Birmingham may be the UK’s second largest city, but rest assured, the city packs a punch, and rivals any city in the UK when it comes to music.
The bands listed below show that Birmingham is firmly cemented in the musical history books. Known as the birthplace of heavy metal, the city’s musical diversity has led to the creation of other musical genres, including bhangra, British soul, grindcore, Brumbeat and of course, pop. Check out our top 10 choices of musical masters from Birmingham below:
You can’t mention Birmingham with mentioning Black Sabbath. Formed in Birmingham in 1968, singer Ozzy Osbourne, bassist Geezer Butler, guitarist Tony Iommi, and drummer Bill Ward, are credited as the leading pioneers in the development of heavy metal. Their 1970 debut album ‘Black Sabbath’ reached No. 8 in UK charts, and with its mix of high-volume riff-based songs with dark lyrics and often occult subject matter, the album was truly groundbreaking. Their second release ‘Paranoid’hit No. 1 in the UK, and peaked at No. 12 in the US, remaining in the charts for a massive 70 weeks. Sabbath has sold over 75 million albums worldwide, won two Grammy Awards for Best Metal Performance, and was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
Formed in Birmingham in 1969, the band landed commercial success with the 1980 release of their album ‘British Steel’, which UK newspaper The Guardian aptly described as a “record that defines heavy metal”. Along with frontman Rob Halford’s vocal style, and the band’s crunching riffs and uniform of leather and studs, the band set the new look for Heavy Metal, that has since been emulated by bands throughout the world. Priest has sold over 45 million albums to date, received a Grammy Award for ‘Best Metal Performance’ in 2010 and MTV once ranked them as the second greatest metal band of all time.
Purists may think that Led Zeppelin was formed in London in 1968, and to a point, that may be true. That being said, singer Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham were born and bred in the Birmingham area. With the addition of guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones, the band’s heavy, guitar-driven, rooted in blues style rock n roll, earned them recognition as one of the progenitors of heavy metal. Right from the get-go, Led Zeppelin signed a deal with Atlantic Records that afforded them considerable artistic freedom. They are one of the best-selling bands in history with estimated record sales of between 200 to 300 million units worldwide. Each of their nine studio albums placed in the top 10 of the Billboard album chart and six took the number-one spot. Zeppelin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995; the museum’s biography of the band states that they were “as influential” during the 1970s as the Beatles were during the 1960s. We can’t agree more.
Electric Light Orchestra
The Electric Light Orchestra was formed in Birmingham, England in 1970 by songwriters/multi-instrumentalists Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood. The band released eleven studio albums between 1971 and 1986 before singer-songwriter Jeff Lynne called time on the band. Initially, ELO was created as a vehicle to accommodate Roy Wood’s and Jeff Lynne’s desire to create modern rock and pop songs with classical overtones. Roy Wood departed after the band’s debut record, this left Lynne to write, arrange and produced every album from then on. During ELO’s original 14-year period of active recording and touring, the band sold over 50 million records worldwide. From 1972 to 1986, ELO accumulated twenty Top 20 songs on the UK Singles Chart and fifteen Top 20 songs on the US Billboard Hot 100. They also hold the record for having the most Billboard Hot 100 Top 40 hits (20) without a number one single of any band in US chart history. In 2017 ELO were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The Moody Blues
The Moody Blues were formed in Birmingham in 1964. The band first came to prominence playing rhythm and blues. After some early line-up changes, the band settled on a line-up of Mike Pinder, Ray Thomas, Graeme Edge, Justin Hayward, and John Lodge. This version of the band would stay together for most of the band’s “classic era” through the late 1960s to the early 1970s. It was the release of their second album, Days of Future Passed, released in 1967, that established the band as pioneers of art rock and progressive rock. The album has been described as a “landmark” and “one of the first successful concept albums. The band also fused classical music with rock, as heard in their 1967 album Days of Future Passed and paved the way for bands to use orchestras on their recordings. The Moody Blues have sold more than 55 million albums worldwide and have been awarded 18 platinum and gold discs. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.
Traffic was formed in the West Midlands area of England in April 1967. Founder members Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood, and Dave Mason began as a psychedelic rock group whose early singles were influenced by The Beatles. Traffic used a variety of unorthodox instruments such as keyboards like the Mellotron and harpsichord, sitar, and various reed instruments, and took it one step further by incorporating jazz and improvisational techniques into their music. Their first three singles were “Paper Sun“, “Hole in My Shoe“, and “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush“. Traffic disbanded in 1969, Winwood joined Blind Faith, then reunited with the band in 1970 to release the critically acclaimed album John Barleycorn Must Die. Traffic was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
Duran Duran was formed in Birmingham in 1978. The classic line-up of keyboardist Nick Rhodes and bass guitarist John Taylor, with the later addition of drummer Roger Taylor, and after numerous personnel changes, guitarist Andy Taylor and singer Simon Le Bon led the way in the 1980s as pioneers of the UK’s emerging New Romantic scene. The band also led the MTV-driven “Second British Invasion” of the United States. Duran Duran has placed 14 singles in the Top 10 of the UK Singles Chart and 21 in the Billboard Hot 100, and estimates have the band selling more than 120 million records worldwide. The band has also been awarded two Brit Awards including the 2004 award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, two Grammy Awards, an MTV Video Music Award for Lifetime Achievement, and a Video Visionary Award from the MTV Europe Music Awards. They were also awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
UB40 were formed in Birmingham in 1978. Delivering their take on Reggae/pop, the band has had more than 50 singles in the UK Singles Chart, and has cleaned up when it comes to international success. They have been nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album four times, and in 1984 were nominated for the Brit Award for Best British Group. When it comes to album sale they are one of the best-selling bands in the world having sold over 70 million records. Their hit singles include their debut “Food for Thought” and two U.S. Billboard Hot 100 number ones with “Red Red Wine” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love“. UB40 are one of two bands that hold the record for most weeks spent by a group in the UK singles chart during the 1980s, with 214 weeks. The other band is Madness.
Fine Young Cannibals
Fine Young Cannibals were formed in Birmingham, England in 1984, by bassist David Steele, guitarist Andy Cox, and singer Roland Gift. Right from the launch of their self-titled 1985 debut album, the band had two hits: “Johnny Come Home” and a cover of “Suspicious Minds.” They were both top 40 hits in the UK, Canada, Australia as well as many European countries. Their 1989 album, The Raw and the Cooked, topped the UK charts and proved to be the breakthrough for the band in the US. The album spawned two Billboard Hot 100 number ones: “She Drives Me Crazy” and “Good Thing“. In 1990 the band won two Brit Awards: Best British Group, and Best British Album. FYI, their name came from the 1960 film All the Fine Young Cannibals starring Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood.
The Charlatans were formed in the West Midland in 1988. When it comes to the UK, all of the band’s eleven studio albums have charted in the Top 40 in the UK Albums Chart, three of them being number ones. They have also achieved seventeen Top 30 singles, and four Top 10 hits in the UK Singles Chart including: “The Only One I Know” and “One to Another”.