Who Are the Best Indie Bands of All Time?

Flaminglips_lTo me, as a music critic, bands are like my very own babies — objects so personal and close to my heart, I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite, unless you paid me extra. But EW is taking on that maddeningly Sophie’s Choice decision in an upcoming print piece, and we want reader input! I realize that "indie" is a nebulous term these days, but let’s just say that Sonic Youth, whether or not they’re now on a big, corporate-teat-sucking major label, absolutely still count. They are freaks. Good freaks. As are Modest Mouse, the Flaming Lips (pictured), Built to Spill, and a number of other truly fantastic bands that just happen to be on major labels now. And it also stands to reason that there are some amazing artists I’m not yet aware of who may still, at this moment, be selling homemade tapes from the back of a burned-out van.

Sorry, but they don’t count here because we are talking about 25 classics, straight up. Was it all downhill when the blistering punk power of acts like the Stooges, X, and Wire dissipated? Do you pine for the all-American glory days of ’80s all-stars Hüsker Dü, the Pixies, and the Replacements? Is it the ’90s boom — Sebadoh, Bonnie Prince Billy, Tortoise, Guided By Voices, Yo La Tengo, etc. — that still makes your heart beat beneath your Captain Beefheart t-shirt? Or do you look to Cool Britannia, at names like the Smiths, My Bloody Valentine, PJ Harvey, the Stone Roses, The Cure, Joy Division? Do artists who’ve had major commercial success (R.E.M., Radiohead, Björk, Talking Heads, Nirvana, Pearl Jam) not belong here? We can’t keep the kiddies away either —t hose Shins and Strokes and Arcade Fires and other indie-come-latelies.

Already, my head is a too-full colander of personal favorites: The White Stripes! Dinosaur Jr! Fugazi! Pavement! Elliott Smith! Oh my God, I’m just going to have to shut up. And pass it on to you, readers. Who has the catalogue, the talent, the longevity to belong in a list of only 25 great indie bands?

addCredit(“Flaming Lips: Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage.com”)


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  • Lasurie

    Replacements, Pavement, and the Pixies!

  • RobC

    Aimee Mann – Yes, this singer/songwriter made her debut with the hit “Voices Carry” twenty years ago, but she has shown how an artist can remain independent by changing the way she does business in her later years. It’s unlikely that you’ll see one of her CDs at Wal-Mart or hear her songs on the radio, but this former pop star has crafted some of the finest displays of emotion and has a devoted following. That’s a true indie for you.

  • Paula

    I think that REM is still an indie band, and one of the best, as along with the White Stripes.
    But in this decade I have to say that Death Cab For Cutie.

  • Paula

    I think that REM is still an indie band, and one of the best, as along with the White Stripes.
    But in this decade I have to say that Death Cab For Cutie.

  • Brad in Edmonton

    Put The Pixies firmly at the top of the list. Best. Band. Ever.

  • Scott

    Truly indie Florida band Bernard should definitely be on the list.

  • Rose Tyler

    The Ramones. Not only did they create a genre they worked their tails off for years to get the respect they deserved.

  • Chris

    The Minutemen, The Pixies, Pavement, Uncle Tupelo, and Husker Du are hard to beat.

  • Adam

    There are still a lot of great indie bands out there, The Walk Up, Albert Hammond Jr, Midnight Movies etc. Personally for me, I still consider older indie bands that hit it big (Nirvana, Radiohead) to be indie because kids still have to find them. Of the ones mentioned, I’m going with the Strokes.

  • Anonymous

    ani difranco placebo ben folds five cat power

  • Boze

    Pavement!!!
    X!!! (and the Knitters)
    Replacements!!!

  • Boze

    Pavement!!!
    X!!! (and the Knitters)
    Replacements!!!

  • marilinda

    pixies!
    built to spill!
    tuscadero!
    dinosaur jr!

  • Strepsi

    Great topic, byut you and EW have to do a waaaaaay better job of defining “Indie Band” – is it only punk/alt-rock? Never had a major label success? Really unclear, but WTF i’ll take a stab:
    1) GRATEFUL DEAD
    2) FLAMING LIPS
    3) DEAD KENNEDYS
    4) THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS
    5) THE RAMONES
    6) RADIOHEAD
    7) THIEVERY CORPORATION
    8) R.E.M.
    9) NOMEANSNO
    10) THE SUGARCUBES

    • yazid

      i think babyshambles,OASIS,The libertines,the beatles are the from the best.

  • nycgirllms

    The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Joy Divison, The Cure–They have influenced generations of kids to pick up guitars and put their bad poetry to music. Many of today’s bands–The Klllers, Fall Out Boy, Panic at the Disco, etc.–wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for these legends. End of story.

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