Ten British bands that changed the music world | The Daily Dust delivering the best bric a brac, daily news and events with a British flavour

For a small island, we Brits are awfully creative.  We’ve also given the world some hugely influential artists, especially when it comes to popular music.  We’ve come up with 10 British bands that, quite simply, changed music the world over.  So, in no particular order, here they are…

Led Zeppelin

Arguably the greatest rock band ever to have graced the planet, there is something undoubtedly special even today about the incredible drumming of the late John Bonham, the pounding bass of John-Paul Jones, the mesmeric guitar playing of Jimmy Page and the unmistakeable voice of Robert Plant.  They were the biggest band in the world in the 1970s and, through refusing to release singles, they pioneered the concept of album-orientated rock – despite writing some great songs such as “Whole Lotta Love”, “Kashmir” and “Stairway to Heaven”.  They’ve sold an estimated 200 million records worldwide, and if you doubted their importance today then just look at the reception they got when Jason Bonham joined them behind the drum kit for a reunion at the O2 Arena in 2007.

The Beatles

The Fab Four from Liverpool were probably the first British band to achieve global domination, and with over a billion international record sales they are clearly one of the most commercially and critically successful groups ever.  Their music and fashion sense were both worldwide trend setters, and the ‘Beatlemania’ that followed them around propelled John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr to the status of everlasting international megastars.  Despite half of them no longer being with us, they are still a huge draw, and still pull a huge influence on pop culture.  Last year they topped Billboard magazine’s list of top-selling artists released to celebrate the chart’s 50th anniversary. Part of the British Invasion and one of the most important bands of all time.

The Rolling Stones

You couldn’t have one without the other could you?  The Stones were the other part of the 1960s Brit invasion of America along with The Beatles, and again were immensely successful.  They also feature perhaps the best and most consistent songwriting team in the form of singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards, a combination that still works today.  Thanks to the fact that not too many of their number has passed away, the Stones still tour with a schedule that puts many younger bands to shame and, if they ever do die, they will be immortalised with great songs like “Brown Sugar” “Satisfaction” and “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll”.  Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, they were voted the fourth Greatest Artist of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine in 2004.

The Sex Pistols

If ever a band spoke for a disillusioned generation, then it was The Sex Pistols, who shot to fame during the depressing years of the mid 1970s, and went on to be one of the most influential acts ever to play music, as well as almost single-handedly creating the genre of punk rock.  It’s incredible to think of their legacy considering they only ever released one album, the superb ‘Never Mind the Bollocks: Here’s the Sex Pistols’, but it is a timeless masterpiece that will continue to influence musicians for many years to come.  Dangerous bassist Sid Vicious may have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, but they key to their success was the simple, fast melodies of guitarist Steve Jones coupled with the pure, wretched aggression of vocalist Johnny Rotten.  While infamous, they did write some superb singles such as the anthemic “Anarchy in the UK”, and their spirit will always hit a chord with someone somewhere.

Oasis

The mid 1990s was a great time to be a British music fan, because Brit-pop had infected the world headed by its two leading lights – Blur and Oasis – and it is the latter who get to represent that time period here.  While the critics may pick Damon Alburn’s Blur every time, Oasis are without doubt the bigger draw, and the more interesting band, mainly due to testosterone-fuelled Gallagher brothers Liam and Noel.  If you look past the tabloid stories, you realise what superb songwriters they are, and with hits like “Wonderwall”, “Champagne Supernova” and “Live Forver” it is no surprise that they have sold over 60 million records globally.  Their third release “Be Here Now” is the fastest-selling album in British music history, and they still draw a huge following – underlined by their most recent album “Dig Out Your Soul” being certified platinum.

Black Sabbath

For heavy metal fans, Black Sabbath is simply the most important band to have ever existed, because without them the genre would not have been invented,  From the moment guitarist Tony Iommi struck the first de-tuned, doom-laden chord and eccentric vocalist Ozzy Osbourne wailed over it, these four Brummies – completed by bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward – became the ultimate purveyors of metal.  Their self-titled debut is haunting but brilliant, while second album “Paranoid” has some great singles on it and some of the best riffs ever in “War Pigs”, “Iron Man” and the title track.  While Ozzy left to achieve reality TV fame, Sabbath battled on, and were rejuvenated by pint-sized frontman Ronnie James Dio in the 1980s, and it is with Dio that they still play and record today, but under the moniker of Heaven and Hell.  Criminally underappreciated, Sabbath are one of the greatest bands in history.

Pink Floyd

Progressive rock may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the reception that greeted Pink Floyd’s famous reunion performance at Live 8 in 2005 underlined in no uncertain terms just how important this band is.  They pioneered prog and psychedelic music, and with “Dark Side of the Moon” produced an album so engaging and influential that some would argue it has never been beaten.  They are very much an acquired taste, but once you have it you really appreciate just how brilliant they are.  David Gilmour is superb both at singing and playing guitar, while Roger Waters is also brilliant – just a shame they don’t get on!  Floyd were also hugely innovative in creating album art that is worthy of being blown up huge and put in a frame, mainly due to the wonderful creations of Storm Thorgeson.

Cream

Any band that, on news of their splitting up, makes Jimi Hendrix stop playing during a live TV performance, declare his own music rubbish, before launching into a cover of one of said band’s songs and holding up the 6 o’clock news deserves a place here.  That band was bluesy threesome Cream.  They were the first ever supergroup, and the combined talents of singer/guitarist Eric Clapton, singer/bassist Jack Bruce and drummer supreme Ginger Baker made for one hell of a lineup.  It’s little wonder that they were able to create such great songs as “Crossroads”, “Badge” and “Sunshine of Your Love”.  Their blues-rock style paved the way for bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple to follow through and take it to the masses, while their live, jammed performances influenced bands like Rush, Grateful Dead and Black Sabbath.

Iron Maiden

Chances are, wherever you are in the world, at some point in your life you’ll have seen someone wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt, which is testament to the London bands worldwide appeal.  Maiden have sold over 70 million records worldwide, have released a monumental 35 albums, and still tour relentlessly today – a massive achievement given they’ve never had the support of mainstream radio.  They were pioneers of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the 1980s, which invaded America and led to the formation of great metal bands such as Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth, and their 1982 album “Number of the Beast” is still something to behold.  Not only that, their singer Bruce Dickinson is also a qualified pilot, a top fencer, a radio DJ, historian and TV presenter.  They still send metal fans across the world crazy today, and recently released “Flight 666” a movie of their 2008 world tour, which saw denim-clad fans of all ages flock to cinemas across the UK for a one-night-only special big-screen viewing.

The Specials

Formed in Coventry in the late 1970s, The Specials are one of the most important bands ever, not just in the development of ska music, but also having huge influence of modern, political-orientated acts like Lily Allen.  Their achievements are often overlooked, perhaps because their story is not as easy to hear as that of peers Madness, or perhaps because they are from Coventry, but their success is astonishing; 7 consecutive UK top 10 singles between 1979 and 1981, including the huge hit “Ghost Town”.  They reformed, minus original keyboardist Jerry Dammers, this April for a 30th anniversary tour and the performances were superb, and proved that their music is still hugely relevant today, as well as proving that they are still a great live band.

Have we missed out your favourite band?  Are there others more influential than those listed here?  Let us know in the comments below

UPDATE BY THE EDITOR: By reading the comments, The Cure should have made the cut, we’ll add them to the hall of fame but won’t remove Oasis, to omit a band that sold the fastest selling Album in British music history would be wrong.

UPDATE 2 – Comment above should have read Radiohead not The Cure..was written in error, The Cure would not make it into the hall of fame, Radiohead would, sorry.

193 Comments

  1. For god’s sake, what about THE WHO? Um….Queen, or The Jam?

  2. My thoughts exactly! As a Yank, I can tell you that Oasis did not “change the world” from our perspective. They were a Beatle-based pop band that hit the charts a few times here. Now The Clash… they were true originals and helped to create a new musical genre.

  3. Well, they might have made a difference in the UK, but the UK is not the world. Most non Brits would read that list (except for Coldplay, whom many have heard of but are considered shite here in the U.S.) and say “Who?” Oasis owes everything to the Beatles, and have done nothing to change the world’s music.

  4. I should wear the clothing of Mr. Walter Mitty.

  5. Oasis was barely a blip out of Britain, and The Clash were far more influential in the west than the Pistols.

  6. As long as we are voting, I vote for The Clash, The WHO, and Queen in that order.

    You can keep Oasis, Iron Maiden, and Black Sabbath unless you want to make the list longer. If you do want to make the list longer, you can throw in Radiohead. Hell, throw in Elvis Costello if you want.

  7. Hello?!? Its known rock history that the Sex PIstols and the Clash both got going after The Ramones played in London. Iggy Pop and the Ramones invented punk rock big guy…
    And David Bowie wasnt a band per se but he sure as hell changed music…

  8. I’m surprised the main bands from the ’70 are all but forgotten.

    DEEP PURPLE ?

    EMERSON, LAKE AND PALMER ?

    THE NICE ?

    THE WHO ?

    I’m 49 and never heard of “The Specials” and would never have my son listen to Black Sabbath” but I dare anyone to object to the lyrics of Keith Emerson or Deep Purple…

    The WHO made the only tetraphonic (quadriphonic) film, “QUADROPHENIA”

  9. BEST all-time rock album = EAT THE PEACH by the led zepplein — bootleg version

  10. darren you sure gotta bee in your bonnet or something mate,because no one hear would disagree with you that american bands invented rock and roll,but dont for one minute accuse british bands of stealing it from america..please!!
    what the brits did was take your shitty rock and roll and turn it in to rock or concert rock to be more precise,there isnt a single british band who would claim to play rock and roll because they know its for simple people folk.
    what the brits did was mutate your rock and roll and make it in to music for the thinking man to listen to,they gave it substance instead of singing about love all the time like most of that american rubbish of that time.
    so in retrospect the article is correct,those british bands did change the face of music the world over,they changed rock n roll for the better,into something for the educated man to abide with.singing about many political themes and generally getting into the psyche of the listener enough to cause movement within the students by shear influence alone.
    so you can keep your elvis and the drifters and ike n turner and the platters (who..?) and any other lame rock n roller group you care to mention and shut the hell up..please!!!!

  11. I love the clash and most of all the artists mentioned in the list and replies, but insufficient thought and research has taken place. Most British “Rock Bands” owe more than a nodding assurance to the original British rock innovators such as Alexis Corners and John Mayall. To my mind John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers were nurtured, styled and allowed to develop further, becoming household names known throughout the world and influencing countless others. E.G. Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Taylor etc.
    John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and its individual artists helped shape the British phenomenon into the sheer class that is modern rock and should at least be acknowledged.

  12. Actually, rock and roll can trace it’s origins back to Africa.

    You see, all the slaves that were brought to America by the white men were located in large communities primarily in the south, such as Louisiana and Mississippi. Traditional African music styles then became mixed with different genres in the great melting pot that was America, to create the Blues.

    Then Rock n Roll took off in the 50s in the US, which led to the British invasion with bands like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, Pink Floyd and The Animals rooted in Blues music.

  13. Don;t forget the session player on the Kinks hits- “little Jimmy Page” didn’t he start one of the top ten bands?

    “Without The Kinks, this simply is not a list of British bands of any sort. Anyone who ever picked up a guitar after Dave Davies owes that man a debt.”

  14. I agree with all of the listed bands except for Oasis and The Specials…actually The Specials probably deserve to be here if they were that influential in bringing ska into the mainstream (but I’ve never heard of them). Oasis, I’ve heard of at least, and they were enormously successful…but success doesn’t equate influence. There is nothing in that paragraph written above that illustrates their influence on other bands, or the music industry outside of selling units. Selling lots of albums is hardly a reason to be included here…but if it is, where’s The Who? 100 million records sold…27 hit singles over four decades…….performing at both Monterey Pop & Woodstock…My Generation…Tommy…Quadrophenia. That is a MASSIVELY influential band. The Sex Pistols deserve to be here, but what about The Clash? By far the most successful of the Punk Rock movement…hugely influential in the States. I’d also like to see the work of individuals like Eric Clapton & David Bowie represented as well, though known as singular acts, they rarely played without a band…and both were very influential in their own way. (I love that Sabbath & Maiden made the list, it’s nice to see metal get a nod, since they are largely overlooked by mainstream media). But if Oasis makes the list, than so should Def Leppard who was perhaps singularly responsible for the ‘hair metal’ movement which grew in the late 80′s…now that’s influence. Where are all the British groups that helped make MTV such a massive success in the 80′s? They influenced an entire generation of new rockers…Duran, Duran & George Michael, among others.

  15. Don’t overlook that much of early rock-and-roll was influenced as much by country & boogie-woogie as it was from blues. Not to mention, folk-rock getting influence from European folk balads. I’d say with Jazz & Blues both tracing ancestry to Africa, I’d say Rock & Roll is maybe 2/3 African…but that’s not altogether accurate either. The Blues (in all forms) was a result of the African-American experience. Without the horrors of slavery and economic despair experienced by the immediate descendants of former slaves, the blues never would have evolved from African tribal traditions. Also instrumentation was largely borrowed from Euro-American sources, the guitar, the piano, the stand-up bass…those are European inventions (or at least improved-upon technologies).

  16. Queen, too! I forgot about Queen. Actually, I kind of forgot they were a British Band. They were so successful around the world. Definitely deserves to be on the list.

  17. I hate the Spice Girls, but you’re right, they were very, very influential group. Without them, would the Boy Bands that arrived in the mid-90′s have made it? Or would Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera or Jessica Simpson be household names…nope. As much as I hate to admit it…they should be listed…though, TECHNICALLY, are they really a band? Do they play instruments??

  18. There’s not enough room to list EVERY NWOBHM or all early influencial metal bands. The fact that Sabbath (early) and Maiden (NW) made the list is enough. Diamond Head, Motorhead & Purple are (I agree) hugely influential in hard rock & heavy metal, but none of them experienced either the chart success or mainstream success/fame of Sabbath or Maiden.

  19. Dang, another one I missed…The Police. DEFINITELY should be on the list. Hugely successful, influential, and they brought a new energy and style to Rock in the 80′s.

  20. Ah, that’s interesting.

    So what you’re saying is that rock and roll isn’t 100% of African origin. But at least 2/3 of it is.

  21. Btw, this list needs changing, as specified by others.

    Instead of Oasis, it should be The Clash.
    Instead of Iron Maiden, it should be Queen.
    And instead of The Specials it should be UB40. No one in the US or anywhere else will have heard of The Specials.

  22. You are deluded, yes all the bands you mentioned were great, I love the Ramones and the Dolls..BUT the Sex Pistols were THE best Punk band, full stop.
    Malcolm McLaren didn’t create them, its been written about and debated for years…sure he helped them out, but they were a creation of the working class youth of the mid 70s, bands as great as the Pistols only come along once in a generation, its a shame their reputation is tarnished by the McLaren propaganda and idiots that still think “oh, they can’t even play” as they were very good musicians in their own right, and people forget Glen Matlock was a great bass player and song writer, the Pistols themselves now admit that kicking him outta the band was their biggets mistake.

  23. The biggest exclusion from this list is The Stone Roses, make no mistake about it, their influence on culture and music in the late 80s and early 90s was far, far greater than that of almost all the other bands, bar the Beatles, The Stones and The Pistols, put together! I remember the distinct shift in music, both guitar based and dance, that happened after The Stone Roses released their debut album…everybody wanted to be them and record companies went into overdrive to sign wannabe acts. AND most importantly Oasis only filled the void left by the implosion of the Roses, so maybe they should be dropped from this list and the Roses added instead.

  24. they may not be original but for the rest of the world they defined the 90′s music and have not looked back. there first two albums definetly maybe and morning glory have been voted many times in top ten british album of all time. the clash were awesome but never sold more than 70 million records like oasis did. noel gallagher is a verysmart man.

  25. 100 million records sold.Biggest selling band never to have had a number 1 single.Why does Britain not respect Depeche Mode.

  26. OMG no Queen?? you might as well leave the beatles out of the list then

  27. Absolutely ! The first band with a conscience and 4 front men !

  28. Fair point !

  29. Re: Coldplay…………. I still don’t understand the appeal ????
    I must be missing something ?

  30. New York Dolls ?

  31. where is radiohead?

  32. Small Faces!!! The forgotten yet great.

  33. I would have added The Jam and The Smiths to be honest oh and Queen Scrap Oasis and Black Sabath and maybe Cream!!

  34. I would remove Black sabbath, Oasis and cream! And add The Smiths, The Jam and Queen Okay?

  35. Queen #1.
    this list sucks without Queen.

  36. much love to all the punk and emo bands on the list.

  37. Queen should be up there dont agree with oasis or black sab. def leppard???

  38. One band missing off that list is Depeche Mode…They are awesome. Raiohead are very over rated so to me not worth a mention.

  39. The Jam, The Clash, Joy Division, The Smiths (Just Morrissey on his own in fact) and most recently The Libertines!!! Oh, it’s a fact Blur are far better than Oasis.

  40. where are the Spice Girls? they are maybe the most influential group of the 90′s

  41. can someone pls tell me what band is the first picture??! i know them from somewhere i just can’t place them!!….also you forgot queen!

  42. I think you have forgoten to mention on here the understated british band SLADE….

  43. WHERE IS QUEEN

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