The Top 50 Classic Rock Bands

Which ones are on your favorites 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. 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.

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

1. The Beatles

Essential Album: "Revolver"

As you can probably expect, The Beatles top the list. 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 have 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 were innovative both musically and culturally, especially in terms of fashion. A British band, they were 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. The Rolling Stones

Essential Album: "Sticky Fingers"

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

5. Led Zeppelin

Essential Album: "Led Zeppelin IV"

Led Zeppelin's "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—the band refused to release a shorter version, or radio edit, of the song.

6. Eagles

Essential Album: "Greatest Hits, Vol. 1"

The Eagles are another of rock's longest-lasting acts, and their 1976 greatest hits album is the biggest selling album of all time.

7. Grateful Dead

Essential Album: "Anthem of the Sun"

One of San Francisco's first "flower power" bands, the Grateful Dead's fan following is still nearly as strong today as it was when the group disbanded in 1995 (and again in 2015 after some 50th anniversary shows with remaining members).

8. Jefferson Airplane

Essential Album: "After Bathing at Baxter's"

Pioneers of the psychedelic rock genre, Jefferson Airplane, featuring the inimitable vocals of Grace Slick, were in the vanguard of '60s and '70s counterculture. They are one of the few bands to have performed at all three of the historic festivals: Woodstock, Altamont, and Monterey Pop.

9. The Doors

Essential Album: "The Doors"

In spite of a short life and limited discography, The Doors became one of classic rock's most popular and influential groups behind the musicianship of drummer John Densmore, guitarist Robbie Krieger, keyboadrist Ray Manzarek, and lead singer Jim Morrison.

10. The Moody Blues

Essential Album: "Days of Future Passed"

With the exception of a few years in the mid-70s, the progressive psychedelic group The Moody Blues have toured and recorded since 1964.

11. Fleetwood Mac

Essential Album: "Rumours"

After numerous personnel and musical style changes, Fleetwood Mac's 1977 "Rumours" album is still among the top 10 best-selling albums ever.

12. AC/DC

Essential Album: "Back in Black"

AC/DC are a pioneering hard rock and heavy metal group. They have sold an estimated 100 million albums worldwide. Not many bands can survive the death of a lead singer. AC/DC held on.

13. Boston

Essential Album: "Boston"

When Boston's first album was released in 1976, it was the highest-grossing debut album ever seen up until that time. It was largely the brainchild of founding guitarist Tom Scholz, before he really had a band.

14. Cream

Essential Album: "Wheels of Fire"

Cream existed for less than three years but staked their place as one of rock's first power trios with enduring popularity. You may have heard of legendary guitarist Eric Clapton, drummer Ginger Baker, and bassist Jack Bruce.

15. Def Leppard

Essential Album: "Hysteria"

Futuristic instrumentation and vocal harmonies have kept Def Leppard near the top of the all-time best-selling album lists for a quarter of a century. "Hysteria" alone spawned seven hit singles.

16. The Byrds

Essential Album: "The Byrds' Greatest Hits"

Among the pioneers of folk rock, The Byrds' 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, Aerosmith have staked their claim in classic rock history. They've been recording, touring, and selling in the millions since the early 1970s.

18. Santana

Essential Album: "Abraxas"

The groundbreaking Latin rock group Santana, the namesake of guitarist Carlos Santana, timed the release of their 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, the classic rock group Blood, Sweat and Tears established a milestone in rock history with their 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 and '80s, Van Halen continue to perform some 30+ years after their inception, now including Eddie Van Halen's son Wolfgang, on bass.

Not many bands can be hugely successful with more than one lead singer, but Van Halen achieved hit singles with both David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar.

21. ZZ Top

Essential Album: "The Best of ZZ Top"

The self-proclaimed "little ol' band from Texas," ZZ Top were one of the earliest influences in Southern rock, and they continue to be so many decades later.

22. Genesis

Essential Album: "Platinum Collection"

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

23. Allman Brothers

Essential Album: "Eat a Peach"

The success of their fusion of hard rock, blues, jazz, and classical music has secured the Allman Brothers' immortality.

24. Journey

Essential Album: "Greatest Hits"

Journey's jazz-flavored sound has been a fixture in the rock scene since 1973, though their huge hits "Separate Ways" and "Don't Stop Believin'" bear the unmistakable sounds of the early '80s—and that's OK.

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. They used the flute as a lead instrument and had a heavy classical music influence.

27. Foreigner

Essential Album: "Complete Greatest Hits"

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

28. The Kinks

Essential Album: "Ultimate Collection"

The Kinks 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, metal and/psychedelic rock band Blue Oyster Cult had a long string of successful albums throughout the '70s and '80s. Bring on more cowbell!

30. Buffalo Springfield

Essential Album: "Retrospective"

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

31. Queen

Essential Album: "Platinum Collection"

Queen, the band who put the glitter in glitter rock, are second only to The Beatles in album sales in the United Kingdom.

32. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Essential Album: "Deja Vu"

More than any other group of their time, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 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, Styx are credited with originating the more mainstream arena rock sound.

34. Creedence Clearwater Revival

Essential Album: "Chronicle"

At the height of the British Invasion, Creedence Clearwater Revival were the leading American rock band.

35. Deep Purple

Essential Album: "Very Best Of"

Deep Purple 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"

The Steve Miller Band paid their dues as a backup band before becoming one of the most popular groups of the '70s.

37. The Guess Who

Essential Album: "Anthology"

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

38. The Dave Clark Five

Essential Album: "30 Greatest Hits"

Beatlemania helped propel The Dave Clark Five to popularity in America.

39. Steppenwolf

Essential Album: "All-Time Greatest Hits"

Canadian heavy metal band Steppenwolf are credited with creating the bike rock subgenre. "Born to Be Wild" indeed.

40. Yes

Essential Album: "Very Best of Yes"

In spite of more than the usual number of major personnel changes, Yes have had a long and successful career.

41. Doobie Brothers

Essential Album: Best of the Doobies

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

42. Chicago

Essential Album: "Only the Beginning"

Formed in 1967, Chicago became one of the most successful orchestral rock groups, and they are still active many 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 are considered one of rock's best live bands, in addition to among most prolific, cranking out 30 albums over 30 years.

46. Sex Pistols

The Sex Pistols' short life as a rebellious and proudly controversial punk band is 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," Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited (as much as possible, anyway) 10 years after the deaths of three original members in a 1977 plane crash, and their farewell tour wound down in late 2018.

48. The Police

The Police distinguished themselves by being able to be successful in the mainstream playing experimental rock that contains influences of punk, reggae, and jazz.

49. Grand Funk Railroad

Essential Album: "We're an American Band"

Grand Funk Railroad achieved greater commercial success than any other American rock band in the '60s and early '70s.

50. Black Sabbath

One of the longest lasting and most successful groups, Black Sabbath is often credited as the first heavy metal band, though roots of the music extend to the band's influences.