These U.S. Cities Produced the Greatest Rock Bands of All Time
Music choice is as personal as your DNA as what sounds like poetry to one person may register as noise to another. However, some musicians and musical groups transcend individual tastes and preferences. Their music speaks to decades of generations and remain relevant even after their era fades into history.
While selecting a single music representative to speak for the all is impossible, we explored the homes of some of the greatest rock bands and musicians of all time. You may be surprised where some of these artists are from.
Origin: Fort Payne, Alabama
Originally from Fort Payne, the three cousins spent summers jamming at a place called The Bowery in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. A major label signed Alabama after six years of paying their dues to eventually become one of the early rock-country fusion bands to rise to fame. They produced a record 21 consecutive #1 singles and eventually sold 73 million albums.
Their tenure includes induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The group also earned 21 Gold, Platinum and Multi-Platinum albums. Their hits include “My Home’s In Alabama,” “Old Flame” and “Love in the First Degree.”
Next: This band has followers called Deadheads.
2. The Grateful Dead
Origin: Palo Alto, California
Iconic 1960s folky-toned Grateful Dead (or the Dead) tunes spurned the jam band genre and strongly resonated with the “hippie” generation, producing a fan following called Deadheads. Deadheads typically followed the band to the ends of the earth, often recording their shows and selling tie-dye t-shirts or food to make it to the next venue.
The band was known for unpredictable set lists, ensuring each performance was unique, touring on an off for decades until the Dead’s frontman, Jerry Garcia passed away in the 1995. Some of the more famous tunes included “Sugar Magnolia,” “Casey Jones” and “Scarlet Begonias.”
The Dead were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. They ultimately produced 58 retrospective live albums, 10 live albums, 13 studio albums and 10 video albums.
Next: He’s a Florida favorite.
3. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Origin: Gainesville, Florida
A chance meeting with Elvis in a nearby Florida town when Tom Petty was 10-years-old may have been the impetus to kicking off his music career. Petty formed several bands in Gainesville before moving to Los Angeles, seeking a wider audience.
In 1976, Tom formed Tom Petty and Heartbreakers, who went on to rock on the rest of the 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond. Along with the Heartbreakers and as a solo artist, Tom sold more than 80 million albums worldwide, with hits like “Free Fallin'”, “Learning to Fly,” “American Girl” and more.
Petty was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 and was considered to be one of the best selling artists of all time. Petty died in October 2017 after suffering cardiac arrest resulting from what his family says was a drug overdose to relieve chronic pain.
Next: This band has 12 members.
4. Earth, Wind & Fire
Origin: Chicago, IL
A popular band in the 1970s, Maurice White founded Earth, Wind & Fire. The blend of a funk, jazz, disco, R&B, pop, and rock helped to create the band’s unique sound. The 12-member group received six Grammy Awards, 12 American Music Awards and sold over 90 million records, which positioned the group to be one of the best selling musical groups of all time. Earth, Wind & Fire influenced a number of artists including Jane’s Addiction, Prince, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The band is the first African-American music group to sell out Madison Square Garden and first invited to perform at the White House by President Barack Obama.
Next: This group started an entire movement for Gen X.
Origin: Seattle, Washington
The grunge genre was born from Nirvana, whose anthem, Smells Like Teen Spirit became the battle cry for a generation. The band’s first official album, Bleach launched in 1989, followed by Nevermind, Incesticide, and In Utero.
Although the band was together for less than 10 years, Nirvana made an indelible mark on music and society as a whole. Nirvana sold over 25 million albums in the U.S. and 75 million worldwide, which made them one of the best selling bands ever.
Unfortunately, the band disbanded after frontman Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994, however Nirvana’s music lived on. Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 and was named as being greatest bands of all time by Rolling Stone and Billboard Magazines.
Next: Referred to as ‘The King.’
Origin: Tupelo, Mississippi
Otherwise known as “The King of Rock and Roll,” the world fell in love with Elvis Presley’s soulful style and enchanting good looks. Raised by working-class parents, Elvis’s early gospel and soul influences came from going to church.
Elvis began playing music at a young age, with his first hit, “That’s All Right” in 1954. Elvis’s career took off after that initial hit, followed by a record deal with RCA. His next hit was “Heartbreak Hotel” and then his career really took off. He appeared in film, television and still was a music chart topper.
Elvis has the record for the most top 40 songs with number one hits like “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Don’t” and “I Beg of You.” He also holds the record for the most cumulative weeks at number one and Billboard credits him with having the most albums on the Billboard 200 list. Elvis died at age 42 in 1977 at his home in Memphis, Tennessee.
Next: This band is named after their hometown.
Origin: Boston, Massachusetts
The band Boston was created at Massachusetts Institute of Technology when leader Tom Scholz first wrote the instrumental tune “Foreplay.” During those early days, Scholz joined bands and connected with other musicians who eventually formed Boston.
The band officially debuted in 1976 with the album Boston, which is considered to be one of the best-selling first albums by a band ever, selling over 17 million copies. Some of Boston’s hits include “More Than a Feeling,” “Long Time” and “Peace of Mind,” with that album remaining on the Billboard 200 charts for 132 weeks.
Through the years the band morphed and changed, flexing its sound well into today through new music and touring. Boston sold 31 million albums in the U.S., 75 million globally, which positions them to be one of the world’s best selling acts. Although the band has made music and toured for decades they only have six studio albums to their credit.
Next: This band isn’t actually related.
8. The Ramones
Origin: New York, New York
The cornerstone of punk rock, The Ramones created their own sound that became the basis for alternative, grunge, new wave, and fringe musicians for generations to come. Although not related, each member gave himself the last name of “Ramone” and spent nearly 22 years touring; playing approximately 2,263 shows. Their last show was at Lollapalooza in 1996 and by 2014 every member had passed away.
Hit songs include “I Want To Be Sedated,” “Blitzkrieg Bop,” and “Sheena is a Punk Rocker.” The band was listed as being part of Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time and the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
One fun fact about the band is the average length of a Ramones song is only two minutes because they band refused to play guitar solos.
Next: This band produced a top-selling male artist.
9. The Jackson Five
Origin: Gary, Indiana
The Jackson Five was truly a family affair as the five Jackson brothers were considered to be pivotal in helping launch the Motown movement. The talented children were hit-making performers who not only could sing but also danced with grace and style. The original grouping included brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael, who eventually became the group’s lead. The boys’ father Joe was their manager who was especially tough and demanding.
As a group, The Jackson Five released 16 studio albums, two soundtracks, 15 compilations, and three live albums. At least 23 of the band’s singles hit the Billboard Top 40 with four seated at number one. Some of their hits include “I Want You Back,” “ABC” and “I’ll Be There.”
The Jacksons sold about 100 million albums globally and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999. Lead singer, Michael passed away in 2009.
Next: This pop star hails from the Midwest.
Origin: Rochester Hills, Michigan
Known as “The Queen of Pop” Madonna sold over 300 million albums throughout the world. She is also considered to be the best-selling female recording artist of all time by Guinness World Records and Billboard named Madonna as the most successful solo act on its Hot 100 singles chart. Additionally, she is the highest-grossing solo touring act ever, raking in a reported $1.4 billion from ticket sales alone. Hit songs include “Like a Virgin,” “Vogue” “Papa Don’t Preach” and “Like a Prayer.”
In addition to her music career, Madonna graced the silver screen, starring in films like Evita, The Next Best Thing and Desperately Seeking Susan. She also won a number of VMA and MTV awards, in addition to winning seven Grammys and a Golden Globe award for Best Actress in Evita.
Next: He’s ‘The Boss.’
11. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Origin: Long Branch, New Jersey
Known as “The Boss,” Bruce Springsteen formed the E Street Band in the 1970s. He is best known for his songs dedicated to the working class and the American lifestyle, which had made Springsteen a timeless classic for generations.
His most successful albums, Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A. produced a number of hits like “Born to Run,” “I’m on Fire,” and “Glory Days.” Springsteen is considered to be one of the best selling artists ever, selling more than 140 albums throughout the world and 64 million stateside.
In addition to winning 20 Grammy Awards, Springsteen won two Golden Globes and an Academy Award. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2016.
Next: He always performed in his signature black clothing.
12. Johnny Cash
Origin: Kingsland, Arkansas
Considered to be one of the best-selling artists of all time, Johnny Cash sold more than 90 million albums throughout the world. His gravelly, deep, baritone voice complemented his country fusion, rockabilly, bluesy tunes as his music appealed cross-generationally and musically.
Cash was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Country Music Hall of Fame and Gospel Hall of Fame and would often begin his concerts with, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” before launching into “Folsom Prison Blues.”
Dressed all his signature black, Cash earned the nickname, “Man in Black.” Hit songs included “I Walk the Line,” “Ring of Fire” and “A Boy Named Sue.” In addition to hall of fame inductions, Cash won a number of Country Music Association Awards and Grammys. Artists like Justin Timberlake and Depeche Mode are just a few artists who have covered his music.
Next: He won awards for both film and music.
Origin: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Inventive and often flamboyant artist, Prince blended funk, rock, R&B and pop to create his own unique sound. Dance moves and rhythm were also part of Prince’s act, which helped catapult him to selling more than 100 million albums throughout the world.
Prince won eight Grammys, six American Music Awards, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award. In 2004, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The album Purple Rain was one of his most successful releases, spending 24 straight weeks on the Billboard Top 200. The album eventually transformed into a movie by the same title.
In addition to writing his own music, Prince wrote songs for artists like the Bangles, Chaka Khan, Sinéad O’Connor. He also held the number one spot for a film, music single and album at the same time in 1984. Prince passed away in April 2016 after a suspected drug overdose.
Next: This is the world’s best-selling band in history.
14. The Eagles
Origin: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Considered to be the world’s best-selling band in history, the Eagles have had five number one singles, won six Grammys, and five American Music Awards. They also had six number one albums.
Two of their albums, Hotel California, Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) are among the top 20 best-selling albums in the U.S. The band sold more than 150 million albums with 100 million being sold in the U.S. Their Greatest Hits sold 42 million records and Hotel California sold 32 million.
Overall, no other U.S. band sold more albums in the 1970s than the Eagles, plus even after 40 years of making music, the band is still rocking out.
Next: This band ruled the ’80s.
15. Van Halen
Origin: Pasadena, California
Formed in 1972, Van Halen issued 12 studio albums, two live albums, 56 singles, and two compilation albums. Through the years and well into the 1980’s, Van Halen was an American favorite, especially upon the release of the album 1984, which hit number two on the Billboard 200 charts. This was followed by “Jump,” which hit number one on Billboard Hot 100. A
lthough brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen founded the band, frontman David Lee Roth was often the band’s face and voice. Roth quit during the height of the band’s popularity and Sammy Hagar stepped in as his replacement.
Van Halen is in the top 20 best-selling bands of all time. They sold more than 56 million albums in the U.S. alone. The band is also one of five bands to have two albums to sell 10 million copies in the U.S. as well. The band won one Grammy, one American Music and a number of MTV awards.
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