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Livewire's Top 10

Who Made Who?
The Top Ten Most Influential Rock Artists of All-Time


Compiled by Livewire staff

From a Hibbing, Minnesota kid that taught the world of rock how to speak in song to a band that transformed rock 'n' roll from soda shops and sock hops to something much more meaningful and transcendental to guitarists that invented brand new sounds from this ancient stringed instrument, here are the ten artists or acts that have made the biggest impact to the world of rock 'n' roll throughout the last five decades.
Although not necessarily defining the best, our list of most influential artists certainly does include some of them.
David Bowie10) David Bowie The funny thing about the impact of Bowie is that many of the people that originally influenced him (Lou, The Stones, Bolan, Eno) were also later influenced by Bowie's own work. Even stranger is the fact that many of the artists that were initially influenced by Bowie (The Pixies, Morrissey, Nine Inch Nails) would also influence Bowie's own later work as well. Always reinventing his appearance along with his musical styles (R&B, blue-eyed soul, avant garde and even metal and industrial), Bowie never could actually stake claim to any of these movements. But he put his own stamp on them anyway and somehow conned us into believing that it was his idea all along. Even glam rock, which Bowie's alter ego Ziggy Stardust is often thought of as its messiah, was started by cosmic imp and metal guru Marc Bolan. None of this matters, though, as nobody steals better than Bowie.

Following influences: Marc Bolan and T. Rex, Mott The Hoople, New York Dolls, The Sex Pistols (c'mon, just admit it, Johnny!), Lou Reed, Morrissey, Bauhaus, Gary Numan, Joy Division, Psychedelic Furs, Madonna, Suede, Pulp, Placebo, Blur and that guy you saw at the supermarket last week with the eyeliner on.

Influenced by: Marc Bolan and T. Rex, Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd, Anthony Newley (yes, that Anthony Newley!), The Who, Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones, Kraftwerk, The Beatles, The Kinks, Brian Eno, Kabuki theatre.
Van Halen9) Eddie Van Halen Sure Led Zeppelin introduced the word 'heavy' to rock, but whereas Jimmy Page's guitar style was cast from the British Blues invasion mold, guitarist Eddie Van Halen would introduce a totally new sound to lover's of hard rock and heavy metal. A blinding guitar virtuoso, Van Halen turned the guitar world on its ear in 1979 with his unconventional technique of two handed tapping on the guitar's fretwork. With the macho primping of bozo vocalist David Lee Roth a world of weak posers would emerge such as Ratt, Poison and Cinderella. Thanks, Eddie. Thanks a fucking lot.

Following influences: Yngwie Malmsteem, Steve Vai, Vernon Reid, Randy Rhoads, Vinnie Moore and practically every posing 'hair metal' guitarist to emerge from the '80s.

Influenced by: Leslie West, Ronnie Montrose, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff, Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton
Dr. Dre 8) Dr. Dre In the '80s Public Enemy may have been the 'big bang' in rap music and Run DMC may have been the crossover act to introduce hip-hop to rock audiences, but once West Coast rapper Dr. Dre left his former band N.W.A. for the greener pastures of his breakthrough CD The Chronic in 1993 (much greener, in fact, as the title refers to marijuana) the 'hood would never be the same again. The hardcore message of violence, drugs and sex may have been a hard pill for white America to swallow, but the smooth samples, laid back beats and introduction of Snoop Dog not only turned the black urban streets onto gangsta rap, but the sons and daughters of white America as well. Mixing hip-hop with jazz, funk and soul, Dre's The Chronic was to rap what The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's was to rock in the swinging sixties.

Following influences: Snoop Dogg, Emenem, Tha Dogg Pound, 5th Ward Boyz

Influenced by: George Clinton, Ice-T, Cameo
Elvis Presley7) Elvis Presley The start of it all. Sure somebody else wrote his words and music, but with a delivery and performance so potent that his lower body had to be censored from television viewers it made absolutely no difference. The Beatles may reign supreme, but without those pipes and that snarl they'd probably be working on the docks of Liverpool to this day.

Following influences: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Cliff Richard and 18,564 overweight lounge lizards in ridiculous jump suits and unpruned sideburns.

Influenced by: Big Mama Thorton, Bill Monroe, Roy Brown, Clyde McPhatter, Big Joe Turner
Sex Pistols6) The Sex Pistols Thanks to founding punk forefathers such as Iggy Pop and The Ramones, The Sex Pistols learned that rebellion and anarchy mixed with the right three chords played loud and fast enough could set the world ablaze. And it did. Goodbye dreaded polyester disco suits. Hello safety pins and snotty attitude.

Following influences: Generation X (Billy Idol), The Jam, The Fall, The Damned, The Clash, Husker Du, Minutemen, Black Flag

Influenced by: The Stooges, The Ramones, New York Dolls, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones (the latter two whether they'd admit it or not)
Velvet Underground5) The Velvet Underground While The Beatles were busy telling the world that all we needed was love, Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground were singing the praises, and pitfalls, of heroin addiction, amphetamines, leather bondage and other deviant urban subversions. Grating guitars, droning vocals and dirge-like drumming only helped solidify how much these NYC minimalistic hipsters stuck out in a world stoned on peace, love and grass. Brian Eno wasn't too far off when he claimed that "only about 1,000 people ever bought a Velvet Underground album, but every one of them formed a rock 'n' roll band."

Following influences: David Bowie, Patti Smith, New York Dolls, Television, Talking Heads, Bauhaus, R.E.M., Sonic Youth, The Pixies..

Influenced by:La Monte Young, drugs, Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, drugs, Ornette Coleman, drugs
Kraftwerk4) Kraftwerk Without the aid of conventional instruments this highly influential German band led by Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider help put the words electronica and techno on the map. While largely forgotten for their immense and widespread genre-jumping influences, Kraftwerk is still, nonetheless, the granddaddies of modern electronic music.

Following influences: Brian Eno, David Bowie, Gary Numan, New Order, Human League, Depeche Mode, Public Enemy. Virtually every techno, avant garde, disco and rap artist to use a synthesizer or a beat box, whether they know it or not, were directly or indirectly influenced by this band.

Influenced by: The School of Bauhaus. Russian machine artist El Lissitzky. Poet Wladimir Majakowski. The noises from cars, coffee machines, vacuum cleaners and other various industrial clangor.
Jimi Hendrix3) Jimi Hendrix And then there was Jimi. When Hendrix was playing in Little Richard's backing band in the mid '60s the guitar was still considered just another instrument in the rock outfit. Then in 1967 he released his groundbreaking album Are You Experienced? and everything changed. Swirling colors emerged and the guitar, as defined by Hendrix, was now not only an instrument but a weapon, machine and lover all at the same time. Hendrix, himself, said it best on "Fire," a song later covered by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Move over, Rover and let Jimi take over."

Following influences: Carlos Santana, Wayne Kramer and The MC5, Derek and The Dominos, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Johnny Winter, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Living Colour, Slash, The Smashing Pumpkins.

Influenced by:Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, The Yardbirds, Freddie King, The Beatles
Bob Dylan2) Bob Dylan Although from a vocal standpoint no one else has ever sounded quite like Dylan (how could they?), there has certainly been a multitude of artists that have at least tried to emulate his cunning, cool wit and knack for hammering out earthy songs that summon the ghosts of America's past. Encompassing blues, folk, rock, country and spirituals Mr. Zimmerman was and, 40 years after the release of his debut album, still is the epitome of American music

Following influences: The Beatles, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Fairport Convention, The Byrds, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Warren Zevon, The Pretenders, PJ Harvey, Paul Westerberg.

Influenced by: Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, The Carter Family, Odetta, Leadbelly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Elvis Presley, The Beatles
Beatles1) The Beatles The textbook. The start of modern pop rock as we know it today, and as we'll probably always know it. From infectious melodies of innocent love to introspective Middle Eastern influences, psychedelic musings and talk of revolution The Beatles were the house band of the 1960s, paralleling, and at times even spearheading, this turbulent decade.

Following influences: The Hollies, The Small Faces, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Byrds, The Monkees, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, Badfinger, David Bowie, Cheap Trick, Squeeze, Crowded House, Oasis and virtually every pop rock band worth their salt from 1964 to present. Later you can ask your great grandchild who the current pop rock band is and you can add them to this list as well.

Influenced by:Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Lonnie Donegan, The Beach Boys, early Motown, Ravi Shankar.
    Honorable Mentions:
    • The Pixies (without these alt-rock pioneers, we probably wouldn't know what teen spirit smells like)
    • Led Zeppelin (the Mount Olympus of metal)
    • Rage Against The Machine (the first, and best, of the rap / metal antagonists)

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