The Greatest American Rock Band
The Greatest American Rock ‘N’ Roll Band Is…

When considering the Greatest American Rock band, apply the three C’s: Critical acclaim, Commercial success, and Cultural relevance.

When nominating something or someone to enter “The Greatest ____” pop culture conversation, one has to consider several factors. For a musical act, the most significant factors are the three C’s: Critical acclaim, Commercial success, and Cultural relevance. The good ol’ U.S. of A. gave birth to rock ‘n’ roll yet is curiously absent from the fight for the Greatest Rock Band title. The major contenders are British – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Queen, Pink Floyd, et al. The U.S. has produced standout individual artists and seminal backing bands, but The Heartbreakers and The E Street Band don’t exist without their frontmen. So, who is the greatest American rock ‘n’ roll band? And once we have identified a contender, can they measure up to their rivals from across the pond?

Commercial success and critical acclaim are easy metrics to assess. Cultural relevance is far more subjective, but a few ways exist to measure this. How much is a band’s music still present? Do we still hear it featured on radio stations, film, TV, or other media? Is the band’s iconography still well-known across generations? Does the band still feel important? Do younger generations still seek out their music? Are their haters vastly drowned out by their fans? Take the British bands listed above – do you know anyone who actively dislikes any of them? Their music might not appeal to everyone, but denying their greatness and timelessness is almost impossible. This all matters when labeling “The Greatest of All Time.” Let’s consider some of the contenders.

Creedence Clearwater Revival

Pros:  Universally respected, if not beloved; hits are still played. 
Cons: Short career, messy break-up (no revivals, sadly); speaks more to Boomers than younger generations.

Steely Dan

Pros: Critically beloved, timeless hits, impeccable musicianship.
Cons: Too fussy for some, too abstract, more jazz than rock.

The Eagles

Pros: Sold more records than God; as inescapable as death and taxes. 
Cons: A strong contingent of haters, memorably mocked by Jeffrey Lebowski, as inescapable as death and taxes.


Pros: The most important metal band of all time. 
Cons: Pissed off a lot of people with their anti-piracy stance; possibly too heavy for some tastes; none of them seem like fun guys to hang out with.

Guns ‘N’ Roses

Pros:  They burned as brightly as any star in the sky; owned half a decade. 
Cons: Axl Rose, Chinese Democracy.

Van Halen 

Pros: A total behemoth with David Lee Roth, one of the most influential bands ever. 
Cons: too many derivative iterations post-Diamond Dave; arguably threw the crown away.

The Band

Not eligible (80% Canadian).

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Not eligible (while Hendrix was American, technically a British band).

The Doors

Pros: Moody teenagers around the world still connect to Jim Morrison. 
Cons: Moody teenagers around the world still connect to Jim Morrison. 


Pros: Arguably the most influential band of the 90s, they changed pop music and were the last great mainstream punk band. 
Cons: They had an even shorter career than CCR.

Rage Against the Machine 

Pros: The heavily political messaging has only become more relevant over the years, and the music has a wholly unique sound.
Cons: Too many people heard the music but not the message, and it was too loud and abrasive for many.

The Funk Brothers (legendary Motown house band)

Pros: Played on more timeless hits than anyone else and shaped pop music more than any group of musicians other than the Beatles. 
Cons: Apart from James Jamerson, can you name any other members?

The Roots

Pros: The greatest hip-hop band in history. 
Cons: Now they’re mostly relegated to being an accouterment for Jimmy Fallon.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers

Pros: Somehow still going strong after 40 years. Like ‘em or not, they have a whole boatload of hits. 
Cons: They were more interesting early in their career as a funk band, but they were too crass for some.


Pros: The most important indie band of all time, a cavalcade of classic records. 
Cons: The world stopped paying attention to them in 1997 for reasons that are still unclear.

Parliament/Funkadelic/Earth, Wind, and Fire

Pros: The most important and influential African-American bands of the 70s. 
Cons: More soul/funk/dance than strictly rock ‘n’ roll.

The Grateful Dead

Pros: If you’re a fan, they’re a way of life. 
Cons: If you aren’t or are merely indifferent, they don’t move the needle at all and can be aggravating.

The Ramones

Pros: The most important American punk band and one of the coolest-looking bands ever. 
Cons: There is not a lot of variety in their catalog.


Pros: The make-up, and the Kiss Army is still going strong.
Cons: Style does not equal substance.

Talking Heads

Pros: One of the most interesting, influential, and adventurous bands of all time.
Cons: Discography contains a lot of weirdness, ranging from delightful to a bit too quirky.

This is not a comprehensive list. Plenty of other bands could be included in the conversation, but as I see it, these bands have the best arguments for the title. There is no clear-cut favorite; none of the above bands can stand head-to-head with any top-tier British bands. My vote would probably go to Steely Dan, who isn’t really a rock band, which shows both my personal bias and how muddled the contest is. Who would you choose?

Adam is just a dude based in Brooklyn who enjoys thinking about music in all forms. He enjoys cooking, board games, baseball, and arranging songs for ukulele that shouldn't be played on ukulele in an extremely amateurish way. Adam is shown here at age 13 on his way to a bar mitzvah.

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