Rock music has had a dramatic impact on our culture since it started as old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s. Transcending well beyond the music scene, it has helped shaped fashion, culture, language and art.
Rock music is one of the most influential cultural phenomena of our time, and many classic rockers are etched as permanent icons in world history. Let’s take a look at the rankings for the most talented rock bands of all time.
Bluesy hard rock band Rush comes in at #25. The Canadian band formed in 1968 and concluded their final large-scale tour in 2015. The cult favorite changed their style plenty of times over the years, and the end result was an always unique sound and a dedicated fan base all over the world.
Rush sold more than 25 million records, received seven Grammy nominations and earned a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. After more than 40 years in the music industry, this legendary Canadian rock band deserves a spot on any list of the best musical acts of all time.
Next up on the list is Journey, the rock band behind the iconic smash hit “Don’t Stop Believin'” from 1981. How incredible is the song? In 2009, it became the top-selling track on iTunes for a single not released in the 21st century. It’s a go-to favorite for karaoke aficionados and rock fans everywhere.
Hit singles aside, Journey is revered for one of the best frontmen in music history, Steve Perry, and for the legendary guitar licks of Neal Schon. With more than 75 million records sold, Journey is one of the world’s bestselling rock bands. Their legacy is undeniable.
#23 Van Halen
Back in the early 1980s, heavy metal bands did not use keyboards and synthesizers. Such instruments were associated with new wave and pop music and not suitable for rock. Always up for a challenge, Van Halen paved the way for this sound in the hard rock scene.
From Pasadena, California, Van Halen earned praised for their live performances, the legendary guitar licks of Eddie Van Halen — one of the top guitarists of all time — and longtime frontman David Lee Roth. The band also had a weird habit of requesting bowls of M&Ms backstage at all their shows — with all the brown ones removed.
#22 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
The late Tom Petty is considered by many to be one of the greatest musicians in the history of rock. After forming in Florida, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers went on to achieve superstardom, earning a spot on this list for their longevity and ability to appeal to fans from multiple generations.
Influenced by Southern rock, blues, country and Bob Dylan, Petty and his crew created a unique style all their own with hit singles like “American Girl,” “Learning to Fly” and “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” The band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
#21 Creedence Clearwater Revival
This Vietnam War era band is still widely known for their enduring folk-rock anthems. Four musicians hailing from California, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s sound was light enough to appeal to a wide range of fans across multiple generations.
John Fogerty provided vocals and guitar, Doug Clifford rocked the drums, Stu Cook played bass guitar and Tom Fogerty rounded out the group on guitar. Despite only being active as a group from 1967 to 1972, they produced seven highly-regarded studio albums. Often simply referred to as CCR, the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
Kicking off the top 20 is Kiss. From Gene Simmons’ ridiculously long tongue to elaborate special effects that included levitating drum sets, rockets and some fire-breathing, Kiss was about far more than just the music they played. They were more than a simple rock band — they were primal entertainers.
The best-known Kiss lineup consisted of Paul Stanley on guitar and vocals, Gene Simmons on bass and vocals, Ace Frehley on lead guitar and Peter Criss on drums. With 20 studio albums that have sold more than 100 million copies, no list of the greatest rock bands would be complete without Kiss.
#19 The Eagles
Considered to be one of the best musical acts to come out of the 1970s, The Eagles have been awarded five American Music Awards and six Grammy Awards. Six of their albums made it to #1 and produced five #1 singles.
Although the band members may not have always gotten along personally, they created some of the best music of their era, including the hit song “Hotel California.” Glenn Frey provided lead vocals for the band, Don Henley played drums, Bernie Leadon played guitar and Randy Meisner provided the bass. They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
#18 The Ramones
Don’t let the use of the last name confuse you — the Ramones were not biologically related. They simply all adopted the last name “Ramone” when the band formed in 1974. Future additions to the band in the years that followed did the same.
These punk rockers from New York got their start playing clubs like CBGB. With a simplistic three-chord style, the Ramones helped introduce punk rock to America in the 1970s. Joey Ramone provided the vocals, Johnny Ramone played guitar, Dee Dee Ramone played bass and Tommy Ramone played drums to round out the most famous version of the group.
#17 The Velvet Underground
The first album by the Velvet Underground only sold 10,000 copies, but it has been said that everyone who bought a copy was inspired to start their own band. This speaks volumes about the influence the band had on a generation of musicians.
Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, John Cale and Moe Tucker’s live performances resembled art shows more than live music performances — not surprising when you realize Andy Warhol started managing them in 1965. The Velvet Underground spent the ’60s and ’70s pushing the limits of conventional music and creating a legacy along the way.
#16 Fleetwood Mac
The history of Fleetwood Mac actually dates all the way back to London in 1967, but Americans Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham didn’t join the group until 1974. Their addition to Fleetwood Mac created a unique blend of men and women/Americans and Brits that helped skyrocket the band to commercial success.
In 1977, Fleetwood Mac released the album Rumours and the hit singles “Go Your Own Way,” “The Chain” and “Dreams,” paving the way for the band’s enduring legacy in music. They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
#15 The Kinks
A quartet of working-class musicians from northern London came together to form The Kinks in the 1960s. Mick Avory, Pete Quaife and Dave and Ray Davies produced a British rhythm and blues style that reflected the English culture at the time.
The rebellious stylings of The Kinks influenced future bands, such as Oasis and Blur, as well. In fact, the sibling rivalry of Oasis’ Liam and Noel Gallagher may have even been influenced by what brothers Dave and Ray Davies experienced a generation before. The band split and embarked on solo careers in 1996, but they eventually reunited in 2018.
#14 The Doors
In only six years, The Doors created a lasting legacy and a powerful influence on American music. Jim Morrison was the iconic frontman for the group, and his poetic lyrics and stage presence are perhaps still unmatched in music history.
Morrison was joined by keyboardist Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger on guitar and John Densmore on drums. The Doors’ psychedelic sound and lyrics helped define a generation and expand the minds of music fans all over the world. Jim Morrison sadly met an untimely death in 1971 at age 27, but his music will live on forever.
#13 The Beach Boys
Brothers Dennis, Carl and Brian Wilson joined up with friend Al Jardine and cousin Mike Love to create The Beach Boys in the early 1960s. The catchy and unique stylings of the band produced songs such as “Surfin’ USA,” “I Get Around” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” Their sound brought California vibes to listeners, no matter where they happened to be.
The Beach Boys’ surf style melodies turned into lasting commercial success and album sales. They have had more than 80 songs crack the worldwide charts, dating back to the ’60s. Few other groups can claim the same success.
#12 Black Sabbath
This Ozzy Osbourne heavy metal band’s influence is arguably unmatched in its genre. After forming in Birmingham, England, in 1968, the band created a sound that was influenced by a factory accident that cost guitarist Tony Iommi the tips of two of his fingers. As a result, he tuned down his guitar for easier strumming, leading to a lower, heavier sound.
The original Black Sabbath consisted of Ozzy Osbourne on vocals, Tony Iommi on guitar, Geezer Butler on bass and Bill Ward on drums. Even Ozzy Osbourne’s legendary solo career doesn’t eclipse the influence Black Sabbath had on music.
Scottish brothers Malcolm and Angus Young formed AC/DC in 1973. The Australian rockers lost their lead singer, Bon Scott, to a suspicious death in 1980, but the band survived and became one of the most influential metal bands of all time.
AC/DC considered calling it quits after Scott’s death but decided to give it a try with Brian Johnson on vocals. The band enjoyed massive commercial success after adding Johnson. Guitarist Angus Young also began performing for the band wearing a school boy’s uniform, and the look is now synonymous with AC/DC live performances.
Nirvana’s four-chord approach altered the course of music history. Kurt Cobain performed with bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl to create a rebellion against ’80s hair metal that is known as the Seattle grunge movement.
Cobain’s voice and the band’s sound came to define the ’90’s generation in just three studio albums. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is arguably one of the most influential and generation-defining anthems of all time. Cobain’s death in 1994 at the age of 27 in an apparent suicide rocked a generation of young fans, but his music will live on forever.
Few have influenced the music world the way Aerosmith has. Since emerging on the music scene in 1970, the band has produced an endless number of classic rock anthems. Aerosmith’s sound is rooted in blues and hard rock with elements of heavy metal and pop rock as well.
The band has sold more than 150 million records to date and is one of the most commercially successful bands of all time. They also helped pave the way for rap music to gain popularity in the mainstream by collaborating with Run-DMC on the hit single “Walk This Way.”
#8 Guns N’ Roses
Axl Rose and Slash are arguably the greatest vocalist-guitarist combo of all time. This band produced some of the most memorable rock anthems ever but are probably just as well known for their hard-partying lifestyle and bad-boy reputation.
Hit singles for the band include “November Rain,” “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and “Welcome to the Jungle.” The original band consisted of Axl Rose providing vocals, Slash on lead guitar, Duff McKagan on bass, Izzy Stradlin on guitar and Steven Adler on drums. The initial run ended in 1994, but numerous reunion tours have featured various incarnations of the group since then.
Metallica formed in 1981 and helped create the thrash metal genre. James Hetfield’s fierce performances on vocals, Lars Ulrich’s drumming and Kirk Hammett’s guitar playing came together to create one of the most influential metal bands in history. The road to Metallica’s success was never that smooth, however, as the band faced their share of demons.
The entire band even went to therapy together at one point, which helped them stick together and create a lasting legacy of music. Metallica also once collaborated on an album with Lou Reed, but the artsy album wasn’t considered a success.
#6 Pink Floyd
Legend says if you sync up Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” with “The Wizard of Oz,” the music and the imagery line up a little too well. That’s just one example of Pink Floyd’s artistry, which is also evident in their music, stage shows, videos and concept albums. Each Pink Floyd album has its own unique theme, and they have been credited with reinventing progressive space rock.
The band was formed by a group of British students back in 1965. Their live shows are more like a psychedelic experience than a typical concert.
Kicking off the top five is Queen, which boasted some of the most talented musicians ever to take the stage. Singer Freddie Mercury’s four-octave range has led many to consider him the best vocalist in history. Brian May on guitar, Roger Taylor on drums and John Deacon on bass rounded out the group.
Many of Queen single’s, such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Will Rock You,” have become rock anthems that are still widely played at stadium events even today. “Bohemian Rhapsody” wasn’t even originally supposed to be released as a single, as it was considered far too long to be radio-friendly at the time.
#4 The Who
Formed in London in 1964, The Who created a lasting legacy in rock music. The most famous lineup consisted of Pete Townshend on guitar, Roger Daltrey on vocals, Keith Moon banging on the drums and John Entwistle on bass. Townshend and Entwistle’s styles couldn’t have been more different, with Townshend prone to jumping in the air and smashing his guitar while Entwistle calmly played bass in the corner.
The Who is perhaps best known for their performance at Woodstock in 1969. They also produced the album-turned-film Tommy about a pinball wizard who is deaf, blind and mute.
#3 Led Zeppelin
One of the most famous rock bands of all time, Led Zeppelin signed to Atlantic Records in 1968, reportedly locking in the most lucrative deal of the era without executives even seeing them perform live. With Robert Plant’s vocals, Jimmy Page on guitar, John Paul Jones on keyboards and John Bonham on drums, the combination was astounding.
The deal with Atlantic gave the band autonomy to refuse single releases and create album-focused music. It worked well for both parties, of course, considering Led Zeppelin has sold roughly 300 million records worldwide.
#2 The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones formed in 1962 and are amazingly still going today. In terms of longevity, no other band can match what the Stones have done in the last six decades of music. Having released more than 30 studio albums, they have undeniably had one of the greatest impacts on modern music.
Mick Jagger was 19 when the band formed, and at 76, he still performs like a singer a third of his age. Even undergoing heart surgery didn’t slow him down. In fact, other musicians sometimes feel the need to boast they’ve got the “Moves Like Jagger.”
#1 The Beatles
Taking first prize on this list is The Beatles for the lasting and undeniable influence they had on music. From 1960 to 1970, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison produced 12 albums, a pace unheard of by modern standards. It’s impossible to run out of accolades to list for the Beatles, who are possibly the greatest selling band in music history.
They are the bestselling band ever in the United States, and they have sold more singles in the United Kingdom than any other band. In total, more than 800 million Beatles albums have been sold.
Honorable Mention: Cream
Cream didn’t crack the top 25, but the band deserves an honorable mention, if only for the recognizable guitar riff from “Sunshine of Your Love.” They aren’t called a band, however. They are technically a “supergroup” with band members who were all particularly gifted in their roles.
Eric Clapton’s guitar work consistently earns him the top first or second spot — depending on the source — on lists of the greatest guitarists of all time. Ginger Baker knocks out the competition on the drums, and Jack Bruce blows everyone away on bass guitar. Cream was definitely one of the most influential bands on up-and-coming musicians throughout the era.
Honorable Mention: Def Leppard
Def Leppard is one of the top ’80s heavy metal acts, and their catchy choruses kept fans shouting along as the band’s popularity skyrocketed. The band broke out with their third album, Pyromania, in 1983, and collection that was more polished than their previous work and launched the band to superstardom.
Pyromania is one of two albums that went Diamond for the group, the other being the band’s follow-up release, Hysteria, in 1987. In the time between Pyromania and Hysteria, drummer Rick Allen lost his arm but didn’t stop drumming and stayed with the band. That’s just how metal Def Leppard was.
Honorable Mention: U2
A perfect balance of drums, bass and infused guitar tracks came together to create the famous sound of U2. Hit single’s like “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “Where the Streets Have No Name” hold broad appeal and still appear in regular rotations on the radio. With more than 40 years of experience in the music industry, this Irish band has an enduring legacy in music.
Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. make up the group. U2’s popularity is still so great that they regularly sell out large stadiums of enthusiastic fans for their shows.
Honorable Mention: Deep Purple
Known as the “Globe’s Loudest Band,” these pioneers of heavy metal paved the way for many bands that came after them. From Queen to Metallica, numerous bands have credited Deep Purple as a group that inspired them. Songs such as “Highway Star” and “Smoke on the Water” launched the band to stardom. The famous and catchy guitar riff from the latter is one of the most iconic in history.
The band formed in 1968 and split up in 1976 before reforming again in 1984. They like to change up their sound for live performances and still evolve with each year.
Honorable Mention: Blondie
Perhaps enough credit isn’t given to the women of rock, so Deborah Harry and Blondie more than deserve an honorable mention. Rising from the punk rock scene in 1970’s New York, Blondie hit mainstream success with singles like “Heart of Glass,” “Call Me” and “One Way or Another.”
The third studio album for the group, Parallel Lines, encapsulated what the new wave sound would be all about. It was a mix of punk, pop and disco — a sound all its own. Blondie’s music perfectly expressed what New York felt like during this era.