From Punk to Folk, Blues to Gangster Rap, popular music is a tree with many distinct branches.
It takes a special artist to define a genre of music and make it theirs, and today we’re going to celebrate those artists the only way we know how, by ranking them.
This is Plugged’s picks for the 10 greatest artists who pioneered a genre.
Bob Marley – Reggae
Grateful Dead – Psychedelic Rock
Chief Keef – Drill
Queen – Arena Rock
Pink Floyd – Progressive Rock
Iron Maiden – Heavy Metal
Blur – Britpop
- New Order – Electronic
(also: Depeche Mode, The Human League, Gary Numan)
Born from the ashes of Post-Punk Revolutionaries Joy Division, New Order formed in 1980 after the untimely demise of Ian Curtis. After originally struggling to shake the show of Joy Divisions hauntingly dark sound, New Order found their calling on the dancefloors of the New York club scene, and returned to England with this new and exciting sound.
Their biggest hit came in 1983 with Blue Monday, one of the earliest, and most memorable dance songs of all time. Though they’re not as much of a household name with the younger generation, New Order’s influence is still being felt, their electronic-rock blueprint would later go on to inspire those in dozens of offshoots of electronic music.
- The Specials – Ska
(Also: The Selecter, Madness)
The Specials were patrons of Coventry’s legendary 2-Tone record label, and were at the heart of the Ska explosion of the 1970s and 80s. Their lyrics were both accounts of regular everyday people as well as love-letters to the “rude boys” of Jamaica, who were a massive influence on the Ska sound.
Even to this day, the Specials still encapsulate what is truly special about Ska music.
- Kraftwerk – Krautrock
(Also: Faust, Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel)
Kraftwerk were one of the most innovative and exciting groups to come out of the continent in the 20th century. Their sound was expansive, experimental and unapologetically European. Their sound has influenced the likes of Ultravox, Soft Cell and the aforementioned New Order, and their half-man half-robot image can be seen today in French House outfit Daft Punk.
- Robert Johnson – Delta Blues
(Also: Muddy Waters, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins)
The man who sold his soul for rock and roll, or so the legend goes.
Very little is known about the life and work of Robert Johnson, aside from the theory that his ground-breaking guitar work was the result of a deal with the devil himself. One thing is for sure though, Robert Johnson could sure play a guitar. His legacy lives on with the likes of the Rolling Stones, the Who and Elvis Presley taking direct inspiration from his few, but profound recordings.
- Led Zeppelin– Hard Rock
(Also: Black Sabbath, The Who, Aerosmith)
Led Zeppelin can be considered one of the most influential bands of any genre, their influence can only be rivalled by the likes of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Jimmy Page’s iconic guitar riffs mixed with John Bonham’s relentless drumming, John Paul Jones’ Rhythmic Bass playing and Robert Plant’s poetry-infused lyrics created one of the most addictive sounds of the last century.
Led Zeppelin planted the seeds that would one day be Metal music, with Metal pioneers Black Sabbath taking a great deal of inspiration from Zeppelin.
- The Ramones – Punk Rock
(Also: Sex Pistols, The Clash, Patti Smith)
Punk changed the world, it’s as simple as that. It’s raw and unfiltered aesthetic irreversibly changed the way we see rock stars. The movement inspired a generation of musicians to rebel, and the Ramones were the flag-bearers for the movement, at least in the US.
Their fast and aggressive sound, mixed with their effortlessly cool image and their anti-Authority rhetoric, the Ramones were the embodiment of Punk.
- N.W.A – Gangster Rap
(Also: Too Short, Kid Frost, Above the Law)
During it’s explosive infancy, Gangster Rap became the most commercially lucrative subgenre of the burgeoning Hip-Hop movement, and N.W.A were at the centre of it.
Made up of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E and Ice Cube among several others, the N.W.A were angry, politically motivated and people loved it. It was the injection of youth angst that American society had been missing since the demise of Punk Rock. Such tracks as Straight Outta Compton and F—k Tha Police are still heralded today and some of the most important songs in the evolution of Rap music.
- Bob Dylan – Folk
(Also: Simon and Garfunkel, Woody Guthrie, Leonard Cohen)
The definitive singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan is about as influential as it gets. His vast back catalogue are just a glimpse into the genius mind of Dylan.
His early work is a comprehensive study of the rapidly changing world of the 1960s, his controversial set at the Newport Folk Festival is one of the most famous festival moments of modern history, and his pro-civil rights and anti-War rhetoric were massively influential on the 60s counter-culture.
- Nirvana – Grunge
(Also: Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden)
In terms of in-the-moment buzz, Nirvana have a strong case for being the biggest rock band to ever come out of the United States. Their nihilistic and Neurotic, yet addictively melodic and profound sound made them the biggest band of the 1990s without any doubt.
Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl quickly became the voices of an entire generation of disenfranchised American youth. The tragedy of Kurt Cobain’s early demise has only fuelled Nirvana’s position in contemporary music history as one of the most iconic and electrifying independent bands of al time.
- The Beatles – Rock ‘n’ Roll
(Also: Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys)
Come on, was there really any surprise that the Fab Four have topped a list on influential artists? The Beatles are not only the most important band in the history of popular music, their entrance onto the music scene was arguably the most important moment in the history of popular music.
Their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, and subsequent chart domination in the US charts is still yet to be rivalled by any band, or solo artist. Their presence was felt during every important social and cultural milestone of the 1960s, and their music is the definitive soundtrack of the decade.
Long live Beatlemania.
Words by Sam Revivo – Plugged Music Editor