The greatest rock bands of all time, ranked
While it’s difficult to rate so many phenomenal and influential bands, here we give it our best shot. These bands range from the cool and hip likes of The Velvet Underground to the classics of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Aerosmith. Read on to find out our top picks for the greatest rock bands of all time.
40. Iron maiden
Iron maiden is one of those rock bands we’ve all heard at some point or another. While they’ve crossed the threshold from punk/hard rock into the mainstream, they’ve delivered hit after hit of tasty tune that we love to hear.
Some of the more popular Iron Maiden tunes are hits like The Trooper or Number of the Beast. These anthems have burrowed their way into our hearts with their exceptionally catchy guitar riffs and powerful vocal melodies. No list of the greatest rock bands would be complete without these guys.
39. Deep Purple
Deep Purple is another one of those bands that we have likely heard a thousand times. Many of us, however, likely haven’t realized that it’s Deep Purple we’ve been hearing. And what song, mind you, have we likely heard?
That song is none other than Smoke on the Water. The distinctive guitar riff is something taught to all children fresh to guitar lessons (yes, that included me). Anyways, this song, as well as many others, has placed Deep Purple as a classic that all should know.
38. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
It doesn’t break my heart much to mention this band. Having spun out such hits as “American Girl” and “Into the Great Wide Open,” this band — if not by repetition — has played itself relentlessly into our hearts and souls. There’s something about those timeless grooves and catchy riffs that enable the players to tap into something deep within us.
But the band also strikes all the chords of a top-tier rock band. While verging on the brim of classic rock, this band offers distorted melodies and crunchy deliveries. But pair this with superb musicianship coming from all different parts of the band and you are left with something that will last throughout the ages.
37. The Grateful Dead
Many bands have followed a somewhat formulaic style to get onto this list. While they have been innovative in that style, sure, they have more or less toed the line of what has already been done. This can’t be said of the Grateful Dead. While some might be tempted to pigeonhole the band into a tiny jam-band niche, others recognize them for the greatness they exude.
Though some of the band’s songs continue for a perplexing 10 to 11 minutes, others are more commercial in their length of around two to four minutes. Regardless, songs like “Johnny B. Goode” and “El Paso” help put this band on the list of the greatest of all time. I’m sure this is a decision with which the Deadheads out there will agree.
36. Lynyrd Skynyrd
If you’ve listened to the radio at any point during the last four decades (or likely, your office playlist), you have heard one particular song by this band. And what, do tell, is that song? You will know it by the name of “Sweet Home Alabama.” Becoming such a trademark and paradigm that everybody and their mother knows the opening guitar riff, this band clearly wins hearts.
While Ronnie Van Zant and Steve and Cassie Gaines, a few of the band’s original members, tragically lost their lives while flying on a charter plane for an upcoming new national tour, the band’s legacy lives on. Now, they are played on every rock ’n’ roll station worth its weight in salt. And, even if you’re not a fan of salt, you’re still probably into one of this band’s songs.
35. Pink Floyd
One of the more interesting bands to have made this list is Pink Floyd. While definitely rock, they are rock of a different nature. Their mellifluous melodies tied to their ambient tones makes for an interesting mixture — a mixture that many have found to their liking. And because of this, they had to make our list.
Some might define Pink Floyd as psychedelic rock. Whatever they are, many people took to their sound as if it was something new and invaluable. This is why their tunes like “Comfortably Numb” took off and soared on the charts. Another popular song of theirs is “Another Brick in the Wall.” You’ve likely heard one of these songs.
AC/DC has churned out many hits with a vocal style that exceeds the unique. Moreover, if you said these hits weren’t rock, you’d be saying they weren’t good. Ultimately, the statement would lose you some friends — perhaps all of your friends. Anyway, the band has hits ranging from “Thunderstruck” to “You Shook Me All Night Long.”
While Bon Scott of AC/DC suffered a tragic death at the hands of substance abuse, passing at the age of 33, he helped to usher in a new genre of hard rock. This, in conjunction with their long list of impossible-to-replicate tunes, sets the band aside as one of the greatest rock bands to have ever graced the genre.
33. Red Hot Chili Peppers
One of the more modern bands on this list, the Red Hot Chili Peppers introduced themselves to fame long ago. Having formed in 1983 in the heart of Los Angeles, this is another band to have brought us hits that have transcended generational gaps. Many of these hits are said to have blended the genres of rock with funk.
This is ultimately the result of the harmony between drummer Chad Smith and the band’s bassist — who goes by the charming nickname Flea. In total, the band has amassed something around 80 million record sales. This number will continue to soar as people look for that funky rock sound.
32. The Velvet Underground
Some bands out there are commercial. Others are novel. Some are so weird or bizarre or just plain crazy that people can’t understand them at all. With The Velvet Underground, this latter sentiment helped skyrocket them into a niche sort of fame. While definitely weird and a little dark, the hazy influences of the band definitely made their mark.
A few of the band’s more popular songs include “Venus in Furs,” “Sunday Morning,” and “Sweet Jane.” One of the things this band and its frontman, the late Lou Reed, may be known for is the influence they had over the world’s hipster scene. Arguably one of the earliest iconoclastic rock bands, The Velvet Underground set the stage for hip and cool everywhere.
31. The Replacements
The Replacements are a different breed of rock band. While they show that the genre of rock is greatly diverse and sometimes inclusive of other genres, they also show how strongly a band can add their own influence to a paradigm of rock.
The Replacements have many songs that we might not know are by them. A few of these include gems like Bastards of Young and Can’t Hardly Wait. Whatever your favorite Replacements tune, it is bound to be a good one.
There are few bands that have shaken the scene as steadily as Santana. While the band mixes and melds genres unique to the world of rock, the blend is one that many have found favorable. In the case of Santana, the mix was of rock and Latin. This mixture was simultaneously piquant and curious, getting the attention of many.
Created by Carlos Santana, the man himself, the genre-defying band has gone on to churn out hit after hit of pure, solid gold. A few of the hits include gems like “Black Magic Woman,” “Into the Night,” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” With these, the band has cemented its hold and influence on the world of rock ’n’ roll.
29. The Yardbirds
Another band that might not immediately pop into your head as an instrumental influencer in the world of rock is the Yardbirds. This band, having erected a certain style of cool before it was even invented, has had so many heavy-hitting members that it’s difficult to even keep count. Among them are some names you’ll likely recognize.
Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page are just a few of the better-known members. But beyond these guys lies a history of strong and thoroughgoing talent that enabled the band to write plentiful rock hits that would change the world of rock for the better. For this timeless presence, we’d like to thank them a thousand times.
28. The Smashing Pumpkins
Another band that has refused to let itself get pigeonholed into one type of rock is the Smashing Pumpkins. This band, while their songs cover many different styles and genres, stays true to its rockin’ roots.
Some of the more notable songs by this band are gems like 1979. This song is an iconic masterpiece key to many musicians’ hearts. If you haven’t heard this song, we recommend that you stop what you’re doing now and listen to it. You won’t regret it.
27. The Who
In the era where bands took familiar objects, phrases, or words as an inextricable part of their names, The Who stands out. In part because of their dramatic and destructive live performances — where drummer Keith Moon would often trash his expensive drum kit — the band and their tunes garnered a lot of attention.
The Who formed in 1964 and quickly grew a following. They have sold over 100 million records since their founding and influenced countless bands after them. One of their more famous songs, “Baba O’Riley,” would be covered by numerous other rock bands that would come later. Either way, the band is absolutely one of the greatest rock bands of all time.
Again, a band that took a simple name and rode it all the way to the top of the charts — Heart. The female-fronted band not only made their way into our eardrums but into our hearts. With powerful anthems like “Barracuda” and “Crazy on You,” Heart has earned the respect of many generations’ worth of fans.
Founded in 1970 in Seattle, Washington, Heart quickly ascended from bars in the rainy city to the global stage and sold-out tours. Having sold around 35 million albums and been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it’s impossible to deny the band’s prowess in the rock ’n’ roll scene.
25. Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix is one of those musicians that we’ve all heard of. The number of jams that he’s released unto the world are too many to count. In fact, if you tried to count them you would probably lose your mind from trying. We don’t recommend this.
A few of those you likely know, however, includes hits like All Along the Watchtower and Purple Haze. These songs, along with the charismatic and distinctive way he would perform on stage, make Jimi Hendrix and his band one of the greatest of all time.
Weezer is a rock band that ushered in a new beginning to the music. Their cool, laid-back style introduced a genre of style unfamiliar to the formulaic rock of the 90s. Some of their songs will live on forever in our minds and hearts.
Among their more popular tunes include gems like Say It Ain’t So and Buddy Holly. These timeless songs have helped to define an era, and any list of the greatest rock bands would be amiss without them. And so, here they are.
23. Elton John
Elton John, while not a band per se, is one of those musicians who so strongly changed the game that he had to be mentioned. He and his backing band produced so many jams that the music is still played generously today.
Piano Man, for instance, is such an anthem that the mere mention of its existence has likely induced the song into your head. Now, I imagine it unlikely for you to get rid of it. The best way is to likely think about a few more of the bands and songs on this list.
22. Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam, along with a handful of other ‘90s grunge bands, helped to define an entire genre of music. Not only did they branch from their rock roots into something more counterculture and unique, but they honed in their sound to create something totally modern.
A few of their better-known songs are tunes like Black, Yellow Ledbetter, Better Man, and Jeremy. In its entirety, their first album Ten had so many unbelievably good songs. Anyways, you can’t have a list of the greatest rock bands without Pearl Jam.
How many of you know a Kiss song? I’d venture a guess and say just about every one of you. While some of you might be more avid fans than others, each of you will likely be aware of one or two of their songs and how strongly they shaped your childhood.
A few of our favorite Kiss songs include Detroit Rock City and I Love it Out Loud. These songs, along with the crazy get-up of the band, their outfits, and makeup, make Kiss one of the greatest rock bands of all time.
Dio might be one of the lesser-knowns on this list. But we assure you, they are among the heaviest hitters in all of rock. One of their songs that you are likely to know is Holy Diver. This song, as the name suggests, describes a man who’s been gone too long in the midnight sea.
If that line doesn’t incite a melody in your head, then you literally must stop what you’re doing right now and Google this song. It’s melody and catchy-chuggy riff will swiftly plant itself within your eardrums. If not, we guarantee your money back.
Metallica is one of those bands that everybody nowadays will know. Having provided something different to many listeners, the heaviness of the band has resonated with a great many. They represented a niche that had yet to gain popularity with the wider public, and opened up a new genre in the mainstream.
In part because of this, the band is now considered one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Their most popular song — “Enter Sandman” — has turned many youths into full-blown metalheads. In total, the band has sold something around 125 million albums. This formidable number of sales will keep the band going for quite some time.
18. The Kinks
Another band that contributed heavily to rock ’n’ roll is The Kinks. Coming into the scene early at around 1964, the band set the stage for later acts to follow. Many Kinks songs you likely know, such as “Lola,” “You Really Got Me,” and “Victoria.” Each of these reached near-anthem status almost immediately after being released.
Because of their innovative songs written so early on, the band was able set itself up as a key and pivotal player in the world of rock. Now, any time we hear “Lola” or another of their hits, we’re struck with a nostalgia for the raw and unadulterated rock tunes of yesteryear. Fortunately, this band’s songs are so good that we can keep listening to them for a long time to come.
17. The Eagles
Few bands have had songs that have stretched through the generations as firmly as the Eagles. The song most of us are likely to know on this front is “Hotel California.” If you haven’t heard this song, you likely have never listened to music — ever. So, in all likelihood you have heard it. You’ve probably heard it many times.
Anyway, this isn’t the only hit the band is known for. They’ve also churned out tunes like “Take it Easy” and “Lyin’ Eyes,” both of which had high-performing success. The genre of rock would be empty without the influence of the Eagles. And so, they have made it onto our list. They will live on, much like the songs they have created.
Sometimes it’s modern bands that take the influences of yesteryear, put their own spin on them, then mix everything together into an irresistible blend for the masses. This is where U2 comes in. While the spelling of their band name has clearly distanced itself from the cut-and-dried formula of their predecessors, U2 is not a band that disappoints.
Possibly the most famous song by the band, “With or Without You,” came out in 1987. The ’80s-style ambient guitar mixed with the roomy vocals concocted a clever song for the masses. If you can’t mentally conjure the lyrics to the song, it’s likely that you’ve never heard it. Anyway, this song and others easily make the band one of the greatest rock bands of all time.
15. Van Halen
In an era when you had to wear a shirt to succeed in rock, Van Halen stood out (just kidding). And this wasn’t just because of their highly charismatic vocalist David Lee Roth. Rather, it was because of their unique combination of guitar riffs and drumming. This band preceded in style and influence the likes of Guns N’ Roses.
Another thing the band brought was the leather. While not unique to them, the band brought many new styles into the mainstream. Hot for teacher? This band thinks so. Whatever you think, the world of rock cannot be separated from the influence of this powerful and stylish band. If you’re in need of some blazing guitar riffs, we recommend you get some Van Halen playing.
Another of those bands that meets many people’s criteria for first-class rock is Aerosmith. Having mixed the burgeoning genre of hair metal in a more pop bend, the band created hits that survived the genre’s eventual downfall in the early ’90s. And so, the major hits they’ve produced, in conjunction with their endurance as a band, has earned them a spot on this list.
A couple of the songs that helped them win this spot (and a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) are “Dream On” and “Walk This Way.” Both of these songs can easily get stuck in one’s head. The raw vocals paralleled with the catchy melodies are a recipe for the so-called “earworm.” Anyway, the band has earned a special place in our hearts.
After a decade or two of what the world had come to know as “rock” became more defined, bands began to get a little more complex with their song structure. Enter Rush. The band, beginning what has come to be called “progressive rock,” added complex song structures to rock riffs and melodies.
This, in conjunction with the vocalist’s distinct vocals, yielded an ineffable band by the name of Rush. The band is considered one of the greatest of all time, possessing 24 gold albums, 14 platinum albums, and 3 multiplatinum albums. While the drummer Neil Peart recently passed away, the band will continue to live on.
12. Def Leppard
There are few bands that have come out of tragedy as well as Def Leppard. While early albums like On Through the Night and High ’N’ Dry were successful, the band reached their highest commercial fame after the band’s drummer, Rick Allen, lost his left arm in a tragic car accident. For most, the loss of one of the most important limbs would hinder their will to drum. Not so for Allen.
Rather than give up in the face of tragedy, Allen continued to drum for the band, supplementing the loss of his left arm with other limbs (primarily his left foot) and electronic drum pads. Songs like “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Women” were recorded after Allen lost his arm. However you spin it, you can’t think “rock” without Def Leppard.
11. Foo Fighters
Dave Grohl, the former drummer for the band Nirvana, could not stop playing music. After the band’s frontman tragically took his own life, Grohl went on to form his own solo project. Eventually, from this project would come his own band — the Foo Fighters. Now, with many hits that have topped the charts, his band has earned many rock ’n’ roll honors.
A few of the band’s more popular hits include gems like “Everlong” and “The Pretender.” The Foo Fighters have solidified a place among fans of rock everywhere. You can expect that this band will continue to churn out hits for as long as the musicians are still breathing. And we encourage them to do so.
10. The Doors
There are some bands that have had so many hits, and have influenced so many future musicians, that it’s hard to describe in only a few sentences why they are perhaps one of the greatest rock bands of all time. The Doors, coming out of Los Angeles, California, are one such band.
Having hits ranging from “Riders on the Storm” to “Break On Through (To the Other Side),” the band’s charismatic frontman Jim Morrison would propel the band into the stratosphere of fame. Unfortunately, Morrison passed away in 1971 at the age of 27. We are pained to wonder what hits would have come out were he still alive.
9. Black Sabbath
The heavier into the world of rock you get, the heavier the bands sometimes become. So instead of going in the direction of prog or Latin, some bands went this other route. Black Sabbath was among the first of these, introducing things like dissonance into their music. And with this, they ushered in an entirely new genre of rock.
One of their most famous songs, “Paranoid,” went on to influence so many bands that it’s difficult to count them all. But other than that, the band’s influence has spread throughout the world. Any list of the world’s best and brightest rock bands, then, would be completely useless without the mention of Black Sabbath.
8. Led Zeppelin
Another band that is considered quintessential rock goes by the name of Led Zeppelin. This rock band of the ’70s had such a distinct and novel sound that they couldn’t help but change the world of rock. They are in part known for the mixture of big band style with the heavier elements of rock, ushering in a new style of music completely.
For their time, Robert Plant’s unique vocal style paired with Jimmy Page’s screaming guitar licks made for quite the combo. When this was paired with the bombastic John Bonham’s drumming, nothing could stop them. And so, this band went on to change the entire paradigm of rock. We’d like to say they did so for the better.
7. Guns N’ Roses
When you combine two bands that formerly dominated the Hollywood scene of rock, you inevitably get a band that will continue to tear through the world of rock ’n’ roll jams. And with Guns N’ Roses, that is exactly what you get. The band has what some might consider the most classic “metal hits” to exist.
A few of the more popular of these include “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Welcome to the Jungle.” But other than that, the near entirety of the album Appetite for Destruction (of which these two songs are a part), was a hit. The album itself has sold over 30 million copies around the world. The band will continue to live on as long as the world of rock exists.
If you’ve ever been to a bar (or worked in an office that blares generic radio hits), you’ve heard Journey. And the chances are the song was either “Don’t Stop Believin’” or “Faithfully.” Regardless, the band has had countless hits and songs that have soared to the tops of the charts.
The band’s success has been recorded in record sales, earning a handful of gold, platinum, and even diamond record sales. If you have a list of top rock bands, this band would have made that list almost immediately after writing their first song. The band will continue to maintain fame until the world stops believing.
Again, a band that has played its way into our hearts with generation-defining hits. Nirvana, clearly one of the greatest rock bands of all time, has had hits like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Heart-Shaped Box.” These tunes, along with a healthy dose of melancholy and angst, played a crucial role in the life of most people who came of age in the ’90s.
If you haven’t heard, their drummer went on to form another of those bands that rock — the Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl, the former Nirvana heavy hitter, decided that he wanted to take on the role of guitarist and vocalist. Anyway, Nirvana was the starting foundation upon which this later career would be formed.
4. The Rolling Stones
Some bands, while maintaining a sound unique to their time, are so distinct and recognizable that we’ll be able to recognize them for centuries to come. The Rolling Stones are one such band. But more than just maintaining a recognizable sound, the Rolling Stones have become one of the most influential names in rock.
A few of the band’s major hits include gems like “Under My Thumb” and “Paint It Black,” and the band’s raw and unassuming nature has earned them a place in most people’s playlists. The band is so popular, in fact, that they have won themselves a spot in music history through their induction in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
3. Fleetwood Mac
One of the most famous bands on Earth, yielding songs that both defy genre and mix many others, Fleetwood Mac must go down in history as not only one of the greatest rock bands of all time, but also one of the greatest bands more generally. Having formed in 1967, they have given us hits that have stood the unforgiving test of time.
A few of these hits are classics such as “Go Your Own Way” and “Landslide.” But other than that, they have so many solid and unforgettable songs that the band deserves an entire piece all to themselves. In fact, the internet is likely full of such pieces. Anyway, if there’s a band that deserves to be on this list, Fleetwood Mac is one of them.
Few bands are as anthemic or theatrical as the notorious and timeless Queen. The band, due to its thriving diversity and novelty in song structure, has churned out so many brilliant hits that it is hard to keep count. In fact, we wouldn’t blame you for giving up around 11 or 12. A few of our favorites might be “Bicycle Race” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
The band and its late frontman Freddie Mercury are so famous that they even made a movie made about their rise to fame. The rockumentary catalogs the talented Brian May, Roger Taylor, John Deacon, and Mercury creating songs that will thrive for generations to come. So long as the world doesn’t end, people will listen to Queen.
1. The Beatles
If you’re thinking about the rock bands of the modern era and yesteryear, no other band will rock the socks off of your rock-listening mind like The Beatles. Yes, The Beatles. While some might claim the band as the best rock band in the world, others would claim that they’re the best in the universe. A hard claim to dispute.
One of the things that makes the band such a strong name in early rock history is what they’re credited with doing — creating the modern pop rock song structure. They had the hair, the voices, and the melodies to get the audience thinking this was the new thing. This thinking was right, which is why The Beatles topped the charts with over 150 million record sales.