13 Of The Most Famous Rock Bands From Chicago

Written by Dan Farrant

Chicago is best known as the birthplace of urban blues and house music. At the same time, it has a thriving music scene that covers a wide range of genres. As such, it’s no wonder that some of the best rock bands of all time are from the Windy City.

Whether it’s exploring the hard-hitting industrial sounds or creating a fusion of soul and jazz with classic rock, the Chicago-based bands across different eras have proven to be highly creative, bold, and above all, iconic.

Without further ado, here are 13 of the most famous rock bands from Chicago. Read on to learn more about their lasting imprint in the world of music.

1. Fall Out Boy

As one of the most successful bands in the alternative rock category, Fall Out Boy began their journey in 2001 in Wilmette, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. They succeeded in their rise to fame in 2005.

One of their best-known songs still played on the radio today is “Sugar, We’re Going Down.” This song sent them into the top ten on the Billboard Charts. It made Fall Out Boy a name recognized by people from different countries.

This successful start was only the beginning. The band went on to produce seven studio albums, which have sold a total of 8.5 million copies globally. Fall Out Boy continues to release music today, but their style has transitioned into pop rock instead of emo rock.

2. Styx

Our next band is Styx, a rock band officially founded in 1972 but had begun when the Panozzo twin brothers played music with a neighbor 11 years prior. Soon more members were added, and they assumed the name TW4. When they signed with Wooden Nickel Records, they agreed on their new name, Styx.

The band’s breakthrough came in 1977 following the release of their album, The Grand Illusion. It rose to #6 in America and Canada and contained their #1 hit song, “Come Sail Away.”

Styx has been around for many years. They boast an impressive collection of 17 studio albums, aside from other live and compilation albums. Although their members have separated and some have passed away, their music remains.

3. Chicago

With their name the biggest indicator, the band Chicago hails from the same-named city. They’ve made a name for themselves as one of the most successful and longest-running rock bands from the 60s.

The band first started under the Big Thing name. When they moved to California, they changed their name to Chicago Transit Authority. Their name was shortened to Chicago in 1969 to avoid conflict with CTA, the operator of mass transit in Chicago.

The band has sold a hundred million records worldwide, with their #1 album being Chicago 17 and their top song “Free.” In 1992, Chicago was recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

4. Earth, Wind & Fire

Before assuming the name Earth, Wind & Fire, the band was known as The Salty Peppers. They had their beginnings in 1969 with songs that weren’t a commercial success.

It wasn’t until they were signed with Columbia Records that success came. Their music uses R&B elements just as seamlessly as pop and soul music. With so many big hits, “September” is only one of the shining songs from their discography.

Earth, Wind & Fire is still a hugely influential band today. In addition to figuratively setting disco floors on fire, they are renowned for their versatility and ability to weave different genres into their songs.

Their long list of accolades includes six Grammys as well as four American Music Awards. The band was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in 2000.

5. Smashing Pumpkins

In 1988, Smashing Pumpkins formed in Chicago, where all its band members had resided. Growing from a duo into a four-person rock band, Smashing Pumpkins rose to fame with their debut song, “I Am One.”

The band ran with this success and became one of the most prolific rock bands from the 90s, having sold 30 million albums total in their career. Smashing Pumpkins received eleven Grammy nominations and won multiple awards.

But like other bands, the band had its ups and downs throughout the years. There were cases of discord within the band, and some songs failed to chart. Having parted ways in 2000, the band ended up coming back together and still tours today.

6. Wilco

Some bands form as a result of another band’s breakup. In the case of Wilco, it was formed in Chicago in 1994 after the dissolution of Uncle Tupelo, an alternative country music group.

The group later on renamed itself as Wilco, an abbreviation for “will comply.” The members have since produced twelve studio albums. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is their best-selling one to date.

One of their most famous songs, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” served as inspiration for the name of the film about the band and its history.

The band has been nominated multiple times for their illustrious work and won two Grammy awards for their fifth album, A Ghost Is Born.  Over the years, their musical style evolved. They mixed elements of country rock, classic pop, alternative rock, and other genres.

7. Disturbed

From Crawl, to Brawl, to Disturbed. The name may have changed several times. But the band remains with powerful vocals and instrumentals that transcend the listener into the world of heavy metal rock. Moreover, their lyrics delve into all manner of challenging subjects, ranging from social commentary to religion.

Since being formed in 1994 in Chicago, the band has produced eight studio albums. All these have collectively sold over 17 million copies worldwide.

Disturbed has a plethora of hits under their name. These include “Get Down with the Sickness,” “Stupify,” and “Stricken.” The band also showcased their versatility by wowing the world with a masterful cover of Simon and Garfunkle’s “The Sound of Silence.”

8. Survivor

Another big name in the music industry that hailed from Chicago is Survivor. You may be unfamiliar with the name, but pretty sure you’ve heard their hit song “Eye of the Tiger,” featured in the third Rocky movie.

The song stayed at the top of various charts for six weeks and won a Grammy award for best rock performance. However, they produced other top charting songs that showcase they are more than just a one-hit-wonder.

While Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan formed the band back in 1978, dozens of different members have come and gone over the years. Notably, Peterik left the band in 1996. Sullivan continued to perform alongside the newer band members.

9. Local H

Although the members were already jamming together in 1987, it was only three tears later that Local H was formed.

The rock band went on to create nine studio albums. Two of these were created after two of the bandmates left. Their greatest hit, “Bound for the Floor,” was also their first single from their debut album, Good As Dead. In addition, the album was certified gold and claimed the fifth spot on the US Alternative Billboard Charts.

While they may not be as well known as some of the other big names on our list, they are a success story coming out of Chicago that is still together. Their most recent release was their album Lifers in 2020.

10. Urge Overkill

Formed in 1986 in Chicago, Urge Overkill got their name from the lyrics of the Parliament song “Funkentelechy.” They went on to create seven studio albums. Their most recent one, Oui, came out in 2022. That year marked an entire decade since they last released music.

Their best song, “Sister Havana,” came from their album Saturation. This album sold over two-hundred thousand copies in the United States alone.

Urge Overkill is still regarded as one of the best rock bands to come out of Chicago and continues to make appearances at award shows.

11. Ministry

With their start in 1981, it didn’t take Ministry long to become a recognizable rock band from Chicago. It all began with instrumentalist Al Jourgensen moving from Denver to Chicago to attend a university. Here he was introduced to the underground music scene.

The band had their very first debut concert in 1982 at Misfits, a club in Chicago. From there, it was a whirlwind of events that saw the band releasing fifteen studio albums within their ongoing career.

Not only that. Ministry has sold over two million copies of these albums. Half of those copies sold were from the album Psalm 69. One of their most popular songs, “Just One Fix,” comes from that album as well.

Their most recent album, Moral Hygiene, was released in 2021. In addition, the band will continue to tour in 2023.

12. Rise Against

The American punk rock band Rise Against was formed in 1999 in Chicago and continues to make successful music to this day. Notably, the band produced nine studio albums.

Being in the punk rock genre, Rise Against is also considered political from its name and lyrics. Their biggest hit, “Savior,” came from their album, Appeal to Reason. This song sold a million copies and became certified platinum in 2010.

This marked Rise Against’s most successful era. Furthermore, they’ve received multiple Grammy nominations. The band will continue to tour in 2023 and potentially release more albums as the years go on.

13. The Jesus Lizard

Based in Chicago, The Jesus Lizard came together in 1987. They’re widely regarded as one of the hardest-working as well as most influential rock bands from the 90s.

The Jesus Lizard is boldly and uncompromisingly representing noise rock. Their music features ferocious vocals, unrelenting drums, and guitar riffs that mixed industrial sounds with hints of jazz and other genres.

They released seven albums, including a split single (“Puss” and “Oh, the Guilt”) with Nirvana. However, they didn’t find much commercial success and disbanded in 1999. Fortunately for their fans, the band reunited in 2008 and toured the following year. All of the band’s original members reunited in 2017.

Summing Up Our List Of Chicago Rock Bands

Chicago’s chilly weather has not stopped its trailblazing bands from producing legendary music. Though some bands are no longer active, the legacy they’ve left behind continues to inspire and awe the new generations.

Likewise, the Chicago-born rock bands still performing worldwide are just as worthy of praise for their contribution to music.

We hope this list has reminded you of your old favorites and introduced you to some new ones. At the same time, we hope we surprised you with what a diverse lineup of rock bands came from Chicago.

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.