The 30 Best Rock Bands of All Time for When You Want to Rock and Roll All Night

Written by on 21 May 2022


(Brad Elterman/Getty Images)

It was extremely difficult to narrow down the best rock bands of all time, thanks to the volume of artists and the smorgasbord of sub-genres (alternative, rock, psychedelic, punk, new wave, grunge, metal, just to name a few—and all of the sub-sub-genres within those). Because of this, there are going to be bands here not everyone agrees with, and there may be bands missing that may shock some. That’s OK! At its core, rock n’ roll is about rebellion, going against the grain and doing your own thing—and doing it loudly and with abandon.

What makes the greatest rock bands ever? For Parade, it came down to sound, influence on the genre and cultural impact. Not everything wonderful sells, and not everything that sells is great. Also, note that there are a lot of solo artists and musical groups who did phenomenal work and helped create rock’s sound as we know it, but didn’t fit into the “band” category if they specialized in just one aspect or instrument of their production: Think Chuck BerryElvis PresleyJanis JoplinTina Turnerthe Jackson Five, Gladys Knight and the PipsThe Bee GeesThe DriftersSam CookeLeadbellyRay Charles and Eric Clapton, to name just a few!

With that in mind, behold our choices for the top 100 best rock bands of all time. Rock on!

1. The Beatles

As if The Beatles need any introduction: The Liverpool quartet is one of the bestselling, most influential bands in the history of music. Wondering just how far their influence extends? One of the Guardians of the Galaxy is named in homage to one of their songs.

2. Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones ooze rock n’ roll and have been long lauded as the greatest rock n’ roll band in history. Their countercultural symbolism, raunchy lyrics and killer musicianship have made them one of the most enduring acts ever—and neither substance abuse (Keith Richards), cancer (Ron Wood) nor heart surgery (Mick Jagger) could keep them from a stage for long.

3. Prince & The Revolution

Obviously Prince was the leader of The Revolution, but the band’s other members were also crazy-talented and gloriously diverse: Brown Mark on bass and vocals; Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman (lovingly known as “Wendy and Lisa”) on guitar and on keyboards, piano and vocals respectively; Matt “Doctor” Fink on keyboards and vocals and Bobby Z. on drums. The Revolution not only performed on, but also produced the masterpiece Purple Rain on their own, helping to cement Prince’s legacy as rock royalty forever.

4. Queen

Before the film Bohemian Rhapsody won Rami Malek an Oscar, the operatic tune “Bohemian Rhapsody” enjoyed a revival thanks to Wayne’s World. The song was just one of countless Queen classics, ranging from ballads (“Who Wants to Live Forever,” “Play the Game,” “Save Me”) to stadium anthems (“We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions,” “Don’t Stop Me Now”) to rollicking barn-burners (“Tie Your Mother Down,” “Fat Bottomed Girls,” “Bicycle Race,” “Keep Yourself Alive”) to cheeky pop-tinged confections (“Under Pressure,” “I Want to Break Free,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Good Old Fashioned Loverboy,” “Killer Queen”). Freddie Mercury brought the theatrics, whimsy and groundbreaking production, Brian May the slick solos, Roger Taylor the beats and John Deacon the inimitable bass riffs to make some of the most simultaneously timeless, heavy and frothy pop-rock music ever made.

5. Guns N’ Roses

From Slash‘s solos to Duff McKagan‘s bass lines to Axl Rose‘s screeches and warbles (he may have the biggest vocal range out of any of his musical peers) to their debauchery, Guns N’ Roses is, rightfully, one of the most influential bands in music. And in true rock n’ roll fashion, Rose declined to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

6. AC/DC

From their early days with Bon Scott to their resurrection with Brian Johnson, the Young brothers and AC/DC have made the “Highway to Hell” seem like a pretty sweet ride. Johnson told The New York Post that he actually met Scott before Scott’s untimely passing, after which Johnson replaced him as the Australian band’s frontman.

“I had a terrible case of appendicitis and I went down on my side, kicking and going, ‘Ooh!’” he recalled. “But I kept on singing. Apparently, he told the boys when he joined AC/DC, ‘I saw this guy Brian Johnson sing, and he was great. He was on the floor, kicking and screaming—what an act!’ Of course, it wasn’t an act. I was really ill.”

7. The Jimi Hendrix Experience

No rock list of any kind would be complete without Jimi Hendrix. The man changed guitar forever, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience delivered some of the best live performances in rock history—psychedelic, mesmerizing and energetic while appearing effortless.

8. Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin is best known for “Stairway to Heaven,” but their hit “Immigrant Song” enjoyed a resurgence thanks to its prominence in Thor: Ragnarokit fit so seamlessly that you’d have thought the 1970 track was written just for the movie, a testament to the rock icons’ timelessness.

Guitarist Jimmy Page said of the band in an archived interview, “The fact was, whether we liked it or not, we were brought together by fate and it was sort of fated that we should change music, I think. And we certainly did.”

9. Bob Dylan

Though he’s mostly renowned for his superb storytelling in songBob Dylan brought many obscure instruments to his folk-blues-rock music: Besides guitar, bass, drums, piano, flute, saxophone, trumpet, bugle, whistle and harmonica, he also plays harp, mandolin, harmonium and didgeridoo, making him the rare master of all trades. This also makes him a seriously impressive one-man-band.

10. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts poked fun at their beginnings in this video for “Bad Reputation,” mocking all the major labels who turned them down—leading them to start their own label, Blackheart Records and go multi-platinum and put a major crack in rock’s glass ceiling.

11. Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd made hits in spite of themselves. Producer Bob Ezrin told Guitar World in 2009 of the makings of the band’s magnum opus, “The Wall,” “The most important thing I did for the song was to insist that it be more than just one verse and one chorus long, which it was when Roger wrote it. I said, ‘Man, this is a hit! But it’s one minute 20. We need two verses and two choruses,’” he recalled. “And they said, ‘Well, you’re not bloody getting them. We don’t do singles, so f**k you.’ So I said, ‘Okay fine,’ and they left. … While they weren’t around we were able to copy the first verse and chorus, take one of the drum fills, put them in between and extend the chorus.”

12. Grateful Dead

The second band on this list to inspire a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavour, the Grateful Dead combined elements of rock, folk, jazz and blues to make a sound all their own.

13. The Traveling Wilburys

Arguably everyone’s favourite Beatle is George Harrison. What do you get when you combine his pop sensibilities with a cheeky sense of humor and the rock, pop and folk stylings of Jeff LynneRoy OrbisonBob Dylan and Tom Petty? You get the always-underrated supergroup that is The Traveling Wilburys.

14. Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band have gone through ups and downs and lineup changes throughout their nearly three-decade history, but whenever you see them live, it’s like the glory days never actually ended.

15. Little Richard and The Upsetters

Little Richard and his band, The Upsetters, were as integral as Chuck Berry in creating rock and roll as we know it thanks to their intense, energetic performances and distinctive sound.

16. The Kinks

One of the most influential bands of the 1960s, The Kinks‘ smash hit “You Really Got Me” is one of the most covered (including by Van Halen and David Bowie) and one of the most recognizable, songs in rock history. The British band likely would have seen much more success stateside but were banned from touring the United States at their peak because brothers Dave and Ray Davies kept getting into fights. How very rock n’ roll of them.

17. Creedence Clearwater Revival

Tina Turner made “Proud Mary” her own, but it was Creedence Clearwater Revival who first wrote and performed the rock staple. That tune, along with other hits including “Fortunate Son,” “Down On the Corner” and “Bad Moon Rising” firmly keep the band among working-class heroes and rock legends.

Related: Celebrity Q&A: What Rock Band Did You Want to Join When You Were a Kid?

18. The Band

The Band were beloved for their easygoing, “porch-style” playing. Though they were only together for eight years, their influence has endured, not just in their live performances—The Band famously backed Bob Dylan—but because they were comprised of some of the best singers in rock history in Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel.

19. The Cure

Though The Cure is best known for “Love Song,” “The Love Cats,” “Just Like Heaven” and “Friday I’m In Love,” “Cut Here” from their 2001 Greatest Hits compilation is a truly heartbreaking, beautiful ode to how little time we really have—and is pure pop-rock perfection from Robert Smith.

20. Allman Brothers Band

The Allman Brothers Band, hailing from Macon, Ga., had some of the best blues-tinged rock of their era thanks to Duane Allman‘s guitar work and Gregg Allman on the organ and trademark raspy vocals. Sadly, the band was also marked by a lot of tragedy: In addition to the entire group being plagued by drug use, Duane died in a motorcycle crash in October 1971. Tragically, the band’s original bassist Berry Oakley also died in a motorcycle accident, almost exactly one year after Duane died the same way.

21. David Bowie

David Bowie, whether as Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars or himself, is known as a solo artist. But even when he was on his own, in the studio he was at times a one-man band. He played nearly every instrument on his album Diamond Dogs, including the iconic “Rebel Rebel” riff.

22. The Who

The Who embraced the inherently rebellious nature of rock n’ roll, from “My Generation” to “The Kids Are Alright” to “Baba O’Riley” (often incorrectly called “Teenage Wasteland” for the hook, sometimes by the band’s own members). The messages still resonate today.

“‘Teenage Wasteland’ speaks to generation after generation,” singer Roger Daltrey told the Big Issue in 2018. “The bridge—’Don’t cry / Don’t raise your eye / It’s only teenage wasteland’—if that doesn’t say more about the new generation, I don’t know what does.” He added, “[The] main advice I give youngsters is to be very aware of what you are getting into on social media. Because life is not looking down at screens, it is looking up. We are heading for catastrophe with the addiction that is going on in the younger generation. Your life will disappear if you are not careful. You are being controlled, and that is terrible.”

23. Aerosmith

The scarves, the guitars, the wailing—Aerosmith and Steven Tyler embodied rock n’ roll, whether they were singing about singing (“Dream On”), sex (“Walk on Water”) or just getting schmaltzy (“Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”).

24. The Ramones

The Ramones changed music forever with their songs and almost uniform performing style—leather jackets, shades, T-shirts, shaggy dark hair—but many people don’t realize that most of the original members didn’t have a great relationship offstage, and the original lineup didn’t survive long enough to enjoy any of their commercial or critical success. Ironically, the anger associated with that may have propelled them to the very stardom they have only posthumously.

“People who join a band like the Ramones don’t come from stable backgrounds, because it’s not that civilized an art form,” Dee Dee Ramone once wrote (via Rolling Stone). “Punk rock comes from angry kids who feel like being creative.”

25. Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac has a long and sordid history of hirings, firings and in-fighting, but one thing remains constant: Their hits. “The Chain,” “Go Your Own Way,” “Landslide,” “Dreams,” “Little Lies” and more.

26. The Eagles

You can try to resist The Eagles. But once you check them out, you can never leave. Don Felder previously told Parade of his creative process, “The most rewarding part of it is…[to] walk into a room that’s absolutely blank, quiet, silent and walkout at the end of the day and feel really excited about what you’ve created. The creative process to me is what’s so rewarding. And then to be able to take that excitement, enthusiasm and share it with people or have them respond, really is the ultimate stuff.”

27. Journey

Journey‘s iconic anthems, from “Don’t Stop Believin’” to “Open Arms” and “Wheel in the Sky,” live on long after the original band members and Steve Perry went their…wait for it…”Separate Ways.” (We’ll see ourselves out.)

28. Van Halen

Van Halen changed guitar solos forever, and their overall brilliance is often widely overlooked. For example, their smash “Jump” is a song about suicide that many confused with being uplifting and motivational.

Another genius move? The band was famous for demanding there be no brown M&Ms in their tour rider. It wasn’t because they had a bias against the color: It was a safety measure to ensure that venues were paying attention because they incorporated so many lights and pyrotechnics in their live shows.

29. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Another folk supergroup, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, comprised of David CrosbyStephen StillsGraham Nash and Neil Young, were mesmerizing even to those who knew them closely. “They always had that Judy Garland, tragic American hero aura about them,” a former business associate told Rolling Stone of the band. “It’s still going on. Were they strong enough to survive? Would they kill each other? Did they really like their audience? Were they leaders? Was it all for the bucks? Would they fall apart before reaching the top?”

30. Def Leppard

Def Leppard overcame incredible hardship and delivered some of the sexiest rock songs ever, with “Pour Some Sugar On Me” in particular being a staple in pop culture.

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