How does one introduce the musical fertility of these cold, blustery northern isles?
How does an island so damp, so mired in rain and history produce such a dazzling and varied ecosystem of rock, and pop, and trip hop, and metal – and, well, every old genre you can think of, really.
How does one small piece of rock jutting out of the Atlantic create musical artifacts that impact creative, visual, sartorial, and expressive culture the world over? I’m waxing lyrical now, but there’s truth to my praises.
For British musicians are nothing if not audacious, exploratory to a fault, and always endowed with the earnest, pensive cast that is our inheritance (slight sarcasm, there).
The sun may have set on the British empire, but it certainly never will on our musical reach. Enjoy our list of the best British bands…
1. The Rolling Stones
Don’t come for me – but I spent a long night awake, cold sweat and all, debating who to grant the number one spot of best british rock band of all time.
And in a flash of inspiration, I settled on it: it has to be The Stones.
With a lustrous, inimitable career spanning decades – one that has spawned iconic sartorial and aesthetic flourishes, to boot – they will remain a fixture in the history books until the future heat death of the universe.
I dare you to try and count their hits on both hands (and toes) – you can’t do it, their canon is simply too stocked with genre-defining, raucous, brilliantly cultivated gems.
Their early albums were heavy on twangy, roots-rock Americana, and deserve to be on heavy rotation – you’ll soon see why they are one of the most famous bands from England.
2. The Beatles
Order is restored – you wouldn’t think I’d put the Beatles below number 2 now, do you?
The Beatles were, in a non-corny, completely literal way, the voice of a generation and are the consummate British rock stars.
“Twist and Shout” came out of the void with the impact of a cultural asteroid and music, youth culture, and indeed British music itself, were never the same again.
Their early hits were poignant, earnest, and captured the innocent ethos of the early sixties.
But these fellows were nothing if not chameleons, and as they stepped more fully into their sound they became courageously experimental.
Dabbling in eastern mysticism, psychedelic lore, Indian sitar, and criticisms of the trappings of respectable life, The Beatles were more provocative than many give them credit for.
Check out our list of the best Beatles songs.
3. Pink Floyd
Mind-altering, aloof, and serene, Pink Floyd eludes definition, and remain mysteriously hard to encounter on their own terms.
Perhaps they are just more intelligent, more sensitive, more attuned to the cosmic and psychic import of the human experience than the rest of us.
That is certainly my hypothesis.
Their music transcends the limits of what sound is capable of and indeed their lyrical voyages elevate song to the level of philosophy, metaphysics, and epistemology itself.
Pink Floyd has been a lifelong love affair for me, and I still discover strange, heretofore unseen, tangents within their songs.
They operate on so many cognitive, temporal, psychological levels that there is always fertile ground for new reckonings.
4. Led Zeppelin
The pioneers of what came to be known as heavy metal, but what I consider to be classic rock at its purest and most audacious, British band Led Zeppelin were truly in a class of their own.
The vitality of their guitar would land them on any top ten list, felt most profoundly on tracks like “Black Dog”, “Immigrant Song”, and “When the Levees Break”.
But their corpus was more melodic and dynamic than meets the eye, belying a once in a generation talent for innovation and synthesis.
Have you heard a more poignant song than “Stairway to Heaven”? Or a more whimsical hit than “Battle of Evermore”? Or a more rousing song than “Achilles Last Stand”? Or a more lush song than “Tangerine”?
The melodies on all of the aforementioned are dizzying in their complexity and deserve a compulsive relisten.
5. The Clash
Not only were they the intransigent, rebellious kings of old school punk, and the veritable heavyweights of punk’s British wave, they were social-political satirists bar none.
The Clash’s musical sensibilities never veered too far from the heady world of corruption, criminality, and cynical critiques, but they managed to express their subversive thoughts with a cheery, riotous overlay.
They were also foremost British troubadours, singing the praises, and offering some jibes, at Merry England: “The Guns of Brixton”, “This is England”, and “Lost in the Supermarket” are all biting, yet rousing, social commentaries on British class consciousness and alienation.
When people think of UK bands, they think of The Clash – now you go and do the same.
The tender, earnest palette that Pulp explores with their songs smack of such authenticity, that their music may as well be considered documentarian in vision and insight.
Their soft, delicate melodies and punchy, invigorating choruses speak to the quiet desperation, silent longings, and mundanities of British life at the turn of the century.
They touch on heartache, fleeting love, doomed flirtations, festival drug use, all with a slightly awkward pathos that ensures that they never sound twee, histrionic, or self-indulgent.
The realism that laces their songs endows their every word with gravity, hard won maturity, and wisdom.
The best British band for an overcast afternoon.
The charming, insouciant, dashingly cooler-than-thou brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher took British music and shook it on its head, becoming the most famous British band of modern times.
Something of a postmodern Beatles, or a latter-day, nineties manifestation of the early Kinks, their emergence on the scene was no less jolting and noteworthy.
Definitely, Maybe was their magnum opus, and remains one of the top ten British albums ever, in my scientific, crowdsourced perspective.
Their music raised the stakes with daring melodies, criminally well-structured beats, and a healthy dose of melancholic frenzy.
Lush, cheeky, and serpentine, they kept competitors on their toes, and raised the bar on all British acts to follow.
8. The Kinks
One part zany, three parts sensual, The Kinks were iconoclasts with a charming, sophisticated cheek.
They embodied a melancholic tenderness in anthems like “Waterloo Sunset”, a swingin’, garage-infused side with “You Really Got Me” and a provocative, devious shadow self with “Lola”.
They managed to evoke a wide-eyed restlessness while never deviating from an alluring, mature sensibility of sound and silhouette.
Unbothered and magnetic, they curiously capture both a dark academic ethos and a mod, late sixties vitality.
9. The Cure
Gothic, romantic, obscurantism at its sophisticated, unflinching best, The Cure is one of the few bands that can truthfully be said to rule the roost in a class of their own.
Compellingly bizarre, daringly whimsical, and cryptically idiosyncratic, I often dream of a David Lynch film purely soundtracked by The Cure’s seedy forgotten gems.
Their gloomy, yet whimsical, moodscapes hint at both the darkness and light that dwells in the psyche, offering a ghostly, cerebral experience to even the skeptics among us.
I can’t think of better thematic concept albums than Bloodflowers and Disintegration – you’ll need a nap after taking in all the strangeness.
Theatrical and flamboyant, but with a strength of vision that overwhelms the senses, Queen were not merely a band, they were a cultural niche unto themselves.
They are remembered for Freddie Mercury’s daring sartorial flourishes and their wildly addictive, stadium-ready anthems.
But they were also eminently avant garde and subversive, and they challenged many of the reigning orthodoxies of their time.
Queen has no competition and they are one of the most famous British groups of all time for their audacious, sweeping ballads and pep-talk epics.
11. The Smiths
The bitter, the dour, the charmingly miserable was never quite so delightful as when it came from the unapologetically sardonic minds of Morrisey and the gang.
The Smiths didn’t just stare into the cold, dark, morbid heart of the British psyche – they dived straight into the abyss itself.
The result is a melancholic poetry that is daring and captivating in the depths it is willing to explore.
A somber beauty, and indeed fragility, permeates the tone and body of each song.
My favorites to this day are “Girlfriend in a Coma”, “There is a Light that Never Goes Out”, and “I Won’t Share You”.
12. Jesus and Mary Chain
Criminally underrated by all but the most avid, sophisticated shoegaze and alternative fans, Glaswegian band Jesus and Mary Chain defined a genre.
They pioneered a gritty, fuzzy-garage sound that was so overlaid with wistful, tender beauty and sweetness that the cognitive dissonance will blow your preconceptions apart.
Soft and sour, grimy and wistful – a melancholic serenity pervades their music, with a result that can only be described as lush and entrancing.
13. The Stone Roses
Unbridled and driven by a raw, carnal, poetic vision all their own, The Stone Roses brought intellectual potency and melodic texture to the nineties Mad-chester movement.
Their music is wistful, lush, and delicate even as they bowl us over with walls of intricate guitars and arrestingly original melodies.
They treat both the startling alienation and mundane beauty of British life at the end of the century with a palette both sonically rich and lyrically tender.
Their self-titled album The Stone Roses is a jarring, eminently emotional listening experience – “Mersey Paradise”, “Going Down”, and “Ten Storey Love Song” get my vote every time.
I often yearn in vain for Blur to hang up their guitars and take to stand-up comedy instead – their sardonic wit and biting social satire is unparalleled, and speaks to that patent British humor that can’t be imitated.
Infused with swaggering, riotous banter and chock-full of working class cultural references, their sound is unapologetically populist, in the better sense of the term.
Candid verve runs like a thread through hits like “Park Life” and “Charmless Man”, while they demonstrate a poignant capacity of epic proportions with songs like “Coffee and TV”.
They were one of the most popular British bands of the nineties for a good reason.
15. Dire Straits
I can’t think of many vocalists I love more than Mark Knopfler – his voice is earnest, poetic, and courageous in spades.
British rock icons Dire Straits are a hard act to pin down, and they never deviated from their own technical maturity and reference-rich songwriting.
Few bands can chart such a dynamic terrain: roots-rock ballads like “Sultans of Swing”, jaunty and cheerfully daring “Walk of Life” and the heartrending beauty of “Romeo and Juliet.”
Their meticulous chords and academic commitment to the nuts and bolts of sound are reflected in their 1985 epic Brothers in Arms – the 8th best selling British record in history.
16. Roxy Music
Does anyone have more honeyed, sensual, intoxicating vocal range than Bryan Ferry?
They say some have bedroom eyes, I say Ferry has a bedroom voice – dripping in turn with sorrow, sensuality, and a playful arrogance.
Roxy Music has an uncommonly sophisticated, high-brow sound and they always remain hauntingly aloof from the pedestrian concerns of the rest of us.
With soulful, cerebral instrumentals and a pared-down pop ethos, they challenged the prevailing wisdom that popular music had to be base, or appeal to people’s cheapest instincts.
People often mistake the forest for the trees when it comes to Genesis – they see the big hits and the audacious appeal of Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel.
But Genesis deserves, in my estimation, a reevaluation – not merely as kings of echo-chamber, sensual rock but as brazen pioneers of intricately crafted, fearless progressive.
Genesis was a band based upon integrity and experimental vigor, and they alchemized the tools of their craft into ghostly, worldly pieces of artistic synthesis.
Urgent and plaintive, they deserve a resurgence of popularity – “Mama” and “Afterglow” will convince you if I can’t.
18. The Police
Sting, how I love thee, let me count the ways. Not to get all fan boy here, but those vocals haven’t been matched when it comes to elevated, speculative pop music.
Their music is dashing, with a tonic blend of gauzy, disaffected sensuality and studied aloofness.
The Police know their status in the pecking order and they never act out of turn when it comes to maintaining a visionary commitment to their scholarly reveries.
“Wrapped Around Your Finger,”, “Every Breath You Take”, “Message in a Bottle”, and “Walking on the Moon” – does it get more gratifying than that?
One of the most famous British bands to this day, they will have you wishing you were one of us.
19. Black Sabbath
Rightfully considered the fathers of heavy metal, Black Sabbath brought the occult, the iconoclastic, and the obscene to a generation weaned on the Summer of Love.
They found solace and creative vitality in the darkness and they dove readily into the black hole of obscurantist and hermetic references, causing a mild moral panic during their first decade corrupting hearts and minds.
Black Sabbath are more intelligent than many cursory listeners give them credit for, and a well-developed anti-establishment streak ran through their fare – they would make critical theorists and anarchists alike proud.
20. Massive Attack
Think trip-hop, think British group Massive Attack – that simple, really.
Joking of course, I could carry on about the spacey, otherworldly tenor and lyrical majesty of Massive Attack for days.
Blending a proprietary tonic of underground street cred, sly poetic formulations, and sensual melodies, they are mesmerizing at every turn.
They possess a preternatural, organic self-assurance and an experimental bent that elevates their music to an urbane, cultivated place.
Give their magnum opus Mezzanine a spin and experience the brazen cosmopolitanism of trip-hop at its pulsating, eerie best.
21. The Animals
Rambunctious, yet in possession of a hard-won wisdom and self-possession, The Animals encapsulated the most audacious, dynamic tendencies of British music as it took over the world in the mid sixties during the British Invasion.
They had a dashing, mid-century boarding school silhouette and a generous, husky vocal range that could be at times heartworn and at times peppy.
You’ve doubtless heard their masterpiece “House of the Rising Sun” but I encourage you to widen your scope and listen to “We’ve Gotta Get Outta This Place” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”.
22. The Who
The Who were British to their heart and soul, and everything from their aesthetic to their garage-tinged early sound to their jaunty, audacious cheek conveyed the wild steak of sixties England.
They were spunky, often intransigent, and always committed to creating overpowering, magisterial anthems that demand to be heard at full volume across several speakers.
Their plucky, counterculture-defining gems like “My Generation” are often eclipsed by the powerful, urgent, cultural touchstones they released in the seventies like “Who Are You” and “Baba O’ Reilley”.
One of the best British rock bands in history.
23. Arctic Monkeys
Do any bands come ready made with more wit, biting insight, or intelligent asides that would make Oscar Wilde or Groucho Marx proud than the Arctic Monkeys?
They follow in the cheeky and ingenious tradition of bands like Blur with on-the-nose cultural references.
They add their own patent touch in the form of rollicking, cascading, compulsive guitar chords that are the best to come out of the country in the last few decades.
They are defiant, effortlessly cool, and visionary without trying hard at all – this is a meeting of minds, guitars, and talents that feels almost preordained.
24. Joy Division
Joy Division was a tragically short-lived band, but the ghost of their moody, cerebral art-rock, new wave sound continues to haunt the house of the alternative and synth-rock genres.
Gothic romanticism and wistful pessimism lend a strange texture to their pulsating, labyrinthine beats.
Despondent without being a downer, Joy Division explores the fractures that exist within, and the frailties of the human experience, always with a speculative patina.
Post-punk at its finest can be enjoyed in all its fraught, lush glory in songs like “Love Will Tear us Apart”, “Disorder” and essentially anything off of their magisterial Unknown Pleasures.
25. Depeche Mode
Depeche Mode, you changelings, you!
Always up for a challenge and keen to take a flamboyant, thoughtful, uncanny approach to new wave, they expanded the scope of the genre, and brought it kicking (but not screaming) into the nineties.
It takes a brave band indeed to convey despair, despondence, joy, and exultation in turn, and Depeche Mode does it with blithe, amicable creative flair.
Fans rejoice: they’ve sold over 100 million records and show no signs of slowing down – they’re celebrating their 43rd year in action in 2023.
26. New Order
The descendants of Joy Division carried the new wave torch, and maintained a lush fidelity to the artistic, intrepid sensibilities of their forefathers.
New Order embraced the lighter side of culture, without degrading their allegiance to introspective, ruminative fare.
New Order blended the space-age, futuristic mood of the eighties into their hallucinatory, invigorating sound.
They managed to strike a balance between being opulent, indulgent instrumentals and light, soaring harmonies.
27. Iron Maiden
If a horror film got an electric shock, the result would be something like Iron Maiden’s sizzling, lightning-hot metal.
Campy and low-brow to their very core, Iron Maiden embraced themes others wouldn’t touch with a pole – satanism, occult rituals, medieval torture, and a whole retinue of morbid references and allusions.
The result is pure indulgent power rock that gets your hair standing on end and your heart rate up – skip the cardio, this’ll get you whipped into shape in no time.
Iron Maiden have the reckless, manic swagger to pull off what others daren’t dream of – give 1982’s The Number of the Beast a listen and you’ll be mesmerized yourself.
28. The Hollies
The Hollies are so underappreciated that I should start a GoFundMe for these overlooked icons of the British Invasion – dramatic? Perhaps.
The Hollies began their illustrious tenure with delightful three-part vocal harmonies and swinging, garage-meets-pop fare.
Their sound had an uncompromising exuberance, wide-eyed innocence and sense of wonder that many of us fail to reclaim as we become privy to life’s many upsets.
Earnest without being humble, vivacious without being obnoxious – The Hollies struck a vibrant, precocious chord at every turn.
29. The Zombies
With an arrestingly alluring vocal range and a nonchalant, nonplussed prep school aesthetic, The Zombies cultivated a rich and sensual tapestry of sound.
Assured of their own resonance, they had a cultivated arrogance that kept acolytes and obsessives alike at a distance, only magnifying their own cultural capital.
They were the erudite, thinking person’s band from the British Invasion and their sultry, valiant lyrics and cocktail hour instrumentals were a far cry from the lighter fare circulating on the variety shows of the time.
30. The Streets
When it comes to comedic timing and intellectual fervor channeled masterfully into lyrics, The Streets is on par with its witty peers Blur and Arctic Monkeys.
The Streets are something of a British cultural phenomenon and when they first came onto the scene it was to mouths agape and pearls clutched – people were curious, but also nervous to dabble.
The Streets have always embraced a working class ethos and their lyrical style can best be defined as sardonic, banter-inspired, slang-drenched genius.
They stand tall in the face of topics light and dark, and they lend a voice to the ordinary, the mundane, and the heartfelt that defines life on this rain-strewn rock.
31. Jethro Tull
Jethro Tull was named after an early inventor during the Industrial Revolution – the strangeness starts, but doesn’t end, there.
A band that revels, like a psychedelic-imbibing Dionysus, in the occult, curious, and confounding, they leave the uninitiated scratching their heads to this day.
They were unrelentingly progressive in the early days, and branched out to embrace a quasi-mystical folk into the seventies, but man was their fare always infused with idiosyncratic whimsy and mind-altering guitar chords.
When it comes to British rock acts with spirit and soul – look no further.
32. Judas Priest
Judas Priest formed in 1969, long before the halcyon days of the genre they helped to originate – dark, dirty heavy metal.
They were hostile, unrepentant, and confrontational – creating a potent blend of shock and awe that garnered them legions of wild-eyed fans on both sides of the Atlantic.
They spinned sartorial expression on its head and gave it a juicy satanic allure: spikes, leather, eighties light-socket hair, and occult baubles.
Peer beneath the surface and you’ll see a band with a political, cultural, anti-establishment message that was refreshingly forthcoming, controversial, and intelligent.
33. Lloyd Cole and The Commotions
Pub rock owes a huge credit to the critically acclaimed, though commercially underappreciated, eighties legends Lloyd Cole and The Commotions.
With complex, creative lyrics that belong in a Booker Prize literary fiction winner, their music never compromises on candor and authenticity.
Cole’s voice is redolent of a honey bourbon, but with an animated, exuberant note that lends the songs a fresh vitality and sincerity.
Their live sets elevate what grassroots Brit rock is capable of, and their studio hits “Jennifer She Said”, “Perfect Skin”, and “Lost Weekend” will cause some welcome nostalgic heartache.
34. The Sex Pistols
Britain’s favorite rascals The Sex Pistols had a short tenure far out of proportion with their cultural and iconoclastic impact.
These adolescent hellions were bellicose, noncompliant and took a savage delight in turning their sights on polite society’s holy cows.
Nothing was sacred, but everything was fair game for their lively, morbid treatment.
Is there anything quite so British as underground punk critiques of the reigning order – “God Save The Queen” is a crude delight that matches the historical import of anything off the BBC.
Saucy rebels with an intrepid spirit and romantic sensibility, Buzzcocks have a sound that is instantly recognizable.
Buzzcocks are power pop punk renegades, who brought a refreshing, dizzying speed to the genre.
They pivot between soapy, melodramatic punk-love gems and surly, restless calls-to-arms – making histrionic youthful ramblings super compelling stuff.
Serendipity meets the subculture with the peppy, musing, heartfelt Singles Going Steady (1979).
Quirky, offbeat, and charming to a fault, James came out of nowhere and released some killer hits that combined exuberant daring and startling frankness.
If I could choose one song to join me on a remote, music-less island I would probably take their dizzyingly catchy song “Laid” along for the trip.
James’ personifies the long heritage of British whimsy and eccentricity and have contributed their own curious appeal to the canon – a British rock band with a zany appeal.
37. The Psychedelic Furs
Pop quiz: is there anything more overtly, playfully 80s than John Hughes anthems like “Pretty in Pink”? You have The Psychedelic Furs to thank for that one.
The Psychedelic Furs were artistic, mischievous, and flawlessly catchy at every turn and they were born out of the ferment of the post-punk scene in London.
Their early art rock sound evolved to fit the ethos of the times with new wave and pop conventions weaved into their radio-friendly sound.
Give Mirror Moves and Book of Days a listen to tap into the deeper, more cerebral side of the band’s corpus.
38. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
British electronic, new wave pioneers OMD established a minimalist, futuristic sound that was at once intriguing and curiously disconcerting.
Their synth-heavy, art-pop melodies were soaring, surrealistic, and sophisticated in turn.
They possessed the preternatural cool of the New Romantics and the effortless swagger of their Merseyside provenance.
“If You Leave” and “Enola Gay” are eighties dance party mainstays and a UK rock band par excellence.
39. Deep Purple
People often assume that Deep Purple were Californians, given their psychedelic, summer of love credentials and their progressive vitality.
But we Brits can claim their visceral, sensual, textured deep rock sound as our own.
And what a national treasure they are, I say: they were at the forefront of the burgeoning prog and classic rock evolution during those heady years in the late 60s and early 70s.
They don’t just create music, they create sonic soundscapes: melodic realms of allusions, droning, compulsive instrumentals, and spaced out experimentations.
“Perfect Strangers”, “Hush”, and “Black Night” belong in every British rock band lover’s starter kit.
Supertramp are like tightrope walkers, keeping us glued breathlessly to their every move while they navigate a referential, musical divide.
The tantalizing creativity and cerebral tenderness that is born from their balancing act is disarming.
They incorporate some of the provocative, subversive themes familiar to any Pink Floyd fan, while adding a whimsical, thought-provoking sensibility all their own.
A strong dose of wonder and melancholy traces a common thread through all of their poignant hits – best experienced through Breakfast in America.
41. My Bloody Valentine
English-Irish shoegaze sleeper legends My Bloody Valentine have built up an opaque and intense cult following since their inception in 1987.
They have been described as a mix of fizzy, sour, and sweet, with notes of static and waves of distortion obscuring their daydream-soft vocals and lush harmonies.
It can be a jarring experience for a first time listener – with the dissonance engendered by the instrumental static and the surrealist melodies being rather confronting.
Their tumultuous, mournful, glittering 1991 album Loveless is considered one of the best of the 90s alternative rock scene.
42. Belle and Sebastian
Dreamy, wistful melodies with a ghostly patina – what else could a melancholic romantic want from their musical fare?
Belle and Sebastian have always had a dedicated, cult following and they are nothing if not prolific – but I wouldn’t fault you for being unfamiliar as they rarely make waves in the bubblegum-saturated world of radio pop.
They have a delicate elegance to them, as though they might break like porcelain, but the thematic, intellectual gravity of their songs defy an easy label.
“I Fought in a War” is easily one of the most cinematic, pared-down pieces of music ever.
Self-involved and stroppy with a dash of rainy day introspective thrown in, Radiohead is everyone’s fave downer band – making alienation and apathy de rigueur.
Alternative, downtempo, and disconsolate, Radiohead captured the public mood as the millennium approached, and they lent the sulky sensibilities of Gen X a playlist to moan over.
Radiohead’s lo-fi songs are not just laconic and recondite, they are also touching and poetic – a nod to the humanity that still remains within the cracks of the Machine Age.
I love “Creep”, “Fake Plastic Trees” and “Climbing Up the Walls”, although anything from The Bends will do.
44. Def Leppard
Def Leppard are a British band? I know, I know – let the rapid Google-fact-checking ensue.
If you like hysterical vocals, brash and uncontrived instrumentals and an ethos of excess and hedonism – Def Leppard is your spirit band.
They ruled the eighties power ballad and hair metal scene with the swaggering chauvinism and magnetic arrogance of a Medieval lord.
Their anthems were made to break eardrums and I still have “Photograph”, “Pour Some Sugar on Me”, and “S.O.S” on repeat – secretly, of course – I need to retain my intellectual street cred.
45. Franz Ferdinand
It was a heady moment nearly two decades ago when Franz Ferdinand came out of the gates from Glasgow and turned the garage-laden, New York dominated early noughties rock scene on its head.
They had unapologetic swagger and unbridled Scottish charisma with electric, plucky guitars to match.
They are best known for their rousing early hits “Do You Want To” and “Take Me Out” but rest assured their newer material has all the technical mastery, lyrical courage, and flawless chords as the old mainstays.
46. The Vaselines
While The Vaselines are a cult act that few in the mainstream deign to acknowledge, they can count some of musical history’s biggest names as fans.
Kurt Cobain himself referenced these Scottish artists as one of the biggest influences on his own style and lyrical compositions.
Their music was distant, possibly even aloof, and detached from the material world in a curious, eclectic way.
Fuzzy, static-heavy guitar and offhand, unsteady drum beats carry their strange melodies to a brave, quietly courageous place.
“Son of a Gun” and “Jesus Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam” are well-loved Nirvana covers, but few know the full majesty of the originals – go listen and get back to me.
The defining psychedelic acid rock band of the late sixties, Cream introduced the world to the dizzying, unflinching talent of Eric Clapton.
Perfectly tailored to introspective stoner sessions everywhere, jam gems like “White Room” and “Sunshine of Your Love” have rhythm that has scarcely been matched since.
The smooth and self-assured guitar will have you developing your own disruptive theories of life, the universe, and everything – trust me on that.
The iconography of the nonplussed, toked up sixties bohemian would not be complete without Cream’s erudite, masterful contributions to the genre.
48. Mumford and Sons
Modest, earnest indie musicians who generated a larger than life buzz – seems like a paradox, no?
Mumford and Sons got critics in an excited tizzy when they released their 2009 debut Sigh No More, and skinny jean-wearing navel gazers the world around looked up from their fair trade black coffee and took notice.
In many ways they were at the forefront of the genre that came to be known as indie folk, and they are responsible for unintentionally establishing many of its norms and melodic conventions.
They have a litany of atmospheric, laconic gems worth listening to – start with “There Will be Time”, “Little Lion Man”, “The Cave”, and “I Will Wait”.
Damon Albarn could very well have his own post – he was a founder of more bands than I have fingers – exaggeration, but not by much.
The former Blur frontman had outrageous critical, commercial, and underground success with his visual arts music project, Gorillaz – indeed, the first virtual band to grace the airwaves.
The sound is frequently industrial and downtempo, but also strangely worldly and melodic – Albarn himself described it as “eccentrically postmodern”.
The band members might be make-believe but the context and references of their music certainly aren’t: they take a bold approach to environmentalism and historical topics.
50. Kaiser Chiefs
Kaiser Chiefs came in hot, surly, and full of Leeds-bred attitude when they debuted in the mid 2000s.
Britrock was having another moment in the sun, with buzz generating around the courage, pluckiness, and lyrical dynamism of our modest wee island.
Kaiser Chiefs created an exuberant power pop sound that was made for late nights at the pub and football stadiums alike.
Their lyrics were cheeky and infused with the off-color banter that Northerners are famous for – did they take it too far, at times? That might rightly be part of their cocky, self-assured charm.
“I Predict a Riot” and “You’re in Love With a Psycho” are always a hit when they come on the speakers after midnight on a Saturday.
Best British Bands – Final Thoughts
Well, that was a journey and a half. Are you tired yet? Or, dare I say, inspired? I’m not taking credit for the musical depth and rich texture of my country folk.
But it’s an impressive canon, isn’t it? Go familiarize yourself with the best British bands and classic rock groups and get cultured!