Are y’all ready to rock?! By “rock” we mean read this listicle about rock n’ roll bands. Because if you are, boy, do we have a show for you. By “show” we mean a bunch of data beyond your screens. You may be sadly disappointed by this article’s version of a “rock show,” but at least it is free and comes with links to the net worth of some of these famous musicians.
Rock n’ roll, though it’s now most likely long decapitated in the classic sense of the word, used to be the absolute bee’s knees. The cat’s silkiest pair of pyjamas. Anyone who hoped to be considered any variation of cool absolutely had to be listening to rock n’ roll music at least once a day, and they had to be playing it loud. Otherwise they’d get a one-way ticket to the only square-shaped table in the cafeteria, where they’d eat their square-shaped sandwich along with all the other human-shaped squares.
These days, the foundation of popular music is based on dear, sweet pots and pans passed through various filters. Don’t get us wrong, we love that stuff with every 128 BPM beat of our nervous little hearts. But the truth is that kitchen item music, along with most contemporary genres people listen to today, would not be here were it not for our rolling, rocking ancestors. These groups knew what it meant to love their music and love their fans to the point where they have gone down in history as legends. Let’s pay a little bit of respect to them, shall we?
15. The Kinks
Though perhaps not as well known as their contemporaries, The Kinks hold a solid spot in rock n’ roll lore as one of the most important bands of their time. Part of the initial British Invasion of the United States, band members Pete Quaife, Dave Davies, Ray Davies, and Mick Avory showered British and American audiences alike with their lively shows and vibrant rock anthems, peaking with their hit song “You Really Got Me.” The concerts grew perhaps a little too lively, as the band suffered a touring ban by the American Federation of Musicians. The reason for the ban was never specified, though many believe it to be due to the band’s unruly stage etiquette. In one incident, an on-stage conflict between Dave Davies and Avory ended with Avory hitting Davies on the head with his hi-hat stand, completely knocking him out. Band conflict and concert bans aside, The Kinks have contributed enough content to be considered legends of the rock n’ roll world.
14. The Yardbirds
Looking at a list of its former members, the past line-ups of The Yardbirds almost look like a practical joke. Three of the best guitarists of all time passed through the band, namely Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck. If they’d have somehow nabbed Jimi Hendrix, there wouldn’t have been any shredding going on in the 60s that The Yardbirds didn’t put their imprint on. They didn’t get Hendrix; The Yardbirds weren’t that greedy, but the guitar power that touched the band through subsequent lineups is enough to earn them a spot on this list. Clapton, Page, and Beck all left the band in their own time, and went on to achieve rock god status in their own right (Clapton with his solo career, Page with Led Zeppelin, and Beck as a wandering guitar legend), but The Yardbirds’ discography has surely benefitted from their contributions, with songs like “Heart Full of Soul,” “Mr. You Are a Better Man Than I,” and “Over Under Sideways Down.”
Labelled by many to be a heavy metal band, AC/DC have always considered their music to be rock n’ roll. In listening to them, you get the impression that they do indeed fit nicely alongside the rock n’ roll godfathers that preceded them. but it’s also quite clear that they played an important role in shaping the wave of heavy metal music that followed them. Their 1980 album Black in Black was the head-banging anthem of the entire decade and well-beyond, and it gave us such hard rock classics as “Hells Bells,” “Shoot to Thrill,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “Back in Black,” and “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.” In listening to AC/DC’s music and feeling our heart rates increase, we can’t help but agree with the title of that last track, and we urge anyone who calls rock and roll noise pollution to play this album at full blast and get back to us.
Featuring the greatest delay pedal foot of all time and one of the sweetest voices of rock n’ roll history, U2 have carved out a deep, serene, and everlasting niche in music history. With Bono on lead vocals and guitar, the Edge on guitar, keyboards, and backing vocals, Adam Clayton on bass guitar, and Larry Mullen Jr. on drums and percussion, U2 rocked the world to its knees from the 1980s and onward with their unbelievably catchy, undeniably sweet anthems. Just a few of their classics that come to mind are “With or Without You,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Unlike most of the other names on this list, U2 continue to make their mark on the world today, and we can’t help but admire that they’re still going at it.
11. The Grateful Dead
Known as much for their wild music as they are for inspiring a legion of devoted fans, known as “Deadheads,” The Grateful Dead hold a unique spot among rock legendary mostly due to their strange, yet familiar, musical output, which includes inspirations from rock, blues, bluegrass, reggae, folk, psychedelia, space rock, and improvisational jazz. There’s never really been a band quite like The Grateful Dead, and we doubt we’ll ever see one in the future. Thankfully, we don’t really need to, since the band’s discography contains enough of their signature content to last us a very, very long time. Some of their highlight tracks include “Friend of the Devil,” “Sugar Magnolia,” “Touch of Grey,” “Fire on the Mountain,” and “Eyes of the World.” If ever we do get tired of listening to their songs (which we doubt will happen any time soon), we can always pour through footage of their live shows, which holds a near limitless bounty of entertainment value in its own right.
Arguably the most vibrant and dynamic band of all time, Queen shook the rock world to its bare foundations in the 1970’s and 80’s. Lead by wild frontman Freddie Mercury and backed by Brian May on lead guitar and vocals, Roger Taylor on drums and vocals, and John Deacon on bass guitar, no band that came before or after them can contest Queen’s ability to write powerful, meaningful, earth-shattering anthems. They’ve penned some of the most iconic classics the world has ever heard, such as “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Somebody to Love,” “We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions,” and, of course, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Though the band is still active now, the main source of their influence was the explosive genius Freddie Mercury, who met his tragic end far too early, in 1991. Freddie’s not around, but his songs still are, and the world is eternally thankful for them.
9. The Doors
One of the bands that made central contributions to the modern understanding of rock n’ roll, The Doors enjoyed a legendary run that spanned 8 years, starting in 1965 and ending in dispansion in 1973. Not to discredit band members Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, and Robby Krieger, but to the majority of rock fans worldwide, the band lost its singular magic when frontman Jim Morrison passed away in 1971, becoming one of the first members of the tragic 27 Club. The Doors were known for making wildly catchy, widely accessible songs that were replete with sweet introspection. We mourn the death of Jim Morrison while remembering the beautiful art he made while he was alive, with songs like “Light My Fire,” “People Are Strange,” “Riders On The Storm,” and “Strange Days.”
8. The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground were debatably the coolest band of the late 60s and early 70s, reaching relatively sparse mainstream success during their initial span, but being important contributors to the underground. Essentially, they were a founding hipster band that held a cherished place in the hearts of the ancestral hipsters. They were brought back to the collective public’s mind a few years back in 2013, with lead singer/guitarist Lou Reed’s unfortunate passing. It’s a little sad that people only pay tribute to truly great things when a central figure dies, but that’s just the way it goes. Their legacy has been immensely influential before that, and it will continue to influence for the many, many years to come. Tracks like “Sunday Morning,” “Venus in Furs,” “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” and “Oh! Sweet Nuthin'” will always give off the trademark surreal, dreamy, and utterly cool effect of The Velvet Underground’s style.
Godfathers of grunge, credited with kicking off a generation of well-read headbangers, Nirvana exploded into the rock world exactly when the genre desperately needed them. Formed in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1987, the band reached widespread mainstream success and critical acclaim with their first major label album, Nevermind. With its collection of songs that were just as blindingly cool as they were angrily thoughtful, band members Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl experienced the kind of attention only attributed to true rock gods. While that’s the sort of thing that many young artists tend to covet, it proved to be too much for Kurt Cobain to handle, and the band effectively ended its run with Cobain’s suicide in 1994. Cobain’s up with his buddies in The 27 Club, but down here we have plenty of classics to remember him by, like “Come as You Are,” “Lithium,” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
6. The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Excuse us while we kiss the sky — the sweet, blue sky cradling the spirit of sweet, eternal Jimi Hendrix. Before he left us way too soon, joining the ill-fated members of what would be known as The 27 Club, Jimi Hendrix was the godliest guitar god on the planet, objectively recognized as such, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience was the vehicle of his sheer godliness. Although Jimi had enough of the spirit of rock in him to carry entire galaxies, we must never undermine the contributions made by the band’s other members, namely bassist and backing vocalist Noel Redding, drummer Mitch Mitchell, as well as bassist Billy Cox, who contributed to the band as it was nearing its end. The Jimi Hendrix gifted us with many eternal classics such as “Purple Haze,” “Little Wing,” and “All Along the Watchtower.” The dream ended with Jimi’s truly tragic passing, but we’ll never forget his contributions to the conversation of rock.
5. The Who
Who? You already know who. We’re talking about The Who, that wacky, ultra solid old school band that never quite hooked on to the same level of popularity that The Beatles and The Rolling Stones experienced. That’s not to say that they didn’t have their fair share of influence back in their day, of course. And, like their contemporaries, their discography sounds just as fresh today as it did back then. With songs like “Pinball Wizard,” “I Can See for Miles,” “Who Are You,” and the ethereal “Baba O’Riley,” The Who made music that was undeniably good old rock n’ roll, while undeniably belonging to a style completely their own, a sideways twist on the classic formulas. Today, The Who hold a spot in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, both the official one on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, and the special one in each of our hearts.
4. The Rolling Stones
One would think it would be impossible for any band to have held a competitive light to The Beatles when they were in their prime, but then one would not be thinking about The Rolling Stones, for whatever strange reason. Comprised of a sickeningly powerful roster that included Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts, The Rolling Stones struck chords of power right through the 1960’s and beyond. In fact, they would have unquestionably been the sole dominators of the 1960’s if The Beatles did not exist. Still, Beatles or not, The Rolling Stones have an unfathomably glorious library of hits, with such inclusions as “Satisfaction,” “Paint It Black,” “Sympathy For The Devil,” and the heavenly “Gimme Shelter.” The Stones helped make popular music cool back in their day, and like some strange, hip wine, their songs just seem to get cooler and cooler over time.
3. Led Zeppelin
When asked to conjure up an image of a “rock god,” most of us would picture the members of Led Zeppelin flying on motorcycles out of their hotel room windows and into the night. Those fables are certainly out there, whether true or not, and they’re a part of the legacy that belongs to the legendary Led Zeppelin. True rock gods in every right, Led Zeppelin took hold of the reins left behind by The Beatles, and proceeded to dominate the 1970s with their brand of hard, beautifully melodic and incredibly catchy rock. Amid the countless, unfathomably influential hits the band put out (which includes tracks like “Kashmir,” “Ramble On,” “Black Dog,” “Dazed and Confused,” and many, many more), they’re responsible for making arguably the greatest rock song of all time, “Stairway to Heaven.” Whether this song is actually the greatest of its genre is a matter of opinion, but we definitely know that we dig it, and we think it’s safe to assume that you do, too.
2. Pink Floyd
No band has ever toed the line between mainstream and underground as seamlessly as Pink Floyd. While their sound, for the most part, is indisputably underground (especially for their time), their sales records were certainly not. Their concert attendance didn’t suggest anything truly indie, either, and they did have songs that were uniformly enjoyed by the masses, like “Money” and “Another Brick In The Wall Part Two.” But all that just goes to credit Pink Floyd’s massive accomplishments. In sticking to their guns and making long, deep, dark music, and doing it better than anyone else at the time, they brought that dynamic to the ears of millions of listeners who didn’t normally run into that sort of thing. They started a chain of taste and thought that has leaked down the generations that followed them. Our culture of music and of non-music today owes a lot to the work that Pink Floyd did.
1. The Beatles
A list of great rock n’ roll bands isn’t any sort of list at all without The Beatles. This is, without much reasonable doubt, the big band. They sold more content than any band in the world, ever; their legacy has inspired the vast majority of the music that followed it, at least to some extent; and their musical library is far more varied than any of the other artists working in their time. Before The Beatles adopted sweet experimentation into their songwriting (which may or may not have been influenced by the sweet, mind-altering substances they started incorporating into their diets), they made simple, run-of-the-mill tunes that fit right into the musical scope of the decade they were a part of, and they did it better than everyone else. After the experimentation, it was all blissful, ear-shattering, culture-shocking innovation. The Beatles were comprised of three artists of sheer musical genius, and one adorable Ringo, which is a formula that ended up changing the world forever.