Last Updated on 9th November 2021 by Mike@bitaboutbritain
The United Kingdom has produced some extraordinarily successful musical acts over the years. I am thinking, of course, of creative combos like Black Lace (Agadoo, 1984), the Tellytubbies (Say ‘Eh-oh’ 1997) and Johnny Drip & the Bath Taps (nothing printable). So, by way of a departure from Rotten Romans, Dastardly Danes, Naughty Normans, Tyrannical Tudors – and so on – let’s take a look at Britain’s top ten bands; and quickly, before being overcome in an avalanche of alliteration.
But how, you may ask, do we select the top ten? Is this purely subjective? It appears, from looking at some sites, that it might well be. Others rely on members of the public to vote, or on panels of ‘experts’. What I did was just as valid. I searched for ‘top ten British bands’ and shamelessly stole the results from seven different websites to compile a long list of 25 bands. Most of them had The Beatles, Queen, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd somewhere in their top 5; The Beatles topped 5 out of the 7 lists. I excluded sites that were confused about the difference between ‘English’ and ‘British’ and ignored class acts such as Adele, Eric Clapton, David Bowie and Elton John on the basis that they are individuals, not groups. I also resisted the urge to include a few personal favourites such as Dr Feelgood, 10CC, Wishbone Ash and the Strawbs. Outfits like Fleetwood Mac and the Travelling Wilburys were left out because they weren’t purely British bands. I then Googled every band on the long list and put the number of search results returned into a spreadsheet. Some I had to be sure searched on ‘band’, rather than something completely different; and even then I’m not convinced I didn’t get a few false figures from names like the Cure, Cream, Queen, Genesis and Who. Anyway, when I’d finished, I sorted the spreadsheet in ascending order. So, here’s a bit about the winners, together with links to suggested musical offerings on Amazon should you wish to treat yourself or a friend. And the results are:
No 10 – The Clash
The Clash came out of the British punk scene in 1976 and disbanded in 1986. However, unlike many punk bands, the Clash did more than simply bang out a limited number of chords in record 4:4 time with a shouted vocal and, even now, have a respectable fan-base. Core personnel were Mick Jones on lead guitar, born in Wandsworth in 1955; Joe Strummer, born John Graham Mellor in Ankara, Turkey in 1952 – and who died in Broomfield, Somerset in 2002 on rhythm guitar; Paul Simonon, born in Thornton Heath, Croydon, in 1955 on bass; and drummer Nicky “Topper” Headon, born in Bromley, Kent, in 1955. The Clash released six studio albums, including the acclaimed London’s Calling in 1979. I have to say my personal favourite Clash track is Should I Stay or Should I Go (1982) – cracking number! Their music is widely available, including Hits Back, which includes all their popular sing-along tunes.
No 9 – Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin were formed in London in 1968 and are one of the most popular and influential rock bands of all time, combining heavy rock inspiration with blues and folk. After the Beatles, they are the UK’s most successful musical act, having sold some 300 million units worldwide. The group consisted of vocalist Robert Plant (born in West Bromwich in 1948), guitarist Jimmy Page (born in Heston, Middlesex, in 1944), bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones, born in 1946 in Sidcup, Kent and drummer John Bonham, born in 1948 in Redditch, Worcestershire, who died in 1980 in Clewer, Berkshire. The band only produced eight studio albums before breaking up after the death of John Bonham. Much of their back catalogue is available, as well as a compilation, Mothership, which includes all the memorable ones – like Whole Lotta Love, Rock and Roll and (of course) Stairway to Heaven.
No 8 – The Cure
The Cure were formed in Crawley, West Sussex, in 1978. The only consistent member has been guitarist Robert Smith, previously with Siouxsie and the Banshees, who was born in Blackburn in 1959. To my shame, beyond the excellent 1983 single, The Love Cats and Friday I’m in Love (1992), they’re right up alongside Herman’s Hermits in the category of ‘bands I don’t really know’. Allegedly, they have a Gothic following. But their Greatest Hits is available – and there is a website.
No 7 – The Rolling Stones
Famous perhaps not so much for their music as for lasting as long as they have, the Rolling Stones were formed in 1962 by gyrating vocalist Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richard(s), both born in Dartford, Kent, in 1943, and guitarist Brian Jones, born in Cheltenham in 1942, who died in Hartfield, East Sussex, in 1969. Bass player Bill Wyman (born in Lewisham in 1936) and drummer Charlie Watts (born in Bloomsbury in 1941) joined later to complete the group that according to the hype rivalled the Beatles throughout the ‘60s. Jones was eventually replaced in 1975 by ex-Faces Ron Wood (born in Hillingdon in 1947), and Wyman left in 1993. The Stones’ music, like that of many British bands of the time, was rooted in US blues – as can be heard in their excellent and joyous Blue and Lonesome album recorded in 2015. In fact, their material varies from the melodic, through marginally funky, to slightly edgy. Sometimes known as ‘the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band’, the Rolling Stones have produced 25 studio albums and several compilations are available too.
No 6 – Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd formed in London in 1965. Initially a fringe psychedelic pop group, they went on to be at the forefront of 1970s prog rock, whose followers considered it a sin to listen to Rod Stewart or Abba. Original members were Syd Barrett, born in 1946 Cambridge, where he died in 2006, on guitar; Nick Mason born in 1944 in Edgbaston, Birmingham, on drums; Roger Waters, born in 1943 in Great Bookham, Surrey, on bass guitar; and Richard Wright, born in 1943 in Hatch End, Middlesex, who died in London in 2008, on keyboards. David Gilmour, born in Cambridge in 1946, joined as guitarist in 1967, replacing Barrett, whose mental health was deteriorating, in 1968. Barrett, Waters and Gilmour knew each other growing up in Cambridge. The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) is astonishing and one of the most successful albums ever – along with The Wall (1979). Frankly, I still get goosebumps hearing Shine On you Crazy Diamond (1975) and want Coming Back to Life (1994) played at my funeral. But not yet. Echoes (The Best of Pink Floyd) is available on CD – as are other albums.
No 5 – Deep Purple
Deep Purple are considered by many as the pioneering heavy-rock-metal band, founded in Hertfordshire in 1968. With various personnel changes over the years, the chief members have been Ian Gillan (born in Chiswick, London in 1945) on vocals; Ritchie Blackmore (born in Weston-super-Mare in 1945) guitar; Jon Lord (born in Leicester in 1941, died in London in 2012) keyboards; Roger Glover (born in Brecon in 1945) bass; and Ian Paice (born in Nottingham in 1948) on drums. I confess to never having progressed beyond Smoke on the Water, with its catchy much-copied opening riff descending into tedious screeching disharmony, but find a Very Best of Deep Purple is available. I’m thinking that must be quite a short album, but their 1970 Deep Purple in Rock was in the charts for over a year and, obviously, they have one or two fans out there.
No 4 – The Beatles
The Beatles were possibly the most influential popular musical act ever and the UK’s most successful musical act with more than 1 billion units sold. They formed in Liverpool in the early 1960s and disbanded in 1970. Half a century later, their music is still played on the radio every day. The classic line-up was John Lennon (born 1940, shot in New York in 1980) on rhythm guitar, Paul McCartney (born 1942) on bass, George Harrison (born 1943, died Los Angeles, USA in 2001) on lead guitar and Ringo Starr (born 1940) on drums. All were Liverpudlians and spearheaded a whole raft of acts from Merseyside in the 1960s, which included Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Searchers and Cilla Black. Ringo replaced drummer Pete Best (born in Chennai, India, in 1941) in 1963, on the eve of the Beatles’ national fame. John Lennon’s close friend, artiste Stu Sutcliffe (born in Edinburgh in 1940) played bass in an earlier version of the group and died in Hamburg, Germany, in 1962. I was weaned on the Beatles and enjoy most of their stuff; but in the unlikely event you’ve never heard them, a good starting point would be the Love remix album. I particularly recommend the version of Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
No 3 – Cream
Cream were considered the first supergroup (whatever that means) and had a short-lived but glorious existence from 1966-1968. The band consisted of bass player and main songwriter Jack Bruce (born in 1943 in Bishopbriggs, Lanarkshire; died 2014 in Sudbury, Suffolk), deified guitarist Eric Clapton (born in Ripley, Surrey in 1945) and drummer Ginger Baker (born in Lewisham, London in 1939; died 2019 in Canterbury, Kent). Classic numbers like I Feel Free, Sunshine of Your Love and White Room can be found on the Very Best of Cream compilation.
No 2 – Queen
Queen formed in London in 1970. The original line-up was vocalist, front man extraordinaire and multi-instrumentalist Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar, 1946; died in London, 1991); guitarist Brian May (born in Hampton, London, in 1946), drummer Roger Taylor (born in Kings Lynn, Norfolk in 1949) and bass-player John Deacon (born in Leicester in 1951). Queen’s music was unique, and varied, including semi-operatic, heavy rock, and disco. The band grew from slightly quirky beginnings to achieve phenomenal success all over the world; their performance at the 1985 Live Aid concert is still discussed in reverential, enthusiastic, tones. The best-selling album in the United Kingdom is Volume 1 of Queen’s Greatest Hits, first released in 1981.
No 1 – The Who
The Who are a great band – not sure how they came top, though; but then, if you search for ‘who’ on the Internet, what do you expect? The Who were formed in West London in the 1960s. The original line-up was lead singer Roger Daltrey (born in Acton, London, in 1944), guitarist, singer and creative force Pete Townshend (born in Chiswick in 1945), bass guitarist John Entwistle (born in Chiswick in 1944; died in Paradise, Nevada, USA in 2002) and drummer Keith Moon (born in Wembley in 1946; died in Mayfair, London in 1978). The Who became associated with the Mod movement in 1960s Britain, producing such classics as I Can’t Explain and My Generation, Pinball Wizard, Baba O’ Riley and Behind Blue Eyes – all of which can be found on The Who Essential. I have a wonderful memory of watching the Who (sadly, without the amazing Moon and Entwistle, because I’m far too young) in the rain at Glastonbury, while my deluded friends disappeared to see the boring Chemical Brothers.
And the full 25 long list of best British bands:
24 The Kinks
23 Dire Straits
21 Sex Pistols
19 The Stone Roses
18 Bee Gees
16 The Smiths
14 Roxy Music
13 Black Sabbath
11 Iron Maiden
10 The Clash
9 Led Zeppelin
8 The Cure
7 The Rolling Stones
6 Pink Floyd
5 Deep Purple
4 The Beatles
1 The Who
Are your favourites in A Bit about Britain’s top ten British bands? If you purchase an item from Amazon having linked to it from A Bit About Britain, I may receive a small commission. You don’t pay any more.
Next time, we’ll look at solo acts.
Except for the first photo, of the Beatles’ equipment, all images via Wikipedia – please hover your cursor.