Pop Music’s Best Bands By The Decade

It’s an exercise that’s been done countless times. Thanks to music publications like Rolling Stone, NME, and Billboard, there’s no shortage of lists about the greatest albums, best songs, and top artists.

So let’s narrow it down a bit- not all artists but just bands and let’s do it per decade, with a few runners up given recognition.

The 1960’s: The Beatles

Nobody even comes close. No one will argue that The Beatles completely owned the sixties. They generated a level of hysteria that had never been experienced before or since, and was probably the only band that united all of us. Young and old, men and women, rich and poor, absolutely everybody loved The Beatles.

Honorable Mentions:
The Beach Boys
The Kinks
The Velvet Underground

The 1970’s: Led Zeppelin

The Beatles held the record for holding the largest concert ever until Led Zeppelin came along. They were not as affable and universal as the Fab Four, but they were most certainly louder, bolder, and wilder. In a decade that valued attitude and image over message and melody, Led Zeppelin came out, plugged in, turned it up, and became bona fide rock gods.

Honorable Mentions:
The Rolling Stones
The Who
The Allman Brothers Band

The 1980’s: The Smiths

Though definitely not the most popular, The Smiths were the most unique concoction: bitter bits of Morrissey’s croons sprinkled over Johnny Marr’s sweet jangly guitars, generously spread across Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce’s rock-solid rhythms. It’s a heady mix that proved irresistible to lonely teens and music fans sick of the decade’s sugary, fluffy pop music.

Honorable Mentions:
Van Halen

The 1990’s: Nirvana

So much has been said about how Nirvana blew up the doors of pop culture with Smells Like Teen Spirit, and yet, not nearly enough. They sparked a new genre, new fashion, new attitude, and new sensibilities. Nobody knows what could’ve happened if Kurt Cobain didn’t leave us so suddenly, but perhaps that was how everything was supposed to be: short and stunning. 

Honorable Mentions:
Pearl Jam
Red Hot Chili Peppers

The 2000’s: The White Stripes 

Jack and Meg White didn’t really give a fuck about what others thought, but you’d somehow imagine them nodding in approval every time they hear Seven Nation Army being sung, chanted, and screamed at parties, ball games, and protests. Maybe they even give each other high fives and pats on the back for helping keep a dreadful decade from totally sucking. 

Honorable Mentions:
The Killers
The Strokes
Arctic Monkeys

The 2010’s: Maroon 5

Adam Levine and company may be the odd band out in this list but it surely was slim pickings in a decade that saw DJ’s, teen stars, and rappers dominate the airwaves. At least Maroon 5 gave us some crunchy guitars and memorable melodies that made us forget, even if for just a while, that great bands have now become too few and far between.  

Honorable Mentions:
The 1975
Imagine Dragons

Topmost photo by Thibault Trillet from Pexels