The Top 100 Rockers of All Time

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– And their songs –

sir-rocknuts-500The “most impactful” rockers? Well, at least the “most important” Or maybe the “most significant”. Well, maybe at least to me. No, I am not trying to walk any of this back. And with all those stipulations, this might still be the best list of the best 100 rockers you’ll ever see.

There. I said it…

To qualify for “most impactful”, I am thinking of artists and groups that brought something new and inspirational to the table and have also stood the test of time. That is a test of primary importance, btw. Thus, I confined my selection criteria to the years 1960-2010, fifty years of prime rock.

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Before you point out much of the obvious in my list, I will do it for you. There are a preponderance of older rockers versus newer rockers on the list. Why? Since I am selecting the most impactful/important/significant rockers of all time, an emphasis here necessarily needs to be on the concept of “time”. That is, these artists have had to stand the test of time. It hangs together then that the newer artists haven’t had the time to do that yet. So, will the Kooks or The Thermals ultimately move up to the pantheon? Will the Decemberists or Cage the Elephant or My Morning Jacket continue to produce gems that elevate them to Top 100 status? Can’t wait to find out.

A few other qualifiers and criteria:

  1. This is rock. No country or rap or folk singers even blues musicians qualify. There are the inevitable cross-overs, of course, like the Eagles as country or Bob Dylan as a folker. But most of the better artists and groups and individuals get a mention (I’m thinking Joni Mitchell, Buddy Guy, Uncle Tupelo as examples) will just have to be on someone else’s Top 100 list.
  2. Most ballads don’t rock. Some, however, are just too good to pass up. By and large, I have a bias against those pure rock balladeers…
  3. If the history of the artist or group included annoying politics or a lifestyle that is repugnant – I am thinking David Crosby (insipid lyrics) or Elvis Costello (politics and racial remarks) or Dave Mason (just in general), they were downgraded. Hey – I didn’t ask them to push me away! Plus, in respect to fairness, I included Elvis Costello anyway.
  4. Jam bands were largely excluded (we let The Dead represent them all) so no Dave Matthews or Phish or Moe or Widespread Panic or…
  5. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Whew. It doesn’t do much for me but I noted many of those that were in just for formal consideration. The selection to something that should be holy turns out to be a random and capricious process and is more about popularity than rock value.
  6. These are people that were the most impactful to ME – so I get to be arbitrator. I dropped out a few since they were really marginal even though they were long-time inspirational to me (Golden Earring, Henry Lee Summer, Green Pajamas) but by and large, this is a personal list; so how can I be wrong, really? That’s my final defensive gesture.

The list itself: It’s alphabetical and not in any order of quality and – yes – it does add up to 100. And just to show how close some lucky buggers got to the brass ring, I included a “Runners Up” category with a song sample. And I also included artists that many of you would have considered (but I ruled out) just so you would be aware that I was also aware of them. And then there is a sub-category of rockers that didn’t make it because they weren’t fully appreciated. Just to show that I knew who they were and that they were considered.

Finally, this is my list – after lots of cussing and discussing amongst myself and others. Once I get your feedback (try to be kind, I am very sensitive…), I will ruminate some more and probably ultimately admit to some of my omissions and oversights. Therefore, my pledge to you is this: I will re-cast this list next April with modifications and further consideration. Keep those cards and letters coming.

(**Please see below for my initial disclaimers and lame explanations for why I excluded some rather “obvious” choices before you go off on me on that score)

So, here they are. The top 100 artists plus 166 others. They are in alphabetical order and with a representative sampling of their songs – at least two for the Top 100 people and one for the “runners up”. In the selected songs, I tried to stay away from the over-played or cliché stuff in most cases and went for songs that still represented a broader feel of their overall work. Yes, it was frustrating and a generally fruitless mission. What can I say? Tell me two Rolling Stones songs that cover their entire body of work, for instance.

That’s the explanation. Here are the final disclaimers and then the list:

**Those That Weren’t Considered for Various (Possibly Lame) Reasons

  1. Elvis Presley: Yes, he was the king of rock and we probably wouldn’t be here today without Elvis. That said, his major contribution to the field was from 1954-1958 (or so) and I set my boundaries for this project as 1960 to 2010. The king is dead but not forgotten.
  2. Michael Jackson: Elvis was the king of rock and Michael was the king of pop. Whatever it was that he did (!), it wasn’t rock and therefore didn’t qualify for this enshrinement.
  3. Glen Campbell: Representing all the studio musicians in the world (The Wrecking Crew) as well as many of the cross-over types that deserve recognition – he also played for the Beach Boys – but just not deserving here, like many other famous sidemen.
  4. Regae/ska: Tough to leave off Bob Marley but these genres really aren’t rock. As simple as that…
  5. Jimmy Buffet: The Parrotheads might scoff and chastise but facts are stubborn things. I love Jimmy Buffet and his attitude and latitudes but he is a category almost unto himself and not included here. There are a few other –genre-defying artists that likely fit that description as well.
  6. James Brown: The king of soul deserves his own category (Soulnuts?) just not as a rocker. A similar justification would be appropriate for Ray Charles.
  7. Carol King/James Taylor: Great electric-folk singers and songwriters but not rockers. There are a lot more than just these two and it doesn’t diminish their quality, only defines our arbitrary boundaries.
  8. Joni Mitchell/Laura Nyro: Also great singers and songwriters that inspired a lot of rock (and a few rockers, as well) but more jazz and folk than rock.
  9. Chuck Berry: Just like Bo Diddley and Little Richard, rock wouldn’t be the same without him but his post-1960 production and personae didn’t fit this list.
  10. Aretha: The queen of soul rocked out but as with James Brown or Ray Charles, but doesn’t fit the descriptors for the Top 100.

I will be going artist by artist in subsequent weeks with painfully posed commentary to explain why each rocker was included on the list or why they were runners-up or only “under consideration”. Please be tolerant – and patient!

A

1. AC/DC

2. Allman Brothers

Runners-Up

Alkaline Trio

Arcade Fire

Animals

Ryan Adams

Others the mainstream would consider: ABBA (hey, they’re in the Hall of Fame!), Aerosmith, Alice Cooper (HOF)

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Arctic Monkeys, Brian Adams, Brian Auger

B

3. The Band

4. Beach Boys

5. The Beatles

6. Jeff Beck

7. Belle and Sebastian

8. David Bowie

9. Frank Black/Pixies

10. Black Keys

11. Booker T and the MG’s

12. Buffalo Springfield

Runners-Up

Badfinger

Byrds

Others the mainstream would consider: Bee Gees, Boston, Jackson Browne, Bon Jovi, Blood Sweat and Tears

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Joe Bonamassa, Paul Butterfield (HOF), Mike Bloomfield, Blue Oyster Cult, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Bad Company, Blur, Roy Buchanan, Pat Benatar, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

C

13. Chicago

14. Alex Chilton

15. Eric Clapton

16. Dave Clark Five

17. Gary Clark Jr.

18. The Clash

19. Leonard Cohen

20. Coldplay

21. Sam Cooke

22. Elvis Costello

23. Cracker

24. Robert Cray

25. Nick Cave

Runners-Up

The Cars

The Cure

Others the mainstream would consider: CSNY, Counting Crows. Joe Cocker

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Cheap Trick, Captain Beefheart, Marshall Crenshaw, Lloyd Cole, Jim Croce

D

26. Deep Purple

27. Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler

28. (Dixie) Dregs/Steve Morse

29. Donovan

30. The Doors

31. Bob Dylan

Runners-Up

Devo

Others the mainstream would consider: Dinosaur Jr., Neil Diamond (HOF), Doobie Brothers

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Drive By Truckers, Dropkick Murphys

E

32. Eagles (Don Henley)

33. Eels

34. Emerson, Lake and Palmer

Runners-Up

N/A

Others the mainstream would consider: Dave Edmunds, Electric Light Orchestra, Melissa Etheridge

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Eurythmics, Echo and the Bunnymen, Roky Erickson, Everclear

F

35. Fleetwood Mac

36. John Fogerty/CCR

Runners-Up

Peter Frampton

Ben Folds

Others the mainstream would consider: Four Tops, The Four Seasons, Free, Faces

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Fountains of Wayne, Flaming Lips, Foghat, Bryan Ferry

G

37. Grateful Dead

38. Green Day

39. Dave Grohl/Foo Fighters

Runners-Up

Guided By Voices

Golden Earring

Others the mainstream would consider: Al Green, Peter Gabriel (HOF), Guns ‘N Roses (HOF), Genesis (HOF), The J. Geils Band, Guess Who

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Green Pajamas, Buddy Guy, Goo Goo Dolls, The Go-Betweens, Grand Funk Railroad, Jeff Lynne

H

40. Ben Harper

41. Jimi Hendrix

42. Buddy Holly

43. Husker Du

Runners-Up

Robyn Hitchcock

Others the mainstream would consider: Hollies, Heart (HOF), Hall and Oats (HOF), Sammy Hagar

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: John Hiatt, The Hold Steady

I

44. INXS

Runners-Up

N/A

Others the mainstream would consider: Chris Isaac, Billy Idol

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Iggy Pop

J

45. Jefferson Airplane

46. Elton John

47. Janis Joplin

Runners-Up

The Jam/Paul Weller

Joy Division

Others the mainstream would consider: Billy Joel, Journey

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Jo Jo Gunne

K

48. BB King

49. Kinks/Ray Davies

Runners-Up

N/A

Others the mainstream would consider: King Crimson, Albert King, Kansas

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Kooks, Killers

L

50. Led Zeppelin

51. Libertines

52. Lynyrd Skynyrd

Runners-Up

Little Feat

Los Lobos

Others the mainstream would consider: Huey Lewis

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Lemonheads, Nick Lowe

M

53. Mamas and Papas

54. Meat Puppets

55. Metallica

56. Van Morrison

Runners-Up

Steve Miller

John Mayer

Others the mainstream would consider: McCoys, Mountain, Moody Blues, John Mellencamp (HOF), Joni Mitchell (HOF), John Mayall, Meat Loaf

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Eddie Money, Myrical Brah, Don McLean, Minutemen. Mott the Hoople, Taj Mahal, Moby Grape, Mountain Goats

N

57. Nirvana

Runners-Up

Nada Surf

Bill Nelson/Be Bop Deluxe

Others the mainstream would consider: Ted Nugent

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Nilsson

O

58. Ozzy Osbourne

Runners-Up

N/A

Others the mainstream would consider: Oasis

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Roy Orbison, Offspring

P

59. Tom Petty

60. Pink Floyd

61. Police

62. Pretenders

63. Procol Harum

Runners-Up

Prince

Others the mainstream would consider: Pearl Jam, Phish

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Pavement, Robert Palmer, Graham Parker

Q

64. Queen

Runners-Up

N/A

Others the mainstream would consider: N/A

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Quicksilver Messenger Service

R

65. Ramones

66. Rascals

67. Otis Redding

68. Lou Reed

69. REM

70. Replacements

71. Rolling Stones

72. Todd Rundgren

Runners-Up

N/A

Others the mainstream would consider: Smokey Robinson, Righteous Brothers, Rush (HOF), REO Speedwagon, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Bonny Raitt, Leon Russell (HOF), Rancid

S

73. Santana

74. Boz Scaggs

75. John Sebastian/Lovin’ Spoonful

76. Bob Seger

77. Simon and Garfunkle/Paul Simon

78. Sly and the Family Stone

79. Smiths/Morrisey

80. Social Distortion

81. Bruce Springsteen

82. Spoon

83. Steely Dan

Runners-Up

Cat Stevens

Others the mainstream would consider: Supertramp, Strokes, Patti Smith (HOF), Sex Pistols (HOF), Rod Stewart (HOF), Scorpions

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Sloan, Smithereens, SemiSonics, Solipsistics, Henry Lee Summer, Savoy Brown, Steppenwolf, Sleater-Kinney, Spooky Tooth, Strawbs, Matthew Sweet

T

84. Talking Heads

85. Richard Thompson

86. Jethro Tull

Runners-Up

N/A

Others the mainstream would consider: T. Rex, Thin Lizzy, Temptations, George Thorogood

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: The Tubes, Ten cc, The Turtles, Television, Tool

U

87. U2

Runners-Up

Uriah Heep

Others the mainstream would consider: N/A

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: N/A

V

88. Vanilla Fudge

89. Stevie Ray Vaughn

Runners-Up

Velvet Underground

Others the mainstream would consider: Van Halen

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Violent Femmes, Vaccines

W

90. Joe Walsh/James Gang

91. Weezer

92. Jack White/White Stripes

93. The Who

94. Stevie Winwood

95. Wilco

96. Stevie Wonder

Runners-Up

Tom Waits

Others the mainstream would consider: Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Bill Withers, The Waterboys, Lucinda Williams, Wire

X

N/A

Runners-Up

N/A

Others the mainstream would consider: X, XTC

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: N/A

Y

97. Yes

98. Neil Young

Runners-Up

Yardbirds

Others the mainstream would consider: N/A

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: Yo La Tengo

Z

99. Warren Zevon

100. Zombies (Rod Argent)

Runners-Up

Frank Zappa

Others the mainstream would consider: ZZ Top

Artists Not Fully Appreciated: N/A

40 comments on “The Top 100 Rockers of All Time
  1. Wow. Colossal undertaking! It’s so overwhelming that it is hard to know where to start. I have to listen to another fifty songs or so and then…

  2. How’d you pick which songs to feature for each band? Just curious since you don’t even have “For What It’s Worth” under Buffalo Springfield!!

  3. Glad to see Jack White getting some love here. I think he’s the closest thing we have to a modern rock revolutionary.

  4. Great question, Blink. In the small print of one of my qualifiers, I posited that I tried not to use the best known songs for most of the groups (hence, no “Light My Fire” for The Doors or “Stairway to Heaven” for Led Zep). That’s the quick-and-dirty explanation for no “For What It’s Worth” as an example of Buffalo Springfield’s work. In their case, additionally, it really DIDN’T represent their body of work as it is a huge outlier for the band. In fact, that’s where the song name came from as – initially – the rest of the band did not like Stills’ song…

    • Ha. “The rest of the band did not like Stills’ song…” I guess that’s proof that artists are terrible judges of their work…

  5. To start at 1960 definitely limits this list. Actually makes the list worthless. Rock and roll started in the 50s. What is the sense in starting your list in 1960. Would 10 more years have killed you. You CANNOT call this an all-time greatest list.

  6. Quite the list! We definitely have very similar tastes in music and while I’ll never criticize an opinion list as that’s exactly what they are. we do have some obvious differences. So, if it if were my list instead here’s some of the variances we would have…

    While bands like Tears for Fears, Death Cab for Cutie and Toad the Wet Sprocket might not be considered “rockers” they can certainly hold their own with some of these aforementioned groups.

    Further, dare I say you also have a disdain for the Seattle grunge explosion of the early 90’s? While you do give Nirvana credit, I see no other evidence we share an appreciation for the amazing musical events that occured fuel f thatt time. For example, for me, Pearl Jam should be over Procol Harum. Other amazing bands like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden are completely forgotten and Chicago’s Smashing Pumpkins oversight has to be a mistake? 🙂

    Also, while I disagee with the extent someone prior to my comments thinks (that leaving pre-1960’s artists off the list renders said list useless) I do feel you leave out some seriously rocking influences. This would include Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and of course Johnny Cash

    Overall this is a great list and something that has and will continue to be debated but that’s one of the wonderful gifts of rock and roll isn’t it? 🙂

  7. I think you forget a few Mr. Rocknuts: Nine Inch Nails, Bright Eyes, The Smashing Pumpkins, Alice in Chains, and Rage Against the Machine…

  8. I tried to sell some used Jimmy Buffett records at a music store once and they said no, and when I asked why they said because they didn’t want any dentist’s office music. So you are not the only one who doesn’t put him in the rock category

  9. Some nice pleasant surprises and some others make scratch my head. The best thing is there are some “new” bands for me to check out (Eels??).

    Nice surprises – Dixie Dregs, Jethro Tull (should probably go under ‘J’ the same as Floyd doesn’t belong under ‘F’.

    No George Clintion but a reference to Prince?!?

    REM over Rush was tough to read.

    No Judas Priest? Blasphemy I say..

    Top tier for ELP was nice.

  10. Top 100 Rockers…sounds great until you break it down in some alphabetical order list…With sub-categories of mainstream and not fully- appreciated. I cannot say I fully appreciate this list. When the Eagles are listed, and poor Dave Edmunds was listed as mainstream…that shows you know what you are talking about….and where is Alice in Chains? Great bands…take note…do not begin you band name with an a or q, u. You might want to revise this list…because it would take me weeks or thinking, and writing.

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  17. I stopped at Coldplay. Quite possible the worst list in the history of lists. No Rush? No Chili Peppers? It’s a farce.

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  19. You mentioned Buddy Holly. That’s great, a great pioneer of rock. But he didn’t live to see 1960. Died in February 1959.

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