Let’s face it, the US has produced a long list of bands that have managed to shake the world of music both nationally and internationally. So, trying to narrow down the options to make this list wasn’t easy. However, I’m always up for the challenge, so here is my selection for the 31 best American bands of all time, in no particular order:
1. Stone Temple Pilots
Formed in San Diego in 1989, Stone Temple Pilots is a rock band that was initially viewed as one of the leaders of the grunge movement. However, nowadays their sound is certainly more experimental with influences of psychedelic rock, and even alternative metal. Selling over 40 million albums, they have certainly left their global mark on the rock scene thanks to their eight amazing studio albums.
2. The Strokes
The Strokes set the world alight when they made their debut in 1998 thanks to the cool vocals of lead singer Julian Casablancas, and also their unique sound. Known for their indie and garage rock style, their debut album Is This It was launched to critical acclaim. These guys were just cool, and their ripping guitars and swanky rhythms further enhanced that cool feeling.
3. The Supremes
Who wouldn’t love The Supremes? This female singing group from the 60s introduced the world to Diana Ross, but don’t forget they were the biggest selling Motown act to ever hit the charts. Their catchy melodies and simply soulful music resulted in a total of 12 number one hits on the charts. If you want to listen to family-friendly music, then this is the band to listen to.
4. Red Hot Chili Peppers
RHCP is still rocking the world today and have sold over 120 million albums since their inception back in 1983. Their funk rock music is unique in its sound and I have to admit it’s often down to the groovy bass lines by Flea. Their list of hits and awards is far too extensive, and they still sell out stadiums even after decades.
5. Pearl Jam
Formed in 1990, Pearl Jam is viewed as one of the most influential rock bands of the 90s. To date, they have sold more than 100 million albums worldwide, and 32 million of that is in the US. Regarded as a key player in the grunge movement, they are not full-on hard rock, but it’s their hooks that really do grab your attention. Also, they have the ability to add a whole lot of groove to their music, and I think that is what made people stand up and take notice of this band.
6. The Bobbettes
This R&B girl group was formed back in 1957, and I think they deserve to be on this list because they managed to influence so many people through their music. Hailing from East Harlem, they struggled at first until the single Look at the Stars reached #6. For me, their music inspired so many R&B artists that followed, and their melodies have stood the test of time. Yes, this may be a wildcard addition, but if you listen to their music, then you will understand why I’ve included them.
7. Bon Jovi
With over 130 million records sold, Bon Jovi rocked both the 80s and 90s. There’s even a claim they were pretty much the biggest band in the world for a few years. This classic rock band was helped by the strong vocals of Bon Jovi himself, and they had the ability to lodge themselves in a gap between heavy metal and more pop-rock. I had to add them because they have produced so many classic songs that anybody can even sing along to.
8. Jefferson Airplane
Formed in San Francisco back in 1965, Jefferson Airplane was an easy choice to add to this list. If you want a band that sums up the Summer of Love feeling, then this is it. Their type of psychedelic/folk rock really did link in with where music was heading in the late 60s, and they were one of the first bands from the Bay area to achieve international success. There’s just something seriously groovy and funky about their sound, so they had to be in here.
Formed in 1981, Metallica has sold over 125 million albums worldwide, and half of that was in the US. They are pretty much the kings of heavy metal, and are known for the aggression in their music along with fast-paced guitars. This is like power metal, and they took metal music to new heights, so of course I had to include them.
10. The Beach Boys
I love The Beach Boys because their sound is just so filled with fun no matter what track you play. With over 100 million albums sold, they were not your usual rock band. Instead, they also incorporate aspects of jazz and even classical music into their tunes. Is there anybody in the world that doesn’t like The Beach Boys?
11. Talking Heads
Formed in New York in 1975, Talking Heads fused together punk, funk, and art pop in their music, and they were one of the main players of the new wave music movement in the late 70s and into the 80s. Their unique sound is stunning and is something you need to check out.
Focusing on progressive, arena rock, Boston named themselves after their home city. Selling over 75 million albums, they rocked the 70s like almost no other band. I love how they are not afraid to incorporate different elements into their music, and were serious trend-setters back in the 70s and I urge you to listen to their music.
It’s difficult to stress how big Blondie was in the late 70s thanks to the stunning vocals of Debbie Harry. I know they came back in the 90s, but it’s their earlier stuff from ’74 onwards that will blow your mind.
14. Fleetwood Mac
I know Fleetwood Mac originated in London, but it was the addition of Americans Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham that propelled them to global stardom. Their tunes are all-time classics, and the blend of blues rock with pop-rock and folk music led to album sales of over 120 million in their career.
15. Motley Crue
Formed in 1981, this heavy metal band is outstanding. With over 100 million album sales, these guys know how to rock, but prepare for your ears to be blasted. However, I had to include them for all guitar lovers as they thrash their guitars more than any band out there.
16. Simon & Garfunkel
This American folk rock duo were right up there as one of the biggest groups of the 60s. Songs such as Bridge Over Troubled Water and Sound of Silence are two prime examples of how amazing they were together. Their vocals and melodies are just difficult to surpass.
17. The Ramones
Seen as the first real American punk band, the Ramones pretty much toured for 22 years non-stop. Known for being loud and fast, they applied so much energy to their songs you just could not stop yourself from being pulled in. Sadly, all four original members are no longer with us, but their music lives on.
Formed in San Francisco, Santana is led by Carlos Santana, who is viewed as one of the best guitarists of all time. I love this band, as they bring in aspects of jazz, blues, Latin music, and even psychedelic rock into their songs. You just never know where they will go next with their sound, which adds to your excitement of listening to them.
19. Guns N’ Roses
With one of the most magnetic frontmen in history (Axl Rose), Guns N’ Roses were one of the biggest hard rock bands of the late 80s and through the 90s. With hit after hit, this band has sold more than 100 million albums. If you want power in your music, then they will deliver.
20. The Temptations
Hailing from Detroit, this Motown group took R&B and soul music to a whole new level in the 60s and 70s. Oh, and don’t forget a large lump of funk in there as well. The smoothness of their vocals and songs are hard to beat, so why even bother trying?
R.E.M. was one of the biggest alternative rock bands of all time. Fronted by Michael Stipe and his completely unique voice, they conquered the world with their music through the late 80s and 90s. From rock songs to more haunting lyrics that stay with you forever, R.E.M. is one of the best bands of all time. If their music doesn’t touch you emotionally, then I don’t know which band would be able to achieve that.
Formed in 1970, Aerosmith still rocks on to huge crowds today. Their blend of hard rock with blues influences, pop-rock, and even glam metal sets them apart, and then you have the stunning vocals of Steven Tyler. His ability to hit those high notes blows you away, and as a rock group, Aerosmith checks every box. But don’t just listen to this one song. Dive right into their music, and you will be glad you did so.
The kings of grunge, Nirvana is one of those bands that probably everybody in the world has heard of. Led by Kurt Cobain, their music still influences bands today, and for a good reason. Their deep lyrics, combined with a blend of pop and noise, led to a stunning sound that still resonates with so many people today. Their Nevermind album should be in every collection.
24. The Doobie Brothers
Formed in 1970, this rock band has the amazing ability to incorporate so many musical genres into their songs. From soft rock to more of a blues feel, I do love their method of incorporating so many vocal harmonies as one. Songs such as Easy manage to sum it up perfectly. I recommend giving it a listen to see what all of the fuss was about.
25. The Eagles
The Eagles are another classic American band with an extensive list of hits, as well as multiple awards. They blend folk rock with country and soft rock, and with over 200 million album sales, it means they are one of the biggest-selling bands of all time, and when you listen to their music, you understand why. It’s catchy and tuneful without being too aggressive or loud.
26. Foo Fighters
Dave Grohl set up Foo Fighters after the end of Nirvana, and they have been blasting out rock music for decades. Known for their post-grunge music, they blend hard rock with a whole lot of fun. Expect to get out your air guitar and rock the night away, as that’s something these guys can bring out of almost anyone.
27. Van Halen
Formed in 1972, Van Halen brought hard rock back to the forefront after a more psychedelic approach to rock in the late 60s. The surprising thing is that Jump was their only #1 hit. With 80 million album sales, this band constantly ranks highly in a list of the best rock bands of all time. These guys knew how to rock and could create more energy in their crowd than you ever thought possible.
28. Imagine Dragons
Formed in 2008, this band was voted as the best breakthrough band in 2013, and the best band in 2017, so that’s a huge deal. Oh, and they were the band with the most streams on Spotify in 2018. This band includes everything in their music, from rock to electropop and anything else you want to imagine. It makes sense that they see themselves as genre-less, but one thing I can say with certainty is they are not lacking in musical talent.
29. Twenty One Pilots
This alternative band was formed back in 2009 and has had 10 #1 hits on the alternative charts to date. Viewed as incorporating alternative hip hop, they also combine pop and alternative rock into their music. I love them as they offer something completely different, and with total album sales of 10 million, I’m not alone in enjoying their music.
30. Thousand Foot Krutch (TFK)
I love adding in something different, and that’s why Thousand Foot Krutch makes an appearance. This Christian rock band has managed to top both the Christian charts and also the hard rock charts, which is impressive. This is not like music you would expect from a band strong in their Christian roots, but give them a chance to impress, and I can pretty much guarantee they will succeed.
Known for their pop punk and alternative rock roots, Weezer is just a fun band to listen to. Formed in 1992, the Blue Album and Pinkerton are viewed as some of the best albums of the 90s. They can produce some amazing melodies that catch your attention and then won’t let go. Before you know it, you will find yourself humming along to their music and will be more than happy to do so.
Barry has worked as a freelance writer for over a decade and has developed an eye for detail when it comes to unearthing cool and interesting facts.
His love of music stems from his student days checking out up and coming bands playing in the darkest corners of bars and clubs in Edinburgh.
The love of uncovering something new also remains with him. With an appreciation for music that’s best described as eclectic, his musical tastes range from Eric Clapton to Eminem through to Snow Patrol and Incubus. The memories that music can bring back to the fore is something he tries to portray in his writing.
For him, the voyage of discovery and unearthing something new is what makes this task of writing for MusicGrotto.com so interesting.