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Oldest Bands In Music: 30 Acts That Defy The Laws Of Age And Time

It’s better to burn out than to fade away… but sometimes a band does neither. After decades on the road, the oldest bands in music history still bring the noise.

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Photos: Andy Vella (The Cure), Capitol Records (The Beach Boys), Rick Guest (The Who), courtesy of the artist (Def Leppard, The Rolling Stones)

It’s better to burn out than to fade away – or so said Neil Young. But, once in a while, a band does neither. This list of the 30 oldest bands in music celebrates the groups who have become a part of our cultural fabric: they’ve weathered the storms together, survived changing trends and proven that they’ve got what it takes to keep a loyal fanbase coming back for more, decade after decade.

Think we’ve missed anyone that deserves recognition? Let us know in the comments section, below.

Oldest Bands In Music: 30 Acts That Defy The Laws Of Age And Time

30: The Radiators

Anyone who’s been to New Orleans since 1978 should know this band. The Radiators have ruled the famed juke joint Tipitina’s and the city’s legendary Jazz Fest, all while making only one personnel change: adding and subtracting a percussionist. Though they called it quits in 2010, they’ve performed live every year since then, and continue to be one of the longest-running groups.
Year formed: 1978

29: Def Leppard

UK hard rock legends Def Leppard deserve inclusion on this list for perseverance alone, having survived two tragedies – the loss of guitarist Steve Clark, and of drummer Rock Allen’s arm – at the height of their fame. For all that they’ve accomplished over the years, they’ve had almost no change in personnel in 40 years, with no living member leaving since guitarist Pete Willis, in 1982.
Year formed: 1977

28: U2

Always a close-knit brotherhood, U2 haven’t experienced a personnel change since 1978. The core line-up was solidified that year when The Edge’s brother Dik Evans realised the band didn’t need a rhythm guitarist and walked offstage during a show.
Year formed: 1976

27: Madness

The ska-pop veterans of North London are still going strong since releasing the smash single ‘One Step Beyond’, and accompanying album, back in 1979. The original six-member outfit (dancer Chas Smash, now departed, joined afterward) remains intact and continues to be one of the oldest bands British music has ever known.
Year formed: 1976

26: The Cure

Robert Smith’s crew have probably had the most personnel changes of any bands on this list, but The Cure is arguably about a spirit – a dark and mysterious spirit, of course – more than a line-up. So it makes sense that Smith and the current line-up, which has actually has two-thirds of the original group since bassist Simon Gallup returned, recently celebrated the band’s 40th anniversary by playing songs from their entire history.
Year formed: 1976

25: Aerosmith

All five members who formed Aerosmith in 1970 are still rocking, which would make them kings of the hill. Only trouble is the five-year 70s-80s stretch when guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford took a flyer. By now, however, they’ve probably forgotten they were ever gone.
Year formed: 1970

24: ZZ Top

That little ol’ band from Texas has maintained the same line-up together for just under a half-century, with nobody ever coming or going. Yes, Billy Gibbons made the first ZZ Top single with two different guys, but the Gibbons/Hill/Beard trio has been in place since 1970. That’s enough to make ZZ Top the longest-running group with an unchanged line-up in the entire history of popular music. There’s got to be magic in those beards.
Year formed: 1969

23: Little Feat

When Little Feat resumed touring in 1987, after a break prompted by founder Lowell George’s death, they promised onstage that it wouldn’t be “one of those jive, once-around-the-block reunions”. They weren’t kidding: they’ve since lost drummer Richie Hayward, but the four survivors of the Dixie Chicken line-up are still all aboard and remain one of the longest-running groups.
Year formed: 1969

22: Rush

Though they didn’t set any longevity records, 44 years together is no slouch, with the familiar Rush trio of Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee and latecomer drummer Neil Peart remaining stable from 1974-2018. By the time they wound it down, Rush’s musical synchrony was unmatchable.
Year formed: 1968

21: Deep Purple

The most durable of British hard-rock bands, Deep Purple still includes three-fifths of the group that recorded ‘Smoke On The Water’ in 1971. And let’s hear it for Ian Paice, who’s not only an underrated drummer, but the one Purple member who’s been in every line-up. If you see the band on their current tour – a “goodbye” tour, though they’ll be back in the studio afterward – expect it to close with ‘Hush’, the hit that started it all in 1968.
Year formed: 1968

20: Parliament/Funkadelic

Whatever George Clinton calls it, or whoever’s in the line-up, the funky spirit of this band – which technically began as The Parliaments, back in the 50s – is eternal; and that even counts for the hip-hop experiments on the last few releases. P-Funk’s future’s in doubt now that Clinton’s retiring, but there will still be a Mothership somewhere in the universe
Year formed: 1968

19: Van Der Graaf Generator

Prog bands are notorious for their personnel turnover; Yes and King Crimson are a genealogist’s nightmare. But the line-up of Van Der Graaf Generator that recently toured and recorded in 2016 – featuring the core of the late-60s band, including Peter Hammill, Hugh Banton and Guy Evans –proved to be more intense than ever.
Year formed: 1967

18: Fairport Convention

England’s first great folk-rock band was always more than the sum of its parts, and the changes started early. Their 1968 debut and 1973’s Rosie album were made by entirely different line-ups, yet each is quintessentially Fairport. After 50 years, they play on with long-returned founder Simon Nicol and early joiner Dave Pegg.
Year formed: 1967

17: Chicago

Given their endless personnel changes, you wouldn’t expect to find Chicago among the list of longest-running groups. But as of 2019, four of the seven founders – Robert Lamm and the three horn players – are still officially in the band, even though the horn men have lately been using subs onstage.
Year formed: 1967

16: The Monkees

For a band entirely manufactured for TV, the longevity of The Monkees is remarkable. Their original line-up, consisting of Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork and English actor/singer Davy Jones, starred as a 60s pop-rock band on the NBC sitcom The Monkees (1966-68). After their 60s heyday – and an 80s revival – the band still somewhat persists, with surviving members Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith reuniting for occasion tours featuring the music of The Monkees.
Year formed: 1966

15: Vanilla Fudge

The band that arguably invented heavy metal, and definitely made one of the weirdest concept albums of all time (The Beat Goes On), is still at it despite a few breaks over the years. Presently, only retired bassist Tim Bogert is missing from the 1967 line-up.
Year formed: 1965

14: The Cowsills

Siblings can’t break up (though, sadly, three of The Cowsills have passed). The Cowsills still consist of Bob, Paul and Susan doing the vintage harmonies (while brother John is an honourary Beach Boy, providing vocals and drums with Mike Love and Bruce Johnston’s touring band), making them a real breath of fresh air on the 60s revival circuit.
Year formed: 1965

13: The Who

Since their original formation in 1964, The Who have taken breaks from the road, gone solo, and suffered tragedy, and yet all of the surviving original members are still in the group. They also deserve a special merit prize among the oldest groups, for lasting the longest after their official “farewell tour”, which was back in 1982. Their 2019 album, WHO, is, however, looking like their last.
Year formed: 1964

12: Neil Young And Crazy Horse

Neil Young And Crazy Horse have never broken up, but they have taken a few extended breaks in the barn. The core of Neil Young, Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina has been in place since 1969, with the fourth position being held by the late Danny Whitten, the retired Frank Sampedro and, currently, Nils Lofgren.
Year formed: 1963

11: The Dixie Cups

New Orleans’ contribution to the “girl group” era gave the world the classic ‘Chapel Of Love’. Two of the three original members (sisters Barbara and Rosa Lee Hawkins) still perform regularly, while the third slot is now taken by Athelgra Neville, whose brothers are equally legendary down in Crescent City.
Year formed: 1963

10: The Beach Boys

Life without The Beach Boys is too sad to imagine, but since 1962 we haven’t had to. Through all their complex history there’s always been a version of the group on the road, and currently you have your choice of two: Mike Love has the official Beach Boys, with longtime cohort Bruce Johnston, while Brian Wilson’s solo band features two original bandmates, himself and Al Jardine.
Year formed: 1962

9: The Rolling Stones

Rock immortals in more ways than one, The Rolling Stones are remarkably durable for a band that’s lived so hard. Three of the six members (including the late Ian Stewart) who formed the band in 1962 are still there, and even new guy Darryl Jones has a quarter-century to his credit.
Year formed: 1962

8: Golden Earring

‘Twilight Zone’ and then some: this Dutch quartet are the true Methuselahs of rock. The two founders, bassist Rinus Gerritsen and guitarist George Kooymans, started way back in 1961, while singer Barry Hay joined in 1967 and drummer Cesar Zuiderwijk came aboard in 1970. Other players have come and gone, but no quartet can match the longevity of Earring’s core four.
Year formed: 1961

7: The Zombies

They’ve had some long breaks, but the same band that cut 1968’s beloved Odessey & Oracle album (minus only the late guitarist Paul Atkinson) is still performing it in 2019 – and sounding better than ever, thanks to the golden-voiced Colin Blunstone.
Year formed: 1961

6: Jay And The Americans

Largely intact pre-Beatles groups get scarcer every year, but this vocal group has only had seven different members (including three Jays) in its 60-year history. You can still see three quarters of the group that recorded the 1963 classic ‘Come A Little Bit Closer’.
Year formed: 1960

5: The O’Jays

Formed in 1958 (with two originals still remaining), R&B stalwarts The O’Jays were already veterans when they hit in the 70s with ‘Back Stabbers’ and ‘Love Train’. They’re currently on a farewell tour, so catch them while you can.
Year formed: 1958

4: Four Tops

Nobody ever quit Motown quartet Four Tops, which maintained the same line-up for an amazing 44 years, beginning in 1953. Three of the founders have since passed, but the group is alive with sole original Duke Fakir.
Year formed: 1953

3: The Dells

Vocal aficionados love this Chicago group, which represented soul harmony at its smoothest and kept the same five-man line-up for an amazing 49 years, beginning in 1960. Only the death of singer Johnny Carter kept them from hitting a half-century intact as one of the oldest bands.
Year formed: 1945

2: The Oak Ridge Boys

Forget The Beach Boys and their contemporaries: out of America’s longest-running groups is a country quartet with precious little crossover success since the 80s ‘Elvira’ days. The Oak Ridge Boys formed in 1947 and the current line-up, which still records and tours, has remained unchanged since 1973.
Year formed: 1945

1: The Blind Boys Of Alabama

Most of the original members of this classic gospel group are deceased, but surviving original Jimmy Carter, who gives his age as “a few years past 50”, has been performing with The Blind Boys Of Alabama since 1939. Go and top that.
Year formed: 1939

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20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Bob Miller

    November 21, 2019 at 11:42 am

    Where are The Beatles, Hendrix and the Eagles?

    • Donna

      November 22, 2019 at 9:15 pm

      Um, Hendrix is dead! The Beatles disbanded back in the 70’s. This list is about the oldest bands who STILL play concert dates.

  2. Bob miller

    November 21, 2019 at 11:49 am

    There are more bands that survive the test of time… most of them dont record anymore either because a member or two have passed away to that Big Gig in the sky or they simply want to live another kind of life… Like the 3 I mentioned earlier
    I’m sure you can add to this list. Pink Floyd. Et al…..

  3. Jackie

    November 21, 2019 at 4:02 pm

    The Moody Blues!

  4. John

    November 21, 2019 at 9:02 pm

    Kansas – formed in the early 70s and still performing – with two of the original members and two others that joined the band in the 80s. Not only are they still performing – they’re still recording. Their album “Prelude Implicit” from 2017 was amazing, and they’re looking to release another full album next spring – all while touring and performing some of their iconic albums from the 70s – in their entirety.

  5. Michael

    November 22, 2019 at 1:30 am

    Umm, has this writer ever heard of the band America??!! They’ve been together for 50 years and still touring actively. Plus they have tons more hits than many of these bands.

  6. Jimmy

    November 22, 2019 at 4:33 am

    Blue Oyster Cult still touring. Also recording a new album. Formed in late 60’s

    • Jay Roberts

      November 23, 2019 at 1:55 pm

      Hot Rails to Hull lists over 4,000 shows for the oyster boys, although it’s been Eric and Buck for many moons now. Would like to see them get in the RRHOF.

  7. Steve

    November 22, 2019 at 3:42 pm

    Since you’re including currently active bands that have had long hiatuses or breakups between reformations, you could include Yes, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Styx, and The Moody Blues. Also, what about the Ventures? Are they still active?

  8. Tom Semioli

    November 22, 2019 at 7:43 pm

    Graham Parker & The Rumour (1975)

  9. Donna

    November 22, 2019 at 9:17 pm

    Lynryd Skynryd . . . . . . . . . . . .

  10. Donna M

    November 22, 2019 at 9:18 pm

    It was Def Leppard that sang “It’s better to burn out than fade away”

  11. Donna M

    November 22, 2019 at 9:42 pm

    Missed anyone that deserves recognition? Um, HELL YEA! Lynryd Skynyrd, 38 Special, BoDeans, Allman Brothers, Jefferson Airplane – Jefferson Starship – Starship, Fleetwood Mac, Genya Ravan (well maybe she doesn’t count since she was actually in 2 different bands in the 60’s and 70’s), AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Bad Company, Ry Cooder, Doobie Brothers, Santana, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel (he’s been active since ’64!!) B.B.King (active from 1949-2014, died in 2015), Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniels, David Allan Coe, I could go on and on.

  12. Donna M

    November 23, 2019 at 1:34 am

    BOB DYLAN

  13. Sandra

    November 23, 2019 at 5:26 am

    Seriously…. Fleetwood Mac!

  14. Scott O'Brien

    November 23, 2019 at 9:27 pm

    Where the hell is Todd Rundgren’s Utopia ? !!!

  15. Tom

    November 24, 2019 at 4:15 pm

    The Hollies – having toured every year since 1963!

  16. Bastiaan

    November 25, 2019 at 2:12 pm

    Where’s Wishbone Ash?

  17. Bastiaan

    November 25, 2019 at 2:14 pm

    I miss Wishbone Ash here…

  18. FM Fats

    November 26, 2019 at 7:32 pm

    Paul Barrere of Little Feat recently passed.

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