The most ground-breaking American rock bands

4 July 2021, 07:00

Generation-defining American indie artists: The White Stripes, R.E.M., Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Strokes
Generation-defining American indie artists: The White Stripes, R.E.M., Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Strokes. Picture: Gie Knaeps/Chris Carroll/Corbis/KMazur/WireImage/Dan Tuffs/Getty Images

It's Independence Day, so let's celebrate the very best American music! Here are some of the most influential and ground-breaking acts to hail from Stateside.

Radio X

By Radio X

  1. The White Stripes

    Always elusive, often cryptic, The White Stripes modernised the sound of American rock by putting their own spin on the blues. With his "sister" Meg, Jack White was an unlikely looking guitar hero… but the quirky image worked.

  2. Pixies

    Forming in Boston, Massachusetts in 1986, Pixies are one of the most influential bands of the past 30 years, influencing everyone from Nirvana to Blur. Plus, Black Francis’s minimal chat/frantic guitar thrashing stage presence is just excellent.

  3. Nirvana

    Quite simply, Nirvana changed music as we know it. They were the ultimate grunge band to break out of the independent scene and hit the mainstream - hard. And it was all done in the space of three studio albums: Bleach (1989), Nevermind (1991) and In Utero (1993). Rock would never be the same again.

  4. Queens Of The Stone Age

    Josh Homme served time in the hugely acclaimed classic rock revivalists Kyuss, then put together another successful beast in QOTSA. He’s friends with Dave Grohl and Alex Turner. He used to play impromptu shows in the desert. The man oozes attitude.

  5. The Flaming Lips

    Zorbing. During gigs. The fact that Mr Coyne would go on to collaborate with Miley Cyrus is irrelevant in comparison. Coolness will always win out, and The Flaming Lips' 30 year career is a testament to being individual. Their influence can be seen in Arcade Fire's everything-but-the-kitchen-sink live shows.

  6. LCD Soundsystem

    Injecting disco and electro into quirky, Bowie-esque tunes, James Murphy's collective poked fun at the vapid world of the mainstream, whilst simultaneously writing club floor-fillers that will live on forever.

  7. R.E.M.

    R.E.M. were one of the coolest US bands making music in the early 1980s. In those days, no-one knew what the hell Michael Stipe was singing (he was quite a mumbler) and everyone had to make up their own minds on what the enigmatic songs were about. And they made guitar music cool in an era of tacky synth pop. When they hit the big time in 1991 with the release of Out Of Time, they'd definitely paid their dues.

  8. The Strokes

    The noughties guitar music boom wouldn’t have existed if it wasn't for The Strokes. Effortlessly stylish and full of cocky attitude, they put New York back on top as the place to look for great new guitar bands.

  9. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

    "Whatever happened to our rock and roll?" howled BRMC on their debut album in 2001. They tapped into the classic rock moves of the past 50 years: leather, attitude, guitars, psychedelic drones and shoegaze anthems. Hell, they even did a semi-country music album that still had the old rock 'n' roll posturing. Clever.

  10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs

    With the front-woman of a generation in Karen O and a series of scorching tunes, the New York trio made a huge impact when they started to release music a decade ago.

  11. Sonic Youth

    Some bands are cool. Other bands have the coolness that others can only aspire to. For over 30 years, Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon have fronted New York's finest examples of finding your own path, with a series of anarchic, confrontational and hugely inspiring albums. The guvnors.

  12. Weezer

    Post grunge outfit Weezer made music for Generation X slackers and their self-titled "Blue" debut album is an absolute gem. Their confident self-parody means frontman Rivers Cuomo can write hugely addictive hits like Pork And Beans… while he's actually attacking his own record company.

  13. Pavement

    Led by Stephen Malkmus, Pavement quickly gained a cult following in the nineties by initially avoiding press and building up a loyal audience via their stunning live shows. Their lo-fi approach to the tradition of rock influenced Graham Coxon, who paid tribute to the band on Blur's eponymous 1997 album.


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