The Top 25 greatest Rock artists of all time!
Picking the Top 26 greatest rock artists of all time out of the thousands of great bands, songwriters and performers is pretty much an insane task. But, it sure was a great deal of fun to try. However, in order to develop some sort of criteria to choose the Top 26 greatest rock artists we have decided to list the artists that we felt had the strongest impact on popular music culture. Some artists had tremendous impacts that lasted only a few years, yet dominated the charts and culture throughout their careers. Other artists have had such a strong impact that their music and styles they presented to the world have lasted a lifetime.
Many of your favorite bands or or artists will be listed here. Many of your favorites will be absent from the list. It’s simply a game of numbers and it is impossible to include everyone who has had an impact on our lives. So let us know what you think. It’s all in good fun. We will define their importance here very briefly because we hope that you use the links to read the much more in-depth articles on this site in tribute to these great artists.
From The Editor:
This is the first article we ever published. We never thought the site would become as big as it has. We have updated this list over time as our thoughts have changed and we dived deeper into the rock and roll catalog and grew ourselves as writers. With age, perspective changes as well as emotion. This site is written from the heart but also serves to present historic information accurately in the form of charts and releases. It a balance of subjectivity because we are fans, but also objectivity because we are journalists. We believe that’s what makes this site interesting and fun to read. We hope you feel the same way.
# 26 – Little Richard
There had been great debate as to who was the first true rock and roll artist. Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, Robert Johnson? If we had to pick one, we choose Little Richard. He lit the fire as a songwriter, musician, singer, and, most of all, performer. It all starts with Little Richard.
# 25 – U2
U2 makes this list based on a multitude of factors. Their body of work is enormous. They are one of the longest-running bands in rock and roll history that has continued to explore all boundaries of musical genres while presenting fans with albums of substance and joy. Furthermore, lead singer Bono’s work as a humanitarian defined the concept that rock stars can contribute more to society than just their music.
# 24 – Eric Clapton
What Sammy Hagar has been to rock and roll as a singer, Eric Clapton has been to rock as a guitarist. However, Clapton’s guitar work has always been accompanied by great songwriting and singing. His work with Cream, Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominos has been met with an incredible solo career that has lasted for over 40 years.
# 23 – Yes
As of this writing in 2015, the band Yes has still not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s a complete shame that the Hall has ignored Yes because they are the greatest progressive rock band of all time.
# 22 – Metallica
No other band has had the impact on metal music that Metallica has had over the past thirty years. Metallica was formed in 1981 and have since released nine major studio albums and four live albums. It has been reported that in 2015 they are working on releasing their 10th studio album. Over their career, the band has also won four Grammys. Metallica was also at the forefront of the fight against Napster and internet piracy.
# 21 – Nirvana
While most bands on this lists have had long careers ranging from seven to forty years, Nirvana’s recorded output lasted for only just a few years in the early nineteen nineties. However, the impact Nirvana had on rock music echoed the same impact The Beatles and Elvis Presley had during the early part of their careers.
# 20 – Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath was formed in England in the year 1968. Their first album entitled Black Sabbath was released in 1970. Since their recording debut the band has released 19 albums. The band has featured both Ozzy Osbourne and Ronnie James Dio as their lead singers throughout the bands career. They have been often hailed as the pioneers of heavy metal music.
# 19 – The Doors
While The Doors were certainly a major draw in the late 1960s and early 1970s, their resurrection and renewed popularity in the 1980s was fascinating. Due to the song “The End” being placed in the Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now, The Doors became more popular in the 1980s than when Jim Morrison was alive.
# 18 – Stevie Ray Vaughan
Hands down, one of the greatest rock artists of all time. Stevie Ray Vaughan best described his artistry once when he claimed that he used heavy strings, tuned low and then just floored it. It’s so sad that he died so young due to a plane crash in 1990. His career had just begun after releasing five excellent studio albums and one killer live 2 record set.
# 17 – Aerosmith
Aerosmith is one of the longest running bands of all time next to the Rolling Stones. Steven Tyler’s stage presence and vocal ability has made him one of the greatest lead singers in classic rock history. The band has more lives than almost any other band as they have reinvented themselves numerous times over their forty plus year career.
# 16 – David Bowie
The only artist to reinvent himself more than Aerosmith would be none other than David Bowie. Bowie had tremendous success in the 1970s and 1980s. Bowie was one of those rare artists that developed both a cult and mass cultural following, In the 1990s and 2000s, Bowie continued to release albums. While his late career albums did not sell on the same level as his earlier work, Bowie still maintained the high level of artistic originality and integrity that has represented his body of work throughout his career.
# 15 – Jimi Hendrix
For a musician who had such a short career due to untimely passing, his music has lived on in glory. Most guitarists since the 1970s have credited Jimi Hendrix as one of their major influences. Hendrix’s signature tone and unique and original improvisational skills set the bar that most have never eclipsed.
# 14 – Sammy Hagar
One of the most covered rock and roll artists on this site is Sammy Hagar. There is a good reason behind that. Sammy Hagar has been one of the most consistent rock and roll singers in classic rock history. From his early days as the lead singer of Montrose through his glorious years as a solo artist to his magnificent run as Van Halen’s lead singer, Sammy Hagar has left behind a legacy of great rock and roll albums and performances. Add a third act to his career in his 60s and 70s with his bands; Chickenfoot The Waboritas and the sensational Circle, and you have a rock and roll artist that defies the notion that rock music is only for the young. Somewhere along the line Sammy Hagar found the rock and roll fountain of youth and has inspired all of us to find it too.
# 13 – Queen
With a sound completely unique of their own, Queen defined the term originality. The band’s fresh approach to transforming the sound of a guitar to sound like a synthesizer was fueled by the desire to promote the importance of great musicianship. Freddie Mercury utilized his classically trained operatic voice in a rock and roll forum that had never been done before. Their amazing collection of studio albums would only be eclipsed by their iconic live performances.
# 12 – Pink Floyd
Many writers have defined Pink Floyd as one of the greatest progressive rock bands of all time. However, Pink Floyd’s sound and compositional nature seemed to defy categorization. The band had such a large impact in rock and roll culture that they should be labeled in their own category
# 11 – The Grateful Dead
The old saying was that you don’t get the Grateful Dead until you have actually attended a Grateful Dead concert. Well since that is really no longer possible with the passing of Jerry Garcia, all we can do is celebrate the band’s phenomenal legacy. A tremendous amount of that legacy has been saved on the thousands of live performances captured and released on official and bootleg recordings. You either get it or you don’t. It simply can’t be explained.
# 10 – The Ramones
There are countless bands that name The Ramones as one of their biggest musical inspirations. The Ramones did more with three simple chord changes than any other post 1950’s rock band. Their sound was groundbreaking and their attitude was legendary.
# 9 – The Who
If ever there was a band that had four unique personalities that defined their their musical abilities and personal nature it was The Who. From the band’s tumultuous lives shows to their abundant recorded output The Who set the bar high for rock and roll legends. Pete Townsend’s guitar and pen gave way to a new genre of rock operas that have never been equaled by any other rock and roll artist.
# 8 – Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa was perhaps the greatest musical mind of the past 100 years. Frank Zappa created his own musical category. Zappa’s output on all levels musically and lyrically stretched beyond genres and defied classification.
# 7 – Bruce Springsteen
It could be easily argued that Bruce Sringtseen is the greatest live performer of all time. Fueling his live shows has been a body of work that has changed lives and inspired decades of performers and songwriters in all genres.
# 6 – Bob Dylan
If ever there was a writer that responded to culture in such a way that the artist changed culture then that composer would be Mr. Bob Dylan. From his early days in the 1960’s to the 2000’s, Dylan has continued to deliver compositions that will go down in history as one of the greatest bodies of work ever released.
# 5 – Elton John
Simply put, Elton John is the greatest single artist popular music songwriter of all time. If Elton John had stopped making records in 1979, he still would have earned that title. The amount of hit records and albums he released from 1970 to 1976 was extraordinary.
# 4 – Elvis Presley
If ever there was a single artist that changed culture and inspired millions of fans and artists, it would be Elvis Presley. The King was a pioneer in leading rock and roll into mainstream culture. Elvis Presley recorded albums, filmed movies and performed on stage at a breakneck speed unparalleled by any other performer in history.
# 3 – Led Zeppelin
Every artist in this top 10 defines their own category. It’s simply impossible to sum up the impact of Led Zeppelin in a couple of sentences. So we will do it in two words that we feel fit perfectly. ROCK GODS! There will never be another band like Led Zeppelin. Their sound, their soul, and their songs became the soundtrack to the lives of rock fans who grew up in the 1970s. Ther music is timeless.
# 2 – The Rolling Stones
As far as bands go, The Rolling Stones have outlasted everyone. Almost 60 years later they are still together. It’s now 2022 and the Rolling Stones just finished another tour. They lost Charlie Watts who was such an important part of their sound. Yet, the band members said it was Charlie’s wish that the band continue on. Thanks Charlie!
# 1 – The Beatles
When The Beatles stepped off that plane at JFK Airport New York City in 1964, life as people knew it, completely changed. The Beatles impact on culture and music cannot be measured. The thirteen albums they released during the 1960s continue to sound as fresh and important in the year 2020 as they did 56 years ago.
This was the first article we ever published. We have grown in many ways in the last ten years. We had no idea how big this site would become. Thanks to all the readers who have took the time to check out the site. Even those who love to rip us.
Updated November 14, 2023
25 Greatest Rock Artists of All-Time article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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