Garage rock, in its simplest definition, focuses more on passion and energy. At the heels of famous bands such as The Beatles, many amateur bands purchased guitars and drums and played even without formal training. And a lot of these bands had their start in the humblest circumstance imaginable: a garage.
Notably, garage rock is not a rebellion against other styles such as British pop or surf rock. Instead, it played on those styles. The genre is also notable for having simple and repetitive hooks, which somehow became a template in many garage rock songs.
Garage rock bands hit their heyday in the 1960s. Thanks to these bands, the genre lives on. If you haven’t done so already, put these 11 of the most famous garage rock bands on your playlist.
It’s only fitting to start our list with Nirvana. They’re one of the most influential bands of all time, and frontman Kurt Cobain was a legend in the grunge world.
Along with Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and other 1990s staples, Nirvana changed music forever from glam rock to a more angsty, earthier, unique sound. Their influence on music and alternative rock cannot be emphasized enough.
Nirvana’s album, Nevermind, is one of the most important albums of the decade. Or maybe even the latter part of the 20th century. It features their hit song “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Tragically, Cobain died very young, and Nirvana flamed out quickly. But the music and unique style the band spawned live on.
2. The Ramones
If there was ever a famous garage band with a unique sound, it’s the Ramones. The band formed in New York City in 1974. It started with John Cummings and Thomas Erdelyi being members of a garage band in high school. They eventually recruited Douglas Colvin and Jeff Hyman to form their own band.
The members soon changed their names so that they would assume Ramone as their last name. Hyman, who went by the name Joey Ramone, became the lead singer. His unmistakable voice rocks on the Ramones’ short, catchy tracks.
“I Wanna Be Sedated” is easily the most recognizable Ramones song. But there are plenty of others, like “Rockaway Beach.”
Today, the Ramones are one of the most iconic and popular punk bands that helped define a genre and set the stage for the second wave of pop punk in the late 1990s.
3. The Troggs
Formed in Andover, Hampshire, The Troggs nailed that pure late 1960s vibe with songs like “Wild Thing.” Their unique sound and style made them stars in their native United Kingdom and across the pond in the United States.
The band first referred to themselves as “the Troglodytes.” This was shortened to the easier-to-remember name “The Troggs” once they hit their stride.
The Troggs were one of the early adopters of a fusion of pop, rock, and punk. They certainly paved the path for other greats, like the Ramones, that came after them.
4. Creedence Clearwater Revival
The year 1959 witnessed the birth of Creedence Clearwater Revival, or CCR as they are more affectionately known. They first went by the name the Blue Velvets before settling on CCR in 1967.
CCR is one of the giant powerhouse hit creators of all time. From “Fortunate Son” to “Green River,” this band churned out top hits and protest anthems like no other. And it all started in the most humble spot: a garage.
CCR’s unique sound is thanks to the talents of brothers Tom and John Fogerty, Doug Clifford, and Stu Cook. The foursome played in different bands before forming CCR, hitting their stride with a mix of southern rock, folk, and catchy guitar riffs.
5. Sam The Sham And The Pharaohs
Even if you don’t know the names “Sam” and “Sham,” there’s no doubt that you’ve heard Sam the Sham and the Pharoah‘s most significant hit, “Wooly Bully.” The song peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold three million copies.
Part theater, part rocking sound, and all unique, the group made it big with their unconventional costumes, including robes and turbans, and signature style.
Unfortunately, they don’t have the longevity of some of the other bands on our list. But there’s no doubt that history will remember them for the classic college jam “Wooly Bully.”
6. The Runaways
If there’s one thing The Runaways accomplished, it’s being one of the first all-female rock bands and paving the way for other female groups. The members started playing in a garage and featured some of the best punk breakout stars of the 1970s.
The Runaways did not become a major hit in the US. But thanks to their single “Cherry Bomb,” they became famous overseas, such as in Japan.
Unfortunately, various issues saw several members quitting the band. It eventually disbanded in 1979. Despite the dissolution, The Runaways left a legacy in music history. They were able to stand out by playing punk songs in a very male-dominated musical genre.
Garage rock band Them is not so much renowned for their music as for their famous frontman, Van Morrison. Van Morrison formed the band in his late teens, providing rocking vocals for their breakout hit “Gloria.”
While with Decca Records, Them produced two albums and ten singles. “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” “Here Comes the Night,” and “Mystic Eyes” were chart hits. But it was “Gloria” that became the garage rock standard.
Them had moderate success in the United Kingdom but never achieved the titanic renown that Morrison would enjoy in his later career. Still, “Gloria” is one of the era’s best songs, enough to get Them into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
8. The Kingsmen
One of Oregon’s original famous garage rock bands, The Kingsmen, was formed in the late 1950s. Lynn Easton and Jack Ely, who were friends, performed together at local parties, with Easton on the drums and Ely singing and playing guitar. They recruited more band members and played at several events.
The greatest hit of their career came in 1963 with “Louie Louie.” Their version of the song became so popular that it became a standard in pop and rock. Ely recalled that during the recording, he was yelling the song to be heard above the instruments.
He was also wearing braces at the time, leading to the infamously garbled lyrics. The band wasn’t happy with the recording, but their manager liked their energy and rawness.
“Louie Louie” peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The band became popular, playing their version of punky pop to audiences worldwide.
9. Tommy James And The Shondells
When you listen to Tommy James and the Shondells, it might be difficult to imagine them starting off in a garage because of the clear, honeyed vocals and sweet songs.
The band nailed the sweet start of the 1960s with top hits like “Crimson and Clover.” However, they still had a bit of a psychedelic edge in tunes like “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”
They might not be the most famous band on our list. But “Crystal Blue Persuasion” did get some new life a few years ago when it was featured on Breaking Bad.
Aside from these hit songs, their entire discography is worth listening to. It spans the ethereal druggy style of the 1960s and the sweet, romantic songs of the same era.
10. The Kinks
British garage rock band, The Kinks, churned out hits like “You Really Got Me.” They wowed audiences all over the world with their tight, complex rock sound.
The Kinks were easily one of the most successful garage bands to come out of the United Kingdom. That’s thanks to catchy songs, easy-to-sing lyrics, and upbeat messages.
They served as an exciting diversion from the more folky songs of the 1960s and helped influence the punk bands of the 1970s. The Kinks succeeded because the music and vocals were engaging, on-point, and worked seamlessly together.
11. Paul Revere & The Raiders
Last but not least, we have Paul Revere & the Raiders. They’re a less famous but still influential garage rock band that hit its peak at the end of the 1960s and 1970s. One of their successful songs is “Just Like Me,” which reached #11 on Billboard‘s Hot 100.
The band relied more on rock influences than punk ones. They also embraced some of the gimmick attire that made Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs popular.
As the name suggests, Paul Revere & the Raiders would show up in clothes from the American Revolution. Unfortunately, although the band did have several top hits, they never reached the success of some of the most influential bands on our list.
Summing Up Our List Of The Greatest Garage Rock Bands
As our list showed you, these bands had humble beginnings. But their raw talent goes beyond the garage where they used to practice and play.
Thankfully, these bands are pivotal to the evolution of this genre. Some, like Nirvana, became household names, whereas others are a bit more obscure. Nevertheless, they all contributed to the garage rock genre that existed to this day.
They serve as inspiration for those who are thinking of creating their very own garage rock band. And they forever blessed us with songs that left their mark on music history.