Top Ten Most Influential Rock Bands

Bands receive the question, “What are your influences?” during almost every interview. While the question is certainly not an original one, it’s one that most of us want to know. If we know a band’s influences we can better understand their sound and possibly find some common ground. In rock music, a few big names come up often; these influential bands are like the roots of a musical tree with numerous branches. We tallied up ten of these influential rock bands (in no particular order) that continue to shape aspiring musicians.

10. The Smiths

British alt-rock group The Smiths often gets the credit for creating the modern day alternative/indie rock movement. Their sound is much softer than their hard rock contemporaries and there is more of a focus on contemplative and introspective lyrics, thanks to co-songwriters Morrissey and Johnny Marr. The New Musical Express (NME) even deemed them the most influential band ever.

9. Nirvana

Nirvana ushered in a new phase of rock that focused more on the lyrical content than the image…well, as least at first. Nirvana’s popularity shined light on other talented bands in the Seattle scene, such as Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, and caused a dramatic shift in the American music landscape. Who in the hair metal era would have thought guys like these could have appeal?

8. Guns ‘n’ Roses

If Nirvana was the nail in the coffin to the 80’s hair metal era, Guns ‘n’ Roses built the coffin first. GNR developed from the underbelly of the Sunset Strip and rejected the flashiness of the 80’s for a more authentic rock’n’roll sound. Despite only releasing four albums (not including Axl Rose‘s newly formed group) together, GNR developed iconic riffs and influenced current hard rock bands like Buckcherry, Hinder, and Avenged Sevenfold.

7. Alice Cooper

Influential more for their theatrics and crazy performances than lyrical content, Alice Cooper and his eponymous band single-handedly created “shock rock,” and the idea that music is really a performance. Alice Cooper also inspired audiences to play a more involved role in the concert as a participant and not just an observer. Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, and countless others have followed Alice Cooper and his band’s example.

6. Black Sabbath

Rock critics credit Black Sabbath as the band who started heavy metal. The band originated in an industrial working-class town in England and offered an alternative to the happy-go-lucky pop and psychedelic music of the late 60’s. Black Sabbath embraced the occult and darker themes in their songs, and guitarist Tony Iommi played the heaviest riffs no one had experienced before. The band influenced practically every hard rock band that came afterwards, and still do.

5. Jefferson Airplane

Many incredible psychedelic bands came out of the mid/late 60’s, but Jefferson Airplane’s music is a hallmark of the “summer of love.” Singer Grace Slick’s vocals paired perfectly with the band’s melodic tunes and she was a trailblazer for other female-fronted rock bands. Also, “White Rabbit” may be the quintessential psychedelic rock song.

4. Yes

Yes, along with other progressive rock bands such as Genesis and Emerson Lake and Palmer, expanded the boundaries of rock music to challenge it as a serious art form. Instead of short, radio-friendly hits, Yes created long rock operas of multiple instrumental arrangements, complex time signatures, and intricate lyrics. Songs “Heart of the Sunrise” and “Close to the Edge” exemplify these characteristics. Yes’ music continues to challenge artists to experiment and become virtuosos of their craft.

3. The Rolling Stones

Even after over 50 years, The Rolling Stones make rock music sexy. The Stones helped rock transition from the early rockabilly days to a more edgy and countercultural format. Mick Jagger is considered one of the best frontmen of all time, and Keith Richards is iconic in his own right. Their impressive catalogue spans over decades and contains a variety of styles. Very, very few bands have held it together as long as The Stones have.

2. Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin was arguably the biggest band of the 70’s. Along with Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin ushered in a heavier sound for the 70’s, but never sacrificed lyrical content for heavier riffs. The innovation and output they released in a short time is outstanding, from sexy “Whole Lotta Love” to contemplative “That’s The Way” and everything in between. Despite disbanding in the early 80’s, Led Zeppelin remains relevant and a monumental band in rock history.

1. The Beatles

How could we not include The Beatles on this list? Topping most best selling charts, The Beatles reached a popularity and success that’s been unmatched since. Producing an exhaustive output in so little time, we can track The Beatles growth from its early rockabilly and pop roots to its psychedelic phase to its more classic rock finale. During each of their phases, The Beatles shaped the musical landscape around them. No other band has a movement named after them like Beatlemania!

This list is highly subjective, so what band do you feel was left out?

Featured Image of Black Sabbath via Wikimedia Commons

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