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California Rock Bands To Listen To All Day, Every Day
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California Rock Bands To Listen To All Day, Every Day

Here’s a list of guitar-wielding innovators, barn-burners, and eardrum-bursters to help make any road trip a repeat event.

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5 min read

July 22, 2021

In every friendship, there comes a point where a particular conversation spills over into a heated debate—just exactly who is the best rock band to ever exist? Many would say it’s The Beatles, Pink Floyd, or Led Zeppelin. While bands from the UK are by all means iconic, they don’t hold a candle to the stellar bands who call California home.

Not including California rock bands in rock band conversation is very much like leaving a huge rock (pun intended) unturned. So, we’re here to change your tune. Here’s a list of guitar-wielding innovators, barn-burners, and eardrum-bursters to help make any road trip a repeat event. And play them loud, because they rip.

Legendary Rock Bands From California 

On System of a Down's album "Hypnotize", "Tentative" describes war and "Lonely Day" describes angst. Photo courtesy of System of a Down.

System of a Down 

System of a Down—SOAD for short—burst onto the scene of modern metal in 1994, pushing past all boundaries found in the path of metal. Their songs often feel like a musical Jenga tower; prepare for distortion, Middle Eastern melody, sudden rhythmic shifts, kooky circus-master shrieks, and raw-nerve political angst. It may sound hard to believe, but this Armenian-American band makes music that perfectly fits both a laid-back beach day and an intense outdoor playlist.

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Originally from Glendale, California, SOAD is most famous for songs like Aerials, B.Y.OB., Chop Suey! (the song no one knows the actual lyrics to), Hypnotize, Toxicity, and Sugar. The band has also won and been nominated for several award ceremonies ranging from the Grammys, Kerrang!, and MTV—talk about accomplishments!

Green Day's sound is often compared to first wave punk bands such as the Ramones, Sex Pistols, and The Clash. Photo courtesy of Green Day.

Green Day

Hailing from Berkeley, Green Day is a punk revival band with numerous Grammy Awards under its belt. Beginning with members Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and drummer John Kiffmeyer (later replaced by Tré Cool in 1990), the band first struck gold with the release of their 1994 album Dookie—their third studio album that would go on to sell 10 million copies.

The California rock band first performed Dookie in a free outdoor concert at the Edward A. Hatch Memorial Shell in Boston. As soon as Green Day pulled the pin on Welcome to Paradise, the mass of flannel and baggy shorts turned into a whirlpool of slam-dancing. And although their popularity dipped somewhat in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the band came back onto the scene with the release of the rock opera American Idiot in 2004—and let’s be real, is there anyone who doesn’t know that song? 

Fun fact: the name Creedence Clearwater Revival means nothing as a phrase. Photo courtesy of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Creedence Clearwater Revival

Before forming this legendary rock band, guitarists and songwriters John and Tom Fogerty first began as band members of The Golliwogs in the early 1960s. And once Creedence Clearwater Revival came to be, there seemed to be no stopping them either. Releasing hit singles and albums from 1968 to 1972, CCR dominated the nation with chart-toppers such as Susie Q, Proud Mary, Born on a Bayou, Fortunate Son, Keep on Chooglin, Who’ll Stop the Rain, and Down on the Corner.

Between their surprisingly brief recording career, the band produced five number two singles on the Hot 100, nine Top 10s, and even managed to squeeze in appearances at Woodstock and on The Ed Sullivan Show. However, by the time the group recorded Pendulum, the writing was already on the wall that the world was nearing the end of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Nowadays, the only way to cure CCR nostalgia is to browse a record store or sift through their online catalog.

Metallica's fast tempos and instrumentals made them one of the founding "big four" bands of thrash metal. Photo courtesy of Ross Halfin.

Metallica 

No list of bands from Los Angeles is fully complete without the mention of Metallica. Formed in 1981, the band took the crown as one of the best thrash metal groups alongside Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax. Many believe that Metallica’s first great album was their Master of Puppets, which kickstarted their career.

And if you needed more evidence that this isn’t just an underground band of headbangers, Metallica's accolades can basically be summed up with “debuted at number one on the Billboard 200”—this applies to most of their albums. Metallica has sold over 120 million records online, won numerous awards, and even made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers' mix of hard rock, funk, and hip hop has influenced genres such as funk metal, rap metal, and nu metal.

Red Hot Chili Peppers 

When it comes to the “makers” of an iconic rock band, commercial success is often something people bring up. Whether you agree with that notion or not, there’s definitely no dispute about how iconic this band is. Formed in 1983, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are the purveyors of punk rock, funk, reggae, shred metal, psychedelic rock, and much, much more. The band sold over 80 million records worldwide and snatched six Grammy Awards along the way—but it doesn’t stop there.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers are also considered to be the greatest alternative rock band to ever exist, with 14 number one singles and 25 top ten tunes within the genre. And it probably goes without saying that Californication is their most commercially successful album to date; it sold over 16 million copies. Under the Bridge was basically the anthem of the alternative nineties scene. If you ever want to listen to feel-good songs, check out the band’s studio album Stadium Arcadium.  

Best Punk Bands in the Golden State

Dead Kennedys' lyrics were usually political in nature, satirizing establishment political figures and authority. Photo courtesy of Dead Kennedys.

Dead Kennedys 

This California punk band really stirred the pot during their initial eight-year run. With songs like Holiday in Cambodia, Police Truck, and Nazi Punks F*** Off, people didn’t take them as anything other than a bunch of left-of-center anarchists who were up to no good—being called Dead Kennedys did not help their case much either. However, anyone who actually took time to listen to this band’s lyrics quickly learned that their songs were doused in sarcasm, irony, and quite the tinge of brilliance. After they broke up in 1986, frontman Jello Biafra went on to become a very vocal member of the Green Party and a spoken word artist. The rest of the band reformed without him in 2001 and continues rocking to this day.

Sublime was one of the most popular bands of the third wave of ska, often combining punk with hip hop and heavy metal. Photo courtesy of Sublime.

Sublime 

You might think of them as backwards-hat-frat boys who ride their longboards to college classes, but to many, Sublime captures what SoCal sounded like in the 90s and maybe even today. Formed in 1988 as a garage punk band, Sublime rose to fame on the back of Golden State’s punk explosion. While the band’s rise was engendered by the likes of Green Day and the Offspring, Sublime boosted the punk scene with additional elements of reggae and ska. During the first seven years together, they only released two albums during their first seven years together. Sublime finally found mainstream success with a self-titled release in 1996. Unfortunately, this would become their last album, as the lead singer Brad Nowell passed away shortly thereafter.

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