Top 10 Greatest British Rock Bands
Rock ‘n Roll Royalties
The British are known for many things – tea, red bus rides, fish & chips, David Beckham and of course, their music scene. Just imagine what would rock ‘n roll be without these legends from across the pond – most of them, if not all, altered the course of rock music as they released one iconic song after another.
Thanks to the British invasion, their US counterparts were propelled to step up their game. They didn’t invent rock but they refined and re-defined it in ways we didn’t think was possible. They shook the earth to its core and well, we can still feel some of that movement today.
They influenced generations of musicians and overall, we cannot even begin to describe the scope of their contribution to rock which is why their songs remain staples in classic rock radio stations. Now let’s look back at the best bands the British had to offer.
10. Black Sabbath
It’s hard to discount Black Sabbath’s greatness because they’re often tagged as pioneers of heavy metal. Whoever your favorite group is in this genre, they owe Black Sabbath some debt of gratitude. No, it’s not just Ozzy Osbourne and his crazy antics – who snorts a line of ants or eats a live bat’s ear? Rather, it’s the entirety of the band – and yes, Ozzy Osbourne is part of the package.
Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Bill Ward, Geezer Butler and even Ronnie James Dio – this is the rock act that never failed to deliver.
“Black Sabbath never used to write a structured song. There’d be a long intro that would go into a jazz piece, then go all folky … and it worked. Tony Iommi—and I have said this a zillion times—should be up there with the greats.” – Ozzy Osbourne
They were commercially successful and they were way ahead of their time. At the height of their career, they basically left everyone else in the dust and that’s saying it kindly.
9. The Clash
When the punk wave hit the UK, The Clash were there to give fans what they never thought they wanted. They were and will always be an essential part of the punk rock movement. They boasted of versatility and they didn’t allow themselves to be confined in one musical style – in fact, they incorporated various styles in their music and somehow, they made it work without losing their identity as a band.
There was aggressiveness and raw energy that left you speechless once you saw them live.
“Although the Damned and the Pistols were great, they were only exciting musically; lyrically, I couldn’t really make out a lot if it … [T]o realise that [the Clash] were actually singing about their own lives in West London was like a bolt out of the blue.” – Stiff Little Fingers’ Jake Burns
They didn’t mess around. They were dang serious about their craft. Sure, they were ambitious and they were angry. But they made music which had huge impact to listeners. You can’t listen to their songs and ignore the message.
8. Deep Purple
At their prime, Deep Purple had no peers. An impressive catalog, a great lineup, and amazing albums – what more could you really ask for? They are one of the greats and anyone who says otherwise needs to reassess his taste in music. It doesn’t take much to recognize their greatness, all you need to do is listen to their songs and voila, you’ll understand that they’re not all fluff.
Then again, if you need another reason to like them, we have one – Ritchie Blackmore. But let’s be fair, every single member of the band of the second lineup (Ian Gillan, Jon Lord, Roger Glover, Ian Paice and Blackmore) was like a match made in rock heaven.
“When I was nine years old it was all about Deep Purple. My all time favourite [album] is still Made in Japan.” – Lars Ulrich
Along with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Deep Purple has been hailed as part of the “unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal in the early to mid-seventies.” They were hugely successful and remains as influential today as they were decades ago.
7. The Kinks
It baffles us to no end why The Kinks are still underrated. Even after all these years, they didn’t get the recognition they absolutely deserve. Maybe it was because they created their own path instead of following someone else’s. Ray Davies wrote songs that get to you and of course, pair that with Dave’s insane guitar riffs and you get epic masterpieces.
Not everyone knows it but several bands have The Kinks to thank especially those who use heavy distortion. Dave says ‘you’re welcome.’
“There were only a few bands that had this sorta really rough-sounding, what we used to call ‘R&B’ style in the Sixties. There were the Yardbirds, there was us, there was the Pretty Things, as well.” – Dave Davies
Their importance to rock cannot be overstated and it’s a gross injustice for them to remain underappreciated. Their contribution to the genre is so massive, every other band who followed should be bowing down to them.
This is what happens when three rock gods decide to make music together. This rock power trio could take on anyone and anything. The band members were only together for not more than two years but they remain one of best in this side of the world. Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton were all you need to create that gargantuan sound.
Their live performances were always explosive, mind-blowing and jaw-dropping. If you weren’t impressed, the problem would have to be you.
“Ginger had come to see me play with the Bluesbreakers. After the gig he drove me back to London in his Rover. I was very impressed with his car and driving. He was telling me that he wanted to start a band, and I had been thinking about it too.” – Eric Clapton
Some say Cream’s way too flashy but strip all the showmanship away and you’re still left with the most talented musicians in rock with an impressive catalog. Clapton shined with his stellar guitar solos. Perhaps the downside to having big talents is big ego which became a factor in the band’s short-lived career as a trio.
5. The Rolling Stones
Nothing screams British Rock like The Rolling Stones. Today, we may enjoy joking about Keith Richards surviving the apocalypse but once upon a time, they were the lifeblood that fed the veins of rock ‘n roll. More than crazy dancing on stage, or living a life of excesses, The Rolling Stones helped shape the genre.
Like every other musician, they had their highs and lows. But when they were at the top of their game, they were unstoppable. When British Invasion hit the US shore, they were at the frontline.
“The amazing thing is that although Mick and I thought these songs were really puerile and kindergarten-time, every one that got put out made a decent showing in the charts. That gave us extraordinary confidence to carry on, because at the beginning songwriting was something we were going to do in order to say to Andrew [Loog Oldham], ‘Well, at least we gave it a try …’” – Keith Richards
Their musical evolution is incredible and though they may have some overplayed and overexposed tracks, there are also underappreciated but just-as-good tunes in their catalog. Besides, they’re still touring next year and that in itself, is an impressive accomplishment.
4. Pink Floyd
Psychedelia and progressive rock were never the same thanks to Pink Floyd. It’s stuff like “Wish You Were Here,” “The Wall” and “The Dark Side of The Moon” that remind us how timeless their avant-garde and eccentric works are. Don’t even get us started on the stunning guitar solos – David Gilmour has the power to hypnotize everyone in the room with one of those.
They never conformed to whatever rules existed. They did what pleased them and those risks paid off nicely. Their music as well as the visuals during their concerts clearly displayed the band’s creativity.
“It’s hard to see why we were cast as the first British psychedelic group. We never saw ourselves that way … we realised that we were, after all, only playing for fun … tied to no particular form of music, we could do whatever we wanted … the emphasis … [is] firmly on spontaneity and improvisation.” – Richard Wright
They gravitated towards anything unique and original. They didn’t subscribe to what others were doing and so they became innovators and rock music would be entirely different had it not been for them.
3. The Who
There are many reasons to love The Who and even more to back up the claim that they’re one of the best British rock bands. They have epic concept albums, their songs are brilliant masterpieces and they know how to put on a good show.
Showmanship-wise, it’s easy to mistake them for being more flashy than talented. But don’t be deceived by their unpredictable behavior on stage (like smashing guitars or blowing up drum kits), beneath all that are four men with exceptional musical talent.
“The music of the Who can only be called rock & roll … it is neither derivative of folk music nor the blues; the primary influence is rock & roll itself.” – Jann Wenner
Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Keith Moon and John Entwistle – they created their own sound that made it almost impossible for others to duplicate. As individual musicians, they were musical geniuses but together, they became a force to be reckoned with.
2. Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin gave ‘hard rock’ a new meaning. Every single member of the band is a legend and some of the best individual musicians – they’re the crème de la crème. Together, no one could hold a candle to them. As rock gods go, they were untouchable even after all these years.
Their legacy is mind-blowing – timeless classics and excellent albums. And as a live act – they sound just as good (or in some cases, even better) than the recording. How many can make such claims?
“Led Zeppelin’s sound was marked by speed and power, unusual rhythmic patterns, contrasting terraced dynamics, singer Robert Plant’s wailing vocals, and guitarist Jimmy Page’s heavily distorted crunch.” – Musicologist Robert Walser
They displayed mastery of the instruments they played and their chemistry is hands-down amazing. They were a commercial success but over the years, their popularity and significance to rock ‘n roll didn’t diminish. On the contrary, they’re still widely regarded as among the best. The raw power and musical brilliance remains unrivaled.
Queen is on another realm, they’re a league of their own and so we weren’t sure they would fit this list because let’s be honest, Freddie Mercury is otherworldly. Many have tried to imitate the man, not one succeeded.
Queen had it all – talent, showmanship, musicality. And of course, they have one of the greatest frontmen to ever walk the earth. If you watch all their live performances, there’s no other way to describe it but spell-binding and magical.
“Queen were absolutely the best band of the day… they just went and smashed one hit after another… it was the perfect stage for Freddie: the whole world.” – Bob Geldof
We’ve said this over and over again but how many can come up with something like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and make a classic out of it? Even their underrated tracks deserve a lot of praise. Their rock anthems became the standard to which all others were held.
1. The Beatles
Sometimes we can’t help but wonder what mankind has done to deserve The Beatles. When we think of British Invasion, more often than not, the first to come to mind is The Fab Four. They went from pop icons to rock legends real quick and though they weren’t as flashy as other bands, they made up for it with their brilliant songwriting.
Their music could take you to places you never thought existed.
“In their initial incarnation as cheerful, wisecracking moptops, the Fab Four revolutionised the sound, style, and attitude of popular music and opened rock and roll’s doors to a tidal wave of British rock acts.” – Scott Schinder and Andy Schwartz
Today’s generation are still singing their songs and raving about them. Now that says a lot. Besides, they made the world a better place with their music, enough said. Their solo careers were stellar too but as a band, they were phenomenal.