I happen to have a great appreciation for melodic music from classical to industrial (thus leaving out most country and rap music), but I have a personal preference for alternative rock and electronic/dance music since that is mostly what was less popular (thus cool) when I was growing up.  Here are some of my favorite bands by decade and genre.  Maybe there will be one or two bands here that you don’t recognize and are inclined to find a song or two to listen to.

1980s

10,000 Maniacs – this is the band where we first heard of Natalie Merchant and her voice which you either loved or hated with a passion.  I liked it however.

Alphaville – it seems most people only knew these guys for their admittedly sappy song “Forever Young”, but anyone who really listened to them, knows that these guys really had some talent for creating beautiful, fun, and upbeat songs.

The B-52s – these guys just made really great fun, party music that was so different from everything else.  Great female harmonies with Fred’s crazy voice mixed throughout.

Bauhaus – who doesn’t at least recognize the influence of this band on some smaller segment of the population to latch onto dark and moody music for the rest of their lives.  I loved the original sound this band created, but I admit I can also only take so much before I have to then turn on something a little less depressing and seemingly serious.

Berlin – this band created some classic danceable 80s songs like “the metro” and “no more words”, beyond “take my breath away”.

The Bolshoi – this band is a bit obscure, but they produced some great songs, including their one alternative hit “away”.  Sadly, they didn’t survive beyond the 80s.

Book of Love – I really liked this band in the 80s.  They made some very nice, danceable songs.

Bronski Beat – this band was one of my favorites.  Very cool techno rhythms.  Very fun.

The Clash – these guys were very influential during the 80s since they really understood the need to make punk a little more mainstream and accessible to those of us who didn’t quite understand what there was to be so angry about (yeah, spoiled american kids).

The Cure – these guys were the epitomy of the new wave movement in the 80s.  A bit dark but also a bit light.  And they kept putting out hit after hit.  Very talented – one of my all time favorites.

The Cult – I always thought of this band as the Rolling Stones of the 80s.  They had a very cool sound that was intentionally a bit rougher and tougher than much of the lighter music of the decade.

Dead or Alive – these guys made the classic “you spin me round” song that was a big hit in the 80s and which you wanted to dance to all the time.

Depeche Mode – this band created so many great techno songs that were dark and dreary but which you couldn’t stop listening to.  Amazing band that kept going strong in the 90s.

Devo – these guys really made their mark in the 80s by looking as weird as their music sounded, which made their music all the more fun to dance to.

Duran Duran/Arcadia – this band just made great song after great song that were a good mix of techno and rock.

Echo and the Bunnymen – these guys were just cool.  Great music.

The English Beat – the 80s brought bands that mixed punk with reggae to create ska and it was good.  One of my all time favorites.

Erasure – these guys really created some the best techno songs ever made in the 80s.  If you liked to dance, you loved this band.

Front 242 – this was one of the earlier bands that turned people on to the industrial genre.  Very cool – I loved the rhythms and the fact that it felt like a more manly and tough techno than many of the popular techno pop bands of the 80s put out (boy george and wham and erasure for example).

Fuzzbox – this band is fairly obscure and never did go mainstream, which I was really bummed about.  It was an all girl, british punk band that used a fuzzbox as their gimic, but which created some of my all time favorite punk songs of the 80s.

Go-Go’s – this band on the other hand was very mainstream and created some great catchy hits for the 80s that were just fun.

Haircut 100 – a somewhat lesser known band of the 80s that was really talented but which didn’t do well enough to endure the test of time.

Hoodoo Gurus – fun rock band.  Very cool songs.

The Housemartins – this band had a very original sound, being one of the first to introduce a little British folk influence in their music for those of us who weren’t very familiar with that sound.  Beautiful melodies with catchy lyrics.

Indigo Girls – beautiful harmonies over acoustic guitar.  These girls really helped make folksy rock a bit more mainstream.

INXS – this band had a lot of great rock songs that I just loved listening to.

Jane’s Addiction – these guys really created some great songs that were a little edgier than what most were used to hearing in the 80s.  A little ahead of their time I would say.  One of the bands that I really didn’t appreciate as much I should have during their heyday as I did later on in life.

Joy Division – basically a moody electronic/techno band that was the precursor to New Order.

Love and Rockets – I loved this band’s darker rock and roll.

Madonna – Madonna put out some really good songs in her career, most of which were fairly danceable and fun.

Ministry – this band was considered to be on the hard core side of the industrial music genre.  Very cool rhythms with a bit of an edge.

New Order – just great dance music with a little bit of gloom to it.  These guys are one of my all time favorites for all the good songs they put out over the years.

The Ocean Blue – not well known, but one of my favorites.  Really beautiful melodies.  Just nice songs to listen to.

Oingo Boingo – most people know this band for its lead singer, Danny Elfman, who went on to have an even bigger career as a creator of movie music (mostly of course for cartoons and films with a dark side).  It is more obvious now that the band was so good because of his musical talent.  Fun rhythms; fun songs.

Pet Shop Boys – this band created a lot of really good dance music.

The Pixies – this band created some really different songs that appealed to many.

REM – I don’t know that everyone enjoyed this band’s southern US influenced rock, but I did.  They created so many great songs that were just catchy and good.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – when I first heard some of this band’s music, I think I liked it only because it was so different, blending a bit of punk rock with a sort of rap.  Their early stuff was a bit rough, but that was considered cool at the time by those of us who liked skate punk, as it was known in the 80s.  These guys really proved they could create increasingly better music over time.

Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians – a really different band that put out some really interesting music.  I liked this band too because it dared to be different.

Siouxsie and the Banshees – I love this band.  So very cool and interesting.

The Smiths – these guys put out some of the best songs I have ever heard, blending a dark, broody vocal sound with great guitar rifts and rhythms.  Really talented and one of my all time favorite bands.

The Smithereens – just a good all around rock and roll band.

Soft Cell/Marc Almond – super cool electronic/dance music band.  Everyone knows their big mainstream hit “tainted love” but few know of their edgy side with undergound dance hall hits like “sex dwarf” (didn’t hear this on the radio?  weird).  These guys were good and a little naughty.

The Specials – these guys were the original and most famous ska band in the 80s.  Amazing rhythms and songs that we had never heard of before.  Really fun.

The Sugarcubes – cool rock from a cool place (Iceland).  This is where Bjork got her name out in the world.

Talking Heads – wacky songs but a perfect fit for the 80s.  Really talented group.

Tears for Fears – created some classic songs well loved by the new wavers in the 80s and at least recognized by others from their use in some of John Hughes’ films.

Thompson Twins – very cool music.  Great dance songs.

Tones on Tail – Daniel Ash from Love and Rockets took a little time off from that band to make some fun songs under a different moniker.

U2 – who doesn’t know this band now?  But in the 80s, they were just going mainstream and it was cool to have loved their early music before they became more well known.

Violent Femmes – these guys really struck a chord with the alternative crowd by introducing some fun sort of folk meets punk type songs.  Very cool and very fun.

Ultravox – these guys really perfected the electronic genre in the 80s.  They made some really good, but moody, dance songs.

Underworld – this band created some good dance songs as well.  Didn’t have a huge impact, but I really liked what they did.

Wham! – these guys were pop and mainstream but they were different and put out some really danceable and melodic songs.

Yaz/Yazoo – in the early 80s, this band was it as far as electronic music went.  So many very cool songs.

 

1990s

At the drive in – this band blew me away when I heard them.  They were a bit edgy and that’s probably what kept them from going mainstream, but they were so talented.  Very cool music.

Blur – a band that epitomized the british, 60s inspired rock that was very popular in the 90s because it was a little different than the current generation was familiar with.

Bush – this band put out some great rock and roll songs.

Catherine Wheel – just a cool band with cool songs.

Cocteau Twins – not well known in the mainstream.  You could understand very few of the song lyrics, but the melodies were amazing.  Also, this was a little softer sound that was just great to listen to.  Very talented group.

Deee-lite – very funky electronic group that was just a lot of fun.

Garbage – cool music.

Happy Mondays – very cool and fun music.

Harvey Danger – really fun rock with clever lyrics.

Hole – a little rough around the edges, but created some really good rock songs.

The Lightning Seeds – amazing one man band with melodic electronic songs.

Luscious Jackson – cool all girl band.

Maktub – very funky band.

Moby – really cool electronic music.

Morrissey – lead singer of the Smiths continued to make great sounding dreary rock.  Very cool.

Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – very original rock.

NIN – who doesn’t know of nine inch nails now?  Trent Reznor really made an impact on industrial music when he arrived on the scene.  Amazing songs.

Nitzer Ebb – another very cool industrial band out of Germany no less (they really embraced this genre).

Nirvana – grunge rock icons.  Very cool music, unfortunately a bit over played in Seattle, but still an original legend.

No Doubt – a little bit ska, a little bit rock and roll.  These guys made really fun songs.

Oasis – following the 60s inspired rock theme, these guys were even from England, so their sound just made sense.  Best band in the world?  Hardly, but they rock.

Orgy – these guys really made some cool industrial type rock and had a cool glam rock image.  Unfortunately I think this made them seem a bit gimicky and thus they weren’t heard from much after the 90s.  Unfortunate, because they really did have talent.

The Origin – this band made some really nice sounding rock songs.  Not too hard, not too soft.  Just right.

PIL – John Lyden went on to be the front man of an electronic band in the 90s that was pretty cool.  His voice made the music just that much different.

PJ Harvey – very cool lady with some different rock music.

Placebo – this band made some very cool alternative rock music.

Porno for Pyros – this was a short lived effort by Jane’s Addiction front man, Perry Farrell, but pretty cool.

Prick – this is a lesser known industrial band, helped by Trent Reznor.  This band made some very cool songs.  Some of my favorite.  Gotta like the name too, although it is probably what kept it from getting much air play in the 90s.

The Primitives – cool band from the UK.

Prodigy – very cool songs, a bit industrial, but mostly just different.

Radiohead – this is one of my most favorite bands.  These guys make some of the most interesting songs.  Very talented.

Rage Against the Machine – made some great original rock songs that really inspire you to take on a cause.

Seal – Seal is just cool – very talented.

The Smashing Pumpkins – one of my other most favorite bands.  So many good songs.

Stereo MCs – funky electronic music.

Sunny Day Real Estate – amazing band.  Very cool songs.

Throwing Muses – cool rock and roll.

Toad the Wet Sprocket – nice rock music.

The Tragically Hip – interesting, different rock and roll from Canada.

 

2000s

Arcade Fire – cool band from Canada.  Slightly different alt rock.

Benny Benassi – created lots of cool electronic/dance songs.

Bloc Party – cool band out of England.

The Bravery – good alternative rock music with songs that herald back to New Order.

Coldplay – just really great melodic songs.

Death Cab for Cutie – nice, dark alt rock.  Local for me too.

Dido – this lady has such a great voice.  Amazing songs too.

The Editors – yeah, they lead singer is a little eccentric, but the music is very cool.

Florence and the Machine – amazing vocal harmonies

Foo Fighters – Dave Grohl kept on rockin’ as lead singer and guitarist of his own band.  Awesome.

Hanzel und Gretyl – love these guys.  A small industrial band from where else, Germany.  Just a fun stage presence and great music.

The Hives – straight up good alt rock.

IO Echo – this is a lesser known alt rock band that is super cool.  If you’ve never heard of these guys, look them up and have a listen.

James Blunt – this guy is just amazing.  Very cool songs with beautiful vocals.

The Killers – fun rock band out of Vegas no less.

Ladytron – this is one of my all time favorite bands.  They created so many cool electronic/dance songs.  Check them out now if you haven’t heard of them.

Metric – a cool band out of Canada with a great female lead singer.

MGMT – cool mix of eclectic sounds.

Muse – really good alternative rock and roll.

Paloalto – these guys have a softer sound, but the music is amazing.  So nice to listen to.

Paul Oakenfold – cool electronic/dance songs.

Paul Van Dyk – also very cool electronic/dance songs.

Pete Yorn – a bit folksy, but very cool music.  Great sound.

She Wants Revenge – very cool rock.  A little dark like their name suggests.

Silversun Pickups – really great band for guys so young.  Cool songs.

Snow Patrol – a little on the softer side, but cool music.

Vampire Weekend – I love this band’s youth and different perspective on rock/pop music, mixing in a little more artistry and orchestral elements.

Weezer – good alt rock songs.

The White Stripes – Jack White’s first mainstream rock band was simple and a little rough around the edges, but totally cool.  You felt like you were discovering the rolling stones for the first time, except when they were already rocking hard in the 70s and not still putting out nice pop hits in the 60s.  I also think the cool guitar riffs were inspired a bit by Jimmy Hendrix, although wasn’t every current musician.

The XX – newer band, but a very cool, brooding sound.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – I love this band.  Really simple but really amazing songs.  Cool name too.

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