If there is one genre of music that has received more than an equal share of scorn and fan devotion, it would undoubtedly be Rock n Roll. Touted by some as havoc on their ears while for others, a doorway to a world new, rock music has certainly got a lot of mouths talking over the years. After having discovered the rock music of the 80s and 90s fairly recently, I personally find my music taste to have been elevated to an entirely new level, because to me, rock music, like all other genres is simply an outlet, albeit one with ear-splitting vocals and heavenly guitar riffs.
Why the music of 80s and 90s stands out though, is because this era was marked by changes at every step that redefined what rock music meant. So while the 80s were dominated by glam and heavy metal, the 90s saw a transition into grunge, punk rock and alternative rock that ruled everyone’s hearts. Children of today moan over the breaking up of One Direction whereas we still lament over the original members of Guns n Roses splitting up. While many of the those era’s rockstars have since then passed away, the fact still remains that their music is what inspired many of the artists we see today, but even more than that, made a special place in the hearts of not just the youth, but the YOUTHFUL. So here’s counting down the top 10 rock and roll bands of the 80s and 90s(in no particular order):
” I’m a rolling thunder, a pouring rain,
I’m coming on like a hurricane ”
Nothing more could best describe the spirit of AC/DC, the band that has frequently been considered as the greatest rock and roll bands of all time. Fueled to success at the helm of lead vocalist Ben Scott, the band garnered an image for being wild, reckless and undeniably entertaining. Although, it was definitely the release of their album, Highway to Hell in 1979, that opened doors to top charts and record breaking album sales for them.
The band has seen numerous changes in band members over the years but none so significant as the passing away of Ben Scott and his being replaced by Brian Johnson. Post that, they not only delivered one of the most successful album of their careers, Back to Black, but also cemented their standing in the 80s as a force to be reckoned with. From their funky school-boy uniforms to mischievously suggestive lyrics, AC/DC have truly earned a spot in the rock n roll hall of fame.
2. Guns n Roses
Even those who shy away from rock music have been heard singing along to Sweet Child O’ Mine, inarguably one of the catchiest number by the band. While GN’R are active even today, they are by no means the band that once was, with the infamous vocalist Axl Rose, guitarist Slash, drummer Steven Addler and bassist Duff McKagan. The band rose to popularity after the release of their album, Appetite for Destruction in 1987, which although had a slow start but steamrolled its way to success after receiving airplay on MTV. From there, they amassed a following of hard and rock metal fans that is hard to beat even today, considering that Appetite for Destruction holds the record for being the best selling debut album in US till date.
They released several chart-topping albums later including G N’R and Use Your Illusion 1 and 2 but it was their off stage antics and intense crowd adoration that made them the band they were, even earning them the title of ‘the most dangerous band in the world.’
Think of Nirvana and you will certainly start humming the guitar riff to ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’, frequently cited as one of the greatest songs in the history of rock music and an anthem for teens across the globe. Fronted by singer Kurt Cobain, the band initially focused on the independent grunge scene with their first album, Bleach. However, they achieved mainstream success with the release of their second album, Nevermind (smiling baby in a pool with a dollar, ring any bells?), that actually displaced Michael Jackson’s Thriller from the Billboard charts, which is just a small testament to the amount of popularity and success it achieved.
Their third album, In Utero reiterated the success story that Nirvana was, with hits like Heart Shaped Box and All Apologies and tragically, also marked the last album of their career. On April 8, 1994, the world woke up to lament the loss of one of the most iconic musicians ever. Cobain, whose life had been riddled by heroin addiction and controversies throughout, finally decided to end it, a tragedy that shook the music fraternity. Nevertheless, Nirvana’s true legacy lies in their music and an aura that continues to appeal to the youth even today!
4. Pearl Jam
At a time when bands were breaking up here and there, Pearl Jam continue to perform to packed crowds even TODAY! They were amongst the frontrunners of the grunge metal scene of the 90s, right along with Nirvana and Alice in Chains. They hit the right spots right from their first album, Ten, and continued on a spree of commercially and critically acknowledged albums until their fifth album, Yield, where it seemed they had lost their direction. However, they soon delivered an unexpected hit in a cover of Last Kiss which actually became their highest charting hit till date.
What made them stand out though, were their unconventional principles and the refusal to succumb to commonly accepted yet manipulative practices in the music industry. They refused to release music videos and preferred playing at small college grounds instead of concerts where fans had to pay exorbitant ticket rates. Truly, this is a band that made fans believe in rockstars who made headlines for all the right reasons.
While catering to the mainstream audience by altering their musical style is considered blasphemy by hardcore fans, Metallica not only did so but managed to remain fan favorite for a long period of time. Founded in 1981 by drummer Lars Ulrich and vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield, the band’s aggressive and gritty music gave a new perspective to thrash metal, even as they themselves maintained a band of the people image. Their third album, Master of Puppets which released in 1986 is widely acclaimed as an epic masterpiece and one of the most influential heavy metal albums. Even though the band has since then undergone a shift in terms of their music, they still remain one of the most commercially successful bands of all time, not to mention, an inspiration to numerous others.
6. Alice in Chains
The band might not have had the smoothest career path but it is safe to say that their music ruled the 90s, right along with Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, the 4 giants of the decade. Propelled to success by two power packed vocalists, Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley, the band released its debut album, Facelift in 1990. It slowly gained popularity and eventually became a commercial and critical success. Their subsequent albums, both live and studio-recorded made them a popular name in the grunge metal scene and ensured an intense period of touring and publicity until the group began to be wracked by conflicts.
From 1997 onwards, the band members dealt with growing tensions and Staley’s unofficial absence from the band, which eventually ended in his death in 2002 following drug overdose, a problem that had already claimed so many rockstars. Nevertheless, the band reunited with changes in their line-up over the years and are now working on an album to be released next year.
Aerosmith managed a feat that is considered almost impossible in the fast paced, ever evolving music industry, that is, making a successful comeback that restored their original popularity of the 70s. With an initial lineup of vocalist Steven Tyler, guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford and drummer Joey Kramer, the group released 2 albums before Toys in the Attic in 1975 and Rocks a year later which propelled them to international success. Their blues based hard rock infused several elements that broke the rules of traditional hard core rock music.
Incidentally, they were often termed the Bad Boys from Boston, a hard hitting truth considering that the band fell apart by the end of the 70s owing to drug addiction. Since their comeback in 1986, the band hasn’t looked back and has truly cemented its status as one of the Greatest Artists of all Time.
8. Bon Jovi
Named after the lead singer Jon Bon Jovi, the band from New Jersey was formed in 1983, with an original lineup including pianist David Bryan, drummer Tico Torres, lead guitarist Richie Sambora and bassist Alec John. Considered one of rock’s biggest names, their breakthrough album, Slippery When Wet released in 1986 with hits like You Give Love a Bad Name and Livin’ on a Prayer. Their subsequent album New Jersey proved equally successful and gave their overnight international success a new meaning. They were especially popular for their constant touring and concerts that were frequently completely sold out, alongwith a style that stayed true to their roots yet evolved with time.
9. Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Listening to RHCP, I actually understood the true meaning of funk rock. To say they are the most successful band in alternative-rock history would be true, yet an understatement of all that their music encompasses and the evolution it has seen over the years. Formed as a result of a high school friendship, the band released their self-titled debut album in 1984. They continued to release albums that met with a fair amount of success until Blood Sugar Sex Magik happened, which is amongst Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time.
The band then saw periods of success intermixed with members’ drug addiction problems and internal conflicts. They finally delivered Californication, their 7th and most successful album till date in 1999 that sealed their futures as rockstars of funk. There has been no looking back ever since, with albums topping charts in several countries and the musicians showing no signs of stopping!
10. Def Leppard
A Sheffield based group that managed to create a strong foothold despite the coming up of Rock’s largest bands, GN’R during the same time period. They emerged in the early 80s with a musical style that borrowed from glam and heavy metal and was inspired by the likes of Led Zeppelin. Their albums Pyromania and Hysteria in 1983 and 1987 respectively are considered some of the most finely crafted albums, not just in terms of the music but also their slickly designed, innovative music videos that captured everyone’s attention.