Friends, Well-wishers, and Self-Important Internet Commenters,
We love you. Your readership and insight are the lifeblood of our publication. And we respect you…for the most part. As commenters, you have shown your passion for truth, open discourse, and intellectual rigor, and perhaps never more so than on our exhaustive list of the 100 Best Rock Bands of All Time.
Many of you have taken the time to develop strong arguments, articulate meaningful points, and even land the occasionally funny one-liner at my expense.
Honestly, I’ve read all of your comments, and I’ve given fair consideration to each and every one of them. (Except for those of you who mentioned Creed or Nickelback. You get no consideration and may God have mercy on your soul.) But yeah, for the most part, I hear everything you have to say. Don’t take it personally if I haven’t had the time to respond to your constant, unyielding and occasionally inflammatory input.
But listen, I don’t live in a vacuum. Your comments have been taken into consideration. I’ve been given pause. I can admit when I’ve been wrong. After all, I’m a reasonable man. But I also reserve the right to double down on a few key issues.
So with that said, I’ve heard your input, I’ve taken your insights into account, I’ve looked for patterns in your comments, and I’ve responded accordingly.
I’ve made some concessions. I’ve made a few changes. I’ve shuffled the order.
And yet, I’m sticking to my guns on a few other points. I’ll kindly review them here in my preamble before proceeding to the revised list.
Queen: Mud On My Face, Big Disgrace
Ok. I get it. These guys are a lot better than I’ve given them credit for. Reader after reader has given me the virtual earful for plunking Queen down in the mid-70s. I’ve heard your complaints. I’ve furthered my listening, reading and consideration on the topic and I concede that, for the most part, I was way off base. Queen is a Top-20 band. That’s what I’m hearing from my audience and that’s the conclusion I’ve arrived at increasingly from conversation with listeners and musicians alike. In particular, Queen is widely recognized as one of the great live experiences in rock history. I still hold firm to my point that even the best Queen albums are replete with bloat and bombast, but then, so was the decade that they dominated. Anyway, my bad. I fixed it. Please forgive me.
Led Zeppelin: Nobody’s Fault But Mine
Perhaps I was a little tough of Led Zeppelin because, frankly, they are a bunch of thieving, lecherous, arrogant poachers. That’s just true. (They even stole the song that I’ve referenced in the above subheading!) I admit though, this fact rarely deprives me the pleasure gained from listening. In my view, they still deserve a penalty for stealing more than 50% of their catalogue from artists less fortunate than they already were and for becoming filthy stinking rich for doing so. Simply stated, they didn’t actually write many of their best songs. In other words, it isn’t just an ethical decision. From an artistic perspective, Led Zeppelin would simply have been a better band if they had written all the material they claimed to.
But maybe casting them outside the Top 10 was too moralistic. After all, it is about the music. Zeppelin was the launchpad for all of the hard rock that came thereafter. I will give credit where credit is due. These guys were jerkwads but they were the biggest jerkwads in all the land.
I probably should have shown more respect to The Who in my original list as well.
So yeah, the Who and Led Zeppelin fare a little better this time around.
Rock n’ Soul?
One commonplace complaint from a lot commenters was that this list doesn’t accurately represent “Rock,” that far too many artists included here fall under other genre umbrellas and have no place on such a list. One simple solution would be to call this a list of “Bands” or “Groups” instead of “Rock Bands.” But if I called it “Groups,” you’d never have found us on Google and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation, and what’s the fun in that?
So here’s the thing. There’s an academic argument that the genre called “Rock” music—the next evolutionary step after Rock and Roll—is basically just guitars, drums, riffs and solos. Indeed, this is the simple and precise definition that many in our audience have used to define “rock.”
I get where you’re coming from. When you close your eyes and picture a rock band, it’s four or five guys with the same instruments that the Beatles played, standing on a stage, or in a garage, wearing leather jackets, or spandex, or ripped jeans, and invariably (just admit it), they are white. The band you pictured is white.
Respectfully, I disagree with this definition. Let me tell you a little anecdote that seems like a tangent but isn’t. Stick with me. I swear, I’m actually going somewhere with this.
I own a tiny little record store in the basement of a pet store in my hometown. We’re like a vinyl speakeasy. If you know how to find us, you love us. Well, when I was first organizing my music into sections, I divided out all the obvious stuff: Jazz, Blues, International, Country, etc. I made a Dollar Bin (Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Donnie and Marie Osmond). Then, my partners and I began dividing the bulk of the commercial stuff into two sections: Pop/Rock or R&B/Soul/Funk. It took only an hour of doing this to realize that we were racially segregating our record store.
And then we started to think about the distinctions that made us genrify one artist versus another. Where does Prince go? That guy shreds on guitar. How is “Purple Rain” not an epic rock power ballad? But he’s black so obviously it goes in the R&B section.
What about Parliament and Funkadelic? Arguably, the former is an R&B Funk group, the latter, a psychedelic soul unit, and yet they shared personnel without drawing distinction. If you listen to Parliament, you know it belongs in the R&B section. If you listen to Funkadelic, you know it’s rock music. “Maggot Brain” basically feels like a 10-minute tribute to Jimi Hendrix. And what about Hendrix? He definitely qualifies as rock music, but it bears noting that he was the frontman of a majority white band. This was probably a factor in his genrification.
What about Stevie Wonder? Does “Fingertips, Pt. 1” not embody rock and roll? Doesn’t your Classic Rock station play “Superstition?” Didn’t the Chili Peppers break through to the mainstream with a bassed-up version of Stevie’s “Higher Ground”? And where would you put the Chili Peppers in your store? These guys were basically a rap-funk unit for their first five albums. No doubt, you’d still put them in the Rock section.
You’d do the same with Blondie in spite of the fact that their “The Rapture” was the first #1 Billboard hit to feature rapping.
Admit it. It’s because they’re white.
Look, I’m not saying that the exclusionary definition of rock music is necessary wrong or racist. But it begins to draw lines that, the more you think about it, are driven by racial presuppositions.
Here’s the thing about Rock and Roll. That genre was invented when white people began playing black music. For decades, a genre that was either called “Rhythm and Blues,” or more to the point, “Race Records,” built a steady steam in the American mainstream through black artists like Louis Jordan and Big Joe Turner. It wasn’t until white guys like Elvis Presley and Bill Haley started landing hits with their tunes in the mid-50s that people started calling it Rock and Roll. For more on this early history, check out our piece on The 50 Songs that Gave Birth to Rock and Roll. It tells you in pretty complete detail how this transformation occurred.
The point is, using these genre terms as hard and fast parameters within which certain things may be included or excluded is founded on distinctly racial metrics. So, with that in mind, when we consider artists like Run D.M.C., Wu Tang, and Public Enemy as necessary for inclusion here, we share the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s perspective, that there is more lost than gained in drawing these kinds of lines.
Certainly, the inclusion of these artists in the Hall of Fame makes for a much more interesting museum and a much further-reaching look at the history of popular music. I feel that any list which makes the same decision achieves the same goal.
If you make a list of rock bands, feel free to limit them to only those which fit a narrow definition of electric guitar, drums, and singing. And when you’re done, do a quick racial review. What percentage of people are white on a list of artists making music in a genre that was invented by black people?
Once you have your answer, I believe you’ll see why I take the approach i do.
My point is only this. The hard and fast rules that we apply to genre demarcations are fairly meaningless to artists, particularly those most innovative of artists who simply don’t see the value in writing rules about what is and is not rock music. Chuck Berry wasn’t concerned about genre when he merged country music with R&B. Elvis Presley wasn’t concerned about genre when he walked into Sun Studios and showed Sam Phillips that whether it was hillbilly, gospel, tin pan alley, or blues, he was the greatest singer alive. The Beatles had no consideration for genre when they merged pop songcraft with Indian raga, vaudeville, or music concrete, nor the Who when they invented the notion of a Rock Opera, nor Pink Floyd when they abandoned the two-minute single to explore the psychedelic stratosphere, nor Run D.M.C. when they broke hip hop into the mainstream with an Aerosmith song, nor Radiohead when they ventured into the electronica nebula.
I hope you see my point. Strict genre definitions are for retailers who hope to package music neatly enough to ensure that it finds its target audience. A more expansive definition–the kind that rock musicians appeal to as they reinvent the boundaries of rock music again and again—is just a whole lot more interesting, exciting and accurate.
Haters Go In the Trashbin
Internet rule #1: Don’t feed the troll. If you post hateful, racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, homophobic, or ableist comments, I will trash them. This isn’t a platform for you to spew bigoted nonsense. It’s weird that you came to a page about Rock and Roll bands to do that. I don’t even fully understand the motivation.
At any rate, your dumb comments will never see the light of day so why even bother? If you really want to blow off steam, may I suggest jogging to a nearby highway off-ramp and taking your anger out on oncoming traffic.
And if you absolutely must use obscenity to get your point across, please use Grawlixes in substitute of real words. Obviously, you’re wondering what the F$%# grawlixes are. Well, a grawlix is the punctuation-riddled word in the previous sentence, used as a stand-in for the F-word. It’s not that we’re all puritan over here. Behind closed doors, we love the F-word. You’d just be surprised at how quickly Google filters your page out of search results for appearing to be an adult site. Point is, watch your #$*&%@! mouth.
2112 Reasons Rush Sucks
Rush will never be on any list of bands I ever make, unless it’s called “Canadian Bands That I Hate Even More Than The Barenaked Ladies.”
Here’s the thing. Objectively speaking, Rush is bad. This is what a band sounds like when three high school kids are science lab partners who have figured out the perfect algorithm for playing their instruments correctly. Don’t get me wrong. It’s obvious that the guys in Rush know how to shred. It just seems like they have no idea how to make it feel good. It’s empty shredding, absent of heart and cut through by lyrics culled from a junior high book report on Ayn Rand. And Geddy Lee’s voice? Really? That makes you feel good? That’s literally what it would sound like if Skelator from He-Man had a band.
I’m sorry. No, wait, I’m not sorry. You Rush fans are a special breed. No matter how embarrassing and dorky and soulless your band is, you can’t help but rise to the bait. Every time another critic dumps all over the band you get jacked to while conquering faraway lands in your Renaissance Era role playing game, you get all defensive, and then you say things like, “even the Beatles would admit that Rush is the #1 band of all time.”
I admit that while Rush is objectively bad, my exclusion here is also personal. Personally, I think they suck. You, on the other hand, have simply lost objective distance on this subject because Rush has been such a great comfort to you during spank-bankable moments of unforgettable self-love.
On the Subject of Objectivity
You’ve come to the wrong place in search of the wrong information if you believe it’s even humanly possible to create list claiming that anything is the “best” of anything with objectivity. I have attempted to use a number of qualifiers for inclusion in my list, including commercial impact, historical impact, influence, and artistic merit. The goal has been to include bands that meet these qualifications, and if not all of them, to have so thoroughly succeeded in meeting certain qualifications as to absolutely demand inclusion.
For instance, the Velvet Underground had a modest commercial impact but is among the most historically important and influential artists on the list. KISS lacks any artistic merit but was unquestionably influential and impactful from both commercial and historical perspectives.
But with that said, my qualifiers are only a guide, just as Rolling Stone’s survey board is only a guide, just as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s set of eligibility requirements is only a guide. After that, Rolling Stone’s editorial bias, or the Hall of Fame’s vested commercial interests as a museum, or a random blogger’s personal experience or academic vantage, must inherently enter into the process of paring down and ranking artists. The reason is pretty simple. When it comes to art, it is not actually possible to measure the “best” of anything.
I could give you a pretty boring and indisputable list of the best-selling artists of all time. I could give you a chronological list of artists who were unquestionably relevant in their time and place. These lists would be subjective, based strictly on facts.
To compile a list of the “best” artists is an exercise that must inherently be influenced by bias. If Dean of American Rock Critics Bob Christgau made a list of the best rock bands of all time, I’m willing to bet there’d be at least 10 bands you’d never even heard of. Doesn’t make him wrong. Doesn’t make you wrong. This isn’t about wrong or right (unless we’re talking about Rush, which, again—I can’t stress this enough—is bad). Anyway, this is about interfacing with other opinions and using it as an opportunity to explore and reconsider your music. It’s a reason to listen and appreciate, even if your appreciation must take the form of debate.
With all of that said, the updated list of 100 Best Rock Bands should be somewhat familiar to our regular readers but slightly altered to reflect the input of our community. Now that I’ve said my peace, let the discussion continue. But first…
Outside of Rush fans, many of you made good points here. There are a bunch of bands that I like, or that I think fell just outside of the top 100. You guys pointed to a number of them that gave me pause. As such, I’ve created an Honorable Mention addendum, which basically includes artists from 101-150. Many of these were mentioned in your comments. Some were considered as I compiled the original list but ultimately just missed the cut. Please please bear in mind, before you offer up your comments, that these artists are not listed in ranking order. They are merely included here for your consideration, in no particular order.
In fact, we think this is a great opportunity for you to flex your intellectual muscles. Feel free to offer us your own ranking on the bands included here. But here’s the catch. I don’t just want to know that you think Bon Jovi belongs at the top of this list. I want to know why. It’s easy enough to just say “Bon Jovi is the greatest band of all time. This list is stupid and I hate you.” It takes a little more thought to offer an actual rationale for your anger. We invite you to clog up our comments section with your own list and rationale using the bands offered below.
And again, if you are fan of Rush, be assured that had this been an honorable mention list recognizing an additional 300 artists, they still would not have been included. And yes, now I’m just antagonizing you.
101. Van Halen
102. Deep Purple
104. Guns N Roses
105. Dire Straits
106. J. Geils Band
107. Jefferson Airplane
108. Def Leppard
109. The Cars
110. Grand Funk Railroad
111. The Four Tops
112. Nine Inch Nails
113. Alice Cooper
114. Bon Jovi
115. Rage Against the Machine
117. The Animals
118. Electric Light Orchestra
119. Neil Young & Crazy Horse
120. Dion & the Belmonts
121. The Dells
122. Earth, Wind & Fire
123. Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers
125. Gladys Knight & the Pips
126. Elvis Costello & the Attractions
127. Hall & Oates
128. The Hollies
129. Lovin’ Spoonful
130. Martha & the Vandellas
131. The O’Jays
134. Sam & Dave
135. Steve Miller Band
136. The (Young) Rascals
137. Judas Priest
139. Foo Fighters
140. The Moody Blues
142. Faith No More
143. Jane’s Addiction
144. Duran Duran
145. Joy Division/New Order
146. The Smiths
147. Buffalo Springfield
148. Depeche Mode
149. The Guess Who