Classic rock featured a significant number of bands and artists, the era of classic rock also saw many one-hit wonders and sold out concerts which makes it quite a daunting task to discuss every song and every band. There are, however, many standout bands and all-time greats that constituted the era and defined the foundations and entrapment of classic rock.
Undoubtedly, Led Zeppelin formed one of the foundations of classic rock. The English rock band was led by guitarist Jimmy Page, with Robert Plant as the lead singer. The quartet smashed sales records in different aspects of music. Despite their rough lifestyles like most rock and roll artists, the band was famous for sold-out concert tours and album sales. Their first self-titled album (released in 1969) set the tone for most of the classic rock sounds that became the rote over the years. By the time the band released their epic double-album Physical Graffiti in 1975, they had become icons and superstars that had established a reputation that would persist up to present day. Led Zeppelin have many songs in the Grammy Hall of Fame and have seen five of their music albums certified as diamond albums. The group’s signature song “Stairway to Heaven” and other notable classics set the true standard for album oriented rock and Bonham’s eclectic and eccentric drumming style brought the “rock” in rock and roll.
The Beatles had a short yet monumental era. The Fab Four from Liverpool almost single-handedly changed the face of pop and rock, and each of their albums during their seven active years becoming a certified “classic.” From Please Please Me that rocked the music scene in 1963 to their swan song Let It Be in 1970, the Beatles influenced both music and culture, and their impact has even continued for the many decades to come.
Queen, led by the charismatic Freddie Mercury, is chiefly known for their signature hit song “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The song’s heady and explosive combination of magnificent vocals and sweeping guitar-driven harmonies made quite a powerful impression of music that saw a fine line between rock and opera. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was a hit single on their fourth album A Night at the Opera which was released in 1975. The track – as well as its groundbreaking promotional video that even predated the MTV era – cemented the band’s classic and legendary status as one of rock’s greatest and most electrifying acts. The band also raked in millions of dollars from their best-selling concerts and live tours, coupled with an impressive amount of singles enjoying astronomical commercial and critical success.
Some of the greatest legacies of Queen are their songs that became a staple of most sporting events in the USA, specifically “Another One Bites the Dust,” “We Will Rock You” and, of course, “We Are the Champions.” Other famous Queen hits and noteworthy songs include “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Killer Queen,” “You’re My Best Friend,” “Radio Ga Ga,” and “I Want to Break Free.”
It is practically impossible to complete our list of top classic rock arts without including The Rolling Stones. The fact that the Stones have had a roller-coaster career in their over 50 years in the business and are still going strong is a solid testimony to the lingering power and influence of rock music. The Rolling Stones started their career by producing covers of some of their favorite American artists, and soon made a name for themselves in the rock music world, hitting milestones with their own original tracks, notably “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Paint It Black,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Get Off of My Cloud,” and a number of other successful chart placers. The Rolling Stones distinguish themselves from the lot, having adapted to the changing times by incorporating modern musical trends into their own effortlessly. There are so many successful albums in the Stones’ vast catalog, among them Out of Our Heads, Exile on Main Street, Sticky Fingers, Their Satanic Majesties Request, Some Girls, Through the Past, Darkly and Tattoo You being a notable few to mention.
Pink Floyd is perhaps a classic model of the cult rock favorites-turned-world-famous rock legends. The band was founded by Syd Barrett and debuted with an LP entitled The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The album quickly exhibited the music flair and passion that the band held but by 1968, Barrett was out of the group due to his erratic behavior and worsening mental instability that was attributed to psychedelic drugs (most prominently LSD). With the exit of Barrett came the introduction of fresh musical ideas for Pink Floyd that eventually saw hit albums such as The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall putting the band on the spotlight as one of the most successful and revered rock legends the world has ever seen.
If you are just a new fan of Pink Floyd, then you should not absolutely miss to see the film Pink Floyd – The Wall. It was released in 1982, and its screenplay was written by the band’s singer and bassist Roger Waters. Like the iconic album The Wall, on which the film was based, Pink Floyd – The Wall is a largely metaphorical film, full of symbolism and imagery. The movie centers a confined rocker named Pink. A tortured soul, he has gradually isolated himself from the world after being driven into insanity brought by the tragic memories during his lifetime. Pink Floyd – The Wall garnered critical acclaim at the time of its release, and has since gained a cult status.
The Eagles enjoyed laudable success between the 70s and 80s, and became one of the most popular bands in the world during the mid-70s after the inclusion of popular guitarists Don Felder and Joe Walsh to the band. The Eagles became one of the most commercially successful artists who scored several Billboard pop hits, six Grammy Awards and several American Music Awards.
Their fifth studio album, Hotel California (released in 1976), is rated as one of the top 20 best-selling albums in the US according to Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It sold over 16 million copies in the US alone, and over 32 million copies globally. The album topped the Billboard 200 and went on to rank among the top 50 classic rock albums of all time.
Aerosmith reached their commercial peak particularly during the 1970s throughout the 1990s. The band was so talented that they had started receiving comparisons to the Rolling Stones (not to mention the physical resemblance between the Stones’ Mick Jagger and Aerosmith front man Steve Tyler). Aerosmith finally hit the bull’s eye when their third studio album Toys in the Attic (1975) put them on the map and left their own golden trail in the field of rock music. Aerosmith later experienced a slump in their career mainly due to drug addiction, but the band picked up themselves up during the 1980s and went on to record albums such as Pump, Get a Grip and Nine Lives which all saw a multi-platinum achievements that further helped in sealing their status as rock legends. Their dynamic front man Steven Tyler is still regarded as one of the America’s venerable rock gods.
Journey is the band that you may either hate to love or love to hate. They have been described as grossly underrated as they continue to enjoy a stellar career that has survived over 30 years. Journey has penned many of some of the most enduring and most loved rock hits, all thanks to Steve Perry, Jonathan Cain and Neal Schone. The band’s golden era saw millions of records sold that include seven back-to-back multi-platinum albums, with Escape (1981) being one of their best work with Steve Perry. Even after Perry left the group, Journey went on to rake in millions of dollars from their successful live concerts as well as sales with albums like Revelation (2008) and Eclipse (2011) after recruiting Arnel Pineda
Like many other English rock groups during the 1960s onwards, The Who was mostly influenced by the American rock and roll and rhythm and blues. But later on in their career, the band decided to become trendsetters by creating their own musical style and producing records that could be tagged as both brilliant and electrifying. The band’s unique and exhilarating musical style (as well as some quirks) was delivered both on their live performances and on their records. The Who literally smashed instruments and records. But beyond the astonishing stage stunts, the group continued to expand the creativity of their music in classic rock, using an opera-inspired style to deliver what could be considered their masterpiece, Tommy (released in 1969).
Their success was kept alive with the follow-up LP Who’s Next (1971). However, their golden era sadly ended with the death of their drummer Keith Moon, who is now considered as one of rock’s greatest drummers of all time.
AC/DC was formed in the early 1970s by brothers Angus and Malcolm Young. The band experienced a rather forgettable start that was filled with less-encouraging campaigns in Sydney. But they managed to come back and breathe their careers back to life and claim a spot as one of classic rock’s greatest groups ever. The band was left in grief after lead Singer Bon Scott passed away in 1980 due to excessive consumption of alcohol. They considered parting ways but stayed together after hiring Brian Johnson, a British singer to replace Scott. AC/DC then went on to record an album titled Back in Black which was a tribute to Scott. The album, which also features the Billboard Top 40 hit title track “Back in Black” ranks as one of the all-time best sellers.
Even with the most recent death of the one of the band’s founding members, Malcolm Young (who passed away in 2017), AC/DC will still continue to make music and tour as long as they can.
Also known as “Slowhand,” Eric Clapton’s skill and command of the electric guitar is legendary and almost an inborn trait. So far, Clapton is the only artist to have been inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame thrice – as a member of the bands Yardbirds and Cream, and as a solo artist. His mastery of the electric guitar has placed him at the #2 spot of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” in Rolling Stone magazine, just behind Jimi Hendrix. Clapton’s most famous work includes “Layla,” his version of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff,” and “Tears in Heaven.” His 18 Grammy Awards are another testament of his sheer talent and influence not just to classic rock but to popular music in general.
San Francisco’s most iconic “flower power” band during the 1960s mostly derived their legendary fame from their live performances that consisted of interminable instrumental jams. But it doesn’t mean that they weren’t able to bring their appeal and magic to the studio, as evidenced by the now-classic rock records such as Anthem of the Sun, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. Following the death of the band’s leader and founder, Jerry Garcia, the surviving members continued to work either together or separately, always carrying the musical spirit of the “Dead” with them.
Widely regarded as the “chameleon” of classic rock, the late David Bowie’s ability to bend genres had been a major part of his legend. He became a star through his alter-ego, the androgynous space rocker Ziggy Stardust. Then he stripped that image off and crossed over to other styles (and personas) from electronica to R&B. His tendency to jump from one genre to another baffled but at the same time fascinated music scribes and fans. Bowie’s singular style and presentation had a lasting influence on both mainstream and independent music artists. Although he experienced his first crossover success with his first #1 Billboard single “Fame” in 1975, it was only after his death that his final album Blackstar (which was released on his 69th birthday, January 8, 2016 – two days before he died) became his first #1 album in America, which makes the end of his life and career even more bittersweet.
Starting out his career as a folk singer, Bob Dylan quickly rose as the voice of his generation with protest songs that brimmed with lyrical imagery. He defied musical conventions that both earned criticisms from purists but also widespread admiration from fans and other like-minded musicians. Over the years he has tried everything from rock to country to gospel, making milestones and breaking new boundaries in American music landscape along the way. His recent Nobel prize award redefines poetry (and literature in general) is – that it can also be expressed in many other different ways, including through music.