Most Influential Rock Bands Of All Time
Beastie Boys & Public Enemy
When compiling this list I had a tough time choosing between the Beastie Boys & Public Enemy, so I decided to include both. Of course there are those that will contend that rap and rock are two separate genres and that rap groups obviously shouldn’t be included on a list of the most important rock bands. Those are the same individuals that also argue that rap artists have no place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But let us consider why in the case of the Beastie Boys & Public Enemy this view is shortsighted. We will start off by considering why the Beastie Boys should be considered as one of the most influential rock bands of all time.
The Beastie Boys originally formed in 1981 as a hardcore punk band. Even though they ended up achieving their success as a hip hop band, they never fully abandoned their punk roots. For example, on a number of their albums and songs they would go back to their punk roots and play real instruments. A prime exhibit is a tune like “Sabotage”, which is explosively rocking.
One of the most important parts of the Beastie Boys legacy is that they helped blurred the lines between rap and rock. For example, their landmark full length debut, 1986’s Licensed to Ill featured a heavy rock influence on songs such as “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)” and “No Sleep till Brooklyn” (which also featured Slayer’s guitarist Kerry King). They helped create what is often coined as “rap rock” and for better or worst they were influential in the development of “nu metal”. Even though they are primarily considered a rap act, they have achieved a number of modern rock hits.
As part of the 2013 class, Public Enemy became the fourth rap act to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (the first three in order are Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run-DMC, and the aforementioned Beastie Boys). Despite the detractors, there is a number of compelling reasons why Public Enemy has earned their place as one of the most important rock bands of all time (that is right, I said rock).
The band’s musical sound which was crafted by the band’s production team, “The Bomb Squad” was as heavy hitting as any rock band. Their collaboration with Anthrax on Public Enemy’s “Bring The Noise” was a key evolution link in the development of “rap metal” and “nu metal”. Their touring with Anthrax along with being one of the first hip hop acts to headline major rock festivals further helped blur the lines between rock and rap. Their influence in the realm of rock as also been cited by numerous rock acts such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana (Kurt Cobain cited PE’s 1988 classic album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Backas one of his top 50 albums). It is with good reason that back in 1987 music critic Simon Reynolds declared Public Enemy as “a superlative rock band”.
If you want to closely examine the evolutionary development of mainstream rock, you have to start with the underground. In just about any genre and sub-genre of rock, the architects that wrote the blueprints are the individuals that have never achieved commercial success. But if it wasn’t for the blueprints many successful rock acts wouldn’t have had the formula that they have followed on their way to mainstream success. Sonic Youth was one of those key architects.
Forming in 1981, noise rock pioneers Sonic Youth have become one of the most important indie rock bands of all time. Their 1988 album, Daydream Nation is considered an important cultural landmark, and it was even selected by the Library of Congress to be included in their National Recording Registry (honoring recordings of cultural significance) in 2005. They were also influential in the development of the soft and loud dynamic that became the trademark of the “grunge” sound. Both Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo are considered influential guitarists for exploring alternate tunings and their unorthodox methods of experimenting with different guitar sounds. Bassist Kim Gordon become an iconic figure and was extremely influential in the “riot grrrl” scene that was formed in the early 90s.
One of Sonic Youth’s most important contributions to the evolution of rock was when they finally signed to a major label (Geffen) and in 1990 they released their major label debut Goo. Because Sonic Youth was able to sign a major label deal and maintain their creative freedom, that helped open the floodgates. For example, Nirvana signed to Geffen record, because Sonic Youth were heroes to Kurt Cobain. If Sonic Youth never signed to Geffen, Nirvana’s Nevermind may have never ushered in the alternative rock explosion of the 90s.