Hard rock, also called heavy rock, has its roots in the mid-1960s. Emerging out of the garage, blues, and psychedelic movements, hard rock would come to define the music of the coming decades. But what bands are the most famous hard rock bands in the genre’s history?
From Def Leppard to Bon Jovi, there are bands in hard rock to fit every fan’s taste. If you’re curious to learn more, read on to get to know 13 of the greatest and most popular hard rock bands of all time. Let’s get started.
1. Foo Fighters
Formed in Seattle in 1994, Foo Fighters has become one of the most legendary rock bands around. Originally, the band was a one-man project and only consisted of Dave Grohl, former Nirvana drummer.
After reaching success with the 1995 debut album, Grohl recruited a full band. Focusing on guitars and vocals, his group would grow to become one of the most commercially successful bands in history, releasing unforgettable smash hits like “Everlong” and “Learn to Fly.”
Grohl’s choice to form a new band instead of joining another one following the tragic ending of Nirvana cemented him into rock and roll history—Foo Fighters have won 15 Grammy awards and five awards for Best Rock Album. After being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021, their influence became undeniable.
From the Bay Area of the United States’ West Coast, Metallica is one of the most influential bands of any genre. Considered the most popular thrash metal act of all time and the first of the Big Four in the genre, Metallica’s later music would bridge toward hard rock.
Formed in 1981 in Los Angeles, the band would continue to release albums that bridged several gaps in music. Earning their first Grammy nomination for 1998’s …And Justice for All, the band now holds nine Grammy awards.
While more metal band than hard rock, Metallica has produced some of the most instantly-recognizable hard rock tracks of their generation, like “Until It Sleeps” and “The Memory Remains.”
Could any list of the best hard rock bands be complete without Queen? Formed in 1970 in London, England, Queen has left an unstoppable influence on the music industry for over fifty years.
Though Queen’s music evolved later in their career, drifting toward more radio-friendly songs, the group’s earliest pieces focused on hard rock, heavy metal, and progressive rock. This is best heard in most of their 1970s songs like “Killer Queen” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Queen would continue to dominate the music scene until Mercury died in 1991. Now, it’s difficult to find anyone that isn’t familiar with their music.
Formed in Sydney, Australia, in 1973, AC/DC is the titular rock band for the genre. Merging hard rock, blues rock, and metal, the band’s members have always referred to themselves as pure rock and roll.
Throughout its lengthy history, AC/DC has gone through many lineup changes. Formed by brothers Malcolm and Angus Young, the band once nearly disbanded after vocalist Bon Scott died in 1979.
Deciding to carry on, they would continue to release fan-favorite songs like their 1990 “Thunderstruck,” win dozens of awards and enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
When it comes to hard rock, it’s difficult to find a band more influential than Aerosmith. Formed in Boston in 1970, the band is often called the Bad Boys from Boston.
More often, the group is called America’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band. With smash hits like the 1973 “Dream On,” the 1975 “Sweet Emotion,” the 1989 “Janie’s Got a Gun,” and the 1998 “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” the label is difficult to contest.
Releasing several multi-Platinum albums, the band would become mainstream in the mid-1970s, though their primary notoriety would come in the late ’80s and ’90s. With 25 Gold, 18 Platinum, and 12 multi-Platinum album certifications, Aerosmith’s notoriety can’t be beaten.
Few bands have had such a profound impact in as short of a time as Nirvana did. Forming in 1987 in Aberdeen, Washington, the band would become popular enough to be considered the Flagship Band of Generation X.
Nirvana was most notable as a part of Seattle’s growing grunge rock scene, but they’ve delved into the hard rock sounds. As time went on, their songs would reach enormous success. Songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” would help highlight the band’s punk, hard rock, pop, and noise aesthetics.
Becoming one of the best-selling bands of all time, Nirvana has influenced hard rock more than most others. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014—20 years after they disbanded following Kurt Cobain’s death—the band’s influence is impossible to understate.
Formed in 1968 in Toronto, Canada, Rush has some of the most legendary names as members. Bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer Neil Peart made up the band’s primary trio.
Rush’s complex sound drew on a mix of progressive rock and metal, heavy metal, and hard rock. Songs of theirs you might be familiar with are “Show Don’t Tell,” “The Big Money,” and “In the Mood.”
The group’s influential works have landed them in both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Also notable for their philanthropy, Rush has given an incredible amount of attention to charity.
8. Led Zeppelin
On top of being one of the greatest rock bands of all time, Led Zeppelin’s name has one of the best origins. After being told that their band, the New Yardbirds, would go down “like a zeppelin made of lead,” the band chose to take the name in October of 1968.
Afterward, Led Zeppelin would continue to soar, releasing seven chart-topping albums between 1968 to 1980. “Stairway to Heaven” and “Whole Lotta Love” are among the group’s best-known hard rock pieces.
After the death of their drummer, John Bonham, Led Zeppelin disbanded. By this time, however, they were considered one of the most influential and best-selling bands of the time, with record sales somewhere between 200 and 300 million.
9. Van Halen
Formed in 1972, Pasadena hard rock band Van Halen consisted of the Van Halen brothers Eddie and Alex, David Lee Roth, and Michael Anthony. Their influence is said to have restored the hard rock genre to the music scene forefront.
You might know them for their smash hits “Jump” and their cover of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman.” The latter topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, while the former took top spot for both Hot 100 and Mainstream Rock.
For almost three decades, Van Halen had a successful career, with over 50 million albums sold in the US alone. Sadly, in 2020, after co-founder Eddie passed away, the group separated.
10. Bon Jovi
Though also known for their glam metal style, Bon Jovi‘s music is a blend of metal, hard rock, and pop. The mix has made them famous since their inception in 1983.
Their debut single, “Runaway,” was a hard rock hit, but Bon Jovi did not stop there. The group has had a number of chart-topping singles you might be familiar with, including “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Always.”
Bon Jovi has had a few lineup changes over the years, but they’re still going strong even after over two decades on the music scene. Members now are Jon Bon Jovi, David Bryan, Tico Torres, Phil X, and Hugh McDonald.
11. ZZ Top
Who would have thought that blues and boogie would go well with hard rock? Texas band ZZ Top tried it and perfected their sound to become one of the greatest bands out there.
Formed in Houston, Texas, in 1969, ZZ Top is famous for their humorous lyrics and entertaining live shows, and vocalists who wear matching hats and sunglasses and sporting long beards.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, ZZ Top has kept a solid reputation of album charters—all their albums except the first landed a spot on Billboard 200.
The group’s lineup through the years has also been the same. The unfortunate death of bassist Dusty Hill in 2021, however, led to their first lineup change in 51 years with Elwood Francis.
12. The Who
Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon formed the English band The Who in 1964. The group is considered one of the earlier bands that created hard rock sound.
As early users of Mashall Amplification and distortion, The Who’s live performances were extremely loud compared to their contemporaries and influenced future hard rock bands to follow.
“My Generation,” “I Can See for Miles,” and “Pinball Wizard” are among their songs that have landed in the top 10 of the UK charts. “My Generation” was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame as well as preserved in the US National Recording Registry.
13. Deep Purple
Considered a pioneer of hard rock, we have last on our list Deep Purple. The group comprised of Ritchie Blackmore, Rod Evans, Jon Lord, Ian Paice, and Nick Simper but has had several lineup changes over the years.
Though originally psychedelic and progressive rock when they started in 1968, Deep Purple’s music evolved toward hard rock and metal, especially in the 1970s. “Black Night,” “Strange Kind of Woman” and “Fireball” are a few songs during that time that captures the shift.
After being nominated three times, Deep Purple’s works as one of the earlier bands of heavy metal and hard rock has earned them an induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.
Summing Up Our List Of Hard Rock Bands
The hard rock genre has hundreds of bands that bring their own sound and influence to the music scene. Each of them are unique despite sharing a common genre, with legacies enduring decades.
We hope you have enjoyed our list of hard rock bands; however, this is far from complete. Who have we left off? Let us know, and we’ll add them for you!