19 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Rock Bands Of All Time

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Rock music may be one of the most popular genres since the 1980s, and dozens of iconic and stunning artists in this genre have taken the radio by storm.

There are some songs you may be able to recognize without a whole verse because of how famous and well-known they have become. Some of these songs have made it into countless movies and television shows, making them even more popular.

Here, we will look into the works of 19 of the most famous rock bands of all time. Whether or not you’re a rock music fan, you’re likely to recognize at least one of them. Let’s get started!

1. The Rolling Stones

Back in 1962, a group of music-minded friends got together, formed the Rolling Stones, and have made rock and blues music since. After multiple changes in members—due to death or mutual separation—this band is still together and continues to tour and sell out massive stadiums worldwide.

The Rolling Stones were hailed as the greatest rock and roll band in the world in the 1970s, a title they have battled other famous bands to keep. Having sold over 200 million records worldwide, the band is one of the best-selling bands of all time. In 2019, they landed #2 on Billboard‘s Greatest Artists of All Time list.

Though Rolling Stones started with five members, currently there are only three: original members Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and Ronnie Wood, who joined in 1975.

2. Pink Floyd

Another enormous rock band that formed in the 1960s is English rock band Pink Floyd. With their music, they became deeply inspirational to other rising artists. The band drew in an audience from the psychedelic music scene, composing music for elaborately planned live performances.

One of their biggest, and probably most well-known, album is 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon. It went on to have over 45 million sales worldwide and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Pink Floyd has made music for almost five decades, pausing in 1994 so the members could focus on their private lives. The band reformed in 2005, 2007, and briefly in 2013 and 2014.

The band was introduced into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. They have also won multiple other awards, including the MTV Music Award and a BAFTA.

3. Red Hot Chili Peppers

Formed in 1983 in Los Angeles, California, Red Hot Chili Peppers went on to become one of the most successful rock groups of all time.

This band didn’t stay in one genre, although they always had elements of hard rock. Red Hot Chili Peppers are masters of fusing elements of rock, alternative, funk, punk, pop, and psychedelic genres into their work, making them one of the most popular and versatile rock bands ever.

They reached major success with Blood Sugar Sex Magik in 1991, a certified multi-Platinum album that peaked at #3 in US charts. However, with the release of 1999’s Californication, the band went on to new heights. The album sold over 15 million copies worldwide.

In total, Red Hot Chili Peppers has sold over 120 million records and has landed on the top 100 in charts multiple times for their eclectic musical work.

4. Queen

British rock band Queen is one of legendary rock bands of all time, most notably due to iconic frontman Freddie Mercury and the alluring music they played. Everyone has heard of “We Will Rock You” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” songs featured in dozens of movies and television programs.

Queen rose to fame in the 1970s. The release of Sheer Heart Attack in 1974, they gained mainstream popularity. This was followed by A Night at the Opera, which contained the Grammy Hall of Famer “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Other popular songs from the band are “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions,” both of which became sporting events anthems as well as Grammy Hall of Famers.

By the 1980s, Queen was one of the biggest rock bands, selling out massive stadiums worldwide. Mercury played his last show with Queen in 1986 and unfortunately died in 1991 from complications from the AIDS virus.

5. The Beatles

Since its inception, the Beatles had an otherworldly effect on rock music and paved the way for many other bands who took inspiration from their work. Comprising of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, they formed in 1960 and was instrumental in the countercultural movement during that decade.

The Beatles only made music for a little over ten years, but within that time, they made 12 studio albums—almost all of them peaking at #1 in UK/US charts—and made such a massive impact on culture, TV, and Hollywood that they will never get forgotten.

The group also holds the record for the most #1 hits in Billboard‘s Hot 100 as well as the most #1 albums in UK charts.

Recently, recovered footage from the recording of their album Let It Be became the basis for the hit documentary Get Back.

6. AC/DC

Australian brothers Malcolm and Angus Young formed AC/DC in 1973 with Larry Van Kriedt, Dave Evans, and Colin Burgess. Their music is often a mix of hard rock, blues, and heavy metal style.

The band had great success, especially with the release of “Highway to Hell” in 1979 with the phenomenal guitar riff performed by Angus. Then their album Back in Black was released in 1980 and truly launched the group to fame with 50 million copies sold.

With their unique and had a high-octane, countercultural sound, AC/DC paved the way for other British heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden.

They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2003 and also did many collaborations with high-profile rock stars like Steven Tyler.

7. Aerosmith

Hailing from Boston, Aerosmith was formed in 1970 when Joe Perry and Steven Tyler decided to come together to create blues-inspired hard rock music.

The band broke through commercial success with their 1975 album Toys in the Attic, selling over nine million copies. Get a Grip, in 1993, however, became their top-grossing album to date, with more than 20 million sales.

Their best song would come in 1998. Anyone who has seen the film Armageddon will be familiar with their epic ballad “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing.” It hit #1 on charts in the US as well as internationally.

Aerosmith is still active and continues to create music and tour. Aerosmith has since won Grammy, VMA, and Billboard Music Awards, among many others.

8. Fleetwood Mac

British rock band Fleetwood Mac formed in London during the late 1970s founded by Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, and Jeremy Spencer. They initially focused on British blues music, but the tone and genre of the music slowly began to change as the band continued to make music.

They had moderate success from the onset; however, the release of 1977’s Rumours changed that. The album was an instant hit, becoming certified 20x Platinum, and was awarded a Grammy Album of the Year.

Rumours also contained two of their best singles, “The Chain” and “Dreams.” The latter hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, while the former, though not as successful chart-wise, was popular and special in that it was written by all the members of Fleetwood Mac at the time.

9. Linkin Park

In 1996, Californians Mike Shinoda, Rob Bourdon, and Brad Delso came together to form Linkin Park.

Their unique way of weaving different sounds—incorporating features of rock, rap, heavy metal, and, then later, electronic and pop—became influential and appealed to a wide range of listeners.

The band’s debut studio album in 2000, Hybrid Theory, launched their career, and from then until 2017, they continued releasing top-three albums. Sales went over 100 million copies, making them one of the world’s best-selling music groups.

Tragically, in 2017, their lead vocalist Chester Bennington passed away, and the group has been on hiatus since.

10. Nirvana

Next we have another famous but tumultuous rock band, Nirvana, mostly due to the group’s rapid fame and troublesome history.

The band was formed in 1987 but didn’t entirely settle into the grunge scene until the late 1980s. Nirvana dropped their first hit album Nevermind containing the massively successful single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in 1991. They received fame from how they managed to weave pop and punk aesthetics.

Nirvana went on to release another #1 album, In Utero, before the tragic death of their guitarist and lead singer Kurt Cobain in 1994. There were other albums dropped posthumously, but the group disbanded after his passing.

11. The Who

English rock band the Who formed in London in 1964, consisting initially of Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon. Currently, Daltrey and Townshend are the original members left standing.

The Who became one of the most influential rock bands of all time, contributing to the use of synthesizers and large PA systems. Townshend’s power chord technique and guitar smashing are also legendary.

One of their recognizable songs is “My Generation,” which topped at #2 in the UK charts but only #74 in the US; nevertheless, due to its historic and significant value, the song has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

The Who made music for six decades but had their most active period from 1964 to 1983. The band came back together in 1999 and, more recently, in 2022 to tour.

12. Black Sabbath

Another English rock band from the 1960s, we have Black Sabbath. They came together in 1968 in Birmingham and included famous lead singer Ozzy Osbourne.

The group is considered to have created heavy metal rock, especially after the release of their first two albums, Black Sabbath and Paranoid.

Black Sabbath saw changes in membership over the years when Ozzy Osbourne got released from the group due to substance abuse. He afterward had a successful solo career, reuniting briefly with the group in 1997 and then later in 2013.

With over 70 million sales in records worldwide, Black Sabbath is considered one of the most commercially successful rock groups. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006 and, in 2019, were presented with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.

13. Pearl Jam

Formed in 1990, Pearl Jam has since been instrumental in the evolutions of alternative rock, grunge, and hard rock.

The group—comprising originally of Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, Matt Cameron, and Eddie Vedder—saw near-immediate success when they released their first album, Ten, which stayed on the Billboard 200 list for almost five years.

After their debut album, they went on to release ten more top-five albums, the latest being Gigaton in 2020 at #5.

Pearl Jam has made 85 million worldwide sales, with nearly 32 million record sales in the United States. Rolling Stone has named the band’s live performances among the top 10 live acts of all time.

14. Journey

This Californian band formed in 1973 when previous members of other groups came together to form the band. Journey reached its peak fame in the years between 1978 and 1987 when their seventh album titled Escape was released and hit #1 on the Billboard 200.

Journey may be most well-known for two classics from the album: “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Open Arms.” The former has been considered to be their signature song and has recently been considered for preservation by the Library of Congress.

Since their inception, Journey has created 25 Gold and Platinum albums and has had 19 songs hit the top 40 singles list. In 2017, they were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

15. The Police

Composed of Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland, the Police was formed in 1977 in London. The band was part of the new wave of rock music with roots in punk and jazz tones.

When the Police released their first album, Outlandos d’Amour, the work charted at #6, and some of the most famous songs, including “Can’t Stand Losing You” and “Roxanne.” Their next four studio albums, from 1979 to 1983, would all become multi-Platinum and top UK and US charts.

The band’s and Sting’s signature song, “Every Breath You Take,” from the album Synchronicity, was ranked by Billboard as the #1 song of 1983 and #25 on the Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs.

The Police has received many awards, including the Best British Group, Outstanding Contribution to Music, and People’s Choice awards, and became a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2003.

16. Blink-182

Our next rock band is one of the most recent on our list. Blink-182 hails from San Diego, California. They became one of the poster children for punk-rock music as the century turned.

Their highest-grossing album, Enema of the State, produced the band’s biggest single, “All the Small Things.” The song topped the Modern Rock Track chart and peaked at #6 on Billboard‘s Hot 100. Their 2004 song “I Miss You” was also a #1 hit.

Blink-182 became an inspiration for other artists and bands that came after them, including Avril Lavigne, Chainsmokers, Good Charlotte, All Time Low, and Panic! at the Disco.

17. ZZ Top

American rock band ZZ Top formed in 1969, comprised of Billy Gibbons, Frank Beard, and Dusty Hill. From its inception in Texas, the group never stopped making music, their songs distinctly bluesy-southern rock.

Their international came with the release of their 1983 album Eliminator, which had three of their prominent songs, “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” and “Legs.”

ZZ Top has sold more than 50 million albums, making them a top-selling artist, and has won three MTV Video Music Awards. They were welcomed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

18. The Beach Boys

One of the most iconic American rock bands nearly every knows are the Beach Boys. Formed in California in 1961, the group initially focused more on rock and pop but evolved to include surf and psychedelic styles as they continued to make music.

The band—comprised of Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson; Mike Love; and Al Jardine—started in one of the band members’ garage. Two years later, they released a national hit entitled “Surfin’ U.S.A.”

Other hit singles are “Good Vibrations,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” and “I Get Around.” The former is considered to be their finest work, and became a Grammy Hall of Famer in 1994.

The Beach Boys made the Top 40 list with 36 of their songs. Four had hit the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1988, all founding members of the group were welcomed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

19. Mötley Crüe

Heavy metal band Mötley Crüe was formed in Los Angeles in 1981 with iconic and famous members, including Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee. They’re noted for their androgynous style and elaborate live performances.

Sixx and Lee have been open about substance abuse in the group and how devastating this has been for their personal lives. Nikki Sixx discusses this abuse in his autobiography The Heroin Diaries.

Despite controversies, the band reached international fame, has sold more than 100 million albums, achieved seven Platinum albums, and made the Top 10 albums list for nine of their albums.

Summing Up Our List Of The Most Famous Rock Bands Of All Time

The bands above are some of the greatest that have contributed to rock music in one way or another. They’ve influenced the lives of fans and music artists who came after them.

Whether you’re a big fan of alternative, blues, punk, or pop-rock, we hope you found a band from this list that you’ll enjoy.

However, this list is far from complete. Where did we leave off? Let us know, and we’ll add them! 

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Written by Dan Farrant
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. Since then, he's been working to make music theory easy for over 1 million students in over 80 countries around the world.