Top 10 Most Innovative Musicians

Updated on September 23, 2019
Ian Mundell profile image

Ian is a musician whose experience spans four decades. He has performed in genres ranging from classical to hard rock and jazz fusion.

These great musicians changed music forever!
These great musicians changed music forever! | Source

Musicians and bands come and go. While most of them are derivative, there have been a small handful that are recognized as truly innovative. Here are 10 of the most innovative and unique musical acts in modern history.

The Beatles

It's hard today to recognize just how innovative The Beatles were in their time.

Technology

The Beatles played with the limits of multi-track recording, sampling, and other techniques which are taken for granted today. They manually synchronized tape recorders before the advent of SMPTE time coding.

Experimental Music

From their use of uncommon instruments such as the sitar to their willingness to experiment with classical mixes, the band reached their zenith with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Everything on the album was different, and it was the first major album to include all the lyrics.

Deep Purple

From their earliest incarnation as Roundabout, the band that would become known as Deep Purple showed a willingness to forge ahead in a style which was the foundation of modern heavy metal music.

Classical Influences

Jon Lord's classical influences shone through frequently, culminating in their remarkable fourth album Concerto for Group and Orchestra. Formed as a three movement concerto, this was much more than a rock band with an orchestra in the background. Lord's classical training resulted in a fully integrated work which highlighted the clash of musical cultures in a give-and-take epic work.

Pink Floyd

A true pioneering spirit in the psychedelic music scene, Pink Floyd became known for their showmanship, lyricism, and extended compositions. Although sometimes derided as pretentious, the band was carried by hard work, vision, and locked by guitarist Dave Gilmour's skill which led to him being labelled the best slow guitarist in the world.

Dark Side of the Moon

This was the band's breakout success story, becoming one of the top-selling albums of all time. With all songs linked by a central theme, the famous heartbeat effect opened and closed an album that ultimately spoke of the human experience above everything.

King Crimson

Anchored by Robert Fripp, King Crimson is equally influential in the progressive rock and hard rock spheres. The band has always been noteworthy for the unparalleled expertise and musicianship of its members.

Over the years the lineups have shifted between unique lineups known as the double trio to the double duo and the most technically difficult of all, the seven-headed beast lineup which features three drummers on stage simultaneously.

King Crimson - Indiscipline - Live in Mexico City

Kraftwerk

Kraftwerk was enormously innovative in the electronic music genre. Thanks to their contributions, electronic music enjoyed a surge of popularity which later formed a solid foundation for electronic dance music (EDM). The band relied heavily on synthesizers, but also incorporated drum machines and vocoders.

Autobahn

Their most well-known album was also the first in which they whole-heartedly adopted the electronic persona. Rather than distancing themselves from a sound that other musicians had dismissed as too robotic, Kraftwerk emphasized it with repetition and simplicity dominating the sound.

Brian Eno

Although relatively unknown outside of England, Brian Eno was a trailblazer in ambient music. Describing himself as a non-musician, he first worked with Roxy Music before branching out to fully explore ambient music.

Installations

Eno has been fascinated by artistic installations, experimenting with ambient music installations and combining sound and light in complex multilayered multimedia presentations.

Brian Eno on Ambient Music

"Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular, it must be as ignorable as it is interesting."

Run-DMC

Run-DMC brought hip-hop to the masses; their self-titled album was widely regarded as being the seminal work that invented new school hip-hop. Although there were many other bands helping to launch this new brash and quintessentially American style of music, such as Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys, it was Run-DMC who punched it into the forefront.

New School Hip-Hop

Run-DMC had the first hip-hop video shown on MTV. They followed with the now-classic rock fusion partnership with Aerosmith on "Walk This Way", which cemented hip-hop's place in American popular culture.

King's X

Throughout their history, King's X has created a sound that seems impossible to come from a trio. Their initial albums, Out of the Silent Planet and Gretchen Goes to Nebraska, combined a hard rock sound that varied between almost ethereal tracks like Pleiades and The Burning Down to more driving traditional sounds such as Over My Head.

King's X was widely appreciated by other musicians for their technical skills, and were often considered to be "the musician's musicians". But it was their imaginative song construction and thematic approach to music which their peers found to be innovative and inspiring.

This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Music Division
This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Music Division | Source

Miles Davis

Miles Davis is recognized as one of the most prominent influences on jazz. His later works were responsible for ushering a new form of music that came to be known as jazz fusion.

His soaring trumpet blended, at times seamlessly and at other times in a jarring clash, with electronic music as he partnered with greats such as Herbie Hancock and John McLaughlin.

Bitches Brew

As this double album approaches its 50th anniversary, the mixture of experimental and improvisational progressions transcended classical jazz to take his virtuoso trumpet playing into a fresh sound that will shock and enlighten the new listener.

As much as the music itself, the production collaboration between Miles and producer Teo Macero made this a truly fresh and innovative excursion.

Frank Zappa

Zappa was a musical genius as much known for his phenomenal guitar work as his vision, and finally for his unerring talent for sparking controversy. His strongest influences were R&B and modern classical music, and his works reflected the dichotomy of these interests. His passion for quality manifested in highly unusual ways, such as his occasional insistence on conducting rock musicians in studio. His music almost defied categorization, blending avant garde, jazz fusion, modern classical, and rock genres.

Immortalized By Innovation

A fiery end to a venue while touring found its way into Deep Purple's most famous song, "Smoke on the Water". Known for the opening riff by Ritchie Blackmore, the incident was referred to by Ian Gillan's lyrics.

Frank Zappa and Deep Purple

Frank Zappa and the Mothers

Were at the best place around

Some stupid with a flare gun

Burned the place to the ground.

Smoke, on the water

A fire in the sky.

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