We spent the week ranking the 50 greatest British bands of all-time.
Those that have been following along understand how we arrived at this point. It took a lot of heated conversation but we’ve arrived at the best of the very best. It’s time to present the elite.
#10 The Clash
Is it fair to label the Clash as just an influential punk band? No, it’s not as they were inspired by and inspired so many other types of music.
Though stepped in rebellion, Joe Strummer (vocals/ rhythm guitar), Mick Jones (lead guitar, vocals), Paul Simonon (bass) and Nicky “Topper” Headon (drums) took the top off of reggae, new wave and ska among other genres.
Never afraid to back down from tackling social or political subject matter, the Clash was labeled as and often lived up to the billing of ‘the only band that matters.’
Their landmark third album London Calling is nothing short of a masterpiece. Its the type of record that only comes around once every 20 years or so. Even they could never come close to duplicating it.
Their other work was far from unworthy. Their self-titled debut was a supreme frenzy, the accessible Combat Rock remains vital and their 1985 swan song Cut The Crap is solid.
Strummer may have died in 2002, but the spirit of the Clash lives on.
#9 The Who
In 1964, while the free love hippie movement was just getting into full swing, our number nine rock group was just getting started, The Who.
The Who is in arguably one of the absolute best to do it in British rock. Pete Townsend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon helped shape generations of musicians with their unique meld of rock and soul.
One of the key bands that performed at Woodstock in 1969, The Who has been an integral part of how rock music has evolved through the decades.
The Who even created a mold of musical theater, which is now known as the rock opera that had previously not existed until Tommy in (1975).
Songs like “Baba O’Reilly,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” and “My Generation” will live on as anthems in the genre for eons.
Over fifty years of The Who’s music has graced the airwaves. Eleven albums and 100 million records sold, their staying power is tried and true.
#8 Depeche Mode
Four mates from Essex got together in 1980 to form a new wave group that would go on to become a major influence in the electronic, industrial, synth, and alternative rock.
Dave Gahan (lead vocals), Martin Gore (guitar/vocals), Andy Fletcher (keyboards) released their debut album, Speak & Spell, in 1981, with the help of Vince Clarke, who later left the band to form Yaz with singer Alison Moyet.
Following the release of their slightly less popular sophomore album, A Broken Frame (1982), they went on to see major success with albums such as, Construction Time Again (1983), Some Great Reward (1984), Black Celebration (1986), Music for the Masses (1987) and Violator (1990).
Depeche Mode has had 50 songs on the UK Singles Chart, seventeen Top 10 albums and has sold over 100 million records worldwide.
They were nominated for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.
A semi-controversial entry into the Top 10, Radiohead has pushed so many boundaries that it’s hard to really figure out where their sound begins and ends.
Something as simple as a chronological order does not do them justice. They have subscribed to doing things on their own terms and in turn have challenged their fans and detractors to follow along.
An associate used to refer to things that were off the beaten path as ‘very Radiohead things to do.’
The refusal to perform their sullen anthem “Creep” for years was a very Radiohead thing to do.
Singer/guitarist/instrumentalist Thom Yorke told Q Magazine about an experience with an audience member who begged for the song that moved them to revisit it in 2016.
“I kind of wound him up by starting to play it, which was a bad idea as it was like lighting a fire,” Yorke said.
They thought about bringing it out at that show for an encore only to have their crew shoot it down as they would not be able present it properly. Two nights later in Paris, it went down.
Their decision to book a South American tour during the same timeframe to offset an appearance at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony is another Radiohead thing to do.
Their music which sprawls from the glimmering rock of The Bends and In Rainbows to the post-artificial intelligence apocalypse of OK Computer to the looped up universe that is The King of Limbs and everything in between is pure artistry.
Radiohead is anything but an average band that does average things. Being average is not a Radiohead thing to do.
#6 The Rolling Stones
Words like stamina and survival tend to pop up when mentioning The Stones. As a blues-based band that crawled out of the 60’s, the original unit of Brian Jones (guitar/harmonica), Mick Jagger (vocals), Keith Richards (guitar), Bill Wyman (bass), Charlie Watts (drums) and Ian Stewart (piano) almost instantly made a impact.
Jones struggled with his fair share of issues and died less than a month after being dismissed from the band due to substance abuse.
His story is one of the saddest in music history. Jones formed, named and selected the members of the Stones and lost control of the band as Richards and Jagger began generating hits.
His issues certainly didn’t help matters and when he drowned in a swimming pool at his home, he took with him a lot of talent that could not be replaced.
Though, former Faces guitarist Ronnie Wood has held down the second guitarist spot for the bulk of the band’s existence, he was preceded by Mick Taylor who propped them up during their classic run of albums that included Let It Bleed, It’s Only Rock and Roll, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street.
Their classic output has influenced pop, country and rock bands that dabble in all forms of their various genres.
Now anchored by a skilled touring line-up that accompanies whenever they hit the road, the band is said to be working on their first collection of new songs in over a decade.
Is there anything to really say about number five? Queen has by far touched more artists across genres than any other band in the past 40 years.
Forming in London in 1970 Freddie Mercury and his boisterous personality uplifted his operatic vocals over Brian May’s arena-ready riffs, John Deacon’s fluid bass lines, and Roger Taylor’s solid backbeat.
The quartet created a perfect storm out of their profound musical talent.
Mercury’s indelible mark on rock and music as a whole with Queen spans decades.
Songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Under Pressure,” “We Are the Champions,” “We Will Rock You,” and dozens more have woven themselves into the fabric of pop culture all around the world.
In 1991, Queen and the music world took a major blow when lead singer Mercury died of bronchopneumonia, a complication of AIDS.
Although they lost a dear friend, and a cornerstone of their band they continued with Paul Rogers, and currently Adam Lambert as lead vocalists since Mercury’s death, Deacon retired in 1997. The current members continue to tour to this very day.
Through movies, books, television, and other musicians, Queen’s legacy will live on far beyond our time.
#4 Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath, formed in Birmingham England in 1968, comes in at number four.
This band: Tony Lommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward, and Ozzy Osbourne are some of the kings of heavy metal.
The movie shaped who they would become as musicians, and in turn shaped an entire genre of music through them.
The band is known for their dark and ominous tone, occult themes, and hard screeching guitar riffs that inspire even the light metal listeners to bang their heads to the beat.
Although their music and look were taboo when they first came out, that drove their popularity and helped to make the band and Ozzy Osbourne synonymous with what we now know as heavy metal.
Songs like “Crazy Train,” “Iron Man,” “War Pigs,” and “Paranoid” have influenced bands that span decades.
Lamb Of God, Guns N’ Roses, Iron Maiden, Rob Zombie and various others have all attributed Black Sabbath to influencing their music.
Nineteen albums, drug addictions, tragedies, and thirty tours later, Black Sabbath has ruled the Heavy Metal scene for almost fifty years.
#3 Pink Floyd
During the height of the psychedelic movement in the 1960’s, four students—Syd Barrett (lead vocals/guitar), Nick Mason (drums), Roger Waters (bass/vocals), and Richard Wright (keyboard/vocals)—formed a band that would forever change modern rock music as we know it.
Shortly after Barrett left in 1968, due to his deteriorating mental health, the band switched rotation, adding David Gilmour (guitar/vocals) to the roster, while Waters stepped up as the bands principal songwriter and conceptual leader, devising the concepts behind their albums The Dark Side of the Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), Animals (1977), The Wall (1979) and The Final Cut (1983).
Legal issues created tensions between the band. Wright left following The Wall, in 1979, and Waters soon followed in 1985.
Ultimately, the courts ruled that Gilmour and Mason could continue to record under the name Pink Floyd.
Wright returned to the group for two more studio albums—A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987) and The Division Bell (1994)—and toured through 1994.
The core four only reunited once, during the 2005 benefit concert Live 8.
Sadly, Barrett died in 2006 and Wright in 2008. Pink Floyd released one final studio album, The Endless River (2014), which was recorded without Waters and based almost entirely on unreleased material left behind by Wright.
# 2 Led Zeppelin
The mightiest band of all-time missed the top spot by a hair but that takes nothing away from what they were and still continue to be.
It’s impossible to put what Jimmy Page (guitar), John Bonham (drums), John Paul Jones ( bass/keys) and Robert Plant ( vocals) did into words.
Over the course of their nine records, the second highest selling artists in the history of the United States simply laid waste to the seventies and beyond.
What’s funny is that in retrospect, some of their biggest staples while still crucial, could have easily been surpassed by other pieces of their catalog had they been chosen for singles.
That is the greatness of Zeppelin.
Each moment of their discography stands on its own like a family of kids establishing their own identity.
Amplified blues, Celtic, folk, metal, reggae, jazz and so many other flavors stuck and moved with so much ease that there hasn’t been another band to do it on that level since then.
That’s not to say that they are universally held in high regard by all. Detractors have pointed to their liberal use of work interpolated by the classic bluesman Willie Dixon as a cause for points off their total score.
However, it’s not what you do, it’s what you do with it.
Their live fury was chronicled in the concert film The Song Remains The Same which only served to further their legend as did the tell-all book Hammer of the Gods.
As the saying goes, Zeppelin was often imitated but never duplicated.
#1 The Beatles
The Fab Four from Liverpool formed a band in 1960, which only lasted 10 years, but left behind a legacy.
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, they became widely regarded as the foremost and most influential act of the rock era.
They sang their way into American hearts on The Ed Sullivan Show in the early 1960’s, and quickly gained popularity with youth culture of the time.
They made a mark on history, whether it was performing at Shea Stadium or creating their own cartoon adventures, the Beatles are without a doubt one of the most popular bands in history.
They are also one of the best-selling, having sold more than 800 million albums as of 2013.
They have had more no. 1 albums on the U.K. charts and have sold more singles in the U.K. than any other act in history.