There is a consummate question in the rock music genre. That question is, “Who did it best?”
Amongst the folks asking this question, you will often hear of the same list of groups mixed in with a handful of personalized selections. This list is an attempt to demonstrate the 20 groups that have to be in every Rock fan’s top 20.
20. Queen: I cannot think of a band with more played songs than Queen. For that reason, they belong here on this list.
19. Elvis Presley: This list is a list about bands, but I would be remiss if I did not at least mention the Founding Father of American rock music. Elvis took a special mixture of singer, songwriter, guitar player and general celebrity and created a genre of music that is not quite “country”, not quite “Americana” and certainly different than the Jazz and Swing music that came before. Elvis took cues from Dixieland, Chicago, and the Swing era which he was ending, and created a music almost entirely American.
18. The Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones represented a different sort of British Invasion. When The Beatles came across the pond, they brought a very tame sounding rock music with them. The Stones represented something more rebellious. Unlike The Beatles, who kept becoming more and more experimental as time went on virtually abandoning their original sound, the Stones continued to improve on what was a winning formula. Not only that, but you can still see most of the Stones touring today. Such longevity proves that there is something about the Stones that makes them great.
17. The Strokes: The Strokes represent a modernization of Rock music. Even though the sound that the Strokes defined is plenty fresh and plenty new, they do not abandon the sounds of the British Invasion. They are both forward-thinking and nostalgic. This balance in their musical formula provides such a wide range of reasons for people to listen to them. The Strokes, while wearing their influences on their sleeves, have created and defined a rock music for a new generation.
16. Jack White/The White Stripes: Perhaps one of the most creative minds in modern music, Jack White sits atop an indie rock throne. His duo with Meg White, The White Stripes, has songs that bang in stadiums and show in movies as off-the-wall as Napoleon Dynamite. Beyond that, Jack has put out a number of his own records which can be zany or straight rock all at the same time. If that wasn’t enough, Jack White has his own record label Third Man Records, which produces such a wide variety of music all at a very high level. Jack’s body of work is a testament to his overflowing creative energy. Not only that, he writes really exceptional music.
15. The Who: Perhaps the most radical band in the British Invasion was The Who. Songs such as My Generation become the soundtrack to every teenager who felt disrespected by the old morality. The Who, much like the Stones, took very little time in improving and refining their formula. Unlike the Stones or — in my opinion — The Beatles, when they deviated from the formula of proto-punkish rock jams and created the Rock Opera Tommy it was a resounding success and a tremendous musical achievement.
14. Soundgarden: I can only think of 3 ubiquitous songs from the grunge era and one of them is Spoonman. Chris Cornell was a towering figure in grunge music. Not only did he enjoy pretty serious success in the grunge scene, but he was continuing to make acclaimed music up until his death. Soundgarden pioneered a hard-hitting more metal-oriented sound within the grunge scene that was a little more technical than the offerings from Nirvana or Pearl Jam and really would not be surpassed by any “grunge” band. They married an intense musicality with high-levels of musicianship along with some pretty catchy (yet not poppy and usually on the “darker” side) tunes.
13. Nirvana: Nirvana, of course, nearly singlehandedly created the grunge sound, which would come to define nearly two decades worth of rock music. Not only that, but it was a proving ground for rock pioneer Dave Grohl who would eventually step out from behind the drummer’s chair and into the front as the leader of Foo Fighters.
12. Foo Fighters: Foo Fighters is a grunge band that never seems to die. They have taken a grunge formula and made it timeless, it would seem. Many of their cohorts from the “Grunge Era” have died or continue to tour without gaining many new fans while Dave Grohl is a modern rock God and the Foo Fighters cannot seem to stop growing their fan base. Dave Grohl is a frontman of legend. I know a story of Dave breaking his leg during a show in Detroit, getting a splint done backstage, and continuing the show on a stool. Now that’s rock!
11. blink-182: blink-182 popularized punk music. I cannot say they did this all by their lonesome, but they certainly provided an added force to the fledgling pop-punk movement. blink-182 was born out of the Skate Punk bands of the early to mid 1990s. Skateboarding had just became really cool and everyone wanted to do it. As the skating culture exploded, so did the music surrounding the culture. Many bands wanted to attract folks who weren’t into the Hardcore Punk scene and turned to melody and catchiness. blink-182 were masters at creating tunes the Punks liked and that their girlfriends loved.
10. Arctic Monkeys: I count this band nearly in the top 10 simply for one reason. I believe that they were one of the first bands to truly make it using only the internet. Case in point, Arctic Monkeys sold out Manchester’s Apollo arena before they had officially released an album. On top of that, I have heard that they did so mere months after learning their instruments. Arctic Monkeys’ is such a clever sound that marries Britpop, punk and rock to create an often frantic and fun style that is impossible to ignore.
9. Sex Pistols: The stories surrounding the Sex Pistols are simply the stuff of legend. Anyone who follows Sex Pistols and learns their story is hearing one of the great tragedies of modern culture. Not only that, their music defined a harder hitting version of punk music and helped propel and define the Hardcore movements that would blossom in the 90s.
8. The Clash: The Clash represent a huge success story. Punks today claim them as their own and still hunt for their records in listenable condition while the older generation who grew up with them appreciate and often love their music. The Clash spans multiple generations of musical success. As far as their major accomplishments, they married proto-punk music with so many other genres and subgenres in such a way that created a sound which would become known down the road as “Punk”.
7. Led Zeppelin: The smash hit that today will not die, Stairway to Heaven, is this band’s key to the kingdom. But, that is not all they have. So many bands from the 70s and 80s seem more schtick than sound. Led Zeppelin, on the other hand, has such a unique sound that even today people want to purchase it and will actively seek it out.
6. Pearl Jam: For so many today, Pearl Jam is the quintessential 90s rock band. Not only that, but Eddie Vedder frequently tops lists of the best male vocalists ever. The Pearl Jam sound is so universal, that most people can find at least one song that really hits them. Usually it is more like 10 songs.
5. Creedence Clearwater Revival: I do not know if there is a more iconic sound than that of CCR. For that reason, I placed them so highly on this list. But, they are not all popularity and flash. If you are considering blues-rock music, I do not think you can do anything other than place CCR on the throne as undisputed kings of the genre.
4. Ramones: The Ramones were the punk band to consider. They were a constant source of everything that defines a good punk band. That is, humor, energy, noise, and the angst of youth. All punk bands to come after them owe a huge debt of gratitude to everything that the Ramones did and that cannot be ignored.
3. The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Jimi Hendrix is undeniably one of the great guitar players throughout history. Not only that, but the Experience centered around that playing style and created a sound that has influenced every guitar player to follow Jimi.
2. Van Halen: The pure, uncut rock energy of Van Halen cannot be denied and neither can the guitar playing abilities of Eddie Van Halen. Such guitar skill paired with great tunes created a rock forced to be reckoned with.
1. The Beatles: The Beatles, essentially, defined the rock idea when the came over. Not only that, but they kept iterating and adapting on their formula to create nearly 30 decades worth of music that did not go out of style.