The top 15 most influential bands and artists ever…

We have just been handed a scientific report on the most influential band ever. Top scientists have poured over the data and facts and lots of fiction and come up with a list that no-one will agree with.

The list is about pop culture as a whole and not the tiny indie ghetto where the Velvet Underground are still referred to as the most important band ever because they invented being pasty-faced and wearing sunglasses as a kind of cool. The Stone Roses may have invented Britpop and were referred to as such as far back as 1988 but in terms of the whole world their influence is very local.

The real game changers were the musical forces that changed generations and sometimes invent whole new forms of music…

1. Elvis Presley

‘Before Elvis there was nothing ‘, John Lennon once said and it’s true because it’s hard to imagine a time before the golden hamburger that changed the world. Elvis shook his hips on American TV and caused the kind of cultural meltdown that is impossible to imagine now. Sure there was big stars before the unlikely named King burst onto the scene but they didn’t seem to be made out of this kind electricity.

2. The Beatles

It’s often be said that if you ever want to study a history of the sixties then listen to the Beatles back catalogue.

If Elvis created rock n roll The Beatles took it to another level, inventing the modern notion of the band.

The Beatles also kidded everyone that you could write your own songs which has been both a blessing and a curse in rock n roll.

3.The Rolling Stones

‘If you don’t like the Rolling Stones then you don’t like rock n roll’ the great sage John Cooper Clarke once told me. The band created the template for every wannabe rock n roll outlaw since they took the train out of Dartford in the early sixties.

A million bands rushed to the garage and attempted to grab that combination of blues, sex and sullen bad boy posturing and few succeeded. Even in the 21st century the Stones are still a key influence in the garages and rehearsal rooms.

4. James Brown

With his concrete bouffant and dance steps and machine like tight band James Brown virtually invented funk.

His songs are so meshed into culture that their deceptively simple genius is forgotten. Without JB would there have been funk and disco? He even influenced large swathes of rock music from the Stones to the Chili Peppers and his deceptively simple genius is crucial in the development of modern music.

5. Kraftwerk

Arguably the most influential band ever, Kraftwerk is a band who managed to invent not one but two genres of music.

The German half man, half machine had the most profound effect on popular culture in one of the strangest cultural shifts of all time when their Teutonic twinkling was picked up by hip black kids in the Bronx who understood das robots subtle funkiness and used it as a template to create techno and by extension hip hop.

Ten years later everyone was at it again when the band were used as the foundation for Techno and acid house – there can be few dancefloors not affected by this outfit.

6. Jimi Hendrix

It’s hard to imagine the impact Hendrix must have had when he turned up in the Summer of Love with his out-there image and stunning guitar playing.

Of course there had been lead guitarists before but no one had been a guitar hero and Jimi’s use of electricity influenced everyone from the Beatles to Prince. It was an effect so profound that all the pimply white youth at the time, who were itching to turn their guitar amps up like Eric Clapton, were acolytes of the genius of Hendrix and dominated early seventies rock without ever getting close to effortless brilliant of the master himself.

7. Black Sabbath

It could have been Led Zeppelin or it could have been Black Sabbath but somewhere between the two Brit bands a whole new kind of molten industry was forged.

Black Sabbath came up with the cultural DNA that laid the foundations for metal or rock or whatever you want to call it, with a dark and heavy bombastic riff loaded sound that came with a dark and melancholic atmosphere.

The seeds that were sown and grew into the true alternative music of these times, a worldwide culture that virtually dwarfs every other form.

8. Sex Pistols

These days the Clash get all the credit but as Mick Jones himself once remarked to me there would have been nothing without the Sex Pistols.

Like a mini Elvis they came out of vacuum and changed popular culture in a sleep walking late seventies UK.

There is a good argument that at the same time the Ramones impact was equally powerful, and indeed I have enjoyed this argument many times, but with the Pistols you get the added cultural baggage that was like a hammer blow to rock culture, creating the first generation gap in rock n roll.

If the Ramones musical ideas have been endlessly adopted by bands ever since then the Pistols just shade it with their overall cultural effect.

9. Madonna

For good or bad, there is rarely a modern pop star that has not taken their template from the squeaky dancer.

Madonna ruled the eighties – a decade where ambition far outstripped talent and created a whole new notion of the pop star for the video age.

10. David Bowie

Like the Beatles did in the sixties Bowie did the same in the seventies, mapping out a decade with his cultural shifts and ideas that lit the touch paper of several musical movements from glam to punk to post punk.

Where it went next was little to do with Bowie himself, who had already moved away into another place.

He also ‘invented’ bisexuality in a music scene that was yet to come out of its closet and he broke down all the last remaining barriers in pop culture and was key in introducing all manner of weird and wonderful music to his faithful droogs.

11. Bob Dylan

You can’t take Bobby D out of the equation – the tousle-haired one leapt out of the folk scene and grabbed a backing band and went all electric, causing a cultural meltdown and creating the notion of the rock poet with his complex riddle laden lyrics.

A whole slew of serious young men armed with guitars going all singer/songwriter has been the result – and not always a good thing.

12. Bob Marley

You only have to go to Africa to feel the international force of Bob Marley’s influence.

He may not have invented reggae but he took it to the world and opened the mainstream. Teased by some ska hits, to the wonderful possibilities of reggae culture and the amazing music that would pour out of the place – a relatively small island with a conveyor belt of great and varied music.

13. Joy Division/Bauhaus

This debate was touched on a couple of weeks ago when Bauhaus frontman, Peter Murphy told an interviewer that he felt his band were more influential than the Mancunian heroes.

Whilst it never looks right bigging yourself up he had a sort of point. Bauhaus, amongst a clutch of others laid the groundwork for the so called goth scene and were occupying the same moribund corner of music as the dark-hearted Mancs who pretty well inventing post punk at he same time.

14. Grandmaster Flash

Ok, not strictly the inventor a whole genre all by himself, the flash-man dressed in a series of outfits that would make Blackpool illuminations cringe and managed to get his name in the book of firsts with a series of hits that popularized the form in the first place.

Hip Hop is now one of the key musics in the world both musically and culturally and every backward wearing hat wannabe gangsta on the planet is deafening themselves to the thundering beat and the fistful of rhymes whilst copping the swagger from the form of music.

15. Ravi Shankar

It was not intentional but the late Indian sitar virtuoso created a mass interest in so called world music when he teamed up with the Beatles in the late sixties.

Ravi played the amazing ragas of classical India that captivated a whole new generation who saw them as tripped out masterpieces – certainly not the intention of the very strict player himself.

The newly wealthy youth of the sixties had discovered a whole new world outside the Anglo American axis, a whole new area of rich talent has been promoted or ripped off since then.

What do you think? Are these the most influential artists and bands? Tell us your thoughts below…

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  1. Many of these influential bands are in fact solo artists…………….

    • What I think is “Where the hell is Led Zepplin?”

      • And Madonna over Pink Floyd? This site / survey has no credibility and shows that anyone with a website can create truth in mid-air.

        • i agree. or led zeppelin. when you ask people who influenced them or made them say im going to play an instrament ive never heard madonna mentioned. led zeppelin is heard in everything you hear these day . Jimmy page was the first in rock guitar gods. if you look at best drummer,guitarist,bass player and singers of all time they are all in top 3 on any list. Bands that play live get a 90 /10 split on profit. Thank you Led Zeppelin. All the band that trash hotel rooms. as a matter a fact if there were a world now led zepoelind would out sell any band in history. except maybe tge Beatles. what a joke these lists are. tgey are made from lersonal preference. not public opinion

      • Exactly where is LED ZEPPELIN, Zepp would be in front of The Rolling Stones, and challenging the Beatles for #1. To leave out Led Zeppelin In this list is like leaving out World war 2 in the greatest war list. They won 638 Awards and 876 Nominations. to name a few-
        Grammy Awards 12, Kennedy Center Honors, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (duu), and many others…where is pink Floyd, MJ, the who????
        No beach boys..hmmm…this list sucks.

        • Yep. The stones are a great band. but when you ask bands that followed the who inspired them it Zeppelin. they changed it all. even the way concert profit is split. these lists are made from what these pin heads like. not from research of what Joe Perry ,Billy corgan ,or 80 percent of any rock bands response

  2. the smiths?

    • THE SMITHS…no other band comes close.Morrissey is a living legend. I would kill 2 meet him :-)

  3. what…..no slade????

  4. Depeche Mode surely?

  5. Bone White, sadly none of the writers for LTW are scholars. Not even in music….. Laughing at the ‘real game changers’ buzz words.

  6. At last some recognition for Bauhaus. I was in the malestrom of the early punk scene and saw the Adverts, Damned, Banshees, X Ray Spex, Eater etc – but after that so short period I saw a very early incarnation of Bauhaus and was blown away by the power of this band live. In fact the same power I felt when I first saw The Damned.

  7. The Smiths, Kate Bush, Roxy Music, Chic, The Who, Led Zepplin, Velvet Underground, to name a few! Did i mention The Smiths!!

  8. facebook_cormac.figgis

    That looks about right, although I’d have put Zeppelin in instead of Sabbath.

  9. Marshall Jefferson

  10. The most influential band I would’ve included, possibly in place of the Pistols is THE NEW YORK DOLLS – who in turn inspired (partly) the Pistols, the Ramones, the Clash, Guns’n Roses, the Smiths, Aerosmith, Kiss, a whole raft of glam and punk bands – not neccesarily cool bands all of them but add together their ‘sales’ … and of course Morrissey.

  11. Can’t believe LOU REED/VU is not there. The same goes for LEADBELLY

  12. The Smiths/ Morrissey.

  13. The Smiths

  14. Lazy, predictable bollocks. Thanks.

  15. The Velvets, surely?

  16. R.E.M. Virtually moulded the Indie rock template in the early eighties and became one of the biggest bands in the world on their own terms, inspiring the likes of Nirvana and Radiohead along the way. Ps Elvis was a performer not an artist, how many songs did he ever write?

  17. I would definitely add The Clash, Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis and The Velvet Underground

  18. Screw Madonna (I really wouldn’t). I agree with the calls for Roxy. Should Dylan be a bit higher? How about Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters?

  19. Velvet Underground , Smiths, M.BV

  20. I saw both Joy Division and Bauhaus at the Factory and being far from impartial I’d have to dismiss Bauhaus’s claim. Chic and REM, my mate would add R L Burnside. I like the Marshal Jefferson quip.

  21. Interesting list, and I agree with many of them, but it is missing Morrissey/The Smiths. Morrissey has been so influential to not only music, in terms of more authenticity in lyrics, but also just in popular culture in general.

  22. Surely The Clash should be there from the UK Punk scene,instead of The Pistols.

  23. Neil McDougall

    Influential? The Ramones have to be in there instead of the Pistols. Have to be. They are still influencing a host of bands today.

  24. Well roots run deep and all ways so it could be argued that without The Velvet Underground there is no Bowie and without Iggy and MC5 there is no Sex Pistols, and equally without Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williams etc there is no Stones.

    Interesting if you read up on Nick Cave and Robert Smith they will site Alex Harvey as a massive influence and again no Chuck Berry no Jimi and no Buddy Holly, no Beatles and Howard Devito and Eno have changed the way music is made more than most

    I think we need a top 40 lol

  25. Rokonnection(dot)com

    I think it is a shame that Chuck Berry isn’t on this list. No one before Elvis Presley? Elvis Presley influenced the development of the untalented, non-influential artists of today. Elvis Presley being the king of rock is like Justin Bieber being the king of pop. He didn’t even write a single one of his songs and was only such a hit because the real artsits of the era were discriminated against for being African American or too rebellious. Anyway, thanks for the read. Chuck Berry and Michael Jackson need to make the list, though.

    • Marcos Hernandez

      It is true that Chuck Berry is a major influence in rock music just like elvis presley or even more and should be included in every list of the most influential artist in rock music. However, it is also plain ignorant of you to deny his influence on other major artists like Gene vincent, eddie cochran, roy orbison, the everly brothers, the beatles, the stones and many other influential artist. In addition, even the late great chuck berry acknowledged that, saying about him “Describe Elvis Presley? He was the greatest there ever was, is, or ever will be. We did not have the airwaves he had, bet he delivered what he obtained brilliantly”. To conclude this, they are both great and influenced countless of people through their music, including the aforementioned artists.

  26. Smiths. Fugazi. Pixies. Sonic Youth.

  27. The beach boys are not number one, why¿??????? Someone please explain this error. Joshthekook at gmail dot com

  28. Depeche Mode of course, is true Kraftwerk kinda initiated the electrónic movement But it was Depeche the ones who made it global

  29. NO PIXIES???? As Kurt Cobain admitted, “Smells like Teen Spirit” was a direct attempt to rip off the Pixies, Radiohead’s guitar-work has been influenced greatly by the Pixies, etc etc. The Pixies are without a doubt the most influential band of the last thirty years.

  30. Where is the who they inspire. Hendrix to destroy guitars the invented the windmill plus kieth moon and thunder fingers

  31. The Clash. They put strong political and social themes in songs for the first time. They were the first white men to wrote a top hip hop song. If you listen any Clash album you will ear sounds of two decades after it was released. An example of how they re actual is the fact that the intro of an infamous One Direction song is very very similar to Should I stay or Should I go and there is a pop song of 2007 that is a sort of re arrangement of Straight to Hell that has around 45000000 views on YT.

  32. Husker Du. A lot of the bands above would have been influenced by them. In fact they were massively influential in the start of grunge. Crass influenced the generation of punk that still exists rather than the momentary commercial 70s stuff. Agree 100℅ with the Smiths. Chuck berry; punk could arguably by traced back to him. Discharge influenced a lot of the thrash metal bands. I personally was influenced by the whole UK82 scene such as conflict, subhumans, crass, discharge, rudimentary peni and of course the dead Kennedys.

  33. The Stranglers influenced more than is recognised.

  34. Robert Johnson, Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, The Sugarhill Gang, Michael Jackson, Frankie Knuckles, Miles Davis, Brian Wilson to name but a few

  35. Sinatra should be in the top 5. Without Sinatra, most of this list wouldn’t exist.

  36. Umm… can someone please explain to me how Led Zeppelin isn’t on this list?

  37. Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music..

  38. How can you leave Cream off the list. They along with Hendrix created hard rock. You could also say the were the first progressive band with the use of different instruments on Wheels of Fire. They brought great instrumental ability to the rock field and who has emulated them live? Nobody.

  39. This is flawed … Can’t argue with the top three. But you are missing the most influential, first hard rock super group; “Cream”.
    Jimi hendrix said, they were his single most influence and he wanted To to play with the band. No guitar heros before hendrix? Clapton was referred to as “God” before hendrix.

  40. Robert Johnson, muddy waters, Sonny boy Williamson, to name a few, were the influences which created the great rock bands coming from England which later became great influences to rock and roll.

  41. The Phantom's Belch

    I know he’s not a “rock” artist, being a ’50s R&B artist, but we cannot exclude CHUCK BERRY from this list. Even Jimi and Jimmy have said if it wasn’t for Chuck they wouldn’t have picked up the guitar.

    I’m also saddened by the lack of the Doors on this list, being pretty much the first “progressive rock” group with their heavy use of synthesizers, although that label would not have been used back then.

  42. I think Buddy Holly was highly influential. Listen to songs like”well all right”.Ahead of its time.

  43. You missed Pink Floyd. They moved Rock away from the three minute danceable tune to real music.

  44. Radiohead should replace Ravi Shankar. Gil Scott Herron to replace Grandmaster Flash

  45. Utter utter horseshit! What clown compiled this?

  46. This list has to be a joke. I’m not going to rant. I’ll just chalk it up to an oversight of IMMENSE proportions when I say, where the hell is Chuck Berry.

  47. Where’s the King, Michael Jackson ? Who made this top is a racist. Shame on you !!!!!!!!!!

    • Oh come on, he’s got Brown, Hendrix, Marley, and Flash in there. I agree on MJ, but hardly racist

    • MJ was an entertainer, I would say he’s more inspirational in the terms of making a brand out of an entertainer. He never wrote his own songs, the genius behind him was Quincy Jones. Prince was more of a musician and I would say he is more influential in terms of musical capabilities. No need to bring the race card into this when there are several African American musicians listed. I think Marvin Gaye should be on here.

  48. Some great comments above highlighting the artists who should have been on this list, and the list itself is pretty good and well argued (all part of the fun I suppose!).

    But it is IMPOSSIBLE to construct a list like this WITHOUT:

    Led Zeppelin
    Michael Jackson
    The Smiths

    • The Smiths are extremely overrated in my opinion. Joy Division was a much bigger inspiration to the genre along with The Cure and the Bauhaus.

  49. The Beatles The Ramones The Rolling Stones. In that order.

  50. The Beatles The Ramones The Rolling Stones. In that order.

  51. Are you kidding this must be a joke hahahaha ok now lets get serious led zeppelin is not on this list ok jokes over they were the most influential band of the 70 s thats fact beatles yes im not laughing for the rest of them who really cares they dont come even close to those two bands mentioned above so if you have half a brain rearrange this list and put zeppelin and beatles tied at no 1 elvis 3 rd id say

    • Led Zeppelin is a one of my all-time favorites but I’d put Pink Floyd up there before them. Zeppelin is notorious for plagiarism and taking old classic blues songs and not giving writing credits when due. Stairway to Heaven, Lemon Song, Heartbreaker, Living Loving Maid and several more songs they reworked from blues songs and the only big difference were the lyrics.

  52. Hello?? King Crimson.

    • Pink Floyd should be on the list before them due to the success compared to King Crimson even though I love both bands. Rush also influenced modern progressive rock and metal immensely.

  53. Not even close brother

  54. The Velvet Underground is influential as fuck, and you are a bunch of morons. Madonna, but no VU. Right.

    • VU are the most overrated band of all time. A few indie bands wore dark sunglasses because of the band – big deal.

  55. I think you need to start with the premise that the rock era began with Chuck Berry and Elvis. And although Elvis did not write his music, he was still a ginormous influence on almost every artist to follow. You also need to distinguish between “influential” and “successful.” Michael Jackson influenced Madonna and many other more recent artists, and his original music was much more critically acclaimed.

  56. Why aren’t nirvana on there!!!

    • They brought alternative music to the pop music scene but I would say the Pixies had more of an influence on every band in Nirvana’s era. Nirvana borrowed a lot of the same structure to the songs as the Pixies. Nirvana is great don’t get me wrong but they weren’t even the best band of their decade, they just opened the door for their contemporaries.

  57. I’m not even a fan, but how are The Beach Boys not here?

  58. Where is PINK FLOYD?

  59. Where are The Velvet Underground and Pixies? They both singlehandedly created the alternative music genre.

  60. The Talking Heads, most bands nowadays especially the Indie movement take a lot of their techniques, especially Brian Eno’s innovations in studio engineering.

  61. What about Nirvana???

  62. Um. Queen? Are you in a coma?

  63. And I agree. Talking Heads. Yes. Nirvana. Yes. Queen invented progressive rock, glam, and heavy metal. Go chew some bubble gum.

  64. where are sparks in the list. a major influence on the smiths, Depeche mode, sonic, yout and Queen, all mentioned by others on the list.

    • being one of several influences on the Smiths does not make you a major influence in the way of Black Sabbath…

  65. Also influenced by sparks-nirvana, faith no more and Franz ferdinand, this is a list of influential bands, right?

  66. This list is a joke. Bands aren’t solo artists. And there was a quite good band called Led Zeppelin . . .

  67. Alan from a Kansas City area suburb

    Bob Dylan is the most influential artist in history. But in terms of bands I think it is a tie between The Beatles and The Ramones because both revolutionized music. Rolling Stones and other 60s British and European bands are close in second. I kind of have a special place for the three acts that rivaled each other in the late 60s into the 80s with Pink Floyd, The Who and Led Zeppelin, later Page/Plant, as well as Black Sabbath which came in the 70s. Eric Clapton, John Hiatt and Jimi Hendrix had an influence as well in their own way. I have to say I never thought about the best or most influential act or band of the 80s. It might be Prince, but also I liked Billy Joel and Phill Collins. I like doing genres as each genre has different bands andd acts that influenced them.

  68. Brandon Parnell

    Where Rush?

  69. The doors, lynyrd skynyrd, The Grateful Dead, Zeppelin, nirvana, Floyd, many more that should be here.

  70. I kept scrolling to see how far down this misguided person put Led Zeppelin on the list. Then I got to the end and realized this is a troll site LOL. You got me guys. I almost thought you were a legitimate website.

  71. Ah The Sex Pistols ahead of The Ramones?

  72. where is AC/DC? Nirvana? Led Zepplin? did you just put down a few bands and solo artists and call it a day?

  73. Um Nirvana!!!

  74. The people losing it because Madonna is on here are idiots. There needs to be a representative of pop/dance music and no one has been more influential there than Madonna. Led Zep, Nirvana, Queen, Prince and Springsteen should have rounded this into a Top 20.

  75. As far as UK bands and music culture are concerned there is one massively influential and hugely commercially successfull band that should have been mentioned because they are the founding fathers and they are …………..THE KINKS…….

  76. More of these guys are influenced than influencers. How you gonna have this list without V.U.

  77. I’d have put Queen on the list. If you have a different opinion, that’s cool, but I know I would definitely have put them on the list.

  78. This is a bogus list. Queen isn’t on here so it must be fake and incorrect.

  79. Where the hell is Queen?

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