Being a good parent means showering your children with lots of love and affection, feeding them nutritional meals, getting them into the best schools, and of course, teaching them the difference between good music and bad music. That’s why it’s so confusing when many parents expose their kids to singing dinosaurs, high school musicals, and teenage pop tarts named after states, instead of starting them off with an early education on some of the most important bands and solo artists of our time.
Below are 50 Bands Your Kids Should Know. If they know about these 50 performers, not only will your kids be among the coolest in the neighborhood, but there’s a good chance they’ll be able to hold their own against any serious music fan (blogger, album reviewer, and college radio disc jockey alike).
We should point out that this is NOT a list of the 50 greatest bands of all-time. As a parent, you should know that getting your kids to eat a bowl of ice cream is a lot easier than having them down a plate of brussel sprouts. That being said, your children still need to eat their vegetables for a healthy nutrition. So think of this list as a balance of both–legendary trailblazers and more current day artists (mmm, ice cream).
As you’ll soon find out, not every big name made the list (a couple Jims, a Neil, and a Janis are curiously missing). This was done for a couple reasons. First of all, not every influential band is necessarily accessible to children (sorry Velvet Underground). Secondly, we wouldn’t be doing a good job of teaching your children if we didn’t make them do some work on their own. This list of 50, whether they realize it now or not, will expose your young prodigies to thousands of other artists who were either influenced or inspired someone else on this list.
If you disagree with any of the picks, that’s precisely why there’s a comment section below:
One of the most successful indie bands of the 2000’s, though I’m sure Death Cab For Cutie and Arcade Fire would agree to disagree. The Shins deliver a very soothing brand of indie-rock, which can be enjoyed by hipsters and young children alike. Here’s the best way to get your kids into them–show them the scene in Garden State where Natalie Portman hands Zack Braff a pair of headphones and tells him that The Shins will change his life. Then turn to your child and say, “See, Padme Amidala from Star Wars likes ’em, so should you.”
Just for their name alone, your kids should get excited about Arctic (Barrel of) Monkeys. In 2001, Alex Turner and Jamie Cook received guitars for Christmas. They quickly taught themselves how to play, formed a band, built a legion of dedicated followers by posting their demos on-line, and within a few years became one of the most talked about bands in England. Two stellar albums and a side-project (The Last Shadow Puppets) later, Arctic Monkeys show no signs of slowing down. If Turner continues to flourish as a songwriter, he may be the toast of your children’s generation.
50. The Flaming Lips
If you think about it, The Flaming Lips are a kid’s band–non-stop confetti during concerts, Wayne Coyne being bounced around by the crowd in a huge rubber ball, furry animal costumes, and songs about robots and jelly. They also had a song on the Spongebob Squarepants Soundtrack, so your child may already know about them (naive to the fact that they’re also well respected in many indie circles).
49. The Fugees
Even though they only existed for two albums, the Fugees brought a breath of fresh air to hip-hop in the mid-90’s. If your daughter ever wants to spit some rhymes with a couple of the neighborhood boys, The Fugees would be the perfect blueprint for her. Lauren Hill, the group’s lone female, not only had one of the best voices in music, but she spit furious freestyles and never had to sex herself up to be taken seriously by her male contemporaries. Wyclef Jean, the group’s de facto leader, was also a hip-hop anomaly of sorts. How many east coast MC’s are addicted to Bob Marley and can sweetly strum their acoustic guitar?
48. Bon Jovi
The template for “big” rock and roll done right. I’m sure if your children have been to a water park, sporting event, or ice skating rink they’ve heard some of Bon Jovi’s biggest hits. After the first chorus, there’s even a good chance your son or daughter pumped their fist in the air and sang along, “Whoooa! Living on a prayer!” Longevity, catchy hooks, the ability to sell out stadiums in seconds, and a lead singer who refuses to age–kids these are what we call “rock stars.” While educating your family on music, it’s important to let them know that Bon Jovi is the antithesis of shoe-gazing indie-rock. Which way will your children go? Well, that’s up to them.
47. No Doubt
Your kids will not win over the neighborhood indie snobs by referencing No Doubt, but by knowing about Gwen Stefani, the group’s front woman, they will be able to carry on a conversation at recess about pop music–which Stefani dived into while taking a break from her band in the 00’s (if you want your children to be well rounded in music, knowing about all genres is a must). No Doubt, pop stars in their own right, used a catchy mix of pop-rock and ska to make a name for themselves in the late 90’s. If your kids are digging the ska, No Doubt will surely lead them to influential groups like The Specials and Madness.
46. Joan Jett
Let’s make this one simple: Joan Jett is the coolest punk rock chick of all-time. If your kids want any more info, tell them to Google “Runaways” and “Blackhearts.”
Finding out about animated (literally), multi-genre super group, Gorillaz, will not only expose your kids to Damon Albarn (whose day job is being the frontman of highly successful Britpop act, Blur), but they’ll also get a crash course on everyone who has collaborated with group, including Bueno Vista Social Club crooner, Ibrahim Ferrer, sought after indie producers Dan the Automator and Danger Mouse, hip-hop vets, De La Soul and Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, and Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays, among many others. This is also one of the few animated music groups (sorry MC Skat Kat) that carry serious clout among indie-minded music fans.
44. The Grateful Dead
When your child enters their “hippie” phase (which usually happens around 6th grade) it may be a good time to sit them down and talk about the importance of The Grateful Dead. Let them know that there would be no Bonnaroo, no Jam-Band culture, no live concert tape (now MP3) swapping, no non-stop touring bands (with non-stop touring fans) if it were not for The Grateful Dead. I’m sure all of the above would have happened in due time, but Jerry Garcia and crew got things a truckin’ for all the bands that came after them–Phish, Dave Matthews Band, Widespread Panic, Gov’t Mule, and The String Cheese Incident.
Thanks to Jack Black’s School Of Rock, your kid may already be a big AC/DC fan. In many ways, AC/DC seems very appropriate for children. Their name alone will help your kids with their ABC’s, or in this case, their ADC’s. Furthermore, their straight-up, power-chord-heavy brand of rock and roll is as immediate as a plateful of hot chocolate chip cookies. AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell” and “You Shook Me All Night Long” pack the rock and roll fun, but maybe you want to skip these tunes until your child can better understand the meaning of “knocking me out with those American thighs.”
42. The White Stripes
Color-coordinated stage outfits, songs about being friends, videos with Lego-animation, a starlight mint bass-drum head, and indie cred out the wazoo. It won’t take much effort to get your kids into the White Stripes. If your young teen wants to win some brownie points with the older indie-minded music crowd, throwing around Jack White’s name will only help matters out.
41. The Bouncing Souls
It’s important for your children to know that a band doesn’t necessarily need to rely on major labels or music television to build a successful career in music. Years ago, The Bouncing Souls decided to ban themselves from MTV. Why? Cause they wanted every ounce of their punk rock success to come on their own terms. Years later, The Bouncing Souls have no strings to hold them down, are looking like geniuses (since MTV and major labels are becoming less and less powerful every passing day), and are still one of the most respected–and catchy–punk rock bands touring the globe.
40. Ani DiFranco
If your daughter ever needs a boost of empowerment, it would be wise to turn her onto Ani DiFranco. Armed with an acoustic guitar, brilliant politically-minded lyrics, and a punk rock fervor, DiFranco built a grass roots movement in the 90’s, making her one of the most respected D.I.Y. artists on the planet. She also started her own label, Righteous Babe Records, and even the logo–a silhouette of a woman flexing–shouts female empowerment. If you want your daughter to be a socially-conscious-folk-rebel-rouser, start with Ani DiFranco and then have her trace her way back to the highly influential Joan Baez.
39. Red Hot Chili Peppers
One of the most influential rock acts of the last 20 years, melding punk, funk, hip-hop, and hard rock for a distinct style to call their own. The Chili Peppers still boast a wildly entertaining live show, own a seemingly endless supply of road trip sing-a-long hits, posses the ability to write a radio-friendly ballad without losing their crusty West Coast edge, and are responsible for turning many punk kids onto the genius of George Clinton and Stevie Wonder.
38. Bob Marley
Peace and love, though necessities in this world, sometimes seem like corny concepts in music. However, reggae legend, Bob Marley, proved otherwise. He demonstrated that revolutionary protest music doesn’t necessarily have to be sandwiched between thunderous drums and power chords. When today’s artists complain about not having enough bottled water on stage, they should think back to some of Marley’s live performances, concerts in which he performed, despite having certain political factions threatening to take his life.
37. Minor Threat
Though they weren’t around for long, Minor Threat helped establish the “Straight Edge” movement (no smoking, no drinking, no pre-marital sex) and lay the groundwork for American hardcore music in the early 80’s. The D.C. foursome delivered the perfect formula of message, anger, power, and punk–with a pinch of pop to spare (whether the band would admit this or not). When it came to making minute-and-a-half punk rock ditties, no one did it better than Minor Threat. Their frontman, Ian MacKaye, later formed highly respected indie group, Fugazi, another band your kid should know.
36. Aretha Franklin
Your kids may think Miley Cyrus has a good voice. Maybe they think Rihanna has some serious pipes. If their ears are a little more educated, they could even argue that Christina Aguilera is the best singer ever. But if you play them some of Aretha Franklin’s classic recordings, it will take them two seconds to figure out that their favorite pop stars are still playing minor league ball. The Queen of Soul is the Queen of Soul for a reason. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, baby!
35. Daft Punk
In the 90’s certain acts put a face on electronic/dance music (The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, Fatboy Slim)–a genre, which up to that point in time, had mostly gone faceless. That’s why it was a bit odd (and awesome!) when Daft Punk burst onto the scene with their stellar, simple-but-to-the-point debut album, Homework. Instead of reaping the benefits of dance producer fame, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, refused to show their faces to anyone, usually appearing in press photos wearing some type of hilarious mask. Ironically, this made them bigger stars than if they would have shown their faces in the first place. Daft Punk’s unique mix of traditional house music, big rock, robot-sounds, 80’s pop, and of course, a little funk and punk attitude, make them unlike any other musical act on the planet. Your kids are going to love ’em!
Your little guys and gals may already know about Weezer, considering the band teamed up with The Muppets for their “Keep Fishin'” video and their single “Island In The Sun” was featured in an Olsen Twins’ movie, Holiday In The Sun. Your children should know though that Weezer’s near-perfect debut album (The Blue Album) established them as college rock sweethearts in the mid-90’s. Their sophomore effort, Pinkerton–which was at first deemed a commercial failure–became a cult hit, and its blunt (and bizarre) honesty was credited for inspiring a slew of emo bands at the turn of the century. Currently, Weezer are one of the few bands from the alternative-90’s who continue to flourish, and though some may argue, still posses some of the college rock charm that made us fall in love with them 14 years ago.
33. Joni Mitchell
Just mentioning Joni Mitchell’s name in a conversation will make your kids cooler. Knowing that serious music fans and fellow musicians revere her as one of the most influential female recording artists of the last 40 years will help put her legendary career in perspective. Creative, innovative, and knowing no boundaries, Mitchell started out as a folk musician and began experimenting and expanding her sound, long before it became the cool thing to do. Start your kids off with “Big Yellow Taxi” and they’ll be begging you for more.
Some bands have talent. Some bands have mainstream appeal. Queen had them both. Though their name may suggest otherwise, Queen are the Kings of Big Rock. Their larger than life songs were meant to be played for thousands upon thousands in sold-out stadiums across the globe. “Bohemian Rhapsody” may be the greatest epic rock song of all time (sorry “Stairway to Heaven”), “Fat Bottomed Girls” proved that big bands still had a sense of humor, “Another One Bites The Dust,” reminded people that white boys (sometimes) do have a place on urban radio, and “We Are The Champions” marks the perfect end to any sports season. The true genius of Queen may rest in the song, “We Will Rock You.” How can a 2-minute song consisting of a couple bass drum kicks, hand claps, and a guitar solo turn out to be one of the most recognizable rock anthems of all-time?
31. The Pixies
Chances are, if you’re into The Pixies, you know a thing or two about indie music. Though they always didn’t get along, Frank Black and Kim Deal provided one of the most unique singing tandems in music history. Black’s yelpy scream (which he should have trademarked when he had the chance) was the yin to Deal’s yang–an angelic female voice that made male music nerds melt in their Chuck Taylor sneakers.
You don’t even have to tell your children that Bjork is one of the most respected and innovative musical artists of the last 15 years. Her cherub-like voice, child-like interviews, colorful videos, and famous swan dress will make your kids immediate fans. If they need any more convincing, show them the video for “It’s Oh So Quiet” and they’ll be a Bjork fan for life.
29. The Smiths
A proper indie rock education should always include The Smiths, a group who helped write the manual for it in the early 80’s–one that has been followed by legions of British and stateside acts ever since. As synth-pop became the toast of popular music, The Smiths countered with a back-to-basics approach by crafting guitar-driven, pop-rock tunes that had their own unique sound and feel. Johnny Marr’s jangly guitar contrasted beautifully with Morrissey’s brilliantly sad lyrics. The good cop/bad cop routine didn’t last for long as the group broke up in 1987. Maybe when your kid grows up (and if Marr and Morrissey can finally make peace), they’ll be able to see them perform live at Coachella 2020. Don’t hold your breath.
28. The Cure
Some parents may be cautious about getting their kids into The Cure, “The Cure? I don’t want my kid to be some depressed, introverted goth.” At face value, yes, a grown man with a crazy hairdo, pale face, and bright red lipstick may be a bit unsettling. And, yes, some of The Cure’s earlier somber and tormented material is probably not ideal listening for a youngster who’s just getting into music. On the other hand, Robert Smith has crafted some of the happiest, sweetest, alternative pop songs of all-time. His unique image (detailed above) also added some flair to the sometimes boring aesthetic of college/indie-minded rock.
27. David Bowie
Before you even talk about his music, you should first inform your children that every artist who ever wore make-up, dressed in bizarre costumes, gave themselves alter egos, or stretched the bounds of ambiguity owes a debt of gratitude to David Bowie. Marilyn Manson and Slim Shady, don’t forget to write a “thank you” card to the Thin White Duke. David Bowie’s androgynous Ziggy Stardust character stretched the bounds of glam rock in the early 70’s. Throughout his career–and like Madonna would later be known for–Bowie constantly re-invented both his look and sound, even resurfacing in the 90’s dabbling in industrial-alternative-rock and touring with the likes of Nine Inch Nails.
Nirvana never hits pay-dirt in the early 90’s if it wasn’t for the success of R.E.M. in the 80’s. Considered one of the first “college rock” and “alternative” breakout bands (aptly named because they were getting support from both campus radio stations and alternative outlets), R.E.M. gave hope to just about every underground band in the country when they signed to a major label in 1988. Hey, if they can do it, why can’t we? When the alternative flood-gates opened in the 90’s, R.E.M. became one of the world’s biggest rock bands, but unlike rock stars from the previous decade, remained politically-minded and encouraged fans to participate in various environmental and human rights causes.