The projects you’ve started in your garage usually involve the following: changing the oil in your car, building a birdhouse from scratch, or, if you’re really looking to kick the fun up a notch, sanding down and refinishing furniture. Oh, the glory.
Luckily for humanity, other young souls have opted to put their garages to use for more creative purposes outside of refreshing the family boudoir with cherry varnish. Throughout the musical history of garages, which consists of many tens of thousands of failed musical experiments, there have been a handful of aspirational teenage phenoms that have gone on to change the world of music. And their humble beginnings were birthed in ordinary garages just like yours and mine. Let’s take a look at some of our favorite garage rock bands.
This insanely popular quartet was formed as a garage band in 1992 by frontman Rivers Cuomo in Los Angeles. Deriving the name “Weezer” from the nickname bestowed upon Cuomo by his father, the alt rockers practiced and progressed, blending the sound of The Beach Boys with power pop, indie rock, and pop punk to develop their own sound.
The final ingredient was a powerful sense of melody by writer, producer, and frontman Rivers Cuomo, a skill not lost on Geffen records, to which Weezer signed in 1993. Their first album resonated with listeners, especially the hit song “Buddy Holly”, and captured fans around the world as they shot up the charts to platinum status. Weezer, which is still active today, has sold 17 million records around the world.
Legendary American rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival formed in the middle of the 60s. By the end of the decade, it was well on its way to superstardom, releasing a litany of successful records in the late 60s and early 70s. Due to the band’s bluesy, roots rock, and swamp rock sound, many assumed that CCR’s origins lay somewhere in the American south; however, the band actually hailed from sunny and progressive San Francisco.
The band moved through several musical formulas, but CCR truly spread its wings when John Fogerty assumed creative control as lead singer, writer, and guitarist. Fogerty propelled the band forward through his creative vision, lending his talent to production and songwriting, which focused on hot political and cultural issues. The formula was a success, to the tune of nearly 30 million albums sold in the US alone.
Unfortunately, the band endured its fair share of drama while cycling through multiple lineups. Despite the great success and world tours, relationships began to decline in the early 70s. The once thriving band devolved into bitter feuds and court cases despite earning Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors and being regarded as one of the best rock bands of all time. Starting in the garage is easy, creating art with a group and handling the rigors of success, not so much.
The Who, the English rock band that currently resides at number 29 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s “100 Greatest Artists”, formed in 1964. The founding members of the band met in grammar school in Acton, a borough in London. The band hit its musical stride in the late 60s and at its height rivaled the Rolling Stones as a force of music. The Who was famous for its live shows, which included the occasional on-stage destruction of guitars, a signature of the band’s live performance. One of the pioneers of arena/anthem rock, The Who has sold a whopping 100 million albums worldwide.
The Ramones launched out of a humble garage in Forest Hills Queens in the mid-60s, grinding in obscurity for several years before officially taking shape in the mid-70s. Their first record, released in 1976 and entitled “Ramones”, was immediately hailed by critics despite the lack of commercial success. The US was slow to catch on, but it was in the UK that the band’s success grew astronomically. The Ramones eventually became a part of the dynamite the helped the UK punk rock scene explode throughout the world of music.
Nirvana, a band that some say changed the course of music, helped spill the raw and emotional sound of Seattle grunge onto the word. Founded in 1987, the band released its first album in 1989 and experienced its initial success through college radio stations. An appearance at the 1992 MTV Music Video Awards catapulted them into living rooms around the world and propelled a career that included world tours and over 75 million records sold. Their short-lived career—just three full albums and seven short years—ended prematurely by the tragedy of frontman Kurt Cobain’s suicide. To this day, Nirvana is one of the most beloved bands of all time. Nirvana released a number of world-renowned hits: “Come As You Are”, “You Know You’re Right,” and of course, the 90s mega-hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Paul Revere & The Raiders
Paul Revere & The Raiders began with organist and founder Paul Revere in Boise Idaho. Considered one of the contributing pioneers of the punk sound, the band created success in the late 60s and early 70s, active years filled with charting albums, singles, and world tours.
PR&R is best known for the song “Kicks”, an anti-drug anthem penned about the writers’ friend and his ongoing drug problem. The band had a long rock and roll history, filled with the typical rock band drama involving lineup changes, sound changes, and breakups due to creative differences. The group is often described by some as a flame that burned out too quickly—massive success early on fanned out in the early seventies and the band that once played arenas were toward their end playing county fairs.
The Kinks, the iconic and highly influential British band, was formed in 1963 by brothers Ray and Dave Davies in Muswell Hill, North London. Influenced themselves by R&B, folk, and country music, the band burst onto the British rock scene and opened the “garage” door to their success with a cover of Little Richard’s famed “Long Tall Sally”.
What set The Kinks apart was that it embodied and reflected British culture more than other contemporary bands, an aspect that helped The Kinks eventually go on to smash charts in both the US and UK.
The Kinks achieved International success with seventeen Top 20 singles, five Top 10 albums, four gold albums, and over 50 million records sold worldwide. Its success helped spearhead the British Invasion into the US, along with mega acts like the Beatles.
But its legacy came not just from commercial success, but also from the influence it had upon many American genres and bands of the 60s, particularly on garage rock through their hit “You Really Got Me”.
One of longest tenures of any of the bands on our list, The Kinks made music for nearly three decades through various lineup changes and intermittent breaks in between. When it was said and done, the band achieved commercial success, garnered international fame, and became a dominating influence on punk rock, heavy metal, and psychedelic music acts.
Even in our modern era of autonomous cars and AI that orders pizza, there are still plenty of aspiring teenagers gathering eagerly in their parents’ garages, hoping to turn sappy songs and rough chords into success and superstardom. And, after reading this, we hope that aggravated parents who have been assaulted by countless hours of terrible songs, errant notes, and pitchy singing will think twice about stomping over and shutting down the practice session taking place in their garage. You never know, you could be derailing the next Nirvana.