ByNathan Fleischman, writer at
Nathan Fleischman

Here is Part 4 of a list of composers that were the most influential following the Beatles. Parts 1, 2, and 3 had focused on the 1960s to the 1980s. This starts in the late 1980s and goes into the 1990s. These I think would appear in 20th Century Greats were it to continue:

Guns N' Roses

As I said before, an entire band is only listed when every member of the band was involved in the writing of songs. Guns N' Roses is a special case. Each member of the band would write his own songs over the course of the band's history for use by the band. Axl Rose, who is currently the only original member of the band left, has composed some of the band's most iconic songs, such as Welcome to the Jungle and November Rain. The latter uses classical instruments which is very important. Guns N' Roses kept hard rock alive until grunge emerged in the 1990s. That is why the band is on this list.

James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich

James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich are the main songwriters for the heavy metal band Metallica which was a pioneer in thrash metal. In the late 1980s, the punk-influenced thrash metal took the world by storm. Metallica, with its two songwriters, was the most influential of these bands. The style became lighter in 1991 when their eponymous album was released. The songs in the album were written by Hetfield and Ulrich, including Enter Sandman and Nothing Else Matters. Hetfield and Ulrich had brought music back to Earth. That is why they are on this list.

Danny Elfman

Yes, Danny Elfman was the lead singer and songwriter of Oingo Boingo, but it is his film scores that are the reason he makes this list. He composed the scores for most of Tim Burton's films. The most iconic was Batman. This was the most influential superhero film in history as it began the trend toward more serious superhero films that was accelerated by 9/11. Its iconic theme was influenced by Bernard Herrmann's film scores for Alfred Hitchcock films which also influenced Danny Elfman's other scores for Tim Burton films. Danny Elfman even lent his singing voice for The Nightmare Before Christmas for which he wrote all the songs. Danny Elfman scored other films. His film score for the Spider-Man movie is almost as iconic as the film score for Superman by John Williams and his own film score for Batman. It helped complete he trend toward more serious superhero films. Danny Elfman also worked in television, most notably composing the theme for The Simpsons. Danny Elfman makes this list for continuing Bernard Herrmann's work.


R.E.M. was a band in which all the members worked on the music. They started out as an underground rock band. In 1987, they brought alternative rock to the mainstream. Their single, The One I Love, made that possible. Their two subsequent albums, Out of Time and Automatic for the People, helped bring them an international audience. The former included their signature song, Losing My Religion. The song made use of a mandolin. Their music brought alternative rock to the mainstream. That is why they make this list.

Kurt Cobain

When grunge arrived, Kurt Cobain was the star. He was the lead singer and main songwriter of Nirvana which was the premiere band of Generation X. The album that brought Nirvana to popularity was Nevermind with Nirvana's signature song Smells Like Teen Spirit. This brought grunge and the rest of alternative rock to the mainstream. Cobain made music more accessible. The course of music had changed. Sadly, Kurt Cobain committed suicide in 1994. Many bands were influenced by Cobain after his death. That is why he makes this list.

Green Day

The rock band Green Day has been a major influence on punk rock music in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. During the 1990s, the songs with lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong's lyrics helped bring about the development of pop punk. Basket Case is a notable example. The entire band put the music together with lyrics to describe Armstrong's descent into madness at the time. Armstrong recovered. The band experienced a resurgence in the 21st century with American Idiot. This album included many notable Green Day songs including the titular track and Boulevard of Broken Dreams which went beyond punk rock and was more experimental. The album criticized George W. Bush. Green Day influenced worlds of punk and alternative rock. That is why they are on this list.

Mariah Carey

We might not know how old Mariah Carey actually is, but in the 1990s she was a very influential singer-songwriter. Mariah Carey wrote her own songs. Songs like Vision of Love and One Sweet Day certainly made their mark on pop and R&B. Carey even used hip-hop in her music. Her work helped to define the 1990s. Mariah Carey ended up influencing later musicians like Beyoncé, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry. That is why she is on this list.

Dr. Dre

Andre Young, a.k.a. Dr. Dre, is a leading rapper in the United States. Putting him on the list has been difficult as when he was with N.W.A., he did not really write all of the songs for that band. Back then, N.W.A. was the leading hip-hop group, pioneering gangsta rap. The songs were highly controversial, not just for the use of profanity, but also for criticizing certain aspects of society, notably with the song [Bleep] The Police. (Note: Using the f-word is rude, so that is why I wrote that [Bleep] in there.) When that song was released, the FBI had them arrested causing a riot. When Dr. Dre went solo, he released the album The Chronic. In this album, all of his songs were written by himself with Snoop Dogg's help in most of them. All of Dr. Dre's songs dealt with social issues and brought hip-hop to the mainstream, thus making Dr. Dre, the Generation X equivalent of George Gershwin. With hip-hop, there was no need for harmony. Dr. Dre influenced most of the hip-hop artists that came after him. No wonder a movie about his time with N.W.A. was made. That is why he is on this list.

Tupac Shakur

Tupac Shakur was one of the hip-hop artists that Dr. Dre influenced. His adopted last name came from his evil stepfather, Mutulu Shakur, a notorious fugitive. Influenced by his upbringing by members of the Black Panther Party, Tupac eventually came to dominate the West Coast hip-hop scene. His signature album, Me Against the World, is the reason he is on this list. Although firmly in the genre of gangsta rap, the album's songs, all written by Tupac with the help of others, dealt more with Tupac's personal life than with major social issues although they were still important. The album was released one year before Tupac's murder. Me Against the World is the reason Tupac is on this list.

Wu-Tang Clan

One of the most influential hip-hop groups of all time, the Wu-Tang Clan helped revive East Coast hip-hop. Their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), is one of the greatest albums in hip-hop history. It was one of the most important albums of the Golden Age of Hip-hop. The members of the rap group worked together on the songs which had eerie subject matter. The raw sound influenced later hip-hop artists. It also helped to pave the way for the East Coast Renaissance. That is why the Wu-Tang Clan are on this list.

Rage Against the Machine

Rage Against the Machine is a rap metal band that wrote all of there music. They fused rap with heavy metal to create rap metal. The band is also known for liberal politics and conspiracy theories which are reflected in their music, but that is not important. The rap metal band's songs use hip-hop and heavy metal styles from the 1970s. The singing in their songs is from hip-hop which is similar to Arnold Schoenberg's Sprechstimme. The instrumentation is from heavy metal. Together, this would influence the nu-metal genre of the 2000s. That is why Rage Against the Machine is on this list.

Garth Brooks

By incorporating influences from rock music of the 1970s, Troyal Garth Brooks revolutionized country music. Garth Brooks, as he is better known as, did not write all of his songs. Of the songs, that he did write, these songs were influential. One notable example is The Thunder Rolls. The result of a collaboration between Brooks and Pat Alger, the song was highly controversial when it came out. Garth Brooks incorporated rock instruments in the song. This was important as it brought country music into the mainstream and made it popular around the world. The music video for the song dealt with violence in a way that got the music video censored. Despite that, with this song, and with his other songs, Garth Brooks revolutionized country music. That is why he is on this list.

Shania Twain

Speaking of country music, another influential singer-songwriter in that genre was Shania Twain. However, unlike Garth Brooks, Shania Twain saw success as a cross-over artist. Most of her songs were written by Shania herself with help from her then-husband, Mutt Lange. Shania Twain's breakout album, The Woman In Me, marked her debut. With Come On Over, however, Shania Twain wanted to break with the conventional country music formula and explore country pop to its fullest extent. This led to Shania Twain incorporation rock and pop music into her sound. She established the country pop style that influenced later country music acts. That is why Shania Twain is on this list.

Red Hot Chili Peppers

This band actually started in the 1980s, but back then, Red Hot Chili Peppers was not as well known as it is today. They only achieved mainstream popularity in the 1990s. The band made its public debut with their album Blood Sugar Sex Magik which incorporated funk into their alternative rock sound. Eight years later, the band produced their most commercially successful album Californication which was named for one of the songs on the album. The titular song was critical of Hollywood and its culture. Through the songs the band composed, Red Hot Chili Peppers brought alternative rock to the international stage. That is why they make the list.


When alternative rock went international, the British responded with their own style of alternative rock called Britpop. Blur was the band that invented Britpop. All four band members wrote the songs of Blur. Their signature song in England, Parklife, influenced the Britpop genre as a whole. In 1997, with Britpop losing popularity, Blur produced the album Blur which was named after the band itself. One of the songs on that album, Song 2, brought the band to popularity in the US. This song helped influence the development of indie rock. Blur was one of the most influential rock bands of the 1990s. That is why they make the list.

Noel Gallagher

Noel Gallagher was the main songwriter of the Britpop band Oasis. Influenced by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Gallagher wrote songs that were influential in Britain. The signature song of Oasis, Wonderwall, deals with imagination in a way that can be described as creepy. It might remind baby boomers of psychedelic rock. The album the song was released in became the signature Britpop album. Oasis fell apart at the end of the previous decade because of fights between Noel and his brother Liam as well as other reasons. The songs of Noel Gallagher recall the Beatles and were a big influence on the development of indie rock. That is why Gallagher is on this list.

Spice Girls

Probably the only famous teen pop band that wrote their own songs, the Spice Girls were compared to the Beatles, in terms of influence. Their signature song, Wannabe, was emblematic of the Spice Girls philosophy, Girl Power. Not to mention the fact that it includes hip-hop elements. Stop was more influenced by R&B and dance-pop. Like the Beatles, the Spice Girls incorporated elements from earlier styles into their songs and helped influence the development of teen pop. That is why they are on this list.


Radiohead is a band that has gone experimental. They achieved popularity with their album OK Computer. The songs they composed for the album were experimental in nature and influenced by the avant-garde. One of the songs in the album, Paranoid Android, take its name from a character in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This was followed by the release of Kid A and Amnesiac. The songs in these albums incorporated a lot of electronic music which has become standard in popular music. Radiohead influenced later composers. That is why the band is on this list.

Part 5 will feature composers of the 21st century which Radiohead provided an early glimpse of. It will also be the last part of this list.


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