Rock and roll has been a huge cultural force since it burst upon the musical scene in the 1950s. Not only has it dramatically altered the evolution of popular music, it has influenced fashion, human behavior, and cultural norms in general.
Traditionally, rock music has been especially popular among younger adults and teenagers. The music was associated with rebellion and youth. In 2017, however, for the first time, R&B and hip-hop became the most dominant genre in the US, according to Nielsen Music, surpassing rock music. Yet while many have turned their backs on the genre, and the list contains relatively fewer recent acts compared with the more established, classic rock bands, rock and roll is still alive and well.
Using a number of different metrics, 24/7 Wall St. has identified the 100 most popular rock bands of all time. The selection of these artists is based on measures such as record sales, Billboard performance, Wikipedia page views, and popularity on the online streaming platform Spotify.
Formed in: Boston, Massachusetts in 1969
All time US album sales: 66.5 million
Most popular album: Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits
Annual Wikipedia page views: 2,386,579
9. Guns N’ Roses
Formed in: Los Angeles, California in 1985
All time US album sales: 44.5 million
Most popular album: Appetite for Destruction
Annual Wikipedia page views: 5,004,935
Formed in: Los Angeles, California in 1981
All time US album sales: 63.0 million
Most popular album: Metallica
Annual Wikipedia page views: 6,464,590
Formed in: Los Angeles, California in 1971
All time US album sales: 101.0 million
Most popular album: Eagles/Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975
Annual Wikipedia page views: 4,208,898
Formed in: Sydney, Australia in 1973
All time US album sales: 72.0 million
Most popular album: Back in Black
Annual Wikipedia page views: 6,534,987
5. The Rolling Stones
Formed in: London, United Kingdom in 1962
All time US album sales: 66.5 million
Most popular album: Hot Rocks
Annual Wikipedia page views: 4,891,805
4. Pink Floyd
Formed in: London, United Kingdom in 1965
All time US album sales: 75.0 million
Most popular album: The Wall
Annual Wikipedia page views: 6,394,669
Formed in: London, United Kingdom in 1970
All time US album sales: 34.5 million
Most popular album: Greatest Hits
Annual Wikipedia page views: 5,218,108
2. Led Zeppelin
Formed in: Birmingham, United Kingdom in 1968
All time US album sales: 111.5 million
Most popular album: Led Zeppelin IV
Annual Wikipedia page views: 5,353,031
1. The Beatles
Formed in: Liverpool, United Kingdom in 1960
All time US album sales: 178.0 million
Most popular album: The Beatles
Annual Wikipedia page views: 9,168,431
Detailed findings & methodology
Rock music is unique in that the artists primarily work together and release music as bands, or ensembles with fairly consistent membership. While there are many great rock performers who are better known as solo artists — such as Prince, David Bowie, and Elvis Presley — 24/7 Wall St. looked only at bands for this article.
Rock bands do not all gain popularity in the same manner. Some, like Australian band AC/DC and many other bands from the previous century, toured, created, and sold many, many albums. In total, AC/DC has sold 72 million records in the United States alone, according to The Recording Industry Association of America. Others, generally more recent rock bands such as OneRepublic that was formed earlier this century, use the internet to gain popularity. That band has only sold 2 million records, but it is hugely popular online, with more than 1.5 million annual Wikipedia page views and over 4.2 million followers on Spotify.
Generally, newer artists have significantly better internet presence. The three bands with the most Spotify followers are Coldplay, Maroon 5, and Linkin Park, which were all formed in the late 1990s. Alternatively, those performers with the most albums sold, as measured by the RIAA, are the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and the Eagles, all of whom were started in the 60s and 70s.
The order of artists on the list also illustrates that there is more to being a popular rock band than simply musical ability. Fashion and attitude have always played a role in rock success, and the importance of image only increased with the advent of MTV in 1981. Bands that are highly skilled on a technical level — such as Steely Dan and Grateful Dead — therefore find themselves outranked by more pop-oriented groups such as Blink-182 in certain cases.
To determine the most popular rock bands of all time, 24/7 Wall St. generated an index based on album sales, popularity of singles, popularity of the band’s Wikipedia page, popularity on Spotify, and user votes. Each component of the index was given equal weight.
A band’s total certified US album sales came from the Recording Industry Association of America. The RIAA tracks album sales released in the American market with a threshold of 500,000 units sold. How well a band’s singles performed was determined by awarding a band points for singles that spent time on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. A single was awarded points based on the number of weeks it was on the list and its rank for each week. Wikipedia page views were calculated for the past two years. Popularity on Spotify was based on Spotify’s popularity index. User votes came from a list on Ranker.com that ranked the best rock bands of all time.
A band’s most popular album is based on RIAA data for US album sales. In cases where a band had multiple albums that sold the same number of copies, the most recent release was chosen. Data relating to the year that each band was formed comes from band websites and other media sources such as Rolling Stone.
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