Great Music Debates: Which is the greatest rock band of all time? Why?

I measure greatness by influence, so the answer to this question is easily The Beatles simply no other band comes close to their greatness and influence. The Beatles revolutionized pop music, rock music, how albums are recorded, how albums are made, how songs are written, etc They are by far the best selling band of all time, have the most covered songs of all time, consistently outsell other popular artists decades after they broke up and it really isn’t disputable.

However, if you just want to do a top 20 then it gets interesting I think my list would be:

  1. The Beatles (obviously)
  2. Led Zeppelin – I think in terms of sheer instrument capability they are ahead of Beatles, they don’t come as close in terms of song writing or innovation, but they released some very influential records and some songs that are masterpieces (Stairway to Heaven, Kashmir etc)
  3. Pink Floyd – For me they come right after Zeppelin. Although very different styles. Compared to Zeppelin which releases albums with just one great song after another, Floyd focuses on concept albums which makes it hard to point to any one song but rather entire albums as key to their greatness. Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall and Wish You Were Here are all amongst the greatest albums of all time and so well crafted. so for their mastery of album crafting I have to put Floyd here
  4. The Rolling Stones – I think at their best, they had a few albums that were competing with the Beatles. In particular Sticky Fingers, Let it Bleed and Exile on Main Street. They didn’t have the consistency of Beatles or Zeppelin in making great songs, but their best albums were really up there, just like with Floyd so I think it’s pretty close between them and Floyd but I prefer Floyd’s albums just a touch more
  5. The Beach Boys – just like Rolling Stones, I think Beach Boys didn’t have consistency but Pet Sounds and Smile Sessions really are amongst the greatest albums of all time. I think Rolling Stones have a few more better tracks so I still rank them ahead, but Beach Boys really deserve the mention for their influence as well
  6. The Who – Talent wise, I think they are right up there with Zeppelin. However the difference is The Who can’t maintain the consistency of great records like Zeppelin did, nor can I say they reached the album crafting mastery of Floyd either. I think compared to Rolling Stones and Beach Boys, they come pretty close though, The Who Sell Out, Who’s Next and Tommy are all very good albums but I would put just a tier below the Beach Boy’s and Rolling Stone’s best, which is why I rank them here.
  7. Jimi Hendrix Experience – Yes I may be biased as a guitarist, but Hendrix is The Truth. He only had 3 albums with the Experience, but all of them are amongst the greatest rock albums ever. His experimentation with effects, his otherworldly sounds, raw emotion, incredible talent etc the only reason he isn’t higher is because he only lasted 3 years with his band. 3 years and he’s still #7 on my list tells you how great he could have been if he hadn’t tragically died young.
  8. Queen – now a very popular mainstream band, Queen has a very unique sound and is known for their ballads, operatic rock melodies, rock anthems, all powered by one of the greatest rock vocalists ever. I think they are a tier below the other bands in terms of actual song and album quality but I do think they are still a top 10 rock band all time though.
  9. AC/DC – it was tough thinking who should be higher AC/DC or Queen. Queen probably has more uniqueness and a wider variety of songs. AC/DC is basically ‘one style of Zeppelin’ the riff heavy straight rockers but they do it very well and it works well.
  10. Aerosmith – tough choice. It was between Aerosmith, Guns N Roses, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Red Hot Chilli Peppers etc all these bands are great. Aerosmith I would say personally I would rank just a touch higher because of how they set a standard for American hard rock bands. Eagles and Mac comes close but I would say they venture more into soft rock territory sometimes. Aerosmith is straight up hard rock which would influence later bands like Guns N Roses and Bon Jovi.
  11. The Eagles – One of the best selling American acts ever, Eagles and Mac as I said are close but Eagles a little more in the rock territory and their members more technically proficient. Both can do rock ballads very well but Eagles I put a bit higher because of their more guitar driven rock.
  12. Fleetwood Mac – Goes right under Eagles although they are very close this is a matter of preference. Mac’s early Peter Green years they were a more niche blues rock band reminiscent of Rory Gallagher or Mike Bloomfield but then they expanded to a more mainstream pop-rock style. Mac certainly has the best album out of them with Rumors but overall I prefer the style of the Eagles a bit more. I must admit Mac is unique amongst classic rock bands being fronted by Stevie Nicks.
  13. Guns N Roses – Although influenced by Aerosmith, GnR surpasses Aerosmith in some ways as I think their debut album as well as some tracks on Illusion 1/2 are better than the majority of Aerosmith’s output. However, GnR’s shorter career and Aerosmith’s longer influence puts them lower here.
  14. Allman Brothers – Arguably the most influential southern rock band, Allman Brothers especially during their early years with Duane Allman, was one of the most talented and influential bands, and a legendary live rock act. Although I wouldn’t say they had the range as some of the bands above, their guitar jam driven rock style set the standard for later southern acts like Outlaws and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
  15. Nirvana – Has to make the list because they led the grunge rock movement. Although they didn’t have as much longevity as Pearl Jam, Kurt Cobain’s raw emotional edge was enough to influence countless bands since, which is enough for me to put them a bit higher.
  16. Red Hot Chilli Peppers – I think in terms of technical proficiency with their instruments, RHCP is right up there with the best, with some excellently crafted albums (esp the ones with John Frusciante), and I would put them right below Nirvana and a bit above Pearl Jam when it comes to 90s bands (with all due respect to Green Day, Radiohead, Oasis, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Weezer etc)
  17. U2 – it’s pretty close between RHCP and U2 for me. I might prefer RHCP just a touch more but Joshua Tree as an album I think I would take over any of RHCP’s albums. U2’s unique pop-rock sound and deep lyrics as the band has evolved I think is very interesting, so I think they are definitely one of the greatest rock bands but probably just outside the top 10 range which is where they slot in here. Again, Nirvana, RHCP and U2 are all pretty close to me.
  18. Rush – Rush is a very interesting band, they are all technically proficient, they have some of Floyd’s experimentation along with some straight hard rock edge like Aerosmith, with 2112, Hemispheres, Farewell to Kings as some of the most well crafted albums, however I would say overall in terms of influence their output is a touch below the other bands I mentioned.
  19. Lynyrd Skynyrd – Second greatest southern rock band right after Allman Brothers. In fact they could be considered more mainstream than Allman Brothers, and arguably as talented. Like Allman Brothers they also underwent tragedy with the deaths of some of their members. however what ranks them lower is not only coming after Allman Bros but also due to tragedy to multiple members, their careers were more limited as well.
  20. Van Halen – An interesting band because like Fleetwood Mac they blend rock with pop influences, but they have one of the most influential guitarists ever as well. While a more guitar driven band unlike Mac, their appeal isn’t quite as broad.. although they are very successful, just not as much as Mac. Which is why they round out my top 20. Again, nothing on them, being the 20th greatest rock band means you are still very very successful.


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