19. Athens, Georgia, USA


An important city in the development of America’s alternative rock and new wave movements,  the college town of Athens, Georgia is certainly worthy of a place on this list.

In the early 20th century it was a regular touring spot for African American performers, but it is the late 1970s and early 1980s that Athens was really put on the map as a significant musical city.

The B-52s and Pylon started to earn widespread recognition for their catchy new-wave sound and jangle-pop sounds respectively, before R.E.M. surpassed them both with a series of highly acclaimed albums and singles.  The Michael Stipe-led band’s anthemic but lyrically cryptic songs made a strong impression on critics and fans alike, and their D.I.Y. ethics sparked a “back to the garage” movement in the USA which ultimately led to the rise of the alternative rock movement.

R.E.M. went from 1980s indie darlings to world stars in the 1990s, before splitting amicably in 2011. Nonetheless, several of their albums, such as Murmur, Reckoning and Automatic For The People are now recognised as unimpeachable classics in the rock canon by most critics.

Since the 1980s heyday, Athens became home to a wide range of bands and like-minded artists. The mysterious Elephant 6 Collective based themselves here for some time in the 1990s, and the bands which included Neutral Milk Hotel, The Olivia Tremor Control and Of Montreal made some highly impressive psychedelia during that period. More recently, the alt-country band the Drive-By-Truckers and indie rockers The Whigs have made their mark on audiences.

Athens also boasts the Athfest annual music festival, which features lots of local and touring bands, and the popular college radio station WUOG rules the airwaves here. Venues such as The 40 Watt and Georgia Theatre have become celebrated landmarks in the Southern American music scene.

Associated acts: R.E.M., The B-52s, Pylon, Widespread Panic, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Olivia Tremor Control, Of Montreal, The Apples In Stereo, Danger Mouse, Drive-By Truckers, 

Landmarks: Georgia Theatre, The 40 Watt Club