The 20 Most Influential Artists of the Rock Era

Starting tomorrow, I’ll begin a four-part series to introduce my list of the 20 most influential artists during the past 50 years. Most music is derivative, having evolved from earlier genres. Artists love to quote their influences as mentors who helped shape their tastes and musical style. And some artists are mentioned more than others.

I’ll go by decades, beginning with the 1960s, and choosing five artists from each decade. (I tried coming up with five artists from the 1950s, but when rock was just starting out, pretty much everyone was influential.) I tried to choose the most influential, not necessarily the most popular. Sometimes it works out that the most popular artists are the most influential, but there will be some surprises. There will also be some eyebrow-raising omissions.

I tried to choose artists by whether they are still influential today. For example, Howard Jones was considered the quintessential New Wave artist in the 1980s, but considering that New Wave pretty much died off in the late 1980s, one can argue (and I would) that his influence today is nil.

So let the controversy begin tomorrow, when I attack the volatile 1960s! As a preview, here are some artists that, sadly, will not be on any of my lists:

  1. Rick Astley
  2. Taco
  3. Gino Vannelli
  4. Aldo Nova
  6. Leif Garrett
  7. Menudo
  8. Paper Lace
  9. Bertie Higgins
  10. Tone Loc
Series NavigationThe 5 Most Influential Artists of the 1960s >>

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Peter Lee


  1. Rick Astley might not be very influential, yet I bet that one or the other white kid decided to sing soul-inflected stuff on account of Never Gonna Give You Up. Maybe even the lady who provided your blog with its title.

    Leif Garret… oh shit, when I was 11 I bought his single of “Surfin’ USA”. I didn’t know that it had been a Beach Boys song.

  2. I know how much you love Asia, curious to see where they land 😉

    Rick Astley, he’s influenced plenty of things – rolling on the floor laughing, singing horrible impressions, wasting my colleague’s time by Rick Rolling them….


  3. @AMD: I was shocked when I found that Shaun Cassidy had covered the Ronettes and Eric Carmen – twice!
    @Bill: The YouTube police took it down before I could see it!
    @Jason: Heh! Never underestimate the influence of a 1980s supergroup!

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