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Top 10 British rock groups of all time

Updated February 17, 2018

Britain has produced some music which will echo on throughout the ages. Bands such as the Beatles have sparked worldwide mania, and punk bands of the 70s and new wave metal groups of the 80s give Britain a proud rock history. These are the bands that have rocked the UK like no others, influencing future musicians and shaping the genre as a whole.

10: Deep Purple

Best known for the legendary riff to “Smoke on the Water,” Deep Purple is one of the biggest hard rock bands in history. Originally formed in 1968, the group emerged with a more pop-rock offering entitled “Hush,” before moving into more rocking territory with “Black Night.” They shot to fame, and continued to crank out rock classics like “Highway Star” and “Child in Time.”

Related: Deep Purple - "Highway Star"

9: Radiohead

Alternative rockers Radiohead rose to stardom with their debut single “Creep,” from the 1993 album Pablo Honey. They came after the ostentatious arena rock and hair metal of the 80s, and gained international success because of their introspective, neurotic music. They continued to move forwards and mature musically, releasing OK Computer in 1997, which Q magazine named as the best album of the previous 25 years in 2010.

Related: Radiohead - "Karma Police"

8: The Clash

Formed in the 1970s, amidst the wave of British punk, the Clash took what the Sex Pistols started and gave it a more musical edge. They explored different genres, incorporating reggae and dub into their compositions. Their most famous track is “London Calling,” taken from the critically acclaimed album of the same name.

Related: The Clash - "London Calling"

7: The Kinks

Although they’re often unfavourably compared to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who, the Kinks are still one of the most influential British rock groups of all time. They gained attention in 1964, with the release of the timeless rock anthem, “You Really Got Me.” The Kinks initially stood out for their unrestrained guitar riffs, but they showed their diversity later down the line with ballads like “Waterloo Sunset.”

Related: The Kinks - "Sunny Afternoon"

6: Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath took the blues-based early rock and transformed it into heavy metal. They slowed it down, cranked up the guitars and infused it with macabre lyrics delivered in Ozzy Osbourne’s tortured wail. They first appeared in 1970, and kick-started heavy metal with “Paranoid” in the same year. They represent a key split between traditional rock and metal, and they inspired all metal musicians that followed.

Related: Black Sabbath - "Paranoid"

5: Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd started as a psychedelic rock band in the 1960s, and soon began experimenting with unconventional sounds and techniques. They attracted some attention with their debut single, “Arnold Layne,” but really rose to fame with the album Dark Side of the Moon. It was voted as one of the top 50 records of all time by Rolling Stone. Their later work, such as The Wall, was more morose but still very successful.

Related: Pink Floyd - "Another Brick in the Wall"

4: The Who

Although they’re most well-known for smashing guitars, their body of work makes The Who one of the best British rock bands of all time. They gained fame in the mid 1960s, penning teen anthems like “The Kids are Alright” and “My Generation.” The Who were known for playing loud, and their onstage antics made their live shows infamous.

Related: The Who - "Baba O' Riley"

3: Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin is undoubtedly one of the most famous hard rock groups of all time. Their first four albums are simply numbered one to four, and they generally shunned media attention - not even putting their names on Led Zeppelin IV. They released their first album in the late 60s, creating heavy rock rooted in blues. The later albums Led Zeppelin III and Led Zeppelin IV moved away from the blues basis and began incorporating other genres such as folk. Their most famous track is “Stairway to Heaven.”

Related: Led Zeppelin - "Stairway to Heaven"

2: The Beatles

The Beatles are one of the biggest bands in history, critically and commercially. They caused pandemonium across the UK and the US in the 1960s, and they have such as wide-ranging influence that their place on this list would never have been in doubt. They’ve written classic songs such as “Let it Be,” “Yesterday” and “A Hard Day’s Night” which will surely endure throughout music history.

Related: The Beatles - "Let it Be"

1: The Rolling Stones

Putting the Stones ahead of the Beatles may be considered sacrilege in some circles, but there is a good reason. They were around at the same time and played similar music, but the Stones were always more rock and roll. They had a rebellious image and a heavier sound than the Beatles, whose brand of rock was more pop-infused. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote songs such as “Brown Sugar” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and are true British rock icons.

Related: The Rolling Stones - "Paint it Black"

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About the Author

Lee Johnson has written for various publications and websites since 2005, covering science, music and a wide range of topics. He studies physics at the Open University, with a particular interest in quantum physics and cosmology. He's based in the UK and drinks too much tea.