Rock bands come and go, but the best live forever in the hearts of fans worldwide. Some bands are remembered eternally due to their sheer talent alone. Below is our list of the 30 top rock bands of the 70s, 80s and 90s.
The Best Rock Bands of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s
Which are the 30 Top Rock Bands of the 70s, 80s and 90s?
- Led Zeppelin
- Pink Floyd
- Fleetwood Mac
- Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Mötley Crüe
- Bon Jovi
- Van Halen
- Guns N’ Roses
- ZZ Top
- The Bangles
- Tom Petty
- Pearl Jam
- Alice In Chains
- Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Foo Fighters
- Green Day
You should keep in mind that this list reflects my personal taste in music, which may differ from yours. No hard feelings if you don’t agree. You can share your opinions in the comments.
1. Led Zeppelin
There is no better way to start than by talking about the quintessential 1970s rock band, Led Zeppelin. Not only did they make waves in native England, but they also went global and became a sensation in the United States, as well. At this point, literally every rock fan knows and respects Led Zeppelin. Selling over 300 million albums worldwide, it’s not hard to understand why they are arguably considered the best rock band ever.
The idea to create Led Zeppelin actually came from their lead guitarist Jimmy Page who said, “I had a lot of ideas from my days with The Yardbirds. The Yardbirds allowed me to improvise a lot in live performance and I started building a textbook of ideas that I eventually used in Zeppelin.”
The curious thing is that most of their early albums were panned by critics. That being said, it was their fourth album, titled Led Zeppelin IV, that became a huge success. They managed to sell over 37 million copies worldwide due to popular tracks on the album, such as “Stairway to Heaven.” Led Zeppelin released eight albums, from 1969 to 1982, but disbanded after drummer John Bonham’s death in 1980.
2. Pink Floyd
You don’t have to be fanatical about rock music to know something about Pink Floyd. After all, there aren’t many fans of rock music who do not have a copy of their best-selling album, “The Dark Side of the Moon“. This 70s rock band was known for their exceptional musicianship and thought-provoking lyrics.
Pink Floyd grew in popularity mainly between 1973 and 1979 as they were releasing hit singles one after the other. However, the band ended up struggling during the later years due to lead singer Roger Waters, who struggled to get along very well with the rest of the band. In fact, Waters ended up leaving the band for a solo career in 1984 and returned to the group in 2005.
3. Fleetwood Mac
Selling more than 120 million albums worldwide, Fleetwood Mac is one of top rock bands of the 70s and 80s. The album, Rumors, was a runaway hit that won the Grammy Award for Best Album of the Year, in 1977. The multi-platinum album sold 17 million copies in the US and over 40 million worldwide.
Rumors spawned four top 10 Billboard hits sung by three different members, in the songs, ‘Go Your Own Way’, ‘You Make Loving Fun‘, ‘Dreams‘, and ‘Looking Out for Love‘. The songs, ‘Gold Dust Woman‘, ‘The Chain‘, and ‘Second Hand News‘ also earned significant airplay then and still, today.
But Fleetwood Mac‘s troubled past with relationships, marriages, breakups, and in-fighting led to their demise. Bandmembers John and Christine McVie were actually married but ended up getting a divorce while still in the band. To make matters worse, two of their newest members didn’t get along very well either.
Upon hearing about AC/DC, with Bon Scott screeching into the mic and a guitarist parading around the stage in a schoolboy uniform, we knew they’d be unforgettable. And they certainly didn’t disappoint. The Aussie rockers put out 18 albums and sold over 200 million albums worldwide.
Brothers Malcolm and Angus Young joined up with singer Bon Scott, bassist Mark Evans, and drummer Phil Rudd to form the band in 1974. They released 3 albums before reaching the top of the heavy metal scene in 1979 with the album, “Highway to Hell“.
But tragedy befell AC/DC when singer Bon Scott died, suddenly, in 1980. Rather than disband, the boys from down under added singer, Brian Johnson, and released “Back in Black” less than a year later. This album instantly became a must own for any self-respecting metalhead and is AC/DCs highest selling album ever at over 60 million copies worldwide.
5. Lynyrd Skynyrd
If you’re not familiar with Lynyrd Skynyrd, you’re missing out on a great 1970s rock band. From Jacksonville, Florida, the band led by singer, Ronny Van Zant, and Gary Rossington and Alan Collins on guitars, have sold over 28 million albums worldwide.
If that’s not enough to earn their place as a top 30 rock band of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, then how about the fact their their biggest hit, ‘Free Bird’, is arguably considered one of the top five rock songs ever written. Stack that with Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s introduction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 13, 2006 and our argument is complete.
But there seems to be a tragedy with almost every rock band from the 1970s that ends up being the cause of their decline, and it’s the same with Lynyrd Skynyrd. An airplane crash killed lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines. The band lost their soul, and it would take them some time before restarting with new members.
Queen cemented its place on list of 30 top bands of the 70s, 80s and 90s by having albums reach the Billbord Top 40 charts in each decade. If you haven’t heard of Queen, you’ve at least heard about their hits, such as ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. And few can resist stomping their feet and clapping their hands to the beat of ‘We Will Rock You‘. Since the 70s Queen has sold over 300 million albums worldwide, placing them as one of the top-selling bands ever.
But what is most impressive about Queen is their versatility and their longevity. The band has released 18 studio albums with songs as diverse as the heavy track, ‘Stone Cold Crazy‘ to the playful, ‘Bicycle‘, or ‘Fat Bottom Girls‘ and it’s easy to see why you can’t turn on a classic rock station without hearing a Queen tune.
While they were super successful, this success was short-lived, due to internal conflict in the band and ultimately, Freddie Mercury‘s death from AIDS on November 24th, 1991. But soon after his diagnosis, Freddie Mercury rejoined Queen to give one of Live Aid’s most memorable performance. Take a look at the video, below, to see for yourself.
As the name suggests, this popular rock group named Chicago was actually formed in ‘The Windy City‘. describing themselves as “…a rock and roll band with horns”, Chicago combined elements of rock, jazz, pop and R&B. Releasing over ten albums within a decade, the band sold over 100 million albums
The band broke out in 1972 with the #1 Billboard album, “Chicago V” featuring the hit song, ‘Saturday in the Park.’ Twelve years later, the band released another #1 Billboard album, “Chicago 17“, which achieved both commercial and critical acclaim. Similar to others on this list of 30 top rock bands of the 70s, 80s and 90s, Chicago demonstrated success in all three decades.
Selling over 30 million albums worldwide, the self proclaimed, “garage band” band was formed after two rival bands merged together to become the ultimate rock band. After finding moderate success with their first three albums, Kansas “struck platinum” with “Leftoverture“, selling 5 million copies. The popularity of that album was driven by the single, ‘Carry On My Wayward Son‘, which reached number 11 on the Billboard Top 200.
Kansas followed up with “Point of Know Return” which spawned the mega hit single, ‘Dust in the Wind‘. The hit single has been played on the radio more than three million times and helped the album sell ore than four million copies.
Like Chicago, this band is still active even today as they released an album called “The Absence of Presence” in 2020 and “Another Fork in the Road” in 2023 to commemorate 50 years of the band being together.
There is no band that epitomizes the 70s rock band, with their comic book styled personas, better than KISS. Styled from head to toe in goth-inspired costume and kabuki-style makeup, this rock group became a worldwide sensation in 1973. One only needs to hear their announcer say, “You wanted the best and you got the best. The hottest band in the world…KISS!” and you’ll be taken back to their breakout album, KISS Alive!
Consisting of Gene Simmions, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, and Paul Stanley, KISS launched a party rock anthem with ‘Rock and Roll All Nite‘ in 1975. Although their fame declined after the 70s, the band still sold millions of albums and continues to sell out arenas worldwide. KISS released 14 platinum albums and 30 gold albums, cementing their place on the list of top 30 rock bands of the 70s, 80s, and 90s.
At this point, it shouldn’t surprise you that there’s a third rock band on this list that was named after a city. Boston was formed in Massachusetts in 1975 by guitar tech Tom Scholz and frontman Brad Delp, the band was known for pioneering heavy sound that fused an almost electronic guitar distortion.
Boston‘s self-titled debut album, released in 1976, is the second highest-selling debut album of all time selling 17 million. Powered by the hits, ‘More Than a Feeling‘, ‘Peace of Mind‘, and ‘Foreplay/Longtime‘, the band’s radio-friendly rock dominated the airwaves.
While their second album, “Don’t Look Back“, sold an impressive seven million copies, the band never reached the same success as their debut album, yet they still sold over 75 million albums worldwide.
11. Mötley Crüe
If we’re talking about the ‘80s, there aren’t many bands more successful than Mötley Crüe. In fact, they were the poster child for glam metal rock bands, and every band at the time wanted to either be like them or compete with them. The band is even dubbed as the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band.
Mötley Crüe has seven platinum/multi-platinum albums, 22 Top 40 mainstream rock hits, six Top 10 pop singes, three Grammy nominations. There was even a book, ‘The Dirt‘, and a subsequent movie made about the band.
The band pumped out three straight quadruple platinum albums in “Shout at the Devil“, “Theatre of Pain“, and “Girls, Girls Girls“, followed up by their best-selling sextuple platinum album, “Dr. Feelgood“. In total, Mötley Crüe has sold over 100 million albums worldwide.
12. Bon Jovi
Selling over 130 million albums worldwide, the boys from Jersey got their place on our list of 30 top rock bands of the 70s, 80s, and 90s the hard way – they earned it. While their first two albums weren’t as successful, their third, “Slippery When Wet“, catapulted them to worldwide stardom.
The album sold 28 million copies and reached number one in the U.S., Canada and Australia. Two songs from the album, ‘You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Living On a Prayer” became instant classic sing-a-long songs even to this day.
Bon Jovi‘s fourth album, “New Jersey,” spawned five hits, like ‘Bad Medicine‘ and female favorite, ‘I’ll Be There for You“. It is the only glam metal album to have five BillBoard Hot 100 top 10 hits and sold over nine million copies worldwide.
13. Van Halen
At over 56 million albums sold, the RIAA lists Van Halen as the 19th top selling group of all time. But the outfit is actually a tail of two bands – one with David Lee Roth and one with Sammy Hagar.
Van Halen‘s first six albums featured vocals by David Lee Roth but the band is most known for the pioneering guitar sound of Eddie Van Halen. His signature “brown sound” and inventive “hammer on” technique were the envy of the top rock bands of the 80s. You only need to listen to songs like ‘Mean Street‘, ‘Jamie’s Cryin‘, or ‘Running With the Devil‘ to understand why.
Unfortunately, inner turmoil led the band to part ways with Roth, who started a solo career. Sammy Hagar became the new headman in 1985, and Hagar’s version of the band released two more albums before 1990. The band was equally as popular, if not more, with Hager at the helm.
Sadly, Eddie Van Halen passed from Cancer on October 6, 2020. Sammy Hagar, and former Van Halen bassist, Michael Anthony, recently announced a 2024 Van Halen tribute tour.
14. Guns N’ Roses
We can’t have a list that talks about the top rock bands in the 80s and not mention Guns N’ Roses. The bad boys of metal sold over 100 million albums starting with the highest-selling debut album of all time – ‘Appetite for Destruction‘.
Unfortunately, many of us feel cheated because the band didn’t stay together long enough to produce many more albums. Like many of the other bands on this list, inner strife between band members soon caused a breakup. The good news is, they’re back together again and are still going on tour.
Metallica was certainly one of the top rock bands of the 80s and the big boys on the heavy metal block. You can’t leave any band that sold 121 millio albums off the list of 30 top rock bands of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. They pioneered the genre of speed metal with their riff heavy songs and tight arrangements.
They developed a cult following with their first several albums like, “Kill ‘Em All“, and “Ride the Lightning“. But it was “Master of Puppets” that was the band’s tipping point into more widespread notoriety.
Metallica released their self-titled album, ‘Metallica‘, in 1991 and the rest, as they say, is history. The album opened at number one on the Billboard Top 200 and sold over 17 million copies.
If you’re looking for a rock band of the 80s that makes you feel nostalgic, there’s no better than Foreigner. One only has to hear their song, ‘Waiting For a Girl Like You‘, and it will take you back to “couples skate” with your girlfriend at the roller rink (only if you’re of a certain age).
Foreigner, led by frontman, Lou Gramm, sold over 80 million records but is most known for the album, “4“. That album featured megahits ‘Jukebox Hero‘, ‘Urgent‘ and the aforementioned, ‘Waiting For a Girl Like You‘. The album held the Billboard #1 spot for 10 weeks, and sold over seven million copies in the U.S., alone.
Side note: it’s almost impossible to hear ‘Juke Box Hero‘ without playing air guitar.
Journey is also one of the many rock bands that became successful thanks to its lead vocalist Steve Perry. Their radio-friendly rock sound propelled them to sell over 100 million albums, making them a top rock band of the 70s and 80s. The band was formed in San Francisco in 1973 and released over seven albums before they finally became a hit sensation in 1981 with the help of “Escape“.
This album became the best they’ve ever released and it was all because of the tracks ‘Don’t Stop Believin’, ‘Open Arms‘, and ‘Who’s Crying Now‘. The band just released its 15th album with possible plans of bringing front-man Perry back in time for the band’s 50th anniversary.
18. ZZ Top
ZZ Top is one of the few rock bands that you’ll never forget. And it’s not just because they’ve got some killer tracks up their sleeve, which they definitely do. But, it’s also because of their unique fashion style, featuring extremely long beards. Believe it or not, the band sold over 50 million copies propelling them to top 30 rock band of the 70s, 80s and 90s.
With three albums released during the 1980s, “El Loco“, “Eliminator“, and “Afterburner“, the band struck gold with several hits. They’re most known for ‘Gimme All Your Lovin‘, ‘Sharp Dressed Man‘ and ‘Legs‘.
19. The Bangles
There was no way we could go about our day without adding an all-girls rock band from the 1980s to this list. Despite girl rockers being rare back in the day, these superstars managed create one of the most successful rock bands of the 80s.
The Bangles were fronted by America’s sweetheart, Susanna Hoffs and managed to sell over 20 million albums. The band first caught our attention with their second album, “Different Light” and their smash hit, ‘Manic Monday‘ originally written by Prince. The Bangles followed this up with ‘Walk Like an Egyption‘. That album had five charting singles.
20. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers
Known to be “the coolest guy in the room”, few would argue with adding Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to a list of 30 top rock bands of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. But then, again, it’s hard to argue with over 80 million records sold.
While their first album didn’t have much success in the U.S. it did produce two classic songs in ‘American Girl’ and sing-along song, ‘Breakdown‘. While his second album, “You’re Gonna Get It“, gave them their first Top 40 album, it was their third album, “Damn the Torpedoes“, that cemented his place as a top rock band of the 80s.
The album received much radio play for ‘Here Comes My Girl‘ and ‘Refugee‘. However, many consider the track, ‘Don’t Do Me Like That‘ as the album’s best song.
Tommy Petty passed away in 2017. If there is an afterlife, we’re pretty sure Tom Petty will still be the “coolest guy in the room.”
Moving on to the top rock bands in the 1990s, we had to start off the list with Nirvana. If you think about rock music in the ‘90s, this is literally the first band that comes to mind. Nirvana helped usher in the grunge era an pioneered the “Seattle Sound“, selling over 75 million albums worldwide.
Nirvana broke out with the album, “Nevermind“, featuring the lead single, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit‘. The record label released three other successful singles from the album including ‘Come As You Are‘. It’s really hard to forget the bassline from that song.
With their unique music style, we’re not even the least bit surprised that they’re one of our top favorite bands from the 1990s. Sadly, when Cobain died in 1994, the band was left without its soul. They no longer had the drive to continue and eventually went their own separate ways.
22. Pearl Jam
Like Nirvana, Pearl Jam was another rock band that gained quite a bit of attention in the early 1990s. In fact, both bands were literally mortal enemies to the point that Cobain even called them “corporate puppets” and said that they’ve “been in the hairspray scene for years and all of a sudden they stop washing their hair and start wearing flannel shirts.”
Despite this, Pearl Jam went on to sell more than 85 million records. Eddie Vedder and crew found success with the album, Ten. The album was highlighted by the first single, ‘Alive‘, but also included ‘Evenflow‘ and fan favorite, ‘Jeremy‘.
Pearl Jam followed up with Vs, which spent five weeks atop the Billboard 200. Additionally, the record set the record for most album sales in the first week, selling 950,378 copies.
Soundgarden is one of the very few rock bands that remained on the down low for over a decade before finally seeing some success. While most bands in their position would just give up, Soundgarden was bulletproof and continued on until they finally hit the jackpot with “Superunknown“. The band sold approximately 30 million albums worldwide.
In fact, did you know that two songs from the album, ‘Black Hole Sun‘ and ‘Spoonman‘ even allowed them to win two Grammys? We think that this was probably when they peaked. After creating music for quite a while, they finally decided to go on a long break in 1997.
Most people don’t know this, but Radiohead wasn’t originally named Radiohead. They were actually named On A Friday, which is crazy to think about. The only reason they ended up changing their name was because they weren’t getting much success with it. In all honesty, we can’t picture them having any other name other than Radiohead.
As soon as they became Radiohead, the tracks from their debut album quickly entered the Billboard Top charts. Throughout the ’90s, the band released two more albums, closing the millennium with their most iconic album of all, “OK, Computer“, which won them a Grammy nomination in 1998. As all good things eventually come to an end, we ended up not seeing anything new from this music icon.
Radiohead has sold over 30 million albums and is most known for their song, ‘Creep‘. But any true Radiohead fan will tell you they have many more good songs. This is evidenced by the fact that the band has won six Grammy awards.
As a band with the name Weezer, we didn’t have any high expectations. However, they proved us wrong after we listened to their debut album, which was released in 1994. Referred to as the Blue Album, it was their best seller and is now certified quadruple Platinum in the United States.
Their single, ‘Buddy Holly‘ which was featured in the debut album won multiple awards for best music video and became a hit worldwide. Weezer continued releasing music ever since, with 14 more albums and 7 number-one hits in the US Alternatives chart.
Weezer sold over 35 million albums which qualifies for a place on the top 30 rock bands of the 90s.
26. Alice in Chains
Although Alice in Chains was originally formed in the 80s, they underwent several changes in their lineup and group name before finally settling with their theme in the 90s. Not long after they released their debut album, “Facelift“, the group became a hit worldwide among rock fans.
Led by guitarist Jerry Cantrell and singer Layne Staley, the band is described as grunge meets metal. They sold over 30 million albums and are most known for songs like ‘Man in the Box‘ and ‘Rooster‘. Unfortunately, the band’s potential was cut short when substance abuse took Layne Staley‘s life.
27. Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Red Hot Chili Peppers are undisputed members of the 30 top rock bands of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. That happens when you sell over 120 million albums. We could do a whole article about their success but we’ll do our best to summarize.
The band holds Billboard Alternative Songs chart records for most number-one singles (15), most cumulative weeks at number one (91), and most top 10 songs (28). If that were not enough, Red Hot Chili Peppers also won six Grammy awards. Finally, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.
To best understand the band’s succes, you need to simply listen to “Blood Sugar Sex Magick”, and “Californication”.
You can’t have a list of 30 top rock bands of the 70s, 80s and 90s without U2. They sold over 175 million records from 1980 to present, spanning 15 studio albums.
What’s impressive about U2 is their ability to remain relevant for multiple decades. Starting in the 80s with their debut album, “Boy“, the band continued to build upon their success. It was the album, “War“, that saw hints of the success to come, reaching number one in the U.K. ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and ‘New Years Day‘ are two songs from the album that last to this day.
By the start of the 1990s, U2 had already experienced massive success and Bono and The Edge were household names. However, their biggest success came when they released the two-time Grammy-award-winning album, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind“, in the 2000s.
29. Foo Fighters
Earlier on this list, we mentioned the band Nirvana, which unfortunately disbanded after the loss of their lead singer, Kurt Cobain. When the band was no more, drummer Dave Grohl decided to start his own band called Foo Fighters which also became quite a rock sensation.
He only created his own band after he realized he can’t live without music. He even said, “I didn’t really know if I ever wanted to play music again, until I realized that music was the one thing that had healed me my entire life.”
It’s hard to argue with keeping Foo Fighters off any list of top 30 rock bands of the 70s, 80s and 90s. They won 15 Grammy awards, including Best Rock Album five times. Few artists have earned such accolades.
30. Green Day
What we like about Green Day is it gives us a “homey” feel since it was founded by a bunch of high school friends in 1987. However, they only exploded worldwide after the release of their 1994 album, “Dookie“. Their music became popular among American youth looking for their own brand of Punk music.
Dookie sold over 20 million albums and became featured quite regularly on MTV. It felt like you couldn’t turn the station on without seeing a Green Day video like, ‘When I Come Around’. Their dedication and talent earned them a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.
What are your thoughts on the 30 Top Rock Bands of the 70s, 80s, and 90s? Let us know in the comment section!