So something really awful happened recently, and to take my mind off it I decided to make a list of the 50 greatest British bands of all time. The actual list only took an hour or so to make, but it’s taken me a couple of weeks to write the necessary paragraph or two about each artist.
I did my best to keep my personal tastes out of this list, insofar as that’s even possible. This isn’t a list of my favorite British bands of all time. I’ve tried to use record sales and chart performance to justify my positions as much as I could. But, at the end of the day, my musical tastes did dictate at least a little of the list. Not many of these lists would include the Cocteau Twins over, say, Squeeze, but hey – it’s my list and I’ll do it as I please.
Keep in mind that the list implicitly includes spin-off acts. If you’re wondering how I could leave Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins off the list, note that they’re included under “Genesis”. My reasoning is that if I gave Gabriel his own entry, I’d have give Collins one, too. And if I did that, I’d have to have separate entries for Joy Division and New Order, Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno, and maybe Marc Bolan. And if I did all that, my list of “50 Greatest British Bands” would become the “15 Greatest English Bands, and their 35 Spin-Off Acts”.
Of course, the list also includes artists who are primarily known for being solo acts, like David Bowie. You typically wouldn’t call Bowie a “band”, but “50 Greatest British Musical Artists of All-Time” just doesn’t have the same ring that “50 Greatest British Bands of All-Time” does.
* * *
50) The Verve: They weren’t my favorite band (“No shit? Your #50 band isn’t your favorite?”), but there’s no denying that The Verve had a certain degree of magic when they weren’t busy arguing with each other. These guys were tight, but seemed to have more personnel issues than Spinal Tap. And it’s kind of ironic that their most popular song… is now a Rolling Stones song. The band worked out an agreement to sample an orchestral version of the Rolling Stones’ song “The Last Time” for their single “Bitter Sweet Symphony”. Originally, the deal called for a 50-50 profit split between The Verve and the license holder. But when the song turned into a major hit, Allen Klein sued (he’s the former Stones manager who managed to steal the rights to most of their pre-1970 catalog), saying that The Verve had sampled it “too much”. Unbelievably, a court agreed. All profits were given to Klein, and songwriting credit was given to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. This led Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft to quip that “Symphony” was “the best song Jagger and Richards have written in 20 years” (and it was true: “Symphony” was the highest-charting Jagger\Richards single since 1971’s “Brown Sugar”!)
49) Japan – One wonders what British pop music might have been like had Yuka Fujii never existed. She was the girlfriend of Japan’s bassist, Mick Karn. In the early 80s, she packed up her things and, without telling Karn, moved in with lead singer David Sylvian. Not surprisingly, the band broke up shortly thereafter. Japan’s catalog is inconsistent, pretentious, and slightly dated. They started as a glam rock knock-off, moved in to disco for an album, then settled into art pop. But they did create some of the most unique pop music in British pop culture history. Their “Ghosts” single hit the Top 5 in 1982, and is one of the most… unique records to ever chart that high. And Sylvian’s solo work varies from esoteric to brilliant.
48) Bananarama – I know what you’re thinking: “Bananarama?” But hear me out on this one. Until the Spice Girls came along, Bananarama had sold more records than any girl band in history. The Go-Go’s… The Supremes… Salt-n-Pepa… Bananarama outsold them all. And the band still holds the Guinness World Record for the most chart entries by a girl group: Destiny’s Child and the Spice Girls might have sold more records overall, but Bananarama have had more hits than any girl group in history. Ever. And it’s a sad, sad soul who doesn’t perk up when “Venus” or “Cruel Summer” come on the radio. The girls are still together after 33 years too, so they’re one of the few bands on this list that are still making new music!
47) Nick Lowe: To most Americans, Lowe is “the ‘Cruel to Be Kind’ guy.” And it’s true that Lowe hasn’t sold a billion records. But he’s a great songwriter, and has done some excellent production work, too (including The Damned’s “New Rose”, which most consider the first British punk rock single). Like Bob Dylan, Lowe is famous for other people covering his work: Elvis Costello’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” and Johnny Cash’s “The Beast in Me” were originally Lowe songs.
46) Cliff Richard – Oh sure, Cliff Richard is a bit of a joke in the music world. He’s kind of like England’s Barry Manilow or Neil Diamond, or whatever other unhip singer your parents (or grandparents, or great grandparents) listened to. But Richard is literally an icon of British music. His 1958 single “Move It” is considered by many of be the very first British rock song, and in Richard’s 53 year career he’s had 130 Top 20 singles and albums. He’s the third largest-selling singles artist in British music history and is the only artist to have a #1 song in every decade from the 1950s to the 2010s. Like him or not, you can’t argue with fourteen #1 singles.
45) Cocteau Twins – You could argue that my personal bias is showing here. After all, the Cocteau Twins never really had much mainstream success. But they certainly changed alternative music forever. In fact, I’d argue that the Cocteau Twins were the first true dream pop band (unlike say, “crossover” bands like The Cure who often get lumped in the dream pop category for some reason). But the real reason the band made the list is because of Elizabeth Fraser’s voice. Name any post-Cocteau Twins band with a whispy-voiced female singer – The Sundays, Sixpence None the Richer, Grimes, School of Seven Bells, The Innocence Mission, The Cranberries – and I’ll show you someone who was influenced by the band.
44) Blur: Oasis might have won the Battle of Britpop, but Blur were right behind them every step of the way. They were huge in the UK from almost the moment they started. Their first album, Leisure, “only” made it to #7, and the follow-up, Modern Life Is Rubbish, only made it to #15. But every album since (including 1995’s The Great Escape, the album that broke them worldwide) has gone to #1. Oh, and every single one of their albums has gone at least gold, with Parklife going 4x platinum in the UK. These guys were huge.
43) The Animals: This is one of those bands that other musicians just love. Sure, “The House of the Rising Sun” belongs on any “Best of the 60s” compilation, but what about songs like “It’s My Life” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”, which was practically the theme song of US soldiers in Vietnam (and of which Bruce Springsteen said: “That’s every song I’ve ever written… That’s ‘Born to Run,’ ‘Born in the U.S.A.,’ everything I’ve done for the past 40 years including all the new ones. That struck me so deep. It was the first time I felt I heard something come across the radio that mirrored my home life, my childhood.”) I don’t know if I’d go quite as far as to call them the “British Doors”, but there are certainly a lot of similarities in sound between the two bands. Oh, and I have to give the band some love for hiring a pre-Police Andy Summers all the way back in 1968.
42) Manic Street Preachers: Yeah, these guys were a blip on college radio in the US for a brief period back in the 90s. But in their homeland they had eight Top 10 albums and fifteen Top 10 singles (and three #1s: the 1998 album This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours and two singles). One wonders, however, if they’d be ranked as high as they are on this list if Richey Edwards hadn’t mysteriously disappeared.
41) The Human League – Sure, they might be “Three Hit Wonders” in the United States, and many in the UK would probably prefer to forget they ever existed. But The Human League were incredibly influential in the electronic music scene. Whereas a lot of 80s electronic bands were influenced by Kraftwerk, Neu! and other German acts, almost every single synthpop and electroclash band around today sounds like, was influenced by, pays homage to, does covers of, or owes a deep debt to The Human League. I daresay that one could even call them “The Beatles of Electronic Pop”, at least as far as their influence on modern bands is concerned. Without The Human League, acts like La Roux, Marsheaux, Foretaste, Class Actress, Ambra Red, Sound of Arrows and dozens of others would never had existed.
40) Oasis: Me? I always found the Gallagher brothers to be insufferable, especially since they basically killed the goose that laid the golden egg. The band won 15 NME Awards, 6 Brit Awards and 9 Q Awards. In fact, at the 2010 Brit Awards (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? was named the best British album over the past 30 years. They had eight #1 singles, and had an unprecedented 22 consecutive singles reach the Top 10, the latter a Guinness World Record, one of two the band holds (the other is for spending 765 weeks in the Top 75 charts). Unfortunately, the band inspires fear and loathing amongst many, mostly for the prima donna act Noel and Liam always seemed to engage in. I’m not a huge fan, but it’s obvious they were THE British band of the 1990s.
39) The Cure: What can I say about The Cure that hasn’t been written a hundred times already? They’re not the most popular band in the world: selling 27 million albums worldwide over a 36 year career isn’t all that, especially compared to others on this list. But the band certainly has a unique style and have had a huge impact on alternative music. In fact, I’d say they’re almost up there with Depeche Mode in being “most influential alternative band ever”. Unfortunately, I’m a fan of their early, dreary albums, especially Seventeen Seconds, Faith and Pornography. Later albums, like Disintegration and Wild Mood Swings, might be far more complex musically than their more straightforward early work, but I think the band really ran out of gas with Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. I don’t want “teddy bear Robert Smith”, I want “creepy Robert Smith”.
38) Buzzcocks: In the early days of British punk rock, far too many bands were of the “three-chord, shouty vocals” variety. But the Buzzcocks created some of the best tunes of the era, hell… the best songs of any era. “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” and “What Do I Get?” can stand proudly with “Stairway to Heaven”, “Hotel California” and “Dream On” as some of the best rock songs of all time. Yes, I’m serious. The band’s singles compilation album, Singles Going Steady, only ranks at #358 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In my book, it’s in the Top 50.
37) Muse: OK, so Muse is kind of the poor man’s Radiohead, and despite having huge cultural awareness, the band has “only” sold 15 million records. Still, Muse was a great “filler band” in the late 90s British music scene, and the fact that the Brits are using “Survival” as the official song of the 2012 Olympics says a lot about what they mean to the UK.
36) The Happy Mondays: To paraphrase the old joke: if you can remember The Happy Mondays, you weren’t there. The band were Ground Zero of the “Madchester” scene, and although they didn’t have the chart success of other bands, their tunes rocked enough Ecstasy-fueled raves for the band to become legendary.
35) Pet Shop Boys: I liked the Pet Shop Boys back in the early 80s, but if you’d asked me back then, I would have said they’d be around as long as Ebn-Ozn or Men Without Hats. 100 million records later, the band are the most successful duo in British music history, with 22 Top 10 hits. The thing PSB has going for them is consistency. Their flavor of dancey pop hasn’t changed much over the years, except as technology has improved. Their latest albums are as good as their earlier ones. But the flip side of consistency is similarity. The 2009 singles “Love etc.” and Did You See Me Coming?” were as good as anything they’ve ever put out… but they also could have been recorded in 1987, too. Still, PSB are titans of Britain’s electronic music scene and deserve props for putting out great tunes for 31 years.
34) T. Rex: Marc Bolan and T. Rex only released four albums, but the number of hit singles they had were extraordinary: “Bang a Gong (Get It On)”, “Jeepster”, “20th Century Boy”, “Telegram Sam”, “Hot Love”, “Children of the Revolution”, and “Metal Guru” to name just a few. More importantly, T. Rex (along with Gary Glitter) personified the entire glam-rock movement. Kiss, Twisted Sister, Mötley Crüe, Japan, Duran Duran, Adam Ant, Flock of Seagulls, Prince and Marilyn Manson were all heavily influenced the the band’s style, if not their music, too.
33) The Police: You know U2 are like, globally popular? How they can sell out concerts in not just English-speaking countries, but all over Europe, Asia and South America, too? Well, The Police were the first New Wave band to do that, and they did it in the early 80s. They were the darlings of 80s college radio, often called the “thinking man’s punk band”. But then Synchronicity hit, and it turned out to be one of the biggest albums of the 1980s. In fact, Synchronicity was the album that finally knocked Michael Jackson’s Thriller off the top of the Billboard charts, and the most popular song from the album, “Every Breath You Take”, was #1 in the US for 8 weeks. Sadly, Sting’s ego got the best of him, and he left Copeland and Summers holding the bag. Had the band stayed together and released a few more awesome albums, they might have held the spot in pop culture that U2 holds today (By the way, U2 being an Irish band, are not British, which is why they’re not on this chart).
32) Coldplay: This is the most boring band in the whole world, but people seem to love them for some reason. The band has won seven Grammy Awards, four MTV Video Music Awards, and seven Brit Awards (including three for “Best British Group”). I’m putting them on this list because I feel obligated to, not because I want to.
31) Dire Straits: I’m not a fan of Dire Straits, either. But at least when I listen to them I think “hey, that dude can play the guitar!” Mark Knopfler and company started off with basic pub rock, but brought in elements of beat and jazz over time to make a unique sound. And, as mentioned, I think Knopfler is one of the most underrated guitarists ever. The band’s most popular album, Brothers in Arms, sold 30 million copies, which is more than Pink Floyd’s The Wall or Nirvana’s Nevermind and only 2 million fewer than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I’m not sure if Dire Straits has a rabid fan base, but the band deserves one.
30) The Specials: The Specials brought ska into the British mainstream, and the band had seven consecutive UK Top 10 singles from ’77 to ’81. “Too Much Too Young” and “Ghost Town” are still great tunes all these years later. At the end of the day, though, I actually prefer spin-off band Fun Boy Three. But The Specials make the list because they were the first multiracial band to become big in the UK.
29) Kate Bush: Does Kate Bush really need an introduction? We all know her and her work, but sometimes you have to put things in perspective. In a world of Kate Nashes, Pixie Lotts, Amy Winehouses and Lilly Allens, it’s easy to forget that Kate Bush was the first female British solo artist to ever top the UK album charts, and was the first female artist (British or not) to enter the UK album charts at #1. The fact that Bush almost never tours hurts her ranking here (her 1979 “Tour of Life”, in which she played 24 shows, is the only tour she ever embarked on, and she’s only played a handful of shows since). And Bush’s music can be… dense and radio-unfriendly. Frankly, I find much of her music a challenge to listen to. Still, with the possible exception of Madonna, Bush has inspired more singers than just about any other woman on the planet. Florence Welch, Tori Amos, Alison Goldfrapp, PJ Harvey, KT Tunstall and (especially) Björk all show clear signs of Bush’s influence. And the list of other musicians who are fans – Peter Gabriel, Rufus Wainwright and John Lydon – is impressive, too.
28) Fleetwood Mac: OK, so they’re not entirely British, but Fleetwood Mac were truly gigantic back in the 1970s. When I was a kid, it seemed like every white female I knew had a copy of Rumors on 8-track or vinyl. And why not? The album was #1 on the US charts for 31 weeks and produced four US Top 10 singles. As of today, it is the eighth best-selling album of all-time. Of course, the band’s lineup has changed considerably over the years, and this affected the quality and frequency of their output. Take Tusk, for example. It’s not exactly my thing, but it’s decent enough. As a follow-up to Rumors, however, it was considered a failure, which led the band to record the more commercial Mirage, of which, I can only remember the catchy, but limp, “Hold Me”.
27) The Stone Roses: Why? Because if you take New Order out of the picture, The Stone Roses were my favorite Madchester band. I also liked that they could “rock”, but had a mellow, non-ballady, side (“I Wanna Be Adored”). Methinks The Stone Roses were early fans of the Pixies.
26) Iron Maiden: I’m not a metal fan. But my friend Richard sure is. So in high school I heard him play a lot of Slayer, Metallica, Zepplin, Judas Priest and every other metal or hard rock act you can think of (and many you’ve probably never heard of). Of those bands, the only one I could ever really stand was Iron Maiden. As far as rock bands go, Maiden was as solid and tight as they come. Bruce Dickinson could sing, and his lyrics weren’t bad, either. But the best thing about the band was that they didn’t rely on gimmicks like make-up (like Poison) or contrived offensiveness (like W.A.S.P.). They just brought it. In fact, other than the fact that they make loud-ass noise, I can’t think of a reason to NOT like Maiden. And the fact that they were so influential – selling 85 million records with little radio play or TV support – tells me that they’re one of the most popular metal acts of all time.
25) Small Faces: Small Faces are interesting in that they had immense influence on two different genres of music: mod and psychedelic rock. They became mod icons in their early years for their blue-collar work ethic. They toured almost constantly, becoming one of the highest grossing live acts of the day in the UK. Those early days were lean ones for the band, but when singles like “Lazy Sunday” and “Itchycoo Park” hit the shelves, the band finally got the recognition they deserved. Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake is remembered as a classic album, and rightfully so. And let’s not forget that when Small Faces broke up, three members coaxed Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart, two more British music icons, into joining the reformed Faces.
24) Duran Duran: Duran Duran were one of the most derided bands of their day. Most “serious” music magazines proclaimed them pretty boys with little talent. But guess what? The band made some of the most solid pop hits of the 80s. “Rio”? “Hungry Like The Wolf”? “Girls on Film”? Those were great tunes! But what really puts Duran Duran on this list actually is the chief complaint from Rolling Stone: that Duran Duran, for better or worse, changed the way pop music was sold. Sure, the band had 14 Top 10 singles in the UK. But Duran Duran became, at least for a while, the biggest band in the world thanks to their looks, music videos and album art. Although they long to be remembered for their music, many will remember the band for their packaging. Which is a shame, because John Taylor is the most underrated bass player ever!
23) Genesis: Genesis is, of course, a tale of two bands. You have the awesome, if slightly over the top, art-rock band fronted by Peter Gabriel. But then he left and the world had to deal with the hooky, yet cheesy, pop of Phil Collins. Fans of the band have long split into three camps: those who only like Gabriel-era Genesis; those who only like Collins-era Genesis; and those weirdos who like both. But let’s not forget that before the blockbuster pop of Invisible Touch, Genesis was a band who greatly influenced prog acts like Yes and King Crimson. In fact, if you look at all the acts directly influenced by Genesis, it starts to read like a Who’s Who of prog and art rock. And of course, I feel compelled to mention the solo work of Gabriel and Collins. Gabriel created some of my favorite songs ever, like “Red Rain”, “Solsbury Hill” and “Games Without Frontiers”. I didn’t like Collins’ solo work nearly as much, but you can’t deny his talent as a songwriter. His tunes seemed to dominate pop radio in the 80s.
22) Status Quo: It’s hard to think of a band I like less than Status Quo. There’s nothing “wrong” with their music, it’s really just not my thing. But they’ve had more songs in the UK charts (over 60) than any other band in history, and 22 of them have made in into the Top 10. More importantly, the list of popular bands covering Status Quo tunes is literally like a mile long, so they’ve been pretty influential, too.
21) Depeche Mode: If you’d asked me twenty-five years ago which current band would still be around in the 2010s, Depeche Mode would have been way down the list. Sure, they put out some great pop tunes with awesome hooks… but they didn’t seem like a band with a lot of staying power. Yet here we are, twelve Top 10 albums and 100 million records later. DM are probably the most successful electronic band ever, eclipsing even New Order for the title. And the fact that so many current bands have been influenced by Depeche Mode only helps their cause.
20) The Jam: One of my all-time favorite bands, and yet another British band that was huge in their homeland, but mostly unknown in the US outside college radio and New Wave circles. What was their appeal? For one thing, they began as a typical punk band, but quickly evolved into a Northern Soul\Mod Revival act while still retaining punk’s energy. And Paul Weller was a master at painting pictures with his lyrics. “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight” and “That’s Entertainment” paint a bleak, yet poignant and beautiful picture of the English working class of the era. But what’s more, Weller didn’t (at the time) wear his politics on his sleeve. Whereas, say, Bono and Sting also wrote songs that shared Weller’s sense of social justice, they beat you over the head with it. Weller let his songs speak for themselves. And here’s an amazing fact: every single released by The Jam – all 18 of them – hit the UK Top 40, with four of them going to #1. One of my favorite stories about the band is actually about their fans. So the story goes, Weller broke up the band in late 1982 because he’d “said all he could with the band”. Fans, hurt and angry that the band had broken up, took to wearing t-shirts that said “Paul Weller 1958-1982”, indicating that he was dead to them. That’s love for a band, folks!
19) Madness: The nutty boys from Camden Town are yet another band thought of as a “One-Hit Wonder” in the United States, but consider this: they’ve had 22 Top 20 singles in the UK, and 15 of those made it to the Top 10. The lowest any Madness album has ever charted in the UK was #17 (1999’s Wonderful). And from 1980 to 1986 (a period of 312 total weeks), there was a Madness single in the UK charts for 214 weeks. Where The Specials might have been the first big ska band in the UK, Madness made the genre a household name.
18) Black Sabbath: I think it’s fair (and quite obvious, actually) to say that Sabbath were one of the most influential hard rock acts of all time. Paranoid is a classic no matter where you’re coming from musically, and the fact that it’s 4x platinum kind of bears that out. Along with Alice Cooper, Sabbath pioneered the dramatic, occult-inspired image that so many later metal bands would use. Would pentagrams and allusions to black masses have become so ubiquitous in the metal world without Black Sabbath? Maybe. But its genesis is obviously in Sabbath. And, of course, Sabbath made Ozzy Osbourne a star, and made Ronnie James Dio a star, too (his earlier work with Rainbow notwithstanding).
17) The Jesus and Mary Chain: Sure, these guys had a bit of popularity with the 80s alternative crowd. But how do they manage to get all the way to #17 on this list with just two Top 10 singles and one Top 10 album in the UK? Have you listened to indie radio lately? I swear, every single band coming out of Brooklyn and LA these days sounds like “a mixture of The Jesus and Mary Chain and [some other band]”, or “The Jesus and Mary Chain, only with [something different, like a female singer, or heavy keyboard effects]”. Which is fitting in a way. Like The Ramones, Jim and William Reid loved 60s girl bands. But when they tried to emulate The Shangri-Las, they ended up just sounding like a Scottish version of The Ramones. So they started playing with noise and feedback and created something new… just like how Asobi Seksu mixed the Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain to get their sound. And The Radio Dept., Bowery Electric, M83, Over the Atlantic, A Place to Bury Strangers, Sleigh Bells, Beach House, Ringo Deathstarr, The Raveonettes… and 3,000 other current bands have done. The mainstream might not have listened to The Jesus and Mary Chain then, but the bands who make music now sure did.
16) Radiohead: Radiohead’s first single, “Creep”, was first released in the UK in 1992 and only made it to #78 in the charts, selling a paltry 6,000 copies. But the music industry can be a funny thing sometimes. An Israeli radio DJ named Yoav Kutner fell in love with the song and put it into heavy rotation on his show. The song became a hit in Israel, and the band booked several gigs there to capitalize on the success. And then the same thing happened in Spain, then New Zealand, then Scandinavia, and in San Francisco, where a DJ at KITS fell in love with the song, too. What had been a chart disaster slowly became a worldwide hit. And thus, the Radiohead phenomenon was born. Oddly, I’m not a huge fan of the group, which is weird, because you’d think it’d be right up my alley. But I do love how the band is not afraid to play with their sound – could any other modern band have gotten away with Kid A? The band is also not afraid to take on the music industry (their infamous “pay what you want” strategy for In Rainbows). The band are one of the most innovative in pop music today.
15) Elvis Costello: If punk rock had a crooner, it was Elvis Costello. Sure, the music he makes today might be “just a little more exciting than John Tesh”, but let’s not forget how awesome his early catalog was: “Alison”, “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”, “Watching the Detectives”, “(I Don’t Want to Go To) Chelsea”, “Pump It Up”, “Radio Radio”, “Oliver’s Army” and “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down” are just a few of his early hits. Costello is perhaps the best songwriter alive today. He is thoughtful and intelligent and is a student of music. If you’ve ever read any of his music articles in Vanity Fair you know the man knows his music, and is keen to let the world know about other acts he likes. Aside from, I dunno… EYEBALLING YOUR THEN-GIRLFRIEND FOR AN ENTIRE CONCERT, Costello seems like a great guy all around. He might not have sold as many records as others on this list, nor has he had a huge influence on subsequent artists, but he’s a treasure all the same.
14) Joy Division: I remember the first time I really heard Joy Division: I’d asked for (and received) the Unknown Pleasures CD for Christmas. After the holiday festivities died down, I went to my room and put my headphones on and had a listen. I’d “heard” songs like “She’s Lost Control” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” before, obviously, but this was the first time that I really gave the band my full attention. And as soon as “Disorder” started I was hooked. For some reason, that song has always reminded me of a factory where all the giant industrial machines were started one by one and just happened to make a great tune together… and then Ian Curtis’ haunting voice came over the top of it all. Joy Division weren’t hugely popular, at least not in the strictly commercial sense. But they kicked off the entire post-punk movement and (for better or worse) became the father of all gothic rock bands. And that’s just Joy Division. Minus Curtis, the band continued as New Order, making some of the most popular electronic music of all time (it’s amazing that, despite all the huge club hits since the 80s, “Blue Monday” is still the most popular 12″ single of all time). Joy Division and New Order left huge marks on the history of British music.
13) Pink Floyd – This legendary band wasn’t as big as Lepplin, and their influence on future musicians was perhaps the most subtle of any of this list. Sure, there are a lot of bands that might have copied Floyd’s sound, but I’m thinking their influence wasn’t as obvious as most. For example, the opening riff of Animals inspired a young David Evans to go out and buy his first delay pedal (you probably know him better as “The Edge”). The Pet Shop Boys and Nine Inch Nails have called Floyd an inspiration, two bands for whom the Floyd influence is not immediately obvious. And the thing is, I don’t know that the Barrett or Waters-led band ever released a bad album: The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, A Saucerful of Secrets, Ummagumma, Atom Heart Mother, Meddle, Obscured by Clouds, The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, The Wall and The Final Cut are all, without question, rock classics, with not a clunker among them. Of course, Dark Side of the Moon was in the US charts from 1973 to 1988, a run of 741 weeks that has never been equaled, nor likely to be repeated. And film adaptation of The Wall was a cultural phenomenon of its own, providing endless entertainment to stoned teenagers everywhere.
12) The Smiths: There was a point in time in the 1980s where British music fans were on the verge of the ultimate heresy: naming The Smiths, and not The Beatles, as the best British band of all time. I don’t know if I would go quite that far, but the fact is that The Smiths just might be the biggest cult band of all time. It’s hard to believe it now, but the band only had one single that cracked the Top 10 (“This Charming Man” hit #8 as a re-issue in 1992, long after they’d broken up). And while each of their four studio albums charted at either #1 (Meat is Murder) or #2 (The Smiths, The Queen is Dead and Strangeways, Here We Come) in the UK, their success outside the UK was limited. No Smiths album charted higher than #55 in the US, #28 in Australia, #27 in Canada, #33 in Germany, or #13 in the Netherlands. Still, Johnny Marr’s guitar work was widely imitated, Morrissey’s controversial views kept him in the music press, and the band’s popularity seemed to grow and grow and grow, albeit slowly. To state that the band was influential is stating the obvious: The Smiths begat the entire Britpop movement, and bands like Blur, The Stone Roses, Oasis, and The Libertines owe much of their ethos to The Smiths. And emo, or the act of wearing teenage depression on your sleeve, is all Morrissey.
11) Roxy Music: If you’re a fan of New Wave, you probably know that most New Wave bands were influenced by two music acts. Roxy Music was one of them. The band, although not unknown in the US, was huge in the UK and Australia. They released eight studio albums, and the lowest any of them charted in the UK was #10 (Roxy Music). With the exception of 1979’s Manifesto (which “only” hit #7), their remaining 6 discs all charted into the top 5. And while rock music had been loosely associated with art and fashion since the 1960s, it was Roxy Music who consciously tried to bring them together into one coherent package. Roxy’s influence on bands like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Japan, ABC, and Ultravox was legion. And let’s also not forget that Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno were once in the same band at the same time! If you include Ferry’s solo singing career with Eno’s pioneering ambient work and massive production credits, the band is even bigger than you might think.
10) The Who: I’ve always felt a bit sorry for The Who. They were incredibly popular and had a huge influence on a lot of early punk bands, especially The Jam. They were a big influence on Mod culture, have had 18 Top 20 singles in the UK and put on some of the most famous concerts in rock history. But they always seemed to be a second-tier band compared to The Beatles or The Stones. In my mind, The Who is Wake Forest compared to The Beatles (UNC) and The Rolling Stones (Duke). Maybe I just have a cultural blind spot for The Who… but it just seemed like, growing up, they were everyone’s fifth or sixth favorite band, never anyone’s favorite band.
9) Elton John: People under the age of 35 have probably always thought of Elton John as a bitchy old gay man who used to be popular. And I can’t say that I blame them. John has been coasting since at least 1985, popping up now and then on Disney soundtracks, at some charity event or a “Feed the Sun City Ferry Disaster AIDS Victims” single. If that’s you, you can’t possibly imagine how big Elton John was in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He’s sold over 250 million records, has had 56 Top 40 singles, had seven consecutive #1 albums in the US charts, and has won almost every music award you can think of. More important, I think, is that Elton John was perhaps the last “universal” pop star. When I was a kid in the 70s, Elton John’s music was everywhere. Teens liked him. Grandmothers liked him. Little kids liked him. Rock stations played his edgier tunes while AOR stations played his ballads. There was a good chance you could find an Elton John song on the radio at any given moment, and you’d hear Muzak versions of his songs at the doctor’s office or grocery store. Even black folks (as a rule, not John’s core audience) could name five or more of his songs, and they could probably sing along, too. The guy was huge.
8) The Kinks: Sure, musicians love them, but The Kinks just might be the most under-appreciated band of all time. Everyone knows their 1964 hit “You Really Got Me”, a tune which had a huge influence on later metal and punk bands as it was the first to use what would become the rock staple of “power chords”. But what The Kinks really have going for them is their longevity. Few bands existed from 1964 to 1996, and it’s only a tiny few that cranked out hit after hit like The Kinks did. And it wasn’t just the power chords that brought the fans, either. Ray Davies might be one of the best, most eloquent songwriters in English music… like, ever. Although The Kinks had pretty good success in the charts – seventeen Top 20 singles and five Top 10 albums in the UK and five Top 10 singles and nine Top 40 albums in the US – their lasting contribution to music has been their great influence on later generations.
7) Sex Pistols: The Pistols weren’t the first punk band. They weren’t even the best punk band. They were only together for two years, and released just one album. But no single band, not even The Beatles, changed the course of music history more than the Sex Pistols. English pop music of the early 1970s was a dreary world of disco and progressive rock, the latter of which was described by Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes as “men with beards singing songs about gnomes in obscure time signatures”. Acts like David Bowie and Roxy Music led jet-setting lifestyles that the average English teen couldn’t dream of. And bands like Pink Floyd lived in secluded estates that gave Buckingham Palace a run for the money. It was bad enough that England’s teenagers faced alienation from the workplace and society at large… but it was flat-out tragic that they couldn’t even relate to their own music. And suddenly, out of nowhere, the Sex Pistols showed up and begged the youth of the UK to “wake the fuck up”. And wake up they did. Where Pink Floyd’s music required an army of engineers and lots of expensive equipment, the Sex Pistols required only drums, bass, a guitar and a singer. Just as The Ramones convinced thousands of American kids to start their own bands, the Pistols did the same for the UK. And although the band crashed and burned way too soon, in their place came thousands of bands, all doing their own (beautiful) thing.
6) Queen: You can’t think of 1970s music without thinking of Queen. The band were gigantic in their day. They’ve sold 300 million records worldwide, had eighteen #1 singles and eighteen #1 albums, currently hold the UK record for the top-selling album of all-time, Queen’s Greatest Hits, and have spent a grand total of 1,322 weeks in the UK charts, another record. They’re also the only band in which each member wrote a #1 single (sorry, Ringo). We Will Rock You, a musical based on Queen, opened in London in 2002, and is the longest-running musical in West End history, eclipsing even Mamma Mia and Grease. There are more websites hosting Queen bootlegs – in 2001, 12,225 such sites – than any other band. In fact, the popularity of their bootlegs led to Queen’s huge popularity in countries where Western music is banned or frowned upon, like Iran or the old Soviet Union. A list of musicians who have named Queen as an influence would take up all 50GB of my allotted space on this server. In numerous British polls, “Bohemian Rhapsody” has been named the “best single in history”, and you’ve gotta love it for it’s sheer cheesiness and the balls it took to release it as a single in the first place. And let’s not forget that Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985 was probably the greatest televised rock performance ever.
5) David Bowie: If Roxy Music formed one pillar of New Wave, then David Bowie surely formed the other. After starting his chart career with what amounts to a novelty single (“Space Oddity”), Bowie transformed himself into alter-ego Ziggy Stardust and became the biggest cult phenomenon in the world. Bowie’s sound was constantly evolving in the 70s, as evidenced by Young Americans and then Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger. His sound changed again with Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), which included the smash hit “Ashes to Ashes”, a callback to “Space Oddity”. Although Bowie had millions of fans by that point, he’d never really had much in the way of mainstream success. Sure, teenagers and hipsters knew who Bowie was, but few parents did. Enter Let’s Dance, Bowie’s most popular album to date. Thanks to the catchy, Nile Rodgers-produced tunes and the heavy rotation of his videos on MTV, Bowie finally became a household name. But since then… ehhhh. Tonight and Never Let Me Down were flat-out embarrassments to his catalog, and Tin Machine (and all subsequent solo releases) just scream “LOOK AT ME! I’M STILL RELEVANT!” desperation to me. Still, Bowie’s mountain of quality earlier work, his willingness to try anything, and an acting career that’s only enhanced, not detracted from, his music cements his place as a music icon for the ages. One thing you can say about Bowie is that there’s only one of him!
4) The Rolling Stones: In their early days, The Beatles were cute guys, with their charming accents, mop-top haircuts and matching suits. It was almost as if mothers would have been proud to have their daughters bring home John, Paul, George or Ringo. But no parent anywhere wanted his daughter to bring home Mick Jagger, Keith Richards or Brian Jones. They were the anti-Beatles. While the Fab Four were singing safe, cheery songs like “Can’t Buy Me Love”, the Stones played dirty, sexy rock and roll heavily inspired by American R&B. The Beatles were “safe”; the Stones were “dangerous”. Girls liked The Beatles; dudes liked the Stones. And, until the late 80s, the Stones cranked out hit after hit after hit after hit. I’m not even that much of a Stones fan, but looking at their singles discography, I know half of them by heart. Although they only rank #14 on the list of all-time best-selling artists in the US, their impact is far greater than that. Every “bad boy” rock act since comes from Jagger and Richards, two of the most heralded songwriters of the rock era.
3) Led Zepplin: Zepplin were one of the biggest acts in music history anywhere. They’ve sold more records than any musical act in the US save for The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Garth Brooks (gross). I think part of this is because Zepplin offers something for everyone: drunk rednecks love their balls-out rock and roll; more intellectual types can try to decipher Robert Plant’s opaque, yet seemingly meaningful, lyrics; and musicians can appreciate the pure talent that Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham brought to the table. And Zepplin hated singles, so refused to release them, ushering in the era of album rock. To say that Zepplin “influenced a lot of bands” would be the understatement of the century. More than that, I think Jimmy Page should be given a lifetime achievement award by the guitar industry; there’s no telling how many millions of white dudes heard Zepplin and rushed out to buy an electric guitar because of Page’s work.
2) The Beatles: Oh no! The Beatles aren’t number one? Put your torches and pitchforks down, people. Yes, The Beatles are probably the most popular band in history, ever. Yes, they inspired at least six million bands. Yes, there’s a Beatles song being played on the radio every second of every day. But I’m just done with The Beatles. Their early work – the “Love Me Dos” and ” I Want To Hold Your Hands” – were solid bubblegum pop of their day, but they’re all but unlistenable to me now, cheesier than a cave in Leicestershire. Of course, that all started to change on Revolver, and yes, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles and Abbey Road are all classics. But if a band ever suffered from overexposure, it was these guys. Held up as some kind of Rock Gods, the band’s material has been packaged and repackaged so many times, it’s almost nauseating. What’s worse is a certain type of Beatles fan, usually found on the Internet, who refuses to believe that any band could ever be anywhere near as good as the Beatles. Mention The Smiths or Oasis, and they’ll either argue with you until they’re blue in the face or they’ll stick their fingers in their ears and say they can’t hear you. None of this is band’s fault, of course. And Beatles fans are right when they say that no band will ever have the per capita fanbase that the Beatles did. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
1) The Clash: They were called “the only band that matters”, and with good reason. Where the Sex Pistols epitomized punk rock’s “angry, three-chord” side, The Clash represented the musically adventurous, thoughtful side. Had Joe Strummer been born a couple of decades earlier, he might have gone down as England’s answer to Woody Guthrie. But he wasn’t, and while The Clash started off as your standard rock band, they quickly branched out into ska, reggae, funk, dub and rockabilly… all backed up with Strummer’s incredible (if annoyingly leftist at times) message. And the band put their money where the mouth was… literally. They wanted their third album, the great London Calling, to be released as a double album, but sold for the price of a single album. Their label, CBS, flat-out refused, and told them they’d either sell the disc at the double album price or cut the existing album down to a single disc. The band refused this, and the two sides negotiated for several days. Eventually CBS agreed to release London Calling as a double album at the single album price if the band agreed to eat the cost out of their share of the profits. The band agreed, and one of the most important albums in music history came to be. But the best example of The Clash’s mindset comes from a music festival the band played in 1977. The audience was drunk and rowdy, and a chain-link fence had been put up to protect the musicians from the hundreds of beer bottles that had been thrown at the stage. During the set, Strummer jumped off the stage and tried to pull the fence down. That he was more offended by the fence keeping the fans away than he was afraid of taking a bottle to the head says everything you need to know about The Clash.
255 Replies to “The 50 Greatest British Bands of All-Time”
Because I just didn’t get enough controversy last week, here’s more! At least this one isn’t about politics or religion. It’s much more serious. It’s about music, specifically the 50 best British bands of all time. I’d love for everyone to read it and agree or tear it to pieces, but I’m especially keen to hear from Rich, Terri, Briana, Bettyanna, Ashley, Regis, Scott, Denise, William and Lisa about it!
You got to be out of your mind here dude come on Pink Floyd way back and Led Zeppelin ? bottom line your list sucks bigtime.
Who the fuck cares about bands like Tears for Fears right?
Can I say just love your comment regarding Oasis, thought they were as good r better then the Beatles. Not a fan of the Beatles just not my type of music, but sorry how dare they even contemplate that.
And also Chris, Maysoon, Alissa, Allan and Jay.
Hell you mentioned Maiden and me… so as far as I am concerned this is the greatest list ever… gimme more time to digest this… and I hope to give a more well thought out response..btw Love the pic circa 1985 for Maiden…
Ok since you know have known me for well over 20 yrs I am sure that it will come as no surprise that I am not a fan of some of the bands..But.. the fact remains your thoughtful and insightful takes on these artist I thought was right on the money.. I think that the Beatles or The Who should be higher then The Clash..Only coz I have always thought The Clash was dare I say it OVERRATED.. Even with the anthology set I found myself deleting ALOT of tunes that just didn’t hold up..The Sex Pistols one album is far better as a whole then any Clash record..Coldplay and Radiohead always struck me as well pretentious rock for folks who want to appear to way too ” hip ” when it comes to music..but they have had a pop appeal that eludes me to this day… Queen was GIANT.. maybe should have been a little higher on the list as well.. My first rock album was Queen Live Killers.. so I am biased on that one..I guess I will be the one that says it..Zeppelin were GODS.. the 9 original albums were the blue print for all these hardrock to come. Yes I know that classic rock radio has beaten to death quite a few of the songs in their catalog but it’s for a reason..THEY WERE JUST THAT GOOD..If you ever picked up a guitar you learned atleast one Zeppelin tune. Any drummer worth his sticks sites Bonzo as a influence..and as far as vocals.. Please..I will not even go there.. bar none the best of the British bands. BTW..did I miss it or is Deep Purple not on this list??? Nice mention for Genesis as I am one of those freaks that likes both era’s of that band. I guess I will not bring up our attendance of a Phil Collins show 😉
Beatles #1 and Joy Division #2 , thats all I have to say on this.
Depeche Mode and Joy Division for me.
I would like to make a point in protest of this list… The Verve made it on the Top 50 and Peter Gabriel did not make it at all? I call foul… Granted Genesis made it… but I think Peter Gabriel’s work seperate from Genesis merits his own place in the top 50.
Did you read the intro? All side acts are included with their original acts. Gabriel and Collins are included under Genesis.
I did… but I (in my humble opinion) think that Peter Gabriel merited a special exception to that rule. With his lable “Real World Music” and all of his solo albums (15 or more), up to and including the New Blood Orchestra, he’s done so much more than Phil Collins outside of Genesis. I think your rule works for Collins, (in re: “No Jacket Required”) but come on… it’s Peter Gabriel
its heating up
Jay: I agree with you in theory. If anyone on the list deserved their own entry, it’s Gabriel. But if I included him, by definition I’d have to include Collins. I’m not much of a Collins fan, but he’s sold over 100 million albums, and if you include his music with Genesis and other artists, he had more Billboard 100 hits than any other artist in the 80s. And if we allow Gabriel, Collins and Genesis to have their own entries, why not allow Brian Eno and Bryan Ferry to have their own entries? Why not allow Arcadia and the Power Station? Or Rod Stewart’s solo work? Soon the list of “50 Best British Bands” becomes “15 Best British Bands and the 35 Spin-Offs From Them”. Which wasn’t what I was aiming for. But don’t get me wrong – I love Gabriel, too!
I’m gonna write my response on the train. I have to travel a bit longer than usual today, so it will give me something to do.
And strangely, I don’t take a lot of exception to your list at all.
It looks pretty accurate, in line with most of the British music mags’ lists (with the exception of Cocteau Twins and Bananarama- hehe!) I think next you should compile a list of your top 50 British bands ( we all should, and we could compare)!!
ERMAHGERD you are so verbose!!! I’ll get back to you next week after i’ve had a chance to read it all the way thru 😉
I can agree with most of this list (even the artists I don’t like), except I’d put T. Rex higher than Bowie and Roxy Music due to influence. He IS the father of Glam Rock, after all. Minor point of contention.
Rich: I know you’re not a Clash fan, but I stand by my comment that “had Joe Strummer been born a couple of decades earlier, he might have gone down as England’s answer to Woody Guthrie.”
Ashley: I can see you not liking Bananarama, but I don’t see how you can dis the ‘Twins on this list. I mean, ALMOST EVERY PERSON I KNEW in high school owned at least one Cocteau Twins album, and you can hear their influence in so many bands today. Heck, “dream pop” as a genre exists today mainly due to the Cocteau Twins! 🙂
Even though I am not a big Clash fan I would agree with your assessment of Mr Strummer..
Denise: Or you could, ya know, read faster! [ducks and runs]
For anyone who cares, here’s an EXTREMELY early list of my Top 50 Americans bands:
1) Buddy Holly and the Crickets
2) Elvis Presley
3) Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
4) The Ramones
6) The Velvet Underground
7) The Beach Boys
8) Guns N’ Roses
9) The Allman Brothers Band
10) Van Halen
11) Big Star
12) Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
13) Pearl Jam
14) The Doors
15) Bob Dylan
16) The Stooges
18) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
19) Creedence Clearwater Revival
20) Cheap Trick
21) The Grateful Dead
23) Lynard Skynard
24) The Byrds
25) Alice Cooper
26) Simon & Garfunkel
28) Ted Nugent
31) Talking Heads
33) ZZ Top
34) Sonic Youth
35) The Replacements
36) Bon Jovi
38) Big Brother & the Holding Company
39) Dead Kennedys
42) Prince and the Revolution
43) Roy Orbison
44) Jerry Lee Lewis
45) Black Flag
46) Bill Haley & His Comets
47) Chuck Berry
48) Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
49) Bad Religion
This could take DAYS to refine. I can’t stand half the bands on this list, and am having trouble with a lot of acts (are The Commodores or Michael Jackson “rock” acts?)
Write this list on toilet paper ! Metalica at 50 ??? !!!! Your tone def ?
how could you NOT include SLADE the most top 10 singles of the 70s
Jimi Hendrix is a must on an U.S rock list.
Ah yes… Jimi Hendrix, the famous British musician from Seattle.
no The Commodores or Jacko are the furthest thing from rock.. and I feel for as I have to agree alot of these acts aren’t my favs either..
J Phillip Hodge: Where you been hidin’, brother?
Home I reckon’
Pretty good list, Jim. Don’t think I could do better.
I suspect you were itchin’ fer some controversy, though, so I’ll try my best to satisfy that in the limited time I have.
There are only a couple of bands on your list I take exception to. I understand your rationalization for including them, but Coldplay and Muse just don’t belong with the rest of the heavy hitters you’ve got here. Muse especially. You recognize most of the artists on your list for their influence on other musicians; Muse is nearly the polar opposite, being not much more than a Queen cover band.
The one group I most expected to see in a Top 50 Greatest british Bands list that didn’t make your cut is Yes. Talk about influence, talk about hits, talk about musicianship, packaging even. Surely an oversight. It’s not easy to sit down and try to remember EVERY important band of the last 50 years, even if you narrow it down to a tiny little country.
On the other hand, I am impressed you remembered to include the Animals. I LOATHE “House of the Rising Sun” but the rest of their catalog is impressive. I think they’re as important in British rock history as the Kinks. Good job remembering Fleetwood Mac, too. I’m not sure I would have considered them, but I agree with you wholeheartedly on their inclusion.
Did you give any thought to including the Zombies/Argent? What about Bad Company, often referred to as one of the first supergroups?
Oh, and what about ELO? I used to make fun of them, but I seem to recall they had a large number of chart hits, sold out arenas, and do have some staying power. Similarly, Def Leppard? They wouldn’t make my list, but weren’t they HUGE for a while?
It appears you made an effort to be inclusive, but I notice a gap where the Brit-Blues should be represented. Particularly someone as commercially successful and critically lauded as Eric Clapton (however you might have wanted to include him: Yardbirds, Cream, solo) might have been able to bump — oh, I don’t know — MUSE or Status Quo at least to #51. Not that I’m a Clapton fan. Just seems deserved as much as Elton John or others.
If it was my list? I’d probably bump the Police up to the top 20, maybe switch places with Radiohead. And I’d replace Coldplay with the Arctic Monkeys. Admittedly, I have not done the research you have, but I bet their number of hits and popularity are neck and neck, and the Monkeys are much cooler. Think I’d replace Iron Maiden with Motorhead, too.
Knowing your personal tastes somewhat, I’m surprised the New Romantics aren’t really represented.
I apologize I don’t have more time to ruthlessly tear apart your faulty list. Just kidding. About the list, not about my lack of time.
I’ll leave you with this: I find no fault with your Top 10, even though I am no fan of Sir Elton. And you are right on about John Taylor.
I’m with Denise N. 50? Egad! Ya couldn’t narrow it down to, maybe, 20? I might be too impatient for this post. (-;
I’m with Denise N. 50? Egad! Ya couldn’t narrow it down to, maybe, 20? I might be too impatient for this post. (-;
Let me start with your US acts. #3 Bruce Spewstien? Is he really THAT influential? I know you also gotta hate the Eagles. They cannot be #5 influential. Influential, maybe, but not that high. Doors as far down as #14? Doors and Dylan below Pearl Jam? I don’t think so.I like Journey, Van Halen, Kiss, Cheap Trick, and Ramones. I wouldn’t move the Ramones, but maybe the others deserve higher. (Esp. Kiss) Big Brother and the Holding Company? I don’t think so. I like that you have Prince and Parliament on there. Prince may deserve higher. No James Brown??? If Prince and Parliament count as rock then so do Commodores and Michael Jackson. (And Jackson has to go pretty high up there.) They all count in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, if that helps. Probably makes it tougher, right?
UK- Well, let’s just call it English, shall we? There were no Scottish acts on there. (Not even a shout out to Simple Minds, damn.)
I didn’t mention quite all of ’em. But here goes my opinion…
#49- Japan this low? Makes me sad. Pretentious? Perhaps sometimes, but Sylvian was just so cool and smooth.
48. I actually dig Bananarama. However, I’m rather sick of “Cruel Summer” and I never really liked “Venus”. That was a cover of an already craptacular song, though. (I like “Shy Boy” and “Robert DeNiro’s Waiting”.)
44. Blur- They’re pretty hit or miss. When they hit it’s SO good but “Song 2” can suck a fat one.
40. Oasis- They probably should have charted higher. However, I completely agree that the Gallagher bros crap is “insufferable” and they need to grow the fuck up already.
36. I DO remember the Happy Mondays and I STILL love those crazy bastards! I still listen to them at least twice a month.
34. T.Rex this low? I believe that is a travesty. He almost single-handedly invented glam rock. Marc Bolan (nee Feld) was always far to misunderstood and underrated.
33. Police- I agree, Sting was an egomaniacal a-hole, but Copeland was almost as bad. Maybe they’re just both annoying perfectionists. Summers said he routinely had to separate both of them so they could play the encores on the Synchronicity tour. (Poor Andy.) Oh, and if I never hear “Every Breath…” ever again, I will die very happy.
32. Coldplay- Couldn’t agree more. They are boring.
31.Dire Straits- Yes, Knopfler is talented but, gah, they are so boring. I think one has to be a guitarist to truly appreciate them.
30. Specials- LOVE ‘EM! You like Fun Boy 3 better? WTF?
27. Stone Roses- Oh, hell yeah! They’re far better than New Odor and rocked much harder. Easily more fun and listenable than the likes of New Odor and Depeche Commode.
26. Iron Maiden- I’m with ya. Not much of a hard rock fan. But they kicked SO much ass! They DID bring it!
24. Duran Duran- They were hugely influential for the MTV action, if nothing else. It did suck that they were considered just a bunch of “pretty boys” and did not get the credit that they deserved. And I agree that J.T. was an extremely underrated bass player. I personally didn’t recognize his talent until a friend of mine who played 5-string bass pointed out to me how extraordinary he was/is.
23. Genesis- I don’t like either version of this band. I prefer Gabriel’s solo stuff. Phil Collins makes me wanna vomit.
20. Jam- Indeed! Hard to pin down, as you mentioned. They rocked different styles. Speaking of “style”, no mention of Style Council? I loved Style Council. Peter Weller took the jazz thing even further with Style.
19. Madness- You cannot find a more cool, fun, and delightful band.
17. Jesus & Mary Chain- Lovely, ethereal, very unique and cool sound.
15. Elvis Costello- He’s so damn cool! I especially enjoyed seeing him rework his old songs with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. How many rock folks try that one?
11. Roxy Music- I think they were highly influential as well. Plus, Bryan Ferry is/was/will always be so smooth and dreamy.
10. Who- Sadly, I think you’re right to put them this far down on the list. They never, ever got their due credit. Roger Daltry is so cool and not your typical pretentious, better-than-thou singer. He was always happy to let Pete and Keith take all the kudos and attention. I saw them live in ’07 and despite the lack of Keith and John E., they still rocked the joint. They’re my favorite of the big 60’s Brit bands, fo’ sho!
7. Pistols- Uh, FUCK yeah! Did end too soon and influenced MANY.
5. Bowie- Of course. Unique and always willing to change (for better or worse).
4. Stones- I must be a dude because I prefer them to the Beatles. I love that they harnessed some good blues and used ’em well. I can listen to “Monkey Man” all day long and never tire of it.
3. Zepplin- Well sure. I completely agree that Page influenced so many, many white boy guitarists- probably too many. I’ll probably be shot by someone (not you, of course) for saying this but I prefer Plant’s solo stuff.
2. Beatles- It had to be done/said. But I agree. I’m well sick of ’em. But they do deserve respect.
1.Clash- Interesting choice for first. I LIKE it. Of course I prefer them over the Beatles. As you said, they were musically adventurous and always different. A breath of very cool, kick-ass fresh air at every turn.
Not bad overall. I did miss Tears for Fears and probably a few others that I’ll think about 2 hours after I post this…
LOL! Just realized I called Paul Weller, Peter. I was not referring to RoboCop. Please excuse the infraction.
Pshew! I made it! Where is my piece of cheese, mofo? 😀
I forgot about this…gimme a minute to digest. BTW- sweety, we need to work on that American rock list. I see some gross omissions, but I’m not sure we’d see eye-to-eye on what I think was left out (Pavement, Flaming Lips, Mission of Burma, Devo, Television, Husker Du, a whole army of American Hardcore, Richie Valens, Eddie Cochran, etc…)
Not a bad list overall. I might move some things around. For me, The Jam and The Smiths need to move up the list by a lot !
Intersting list. But the following are MIA from this list and really should be on it somewhere: Cream/Eric Clapton/Yardbirds, Moody Blues, Hollies, Yes. Also, how is it possible for the Jam to be 3 positions behind JMC? Makes no sense.
Any list that does not include bad company should be written on toilet paper !!!
Um… Where the hell is XTC?! Bananarama makes the list, but not XTC? Sheesh. Where is Cream? Joe Jackson? And as for the American band list, CSN&Y can’t be included because Nash is British and Young is Canadian.
XTC aren’t included on the list because, while critically acclaimed, I also don’t know how influential they were. They really weren’t distinctive enough to where you can listen to a new band and say “oh yes, that’s definitely an XTC influence”. And they only had three Top 20 singles. In fact, the average chart position for XTC singles is something like #67 on the UK charts. I found that surprising and disappointing myself. Although I’d consider XTC to be a “better” band than Bananarama, the girls easily outsold XTC and had a significant (and obvious) influence on female acts.
Cream? Don’t like ’em.
Joe Jackson? He’s known (in the US) for being a respected songwriter, much like Elvis Costello, But I’d be really surprised if anyone, even people who know a lot about music, could name any of his songs aside from “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” and “Steppin’ Out” (and perhaps the Suzanne Vega song “Left of Centre”). Everyone knows who he is, but outside those three songs he’s kind of an unknown here.
And the American list was an early draft. I’m not sure that CSN&Y made it to the updated draft (don’t have it here with me). Even so, the US list probably won’t happen, because I discovered that I really can’t stand the Top 50 US acts. There’s little fun in trying to make a list of something where you don’t like any of the bands on it.
Very close. The Who should be no.1 though – the greatest live band ever (studio probably as well). Listen to Live at Leeds (especially Amazing Journey/Sparks). Agree XTC and Tears For Fears should be in there (Donnie Darko?). Talk Talk as well (Hollis father of post-rock) – love ’em.
“I did my best to keep my personal tastes out of this list”.
No, you didn’t. Otherwise The Beatles would have been at #1 and you know that not placing them on top is simply wrong and innacurate. Period.
1) The Beatles – practically unanimous amongst music critics. This is pretty much established and it’s not going to change anymore, fellows.
2) The Rolling Stones – come with little dispute at #2. Highly regarded as The Beatles’ closest rivals. That’s standard picking, pretty much.
3) Led Zeppelin .- greatest band of the 70s and greatest Hard Rock group in History.
The rest becomes arguable and subjective, depending on the factors you’d consider more relevant. Some bands were extremely popular and longevus, but not so influential and innovative. Others were very important and had a huge impact, but weren’t very successful commercially or in the charts.
“No, you didn’t. Otherwise The Beatles would have been at #1 and you know that not placing them on top is simply wrong and innacurate. Period.”
Thank you for proving my point.
What a brilliant list! It brought back great memories. I think I will look up all these bands on YouTube for a few hours of nostalgia. Great that the list is not Americocentric. If you look at the Boillboard Hot 100 int he 80’s and the UK Singles Charts for the same, you see how different musical tasts were between the Us and Europe. Not better than, just different. As far as the rabid Dire Straits fans, yup thats me.Thanks for the post Jim.
As a Brit who grew up in the 70’s I found this to be an interesting but flawed list. Jethro Tull are one obvious overlooked prog rock band. Floyd should be higher, the Clash are overrated and under no circumstances better than the Beatles. The Hollies, Cream and Slade are MIA. Thanks for Status Quo though – great live act!
Britain gave us great musicians and songs and bands but even Britain did not realize brilliance in its midst at times. Yes, some glaring ommissions. But if I can get personal for a moment, The Clash? REally? I would put the STranglers ahead of them and in your top 10 for sure. Not surprised they were a total ommission since so was every idiot’s ommission on both sides of the pond no matter what the list — The Moody Blues. Talk about everyone trying to pretend they did not exist, what a joke! And Jethro Tull surely belongs here. Deep Purple and Uriah Heep both missing?? Ha! HA! HAA! Not I have lost interest. —- except to tell you the Beatles are the greatest plain and simple — no need to get original or cute on us.
The Bee Gees??!!
bananarama are u kidding me every list i see seems to leave out i think top five bands of ALL TIME JETHRO TULL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!HELLOOOOOOOOO
I have the records of at least 25 of these bands and a bunch of songs of the other 15 or 18, and there are 6 to 9 bands i never heard of it , but i´ve never listened a record of the beatles nor listened one of their songs more than 10-15 secs , they are so boring to me
And i wonder………. what would it be the 50 greatest bands of all time,not british and not from USA (America is the continent guys)
I appreciate your taste and you certainly have a deep knowledge of British music. Nice commentary too! And spot on for Duran Duran’s absolutely amazing bass player!
I think the two glaring omissions are Deep Purple (a definite top-10) and The Stranglers (better than The Clash!). I would probably consider Judas Priest, Jethro Tull, Eurythmics and Uriah Heep somewhere in the lower half of the rankings.
I would have to agree that Beatles is #1. The amount of masterpieces is too high.
I was listening to some of them this morning and it just hit me they were missing from the top 50. My mind didn’t tune in yesterday as I was thinking more towards rock, but they are a large part of what British music is about.
So, how about The Prodigy? Chemical Brothers? Faithless? Future Sound of London? Orbital? Even Ultravox and OMD from the past. These groups are seminal in their genres.
ok Jim, here it is in 5 words. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME??
Your review of the best 50 British bands falls short in so many ways that I don’t know where to start. Firstly, a ‘band’ is not a solo artist. Why are you including Kate Bush and Elton John in a list that clearly states ‘BANDS’? Secondly, a ‘group’ is not a ‘band’, meaning that any group of singers recording songs they haven’t written, or who aren’t responsible for the music , that’s totally different to a ‘band’. Bananarama were a GROUP , not a BAND. Thirdly, whilst your choices are your own, and I love The Clash, you stated that your ranking was based on many things including record sales (and I presume the band’s legacy), seriously there is no way in this earth that the clash rank top. London Calling was a huge album, and a great one, but compared to zeppelin, queen, the beatles??? the influence those bands had on popular music ,and still have , you just can’t compare. Finally, reading that the Stone Roses were influenced by Pixies is one of the most insane and ill thought out things I’ve ever read. Stone Roses first recorded in 1987, pioneering the manchester ‘baggy’ psychedelic sound. Pixies were a hardcore / heavy rock band, neither would have known of eachother’s existence at the time. Black Francis , Pixies songwriter/ vocalist influenced Nirvana with a mix of hardcore and beatles style melodies, and the 60s inspired tunes are the only faint link between Pixies and Stone Roses, but what rock band aren’t influenced in some way by the Beatles? To claim that Stone Roses were influenced by Pixies is so shockingly wrong that I wonder if you’ve really heard both bands. It’s like saying Metallica were influenced by Shakespeare , since they both used English language verses. If you’d like to debate further, email firstname.lastname@example.org, be happy to reply. Meantime, don’t post lists like this unless you know what you’re talking about.
I missed the Beatles/Stones as I was too young. The only band, apart from Oasis, who had a LARGE FANATICAL following was The Jam. The Clash had to rely on the Pistols (and jeans adverts) for sucess. They weren’t in the same league as the Jam. Jam fans were more educated and challenged more of what they saw.
What’s the point of saying destroy? We want a new world for everyone…
If only The Clash and Pistol fans had actually listened.
FUCK YOU COLDPLAY IS THE BEST AND NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR OPINION BITCH
agree with your list,but what about badfinger.without you is probably one of the best songs ever.forget mariah carey and listen to their version-awesome.
No Peter Gabriel is a crime,although you did mention Genesis. What about Yes,The Moody Blues,Jethro Tull,The Eurythmics,Judas Priest,Deep Purple,Hawkwind,ELO,E-Lake & Palmer, Bad Company,Dave Clark Five,The Yardbirds,Traffic,Blind Faith,and Def Leppard to name a few.
@P. Seidmann: As I mentioned in my opening paragraphs, I included ALL solo acts with their original band(s), because if I did that the list would be more like “15 Greatest British Bands and their 35 Solo and Spin-Off Acts”. So Gabriel is listed under Genesis.
You can’t put The Clash No. 1. I mean, obviusly you can, but they are not as huge as other bands you have on the list. Despite the fact that you are done with The Beatles they are the No. 1 band. There’s nothing you can do about it.
Mate, I think I might agree on some aspects of your list, but, really, WHERE IS KEANE?!!!. They have sold more records than most of these bands, and have achieved things that only a very few amount of people can brag about. My opinion is that they deserve at least to be 20-25 in this list.
I say it is a tie between The Beatles and Zeppelin at no. 1. The rest are ok with me. The Clash at number one? Oh well… what to say!!
I thought you had forgotten about The Clash until I was pleasantly surprised to see them on the top! Great list, although I might disagree about the order, I’d say all my favourite bands are here. Thank you!
Pink Floyd should be way way way higher. 2 or 3. And without going into to much detail, Joy Division should be number 1.
Like the clash but number 1!!come on you must be like them beatles fans…1 beatles 2 led zepp 3 pink floyd the rest are fine.
Clash? Fuck off i absolute penis they are no where near.what a dick
Beatles, queen and stones head and shoulders above the rest. Zeppelin are u pissed !!!!! What have they done in comparison to the bands I’ve mentioned. Fuck all
I Would,ve Put Iron Maiden At Number 1! Sold Over 85,000000 Albums + With No Help From Radio! Just The Fan,s ! Amazing Band! And In 2008 Lead Singer, Bruce Dickinson Flu The Whole Band Around The Would In A 757 Airplane, Roadies Ect! Is The Biggest Tour Of ALL TIME! Fact 🙂
World Not Would lol
my top 10 favorite bands are ony this list and im 18 and not even british haha. Music has really died in my generation
Where the fuck is 10cc?
The weird thing is that there is no Deep Purple anywhere on the list..
I’d like to second(as other people have mentioned them) Deep purple, the stranglers(their punk kills the clash and even the pistols and yes they are of the same vintage),the prodigy(along with that american band ministry) all absolutely changed music history.
Everyone raves about led zeppellin(they are my 2nd favourite band). Yeah they are up tempo folk(heavy) rock,but are they really the fathers of metal. This is folklore. The truth is pink floyd(yes that mellow band) cream and deep purple are the reason bands like sabbath came into existence.
The floyd are the best band that i have ever heard, but have no qualms with the beatles being top as their hit making was undeniable. But to put the clash or even led zeppellin(which most people do) is crazy.
These lists always seem to be based on sex appeal and not depth and originality.
P.s. Motorhead(as well as maiden) are just as worthy to be on this list, warts and all.
And can someone explain to me why the smiths alway figure on these lists i honestly don’t get the appeal.
PPS What about the cult?
This is a very bad list. How come the Clash is n. 1. what the f***?!! I’m amazed. Everyone who REALLY KNOWS about music would consider The Beatles n. 1, then Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd,, Queen and The Who or The Rolling Stones (no matter the order) They have really changed music. You could include Deep Purple, David Bowie, Black Sabbath, The Kinks after the other masters of music. The Clash and other punk dudes should go after these guys. And Iron Maiden should go A LOT higher, they should even top the Clash. You have a very shity music taste, so go and trow yourself from a very high mountain, and make sure that the place where you land is hard so you can smash easily. 🙂 good bye c**k sucker!
I forgot to mention Yes, King Crimson, ELP and ELO. You must be fuckin’ mad. They really changed music, the are the best bands of prog and symphonic rock.
Yes, but being “the best bands of prog and symphonic rock” is like being the smartest person at a bus station.
Muse could be higher. And I love the inclusion of Roxy Music in the top 10. Terrific parallel with The Who being Wake Forest while the Stones and The Beatles are UNC and Duke.
And I was a huge fan of The Clash but there’s not a chance on earth they were a greater band than the Rolling Stones (and several others).
Arctic Monkeys should definitely be on this list. Like, filling ALL of the top ten spots. Just joking, but seriously, reconsider the order and importance of the bands.
Astonished that Kasabian aren’t on here
You’re absolutely off you’re fucking rocker dude, c’mon
Wow. No Rod Stewart? Even George Michael should probably be on this list way before many you listed. And as previously mentioned, Judas Priest, Def Leppard, and Deep Purple also belong on this list. Japan, Blur, Nick Lowe? Really? But then again, any credibility went out the door when you placed The Beatles anywhere but #1.
Queen >>>> everything then led zeppelin.
1. Led Zeppelin.
2. The Beatles.
3. The Rolling Stones.
4. Pink Floyd.
5. The Who.
6. You can take your pick from the rest.
The Clash: They were called “the only band that matters
ah ah ah YOU DICK
Bananarama and no Arctic Monkeys makes this list completely obsolete.
How not to mention CREAM??? Do you really have a BRAIN???
Yes, Cream and/or Clapton are missing. Plus, I would like to nominate Ocean Colour Scene for a top 50 UK spot!
This is a bold thing to do and of course very controversial and impossible really as there are so many factors to consider when defining “best”. However it should be accurate factually and it isn’t always. For instance King Crimson and Yes were not influenced by Genesis – much more like the other way round. Just look at the dates of their respective debut albums. Genesis didn’t influence any major bands until the late 70’s early 80’s (i.e Marillion). King Crimson began life with a vengeance in 1969 and were the first real progressive rock band.
Bands ? kate bush isn’t a band ffs, Cream, Def Leppard. Clash number 1…go and do one dick.
Absolutely brilliant list, not sure i agree with The Clash being No.1 but i’m thrilled to see Depeche Mode WAY ahead of the Cure 😉
If you consider global impact, you can erase half your list, including the Smiths, Muse, Madness and various ’80s girly-boy acts largely unheard of outside the UK. (well, in Canada and the U.S. at least.)
Yes, Cream, Deep Purple are clearly oversights in my opinion, and I’d probably add the Pogues to the list as well (they formed in London despite their Irish roots). Although The Clash are one of my favourite bands, they probably deserve 4th place, behind Zep, Floyd, Beatles, Stones.
Haha to the man who suggested KEANE. What a boring bastard band if ever I heard of one. Record sales are not a sign of how good a band is, in fact, it’s pretty much irrelevant if you ask me. But regardless of this, I am sure keen have topped SPAR radio several times over the years and provide a heartwarming sound to the daily lives of the working British proletariat.
I Am Kloot should be at number 1. You tosser.
Here’s a quick top 50 based mostly on my enjoyment. Top of head, just a 5 minute list, see how it turns out..
1: The Beatles
2: Pink Floyd
4: Led Zeppelin
7: Jethro Tull
8: Porcupine Tree
9: The Clash
11: Soft Machine
12: King Crimson
15: Stone Roses
16: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
17: David Bowie and Spiders from Mars
20: The Jam
22: Depeche Mode
24: Black Sabbath
27: Rolling Stones
28: Mike Oldfield
31: Humble Pie
32: Iron Maiden
33: The Small Faces
36: Deep Purple
37: Moody Blues
38: Gentle Giant
39: Hatfield and the North
41: Echo and the Bunnymen
42: Elvis Costello
44: The Specials
45: Joy Division
46: Duran Duran
47: Happy Mondays
48: Steelers Wheel
49: Sex Pistols
Pink Floyd… 13th… Pink Fuckin’ Floyd… Fuckin’ 13th… The most influencial band of all time… 13th?!
This sort of thing will always be very subjective and to a certain extent generational, but for Aaron to have left out Genesis (considering his tastes) was obviously a mistake?
Arctic Monkeys, UB40, Amy Winehouse, Squeeze and The Fall must have been just outside the top 50?
Beatles – Cheesier than a cave in…. Cheddar, perhaps?
Where in the world is artic monkeys and gorillaz?
Very nice list.
As as french guy it was very instructive for me to learn that many bands I assumed as american were actually english!! (among which many of my favourite bands) That comforts me even more in the idea that british are the best for music, period.
Crazy how my point of view matches yours almost point by point. I only regret you didn’t mention any 90s-00s electronic acts at all (for I considere british are also the best (if not the only ones good) at it: Chemical Brothers, Aphex Twin, Matthew Herbert, Roni Size…), but maybe it’s a generational issue:); and of course, The Clash #1, what an heresy!
Hey, how dare you say that about Coldplay, man? I feel offended at a personal level.
oh wow, no deep purple on this list? Surely the writer is trolling us all.
1 Queen, 2Beatles, 3 Rolling Stones 4 Pink Floyd 5 The Who
Muse should be higher, and Yes should be in this list, in the top 15.
Where is Babyshambles and The Libertines?
This is so wrong the Beatles are number one then Rolling Stones then something like oasis or blur or pink flloyd
Why oh why oh WHY do these sort of lists habitually overlook the most obvious BritBand Blindspot, the currently criminally undervalued SLADE??????? Purveyors of boot stomping, scarf waving, terrace anthems with Noddy’s irresistible concrete mixer vocals bellowing girder crunching melodies which steamrollered everything else aside from ’71-’74.
There will always be opinions on who should or shouldn’t be on the list. What I enjoyed the most were the informative write-ups you posted for every artist. A good read!
I think Deep Purple should be an honorable mention since they did contribute to the hard rock history…
A great reference and definitely well executed and presented. …..Thanks for sharing. …if I can recommend your ears to an amazing British Band not included then I say discover Echo and the Bunnymen…..They are amazing. …and after 30 years their new material always continues to be as consistently genius as their early stuff
Well, but it´s your opinion, and We should respect, however, it´s not necesary to be agree. Personally, my favorite band now and forever will be the beatles
Yes, music is subjective, that can never be denied. For me, I always hated how far too many “critics” fawned over punk rock, and the newer avant garde artists and loved to snub the underground rock legends of the sixties and seventies. Here on this list of the alleged 50 greatest British artists of all time I notice the absence of greatness, and not so much what’s included because it appears you have to be a freak and an iconoclast and look like a freak to be considered. Conspicuously absent are 4 of my top ten all time favorite bands — Deep Purple, Moody Blues, Uriah Heep, and Jethro Tull. How old is the author of this article? Like, 10? Oh, well. I am quite sure he loathes two of what I think are the finest composers and performers of rock intrigue in history — The Doors and Blue Oyster Cult. It’s ok to hate those Yanks bands too, we have been living with scorn since time immemorial.
I agree with you , the author apparently lacks objectivity and justice ; perhaps the author in his heart harbors some kind of suspicion or selfishness , just so you can explain that on that list has been marginalized iconic rock bands .
Just to say The Who are my favorite rock band ever!
Electric Light Orchestra had 18 top 40 hits, Joy Division? Really?
Dr Feelgood best british live band ever
what about my fav English band, often forgotten because of his former Little band. Wings was the biggest selling band in the 70s. best liveband. a shame the are not mentioned in the top of this list.
Does the writer have a personal thing against Muse? ‘A poor man’s Radiohead’ is a pathetic way to word it, seeing as Muse are a much more ‘epic’ band. How Coldplay even made it above them is beyond me, and I don’t think many of you can disagree when I say that Bellamy is one of the most talented on this list, hands down.
no jimi hendrix?
Well, Jimi Hendrix was American, so no, he’s not on a list of “Greatest British Bands”.
Jimi was American but the band was British.
No-one has mentioned Porcupine Tree yet, or have they?
Someone knows why don’t appear The Electric Light Orchestra?, I think than this list it’s not complete
I’ve just came across this list and discovered some interesting groups. Congratulations!
Of course it’s something subjective, that’s why I don’t understand how some people write disrespectful comments against the author, like saying he must be 10 years old. Come on guys, life is short, listen to music and play it if you can/like, don’t waste your time talking shit about other people, instead use that time to improve yourselves.
Very good list. Glad the author credits bands that deserve to be there, even when he admits to not liking them. For success, UB40 would be a contender, though I am not a fan, but so pleased to see the Kinks and Led Zep in a deservedly strong position. Ten years ago I did not like Radiohead, now they’re in my top five, in another ten years, this guy’s list will probably be different too
Given the relatively low bar associated with this list I would have included the collective work of the Beat, the English Beat and the Fine Young Cannibals just as good if not better than the Specials, Madness or the Jam. More genuine than some of the lightweight pop artist as well. Difficult not to agree with the guy on Jethro Tull and the Moody Blues. Also, what about Cream and other Eric Clapton ventures ?! Rod Stewart probably worth a mention if you’re including such important artist as Bannaramma. Finally ever hear of Jeff Beck or Stevie Winwood and their related acts?
Cool list, I agree with some, disagree with some and that’s the great thing about music is everyone has their own interpretations. One suggestion, Cream? First supergroup, the cream of the crop musicians? Just a thought.
How oasis only is 40 and not top 5 Is shit, the la’s shouldve Been in and the Beatles shouldve won. Otherwise decent list
This all bands are domb, to say ILove 1D (one direction)
Genesis has a shit rank, your list is invalidated.
Yes but this list is so wrong! The Clash at number one!!!!! No Yes, King Crimson, Porcupine Tree or Cream. Obviously Genesis should be in the top 3 or 4 but facts are wrong too – example, Genesis were heavily influenced by King Crimson and a bit by Yes, not vice versa… What about ELP (and the NIce),. Jimi Hendrix Experience (that was a British band)…and I could go on. I teach courses in the history of British Rock and to me this list is strange and very misleading but perhaps reflects the age of the compiler. It should be entitled “My favourite British Bands – plus some others I have heard of.”
I hate the Phil-Collins-Genesis-was-a-pop-band stereotype. Let`s face the facts, Albums “TOTT”, “W&W”, “…ATTWT”, “Duke” were pure prog albums. “Abacab” was arty and modern postpunk. The pop albums (although arty) were only “Genesis” and “Invisible Touch”. “ICD” was AOR. So the stereotype is just stupid.
With Peter Gabriel they lacked success and it was reason PG left. 1976 –77 Genesis grew huge and then Peter Gabriel releseased his first solo album, which wasn`t prog almost at all, although Genesis remained prog rock.
I’ve been into pop music since the 1950’s and I wouldn’t give some of those you’ve mentioned a listen although your notes were quite interesting to read. One band I think should have been listed is the SHADOWS. Although mainly an instrumental group these guys made records right up to the end of the 20th century and didn’t officially break up till a few years into the 21st century. I think everyone loved the Shadows. They had a massive influence on lots of top artistes, including some mentioned in your list.
No Deep Purple? Or did I miss it.
Love the Clash too! You’re speaking of Sandinista with the tale of giving up profits. For London Calling they straight up tricked cbs records into including a free “single” which allowed them to squeeze a few more songs in. You rock. Thank you for this.
If you could just swap the number 12 spot with number 1, the list would be perfect.
Really… it’s a joke.
DEEP PURPLE???? SLADE? SWEET?THIN LIZZY?MOTORHEAD?CREAM?GENESIS?????
Pink Floyd on 13th place. You’re a complete nutter 🙂
This is very misleading, please don’t write without research.
About half of these bands would be on my list. If we count Thin Lizzy as an Irish band I particularly miss Peter Gabriel, ELO, 10 cc and XTC. Banamarama would probably not make my top 5000 list. 🙂
Cream, Faces, Tull, King Crimson, Deep Purple; either 50 is not enough or the bar needs to step up a notch. Love the Sex Pistols entry. Impact v Longevity now there’s a debate!
Actually I thought “The Cure” would be much higher up. Surprised not to see New Order there.
quite a shitty list….as no mention of deep purple, Judas priest, Iron maiden…….
Iron Maiden is #26 on the list.
Thank you for keeping music alive. So many great artists.
I think Judas Priest should have been in, they are the forefathers of heavy metal, totally influential.
Based on record sales Dave Clark 5 or Hollies .
As much as i dislike admitting it, One Direction should definitely be mentioned, not everyone likes them, but they are quite a huge success, the greatest boy band for teenagers in the world. various awards and nominations, millions singles sold, numerous albums, they definitely deserve a place in the top-ten. And Rixton, The Vamps, they are quite new and teenage-y but definitely loved by many,
I say 1-The Beatles 2-Led Zeppelin 3-The Rolling Stones 4-Pink Floyd 5-The Who 6-Genesis 7-Queen 8-Yes 9-Deep Purple 10-Black Sabbath. Then I guess Bowie, P.Gabriel,The Clash,ELO, ELP, The Police, Roxy Music, The Smiths, Small Faces, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Fleetwood Mac-esp Peter Green Era, Cream, Elvis Costello, Duran Duran, and others in whatever order.
Top Ten Surely is 1-Beatles 2- Led Zeppelin 3-Pink Floyd 4-The Rolling Stones, 5-The Who 6-Queen 7-Genesis-esp Gabriel Era 8-Deep Purple 9-Yes 10-Black Sabbath….with Elo,Elp,The Moody Blues,The Clash,The Police,The Smiths,The Cure,David Bowie,Peter Gabriel,Iron Maiden,Judas Priest,Bad Company,Depeche Mode,Joy Division-New Order,Traffic,Cream,Small Faces,Marillion-esp Fish era,King Crimson,and others I didn’t list in whatever order.
Can’t believe you left out Deep Purple
The best Top Ten for me is: 1-Beatles, 2-Rolling Stones, 3-The Who, 4-Led Zeppelin, 5-Pink Floyd, 6-The Kinks, 7-Deep Purple, 8-David Bowie, 9-The Doors, 10-Bob Dylan
Great list, but The Doors isn´t possible because They were from USA.
You´re rigth! I’ll substitute them by The Velvet Underground.
Well, i supose Velvet Undergroud and Bob Dylan are both from the USA, so number 9 will be Queen and nº 10 The Clash.
Hmm, live and learn. I always thought the Faces became Small once Rod left the band. Are we all sitting comfy two square on our bottie?
T.Rex released 8 albums not 4 plus pre T.Rex Bolan released 4 albums with Steve Took.
The interesting thing sbout this snd mwny others on the topic is that the majority of the bands listed were formed between 1963 and 1980. Speaks volumes as to the sad state of pommy music post 1980.
Surprised to see Pickettywitch didn’t get a mention…
Good list. However, you forgot one of the greatest bands of ALL TIME . I am talking about Electric Light Orchestra. They aren’t recognized enough for what they have done. They are probably the best rock band from 70’s and 80’s that mixed classical music with rock.
Coldplay, the most boring band ever?????????? Why!!?!?!??!??? It’s THE best!!!! ????
Ummm? Where is Echo & the BunnyMen, The Cult, Def Leppard, or Bush?? Come on, not top 10 but mos def top 50….
You talk about a New Order a lot, yet somehow they haven’t come up on your list. And ignoring Matt Johnson’s The The is simply ridiculous. Check out Soul Mining if you still haven’t.
New Order *are* on the list, at #14. As I said in the intro (and repeatedly in the comments), I included all spin-off bands and solo acts in the original band’s entry.
When you’re talking about British songwriting duos, the first one you talk about is, of course, Lennon and McCartney. But the next one you talk about is Difford and Tilbrook.
Arctic monkeys !!!!!!!
The Beatles simply have to be No. 1 – that much is obvious. My main area of disagreement though, would have to be on Oasis. To have them only 40th on this list, when statistics clearly point to them being in the top 10 – possibly even top 5 – is an insult. Sure, their antics off stage were slightly loathsome, especially Liam Gallagher’s abhorrent character, but you said it yourself “They had eight #1 singles, and had an unprecedented 22 consecutive singles reach the Top 10, the latter a Guinness World Record, one of two the band holds (the other is for spending 765 weeks in the Top 75 charts)”. That is not the sound of a band who comes in at only 40th on your list……
Wake Forest- The Who.
Okay my daughter was a post grad there so I see where you are coming from!
Where are Tears for Fears, Jethro Tull? I guess you are just including influential bands. I like originality and Tull, especially was original.
I do not understand why Clash are number one. Squeeze is better than them.
I like your writing though – very informative and well written.
@Peter Wooldridge , as you say “pommie” I guess you’re a fucking Aussie…..the land of thousands of great bands ….NOT.
A very good shot at this and well written too. As has been said no list will please everyone, but I would have thought Amy Winehouse, Squeeze and Supertramp were worthy of a shout.
The Beatles are the best band of all time whichever criteria you use. Popularity, cultural significance, songwriting ability , sales. The Clash ahead of the Beatles? Don’t be daft. You said at the beginning you’d try to keep your personal taste out if it. Try harder! (I enjoy a list!)
The Beatles should be the #1 but it is alright, I still like the Beatles very much because it is my gateway to British culture and music.
The Cult above the Beatles!!!??? How can that even be justified? IT CAN’T!!! And Pink Floyd at 13 is a joke! You sir are a poor judge of music!
That is a very comprehensive list you have there, and – apart from ELO not being on the list – I can’t fault it tbh. As I was reading the list out to my brother, he asked who the author is – which I hadn’t checked before embarking upon your post – and was pleasantly surprsed that you’re not from the UK, given the breadth of knowledge demonstrated.
To top it all off, I was surprised to see The Clash topping the list, but I think your rationale for this decision is correct: they covered such a broad range of music, and captured the social angst of the time perfectly. I remember once being ‘shouted’ down in YouTube comments for suggesting that The Clash were better than Led Zeppelin 😀
@Peter Wooldridg Hey Pete, how do you know when a plane load of Pommies touchdown at Kingsford Smith airport?
You can still hear the whining after the captain shuts down the engines 🙂
No One direction!! Who writes this stuff!! No but seriously i only came here to make sure Madness were on the list, and i think you got them about right i suppose. Dont agree with the Clash being number one though. You obviously let a bit of bias get in the way there.
Great list and thoughtful words but you missed the greatest hard rock band of them all UFO
First of all, I’m a weirdo for loving both fractions of Genesis, but I must correct you on a huge mistake in regards to Genesis. Genesis was hugely influenced BY Yes and King Crimson not the other way around.
Just my opinion, I like The Clash but in comparison to The Stranglers, Buzzcocks and especially Wire, I find them quite overrated. And where’s Ultravox?
You made a mistake 😉 Depeche Mode is #1
Faltan SUPERTRAMP y BEE GEES
Simply Red, U2 where are they on the list
Well, U2 are Irish, not British, so that’s why they’re not on the list.
I know Simply Red were HUGE in the UK, but they’re kinda thought of as a “Few Hit Wonder” here in the US. “Holding Back the Years” is likely the only Simply Red song many would know, aside from their cover of “If You Don’t Know Me by Now”. They don’t have another other Top 20 hit in the US until the 2000s, when Billboard shifted them over to the “Adult Contemporary” charts, where they’ve been a bit more successful. Still, the highest a Simply Red album has charted in the US since 1990 was #75, and the highest one of their albums *ever* charted in the US was #16.
Deep Purple…. Whitesnake….Judas Priest… UFO…Cream… 2/3 of Jimi Hendrix
ALL deserve recognition !
Big Audio Dynamite. ELO. Style Council. Brand New Heavies. Echo and the Bunnymen. Cream. PIL.
Mate – your head is fucked! Oasis at 40 and Banarama anove the Verve – I stopped reading at Oasis as you are clearly demented
In fact , you forgot to include one female singer that rivals with Kate Bush if not top her. Siouxsie Sioux has also inspired more singers than just about any other woman on the planet. PjJharvey, Tracey Thorn, Sinead o’Connor, St. Vincent, Florence Welch, Sharleen Spiteri, Shirley Manson, Beth Gibbons, Ana Matronic, Karin Dreijer Andersson of The Knife, Courtney Love, FKA Twigs, Kim Deal, Lush, Rachel of Slowdive, Santigold Romy Madley Croft of the XX, Kate Jackson of the Long Blondes, Charli XCX Dum Dum Girls and Jenny Lee Lindberg of Warpaint all show clear signs of Siouxsie’s influence and express it in interviews. Elisabeth Fraser even recognized she had a tattoo with Siouxsie on her arm! And the list of other musicians who are fans – Joy Division’s Peter Hook, Jeff Buckley, The Smiths, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan, Tricky, Massive Attack, Faith no More, there are so many– is impressive, too. So by this criteria, Siouxsie And The Banshees should be in the top 50 by far.
In fact , you forgot to include one female singer that rivals with Kate Bush if not top her. Siouxsie Sioux has also inspired more singers than just about any other woman on the planet. PjJharvey, Tracey Thorn, Sinead o’Connor, St. Vincent, Florence Welch, Sharleen Spiteri, Shirley Manson, Beth Gibbons, Ana Matronic, Karin Dreijer Andersson of The Knife, Courtney Love, FKA Twigs, Kim Deal, Lush, Rachel of Slowdive, Santigold Romy Madley Croft of the XX, Kate Jackson of the Long Blondes, Charli XCX Dum Dum Girls and Jenny Lee Lindberg of Warpaint all show clear signs of Siouxsie’s influence and express it in interviews. Elisabeth Fraser even recognized she had a tattoo with Siouxsie on her arm! And the list of other musicians who are fans – Joy Division’s Peter Hook, Jeff Buckley, The Smiths, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan, Tricky, Massive Attack, Faith no More, there are so many– is impressive, too. So by this criteria, they should be in the top 50 by far.
No, I didn’t “forget” Siouxsie.
I kind of figured The Moody Blues would’ve been on here. 50+ years together. 60 million or so albums sold. Their core seven albums all charted well.
The Cult and The Sisters of Mercy should be on this list, ditch the Pet Shop Boys and the Cocteau Twins.
The Cult wouldn’t make a Top 200 list; Sisters of Mercy would barely crack a Top 500.
Pet Shop Boys are listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “most successful duo in UK music history”. They’ve had 42 Top 30 singles, 22 Top 10 singles and 4 number ones. The Cult and Sisters aren’t even in the same league as PSB.
As mentioned in my comments, Cocteau Twins inspired a whole generation of indie girl singers. They feature prominently in a documentary Beautiful Noise, which is more than you can say about The Cult or Sisters.
Joe Jackson, ELO and Yes
The Beatles are the greatest band in the history of planet earth. This list is a joke.
So the Clash are one but you don’t name a song or act they inspired. They mixed some style. Are known for one or two albums. There songs known to the masses are Train in Vain, Should I Stay and London Calling. This to win greatest British band. The Beatles catalog is objectionable untouchable. I tried to give your argument a chance but there was none. I assume it’s a personal choice. The Clash were a big deal for a lot for a couple years. They were a big deal for a few for many years. Still not the greatest. Not even close. You need more than three albums and one in the case of the Sex Pistols.
The Beatles Number 1, The Rolling Stones Number Two, Led Zeppelin Number Three, Queen Number Four, the rest you can put in any position you want. The Clash? you’ve gotta be kidding!!. They came when everything was done and didn’t invent anything… poorly done list.
Any list is purely subjective, but (…..you knew it was coming 😉 …) a top 50 British bands without listing a band ‘Metal’s top 4’ and countless others all list as an influence, an American band even named themselves after a single. Been going since the 70’s, constant tours and over 20 studio albums and more live, compilation and bootleg albums than care to collect (yes I might be biased)….. They were Motorhead, and they played Rock’n’roll
By and large I’ll go with the list. Unlike a lot of the comments, I won’t be abusive about it where I disagree. Those with trashy comments are just showing that they don’t have enough patience or talent to research and publish their own list.
I liked the list. However, I’m sad that neither the list nor the comments talked about Deep Purple.
The Cure, Depeche Mode and New Order were three of the biggest acts in the 80s for UK bands. I am surprised they were not listed in the top 10.
A thoroughly incomplete list. You’re either very young or have never lived in the UK. So many great bands have been omitted here, Alan Price, Brian Auger, The Searchers, The Shadows, The Troggs, Manfred Mann, The Big Three, Cream, The Pretty Things, The Yardbirds, etc., etc. Best you do a bit more homework.
Jesus, what a condescending comment. I have a feeling you too would be biased if you wrote such a list, because all the bands you mention are near enough of a particular era, as in the 60s/early 70s. I’m from the UK and I wouldn’t put all your submissions in a list, does that mean I’m in fact not from the UK as you would assume? Also, bands like The Troggs, for example, as much as I enjoy them, their biggest hit Wild Thing is a cover, so it’s not even their original material! I certainly think some of the author’s choices were questionable if this is to be a straight up greatest bands list, rather than just a personal one, but to his credit he has picked from across the board of decades, from 60s to now.
The person compiling this list cannot be a musician. The criteria given (record sales, chart performance) are essentially financial, not artistic or cultural. Even so, The Clash weren’t particularly popular, much less #1.
Apparently Cream, Jethro Tull, and Yes were excluded so there would be room for giants Bananarama and Pet Shop Boys.
Why isn’t The Fall mentioned?
It’s obvious the author is a fan of 80’s alternative / new wave / punk. Placing The Clash as #1 is musically sinful!
This list shows your age. Not a bad thing, just an observation. Omitting Cream, The Moody Blues, The Yardbirds, Manfredd Mann’s Earth band … you are not a child of the 60s, but of the 80s. I wonder in how many of these bands will slip from memory in the next twenty to fifty years. When I was younger, I recall hearing how big band was the music of choice in old folks homes. When punk is the music of choice there, I wonder what will fill the airwaves (or streams or whatever is en vogue then)?
You have some very good comments, but (1) putting the Clash above the Beatles kills any credibility of your list; and (2) the absence of SLADE on your list exposes that you have never lived in England.
Well put. Demoting the Beatles to 2nd place because they are overexposed makes a nonsense of this. But hey, it’s your list!
How can this not include the Stranglers, Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull, Gerry Rafferty pfffff
Love it! An unashamedly personnel take. I think I am a little bit younger than you but still grew up with many of these bands. Why not put the Clash top and Sex Pistols at #7. It temps me to write my own.
Also, I don’t really understand how some many comments disparage this list because it doesn’t have the Beatles at the top. What if you don’t really like the Beatles? Some people don’t. Or maybe you do like them, but not as much as other bands. It’s all a bit of fun anyway.
I would have put the Pet Shop Boys in the first place. Then the Beatles. And I wouldn’t have included The Clash in the top 10.
Comparing Oasis to the Beatles is absurd! That mediocre over privelaged band with two great songs once said if they had been around during the Beatles era we would hardly know who the Beatles we’re. This is the single most ignorant statement ever made. In fact it is completely obvious that the Beatles was The Oasis brats number one influence!!
Okay I’m British and love my music – let’s get that out of the way first. A few thoughts:
– I really enjoyed your list – entertaining and well thought through
– Found myself agreeing with 65% and disagreeing with the rest – that’s great and makes for an interesting world
– I worry you miss so much of the more recent stuff e.g. Faithless, Underworld, Tricky and most massively Massive Attack
– Totally agree with the comments around you missing Cream out but including much lesser bands
– Oh add you missed Undertones, Primal Scream and probably a few more – all are far too good to have been missed
– Yep putting The Beatles in 2nd is controversial – but it all depends by what criteria you judge things – for me the Stones are better, more important, and more influential
– Oh my god just realised you missed out Dr Feelgood – they were the basis of much of punk and new wave and far too good to have been missed.
– So lose Japan, Bananarama, Cliff Richard (god help us), Cocteau Twins, Muse, The Verve and Status Quo for sure and replace with Dr Feelgood, Massive Attack, Cream, Faithless, Tricky, Primal Scream and Underworld or The Undertones and now you are talking.
– It all depends on your criteria anyway – I get these aren’t ‘your favourites’ but not sure it’s quite chart or sales either – if it was Beatles would beat The Clash and the rest hand down.
But hey what a good list and entertaining and like any good list it gets you thinking so thanks for that and the fun of now needing to do my own list.
Are you being serious ? …..Slade are at 1 point, 3rd behind the Beatles & Stones of the most number 1’s by any british band in the Uk !!
So they should be in the top 1-5 or 5-10 at least ?
Ask Brian May, he was a Slade fan.
If you don’t agree look at Noddy Holder’s this is your life, which features Brian May.
Not Killing Joke?!
Where is the band The Sweet??? Brian, Steve, Andy and Mick deserve a mention they were part of the glam rock era who influenced a lot of bands and sold tons of records.
How about the Moody Blues and ELO and also China Crisis??
Wtf the clash # 1
Well .. THE BEATLES , STONES, PINK FLOYD, THE CLASH , VAN HALEN, DEF LEPPARD, AC/DC, TEAR FOR FEARS, JOY DIVISION , THE CURE , THE CARS, AND DURAN DURAN, ETC… ALL VERY GREAT IN THERE OWN DIFFERENT MUSIC AND STYLES!.
I recently got into British bands from the 80s and I stumbled upon this list while looking for some cool bands to listen to. It’s a great compilation but I’m quite disappointed that it (and every other list I have come across) doesn’t include Siouxsie and the Banshees! In my opinion they’re one of the boldest and most whimsically awesome bands in the world.
Im glad you put Madness in there, above the Specials aswell. I would have had Chas and Dave one above the Verve 😉
The Who are my favorite band.
Any list that does not include bad company should be written on toilet paper !!!
Mott. The Hoople performing “Keep A
Knocking” anywhere is enough to have put them in the top 25. Having them responsible for having rock music banned at the Royal Albert Hall and getting a bill for damages and not being allowed to play the next evening is enough to be in the top 10 for isn’t that is what its about?
You spelled Led Zeppelin wrong.
It is artistically criminal to omit from the list Deep Purple (the best live rock album of all time, “Made in Japan”), Cream, Slade, Elo, Judas Priest, Motorhead and throw in garbage like Coldplay, Bananarama, Cocteau Twins, The Specials and Pet Shop Boys.
Led Zeppelin undisputed number 1 and Radiohead way above on the list order.
Believe it or not, they’ve continued to make music since 1972, ya dinosaur.
Deep Purple? Cream, Slade? What century do you live in?
Cream? They were a force of nature. Simply phenomenal. The first supergroup. There has never been a band like them before or since.
Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton
Sunshine of your love
I feel free
I’m so glad
Tales Of Brave Ulysses
The Clash #1???… obviously you weren’t around in the 60’s… The Beatles should be the choice for number one spot.. No comparison musically..
Led Zeppelin, Stones, Pink Floyd were way better…
Moody Blues should be in the top 10… as should ELO…
Good list with most of the important British bands mentioned. Wouldn’t argue about the Clash being #1 either!
Deep Purple & ELO should be there to make this serious.- They were and still are a huge influence of many other bands.
The Clash above The Jam? FFS!!!
Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, the orb…? Pretty influential bands if you ask me.
Wonderful time in music, great never to repeated bands. Real bands real music, some have said take me back to the seventies and leave me there.
You have to be smoking crack if you’re putting Duran Duran before all of those other bands. And by the way, if you’re going to make a list of the greatest British rock bands of all time, by default, the Beatles are going to ALWAYS be your number 1. If not, your list is garbage. (And I’m not a Beatles fan)
“Oh look, I disagree with the placement of one band over others, so the author must be smoking crack because his viewpoint otherwise is bullshit, and mine is DEFINITELY right”. The author literally states that aside from personal preference, he was mainly factoring cultural/ chart impact and things like record sales. Like it or not, Duran Duran are literally one of the biggest selling British bands of all time, something like 75 million worldwide. They were a huge driving force behind the MTV phenomenon of video as a means of promotion, they were huge all over the world including the USA, to the point being dubbed the fab 5 for the sheer hysteria over them, and probably one of the few new wave acts of the 80s to have made worldwide chart impact after the 80s: With the Wedding album in the 90s, and UK No.3 and worldwide Top 10 Album in the 2000s – how many new wave/ new romantic acts had that level of success in the two decades after the 80s? Spandau Ballet, Adam & The Ants, Culture Club? Nope. Their basslines in particular were fantastic, they made straight up great pop and they had underrated gems like ‘Careless Memories’.
Secondly, this ISN’T a a greatest British rock bands list, its a greatest British bands list, so any genre is allowed.
Thirdly, people CAN put The Beatles before no.1 and still be a relevant list, this isn’t a dictatorship.
Seeing The Animals and House of the Rising Sun brought on a flood of remembrance of things past: Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Aretha Franklin, Grace Slick and White Rabbit, 1965 Oakland CA draft induction center where the police rioted and where I got a permanent deferment, West Coast premier of Cream at Fillmore West, Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jimi Hendrix Experience complete with burning guitar. Having heard Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton live and on recordings, stoned and not, it is a matter of personal taste. They are both extraordinary. Remembrance of things past …
OH AND DON’T FORGET RAINBOW
What a stupid list. So solo artists are now ‘bands’? Really stupid list. And who would ever put the clash above the Beatles!! LMFAO
Your list sucks. It would take me a couple days to tell you exactly why. But one thing that infuriated me right away was the fact you didn’t have Jethro Tull in your top ten , nor did you list the Moody Blues , Yes , Joe Crocker, etc. Thumbs down all the way ‼️‼️‼️
You missed The Electric Light Orchestra … seriously, Jeff Lynne wrote better “throwaway songs” than most of the bands on you list. I still don’t understand you musical elitists ignoring Jeff Lynne.
You need to go back to ROCK school…
Oh my lord. How bad is that list? When were solo artists ever bands?
And where are Aswad? Gotta be top 20
Really enjoyed reading that and loved the Clash. Thank you Jim!
Dire Straits were an incredible live band that sold out Wembley Arena (just under 100K) for 7 consecutive days and played it for 14 consecutive days in 1987.
The Rolling Stones were another great live British band and were the #1 grossing live act in the USA in 1969, 1979, 1989, and 2009. Too bad Mick had some health issues in 2019