Rock and Roll Musicians Who Were More Influential Than Anyone Realizes

Fats Domino

Fats Domino’s first single, “The Fat Man,” from 1948, had an undeniable rock and roll backbeat several years before Chuck Berry, Little Richard, or other rock and rollers.

Bo Diddley

One of Bo Diddley’s biggest contributions to pop and rock music is the distinctive “Bo Diddley” beat, a famous Afro-Cuban “cave” or “jungle” beat derived from the Latin American clave pattern and West African drum patterns. This beat, also known as the “I Want Candy” beat, is the basis of many rock songs, including “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame” by Elvis Presley, “Magic Bus” by the Who, “Faith” by George Michael, and “Mr. Brownstone” by Guns ‘n’ Roses.

Link Wray

In addition to being the only known musician to have an instrumental banned from obscenity (the dark, menacing garage rock classic “Rumble”), Wray invented the power chord, a key development in the rock sound, and is one of the earliest Native American pioneers of the rock genre.

The Everly Brothers

The harmony game was completely changed by two brothers whose complex, creative, discordant two-part harmonies were imitated by the Beatles, the Hollies, the Bee Gees, and many others.

The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys had a huge impact on British invasion bands, notably the Beatles, whose Sgt. Pepper was inspired by Pet Sounds (which was inspired by the Beatles’ Rubber Soul) and the Who, whose early music carries an obvious Beach Boys influence in both harmony and surfy feel.

Diana Ross

Diana Ross in Concert | Hollywood Bowl | Hollywood Bowl

Among the Supremes, Florence Ballard may have been a better singer, and Diana Ross may have become the lead vocalist mainly due to her supposedly better looks, but in a genre typically defined by soulful, thick, powerful pipes, Ross’s quiet, “thin” voice influenced male and female vocalists alike, including both Michael and Janet Jackson.

The Who

Pete Townshend’s Link Wray-influenced aggressive, ringing rhythm guitar style, along with Keith Moon’s manic drumming, and John Entwistle’s busy bass, along with a larger emphasis on dynamics as well as rock operas, changed all rock music that came after.

The Kinks

Before the Kinks, British bands made a point of not being too British, with Mick Jagger, Robert Palmer, and others singing in American accents. The Kinks did not do this, with a storytelling sensibility that was distinctly British. The Sex Pistols, Squeeze, XTC, Blur, and other British-sounding British bands followed in their footsteps.


The first multi-racial rock band, Love, should have been the biggest LA band of the 1960s. Although he was an excellent singer and songwriter, Arthur Lee’s colorful style as a frontman influenced his friend Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, Prince, and others. He also got his pals, the Doors, a record deal with their label, Elektra.

New Edition

Although Boston’s New Edition were themselves a quintet somewhat in the mold of the Jackson 5, New Edition wrote the rule book that later boy bands followed. The man behind their fame, Maurice Starr, later struck more gold and platinum with his next creation, New Kids On the Block. The Backstreet Boys, ‘NSync, and many others followed owe their success to the groundbreaking boybandery of New Edition. Next time you pop on your favorite Bobby Brown, Bell Biv Devoe, Ralph Tresvant, or Johnny Gill album, consider that New Edition is also possibly the only band other than the Beatles where every band member had success as a solo artist. (NWA almost cuts it, but when was the last time you listened to DJ Yella’s album?)

The Melvins

Montesano, WA’s own Melvins, who have been around since 1983, were Kurt Cobain’s favorite band. Their honest, sludgy, lumbering lumberjack music later became the Seattle sound and the ’90s alternative rock sound.


Run-DMC stripped rap music down to its core, ushering in the era of “new school rap,” while being the first major artist to mix rap and rock, and arguably the first successful rap group in the 1980s rock world of MTV and Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone named Raising Hell not only the best rap album but also the best rock album of 1986. Everyone who has ever rapped over a guitar riff, be it MCA or Anthony Kiedis, is following in the footsteps of Run-DMC.

Young MC

For the period of about a year and a half between the release of Tone Loc’s “Wild Thang” and Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby,” Young MC had written the highest-charting rap single of all time, which, as I just alluded to, was “Wild Thang.” What separated Young MC from other clean cut “pop rap” rap artists of the day were his phenomenal lyric-writing, story-telling, and delivery. Young MC was the rare “crossover” rapper who, without profanity or violence, was respected for his first-rate MC skills.


Belgium’s Technotronic brought house music to a larger audience with the invention of “hip house.” Without Technotronic there would be no Black Box, no C&C Music Factory, no Snap, no Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Technotronic’s contemporaries Milli Vanilli, Black Box, and C&C Music Factory all employed lip syncing, with glamorous models lip syncing other singers’ pipes. Technotronic tried this too, with a model named Felly lip syncing the rapping and singing, but the public had a warmer reaction to the real vocalist, the charismatic, backwards-baseball-cap-and-loose-clothes-wearing, tomboyish Ya Kid K, who appeared in the group’s later videos, proving that the public may in fact appreciate a front-woman who isn’t a glamor model.

Arctic Monkeys

Although these guys from England’s music was not revolutionary, the original MySpace success story’s route to fame was. Although the social networks have changed, Macklemore, Billie Eilish, and other artists their gained fame the same way.

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