Top 50 Classic Rock Bands

Which ones are on your list?

The Beatles performing on stage, circa 1963.
Photoshot/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Determined by a combination of album sales, radio airplay, touring history, and degree of continuous popularity, here is our list of the top 50 classic rock bands in history.

Which of these bands make it onto your list of classic rock favorites?

Of course, many musicians in these bands branched out and had successful solo careers in the world of classic rock. Here is a separate list of the top classic rock solo artists.

 

1. The Beatles 

Essential Album: Revolver

As you can probably expect, The Beatles top the list at #1. With record sales estimated at more than a billion worldwide, no other band has had a greater influence on the course of rock music and music history in general.

2. Pink Floyd

Essential Album: Wish You Were Here

At the vanguard of the Progressive Rock movement, Pink Floyd has sold more than 200 million albums since 1967. They were one of the first bands to use light shows and fireworks in their live performances. 

3. The Who

Essential Album: Who's Next

The Who innovative both musically and culturally, especially in terms of fashion. A British band, they're known for wearing the Union Jack on clothing. The Who also made it onto Rolling Stone's magazine's "50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock 'n' Roll," referring to when they smashed a guitar at their Railway Hotel performance in 1964.

4. Rolling Stones

Essential Album: Sticky Fingers

The original "bad boys" of rock, the Stones are among the most durable bands, recording and touring with few breaks since they began in 1961. 

5. Led Zeppelin

Essential Album: Led Zeppelin IV

Their "Stairway To Heaven" is believed to have received more radio airplay than any other song in history, even though it was never released as a single.

6. Eagles

Essential Album: Their Greatest Hits

Another of rock's longest-lasting acts, their 1976 greatest hits album is the biggest selling album of all time.

7. The Grateful Dead

Essential Album: Anthem Of The Sun

One of San Francisco's first "flower power" bands, their fan following is still nearly as strong today as it was when the group disbanded in 1995.

8. Jefferson Airplane

Essential Album: After Bathing At Baxter's

Pioneers of the Psychedelic Rock genre, they were in the vanguard of '60s and 70s counter-culture.

9. The Doors

Essential Album: The Doors

In spite of a short life and limited discography, they became one of classic rock's most popular and influential groups.

10. The Moody Blues

Essential Album: Days Of Future Passed

With the exception of a few years in the mid-70s, this Progressive Psychedelic group has toured and recorded since 1964.

11. Fleetwood Mac

Essential Album: Rumours

After numerous personnel and musical style changes, their 1977 Rumours album is still among the top ten best-selling albums ever.

12. AC/DC

Essential Album: Back In Black

AC/DC is a pioneering hard rock and heavy metal group. They have sold an estimated 100 million albums worldwide.

13. Boston

Essential Album: Boston

When their first album was released in 1976, it was the highest grossing debut album ever seen up until that time.

14. Cream

Essential Album: Wheels Of Fire

The group existed for less than three years but staked its place as one of rock's first power trios with enduring popularity.

15. Def Leppard

Essential Album: Hysteria

Futuristic instrumentation and vocal harmonies have kept them near the top of the all-time best-selling album lists for a quarter of a century.

16. The Byrds

Essential Album: The Byrds' Greatest Hits

Among the pioneers of folk rock, their popularity in the mid-60s rivaled that of the Beatles.

17. Aerosmith

Essential Album: Toys In The Attic

Originally written off as Rolling Stones imitators, the group has staked their claim in classic rock history. For over 30 years, Aerosmith has consistently produced multi-million dollar selling albums.

18. Santana

Essential Album: Abraxas

This groundbreaking Latin Rock group timed the release of its first album to coincide with a highly successful performance at Woodstock in 1969.

19. Blood Sweat & Tears

Essential Album: Blood Sweat & Tears

Essentially a small orchestra, this classic rock group established a milestone in rock history with its large horn section and jazz-blues orientation.

20. Van Halen

Essential Album: 1984

One of the most innovative and influential heavy metal groups of the late '70s, the group continues to perform some 30+ years after its inception.

21. ZZ Top

Essential Album: The Best Of ZZ Top

The self-proclaimed "little ol' band from Texas" was one of the earliest influences in southern rock, and continues to be so three decades later.

22. Genesis

Essential Album: Platinum Collection

With worldwide albums sales of about 150 million since 1969, Genesis was instrumental in keeping progressive rock in the mainstream.

23. Allman Brothers

Essential Album: Eat A Peach

The success of their unique fusion of hard rock, blues, jazz, and classical music has secured this group's immortality.

24. Journey

Essential Album: Greatest Hits

Journey's jazz-flavored sound has been a fixture in the rock scene since 1973.

25. Traffic

Essential Album: John Barleycorn Must Die

Traffic had far greater success with albums than with singles and thrived in spite of numerous personnel changes and long breaks.

26. Jethro Tull

Essential Album:  Very Best Of Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull developed and maintained a sound that was completely unlike any other band. The band achieved this effect with the use of the flute as a lead instrument and with a heavy classical music influence.

27. Foreigner

Essential Album:  Complete Greatest Hits

A group of backup players got together in 1976 and formed a group that became a longtime arena rock and radio airplay favorite.

28. The Kinks

Essential Album: Ultimate Collection

They smartly maintained their popularity through the '60s and '70s by adjusting their lyric themes and musical styles as public tastes changed.

29. Blue Oyster Cult

Essential Album: The Essential Blue Oyster Cult

Formed in the mid-60s, this metal and / psychedelic rock band had a long string of successful albums throughout the '70s and '80s.

30.  Buffalo Springfield

Essential Album:  Retrospective

The group existed for less than two years, but was considered a significant force in mid-60s rock. It also launched the careers of members Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Jim Messina, and Richie Furay.

31. Queen

Essential Album:  Platinum Collection

The band that put the glitter in Glitter Rock is second only to the Beatles in album sales in the UK.

32. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Essential Album:  Deja Vu

More than any other group of their time, they endeared themselves to a generation of youth with their lyrics and eclectic variety of musical styles.

33. Styx

Essential Album:  Gold

After failing to break through with progressive rock, this group is credited with originating the more mainstream arena rock sound.

34. Creedence Clearwater Revival

Essential Album:  Chronicle

At the height of the British Invasion, they were the leading American rock band.

35. Deep Purple

Essential Album:  Very Best Of

They shuffled personnel and musical styles until they became one of the most successful bands on the concert and recording circuit.

36. Steve Miller Band

Essential Album:  Young Hearts

They paid their dues as a backup band before becoming one of the most popular groups of the '70s.

37. Guess Who

Essential Album:  Anthology

One of Canada's most popular rock bands evolved from  soft rock to a harder variety from the early '60s through the mid-'70s.

38. Dave Clark Five

Essential Album:  30 Greatest Hits

Beatlemania helped propel this British group to great popularity in America.

39. Steppenwolf

Essential Album:  All Time Greatest Hits

This Canadian heavy metal band is credited with creating the bike rock sub-genre.

40. Yes

Essential Album:  Very Best Of Yes

In spite of more than the usual number of major personnel changes, this group has had a long and successful career.

41. Doobie Brothers

Essential Album: Best Of The Doobies

They weren't actually brothers, but they have parlayed a distinctive heavy metal and southern rock blend into a lengthy 30+ musical year career.

42. Chicago

Essential Album: Only The Beginning

Formed in 1967, Chicago became one of the most successful orchestral rock groups and is still active four decades later.

43. KISS

Essential Album: Gold

Mix hard rock with over-the-top appearance and stage antics and you get the fathers of glitter punk.

44. Blondie

Essential Album: Parallel Lines

Emerging from the early punk rock scene, Blondie ultimately expanded their stylistic approach to include disco, new wave, and hip-hop.

45. Rush

Essential Album: Permanent Waves

Rush is considered one of rock's best live bands, in addition to cranking out 30 albums over 30 years.

46. Sex Pistols

Essential Album: Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols

Their short life as a rebellious and proudly controversial punk band was out of proportion to the huge influence they had on pop culture in England.

47. Lynyrd Skynyrd

Essential Album: Skynyrd's Innyrds

Described by All Music Guide as "the definitive  southern rock band," they reunited ten years after the deaths of three original members in a 1977 plane crash and still perform today.

48. The Police

Essential Album: Every Breath You Take: The Classics

The Police distinguished themselves by being able to be successful in the mainstream playing experimental rock.

49. Grand Funk Railroad

Essential Album: We're An American Band

Achieved greater commercial success than any other American rock band in the '60s and early '70s.

50. Black Sabbath

Essential Album: We Sold Our Soul For Rock And Roll

One of the longest lasting and most successful groups, Black Sabbath is credited as the first ​heavy metal band.