13 Of The Greatest And Most Famous British Rock Bands Of The 1970s

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

The 1970s was a golden age for rock music, and Britain was at the forefront of the movement. From the iconic sounds of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd to the rebellious spirit of the Sex Pistols and the Clash, British rock bands dominated the music scene and helped to define the genre.

In this blog post, we’ll look at 13 of the greatest and most famous British rock bands of the 1970s, exploring their history, music, and lasting legacies. Let’s get started!

1. The Beatles

While the Beatles started in the early 1960s, their influence continued until the band’s end in 1970. That year, the group released their final album: Let It Be

It’s considered among the band’s most accomplished albums. After years of turmoil, Paul McCartney was convinced that a back-to-basics approach to this album would cure the band’s woes. Unfortunately, it was not the case. Still, Let It Be’s title song and several other tracks were strong hits during the decade.

Despite lasting only a decade, the Beatles is one of the best-selling music groups, with sales of over 600 million all over the world. In 1998, they were added to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and for two inconsecutive years (2004 and 2011), they topped Rolling Stone‘s Greatest Artist in History list.

2. The Rolling Stones

Founded in the 1960s, the Rolling Stones battled the Beatles as the most popular British rock band. However, many say it’s clear they won the war, considering they outlasted the group by decades.

The group started in 1962, just two years after the Beatles, consisting initially of Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts. By the time the seventies rolled in, they were a household name.

The Stones released five albums during the ’70s, including Sticky Fingers in 1971, Exile on Main Street in 1972, Goats Head Soup in 1973, Black and Blue in 1975, and Some Girls in 1978. Some of their most enduring hits from this period are “Beast of Burden,” “Brown Sugar,” “Angie,” “Fool to Cry,” and “Tumbling Dice.”

3. Led Zeppelin

The 1970s were a crucial decade for Led Zeppelin, with the band solidifying its legendary status as one of the most influential rock bands of all time.

Their second album, Led Zeppelin II, cemented their place in the rock and roll pantheon. It featured classic songs such as “Whole Lotta Love,” “What Is and What Should Never Be,” and “Ramble On.” 

Three more critically-acclaimed albums followed during the decade. Despite breaking up in 1980 with the death of John Bonham, Led Zeppelin left the rock world a different place than when they started.

4. The Who

In the 1970s, the Who released several albums like Who’s Next, Quadrophenia, and The Who By Numbers, which made a significant contribution to their musical legacy.

This decade also witnessed legendary live performances, with the band playing marathon shows that would last for hours. Their on-stage actions were notorious, as the band often destroyed their instruments on stage. We hope they had stock in Fender.

The band was often seen as the “angry young men” of the rock scene, and their music received criticism as a reflection of the social unrest of the ’70s.

5. Pink Floyd 

Founded by Syd Barrett, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright, Pink Floyd was one of the most successful British rock bands, and their highly experimental prog-rock sound laid the foundations for subsequent generations of musicians. 

Their 1970s albums The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here were landmarks of the genre and have been widely cited as some of the most impactful albums of all time.

The Dark Side of the Moon, in particular, is considered one of the most monumental rock achievements. It featured the classic singles “Money” and “Us and Them” and was an immediate success with both critics and fans.

6. Genesis

Formed by Charterhouse School students in 1967, Genesis were pioneers of prog rock. Led by Peter Gabriel, the band’s early ’70s albums, such as Trespass and Foxtrot, featured complex and ambitious arrangements, which helped redefine rock music’s sound.

During the decade, three of the albums were in the top-three spot in the UK chart: Selling England by the Pound, A Trick of the Tail, and …And Then There Were Three… The latter included “Follow You Follow Me,” which was one of the band’s successful hits at the time.

The band’s live performances during this era became increasingly grandiose and theatrical, with the addition of Gabriel’s flamboyant costumes and visual effects. It gave Genesis a unique live show unlike anything else in progressive rock.

7. The Sex Pistols

Created in 1978, the Sex Pistols was a band that dared to be different. They quickly achieved notoriety for their outlandish and often shocking behavior. Their 1977 debut album, Never Mind the Bollocks, was particularly influential on the punk movement and impacted the culture of the 1970s.

In contrast to the genre’s status quo, the Sex Pistols created a raw and chaotic sound that was a departure from the polished sounds of the era. Their brash lyrics, which touched on anarchy, violence, and rebellion, appalled many in the music industry and society at large.

8. The Clash

Formed in 1976, the Clash was one of the pioneering bands of the British punk movement. Known for their politically charged lyrics and anti-establishment stance, the band’s songs tackled topics such as racism, unemployment, and the struggles of the working class. 

The Clash released its debut album, The Clash, in 1977. It included the hit single “White Riot,” which quickly became an anthem for the punk rock movement. 

They followed their debut with the equally successful album Give’ Em Enough Rope in 1978. This album featured the hit single “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” which was a top 10 hit in the UK.

9. Queen

The fact that it took us this long to get to Queen shows how many influential British rock bands existed in the 1970s. 

Formed in London in 1970, Queen quickly became known for their flamboyant and over-the-top stage performances and diverse and dynamic sound. 

Queen released their self-titled debut album in 1973, which featured the hit single “Keep Yourself Alive” and set the stage for the band’s future success. 

Then, in 1975, the band released A Night at the Opera, giving the group their iconic hit single “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The album’s elaborate production and eclectic mix of musical styles solidified Queen’s reputation as a pioneering and innovative band.

10. T. Rex

Worry not if you haven’t heard of T. Rex before. The band’s early years were spent playing folk-infused music, but their sound shifted towards glam rock with the release of their 1971 album Electric Warrior. This album spawned several hit singles, such as “Get It On” and “Jeepster.”

T. Rex became known for its energetic live performances and flamboyant stage outfits. Lead singer and guitarist Marc Bolan had a wild and charismatic stage presence, and the band’s shows were often filled with fans who were just as glamorous and eccentric as the band itself.

Despite their success, T. Rex’s time at the top was short-lived. In 1977, Bolan was killed in a car accident at 29, effectively ending the band. However, their music continues to be celebrated, and modern audiences can hear their legacy in the work of many later artists.

11. The Jam

Formed in the early 1970s, the Jam quickly gained popularity for its distinctive blend of punk and mod influences. Frontman and vocalist Paul Weller, guitarist Steve Brookes, and drummer Rick Buckler made up the core of the band, which staged energetic live performances and recorded politically charged lyrics.

The Jam released their first single, “In the City,” in 1977, and it quickly became a hit on the UK charts. It was followed by their debut album, titled In the City, which included fan favorites like “Art School” and “I’ve Changed My Address.”

Over the next few years, the Jam released a steady stream of successful albums and singles. Sadly, the group disbanded in 1982.

12. Black Sabbath

We can’t go through this decade without mentioning Ozzy Osbourne’s baby, Black Sabbath, which he formed in 1968 together with Tony Iommi, Bill Ward, and Geezer Butler. 

Black Sabbath released a string of highly successful albums in the ’70s that made them one of the most influential heavy metal bands of all time. Their self-titled 1970 debut album introduced the world to their signature sound, combining heavy guitar riffs, driving drums, and occult-inspired lyrics.

Over the next few years, Black Sabbath continued to push the boundaries of heavy metal with albums like Paranoid, Master of Reality, Vol. 4, and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. These spawned numerous classic songs, such as “Iron Man,” “War Pigs,” and “Paranoid,” which remain staples of the heavy metal genre.

13. Fleetwood Mac

In 1967, British-American band Fleetwood Mac formed in London. The group rose to fame with its unique blend of rock, folk, and blues music. In the 1970s, Fleetwood Mac released some of their most enduring albums, including Rumours and Tusk.

Rumours, released in 1977, is often considered Fleetwood Mac’s masterpiece. The album’s songs, particularly “Dreams,” were primarily inspired by the personal turmoil and romantic entanglements within the band at the time.

Fleetwood Mac channeled their emotions into their lyrics, resulting in a deeply personal and universally relatable album that won the group an Album of the Year Grammy Award.

Summing Up Our List Of 1970s British Rock Bands

As you can see, British rock bands of the 1970s were a driving force to be reckoned with.

They paved the way for future bands and solidified their spot in music history with songs and albums that have lasted decades and will surely endure for more generations to come.

However, this list is far from complete, as there were too many British rock bands of the ’70s for us to choose in one go. Who have we missed? Let us know, and we’ll add them!

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.