Opinion: Who’s the most important band since the Beatles?

Answer:  Radiohead

Published  by Jeff Becker

The case for Radiohead as the most important rock band since the Beatles (and no we don’t work for Pitchfork).

A tough one indeed.   Labeling one band as the most important band since the Beatles should also imply they are the greatest band since the Beatles.  We’re discussing impact on our music culture, the quality of their catalog, their reputation with their peers and their influence for the upcoming generation.  Record sales make it cloudy and are not a factor.  If they were you’d include artists like Britney Spears into the discussion.  No thank you.  The honorable mention list has many admirable entries, but none that match what Radiohead brings to the table.   Even if you don’t like all of Radiohead’s music, you cannot easily deny their greatness.   If you don’t like Dylan and Springsteen that’s fine, but you would never deny them their greatness and rightful place in the Hall of Fame and consideration as the best ever.   Your personal taste should have minimal bearing.   This is not a good decision to make with a hangover.   Be clear headed.

Not Dylan? Not the Stones?? Not U2? Eh?

It’s hard to compare the impact across generations.  How do we argue that Radiohead is more influential and has a greater catalog than say Bob Dylan?  Or the Rolling Stones?  We can’t.  What we do know is that Dylan wasn’t even the greatest force of his generation, so how could he be the single greatest entity since the Beatles?   He isn’t and wasn’t.    What band has gone through more incarnations than U2?   U2 emerged as post-punk indie in the early 80’s, then found their commercial success and American flair on the Joshua Tree.   They proceed to do a forward somersault and drop one of the greatest albums of the last 30 years with Achtung Baby and its electric and eclectic mix of prog-rock danceable funk pop.    While U2’s influence is monumental, their catalog has taken a soft nosedive since the early 90’s.  They release great records that unfortunately do nothing.

Why Radiohead?

After nearly two decades they remain the most relevant band alive because of the remarkably innovative body of work they have created.   It’s the way they make music.  The way they deliver their music.  The way they change their music.  In Rainbows, their 2009 gem of an album was released 20+ years into their existence yet it’s one of the most hip record of the past 5 years with just the right amount of glue to make it stick for years to come.  No other band on the list of contenders can do that – not after 20 years in existence.  Other bands deserve strong consideration on the topic:  the Rolling Stones, Nirvana, U2, R.E.M., Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin.  But let’s stick with Radiohead.  They are the most influential band since the Beatles with a reputation that is cemented near the top.  Their musical styling influences nearly every reputable sect of the music-listening public.

How many bands wish they were like Radiohead?

No one can replicate them, and everyone wants to be like them.  That’s a potent comination.  Radiohead’s catalog has very few warts.  So let’s imagine you don’t like Pablo Honey, Amnesiac or Hail to the Thief – which are very arguably their three worst albums.   That’s fine, but Radiohead’s worst album is more daring and innovative than nearly anything U2, Springsteen or R.E.M. have released in the last 20 years, and you can go back 35 years to find the last relevant Rolling Stones album.  Radiohead is like the Energizer bunny of fucking rock.   They start off by delivering the alt-rock sing-along ‘Creep’ (not one of their best songs) and you assume they are one-hit wonders of the grunge period.  But no, they deliver The Bends and blow your ears off.  And now you think you got them pegged.   But you don’t.  They follow that up with the greatest 1-2 punch (since the Beatles of course) with OK Computer and Kid A.   Those two masterpieces changed every fundamental concept we thought Radiohead were.  Radiohead went in a different musical direction and one that was equally riveting.  It challenged us as listeners and made us realize that more people than just Kurt Cobain could open up our imagination.

What Radiohead has become is the rock band that every other cool band wants to be (unless your name was Jack White who was doing just fine with the White Stripes).   Every fan anticipated the next Radiohead album more than any other.  Every rock critic jumped on board and foamed at the mouth with superlatives.   In Rainbows, with its “pay us what it’s worth to you” model was not only unorthodox, but nearly revolutionary.  What’s this?  The greatest band alive releasing a fantastic new album on the internet for any price the consumer wishes to pay?   The anticipation of new Radiohead material has been supplemented with abrupt new releases in our lap out of nearly nowhere, as with The King of Limbs.   No pre-marketing, no advance singles.   Just greatness in our laps.  Radiohead do things differently than everyone else and they just do it better.    They do it without being dickheads.  They are hip but not assholes.  They are likable but not prissy.  They don’t whine, they don’t cry, and they don’t write sing-a-longs for 15 year old girls.  They do their thing the way other bands can only dream of.

2nd place?

U2, the Rolling Stones or Nirvana.   But let’s explain quickly whey they each aren’t the top.   U2’s aforementioned run of relevancy ended after about 12 years and they’ve been around for over 32 years now.   Just can’t do it.   They release a new album every four years and while they are intensely talented they live under the shadow of their string of early albums concluding with Achtung Baby.   Nirvana?   Yes, they could have been the best but that option ended prematurely.   Cobain’s writing skills certainly made it a possibility.   But you don’t make the top of the list on potential and one classic album.   The Rolling Stones?   During their best years they were only the 2nd best band alive.  It’s hard for you to be the MVP when you’re only the 2nd best player on your team.   Tremendously influential the Stones were but blame it on John and Paul. The Beatles were just too good for their time. They crushed everyone, Stones included.

20 Years from now…

Which bands do we think will emerge as one of the greatest ever as we look backwards 20 years from now?   The White Stripes perhaps?  Doubtful, but this would be an odd choice and a sexy one.  They had the balls, the style, the solid string of albums but not an influence like Radiohead.  They barely tapped into pop culture.  They broke down a wall, but not multiple walls.  They called it quits after a decade while still in their prime, just like the Beatles.  That leaves them somewhat iconic.  Other ideas?   Wilco?  The Smiths?  Prince?  Springsteen?   All of them are very doubtful but each of them could make a solid case – not as the greatest band since the Beatles, but at least into the conversation of some of the greatest bands ever.   The list starts getting long and diluted at this point as you can see.  For the sake of finality, here’s the list in order of the most important bands following behind the Beatles:

  1. Radiohead
  2. U2
  3. The Rolling Stones
  4. Pink Floyd
  5. Nirvana
  6. Bob Dylan
  7. R.E.M.
  8. Led Zeppelin

More lists you say?     Here you go:

Top 15 albums of all time
The 10 Worst Bands. Ever.

30 thoughts on “Opinion: Who’s the most important band since the Beatles?

  1. joe midtown

    I love Radiohead as much as the next person, and I’m on the edge of the seat for their shows later this week in Newark, but the absence of Pink Floyd from your list of runners-up is noticeable. Even though they are no longer my favorite band, they were once, and their impact and fan loyalty rival anything, if not surpass Radiohead has ever done. For sheer monolithic lasting power in the annals of rock, not to mention ground-breaking impact at the time of release, few albums can hope to rival Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. And in between those two came Wish You Were Here and Animals (my personal favorite). So really, it would be fair to say Radiohead is the greatest band since Pink Floyd, but Pink Floyd probably deserves the mantle of greatest band since the Beatles.

    1. twths Post author

      Great inclusion Joe. I would add to that also that they Floyd’s back-to-back releases of Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here were as equally powerful as Radiohead’s OK Computer/Kid A. Not only were Pink Floyd great during the brief Syd Barrett years, they quickly followed up that early greatness with the string of Waters-driven albums (Dark Side, etc). They went from great to even greater during those first 6-7 years and they prospered tremendously from the bipolar relationship between Gilmour and Waters – one of the advantages that the greatest bands have with two creative forces instead of just one. Later on with Animals and The Wall they established themselves as arguably the most innovative band of the 1970’s and through the turn of the decade. In a lot of ways they were to rock during those years what Radiohead has been to rock the last 15 years. Great comments sir!

      –The Way That He Sings

  2. Stefan Kozlowski

    Hah! I’ve begun spouting the same theory about Radiohead recently myself, though I couched it in slightly different terms when I posted the following to my Facebook page a few days ago:

    IMO, a thousand years from now, when historians look back and talk about the broad brush strokes of musical history from our time period, the discussion will go The Beatles, Radiohead, (whatever comes next). I feel like I’ve just fully absorbed The King Of Limbs after almost two years.

    Radiohead seem somewhat artistically transcendent to me. I’ve been a fan since 1996 and I’ve heard all their albums countless times and yet, if I listen to Kid-A today, there’s a definite chance that I’ll stumble onto some line of thought or artistic intent which I never noticed before. For me, the depth of Radiohead’s work is amazing and unparalleled by any of their relative contemporaries.

  3. "Kook" Adams

    The Beach Boys were more important than the Beatles. Maybe they didn’t sell more records but as far as American groups go they are the best selling group of all time. And beyond record sells the Beach Boys are THE most influential group of all time as well. Them and the Ramones. It boggles my mind how hardly anyone cares about good music anymore, where it came from, what it is and where it went…
    The Beach Boys made better music than the Beatles, the Beatles could hardly sing. After 1966 the Beatles werent even a performing group anymore..

  4. dfhgdfghgkfha

    it’s u2, *because* it’s radiohead. without u2, there would have been no radiohead. it’s that simple. if you head to any indie blog, *everything* sounds like u2 – via radiohead.

    also, you need to extend u2’s string of relevancy up to pop, not achtung baby.

    1. twths Post author

      Thank you very much for the comments. There’s certainly no denying U2’s greatness and influence. Achtung Baby was the most unexpected mind-blowing album in many years, not because it came from U2 but because of the dramatic shift of style away from The Joshua Tree. It became their magnum opus – and for good reason. It certainly found U2 at their true peak. Thanks again for your comment!

  5. Adam Formby

    Great blog – in full agreement. However, there is one band that should be on the list of greatest since the Beatles and that also seriously influenced Radiohead – REM.

    They went off the boil post Berry leaving, which is where they perhaps fall down because people have forgotten just how good they were as they kept writing sub-par albums. But they had an unbelievably, great run of albums over two decades in the 80s and early 90s (I reckon there are 8 or 9 REM albums which can be said to be genuinely brilliant). They influenced a huge amount of music, and also the bands that went on to write the next generation of brilliant music (Nirvana+Radiohead for definite – I reckon Arcade Fire owe them something as well…), and there is a case to be made they actually were one of the major bands that kick started indy in the first place…They sold millions whilst keeping their artistic integrity, defo were a hit with the critics, fantastic live. Defo a contender.

    1. twths Post author

      Great comments Adam. Couldn’t agree more. The albums that R.E.M. put together in the 80’s and early 90’s defined the indie genre in the U.S. for sure. They were to the U.S. what the Smiths were to the UK. Take note of the R.E.M. inclusion of the 15 greatest albums of all time. Thanks again for the note.

      –Jeff @ TWTHS

  6. Fred

    A band that was not even mentioned which basically shaped a LOT of bands including Radiohead, Nirvana & the whole grunge movement: The Pixies.

    But yes I agree that Radiohead MUST be up there at the top. If you talk to any musician who understands music and
    songwriting,.. they will all mention Radiohead as inspiration and respect what theyve done…

  7. halia

    radiohead has a great sound unique and great lyrics…but u2’s signature sound is often present in many bands today…coldplay, muse, sigur ros, arcade fire, the national….Often when you read reviews about most bands today you often hear critics comparing some of their songs to the u2 sound…I think this makes u2 more influential

  8. Velouria

    Great article. Hell, if Radiohead releases 4 or 5 more quality albums Id give them a shot at The Beatles for “best ever.”

    Don’t get me wrong — no one will ever be more influential and popular as The Beatles, thats not happening, but if you were to compare just the albums from the two, I put Radiohead on top.

    The Beatles albums are interchangeable, you could put in any song from The White Album into any spot from Abbey Road and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Same goes for their entire library. Radiohead on the other hand has completely different sounds and textures for each of their albums. Trying to mix songs would be jarring. Not only this, but there songs fit that space in the album, sure The Beatles invented the conceptual album, but they don’t exactly tell coherent stories, most are just pop song after pop song. (Though A Day in the Life, Yesterday, etc are effing amazing.)

    For me when I hear any Radiohead Song after The Bends, I immediately think of the next song, which die hard Beatle fans no doubt would say the same, but I don’t think to the same extent. And I’m not just talking about clever overlap transitions between songs. (Maybe this is just me?)

    The top 10 Beatles songs easily beat the top 10 Radiohead songs, but over time I think that will change. Radiohead puts more thought into their songs, but then again The Beatles songwriting is pretty much perfect and simple.

    I’ll take Ok Computer over any Beatles album, the ONLY filler song is “electioneering” where as The Beatles albums have 3 or 4 filler songs, (albeit pretty good ones.)

    No one is going to agree with my opinion, but like I said, give us 4 more albums and things might be different.

    (Oh and you can’t count Lens or Pauls solo stuff cause thats like 20+ decent albums and if you did I would just point to There Will Be Blood and The Master and the argument is over.)

  9. Eileen Tomarchio

    After almost 20 years away from rock/ pop, indulging in and loving Arvo Part, Sigur Ros, Max Richter, Henryk Gorecki, Stars of the Lid, Hans Zimmer, Brookyn Rider, Johann Johannsson, David Diamond (you get my drift—modern classical/ soundtrack/ ambient music), I’ve come back to the fold, thanks to teenaged daughter. For the the last 2 years, I’ve been playing catch-up, gorging on the likes of Arcade Fire, PJ Harvey, The National, Snow Patrol (please give Gary Lightbody as a marvelous melodist), The Decemberists, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Pixies, Death Cab For Cutie, The Killers, on and on… and I believe that my absence from the scene affords me a certain objective distance.

    I must say that Radiohead are indeed a class unto themselves. Startlingly beautiful and original music. Just when I think I’ve ingested all there is of their catalog, I discover yet another B-side gem or concert sound check piece that dazzles and transports, that brings me to tears or makes my jaw drop. I truly believe RH is for the ages simply for the fact that the feeling of having “discovered” them over these last months is only comparable with what I imagine it could be like “discovering” The Beatles for the first time, after having lived in a time capsule for five decades and never heard their music.

    So, yes, RH are the most important band since The Beatles. Thank you for thinking so.

  10. PearlJam24

    I can say without even a shadow of doubt that it is Nirvana. Their impact is absolutely tremendous, considerable greater than Radiohead’s. After that I’d say U2, then Radiohead.

    1. twths Post author

      Very fair suggestion indeed! An extremely impactful band for sure and one that continues well into this decade and probably the next few! Thank you for the comment!

  11. Eebb

    As far as impact and influence on subsequent music culture, by far the most influential since the Beatles has been Alanis Morissette. People are still, to this day, trying to imitate her style/voice/delivery. We she broke onto the scene, things changed…do you remember?! 🙂

  12. Adam

    Why do people like U2 so mych. Big fat meh from me. Overrated as shit. But hell yeah with Radiohead being number one. Led Zeppelin should be higher on this list and Nirvana had more than one classic album. I know you are considering nevermind as the classic but In Utero is their best and arguably the best …..album in the entire world. After Kid A of course. Also what about the Pixies?

    1. halia

      nirvana lacks longevity to be in the same category as u2…regardless of opinion on u2 their catalogue of music is deep and is critically acclaimed and influential…As for zeppelin… i remember reading the plant believed that u2 was their successor..

  13. Tim

    Ding dong you’re wrong. 90% of Radiohead is annoying nonsense. The Beatles bridged a musical gap and brought different styles together. Radiohead jumps face first into the gap and aside from a few interesting smears left on the walls in the way down, they don’t add anything to industry. I am not a fan of Nirvana, but if say they are next. They took influences from classic rock, hard rock and punk and created a musical style that took over the world. Radiohead owes their biggest hit, Creep, directly to Nirvana’s efforts.

  14. Just

    If the question is about the most important band, should’t that be also one of the most influential bands?

    It has been mentioned that the longevity of the band is one the criteria, although throughout the history there were many extremely influential bands that only released three or less albums.

    The question on the most important band since the Beatles should be limited to each genre, because since 1960s when the Beatles dominated music scene, the variety of different music has significantly increased. The Beatles had revolutionized whole music scene, but Bob Dylan was the one who had a huge impact over songwriting, the Stooges and the Velvet Underground inspired whole generation of punk, Nirvana kickstarted grunge, NWA brought rap to the masses and started great solo careers of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, the Beach Boys who, according to Dylan and McCartney, heavily influenced other artist from that era, Black Sabbath created heavy metal , Metallica promoted trash metal and has managed to remain the biggest name in heavy metal for the last 30 years, Beyonce is one the biggest names in RnB/pop for the last at least 15 years. What about geniuses like Frank Zappa, Marvin Gaye and Kraftwerk? And yes, Radiohead is one the greatest bands ever, however I believe that there are other musicians who are/were more influential and relevant than the Radiohead.

  15. Pingback: Radiohead – The Most Important Band Since Nirvana? | mjdholloway

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar