The 20 greatest British rock bands of all time
From hard rock to punk, new wave, indie and Britpop, British bands have defined entire genres and influenced millions of rock fans over the years.
The UK music scene has produced some of the world's most iconic bands and artists, whose work remains just as popular and revered to this day.
From Joy Division to Radiohead, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, these are the best British rock bands of all time.
20. Joy Division
It's incredibly rare for a band to have such an impact in such a short space of time. Joy Division were one of the most influential bands of the late 1970s, despite the life of Ian Curtis being cut tragically short at the age of just 23. Factory Records changed the face of British music and Joy Division were a huge part of its success.
19. Super Furry Animals
The finest Welsh proponents of weirdo rock since... well, ever. The group, pictured above on a bad hair day, have created some of the most interesting albums of the last few decades and they're also one of the first commercially successful acts to record entire albums in the Welsh language. This is modern psychedelic rock at its finest.
18. The Jam
Not only did Paul Weller and the Jam create some of the most urgent and essential rock albums of the 1970s, but they also inspired an entire style movement. The mod revival the band helped to spark a whole subculture just shows how influential they were: everyone wanted to look like them and everyone wanted to buy their records.
17. T. Rex
Marc Bolan’s hugely influential rock act started off as a pastoral psychedelic folk group. They released four albums under the name Tyrannosaurus Rex before shortening the name, reinventing themselves as glam rock behemoths and releasing a string of incredible singles such as Ride A White Swan, Get It On, Metal Guru and Children Of The Revolution. Sadly, Bolan’s career was cut short following his death in a tragic car accident in 1977, but his musical legacy lives on.
16. Roxy Music
Roxy Music are fondly remembered by fans as one of the most eccentric and unusual rock acts of the 1970s and their self-titled first album is widely regarded as one of the best British debuts of all time. The group brought us Bryan Ferry, one of the most interesting frontmen of the era, as well as Brian Eno, one of the most influential electronic artists of all time, who’d go on to create a series of revered instrumental albums and produce records for the likes of Talking Heads, U2 and Coldplay.
15. The Who
They might be best known by many for proving the CSI themes these days, but the Who are, without doubt, one of the best British rock bands of all time. Pete Townshend proved himself to be one of the most expressive British songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s while Roger Daltrey was one of the most commanding frontmen of the era. They were also one of the first British bands to introduce the idea of a concept album, too, with 1969’s hugely successful Tommy. Who’s Next is one of the great UK rock albums, too, and the band are still talking about their generation five decades on.
14. Black Sabbath
Ozzy Osbourne teamed up with fellow Brummies Geezer Butler, Bill Ward and Tony Iommi in the late 1960s to form the hugely influential Black Sabbath and pretty much invented heavy metal in the process. The group released era-defining classics like Paranoid, War Pigs and Iron Man, and influenced the outlook of British rock music more than most bands before or since.
So much is made of the Blur vs Oasis rivalry that ran throughout the height of Britpop and it’s certainly true that they were two of the most important bands of the decade. Blur’s impressive back catalogue boasts a wealth of indelibly British songwriting with some of the wittiest lyrics of the 1990s, and also some of the simplest (see Tender). Damon Albarn would go on to create music with Gorillaz and pursue a number of other intriguing projects, but the real star of the show was Graham Coxon, who remains one of the most criminally underrated British guitarists of the 20th century.
No one put on a show quite like Queen. Freddie Mercury’s unmatchable live vocals and the band’s incredible sense of spectacle made them one of the most celebrated live acts the UK has ever seen. The masters of bombast and excess, Queen created some of the most widely known and popular music of the 1970s and 1980s. Mercury’s premature death in 1991 shocked the music world but the band’s legacy is as strong today as it has ever been.
11. The Kinks
So many bands owe a huge amount to the work and influence of The Kinks. You Really Got Me is one of the greatest rock riffs of all time, and let's not forget that Dave Davis of the band actually invented distortion after slashing the cones in his amplifier with a razor blade; a sound which has been integral to the sound of rock and roll ever since. Their songs and their methods influenced entire generations of musicians and they remain one of the UK's ever rock bands.
10. The Stone Roses
Who cares if they only really released one good album, the Stone Roses have carved out a groove in the British zeitgeist unlike anyone else before or after them. Their self-titled 1989 debut is quite rightly regarded as one of the most influential British records ever made; if you walk into any indie bar across the country on a Friday night, you can guarantee it’ll be playing through the speakers and going down a storm.
9. The Clash
From the angsty exuberance of their self-titled debut to the ambitious genre-bending efforts of London Calling and Sandinista, The Clash put out a succession of classic albums between 1977 and 1985. The band stood up for admirable causes, famously performing at Rock Against Racism and embracing lefty politics in their writing too. Forget the Sex Pistols, The Clash are the greatest punk band the UK has ever produced.
8. The Cure
Robert Smith’s the Cure are one of most iconic British bands of the 1980s and 1990s, and hold a special place in the hearts of many music fans up and down the country. From the the stark and intense nature of albums like 1982’s Pornography, through to the more flamboyant and playful records like Wish, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and Disintegration - arguably the band’s masterpiece - Smith created some of the greatest alternative British music of his generation.
How many times has someone picked up a guitar and performed a dodgy rendition of Wonderwall at a party? Or how many times has someone murdered a rendition of Don’t Look Back In Anger at karaoke? Oasis's songs themselves are some of the most accessible and instantaneous British songs ever written and that’s before you even consider the charisma of the band that performed them: The Gallagher brothers were at war most of the time during Oasis’s career, but out of that tension came the most iconic songs of the 1990s and some of the most culturally significant British music ever made.
6. The Smiths
They might have inspired more terrible student bands than any other artist, but the Smiths remain one of the greatest bands Britain has ever produced. Morrissey’s unmistakable vocals and the chime of Johnny Marr’s beautiful guitar playing made them one of the most distinctive bands of the 1980s, and a hit with indie fans ever since. It’s almost scary to think that Marr formed the Smiths, released four incredible studio albums and quit the band all by the time he was 24: a staggering achievement at such an early age.
5. The Rolling Stones
Without doubt one of the most influential British rock bands of all time, the Rolling Stones could easily top any list of iconic British rock groups. Childhood friends Mick Jagger and Keith Richards formed an iconic musical partnership as kids in the 1950s before forming the Stones with Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman and Ian Stewart. The group developed on their early covers of tracks by the likes of blues legends Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry to produce more and more expansive sounds, but still kept blues-rock at the absolute core of their music. The reductive ‘Beatles vs Stones’ argument will always persist amongst music fans, but the swagger and the sheer riffage on display on classic Stones’ albums Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street is irresistible.
4. Pink Floyd
The Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall, Wish You Were Here... the list of classic albums goes on. Pink Floyd have created some of the most accomplished and successful UK rock music ever made and always maintained a distinctively British sense of eccentricity and idiosyncracy. The prog rock legends are one of the most commercially successful British bands ever and David Gilmour remains one of the most revered guitarists of his generation too.
Radiohead could have carried on making albums like The Bends and OK Computer and become the biggest British band of all time in the late 1990s. However, they challenged themselves to change their sound, and with Kid A they showed the benefits of never standing still as an artist. They're a great band who refuse to settle, but still manage to create weird and wonderful music. They're beyond doubt one of the very, very best British rock bands of all time.
2. Led Zeppelin
Rock monsters Led Zeppelin are one of the greatest, hardest rock bands ever, and the four individual members are all some of the best players of their generation too. Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, John Bonham, and Jimmy Page stand head and shoulders above their contemporaries as individual musicians, and their talents combined to create some of the heaviest rock of their generation. In fact, Communication Breakdown is often cited as the first heavy metal song. Whether you believe that or not, the band’s influence is undeniable and their status as British rock gods is untouchable.
1. The Beatles
Battle hardened in the clubs of Hamburg, the fab four transformed from squeaky-clean pop sweethearts to rock monsters during the course of their career, and produced some of the best music ever made along the way. They constantly pushed boundaries, took their sound to places you'd never think possible and together with pioneering producer George Martin used the studio as an instrument unlike ever before. Their story and their music is legendary, and you just can't look past them as the greatest British rock band of all time.