The 20 Best American Bands Of All Time
The US has had a long, rich musical history. Decade after decade, we have seen waves of great American bands make their mark on the music industry. Whether it’s heavy metal, alt-rock, or pop rock, you’ll see an American band across all charts.
Choosing just 20 bands for this list proved to be a challenge, but after much deliberation, we finally came up with a list of bands that are certainly among the best.
So, in no particular order, let’s dive into them below.
- 1. The Ramones
- 2. Lynyrd Skynyrd
- 3. Nirvana
- 4. The Beach Boys
- 5. The Eagles
- 6. Aerosmith
- 7. The Doors
- 8. Simon & Garfunkel
- 9. Guns N’ Roses
- 10. Metallica
- 11. Fleetwood Mac
- 12. R.E.M.
- 13. Bon Jovi
- 14. Talking Heads
- 15. The Velvet Underground
- 16. Blondie
- 17. Foo Fighters
- 18. ZZ Top
- 19. Kiss
- 20. Creedence Clearwater Revival
1. The Ramones
The poster boys, nay, the godfathers of punk rock. The Ramones were formed in New York City in the mid-’70s and almost immediately rose to fame with their debut album, Ramones.
One reason behind their success was the youth culture in the city at the time. People were rebellious, minimalistic, and heavily influenced by the British invasion. The Ramones reflected this very well through their energetic but short songs like “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” and “Pet Sematary”, and quintessentially punk aesthetics.
The band’s 21 years of legacy is still going strong today. In fact, Rolling Stones magazine included them in its “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” while the Grammy Awards honored them with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
2. Lynyrd Skynyrd
The end of Lynyrd Skynyrd just might be the most tragic one in rock history. Some of the members survived the tragic plane crash and continued to make more music. But when they were active and in their prime, they made incredible, timeless music we can all cherish.
The band originated in Jacksonville, Florida in the mid-60s. This was a time of the blues and rock ‘n’ roll. Lynyrd Skynyrd added their touch of country and southern rock and made classics like Free Bird and Sweet Home Alabama.
You can see them perform their classic “Simple Man”. They may be old, but they’re still rocking hard.
Inarguably the 90s most iconic band, Nirvana was founded in Washington in 1987. At the time of their inception, grunge or alt-rock was still a purely underground scene. But as soon as Nirvana’s second album, “Nevermind”, hit the charts, it was almost like a pop culture in America broke.
The somewhat ambiguous yet meaningful lyrics paired with raw musicianship on songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” resonated with millions around the world, making Nirvana one of the most successful acts to date.
While Nirvana’s tenure may have been very short-lived, they achieved both commercial and critical success most bands could only dream of. Also, their music influenced countless bands around the world.
4. The Beach Boys
One of the best indicators of a band’s greatness is how long they’ve been together, making music. In the case of The Beach Boys, it has been over five decades.
Formed in 1961 in Hawthorne, California, the group rode the wave of pop rock, R&B, and surf vibes. Not just that, the members were all masters of their crafts, collectively pushing the boundaries of music. Check out their “I Get Around” live performance above.
Throughout their incredible career, the Beach Boys released 29 studio albums. They were among the very few bands to stand out during the overwhelming British Invasion. And to their credit, they are still going strong today.
5. The Eagles
The Eagles were founded in the early 70s in Los Angeles, making primarily soft rock and folk rock music. At their peak, The Eagles were a force to be reckoned with, becoming the biggest mainstream band in the country.
In fact, two of their albums, “Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975)” and “Hotel California”, are the number one and three best-selling albums in the US respectively. Also, they’ve sold over 200 million records, making them a giant commercial success.
Tracks like “Hotel California” and “One of These Nights” are still a treat to listen to among many other timeless classics.
Aerosmith is one of those bands that always elicit a sweet emotion when you listen to them. Whether it’s through their iconic ballads or energetic rock ‘n’ roll, Steven Tyler and the band pull your attention like no other.
The band was formed in 1970 in Boston and went on to dominate the next two decades of music. Incorporating hard rock, glam, and heavy metal into their sound, the group became your quintessential rockstars. Just take a look at them performing “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” and you’ll know.
7. The Doors
Some say they were in the right place at the right time. Others consider them to be pioneers of psychedelic music. But there’s no denying that The Doors are one of the greatest bands to have made music.
Characterized by their use of blues, synths, poetry, and Jim Morrison’s legendary voice, The Doors became a highly popular but controversial group in the late 60s and early 70s. Despite just eight years of activity, they sold over 100 million records worldwide.
The band disbanded in 1973 due to the untimely death of their frontman. However, their legacy lives on through songs like “Break On Through” and “Light My Fire”.
8. Simon & Garfunkel
Responsible for megahits like “Mrs. Robinson” and “The Sound Of Silence”, Simon & Garfunkel just might be the greatest duo to have ever graced the musical stage. And you know what’s even more amazing, they’re still playing live music to this day.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel decided to join hands in the 1950s, making folk-rock under the name Tom & Jerry. Their first album was anything but a success, which is ironic since the group went on to become one of the best-selling acts of the 60s. In the era of the Beatles and Dylan.
To this day, they’ve won 10 Grammys, been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and sold over 100 million copies.
9. Guns N’ Roses
Guns N’ Roses is a hard rock band from Los Angeles that seeped its way into pop culture seamlessly after their marquee song “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. Formed in 1985, the band released its first album, “Appetite for Destruction”, in 1987, which reached the top of the Billboard 200. And it was all uphill from there.
They became an icon of arena rock thanks to Axl Rose’s stage persona and Slash’s exquisite shredding skills to explicit imagery and eccentricity. From ballads to anthems, Guns N’ Roses had everything in their toolbox to make them a household name in that era of rock.
Not only did they become a critical and commercial success, but Guns N’ Roses also influenced a plethora of bands to follow.
You know you’re at the top of the world when you’re playing live in front of 1.6 million people! Yeah, you read that right. That’s what happened during Metallica’s 1991 Moscow concert.
Part of and inarguably the biggest of the Big 4 of heavy metal, Metallic was formed in 1981 in Los Angeles. It took them three albums to find mainstream success. But once they did, they never stopped. Hits after hits of iconic thrash metal songs made them a huge commercial success, selling over 125 million records.
Members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Metallica is considered one of the most influential bands in rock history, inspiring millions of young metalheads around the world.
11. Fleetwood Mac
The only band on this list with its origin outside of the US, Fleetwood Mac was formed in London in 1967. Since the group had a few American members and were mostly recorded in the States, we’ll consider them American.
Starting as a British Blues band, Fleetwood Mac explored soft rock, pop, and folk music among others. All members were talented musicians, each bringing something unique to the band’s sound.
The group made seventeen studio albums with hit songs like “The Chain”. They are now a part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, having sold over 120 million albums.
R.E.M. was a pioneering alternative rock band, leading the scene since the 1980s. Even a band like Nirvana thought so. So, how can you not put them on the list?
The thing that made R.E.M. stand out was the inimitability of all four members, be it eccentric frontmanship or the economical drumming. Apart from alt-rock, the band dabbled in folk and post-punk, which paired well with their persona.
Songs like “Losing My Religion” and “Everybody Hurts” became a staple in the alt-rock era. Now disbanded, the group leaves a cherishable legacy for many.
13. Bon Jovi
15 studio albums, over 130 million records sold, 2,700+ concerts, and multiple ‘halls of fame’ signify Bon Jovi’s legacy as nothing can.
Bon Jovi has been around since 1983, creating great music that incorporates glam metal, hard rock, and pop rock. They are almost synonymous with arena rock, putting on memorable live acts for their audience.
You can check out Bon Jovi performing their iconic songs, “Always” and “It’s My Life” above.
14. Talking Heads
Formed in 1975 in New York, Talking Heads were what you’d want if you asked for a great new wave band. Their performance of their hit track “Psycho Killer” is the perfect example of that which you can see above.
They were a group of talented musicians. They continuously explored world sounds and became a big name in the 80s.
The band parted ways in 1991, after eight studio albums only to reunite for a brief period in 2002. But what they did in those sixteen years saw them become a member of many halls of fame and greatest lists.
15. The Velvet Underground
Considering how many people regard The Velvet Underground as rock royalty, the band is still very underrated by the mainstream. However, there’s no denying the impact The Velvet Underground has had on music.
The band formed in New York in 1964 and was in its prime until 1973 when they broke up. After that, they played intermittently in the 90s. As long as they were active, they pushed the boundaries of music. The best way to describe them would be experimental or avant-garde.
You can see their performance of “White Light/White Heat” above and get a taste of the legendary band.
Blondie was another pioneer of American new wave music in the 70s. The New York-based band included a host of different music styles in their sound, ranging from pop and reggae to rap and disco.
To this day, Blondie has made eleven studio albums, selling over 40 million copies worldwide. They have also cemented a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame thanks to songs like “Maria” and “Heart of Glass”.
17. Foo Fighters
When Dave Grohl conceived Foo Fighters in Seattle as a one-man band, he had a steep hill to climb. He had to get out of the shadows of Nirvana’s fame and bring something new to the table, now, as the frontman.
But the jack-of-all-trades music prodigy did just that. Soon after, he added more members to the band and continued to stay at the top of the alt-rock scene.
Foo Fighters have sold show after show, throughout the world, playing their hits like “Everlong”, winning 15 Grammys, and finding a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
18. ZZ Top
ZZ Top is a blues rock band, founded in the southern city of Houston. Known for witty lyrics, brilliant live performances, and their incredible style, they took over the rock scene in the lower states of the US.
Since 1969, ZZ Top has released 16 albums, while also seeping into pop culture throughout the United States. They’re also part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Two of the band’s original members are still in the lineup, making crowds roar through their classics like “Gimme All Your Lovin’”.
When you think of glam metal, the first band that would come to mind is Kiss. The face paints, stylish outfits, and epic music set apart the New York-based band in the 70s and 80s.
Kiss has a dedicated fan base calling themselves the Kiss Army. So, it’s no wonder they sold over 100 million records throughout their illustrious career. The band had a knack for creating fist-pounding, head-banding ballads that would make anyone go crazy.
You can see their live performance of “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” above and enjoy their sheer energy.
20. Creedence Clearwater Revival
You know, there was a time, around Woodstock ‘69 when CCR was as big, if not bigger than the Beatles. Of course, that’s not the case now, but at their peak, Creedence Clearwater Revival was sitting on top of the world.
Formed in El Cerrito, California, Creedence Clearwater Revival was a rock band that dabbled in blues, southern rock, roots rock, and many more sounds. They were loved by radio and the masses alike, turning them into a staple of classic rock through songs like “Fortunate Son”.
No list is definite when it comes to the Best American Bands of all time, however, no one can deny that the 20 groups listed above had their fair share of influencing the American stage. From The Ramones to Creedence Clearwater Revival, there have been many greats to grace the stage while some are still going strong today.
Metallica Featured Image (Top-Left) by: Kreepin Deth, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Aerosmith Featured Image (Top-Right) by: David W. Baker, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
GNR Featured Image (Bottom-Left) by: Raph_PH, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Bon Jovi Featured Image (Bottom-Right) by: Mark Kent, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons