25 Bands That Defined an Era of Rock Music

When you hear the phrase “greatest rock bands,” you almost certainly get an image of four or five white guys holding guitars—the Beatles, the Stones, Zeppelin, Van Halen, Nirvana, and all the other classic rock gods.

Classic rock by guitar bands is often fantastic; I’m a fan. But rock’s had a long and extremely varied history, and it seems a shame to restrict greatness to the one and only subgenre.

So this list is an effort to imagine what the greatest rock band might mean if we peeled our ears off the usual suspects for a second and heard what else was out there rocking.

Songs like the barn burner “Packing Up” unleash Williams’ “OOOOOO” at full force, a gigantic barbaric yawp that rock bands have been trying to recapture since.

Clara Ward Singers

Louis Jordan’s hip-swinging jump blues band was the blueprint for early rock with its novelty lyrics, vocal hiccups, and driving beat; when Louis Jordan screeched “Calllldooonnnia!” everyone from Little Richard to Hank Williams sat up and yodeled.

Louis Jordan and The Tympani Five

They rocked so hard they were almost funk on songs like “Mickey’s Monkey,” sighed into the supersensual proto-quiet-storm of “Ooo, Baby Baby,” and built the prototype of orchestral pop on masterpieces like “Tears of a Clown” and “Tracks of My Tears.”

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

You can make a greatest rock band list that isn’t quite as focused on the Beatles first, last, and always, but it’s hard to create a greatest rock band list that excludes them altogether.

The Beatles

Dirty blues guitar bands from the Rolling Stones to the White Stripes have latched onto the MGs’ mix of raunch, grease, joy, and heartache, but no one ever did it better.

Booker T. And the M.G.'s

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