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Top 100 Greatest Indie Rock Bands/Artists of All Time

Updated: Feb 6


Top 100 Greatest Indie Rock Bands of All Time

Pictured - Pavement (Tokyo 1990's)

Coming to fruition from an explosion of independent record labels throughout the '80s and into the '90s, indie rock began picking up serious steam throughout with the growth in popularity of college radio and a desire for more artistic freedom. Although the term "indie rock," has always been a tricky one to define, the one thing that is for sure is that the explosion of indie and alternative rock through the '80s and into the '90s led to a massive wave of musical creativity outside of the mainstream. Although indie rock and alternative rock are used relatively interchangeably, for the purposes of this list we’ll stick a bit closer to the original definition meaning rock artists from independent labels and considered primarily indie rock over any other genre. Artists who may have signed over to a major label but either spent a large portion of their career on an indie label or who are primarily considered indie rock over any other genre have been included. Alongside that, there are a few artists on the list who were primarily signed to major labels but are almost universally considered indie. Artists primarily considered post-punk, new-wave, hardcore, punk-rock, grunge or Britpop have been excluded from the criteria to keep the focus around those considered primarily indie rock, alongside some indie pop and indie folk on a case-by-case basis. Most college rock bands of the 80’s have been excluded with the exception of some that were signed to indie labels and are tied closely to indie rock (Hüsker Dü, The Replacements). Alternative rock bands who are generally not considered indie rock (R.E.M., Radiohead, Sonic Youth, etc.) alongside experimental rock bands (Ween, Butthole Surfers) have been excluded as well. For a broader look at bands all across the alternative realm, be sure to check out Top 100 Greatest Alternative Artists of All Time.

1. The Smiths

The one band most responsible for the popularization and success of indie rock as a whole would be The Smiths. The influence of The Smiths can essentially be heard in one way or another in just about every indie rock band post 1987, when the band split up. Reinventing the role of the guitar in pop and rock music, The Smiths reestablished what it meant to be a rock band, at a time when synths were king. Pairing the incredible guitar work of Johnny Marr with Morrissey's unique voice and witty, sarcastic lyrics left a mark on music too big to put into words. Releasing what we believe not only to be the greatest indie rock album of all time, but the greatest alternative album of all time, the bands masterpiece, The Queen is Dead was met with instant, and retrospective acclaim often being cited as one of the most influential records of all time. What The Beatles were to pop music, was what The Smiths were to indie music.


2. Pixies

On the other side of the indie coin coming in the '80s was the band Nirvana claimed to be their prime inspiration, Pixies. Perfecting jangle-pop guitar lines popular in '80s alternative and indie from R.E.M to The Smiths, Pixies added an element of darkness and sadistic humor to their music. Creating the foundations for grunge, which was right around the corner, Pixies messed with bright guitar hooks cut with reverb and distortion alongside, chaotic and unorthodox lyrics. Perhaps Pixies greatest contribution to indie and alternative rock was their frequent dynamic contrast, going from incredibly soft to very loud at the drop of a hat. In releasing two near perfect records back-to-back in the late '80s, the world of indie rock had been reinvented, at a time when it was at its most malleable.


3. Pavement

Two things were quite evident in the '90s indie scene. For one, Pavement was the gold standard of a great indie band and second, they were so good, that there was a whole wave of bands essentially trying to match their sound. The Pavement style of talking "slacker" style vocals mixed with reverb laced guitar forward rock was a desirable sound for a handful of new bands whether it was early Modest Mouse, Dismemberment Plan or Built to Spill, the Pavement sound was an equally influential and infectious one. Leaving a massive lasting impression on the music scene, Pavement has graced the world with a handful of the greatest indie records of all time notably Slanted and Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Building upon 80s indie and alternative acts like The Replacements, Sonic Youth and R.E.M, Pavement put a uniquely '90s spin on a growing style of music.


4. The Strokes

Our first post 2000 indie band would undoubtedly have to be The Strokes. Alongside a few other notable bands like Interpol and The Libertines, The Strokes launched a massive post-punk-revival scene which took over indie rock for much of the decade. With their smashingly successful debut album, Is This It being frequently cited as one of the finest modern rock albums of all time, at a time when creativity in indie rock was at some sort of a plateau following the popularity of alternative rock and Britpop in the '90s, The Strokes were fresh faces for a whole new generation indie kids. Holding indie rock in the palm of their hands for nearly 10 years, The Strokes came out on top, and stayed on top quite some time.


5. Arcade Fire

The first of many Canadian acts on our list is the incredibly talented musical troupe of Arcade Fire. Mixing indie rock, with baroque pop and arguably progressive rock, Arcade Fire put out some of the most impressive and complex indie rock albums of the 21st century. Utilizing strings, keyboards, assorted percussion and horns alongside cutting edge guitars led to an immensely large impact on the indie world. With Funeral and The Suburbs both being near perfect albums, Arcade Fire finds themselves in a small category of indie artists with two 10/10 records. In mastering their crafts as musicians, Arcade Fire has remained royalty in the music world for quite some time still touring and putting on fantastic performances, often playing alongside countless bands they, themselves influenced.

6. Belle & Sebastian

Perhaps the most prominent name in the "twee pop" movement, Belle & Sebastian came into the indie scene in the mid '90s remaining in the underground for most of the decade, refusing press appearances and only cutting 1,000 copies initially of their praiseworthy debut album Tigermilk. Throughout the remainder of the decade the band released two more albums to critical and fan acclaim including what is considered their masterpiece If You're Feeling Sinister. Belle & Sebastian captured the more vulnerable and charming side of indie pop and indie rock developing a substantial fan base still at the palm of their hands today. Alongside Sinister, the band again found praise and success from their seventh studio album The Life Pursuit over a decade after their debut. With the release of The Life Pursuit, the band showed they were still filled with a plethora of creativity with songs like Another Sunny Day, Sukie in the Graveyard and The Blues are Still Blue. In a post-Smiths world, Belle & Sebastian was welcomed with open arms influencing countless indie artists.


7. The Replacements

Alongside a long-standing dominance of mainstream radio in North America in the mid '80s, alternative radio began gaining traction through college radio stations. Towards of the top of college rock radio scene was The Replacements. Singed to the independent label Twin/Tone out of the bands home city of Minneapolis, The Replacements achieved moderate commercial success, yet have received a large amount of retrospective praise, specifically for their third studio album Let It Be. Separating The Replacements from many of their contemporaries in the already well-established alternative rock scene, aside from their status on an indie record label was their mixing of '60s and '70s garage rock with more angsty and even self-deprecating lyrics leaving them to be considered among the first true indie rock bands. Leaving an impression on groups like Wilco, Nirvana and The Afghan Whigs, the legacy of The Replacements is a fruitful one.


8. Arctic Monkeys

Perhaps one of the biggest rock outfits to come out of The UK post 2000, Arctic Monkeys came ripping into the indie scene in 2000 with their smashingly successful debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. In some ways, considered the British incarnation of The Strokes due to their stylistic similarities and post-punk energy, the four Sheffield lads backed up all of the hype with pure talent. Releasing a string of massively successful albums between 2005 & 2013, you couldn't get much bigger than Arctic Monkeys. Praised for their uniquely authentic lyrics depicting British working-class culture, there was never too much fluff in the lyrics of Alex Turner. His words were relatable, his angst was real but most importantly, they genuinely just seemed like four working class guys who got their break.


9. The White Stripes

Initially hailed as an underground favorite in their local scene, Detroit, the duo of Jack and Meg White cashed in on the popular post-punk-revival and garage rock scenes of the early 2000's before becoming one of the most popular and powerful rock bands in the world. Although the band is largely known for Seven Nation Army, as most longtime fans will tell you, behind the surface, there is a LOT more to like about The White Stripes. Jack White is not only one of the best guitarists of the 21st century, he's also among one of the best lyricists touching on aspects from old movies to paranoia in a unique way. Alongside an impressive collection of accolades from Grammys to Brit Awards, The White Stripes are frequently considered one of the finest rock bands of the 21st century along with one of the most influential rock bands of the century.


10. Neutral Milk Hotel

The unique and short story of Neutral Milk Hotel is an interesting one often leaving fans with more questions than answers. The one this that is for sure though is that their second and final album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is the finest indie album ever made behind only The Queen is Dead by The Smiths. Released somewhat to a whisper in 1998, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea has since taken on a larger than life and almost supernatural quality in the indie lexicon. Frontman and the brains behind Neutral Milk Hotel, Jeff Mangum had an innate and impressive ability to suck listeners in, creating a powerful, hypnotic aura. Songs like Two Headed Boy have the energy of a stadium rock outfit yet are simply just Jeff and his guitar. Shortly following the bands unfortunate and early breakup, the band took on a whole second life turning into underground icons with Jeff Mangum becoming more of a myth than a man. Even with only two released albums and hardly any touring until 15 years later, the legacy and impact of Neutral Milk Hotel is an impressive one.

11. The Jesus and Mary Chain

12. Dinosaur Jr.

13. Death Cab For Cutie

14. Yo La Tengo

15. The Shins

16. Hüsker Dü

17. Interpol

18. Beck

19. The Flaming Lips

20. Sufjan Stevens

21. Guided By Voices

22. Built to Spill

23. Primal Scream

24. Wilco

25. Franz Ferdinand

26. Vampire Weekend

27. The Stone Roses

28. The New Pornographers

29. The Libertines

30. Modest Mouse

31. The Dandy Warhols

32. Galaxie 500

33. Broken Social Scene

34. Elliott Smith

35. MGMT

36. Spoon

37. TV on the Radio

38. Yeah Yeah Yeahs

39. Wolf Parade

40. Rilo Kiley

41. Bloc Party

42. Sebadoh

43. Phoenix

44. Bright Eyes

45. The Feelies

46. Slowdive

47. Minutemen

48. The Breeders

49. Slint

50. LCD Soundsystem

51. Cat Power

52. Sleater-Kinney

53. Alex G.

54. Eels

55. Liz Phair

56. Beat Happening

57. The Cribs

58. The Housemartins

59. Foals

60. The Go-Betweens

61. Dismemberment Plan

62. The Magnetic Fields

63. The Silver Jews

64. The Kooks

65. Of Monsters and Men

66. The National

67. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

68. The Decemberists

69. Art Brut

70. Kaiser Chiefs

71. Camper Van Beethoven

72. Young the Giant

73. Broken Bells

74. Silversun Pickups

75. War on Drugs

76. The Hold Steady

77. Kasabian

78. Cold War Kids

79. The Wombats

80. The Vaccines

81. Band of Horses

82. The Bravery

83. Mt. Joy

84. Animal Collective

85. Noah and the Whale

86. Peter Bjorn & John

87. Camera Obscura

88. The Wedding Present

89. Bombay Bicycle Club

90. The Revivalists

91. Pinegrove

92. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists

93. The Postal Service

94. The Olivia Tremor Control

95. Parquet Courts

96. Courtney Barnett

97. The Afghan Whigs

98. Catfish & the Bottlemen

99. OK Go

100. Tegan and Sara

For a broader look at bands all across the alternative realm, be sure to check out Top 100 Greatest Alternative Artists of All Time. Be sure to also check out Top 100 Greatest Indie Rock Albums of All Time, Top 100 Greatest Indie Rock Songs Post 2000, or our 2000's Alternative & indie Rock Playlist on Spotify. Be sure to check us out on Instagram @melophobemusicfor new articles, releases, reviews, pictures and more!





7 Comments


Where's Midlake and of Montreal?

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Guest
Jan 04

Where is The Cure?

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Guest
Oct 08, 2023

peach pit deserves to be on this list and near the top.

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Guest
Sep 01, 2023

Animal collective at 84 is insulting.

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Guest
Aug 30, 2023

Love to see Rilo Kiley!!

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2000's alternative & indie rock playlist cover 2.JPEG
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