When most people think of Kiss, images of heavy makeup, elaborate costumes, high-heeled boots, blood running out of Gene Simmons’ mouth, and hard-rocking guitars likely come to mind. You either love them or hate them, but the mark they made on the world of rock and roll cannot be denied. The band formed in 1973 and you can still catch a show on their current “End of the Road” tour.
This British-American band formed in NYC in 1976. With a long stream of hits like “Hot Blooded”, “Cold as Ice”, and “Urgent”, this band is still waiting for recognition from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They also found an audience in prom-worthy power ballads like “I Want to Know What Love Is” and “Waiting for a Girl Like You”.
23. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
Joan and company will always be special to me because this was my first real rock concert. They can absolutely rock your socks off and I’m so glad they still tour and share their talents with old and new fans. “I Love Rock and Roll” is the band’s biggest hit, but they also put out a great cover of “Crimson and Clover”.
22. Green Day
Since the release of Dookie in 1994, these guys from Berkeley, CA, have reminded us that punk rock has a place among classic rock icons. They are known for taking a stand with songs like “American Idiot”, which later became a Broadway show of the same name. I’ve enjoyed some of their releases more than others, but “Basket Case” has a solid standing as my favorite.
With Michael Hutchence’s strong vocals and oozing sex appeal, this band was perfect for the MTV generation. Before Hutchence’s untimely death in 1997, the group racked up a string of hits including “Need You Tonight”, “Original Sin”, and “Don’t Change”.
20. Cheap Trick
It was only after a live album recorded in Japan that these Rockford, IL guys made American listeners sit up and take notice. With radio favorites like “Surrender”, “Dream Police”, and “I Want You to Want Me”, this hard-working band has made its mark across decades.
I have three words for you: Don’t. Stop. Believin’. I would be willing to bet you sang the words as you read them. That song is so ingrained in our culture. It’s an absolute classic, along with “Lovin’, Touchin’ & Squeezin’”, “Open Arms”, and so many more.
18. Def Leppard
It might be easy to dismiss them as an ‘80s hair band, but Def Leppard remains relevant and still tours today. With a huge laundry list of hits and a treasure trove of classic videos, I can’t imagine them not being on this list. They provided the backdrop for a good portion of my college years. Their distinct sound can be heard on “Pour Some Sugar on Me”, “Love Bites”, “Photograph”, and so much more.
17. Bon Jovi
Since the first time I heard “Runaway” in 1984, I was hooked. While some of their later releases have strayed from their rock roots, classics like “Livin’ on a Prayer”, “You Give Love a Bad Name”, and “Wanted Dead or Alive” have earned them a spot on this list. P.S. I love you, Jon.
The band actually formed in 1970, but really took off when sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson joined in 1973. Between Ann’s powerful vocals and Nancy’s incredible guitar skills, they were destined for stardom. “Barracuda” and “Magic Man” are so ingrained most people can recognize them from the very first note.
Since 1973, these Aussies have marked their spot as rock icons with their hard-hitting songs and energetic performances. “Back in Black”, “Highway to Hell”, and “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” are undeniable classics. With performances so loud your ears were guaranteed to be ringing for the next day or two, fans only wanted more.
With his scarf-adorned microphones, Steven Tyler’s instantly recognizable lead vocals have been a part of the rock landscape since 1970. They made history with Run DMC in a new take on “Walk this Way” in 1986. The video for the song literally knocked down walls and the song introduced listeners to something completely different. “Dream On” and “Sweet Emotion” are among their long list of hits.
These guys could play anything and flowed between genres with crossover hits other bands just couldn't pull off. I can't imagine anyone who doesn't know all about "the corner in Winslow, Arizona", and the internet is flooded by photos of fans who make that pilgrimage just because the song, and the band, mean so much to them. From heavy hitters like "Heartache Tonight" to softer classics like "New Kid in Town", they still fill our playlists with songs we love to sing along to in cars, showers, and karaoke bars.
12. The Cars
This band also cashed in on the peak of MTV in the ‘80s with creative and quirky videos as a match for their catchy songs. They helped define the new wave era of rock and were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has “Just What I Needed”, “Best Friend’s Girl”, and “Drive” on heavy play rotation.
Grunge is a label given to this band and others who emerged from the Seattle area music scene in the early ‘90s. Nirvana seemed to stand out from all the rest and the world realized they were on to something completely different and game-changing when “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hit the airwaves. Before lead singer Kurt Cobain’s shocking suicide, these guys gave us a long list of amazing songs and a timeless MTV Unplugged performance.
10. REO Speedwagon
It's hard to believe these guys started in 1967. They're still touring and making new fans along the way. While most folks might think of their power ballads like "Can't Fight this Feeling" and "Keep on Loving You", they definitely know how to rock. "Back on the Road Again" and "Don't Let Him Go" are a couple of examples. For me, "Time for Me to Fly" and "That Ain't Love" are the perfect songs to play on repeat when you're realizing it's time to leave a bad relationship. There really is something for everyone in their long discography.
9. Van Halen
Despite numerous line-up changes over the years, this band has managed to deliver memorable and innovative hits since the late ‘70s. Eddie Van Halen’s mad guitar skills are the glue that holds everything together. There might be arguments about the best lead singer, David Lee Roth or Sammy Haggar, but the band’s mark on rock cannot be denied. “Jump”, “Panama”, “Finish What You Started”, and a cover of “You Really Got Me” are just a sample of their expansive catalog.
8. Electric Light Orchestra (ELO)
This band put their own spin on rock by adding orchestral elements that elevated everything they produced. I don’t think anyone can help smiling listening to “Mr. Blue Sky”, which is one of my all-time favorite songs. Classics like “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” have stood the test of time, and in 2017 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
7. Foo Fighters
This is my absolute favorite live band of all time. You can see in their performances how much they genuinely love what they are doing and give their fans everything they’ve got. They were initially recognized for their silly music videos, but the music stands for itself. “Best of You”, “Learn to Fly”, “Everlong”, and “Monkey Wrench” are examples of their rock staples.
6. Fleetwood Mac
Despite the famous personal drama among the band members, these talented musicians have managed to use their love affairs and heartbreaks as golden song material. “Go Your Own Way” might just be the ultimate breakup song. With band members taking turns on lead vocals, they still retain a distinctive sound and know just how to reach their audience with a multitude of feelings. “Landslide”, “Dreams”, and “You Make Loving Fun”, among others, have secured their spot among rock royalty.
5. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
I still have to remind myself that Tom Petty died. His instantly recognizable voice, relatable songwriting, and ability to master numerous instruments helped lead this band to iconic status. “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, “Breakdown”, “Refugee”, and so many others are just rock magic.
I don’t think I know anyone who isn’t at least tempted to sing along with “Bohemian Rhapsody” when it’s played. The band formed in 1970 in London and made their presence known until Freddie Mercury’s untimely death in 1991. These guys manage to blend rock with opera, among other unconventional strides in music, and the world loved it. With an over-the-top lead singer and overflowing talent throughout the band, we can thank them every time we hear “We are the Champions” at a sporting event and “Fat Bottomed Girls” when we need a perfect road trip song.
3. Led Zeppelin
With sexually charged lyrics and long, rhythmic masterpieces, these guys have been blowing our minds since the late ‘60s. They’re most recognized for “Stairway to Heaven” but have gifted us with so much more. “Kashmir” just oozes sexual tension, while “Whole Lotta Love” blatantly puts it right out there. As stated in the classic ‘80s movie, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, “When it comes to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV”. Their legacy goes way beyond sex though; they brought us rock in a unique and palatable way.
2. The Beatles
I went back and forth on this ranking, but ultimately placed this band that defines so much of music at number two because much of their catalog seems to be more pop than rock to me. Where they do really, truly rock is on songs that include “Helter Skelter”, “Revolution”, “Back in the USSR”. Their influence and mark on music history simply cannot be denied. I think most bands since have looked to their musical artistry and groundbreaking superstardom as blueprints for their own careers.
1. The Rolling Stones
When I think of rock, I automatically think of the Stones. They are perpetual bad boys, making their own rules along the way. They have been rocking since 1962, initially presenting themselves as a blues band. Over the years, they have morphed into the world’s greatest rock band, but that blues influence is still clear and defines much of their music. Now in the geriatric age range, they are still touring, still selling out venues, still defining rock and roll. From “Gimme Shelter” to “Satisfaction” and “Beast of Burden”, this band is the very definition of rock.