The 1960s was the era of the British invasion, the term coined for the explosive popularity of British bands and singers across America and the rest of the world. From the Beatles to the Rolling Stones, the Kinks to the Who, British musicians dominated the charts and inspired a generation.
In this post, we’re going to be taking a look at 15 of the greatest and most famous British singers of the 1960s. Let’s get started.
1. John Lennon
The ’60s were a busy decade for John Lennon. His original band, the Quarrymen, became the Beatles. By the end of the decade, he began his band with Yoko Ono, the Plastic Ono Band.
In between, Lennon rose to stardom as the lead singer of the Beatles, and he was largely responsible for the wit of the band’s lyrics and the wide range of sound that made them revolutionary, including “Yellow Submarine” and “All You Need Is Love.”
Before 1970 even came around, he quit the band that made him famous to try his hand at a solo career. Tragically, Lennon was murdered by a fan in December of 1980, but his legacy lives on.
Related: Read our post on the greatest British singers here.
2. Paul McCartney
Known as the heartthrob of the Beatles, Paul McCartney brought distinctive pop tones to the group’s music and encouraged them to experiment with genre and style.
A primarily self-taught musician, he played bass guitar and was responsible for writing some of the group’s greatest hits, such as “Yesterday,” “Blackbird,” and “Hey Jude.”
In the ’60s, McCartney used his pen to write songs for other famous singers like Billy J. Kramer and Cilla Black, as well as Mary Hopkin, who was the first singer the Beatles signed to their own label.
3. Elton John
It was the late ’60s (1967, to be precise) that saw Elton John’s career start and rapidly ascend. John replied to an ad titled “Liberty Wants Talent,” with the talented songwriter who would become John’s friend and writing partner, Bernie Taupin.
John’s incredible aptitude for song and performance was immediately visible, and the pair released their debut success (that was actually singularly written by John), “I’ve Been Loving You.”
This great success led to their first album, Empty Sky, in 1969. Late in that same year, he wrote what would become one of his most successful and memorable hits: “Your Song.” A heartfelt love song, it’s possibly John’s most famous work thus far.
4. David Bowie
Born David Jones in 1947, David Bowie was known for his intense creativity and eccentricity. It was in the early sixties that Bowie formed his first band, the Konrads, when he was only 15 years old. They were a local success but not ambitious enough for Bowie, who craved fame.
He joined the King Bees, and he was able to attract his first personal management contract. Once more not impressed with his bandmates, Bowie moved to the Manish Boys, then the Lower Third.
With a new manager and stage name, Bowie struggled to find success until he studied avant-garde theatre and mime, of all things. With these tools under his belt, he was finally able to create a hit with “Space Oddity” in 1969.
5. Syd Barrett
Born in 1946, Syd Barrett (full name Roger Keith Barrett) co-founded the rock group Pink Floyd alongside Richard Wright, Roger Waters, and Nick Mason.
His career was short but thunderously impactful to the world of psychedelic and progressive rock.
Barrett wrote the majority of Pink Floyd’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. He was said to never play a song the same way twice, and his composition style influenced Pink Floyd long after he left the band.
After departing Pink Floyd in 1968, the other members wrote the song “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” in tribute to him.
6. Robert Plant
As the lead singer of Led Zeppelin for 12 years, Robert Plant is one of the most famous frontmen in rock-and-roll history.
He took influence from the American blues singers of the forties and fifties in his loud and expressive vocal style, full of high-pitched screams and emotional freedom.
Led Zeppelin burst onto the music scene in 1968, and Plant’s distinctive vocals, combined with the powerful electric sound of guitarist Jimmy Page, made them legendary.
Today, Plant is still performing at the age of 73, whether in his own acoustic band, Saving Grace, or with other solo artists such as bluegrass singer Alison Krauss.
7. Eric Burdon
One of the most famous faces of 1960s British music was Eric Burdon, having served as the lead vocalist of not one but two successful bands.
He sang for the Animals from 1962 to 1968, and the band was sometimes known as Eric Burdon and the Animals. After the band broke up, they went across the pond to sing for the Californian funk band War.
A major part of the Animals’ signature sound was Burdon’s deep, resounding voice, which fit perfectly with their rhythm-and-blues style.
Today, Burdon is still performing at the age of 81, making sporadic TV appearances and guesting with performers such as Bruce Springsteen.
8. Mick Jagger
Sir Michael Philip Jagger, known professionally as Mick Jagger, made history as the lead vocalist and songwriter of the Rolling Stones.
His singing-songwriting partnership with bandmate Keith Richards produced some of the greatest hits in rock history, such as “It Should Be You” and “As Tears Go By.”
In 2003, Jagger was knighted for his accomplishments in music. He is still active today at the age of 78, with the Rolling Stones’ most recent international tour taking place in 2019.
His massive impact on pop culture is still felt today, such as with modern pop-rock band Maroon 5 paying tribute to his showmanship with their song “Moves Like Jagger.”
9. Cilla Black
Female singers frequently topped the British charts in the sixties as well. Priscilla Maria Veronica White, known professionally as Cilla Black, was a major name in British beat music.
Her cover of “Anyone Who Had a Heart” was the most successful single by a female artist in the United Kingdom in the decade. After flying high in the music industry, she moved on to become a beloved TV entertainer.
Black passed away from a stroke in 2015. A statue of her was erected outside the Cavern Club in Liverpool, where a young Black got her start performing in front of audiences. These audiences included the Beatles, who became instant fans and supported her career.
10. Roger Daltrey
Singer-songwriter Roger Daltrey is responsible for some of the greatest smash hits of rock and roll. He joined the band the Detours in the late ’50s.
He became the default leader, using his fists to keep order and ensure that things went the way he wanted. However tough his leadership might have been, when they changed their name to The Who in the 1960s, they had their first hit, “I Can’t Explain.”
Eventually, his violent approach cost him his position in the band in 1965. He was only admitted back on “trial” with the promise of good behavior. He stuck to his word to change, knowing that being in the band meant everything to him.
11. Dusty Springfield
Born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien in 1939, this singer-songwriter understandably adopted the stage name Dusty Springfield.
In a music scene dominated by variations of rock and pop, Springfield brought to bear a unique element of soul, balladry, and jazz.
She achieved stardom with her standout soulful voice. In the sixties, she recorded hit songs like “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” and “Son of a Preacher Man,” the latter of which was written for and eventually performed by Aretha Franklin.
Her career continued to go strong for decades until her death from breast cancer in 1999.
Related: Read more about other famous gay female singers here.
12. Sandie Shaw
Sandra Ann Goodrich, known professionally as Sandie Shaw, was one of the biggest female names in British music in the sixties.
She was loved by audiences for her charisma and modern style, known for her habit of performing barefoot. She achieved international success by recording hit singles like “Puppet on a String” and “Long Live Love” in several languages.
Shaw also found success as the face of a fashion label bearing her name and as a TV entertainer.
Today, Shaw has retired from the music industry. At the age of 76, she now works as a psychotherapist, as does her husband.
13. Petula Clark
Very few British singers can boast of longer careers in the music industry than Petula Clark.
After gaining attention at age nine for singing for other children in air-raid shelters during the Blitz, Clark’s career started with a tour of performances for British soldiers.
Now 90 years old, Clark was known in the 1960s for her lively, energetic stage presence and her strong, exuberant voice.
Her hit singles included “Downtown,” “Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” and “I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love.” United States fans nicknamed her the First Lady of the British Invasion.
14. Cat Stevens
Born Steven Demetre Georgiou in 1948, this singer later adopted the stage name Cat Stevens and the new legal name Yusuf Islam.
His style is highly versatile, and he has achieved great success in composing and performing folk-rock, pop music, and percussion-based Islamic music.
He recorded several hit singles in the 1960s as an up-and-coming artist, such as “I Love My Dog,” “Matthew and Son,” and “I’m Gonna Get Me a Gun.”
His music is heavily influenced by musical theater, rock and blues artists, and spiritualism. As of 2021, Stevens/Islam is still active in the industry.
15. Tony Jackson
Born in 1940 in Liverpool, England, Tony Jackson fell under the spell of rock and roll and skiffle music when he was young. He honed his skills as a bass guitar player and singer, and he later became a member of The Searchers.
His talent and stage presence made him a fan favorite and propelled the group to stardom in the early 1960s. Their cover for the songs “Don’t Throw Your Love Away” and “Sweets for My Sweet” are particularly notable, both landing at #1 on the UK Singles Chart.
After leaving The Searchers in the mid-1960s, Jackson continued his musical journey with the Tony Jackson Group (& The Vibrations). Sadly, they did not achieve much success aside from the song “Love Potion No. 9.”
Summing Up Our List Of Famous 1960s British Singers
Britain has produced some great musicians, with its singers of the sixties having long careers that have impacted popular music in the decades since.
The fifteen listed above are just the tip of the iceberg—British artists have been on the scene since the beginning, and there are so many more to discover!
Have we left off a 1960s British singer that should be on this list? Let us know, and we’ll add them!