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Detroit Rock City: the 10 best bands from America's rock'n'roll capital

Detroit bands
(Image credit: Future)

There is no city in America - or the world, really - more synonymous with rock'n'roll than Detroit. 

In its boomtown heyday it not only hosted Motown but groundbreaking rock legends like Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent and Bob Seger. All at once. Rock'n'roll is so ingrained in its DNA that even when the city collapsed economically and packs of fucking wild dogs were roaming through its streets, it still managed to birth the White Stripes

The look, sound, and brimstone stench of rock music would be entirely different without Detroit’s sinewy, fearsome influence. It should be praised, celebrated, exalted, enshrined. And here’s why.

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The Stooges

Had they continued playing leaf blowers and vacuum cleaners we mighta shoved them in the post-hippy schizoid noise-rock dustbin with Silver Apples or Simply Saucer but between guitarist Ron Asheton's sudden discovery of scuzzy, gutter-scraping riffs and Iggy Pop's peanut butter smearing, loose chimp stagecraft, punk rock - and our new lives - began. 

Through three incredible albums and countless buckets of blood, they changed rock'n'roll forever. Seriously. You probably wouldn’t have even been born without ‘em. 


MC5

Pseudo-revolutionaries and drug-hoovering felons, MC5 were as much an outlaw gang as a band, but Christ, could they play. Perhaps the most muscular rock n’ roll outfit ever, their music sounds literally like homemade firebombs smashing through plate glass windows and let's face it, every high energy rock band since have been eating their dust. 

They have been the subject of much mythologizing over the ensuing decades but the proof is in the pudding and even after 50 years, Kick Out the Jams will still rip your head clean off your shoulders. 


Alice Cooper

Sensing Motor City's relevance to the cause, the ever-opportunistic Alice dragged his boys from the desert to Detroit at exactly the right time. During their tenure as the city's resident uber-freaks, they managed to create some of the greatest and most audacious shock-rock of all time. Alice would also like to remind you he created punk, glam and metal along the way, and he's at least half right. 


Bob Seger

From his humble beginnings as a garage rocker in the Last Heard to the muscular hard rock of the Bob Seger System and the radio-baiting Silver Bullet Band, Seger ably represented the “regular guy” in rock n’ roll, the working class, blue-collar, beer-guzzling factory worker that just wanted to annihilate their weekend in a blur of revving motors and high-octane rock music. 

There was a time when Seger was on every radio station in America, all the time. Those were good times. 


Suzi Quatro

Although she made her bones (and discovered leather jumpsuits) in London a few years later, rock’s proto-proto-riot grrrl Suzi Quatro was born and raised in Detroit, home of her first sister-rocker bands, the Pleasure Seekers and the harder-rocking Cradle. But even in her career-defining British glitter-rock days, she carried the fire and swagger of Detroit every step of the way. 


The White Stripes

Just when it seemed like the US had ceded garage rock - which we invented - to Scandinavia (and Australia), the White Stripes roared to life and proved Detroit still had the goods. 

The Stripes rocked so hard they didn’t even need a bass player. And let us not forget that they were a stripped-down, primitive, blues-based two-piece dive-bar band that somehow ended up selling millions of records and packing stadiums worldwide. That’s some serious Detroit fortitude right there. 


Ted Nugent

Although his musical legacy has become eclipsed (and, some would say, debased) by his far-right political screeds in the past few decades, no history of Detroit rock'n'roll should omit the Nuge’s wang-danging guitarisms. 

From his stint in the pioneering psychedelic hard rockers Amboy Dukes to his flamboyant solo career, Nuge’s gymnastic, thrusting guitar heroism and enduring fascination with his own sexual prowess paved the way for every 80’s cock-rocker that preened in his wake. 


Gories/Dirtbombs

Beginning in 1986 as shockingly primitive blues-punk skronkers and eventually mutating a decade later as the sweat-slinging soul-shakers the Dirtbombs, guitarist Mick Collins and his liquid gang of collaborators have collectively created some of the greatest garage rock this side of 1965. They also happened to be life-changing live performers. Mick Collins may very well be the living embodiment of Detroit Rock City. 


Grand Funk Railroad

Ok so they were officially from Flint but the Stooges were officially from Ann Arbor, so let’s not split hairs this late in the game. 

There was a point some 40-something years ago when Grand Funk was literally the biggest-selling rock band in America, and whilst they do not carry the same cache of cool as MC5, Frigid Pink, or The Up, they played bone-crunching hard rock that the whole country reverberated to. And We’re An American Band is still one of the greatest songs ever written. 


Everybody Else

In an attempt to not get murdered next time I’m in Detroit, a quick rundown of some of the other crucial players in Detroit Rock history: Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels put the city on the rock'n’roll map in the mid 60’s, and their ‘66 hit Devil With The Blue Dress On is directly responsible for every one of your Boomer uncles with a blues band on the weekend. 

The Detroit Cobras are the greatest cover band of all time. The Electric Six essentially invented dance-punk. Question Mark and the Mysterians (96 Tears) are eccentric and still-active garage rock legends. The Ramrods were Detroit’s answer to punk rock in 1977. Brownsville Station are the dudes responsible for Smokin’ in the Boys Room. Marshall Crenshaw (Someday, Some Way) is a power-pop genius. 

Sponge were one of the better 90’s alt-rock bands. The Laughing Hyenas were astonishingly feral noise rockers. Gritty 70’s folk-rocker Rodriguez had one of the wildest comeback stories ever a decade ago. The first all African-American punk band, Death - another stellar comeback story - were from Detroit. 

And let us not forget that Creem magazine started in Motor City too. I could go on, but you get the idea. It’s a helluva town.