Ten Greatest Rock Bands of All Time
Who Dares Compile Such a List?
There have been a multitude of rock bands, of course, many of them spectacular. Who can pick the best? What the heck, I'll try. I've been around for awhile, since all the oldest bands on the list have been in existence - say, 1962. The list only includes bands whose forte is good ol' rock ‘n' roll. No players of blues, rhythm and blues, funk, soul, folk, hip-hop - much less jazz or other dissimilar genres - are included on this list. Moreover, all of these bands has (or had) a distinctive sound that few can imitate, dare they try. All of the bands were together for years - or decades or still perform - and made an indelible mark on the world of rock ‘n' roll.
(Please watch the videos below the text.)
1. The Beatles
What more can anybody say about The Beatles? John, Paul, George and Ringo became household names back in 1964 – in the UK and USA, at least. Soon they became known as the Fabulous Four or Fab Four. By the late 1960s many people thought they were sent here to save the world. Fancy that notion, eh? Perhaps their best album, Revolver, was VH1’s pick for best album of all time. Back in1967, during the psychedelic era, many of us marveled at their enigmatic, post-acid lyrics. Some examples were: “The walrus was Paul . . . Lucy in the sky with diamonds . . . When ignorance and haste may mourn the dead.” Yeah, right, gimme a hit!
Then that Japanese artist chick Yoko Ono broke them up. Or did she? Perhaps a more likely possibility is that aspirations for solo careers sent them in other directions. At any rate, we’ll probably never see their like again. But people must try to bring them back in some fashion. Currently, the Cirque du Soleil production of Love in Las Vegas is a musical production based on the Beatles’ music. Hey, Strawberry Fields Forever!
2. Led Zeppelin
I’ll never forget listening to the first album by Led Zeppelin. This was truly incredible music! I’d never heard anything like Jimmy Page’s searing, hyperkinetic guitar slinging or Robert Plant’s otherworldly screaming, chanting and howling, and the other musicians were decidedly above average as well. The lead riff from the song “Dazed and Confused” is forever implanted in my gray matter – I may die contemplating it! Perhaps the band’s best album was Houses of the Holy, including its smash hits “Dancing Days,” “The Rain Song” and “No Quarter.”
And the Zep didn’t let me down for 12 years, though there was a drop-off in quality material during and after the double album Physical Graffiti (but who can forget the tantric “Kashmir”?) Then in 1980 drummer John Bonham died and the band broke up. Incidentally, in 2000, VH1 voted Led Zeppelin the number one greatest hard rock band. The Zep had a reunion concert at the end of 2007, and plans for a reunion “tour” have been in the works, but it will probably never happen.
3. The Rolling Stones
In 1962 Brian Jones brought together the members of a rhythm and blues band that would become The Rolling Stones. Their list of classic albums is long: Out of Our Heads, Aftermath, Their Satanic Majesties Request, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Mainstreet. Unfortunately, the band transmogrified after the death of guitarist/musicologist Brian Jones in July 1969. Some rock purists think the Rolling Stones were never as good afterwards. The Stones’ sponsored Altamont bummer concert in December 1969, where a Hell’s Angel stabbed a black man to death, may not have helped their group psyche as well.
Be that as it may, about this time, the band began trumpeting themselves as the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world. Evidence of this could be their live album Flashpoint, released in 1991. Rock never sounded so good. At any rate, their longevity certainly speaks for itself, as the band performed at the 12/12/12 Concert, highlighting a tour to celebrate 50 years of rocking out.
Jimi Hendrix Experience
4. The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Reputedly, blues guitarist’s Eric Clapton’s jaw dropped when he heard Jimi Hendrix play Howlin Wolf’s “Killing Floor.” I’ll bet many jaws went south when The Jimi Hendrix Experience, the eponymous power trio, hit the music scene in the UK the latter part of 1966. The group lasted only four years or so, changing bass players and drummers a time or two (Mitch Mitchell was the drummer on all albums except Band of Gypsies, on which Buddy Miles played drums and sang vocals.) But the band’s leader, Jimi Hendrix, quickly established himself as the most explosive and inventive guitarist around and to this day is often considered the greatest rock guitarist of all time. (Rolling Stone magazine voted him as such in 2003.) Perhaps the band’s greatest songs were “Purple Haze,” “Foxy Lady,” “All Along the Watchtower” and “Machine Gun.”
Then, in the fall of 1970, Hendrix was planning to record an album with jazz great Miles Davis. Wouldn’t that have been incredible! Unfortunately, the band’s stardom was cut short by the death of Jimi Hendrix in September 1970. Well, to use an astronomical metaphor - appropriate somehow - blue giant stars, because they’re so enormous, burn out in a relatively quick and spectacular fashion, ending in a cataclysmic explosion known as a supernova. Yes, they go – BOOM! Alas, poor Jimi ended likewise.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
5. Pink Floyd
Few rock bands have been as influential as Pink Floyd, which formed in 1965. Pink Floyd has sold over 200 million records and still performs from time to time. Their first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was released during the Summer of Love in 1967. Perhaps the album’s greatest hit was “Interstellar Overdrive,” a decidedly psychedelic title and tune, during a very trippy time, if you remember. In 1965, lead guitarist Syd Barrett, suffering from mental problems, was replaced by his friend David Gilmour. The band has produced numerous hit albums over the years, particularly classics such as The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. After breaking up in 1996, Pink Floyd reunited for the Live 8 concert in 2005. Sadly, Syd Barrett died in July 2006, but Pink Floyd’s space music will never perish.
U2 seems to be one of the most popular musical acts in the world – and a band with a social conscience. One of their first songs, 1983’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” commemorated the slaughter of civilians during upheavals in IRA-embattled Ireland. The band was also prominent at the Live-Aid (for Africa) concerts in 1985. Bono, the lead singer of the group, remains a social activist on the world scene, visiting trouble spots with the regularity of a United Nations ambassador. Of course, U2 has written ballads too, perhaps most prominently “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” featured on their album Joshua Tree, rated number 15 on VH1’s list of the 100 Greatest Rock Albums of All Time, compiled in 2001. If any rock group lasts as long - or even longer - than the Rolling Stones, it may be U2.
By the way, U2 puts on a spectacular live show, particularly when performing in arenas or stadiums. In that regard, The Edge, aka, David Howell Evans, U2’s lead guitarist, seemingly uses a different guitar for every song U2 plays. Small wonder, since it appears every guitar has a unique tone the artist must utilize to its fullest.
No American rock band has won more awards and honors – and sold more albums - than Aerosmith. Formed in the early 1970s, this Boston-based band developed a hard rock cutting edge that rivaled that of other hard rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and AC/DC, though some critics considered them nothing more than a poor man’s Rolling Stones. Perhaps the band’s greatest hit is “Walk This Way,” covered by numerous groups, including the hip-hop band Run D.M.C. But it has been a bumpy ride for these guys. By the middle 1980s virtually every band member ended up in drug rehab, and the band didn’t rebound until every member swore off the contraband by the end of the decade. Since then, they've rocked. So, regarding rock longevity, only the Rolling Stones top these aging, though potent, rockers.
A San Francisco Bay Area group that went stellar is Santana, which started as the Santana Blues Band, led by lead guitarist Carlos Santana. The band’s Latin-flavored rock ‘n’ roll became a quick sensation in San Francisco’s concert scene. Notably, the band became famous before the release of its first album by playing at Woodstock in August 1969. Over the years, their top-grossing albums have been Abraxas in 1970 and, in 1999, Supernatural, something of a comeback effort after many years of low record sales and no recording contract. Santana has undergone numerous personnel changes over the years, but Carlos Santana certainly hasn’t retired to the old folks’ home. He’s recorded and toured with such notables as Buddy Miles, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Alice Coltrane, Stanley Clarke, Herbie Hancock, Vernon Reid and Eric Clapton. And, in 2016, classic band members regrouped, releasing the album Santana IV and its hit single, “Anywhere You Want to Go.”
9. Pearl Jam
A multitude of rock fans fell in love with the first album by the Seattle grunge band Pearl Jam. Ten, released in 1991, is certainly one of the greatest rock albums of all time. VH1 listed it as number 79 on the list of 100 Greatest Rock Albums of All Time. (Way too low, don’t you think?) Anyway, members of Pearl Jam thought enough of their fans to sue Ticketmaster because they thought it was charging too much for tickets to their concerts (they wanted to keep the price below $20 per ticket). Unfortunately, the band lost the lawsuit. After many changes in personnel over the years - though lead singer Eddie Vedder remains the group’s main man - the band continues touring and cutting albums. Moreover, many of their performances have been recorded and released on CDs (bootlegs of such are available too).
In 2017, Pearl Jam was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Queen is certainly one of the most innovative, progressive and experimental rock bands of all time, producing such timeless hits as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Somebody to Love,” “We Are the Champions” and “We Will Rock You.” Having sold as many as 300 million albums worldwide, Queen has been one of the most commercially successful rock bands as well. Forming in 1971 and producing their first album in 1973, Queen’s best days featured Freddie Mercury on lead vocals, Brian May on lead guitar and Roger Taylor on drums. Generally, critics have loved Queen’s music too, as their singles and albums have landed on numerous “best of” lists such as A Night at the Opera, voted number 16 on Q magazine’s list of the 50 Best British Albums Ever, compiled in 2004.
Since the death of Freddie Mercury in 1991, Queen has continued recording and touring, now a legendary assemblage of exemplary rockers with a list of accolades and awards too long to put in this meager space.
Questions & Answers
- Helpful 10
Do you have any knowledge of music history?
Yes, I've studied the history of rock and roll, the blues, R&B and jazz, and I've read numerous biographies of such musicians and bands. In fact, I just read Pete Townshend's autobiography.
- Helpful 2
Why is Queen so far down on the list?
Queen is great but not as great as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix.
© 2008 Kelley Marks