Rock music is a huge cultural force. And because of it’s long and evolutionary history encompassing literally hundreds of sub-genres, it is impossible to pick out 10 best Rock Bands.
However, I am trying.
Setting up the context with Evolution of Rock Music.
Arguably origins of rock music go back to the early 1940’s. The term “Rock and roll” has often been described as a merger of “blues” and “country” music. In 1953, “Bill Haley and His Comets” are the first to hit the charts with a true rock and roll song “Rock around the clock”. Another widely held belief is that the first rock-n-roll single was 1951’s “Rocket 88”, by Jackie Brenston.
While people might quibble over specifics, rock music can generally be described as hard-edged music performed with guitars, drums and a lead vocalist. That sounds simple enough, but a closer look at the evolution of rock suggests, that different styles and influences, have shaped its development over the years.
It was the sixties (1960’s), when rock music really comes of age. By the late 60’s we saw the emergence of the classic rock period, along with a number of distinct rock music sub-genres. Expanding the scope of rock music, and fueling the transitioning of singles artists into musicians capable of producing cohesive albums of songs. And hence, the emergence of Rock Bands. Embracing youthful rebellion in their music, Rocks Bands elevated rock music to new cultural heights.
In the seventies (1970’s) rock music takes a more dominant form in popular music, new bands built on their predecessor’s strengths while branching out into new sonic territory. This decade also marks the birth of Heavy Metal.
During the eighties (1980’s), metal and glam metal became popular, by the end of the eighties, college rock become a lucrative alternative from the mainstream.
In the nineties (1990’s), alternative rock became the dominant form of popular music. The decade also saw the merging of hard rock and punk.
Rock music keeps evolving every decade or so – and I believe, and the most successful bands keep the same spirit as their 60’s predecessors.
Before I present the 10 Legendary Rock Bands, Here’s my list of honorable mentions:
Nirvana – formed in 1987
Their album “Nevermind” was a massive success in the 1990’s. In fact, they did overthrow Michael Jackson’s Dangerous from the number 1 position. Kurt Cobain, the guitarist and front-man of Nirvana was one of the most iconic and influential rock musicians in the history of alternative music.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – formed in 1966
They were highly influential in the popularization of hard rock and psychedelic rock. Best known for the skill, style, and charisma of their front man, Jimi Hendrix. All three of the band’s studio albums were masterpieces. Hendrix is widely regarded as the best guitarist ever.
The Animals – formed in 1960
They are a rhythm and blues rock band. Their song “House of the rising sun” is one of the greatest rock songs ever. Eric Burdon, the lead vocalist with his deep, powerful blues-rock voice has delivered many rock classics.
Lynyrd Skynyrd – formed in 1964
They popularized the southern rock genre with signature songs like “free bird”, “sweet home alabama”, “simple man” and many more. In 1977, their lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, was killed in plane crash. Several years after the accident the band regrouped with Van Zant’s brother in the lead role.
The Eagles – formed in 1971
Their style of music was a combination rock and roll, country, and folk styles. The song “hotel California” is extremely popular and has a cult following. Glenn Frey was the lead singer and front-man, after his death is 2016, Don Henley – drummer and co-lead vocalist reformed the band in 2017.
Aerosmith – formed in 1970
They are the best-selling American hard rock band of all time. Steven Tyler, the lead singer is also known as the “Demon of Screaming” due to his high screams and wide vocal range, as well as his on-stage acrobatics and high-energy performances.
Iron Maiden – formed in 1975
With powerhouse vocalist Bruce Dickinson, and iconic mascot Eddie, they’re are one of metal’s most enduring and distinctive acts. Iron Maiden generally avoided songs about drink, drugs, sex, or women. The band’s lyrics are steeped in English literature, their music (with melodic guitars and ambitious songwriting) was often referred to as “intelligent metal”.
Linkin Park – formed in 1996
They are the best-selling band of the 21st century and the most-liked band on Facebook. They combined elements of rock music, hip hop and alternative rock. Linkin Park lost their best-known lead singer and songwriter Chester Bennington in 2017. The band is particularly famous for not using swear words in most of their songs because they feel there are better ways to get their message across.
Top 10 “Legendary Rock Bands Ever” in the universe of rock music:
Number 10: Guns N’ Roses – Formed in 1985
Guns N’ Roses has sold more than 100 million records worldwide. Their 1987 release “Appetite For Destruction” became the biggest selling debut album in history. The band’s name was the result of a merger of two Los Angeles bands Axl Rose’s band, Hollywood Rose and Tracii Gun’s band, L.A. Guns. Since they started, they have changed their original lineup 22 times! However, with vocalist Axl Rose, guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Steven Adler – rock music rediscovered its edge, rage and sense of danger. A classic rock band with a punk rock attitude.
GNR gained a reputation of wild lifestyle and outrageous behavior and were known as “the most dangerous band in the world.” Axl Rose – Birth name William Bruce Rose Jr, allegedly had a horrible temper. And was arguably the most recognizable and talked-about rock star on the planet by the close of the eighties. Axl Rose and guitarist Slash aka Saul Hudson were a great pair. Slash has received critical acclaim as a guitarist. And is considered one of the greatest guitarists in rock history. Interestingly, He had more than 20 pet snakes.
GNR’s affinity towards chaos and unpredictable behavior grew in proportion with their popularity. In fact, this was a part of their charm. But despite hard rock tendencies and an off-putting attitude, the band had deep respect for tradition. They idolized Aerosmith. The song “Sweet Child of Mine” is about Rose’s girlfriend Erin Everly, , the daughter of singer Don Everly of the Everly Brothers. He wrote “Rocket Queen” for a girl who was going to have a band and call it Rocket Queen.
Slash announced in October 1996 that he was no longer a part of Guns N’ Roses. GNR kicked off long-awaited reunion tour in 2018. It featured Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan performing together.
Number 9: Metallica – Formed in 1981
Since 1981, Metallica has cemented themselves as one of the defining bands of the metal genre. They developed the sub-genre thrash metal, which borrows the aggression of heavy metal but is faster, sharper, and significantly more insane.
The release of 1983’s “Kill ‘Em All” marked the beginning of the legitimization of heavy metal’s new complexity and depth to thrash metal. With each album, the band’s playing and writing achieved greater heights. James Hetfield developed a signature rhythm that matched his growl, while lead guitarist Kirk Hammett became one of the most copied guitarists in metal. To complete the package, Lars Ulrich’s thunderous (yet complex) drumming clicked in perfectly with Cliff Burton’s innovative bass playing. Their second effort, “Ride the Lightning” was a quantum leap forward, especially in terms of the complexity of the songwriting. It bridged the gap from the un-restrained aggressive approach of their debut and the longer, epic songs of their later albums. Their third album “Master of Puppets” was described as one of the most influential and heaviest of thrash metal albums.
In 1986, Metallica’s founding bassist, Cliff Burton, was killed in a grisly accident. The band decided to continue, Jason Newsted was chosen to replace Burton. By the 90’s, Metallica had changed the rules for all heavy metal bands. Peppered with hits like “Wherever I May Roam” and “Enter Sandman” they were the leaders of the genre, respected by mainstream and critics. In 2001 Jason Newsted chose to quit the band. Robert Trujillo was chosen as the new bassist from 2003.
The legendary Metallica would never have even come into existence if it wasn’t for drummer and co-founder Lars Ulrich. In 1981, Ulrich posted an advertisement in the Los Angeles newspaper “The Recycler”. He was looking for other musicians to jam with. James Hetfield has been the face and voice of Metallica since the very beginning. When fans think of Metallica, it’s impossible not to hear Hetfield’s signature growl ring through their ears.
Metallica set a Guinness World Record for becoming the first musical act to perform on every continent. They have been rocking this planet for over 30 years, and they overcame any and all obstacles that were in front of them.
Number 8: Led Zeppelin – Formed in 1968
Led Zeppelin is one of those bands that is instantly recognizable for their insane riffs, stomping beats, and howling blues-rock vocals. The band’s heavy, guitar-driven sound has led them to be cited as one of the progenitors of heavy metal. Their style drew from a wide variety of influences, including blues, psychedelia, and folk music. They also pioneered the trend of rock bands writing power ballads.
The band consisted of guitarist Jimmy Page, singer Robert Plant, bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham. They have cemented their legacy as one of the most influential bands of all time, having inspired countless hard rock and heavy metal bands. Page wrote most of Led Zeppelin’s music, particularly early in their career, while Plant generally supplied the lyrics.
From the blustery blues-rock of their self-titled 1969 debut to the flawless dynamism of their 1971 masterpiece “Led Zeppelin IV” and their double-album epic “Physical Graffiti”. Led Zeppelin carried a unique finesse, cultivated by cryptic album art, and of course a reputation for off-stage wildness. Fans have been soaking up songs like “Whole Lotta Love” or “Kashmir” for the past 50 years. “Stairway to Heaven”, has been acknowledged by many as the all-time greatest classic rock song. Zeppelin’s sales are estimated at 300 million units, making them one of the best-selling acts of all time. Led Zeppelin were the biggest rock band in the world. They even owned a custom-made private plane named “The Starship”.
The death of drummer John Bonham in 1980 put an end to the band, but their music lives on.
Number 7: AC/DC – formed in 1973
AC/DC are an Australian rock band formed by Scottish-born brothers Malcolm and Angus Young. The brothers developed the idea for the band’s name after their sister, Margaret Young, saw the initials “AC/DC” on a sewing machine. “AC/DC” is an abbreviation meaning “alternating current/direct current” electricity. The brothers felt that this name symbolized the band’s raw energy, power-driven performances of their music. Drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Mark Evans joined the lineup a year later and the band’s chauffeur, Bon Scott, became the lead vocalist.
AC/DC’s mammoth power chord roar became one of the most influential hard rock sounds of the 70’s and is now one of the defining sounds of rock and metal. The group released two albums, “High Voltage” and “T.N.T” in 1974 and 1975 respectively, followed by “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” and “Let There Be Rock” in the subsequent years. Mark Evans left the band soon after, with Cliff Williams taking his place. What really broke the doors down for the band was the following year’s “Highway to Hell”, which was the group’s first million-seller.
AC/DC’s train was derailed, when Bon Scott died after a heavy night of drinking on February, 1980. In March, the band replaced Scott with Brian Johnson, and recorded one of rock’s all-time greatest albums, “Back in Black”. In 1983, Rudd left the band, and was replaced by Simon Wright.
Since then, AC/DC have released a series of bestselling albums that rest firmly on top of rock’s most basic guitar chords and life’s most primal instincts.
AC/DC’s rock was minimalist – no matter how huge and bludgeoning their guitar chords were, there was a clear sense of space and restraint. In its own way, it was a reaction against the pompous art rock and lumbering arena rock of the early 70’s. AC/DC have referred to themselves as “a rock and roll band, nothing more, nothing less”
In 2014, they announced that Malcolm Young was suffering from dementia and had left the band; his nephew Stevie Young took his place at the recording sessions. Malcolm died on November 2017 at the age of 64.
Number 6: Black Sabbath – formed in 1968
Black Sabbath, originally comprised of John Michael “Ozzy” Osbourne, guitarist and main songwriter Tony Iommi, bassist and main lyricist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward. Black Sabbath’s name was supposedly inspired by an old horror movie poster and they are often cited as pioneers of heavy metal music. The band set the template for heavy metal with their menacing and dark signature music.
With an extremely gifted rhythm section and the extraordinary on-stage antics of Ozzy Osbourne, the band enjoyed success with memorable songs and brutal riffs beginning with their first album, the eponymous “Black Sabbath” (1970). Their follow-up album, “Paranoid” (also 1970), was a tremendous success. Black Sabbath released another smash hit in 1971 “Master of Reality”. This was the first Sabbath album to feature a significant amount of acoustic material. By the time the band released “Black Sabbath, Vol. 4” in (1972), they were a full-fledged progressive rock group. Arguably the band’s creative peak was “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” (1973).
The band was heavily addicted to drugs and for over two years Ozzy and Ward took LSD every day. Many of the band’s songs address drugs, both explicitly and implicitly. Sabotage was released in 1975 with continued success. However with drug problems, continued experimentation in their music style, the hard rock scene’s changing environment and some internal issues affected the stability and output of the band.
Osbourne was asked to leave the band in 1979, leading to a successful solo career – he went on to become one of the most successful solo artists in the history of heavy metal. Osbourne in 1980 delivered a solo debut, “Blizzard of Ozz”, that was a resounding commercial success. He was replaced by former Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio. In 1980 Black Sabbath’s next album and first with singer Ronnie James Dio, “Heaven and Hell”, proved to be a success. Black Sabbath endured many personnel changes in the 1980’s and 1990’s that included vocalists Ian Gillan, Glenn Hughes, Ray Gillen and Tony Martin, as well as several drummers and bassists. The original line-up reunited with Osbourne in 1997 and released a live album Reunion.
They are one of the most influential heavy metal bands of all time, and the undisputed king of heavy metal.
Number 5: The Beatles – formed in 1960
The Beatles are a rock band with a legendary status. The line-up of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr led the band to be regarded as the foremost and most influential in history. Relentlessly imaginative and experimental, the Beatles always stayed ahead of the pack in terms of creativity and never losing their ability to communicate their increasingly sophisticated ideas to a mass audience. Their supremacy as rock icons remains unchallenged to this day.
It’s hard to convey the scope of the Beatles’ achievements, as composers – their craft and melodic inventiveness were second to none. As singers, both John Lennon and Paul McCartney were among the best and most expressive vocalists in rock. The group’s harmonies were intricate and exhilarating. By 1962, their popularity grew into the intense fan frenzy dubbed as “Beatlemania”, the band acquired the nickname “the Fab Four”. By early 1964, the Beatles were international stars, leading the “British Invasion” of the United States pop market. They soon made their motion-picture debut with “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964). From 1965 on wards, they produced increasingly innovative recordings, including the albums “Rubber Soul” (1965), “Revolver” (1966), “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967), “The Beatles” (also known as the “White Album”, 1968) and “Abbey Road” (1969)
After the group’s break-up in 1970, all four members enjoyed success as solo artists. Their break-up was a cumulative process marked by rumors of a split and by ambiguous comments by the members themselves regarding their future as a band. In September 1969, Lennon privately informed his band-mates that he was leaving the band. There was no public acknowledgement of the break-up until 10 April 1970, when McCartney announced he was also leaving the group.
In December 1980, Lennon was shot and killed outside his New York City apartment. The perpetrator was, a recently unemployed resident of Hawaii who was incensed by Lennon’s lifestyle and public statements, especially his decade-old songs “Imagine” and “God” and his much-publicized 1966 remark about the Beatles being “more popular than Jesus”.
Harrison rewrote the lyrics of his song “All Those Years Ago” in Lennon’s honor, with Starr on drums and McCartney and his wife, Linda, contributing backing vocals. McCartney’s own tribute, “Here Today”, appeared on his Tug of War album. In 1987, “Harrison’s Cloud Nine” album included “When We Was Fab”, a song about the Beatlemania era. The Beatles are the best-selling rock band in history.
Number 4: – Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd were the epitome of psychedelic and progressive rock music. One of rock’s most successful and influential bands, they were distinguished by their philosophical lyrics, sonic experimentation, explorations of mundane matters of ego, mind, memory, and heart, touching upon madness, alienation, narcissism, and society. The band went through several name changes. Finally, they got their name from two blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.
The band’s classic lineup was Roger Waters (vocals, bass), David Gilmour (vocals, guitar), Rick Wright (organ, keyboards, vocals) and Nick Mason (drums). Gilmour was brought into the band in 1968 to replace the band’s founder, singer, guitarist and songwriter Syd Barrett, who had overused LSD and was struggling with schizophrenia.
Roger Waters, the bassist was the band’s de-facto leader in the 1970’s. Waters fueled the band’s golden years, conceiving such epics as “Wish You Were Here” and “The Wall”, but the band survived his departure in the 1980’s, with guitarist David Gilmour stepping to the forefront. In the late 1980’s Wright, Gilmour, and Mason released two albums, including the ponderous “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” (1987) and “The Division Bell” (1994), while Waters pursued a solo career. Waters reunited with his former bandmates for a single performance at the Live 8 benefit concert in 2005.
Pink Floyd were an influence on the neo-progressive rock sub-genre which emerged in the 1980’s. O’Neill Surber compared the lyrics of Dark Side of the Moon’s “Brain Damage” with Karl Marx’s theory of self-alienation. Rolling Stone described Pink Floyd as “purveyors of a distinctively dark vision”.
Number 3: The Doors – formed in 1965
The Doors, one of the most influential and controversial rock bands of the 1960’s. With vocalist Jim Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, and drummer John Densmore the band created a new generation of fans. The group never added a bass player, and their sound was dominated by Manzarek’s electric organ work and Morrison’s deep, sonorous voice, with which he sang and intoned his highly poetic lyrics. The band took its name from the title of Aldous Huxley’s book “The Doors of Perception” – itself a reference to a quote by William Blake.
The band recorded their self-titled debut album in 1966, which was a massive hit – and endures as one of the most exciting, groundbreaking recordings of the psychedelic era. Blending blues, classical, eastern music, and pop into sinister but beguiling melodies, the band sounded like no other. The Doors’ focus was the charismatic Morrison. With his rich, chilling vocals and somber poetic visions, Morrison explored the depths of the darkest and most thrilling aspects of the psychedelic experience. Morrison’s lyrics and his erratic stage persona was widely regarded as representative of the era’s counterculture.
The Doors released eight albums in five years, some of which are considered among the greatest of all time. From the start, the charismatic Morrison proved increasingly unstable over the group’s brief career. Morrison died in uncertain circumstances in 1971. The band continued as a trio until disbanding in 1973. Yet the Doors’ music and Morrison’s legend continued to fascinate succeeding generations of rock fans.
Number 2: – Queen – formed in 1970
Queen, the famed glam-rock band, their fusion of metal, glam rock, and camp theatrics made them one of the most popular groups of the 1970’s. Their classic line-up was Freddie Mercury (lead vocals and piano), Brian May (lead guitar and vocals), Roger Taylor (drums and vocals) and John Deacon (bass guitar).
Queen’s music was a bizarre yet highly accessible fusion of the macho and the fey. For years, their albums boasted the motto “no synthesizers were used on this record”. Vocalist Freddie Mercury brought an extravagant sense to Queen, pushing them toward kitschy humor and pseudo-classical arrangements, as epitomized on their best-known song, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Through his legendary theatrical performances, Queen became one of the most popular bands in the world. Despite their enormous popularity, Queen were never taken seriously by rock critics – an infamous Rolling Stone review labeled their 1979 album Jazz as “fascist.” Despite such harsh criticism, the band’s popularity rarely waned. Queen were at the height of their popularity as they entered the 1980’s. Their music was ground-breaking and innovative, and the band wrote such distinct, iconic songs, performing them in their own idiosyncratic way, that they always stood out.
Freddie thought up the name Queen. He said: “It’s very regal obviously, and it sounds splendid. It’s a strong name, very universal and immediate. It had a lot of visual potential and was open to all sorts of interpretations. I was certainly aware of the gay connotations, but that was just one facet of it.”
By 1991, Queen had drastically scaled back their activity, causing many rumors to circulate about Freddie Mercury’s health. On November 23, he issued a statement confirming that he was stricken with AIDS. He died the next day. There’s no doubting that he left an incredible mark on the world with his influence on the group and the role he played in making Queen into the band as we know it. Despite ever-changing popular genres and new forms of music being introduced, their music has remained timeless.
Number 1: The Rolling Stones – formed in 1962
The Rolling Stones aka The Stones, are the most successful and critically acclaimed rock bands of all time – who critics and fans alike have dubbed as the “World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.” They are the longest-performing rock band of all time.
Since their formation, the Rolling Stones have survived multiple feuds. The first stable line-up consisted of bandleader Brian Jones (guitar, harmonica, keyboards), Mick Jagger (lead vocals, harmonica), Keith Richards (guitar, vocals), Bill Wyman (bass), Charlie Watts (drums), and Ian Stewart (piano). Stewart was removed from the official line-up in 1963 but continued to work with the band as a contracted musician until his death in 1985. The band’s primary songwriters were Jagger and Richards.
With his preening machismo and latent maliciousness, Mick Jagger became the prototypical rock front-man, tempering his macho showmanship with a detached, campy irony while Keith Richards and Brian Jones wrote the blueprint for sinewy, interlocking rhythm guitars. Backed by the strong yet subtly swinging rhythm section of bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts, the Stones became the band that pioneered the gritty, hard-driving blues-based rock & roll that came to define hard rock.
After a brief dalliance with psychedelia, the Stones re-emerged in the late 1960’s as a jaded, blues-soaked hard rock quintet. They had always flirted with the seedy side of rock-n-roll, but as the hippie dream began to break apart, they exposed and reveled in the new rock culture.
The press turned an eye toward the Rolling Stones – a group of brash punks upsetting the status quo by playing black music to young white audiences. A March 1964 article in the British weekly Melody Maker titled, “Would You Let Your Sister Go With a Stone,”
The band decided the press was good for their popularity and thus purposely started shenanigans such as growing their hair and wearing casual, mod-style suits to receive more media attention. The band’s 1965 mega-hit, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” with Richards’ fuzz-guitar riff designed to imitate the sound of a horn, hit number 1 worldwide. Their musical attitude, a mixture of rebellion and irreverence using urgent guitars, tribal drums, forceful harmonicas, and sexually tensed vocals, seduced the young and alarmed the old. When the Rolling Stones had another number 1 hit, “Paint It Black,” the following year, they had begun to secure their rock-star status. Although Brian Jones had started the band, the leadership of the Rolling Stones shifted to Jagger and Richards, once they had proved themselves to be a strong songwriting team.
By 1967, the members of the Rolling Stones were living like rock-stars, which meant they were abusing a lot of drugs. It was in that year that Richards, Jagger, and Jones were all charged with possession of drugs. Jones left the band in 1969. By the late 1960’s, the Rolling Stones had become the bad boys they had once promoted themselves to be. By the early 1970’s, the Rolling Stones were a controversial group, banned from many countries and exiled from Britain in 1971 for not paying their taxes.
During the early 1980’s, the band experimented with the new-wave genre, but members began to pursue solo careers due to creative differences. Jagger wanted to continue experimenting with contemporary sounds, and Richards wanted to stay rooted in blues. Ian Stewart suffered a fatal heart attack in 1985. Jagger and Richards set aside their animosity and went to work on a new Rolling Stones album, “Steel Wheels” in 1989. In 1993, Bill Wyman announced his retirement. But The Stones kept on rollin into the new millennium. In 2003, Jagger was knighted to Sir Michael Jagger.
On Mick Jagger’s 75th birthday, scientists named seven fossil stone-flies after present and former members of the band. Two species, Petroperla mickjaggeri and Lapisperla keithrichardsi, were placed within a new family Petroperlidae. The new family was named in honor of the Rolling Stones, derived from the Greek “petra” that stands for “stone”. The scientists referred to the fossils as “Rolling Stone-flies”.
The Rolling Stones have endured waxing and waning popularity over the decades, they still perform, tour, and record.
Thanks for reading. “Long live Rock Music” … Cheers.