The Top 50 Classic Rock Bands
Determined by a combination of album sales, radio airplay, touring history, and degree of continuous popularity, here is our list of the top 50 classic rock bands in history. (Many musicians in these bands also branched out and had successful solo careers, too.)
As you might have suspected, The Beatles top our list at No. 1. With record sales estimated at more than a billion worldwide, no other band has had a greater influence on the course of rock music and music history in general.
Essential album: “Revolver”
At the vanguard of the progressive rock movement, Pink Floyd has sold more than 200 million albums since 1967. They were one of the first bands to use light shows and fireworks in their live performances.
Essential album: “Wish You Were Here”
The Who were innovative both musically and culturally, especially in terms of fashion. A British band, they were known for wearing the Union Jack on their clothing. The Who also made it onto Rolling Stone magazine’s “50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” for smashing a guitar at their Railway Hotel performance in 1964.
Essential album: “Who’s Next”
The original “bad boys” of rock and roll, the Stones are among the most durable of our classic bands, recording and touring with few breaks since they began in 1961. In spite of the fanfare that has always surrounded them, their genius can’t be denied. Their reinterpretation of classic American blues, rock, country, folk, and R&B has resulted in some of the most exciting music in rock and roll.
Essential album: “Sticky Fingers”
This British band also pushed the envelope of what was possible with the blues, using it to create some of the “heaviest” music in the genre. Their “Stairway To Heaven” is believed to have received more radio airplay than any other song in history, even though it was never released as a single.
Essential album: “Led Zeppelin IV”
The Eagles are another of rock’s longest-lasting acts. In August 2021, their 1976 greatest hits album edged out Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as the biggest-selling album of all time, with over 38 million copies sold.
Essential album: “Eagles: Their Greatest Hits”
The Grateful Dead is one of San Francisco’s first “flower power” bands, and they virtually invented the jam band concept. Indeed, their fan following is still nearly as strong today as it was when the group disbanded in 1995.
Essential album: “Anthem of the Sun”
Pioneers of the psychedelic rock genre, they were in the vanguard of ’60s and ’70s counter-culture. Their “White Rabbit” was probably one of the first songs to deal with drug use.
Essential album: “After Bathing at Baxter’s”
In spite of a short life and limited discography, they became one of classic rock’s most popular and influential groups. Jim Morrison is still considered to have been one of the most charismatic lead singers in rock and roll.
Essential album: “The Doors”
With the exception of a few years in the mid-’70s, this progressive psychedelic group has toured and recorded since 1964. They are known for their long, operatic tunes, like “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon.”
Essential album: “Days of Future Passed”
Fleetwood Mac is perhaps the quintessential 1970s California rock band. Their highly personal 1977 “Rumours” album is still among the top 10 best-selling albums ever released.
Essential album: “Rumours”
For those about to rock: AC/DC is most likely a huge influence. This pioneering hard rock group has sold an estimated 100 million albums worldwide.
Essential album: “Back in Black”
Founder Tom Scholz formed Boston while still at MIT and it shows. Boston’s progressive, synth-based sound is both slick and exciting. When their first album was released in 1976, it was the highest-grossing debut album ever seen up until that time.
Essential album: “Boston”
Cream existed for less than three years but staked its place as one of rock’s first power trios. Its popularity endures to this day, thanks to classics like “White Room.”
Essential album: “Wheels of Fire”
Futuristic-sounding guitars, turbo-charged drumming, and power vocals have kept Def Leppard near the top of the all-time best-selling album lists for a quarter of a century.
Essential album: “Hysteria”
Considered to be among the pioneers of folk rock, the popularity of The Byrds in the mid-60s rivaled that of The Beatles.
Essential album: “The Byrds’ Greatest Hits”
Originally written off as Rolling Stones imitators, the group has staked their claim in classic rock history. For over 30 years, Aerosmith has consistently produced multi-million-dollar-selling albums.
Essential album: “Toys in the Attic”
This groundbreaking Latin rock group timed the release of its first album to coincide with a highly successful performance at Woodstock in 1969. They’re still going strong over five decades later.
Essential Album: “Abraxas”
Blood Sweat & Tears
Essentially a small orchestra, this classic rock group established a milestone in rock history with its large horn section and jazz-blues orientation.
Essential album: “Blood Sweat & Tears”
One of the most innovative and influential heavy metal groups of the late ’70s and early ’80s, the group personified stadium-style rock. Larger-than-life original lead singer, David Lee Roth, had one of the best voices in the business, and the other group members are considered rock pioneers as well.
Essential album: “1984”
The self-proclaimed “little ol’ band from Texas” was one of the earliest influences in Southern rock, and continues to be so three decades later.
Essential album: “The Best of ZZ Top”
With worldwide albums sales of about 150 million since 1969, Genesis was instrumental for not only putting progressive rock in the mainstream but also for keeping it there.
Essential album: “Platinum Collection”
The success of their unique fusion of hard rock, blues, jazz, and classical music has secured this group’s immortality.
Essential album: “Eat A Peach”
Journey’s jazz-flavored brand of rock and roll has been a fixture in the rock scene since 1973. They are also responsible for what is arguably one of the most inspirational songs in the genre, “Don’t Stop Believin'”.
Essential album: “Greatest Hits”
Formed by singer Steve Winwood, Traffic had far greater success with albums than with singles, and it thrived in spite of numerous personnel changes and long breaks.
Essential album: “John Barleycorn Must Die”
Using a flute as a lead instrument and writing songs heavily influenced by classical music, Jethro Tull created a sound unlike any other in rock and roll.
Essential album: “Very Best of Jethro Tull”
A group of backup players got together in 1976 and formed a band that became a longtime arena rock and radio airplay favorite.
Essential album: “Complete Greatest Hits”
This English band smartly maintained their popularity throughout the ’60s and ’70s by adjusting their lyrical themes and musical styles as public tastes changed.
Essential album: “Ultimate Collection”
Blue Öyster Cult
Formed in the mid-60s, this metal and/psychedelic rock band had a long string of successful albums throughout the ’70s and ’80s.
Essential album: “The Essential Oyster Cult”
Although the group existed for less than two years, they were considered a significant force in mid-1960s rock. They also launched the careers of members Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Jim Messina, and Richie Furay.
Essential album: “Retrospective”
Much more than just a glitter rock band, Queen will forever be included in “best of” lists due in large part to lead singer Freddy Mercury’s phenomenal vocals. The group remains second only to The Beatles in album sales in the U.K.
Essential album: “Platinum Collection”
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
More than any other group of their time, CSNY endeared themselves to a generation of youth with their lyrics and eclectic variety of musical styles.
Essential album: “Deja Vu”
After failing to break through as a progressive rock band, this group is credited with originating the more mainstream arena rock sound.
Essential album: “Gold”
Creedence Clearwater Revival
They broke at the height of the British Invasion to become the leading American rock band of the era. Their songs about war and political corruption resonated with Vietnam-era youth, and they remain powerful symbols of musical protest.
Essential album: “Chronicle”
They shuffled personnel and musical styles until they became one of the most successful bands on the concert and recording circuit. Many critics consider their heavy, grinding sound to be a major influence on the grunge rock movement.
Essential album: “Very Best Of”
Steve Miller Band
This group paid their dues as a backup band before becoming one of the most popular groups of the ’70s.
Essential album: “Young Hearts”
One of Canada’s most popular rock bands evolved from playing soft rock to hard rock, starting in the early ’60s and through the mid-’70s.
Essential album: “Anthology”
Dave Clark Five
Beatlemania helped propel this British group to great popularity in America. They distinguished themselves with a slew of hits, including “Glad All Over” and “Everybody Get Together.”
Essential album: “30 Greatest Hits”
This Canadian heavy metal band is credited with creating the bike rock sub-genre thanks to their song “Born to Be Wild,” which was featured in the iconic 1969 film “Easy Rider.”
Essential album: “All Time Greatest Hits”
Considered the quintessential progressive rock band, Yes has enjoyed decades of success in spite of more than the usual number of major personnel changes.
Essential album: “The Very Best of Yes”
They aren’t actually brothers, but they have parlayed a distinctive hard rock and southern rock blend into a lengthy 30-plus-year career.
Essential album: “Best of the Doobies”
Formed in 1967, Chicago became one of the most successful orchestral rock groups in the world. Their distinctive horn-based sound still attracts audiences today.
Essential album: “Only the Beginning”
Mix hard rock with over-the-top appearances and stage antics and you get the fathers of glitter punk. Kiss remains a major influence on kids everywhere who dream of rock and roll stardom.
Essential album: “Gold”
Emerging from the early punk rock scene, Blondie ultimately expanded their stylistic approach to include disco, new wave, and hip-hop.
Essential album: “Parallel Lines”
With one of the most recognizable sounds in rock and roll, Rush is also known for their fantastic live shows. With 20 studio albums to date, they remain required listening for fans interested in hearing what uncompromising music sounds like.
Essential album: “Permanent Waves”
Their short life as a rebellious and proudly controversial punk band was out of proportion to the huge influence they had on pop culture.
Essential album: “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols”
Described by All Music Guide as “the definitive Southern rock band,” Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited 10 years after the deaths of three original members in a 1977 plane crash and still perform today.
Essential album: “Skynyrd’s Innyrds”
The Police distinguished themselves by achieving mainstream success playing experimental rock. Lead singer Sting went on to become one of the most popular solo artists of all time.
Essential album: “Every Breath You Take: The Classics”
Grand Funk Railroad
Grand Funk Railroad achieved the greatest commercial success of any American rock band in the ’60s and early ’70s. Although they last put out an album in 1983, they still tour heavily.
Essential album: “We’re an American Band”
One of the most successful hard rock groups to ever come out of England, Black Sabbath is credited as the first heavy metal band. They are considered an influence on a variety of musical genres, including punk and grunge.
Essential album: “We Sold Our Soul For Rock and Roll”