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.


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.


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.


  1. NO THE WHO? Are you retarded?

  2. Are you kidding me? Oasis practically spawned the whole next generation of bands that followed out of England. Coldplay, Travis, Snow Patrol, Stereophonics and many more all came about in the wake of Oasis. They are still a big draw and selling albums almost 20 years after they were formed. They are one of the few 90′s UK bands that haven’t gone on hiatus or broken up while still remaining relevant. Their volatility and longevity is actually quite remarkable.

    With that said this is an impossible list to boil down to 10. You could have made it the top 20 and still had people bitching about such and such band didn’t make the cut.

  3. Without a doubt, Radiohead should be on this list. and if i may be so bold… Gorillaz?

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more.

  5. Ian Dury and the Blockheads; members and former members of all these groups mentioned, Beatles, Stones, Led Zepplin, Cream, etc. would flock to the Blockhead concerts. Paul M. and Eric Clapton were often spotted in the audience. The Blockheads are responsible for changing the music world in the British Isles, which in turn influenced the artists mentioned in this article, thus changing the music world. Ian Dury was a genius composer and performer.
    But I guess you’d have to be from Essex to understand!

  6. The Who originated the punk ethos. The originated pretentious prog rock concept albums. The Who ruled and led the way in how to do live performance. The Who embodied the trash the hotel room mania of rock and roll. The Who have been a primary inspiration to hundreds of musicians who found their own way to the top of the charts.

    Epic fail!

  7. The Clash is the only band that matters. I’d argue that a list, by definition, has to be incomplete, but to see Oasis on there and the Clash not seems a glaring error.

    Not even Radiohead matters as much as the Clash did, despite the Update By The Editor.

  8. Radiohead… dur… this list is bunk

  9. where is Queen?? Update3 should come soon i think

  10. While I may not be a fan of all the genres represented here, there are three bands listed here that hardly qualify as “changing the face of rock”. Oasis, the Specials, and the Rolling Stones. Who cares how popular or successful the Stone may be, they are not anything special. The other two I mentioned, they are musical jokes on a good day.

  11. Great picks but I would have also included Radiohead, easpecially if Oasis made the list, which we all know is just a dumbed down, less appealing version of Radiohead.

  12. From one American who has always listened to more Brit music than anything else: Pink Floyd definitely deserves to beon the list on its own merits. In terms of change, I have to give you the Beatles, since they made it possible to hear other Brit bands.

    But — the Cure, Radiohead, the Clash, Joy Division, New Order, Roxy Music — in terms of pure merit and influence on other music the other bands you mentioned are not in the same league.

  13. How can you leave out Queen and The Who? Rethink your list pal!

  14. Oasis?! Get real, man.

  15. Take out Oasis and put in The Who, take out the Pistols (who are great) and put in The Clash and iron Maiden….hmmm I don’t know there’s probably someone a little more deserving.

  16. Oasis changed the world? I think not. Where the hell is David Bowie? Forty years in, and his influence is still clearly felt.

  17. weak.

    here’s the real list (from an american perspective):

    1) led zep
    2) rolling stones
    3) beatles
    4) the clash
    5) the who
    6) pink floyd
    7) the smiths
    8) black sabbath
    9) radiohead
    10) my bloody valentine

    *no sex pistols because mcclaren ripped off stooges/new york dolls/ramones

  18. The Who should really be on the list. Also the Sex Pistols were to The Clash what the Monkeys were to the Beatles. They are the prefab four of Punk.

  19. Wow, I can’t believe T. Rex/Marc Bolan was left off this list….Marc Bolan’s guitar riffs have been copied endlessly (Oasis, etc.), and even bands like Souxsie & The Banshees and New York Dolls agreed he was one of the godfathers of punk…..!

  20. LOL!!!! You and me both, my friend!

  21. The Clash!!

  22. @darren

    “Too warm” to be creative? It sure as shit wasn’t the British that invented rock and roll! It came from American music traditions–the blues and “hillbilly” music, primarily, as well as jazz, gospel, and country.

    Hop over to Google Earth and check your geography. Significant parts of the USA get very cold, and if you don’t believe that, I defy you to survive a Detroit winter. You’re also ignoring that fact that blues and “hillbilly” music arose from some of the geographically warmest areas of the USA.

    As for your remark that “most major american ‘pioneering’bands will probably list some brit bands “: hogwash. You either forgot or never knew that the British arrived very late to the rock scene–the genre was a decade old or more before the Beatles ever met each other.

    In terms of bands changing the music world, just from the top of my head there’s Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Bill Haley and the Comets, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Coasters, the Drifters, the Platters, the Beach Boys, the Everly Brothers–all of whom were major rick ‘n roll stars before the British entered the genre. You could list several more highly influential rock ‘n roll acts (esp. the solo acts, like Chuck Berry and Elvis) before you eventually worked your way ’round to a British band.

    The sad reality is that for a long time, the UK was simply far too ethnically _white_ to have the kind of creativity that produced rock. And they knew it. There’s a reason the Beatles covered “Twist and Shout” by the Isley Brothers, the Rolling Stones named themselves after a Muddy Waters song, and Led Zepplin’s first big record deal was with blues label Atlantic Records . The Brits borrowed shamelessly from us Americans for ages before you started producing your own genuinely original rock.

    Back to the topic at hand: I love the Sex Pistols, but even they would tell you that The Who laid the groundwork for punk, and that the first truly punk acts (punk as we know the genre today) were American: The Stooges (as in “Iggy Pop and The…”) and MC5, both from Michigan, USA.

  23. Well, the Clash called THEMSELVES “The Only Band That Matters”. It was a marketing slogan that CBS records came up with for them.

  24. …by CBS Records’ marketing department!

  25. I would have to say none of these bands changed music, they just did what everyone else was doing and sold it better.

  26. Blur would be a better choice than Gorillaz if we’re talking about Damon Albarn. I love Blur but I’m not sure they would be in the top ten.

    And listing Oasis is a crime when these bands have been overlooked:

    The Who
    The Kinks
    The Clash
    The Smiths
    Joy Division
    The Cure

  27. MBV is Irish.

  28. Coldplay is widely panned as a band in the UK, as being a pale imitation of radiohead with much less skill. I would try and argue muse, but they havent changed that much as no one tries to imitate their sound, as its near impossible to.

    Things I would want on the list: The who, Judas Priest, The smiths, Joy Division, you could say some of the early indie bands which formed this new trend, but its not worth it.

  29. Radiohead SUCKS

  30. This is an interesting article. Unfortunately the article and all the replies so far show a lack of historical perspective.

    If you follow the influences back through the groups you find that the band who most influenced the big bands of the sixties, who then influenced the future groups was Lonnie Donegan. His records spent more time in charts than even the Beatles. All the groups of the early sixties have spoken of his influence.

    Just because only people of my certain age remember him now, is no reason to forget the huge influence he had in the late fifties and early sixties!

  31. Look, the small fact that most of you are missing is the part in the title that says CHANGED the music world. It doesn’t say Best British bands or Your Favorite British Bands. It doesn’t even say Top Ten British Bands.

    It says: Ten British bands that changed the music world

    That said– Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones are on the list for what should be obvious reasons. I don’t care what your reasons may be for not “liking” them. They changed the music world. You can argue all you want over what ‘changed’ means, but basically it means that after and because of them, a new standard had been set invalidating the old standard.

    With this in mind, the Sex Pistols CHANGED the music world. The Clash, although a better band that has held up better in the long run, did not make the list. But that is OK because this is not an ultimate list. The author would not dispute the fact that they, too, CHANGED THE MUSIC WORLD! See the last sentence of the paragraph above if you need to have this concept explained to you again.

    Black Sabbath changed the music world. Pink Floyd changed the music world. Cream changed the music world. Iron Maiden changed the music world. And yes, the Specials changed the music world. I won’t go into it here, but there probably is a nice, concise Wikipedia article that would be willing to explain the 20+ years of fall-out that came from mixing really catchy ska with really hooky punk.

    Ok, here’s the big one: OASIS CHANGED THE FUCKING MUSIC WORLD!!! So did My Bloody Valentine and Blur and Radiohead and the Smiths and Joy Division and Gang of Four—all of these bands in big and small ways did. Oasis was huge and for quite a few years and had the near entirety of British youth tracking their every move. So much so that a recording of a Gallagher brothers argument — http://tinyurl.com/lrbtl5 — made the British charts. This was during the era of Brit-pop and Cool Britannia. Google it you morons. Or better yet, pay attention and participate in the next seismic shift in music and culture. This of course would require you to realize that you don’t know everything and that there is a whole world out there that doesn’t consist of ranking and arguing over minutia.

    Now, for the most part, this article is barely interesting, very glossy, and nearly a waste of time. The Sex Pistols did not shoot “to fame during the depressing years of the early 1970s” They played their first show on November 6, 1975. The rest of the story you should already know. In fact, you should know all of these stories. This article shouldn’t exist.

  32. I’m surprised nobody has mentioned Muse.
    I personally think they are overrated but a lot of people seem to like them and they are more creative/experimental than Radiohead.

  33. Excuse me? No Coldplay. I know they’re a newer band, and all the ones on this list are old, but Coldplay is amazing. I guess they haven’t done to much influencing though. More like they have been influenced.

    Also, would U2 count as British, or are they Irish or whatever, because where would the world be without U2?

  34. what the bloody hell, does everyone here have amensia?!?!?! what about the SPICE GIRLS!!!!!

  35. Motörhead

  36. wrong. half the members were born in the UK, the band was formed in/lives in London = British. On the other hand, KS was born in the US, so we’d be happy to consider MBV American…

  37. ::cough::QUEEN::cough::

    No, seriously. Where the hell is Queen?

  38. the who, ANYONE?!

  39. The Priest!!! The term heavy metal was coined because of them and they led the way for the NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) . This list is ridiculous, Oasis, the Specials??? No Queen or the Who? Arghhh!!!!!

  40. I am so glad you mentioned the specials!!! They deserve way more credit then was ever given them!!

    Sadly, i think you are giving way too much credit to oasis. Besides the album [what's the story] morning glory, does anyone know the words to any songs on any other album? Unless you are living in England, the answer is no. They compared themselves to the beatles… no go on that one.

    The list is almost perfect my friend.

  41. and alihyerwifa is totally right. You left off the Who… with out the who, Led Zep would not have their name! And also the fact that Who’s Next is the greatest album in existance.

  42. As a top 10 list bands who influenced world music you would have to include a Depeche Mode or Human League.There are a lot of artists in the states who site Depeche as a major influence in either their music or them becoming a musician.

  43. No Priest? That is criminal. Some other grievous omissions – Queen, The Who, Diamond Head, Motorhead, Deep Purple, The Blues Breakers (Yes, I know, Clapton is already on the list, blah blah), also the Jimi Hendrix Experience formed in Britain (2/3 of the band were Brits – the band formed in London), Jethro Tull, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Venom – oh, that’s another biggie: no Venom, no Thrash metal, esp. Slayer – also, no Depeche Mode, Duran Duran. And then you forgot the greatest British band of all time: Spinal Tap.

  44. I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS!!!!!!!
    WHERE IS THE WHO??!!!!!





  45. Have to say it, for all the commenters out there – Radiohead is one of the most overhyped, overrated band in the world.
    Just because the Hollywood folk fawn over them doesn’t mean they’re great.
    I can appreciate their tendency to experiment musically, but they’re not some legendary band.
    Enjoyable list!

  46. You have missed out on the Greatest Influence on British Music has ever had a band called QUEEN …are you with it?….how stupid ?

  47. No one’s going to take this list seriously. You’ve missed off Queen, The Police and The Clash, then edited the post to say that The Cure would never be on it, but Radiohead would. I think you’ll find just through simple research that Queen, The Clash and The Cure have influenced a billion more people. I hope you didn’t get paid for this tripe.

  48. Perfect 10 for the list, I did listen to some songs mentioned here & was delighted. I only knew the bands of which I heard before. Now I know more of them. Hats off to these best ever great musicians.

  49. Queen & Depeche Mode?!!!!

    Where are these two massively influential bands that conquered the World?!

    Still to this day, 30 years after their formation, Depeche Mode gigs sell out in hours around the planet! Almost 50 singles in the UK charts alone!

    Queen have written more anthems than any other band, and are the most covered band ever! Their album sales around the World are phenomenal, and UK’s best selling album of all-time is Queen Greatest Hits 1!

    Queen are also the only band where each member has written a number single! And, let’s face it Freddie Mercury was a genius.

  50. That’s exactly what I thought! NO QUEEN???

    You gotta be kidding me!


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