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…
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.