Top 25 English Rock Bands of All Time
The 25 greatest English rock bands: The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, The Kinks, The Clash, Radiohead, The Cure, Genesis, Iron Maiden, Oasis, Deep Purple, he Moody Bluesand more….
Here’s a ranking of the top 25 English rock bands of all time.
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1. The Beatles
The Beatles are really more than just John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The foursome is a musical institution that changed the landscape of the times and influenced countless other bands and artists. Seriously, too many to count. The Beatles’ aura still has not waned, and surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr continue to make music and tour, playing the songs millions fell in love with more than 50 years ago.
2. Rolling Stones
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Stones is the band’s ridiculous longevity. Mick, Keith, Charlie, and Ronnie, all well into their 70s, packed stadiums playing the hits that have influenced generations of musicians. The band still went on the road after the death of Charlie Watts in August 2021.
3. Led Zeppelin
While Black Sabbath and Deep Purple also influenced a hard, guitar-driven sound that opened the door for the heavy metal movement, Zeppelin did it better than anybody. Paced by Robert Plant’s incredible range, Jimmy Page’s innovative guitar work, and John Bonham’s hard-working style behind the drum kit, Zeppelin’s blues-tinged hard rock has that time-tested classic sound that remains a staple.
4. The Who
Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend are still consistently playing under The Who name and not just doing the classics. Songs like “Baba O’Riley” and “My Generation” still stand up well and have become loved by a whole new generation of fans. The Who is also known as one of the great conceptional bands of all time, thanks to operatic rock gems Tommy and Quadrophenia.
5. Pink Floyd
The influence that Floyd has had on bands that have come after is truly incredible. Whether psychedelic rock, progressive rock, alternative rock, and even some aspects of metal, Pink Floyd has been able to leave its mark with bands like Queensryche, Alice in Chains, Foo Fighters, and Pearl Jam. The band’s 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon has spent more than 900 weeks on the Billboard 200.
6. Black Sabbath
Under the blanket of rock ‘n’ roll music lies heavy metal. It’s generally acknowledged that the first true heavy metal band was Black Sabbath. Though influenced heavily by the blues, Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward played hard, often faced. Iommi’s memorable riffs and Osbourne’s distinctive voice spewing generally dark lyrics made Sabbath turn the rock world in its ears — and we’re still grateful for it all.
7. The Kinks
Formed by brothers Ray and Dave Davies in North London, The Kinks were a major rock influence in the 1960s throughout England, the U.K., and America. The band meshed the pop-rock feel of the British invasion with a bluesy tint that offered a unique sound that turned on the likes of the Ramones, The Doors, Van Halen, and Oasis.
8. The Clash
While the Sex Pistols exuded the punk image, The Clash was also a major player in that overall scene in the U.K. However, The Clash also defined its music with elements of new wave and ska that ushered in the post-punk sound, which was taking off on both sides of the Atlantic. Though singer Joe Strummer was born in Turkey, he was schooled in England from age 9, thus qualifying him enough for this list.
From roughly 1995 to about 2002, there was arguably no hotter band on the planet than Radiohead. It got to the point that fans worldwide could not wait to hear what was next from Thom Yorke and Co. Radiohead went from a true rock outfit to excelling within the alternative and art rock scenes while also not being afraid to throw in some electronica. There is not a better run of albums with The Bends (1995), OK Computer (1997), Kid A (2000), and Amnesiac (2001) in alternative rock history. Even today, Radiohead still has a major influence on the music scene.
10. The Cure
The melodic, often melancholy tunes of Robert Smith and the boys have been displayed and praised for over 40 years. When it comes to the alternative and goth or post-punk rock sound of England, The Cure is the trendsetter. Hits like “Just Like Heaven,” Lullaby or “A Letter to Elise” are just a few of the Hall of Famers’ beloved efforts.
Sure, some old-school fans of the band might not fancy Genesis’ path from innovative, progressive rockers of the late 1960s and ’70s to a pop/light rock FM radio staple of the 1980s and into the 1990s. Genesis should probably be credited for adapting to the times while still not losing its creativity. The group produced two of the most recognizable vocalists ever: Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins.
12. Iron Maiden
More than 40 years after forming, Maiden is still relevant. One of the main forces within the British wave of heavy metal, Maiden’s themes of world history, religion, and fantasy continue to play well for a new generation of rockers. And they’re still pumping their fists to classics like “The Number of the Beast,” “Run to the Hills,” and “2 Minutes to Midnight.”
Manchester’s Oasis was known as much for the antics and often volatile relationship between brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher as for stellar alternative/pop rock sound. When the two were on, in sync, relatively sober, and not totally at each other’s throats, Oasis was tough to beat. And when the tension was high, the band still delivered some of the best music of the 1990s. It’s tough to top the one-two punch of Definitely Maybe (1994) and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? to kick off a career.
14. Deep Purple
The family tree of musicians and bands that sprouted from Deep Purple is truly amazing. The dynamic voice of Ian Gillan and the raunchiness guitar of Ritchie Blackmore paced the band’s most commercially successful period of the early 1970s. The group, which spawned the likes of David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes, is one of the true pioneers of the hard rock and heavy metal sound.
15. The Moody Blues
Progressive rock and England — or the entire U.K., for that matter — have been a successful pairing over the years. The Moody Blues were a major part of that movement but also shined by incorporating conceptual and psychedelic rock elements with a touch of pop. Undoubtedly, “Nights in White Satin” remains the Birmingham Hall of Famers’ signature tune.
16. Judas Priest
It took some time for Priest to get its due as a heavy metal force, but 1980’s British Steel was an album that left a lasting impression on bands like Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax. Rob Halford’s operatic voice is one of the most recognizable in all of heavy metal and hard rock. Though the band enjoyed more success into the 1980s, it could never consistently sustain it. Yet Priest is an important figure in the annals of English hard rock and heavy metal.
17. Def Leppard
Originally from Sheffield, Def Leppard went from being part of the new wave of British heavy metal to one of the biggest bands in the world in the 1980s. Thanks to albums Pyromania and pop-rock crossover smash Hysteria. Joe Elliott’s uniquely raspy voice and that double-guitar attack made Def Leppard a force on the hard rock scene and a mainstream giant, thanks to producer “Mutt” Lange and MTV.
While other English prog rockers veered off in various directions during their runs, Yes has tended to stay true to its roots, even when enjoying success in the mainstream pop/rock world at times. While the band has undergone several lineup changes, its music is quite relevant today and has been a major influence on acts like Rush, Dream Theater, and Tool.
19. The Smiths
Another one of Manchester’s finest, The Smiths are not only beloved in the United Kingdom but also celebrated worldwide as one of the great alternative/indie rock bands of all time. Through Morrissey’s baritone voice and Johnny Marr’s crunching guitar, The Smiths gave us critically acclaimed albums like their self-titled 1984 debut and Meat Is Murder one year later.
20. The Stone Roses
While The Stone Roses didn’t garner the consistent mainstream success like other English bands of the time and after, they’re widely regarded as one of the pioneers of the “Madchester” sound scene. From the working-class town of Manchester, the Roses excelled in mixing rock with the alternative//indie — and even some dance — sound. The band’s self-titled 1989 debut is regarded as one of the top English albums ever.
21. Joy Division
Influenced by the Sex Pistols, Joy Division was one of England’s most popular and revered post-punk rock outfits of the late 1970s. The talent of late lead singer Ian Curtis could not be argued, and the personal, mental and physical issues he dealt with were often exuded in the band’s somewhat manic sound. Yet there were plenty of melodic and darker moments to its music. Following Curtis’ suıcide in May 1980, surviving members Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris went on to form techno-pop giants New Order.
22. Sex Pistols
The Sex Pistols were the epitome of rebellion and anti-establishment — at least publicly, Johnny Rotten did so. It helped usher in the punk movement in the United Kingdom and did not care who was ticked off in the process. Of course, that was the point. The Pistols made just one studio album but still gave a massive middle finger to the establishment.
23. T. Rex
Though Marc Bolan’s band was well in-tune with its glam and psychedelic sound, T. Rex still had a clear rock ‘n’ roll attitude. The London-based band was massively popular in the United Kingdom, thanks to hits like “Get It On” and “Telegram Sam.” However, it also influenced U.S. groups such as R.E.M. and Guns N’ Roses.
24. Roxy Music
Led by Bryan Ferry, Roxy Music was influential on many musical fronts. Most notably, as part of the glam rock scene of the 1970s in England. However, it also played a role in opening the doors for British punk rockers and new wave acts that adopted parts of the look and attitude. Ferry and fellow bandmate Brian Eno enjoyed solid solo careers, with Eno also having tremendous success as a producer.
Damon Albarn and Co. have drawn influence from several rock bands. They have also incorporated their level of creativity and originality into an alternative/indie/psychedelic rock sound that some music fans might not always associate with English acts. There are also enough elements of pop to Blur’s sound that make the band a hit to mainstream audiences around the globe.
The 25 greatest English rock bands
It’s time to honor some of the great rock bands from England. Now, we’re talking bands considered English (prominent membership or classic lineups featuring English musicians), not British, which means greats like Queen, Cream, or Dire Straits — that tend to be under the moniker of British bands — won’t be on this list.