Rock Legends: The Music That Made Them

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Rock Legends: The Music That Made Them is a new blog series that looks at the music that made some of the greatest rock legends of our time. From Led Zeppelin to AC/DC, we’ll be exploring the songs that shaped these artists and made them who they are today.

The Beatles

No band has had as profound an effect on rock & roll as the Beatles. In 1964, the group conquered America with a string of number one hits, including “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.” The following year, they released their masterpiece, “Rubber Soul,” which signaled a new direction in songwriting and signaled the beginning of their creative peak. The Beatles continued to experiment with new sounds and genres on such classic albums as “Revolver,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and “The White Album.” Despite growing tensions within the group, they managed to produce some of their finest work on their final two albums, “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be.” After breaking up in 1970, the Beatles have remained popular through the re-release of their albums on CD and DVD and through the tribute band circuit.

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones are an English rock band that originated in London in 1962. The first settled lineup consisted of Brian Jones (guitar, harmonica), Ian Stewart (piano), Mick Jagger (lead vocals, harmonica), Keith Richards (guitar, vocals), Bill Wyman (bass) and Charlie Watts (drums). Stewart was removed from the official lineup in 1963 but continued to work with the band as a contracted musician until his death in 1985. Jones died less than a month after recording stopped on their 1968 album Beggars Banquet and was replaced by Mick Taylor, who remained until 1974. After Taylor left the band, Ronnie Wood officially joined in 1975 and has been on guitar ever since.

The Stones have released 30 studio albums in the UK (charting at number one), 23 live albums (charting at number one or number two), numerous compilations and singles. They have also released 25 studio albums in the United States ( topping the charts for 10 weeks) , where they are certified by RIAA for shipments of 31 million records. In 1989, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, receiving the prize for “Most Rollicking Live Performer.” In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked them fourth on their list of “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” and their Estimated Sales are Above 250 Million Copies Worldwide. According to Billboard , they are the second highest-grossing band of all time with concert revenue totalling $1.8 billion from their record-breaking global tours between 1989 and 2007.

Led Zeppelin

Formed in London in 1968, Led Zeppelin consisted of English singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham. With their heavy, guitar-driven sound, they are regularly cited as one of the progenitors of heavy metal music. However, their style also drew from a wide variety of sources including folk music, blues, and psychedelia.

Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd was an English rock band formed in London in 1965. They achieved international acclaim with their progressive and psychedelic music. Pink Floyd were inducted into the United States Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. By 2013, the band had sold more than 250 million records worldwide, making them one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

The group consisted of Syd Barrett (vocals, guitar), Nick Mason (drums), Roger Waters (bass, vocals), and Richard Wright (keyboards, vocals). All four members wrote songs for Pink Floyd’s albums, although Waters wrote the majority of their lyrics. Barrett’s creative leadership during the early years caused erratic behavior that led to his dismissal from the band in 1968. Wright subsequently served as Pink Floyd’s main songwriter and composer; guitarist and singer David Gilmour joined in December 1967, followed by Floyd’s longtime producer Bob Ezrin in 1970.

Pink Floyd are known for their extended compositions, sonic experimentation, philosophical lyrics, and elaborate live shows, which included neon lights, projections, complicated stage effects, and pyrotechnics. Their signature sonic exploration can be found throughout most of their work after Barrett’s departure from the band. ManyPink Floyd albums have been released to critical acclaim and have been commercially successful; The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) is one of the best-selling albums of all timeand is considered by many fans to be one of Pink Floyd’s finest works. In 1990, they were awarded nine Brit Awards—more than any other artist that year—and two Grammy Awards for A Momentary Lapse of Reason(1987).

The Who

The Who is an English rock band that was formed in London in 1964. The band currently consists of Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, and John Entwistle. The Who is considered to be one of the most influential rock bands of all time. They have sold over 100 million records and have won numerous awards, including seven Grammy Awards and five Brit Awards.

The Who’s music is characterized by Townshend’s heavily distorted guitar playing and Daltrey’s powerful vocals. They are also known for their energetic live performances, which often include instrument destruction and Townsend’s famous “windmill” arm-swing style of guitar playing.

Some of The Who’s most well-known songs include “My Generation,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and “Baba O’Riley.”

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix was an American rock musician who is considered one of the greatest guitar players of all time. He was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1942, and began playing the guitar when he was 15 years old. Hendrix rose to prominence in the late 1960s with his band The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The group’s hits included “Purple Haze,” “Foxey Lady,” and “All Along the Watchtower.” Hendrix’s unique style of playing, which combined elements of blues and psychedelia, influenced many subsequent rock guitarists. He died in London in 1970 at the age of 27.

David Bowie

David Bowie, who passed away in 2016, was one of the most influential musicians of his generation. His eclectic mix of genres, from rock to pop to soul to electronic, set him apart from his peers and made him a favorite of critics and fans alike.

Bowie’s first hit, “Space Oddity,” was released in 1969 and was inspired by the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The song became a Top 10 hit in the UK and helped to launch Bowie’s career.

Bowie’s next album, The Man Who Sold the World, was released in 1970 and featured the song “All the Young Dudes,” which would later become a hit for Mott the Hoople. The album artwork caused controversy at the time due to its depiction of Bowie dressed in a dress.

Bowie’s 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is considered by many to be his masterpiece. The album tells the story of Ziggy Stardust, an alien rockstar who comes to Earth to spread a message of peace and love. The album features some of Bowie’s most iconic songs, including “Starman,” “Suffragette City,” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.”

In 1973, Bowie released Aladdin Sane, which is often considered a sequel to Ziggy Stardust. The album features one of Bowie’s most well-known songs, “Rebel Rebel.”

Two years later, in 1975, Bowie released Young Americans, which saw him experimenting with soul music. The title track became one of his biggest hits, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Bowie continued to experiment with different genres throughout his career, including electronic music on his 1977 album Low and drum ‘n’ bass on his 1997 album Earthling. He also dabbled in acting, appearing in films such as Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992).


Considered one of the biggest rock bands in history, Queen formed in London in 1970. The group consisted of lead singer Freddie Mercury, guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor, and bassist John Deacon. With their mix of hard rock, glam rock, and operatic style, Queen garnered a large following throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The band released a total of 18 number one albums and 18 number one singles, earning them the distinction of being one of the best-selling bands ever. Though mercury died in 1991 from complications due to AIDS, May and Taylor continue to perform as Queen.


Nirvana was an American rock band formed in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1987. It was founded by singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic. Nirvana went through a succession of drummers, the longest-lasting and best-known being Dave Grohl, who joined in 1990. Though often referred to as a grunge band, the style of their music incorporated elements of punk rock, pop and heavy metal.

Nirvana’s debut album Bleach was released on the independent record label Sub Pop in 1989. The band eventually came to develop a sound that relied on dynamic contrasts, often between quiet verses louder, heavier chorus sections. After signing with major label DGC Records in 1991, Nirvana found unexpected success with “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, the first single from their landmark second album Nevermind (1991).

Nevermind was produced by Butch Vig and released on DGC Records; it proved to be a crossover success, selling over four million copies in the United States by January 1992. It was Nirvana’s unexpected success that popularized alternative rock, paving the way for a wave of successful grunge bands such as Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. In late 1991 Cobain overdosed on Rohypnol and champagne but survived; he called this incident “a wake-up call”.

The Doors

The Doors were an American rock band formed in 1965 in Los Angeles, with vocalist Jim Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore. They were among the most controversial and influential rock acts of the 1960s, mostly because of Morrison’s lyrics and charismatic but unpredictable stage persona. After Morrison’s death in 1971 at age 27, the remaining members continued as a trio until disbanding in 1973.

Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore reunited in 2000 for an aborted recording session intended to culminate in an album and a tour. In 2002, they regrouped once more to perform “LARA”, a tribute song forLate Nights with David Letterman music director Harold Wheeler written by Krieger for their 1967 Album Strange Days. The three remaining members also performed three Doors songs – “Light My Fire”, “Break On Through (To the Other Side)” and “Roadhouse Blues” – during their set at the Live 8 concert on 2 July 2005 in London’s Hyde Park.

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