What a dilemma – there are so many great rock bands; you could easily narrow it down to maybe 10 or 15 from each of the above decades! What to do?
Let’s try grabbing the top 2 from the 70s, top 2 from the 80s, and top 1 from the 90s. Classic rock has had such a big influence on all existing music that it seems unfair to try to narrow this list down like this. I’m going to concentrate on who I think had the most influence and impact during their particular decade and go from there.
Yeah, I know I’m going to get crucified for not picking your favorites from the 70s, but I’m looking for a rock band that had a lot of influence and impact which has carried through to today, bands that still have people talking about in quiet reverence, while simultaneously blasting their eardrums from huge speakers.
My first pick is going to be The Who. They originally formed in the 60s, but went on to have a ton of hits and influenced pop culture in later decades. Behind Blues Eyes, Squeeze Box, Happy Jack and the perennial Who Are You. Is it any wonder all the CSI shows today have songs by The Who as their theme song? No other single band has so influenced modern television. These guys rocked hard through the 70s, releasing four albums.
The Rolling Stones would be my next pick from the 70s. I know I’m going to get a Led Zeppelin argument from some readers, but the songs the Stones pumped out in that decade have a slightly wider appeal still today then Zeppelin songs do. It’s a tough call, but I’m willing to make it. It’s Only Rock’n’Roll! That song along with Gimme Shelter, Shattered, Miss You and You Can’t Always Get What You Want really still hit a chord with me. Don’t get me wrong, I love Zeppelin, but the Stones hit me harder through the decades.
Speaking of getting hit hard, the 60s and 70s rock scene was all about free love and getting high. The songs were great, but the drug culture became permanently attached to rock during this time. It never really let go either, and it’s a little sad thinking how that drug influence affected, ruined and ended so many lives. You might call the 70s our national gateway to the harder drugs to come in the following decades.
The 80s were a time of glam rock and long hair – rock really hit its popular stride with mainstream America during the 80s and hasn’t let go. It’s going to be hard to narrow this down, so I’m just going to run through the hail of gunfire all Neo –like, protecting myself with riot shields.
Queen is my first pick – not just because of their monstrous hits (Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Another One Bites Te Dust, and the Under Pressure duet with David Bowie) but also because of the enduring legacy of the other this from the 70s (Fat Bottom Girls, Don’t Stop Me Now and Bohemian Rhapsody) and the perennial school band favorite combo We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions. I grew up in the 80s and this band had a profound effect on me and my love of music. I probably have a little bit of a soft spot for the band due to the untimely passing of Freddie Mercury to AIDS. Pick up The Platinum Collection, Vol. 1-3 and tell me that’s not a great collection from a great band.
I’m going to have to drop in U2 as the next greatest band for this decade. They really came to their own in the mid-80s and became a rock powerhouse which is still selling out stadiums to this day. Joshua Tree just shattered every record for them and they kept rolling out the hits year after year. The big part about this band being such an impact years later is Bono and the humanitarian work he’s done. He didn’t just take in the riches and fame and relax in the lap of luxury; he went out and used his super powers of fame for good. In a way, him being such a positive influence in so many other ways helps propel U2 into the second spot for me.
The 80s rock and roll scene included many more bands than I can possibly name here. One of the saddest things to come from the 80s was AIDS. The reaction it got from the religious elite of the day – that it was a plague sent from God to wipe out the gay community - was particularly dismaying. Once this blood disease spread throughout decidedly heterosexual populations, it was obvious God had not sent a gay plague to wipe out the homosexual community, which is still alive and thriving today. Note for future generations - when a religious leader claims to know God’s plan, it’s probably a sure sign that they don’t and are merely caught up in perpetuating their own fame.
While the 80s backlash against AIDS victims delayed research to prevent and treat AIDS, it did force all religions to look at and deal with sexuality more openly and perhaps ushered in a new era of open discussion about humanity in the long run. Prejudice still holds back AIDS treatment and research in countries all over the world, although the reasons for the prejudice differ. The drug and sex influence of rock and roll helped perpetuate the spread of AIDS, but the blind ignorance of religious conservatism in the 80s and its influence on politics delayed a cure – if one is ever possible.
For the 90s, I’m only getting one pick and it’s going to have to be Metallica. Not only was this when the Black album was released, but Metallica has been at the forefront of metal since their early days, and they’ve been such an influence on other bands. Our local modern rock station has had a “Mandatory Metallica” segment every weeknight at 10 p.m. – no other rock band has had such a distinction locally and I’d guess nationally. I still get goose bumps every time I hear “Enter Sandman.”