing a vocoder and sparse, repetitious lyrics, Kraftwerk influenced bands like Radiohead who went on to popularize some of the sounds they first introduced. While the band line-up has shifted over the years and founder Schneider left in 2008, Kraftwerk continue to experiment and the mark they’ve made on electronic music remains today.
3. Sex Pistols
The legacy of The Sex Pistols has long been a question of how great a band they really were, but despite all the controversy their legacy has persisted and they’ve remained one of the seminal groups in punk music history. Formed in London, England in 1975, The Sex Pistols were managed by Malcolm McLaren and made up of Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Paul Cook and Glen Matlock. In 1977, Sid Vicious joined the band and they rose to quick fame due to their irreverent attitude and the tabloid controversies they inspired with their attack on the British Royal Family in “God Save The Queen.” While the crazy and quick ride ended after two and a half years when Johnny Rotten left the band, any chance of a punk rock revival was sunk for certain when Sid Vicious died of a heroin overdose. The band only released one studio album, Never Mind the Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols but their influence remains prevalent on a scene that wouldn’t have been quite so rousing or widespread without them.
2. Chuck Berry
Whether you just love music or you have a particular hankering for rock and roll, one of the musicians you love likely owes a great debt to Chuck Berry, born on October 18, 1926 as Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck” Berry. Developing an interest in music early on in life, Berry started out in an automobile plant and even served a prison sentence for a time before he managed to become a musician who changed the world. Berry began to perform with the Johnnie Johnson Trio in 1953 but it was 1955 when he met Muddy Waters that his life really began to change. Encouraged by Waters to contact Leonard Chess, the founder of the blues-centric Chess Records, Berry embarked on his recording career and came out with songs like “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Maybellene” that would make him a household name. Though much of Berry’s success died out in the 1970’s, he ended up being the first musician inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his marked influence on the fusion of rock and roll and rhythm and blues that paved the way for bands like The Rolling Stones.
1. The Velvet Underground
With the passing of Lou Reed, you might have just recently heard about this New York band but the influence they’ve had on avant-garde music and their fans far exceeds their mainstream success. Formed in 1965, the legacy began when John Cale and Lou Reed met and started a band called The Primitives before they eventually settled on The Velvet Underground, a name inspired by a 1960’s book about the sexual revolution. Soon after, they became staples at Café Bizarre and gained a following because of their unique, eclectic musical style. It was in 1967 that fame really hit when they teamed up with the German singer Nico and the pop artist Andy Warhol to form Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a multimedia musical group that was the first of its kind. While the band split from Nico and Warhol after one album, their music inspired legions of fans to start bands of their own and for that they are considered largely responsible for the beginnings of what is known today as alternative music. Due to their significant underground influence, The Velvet Underground were voted among the greatest bands of all time by Rolling Stone magazine in 2004.