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Music

The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time  

Clark Benson
307.7k views 519 items

List Rules Criteria for my greatest bands of all time list is a combination of recorded albums, live shows I've seen, live recordings I've heard, radio songs, and even overall image/album covers/general coolness or uniqueness.

Ranker is mostly about crowd-ranked lists, but as the founder of Ranker I'm allowed to make a long one on my own, so here is one from a deeeeep music nerd. Top 500 Rock Bands isn't 100% accurate as this includes solo artists, and though it does not include jazz or blues it does include soul, R&B, Americana, reggae, and classic country (yes, that is somewhat arbitrary, but for whatever reason I listen to blues and jazz differently than the rest, and would be too hard to compare Miles or Ornette or Hooker to, say, Aerosmith).

See my criteria - I guess that was a way of trying to explain that the ranking is just a gut feeling. But it's probably about 50% based on "live chops", hence the lower ranking of the Beatles, who quit playing live before the most creative parts of their career. As much as I love and respect the Fab Four, I am very into live shows and live recordings.

Obviously, this list will change over time. I first put it out in 2009, and jump back into it every few years to change rankings/add bands etc. At the moment of this update (mid 2019) I have to say it's a wee bit of a work in progress as I need a few hours to properly add some bands I have been going deeper on in the last 3 years, so while some are updated, others are lacking. I'm adding commentary to items whenever i get a spare minute or something interesting comes to mind about a band. Yes, this is a personal list - click over to the "original list" links all over the page if you want to see the crowd's version of this topic.

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list ordered by
1
Neil Young is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time

Actually, #1 should be Neil Young And Crazy Horse, though I am a big fan of Neil in all incarnations, except for a few of those 80's Geffen genre records.

2
Led Zeppelin is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time

I hate long plane rides, and had just gotten back from my honeymoon in Europe a few weeks prior, so I blew off a chance to see the reunion show, figuring there was about a 70% chance of a tour. Almost every band that plays a full length reunion set in a full arena tours afterwards - if they are going to spend all the time to rehearse, put together a production, etc, why not take it on the road and milk it for some big bucks and pampered glory.

So far this is the biggest mistake of my life.

3
Bob Dylan is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time

One of the greatest Americans of alltime, and certainly my favorite lyricist (though by looking at my list you will probably see that lyrics aren't the top priority, especially after you get past the top 20 or so artists). 

4
Grateful Dead is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time

There was nothing like it back in the day, and while the jamband scene they spawned has in some ways - aided by Phil Lesh's bands - lapped the Dead themselves (OK not the '68-'74 Dead), there will never be anyone like a Jerry Garcia. 

5
Pink Floyd is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time
6
The Rolling Stones is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time
The most amazing thing is that there can actually be 5 artists on this planet I would put AHEAD of the mighty Stones.
7
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The first, and best, true metal band. Great with Ozzy, great with Dio. And honestly, pretty damn good with Ian Gillan, Glenn Hughes, and even Ray Gillen for a few live shows. Crap with Tony Martin though...

8
Phish is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time

Lyrics - terrible; Songs - strong (especially if you don't really think about the lyrics) though inconsistent; Albums - mediocre (except for Billy Breathes and Joy);
Musicianship - phenomenal - pound for pound the strongest musicians currently playin' in a band; Live Shows - astonishingly varied yet top quality. Phish had been around #15 on my list, but numerous amazing live shows (particularly the 2017 Baker's Dozen) in their "3.0 era" of 2009-to-date have put them in as a permanent Top Ten member for me. Honestly, from an originality point of view, the jams truly have gotten better, particularly since 2012 or so. 

9
Rush is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time

The first band I just had to own every album by. Back when that meant a lot.
And my first live show ('82, with the late Rory Gallagher opening).
UPDATE: I had parked the mighty Rush at #16 on my list.
But in 2010, with the tour playing Moving Pictures looming, and the fine documentary Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage, I have come to my senses and moved them to their rightful slot just shy of my Top 10. Perhaps I myself have been as guilty as the critics I used to loathe as a kid. I am looking forward to this Rush show at a level which I save these days for festivals. I am turning to the Rush catalog and bootlegs regularly when I need comfort food. So I have vaulted Rush beyond their peers in VH and Aerosmith, and even above master songwriters The Beatles (who lose points for not being a live band) and Bob Marley.

10
Pearl Jam is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time

PJ are a better-sounding live band now than they have ever been. They are playing widely different sets night after night. Their studio albums have been lacking the massive hooks of their first 3, but still tend to have 2/3 or so really strong songs, songs which grow on you live and you end up digging and turning to like 3 years after the album came out. I really can't say anything negative about Pearl Jam - they were probably my favorite band from 1992-95, and have never really stumbled since. For some reason they went long stretches without playing Los Angeles, though that has finally changed.

They also have the distinction of being the most-I-have-ever-spent-on-a-scalped-ticket band, by at least 5x, for the fan club only show (I am a Ten Club member, just got shut out) in Chicago a few days before they headlined Lollapalooza.

11
Blue Öyster Cult is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time

Yes, BOC means more to me than the Beatles (but not more than the Beatles plus all the solo careers especially when you count on the impact of McCartney's live shows which have blown me away year in and year out, but this particular Ranking does not include solo material in the band's position- gotta have guidelines). So fire away with your flames, but this is the most unsung, underrated band in rock history - and one of the most original. They were also a phenomenal live band all the way up until the mid-90's (sadly they have really lost the plot at this point though they are still touring).

12
Bob Marley is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time

I don't think I had ever heard a Bob Marley song before I went to college. I probably heard more Bob Marley than any other artist in college. I have heard so much Bob Marley that I rarely find myself actively thinking "time for some Marley", but as overplayed as he might be I can't say there's a cringeworthy song in his entire repertoire.

The second greatest individual songwriter of alltime.
13
Radiohead is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time
14
Aerosmith is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time

The first cassette I ever bought was Toys In The Attic, and the 3rd or 4th was Live! Bootleg (we won't discuss the first vinyl album I bought).

Up until 1993 I had never met an Aerosmith song I didn't like. Still a full on rock-and-roll machine live, if you can handle a few power ballads in the mix.

15
The Beatles is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time

Though the Beatles were a big part of my childhood, as they probably are for just about anyone, I didn't grow up in the 60's, so don't have that "nothing compares to the Beatles" mentality. But the main reason such an inarguably genius and seminal band didn't make my Top 10 is that the Beatles never played live in their prime, and live music (either experienced in person or recorded) is a good half of the equation for me.

16
The Clash is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time
If I had been more of a casual fan when they were in their prime, I could easily see them in my Top 10. If I had seen them live, they might even be my #1 (I didn't start going to shows until I was about 14, and at that point they were on their last legs).
17
Jimi Hendrix is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time

Another where if I had been of age in the 60's and had seen live, would potentially be in my Top 10. Then again, when you die young, you get penalized a bit simply by lack-of-output - though perhaps not penalized as hard as if you stayed alive but put out loads of s**t after age 27 . . .

18
The Allman Brothers Band is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time

Big props here for revitalizing themselves in the 90's with some all star new players and some damn good new songs. 

19
Van Halen is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time

Though the first 4 albums are the alltime classics, I am also a fan of the Van Hagar era (mainly the first 2 albums of that era). And I was pleasantly-shockingly- blown away by the first reunion they did with Wolfgang on bass (though saw another re-u circa 2017ish and thought it sucked). 

20
Metallica is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time

Bought Kill Em All a few weeks after release because I read a review in a metal fanzine that they were "faster than Motorhead," been a fan ever since. 

21
Bruce Springsteen is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time

Growing up in the 80's when Born In The USA (a record I absolutely loathe, except for the title track) was so overplayed, I was not very into Springsteen. But as the years go by I appreciate The Boss more and more - he's an absolutely spectacular live performer with a deep catalog of great songs. And his output has been as consistent and prolific as anyone since he reformed the E Street Band in '99.

22
The Who is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time

Love much of The Who (though not a big Tommy fan), though I was incredibly sad that they chose to play that show at the Hollywood Bowl 3 days after Entwhistle bought it in a Vegas hotel room (and continue the whole tour). That said, saw them at Desert Trip and they stole the show. 

23
U2 is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time
24
Queen is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists of All Time

Another band that might be in my Top 10 if I'd ever had the chance to see them live. 

25
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My favorite live band of 2001-06. See my entry on The Beatles - Phil and Friends have the opposite weighting. I actually prefer some periods of P&F (particularly the Warren Haynes years, which hardcore fans refer to as the Phil Lesh Quintet) to some of the years I saw the Grateful Dead (obviously, I wasn't old enough to see the Dead in '69 or '72).