British rock bands have burst on the scene time and again since the 1960s to shake up the musical landscape. It was a rock group from England that became the most popular band ever - the Beatles, of course - and British musicians have retained a strong influence on the development of popular music ever since.
Popular British Rock Bands
The list of British rock music groups could easily run into the thousands, but there are some who have made an especially large impact on both sides of the pond.
You simply can't discuss British rock bands without talking about the "four lads from Liverpool." Beatlemania gripped listeners in the U.S. and the U.K. during the 1960s. Their first trip to the U.S. was covered by the media in a way no musician before or since has ever experienced. Nearly every one of their singles is a pop music standard. They are the best-selling band in music history, and they paved the road for English artists to succeed in the U.S. Even today, many of the bands from Great Britain who make it big beyond their home shores owe a debt to the Fab Four.
The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones were something of an anti-Beatles during the 1960s. They were the bad boys of rock and embraced bluesy sounds over simple, four chord pop ditties. The Stones' shows were legendary for being out-of-control, wild parties, enshrining the concept of sex, drugs, and rock and roll into popular culture. They were the original rock and roll rebels, using their music and their bad-boy image to send the message that it's okay, even desirable, to be different. Throughout five decades, they have maintained their popularity as entertainers, becoming the longest-lived rock and roll band.
Deep Purple, one of the most innovative bands of the classic rock era, got their start in 1968. Their popularity soared during the 1970s, and their intense and powerful music did much to spearhead the era of hard rock and heavy metal. Deep Purple disbanded in 1976, but they reformed in 1984 and have continued up to the present day, touring and making music to critical and fan acclaim.
A pioneer of art rock, Genesis started out in 1967, garnering praise from critics for including classical music structures in their unique style of progressive rock. In the late seventies and early eighties, they embraced a more commercially friendly, pop-oriented sound and became a hugely successful act, selling over 150 million albums worldwide. Genesis continued to tour and release new music through 1997 and went on a reunion tour a decade later, in 2007.
When people bring up the subject of art rock, chances are excellent that Yes will be one of the first bands in line for discussion. Yes formed in 1968 and did very well throughout the 1970s, when their top-notch musicianship and symphonic style captured people's imaginations. They broke up in 1981 but reformed in 1982, featuring a more pop-friendly sound. They returned to their art rock roots in the 1990s and have toured and made music up to the present day, with a variety of different band members. Yes has influenced other progressive rock bands, including the Super Furry Animals and Radiohead.
The 1970s was all about blues-influenced hard rock and metal, and Led Zeppelin were the grandfathers of the genre. They exploded onto the scene and were immediately popular, and have endured to become one of the biggest selling acts of all time. They are best known for their blistering guitars, not to mention their alleged groupie exploits, but they also dabbled in many other music genres, including folk and reggae.
Queen is a hugely successful band that has, since its formation in 1971, played a wide range of styles, including progressive rock, glam rock, pop rock, and heavy metal. They became one of the pre-eminent stadium rockers of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Their original lead singer, Freddie Mercury, died in 1991, but he continues to be one of the most celebrated frontmen of any rock band. Queen's music has spent more time at the top of the U.K. pop charts than any other musical act.
Formed in 1975, Iron Maiden hit their stride in the 1980s with their distinctive brand of heart-thumping, heavy metal music with its shades of influence from progressive rock. They have stood the test of time, rocking with all their might into the present day, selling more than 80 million albums, and becoming one of the most famous, long-lived heavy metal bands in music history.
Flamboyant and fashionable, Duran Duran heralded a second British Invasion in the 1980s with their new wave sounds. They became symbols of 1980s excess and were wildly popular during those years. They were also one of the first bands to be heavily promoted by MTV. Duran Duran turned music videos into an art form, and the heavy rotation they received on MTV cemented their place on top of the 80s charts.
Riding on a wave of 1960s nostalgia, Oasis made a huge splash in the 1990s with their Beatle-esque sounds. The popularity of Oasis marked the beginning of the so-called Britpop craze of the 90s, when rock artists from Great Britain sought to capture the ears of the English youth with catchy, commercial songs. Oasis sold over 70 million records worldwide. The band eventually disintegrated thanks to damaged band relationships, and Britpop died out by the end of the decade.
Coldplay formed in 1996 but didn't hit their stride until 2000, when their first full-length album debuted at number one in England. They were part of a wave of English artists who got musical inspiration from bands like U2. Coldplay went on to release four successful albums, becoming one of the top selling acts of the 2000s.
One of the most successful bands on the alternative rock scene is Radiohead, who formed in 1985 and really picked up steam in 1993, following the release of their first single, Creep, and debut album, Pablo Honey. Their music encompasses a wide range of sub-genres, from art rock to electronic and experimental styles. They are continuing to tour and make music that is applauded by critics and fans alike.
Formed in 1999, Kasabian is a newer arrival on the British rock scene. The band named themselves after a member of the Charles Manson cult because they liked the sound of the name. Kasabian's music is best characterized as a fusion of rock and electronica. They met with great success in the 2000s and, at one pivotal point, scored four top twenty hits in just six months.
The Coral got their start in 1996 and garnered success upon the release of their debut album in 2002, which earned them a nomination for the Mercury Prize. Since then, they have released six albums. They play folk-influenced psychedelic rock. With their musical and vocal skill, they thrive on experimentation and innovation with every new album they release.
Florence and the Machine
Florence and the Machine is the creation of Florence Welch and Isabella Summers, who started a musical collaboration when they were teenagers, then enlarged their act to a band. In 2009 Florence and the Machine released their debut album Lungs, which worked its way up the U.K. charts all the way up to the number one position. Their second album, Ceremonials, was even more successful, debuting at number one on the U.K. charts. Welch, who sings lead vocals, has won kudos from critics for her powerful singing voice, drawing comparisons to such gifted singers as P.J. Harvey and Kate Bush.
List of More English Rock Groups
Get more cool Brit sounds by loading your playlist with these artists:
- The Who - Since 1964, the Who have been an iconic band that plays hard rock, psychedelic rock, and progressive rock.
- The Kinks - A legendary classic rock band, the Kinks were active from 1964 to 1996.
- Pink Floyd - One of the great psychedelic and progressive rock bands of all time, Pink Floyd got its start in 1965.
- Black Sabbath - Heavy metal wouldn't be the same without Black Sabbath, who have been rocking since 1968.
- The Sex Pistols - Punk in the U.K. got its start with the Sex Pistols, who were active from 1975 to 1978 and whose music still influences rock bands today.
- Blur - Getting its start with Britpop, Blur has been touring and making records since 1988.
- The Verve - Active on and off from 1989 to 1999, the Verve played psychedelic and alternative rock.
- Muse - After getting their start in 1994, Muse is continuing to play and record innovative music that fuses progressive rock, space rock, and symphonic rock.
- The Libertines - The music of the critically-acclaimed Libertines, who were active from 1997 to 2004, helped launch the garage rock revival in England.
- Mumford & Sons - For British folk rock with a heaping helping of influence from American bluegrass, look no further than Mumford & Sons, who got their start in 2007.
- Foals - Indie rock band Foals has released three albums since 2005, and their music can be characterized as experimental rock.
A Powerful Force
Rock music wouldn't be the diverse genre it is today without considerable contributions of talent from England. British rock will no doubt continue to function as a defining force in the development of modern music, spearheading musical innovation and influencing musicians for generations to come.