15 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Rock Bands Of The 1960s

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Written by Laura Macmillan
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The 1960s was a tumultuous decade that saw the rise of many famous rock bands. During that time, bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones became some of history’s most successful and iconic artists.

Others, such as the Beach Boys and the Grateful Dead, also achieved great success and had a lasting impact on music.

In this post, we’ll dive back into the swinging decade by looking at 15 of the most famous rock bands of the 1960s. Let’s get started.

1. The Beatles

First on our list, the Beatles are undoubtedly the most successful and influential rock band of the 1960s (and in the history of music, probably). The lineup consisted of John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and Paul McCartney.

Formed in Liverpool, England, in 1960, the Beatles achieved huge success in the United Kingdom and the United States with their distinctive sound and catchy songs.

In 1964, they became the first British band to achieve widespread popularity in the United States with their hit single “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” They continued enjoying success throughout the 1960s with groundbreaking albums and chart-topping singles.

A string of classic albums recorded, such as Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, defined the decade’s sound. Throughout their career, the Beatles won 11 Grammy awards and have had fifteen of their albums or songs inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

2. The Rolling Stones

Next up, we have the Rolling Stones, who formed in London, England, in 1962 and quickly became one of the most popular bands of all time.

The Stones reinterpreted American blues and rock music in their unique style and quickly became very popular in the United States with their 1964 single “(I Can’t Get) No Satisfaction.” Other hits the band had in the 1960s include “Paint It, Black” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

Their albums Aftermath, Beggars Banquet, and Let It Bleed were also released during the 1960s. These are considered compulsory listening for any fan of rock music.

The Rolling Stones’ hard work earned them three Grammy Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as nine NME Awards. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll and UK Music Halls of Fame in 1989 and 2004, respectively.

3. The Beach Boys

In 1960s, if the UK had the Beatles, the US counterpart was the Beach Boys. This pop-rock band defined California sound with their music.

Formed in 1961 in Hawthorne, California, with a lineup consisting of Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine, the Beach Boys became known for their close harmonies and surf-themed songs.

Many of their albums during the decade, such as Pet Sounds and Surf’s Up, hit high on the charts and are considered essential listening for any fan of surf rock music.

The Beach Boys achieved mainstream success with their 1962 single “Surfin’ Safari” and continued to have hits throughout the decade with songs like “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”

4. The Doors

Formed by Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore, the Doors came together in Los Angeles, California, in 1965. They were known for their dark and psychedelic sound, and while they were only together for a short time, they made a lasting impact on music.

They achieved mainstream success with their 1967 eponymous debut album, which included the hit single “Light My Fire.” The album quickly went to #1 on the Billboard charts.

The Doors released four albums throughout the late 1960s, such as Strange Days and Waiting for the Sun, and continued releasing music into the early ’70s. Sadly, the group disbanded after their lead singer, Jim Morrison, passed away in 1971.

5. The Grateful Dead

Psychedelic rock band the Grateful Dead were famous for their live performances. Though controversial, they were one of the first bands to popularize the use of LSD at their concerts, which eventually shaped the counterculture of the 1960s.

Formed in 1965 in San Francisco, California, the band’s members consisted of Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, and Bill Kreutzmann.

Only four albums were released during the 1960s—The Grateful Dead, Anthem of the Sun, Aoxomoxoa, and Live/Dead. All were in the top 100, and the last two were certified Gold.

Popular for their long improvisational jams and unique music style, the Grateful Dead are considered the first jam band in rock and roll, as they played their songs differently in each of their shows.

6. The Jimi Hendrix Experience

You probably already know Jimi Hendrix, who is considered to be one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time.

However, some of his best-known music was made with his band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, which consisted of Hendrix on guitar, Noel Redding on bass, and Mitch Mitchell on drums.

The groundbreaking Jimi Hendrix Experience was formed in 1966 and released their debut album, Are You Experienced, the following year.

They only released three studio albums, but these are all considered classics. The band’s most successful album was 1967’s Axis: Bold as Love, which featured the hit single “Purple Haze.”

The Jimi Hendrix Experience disbanded in 1969, but Hendrix continued to have success as a solo artist until his unexpected death in 1970 at the young age of 27. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.

7. Janis Joplin & Big Brother And The Holding Company

Next, we turn to one of the first female rock stars Janis Joplin, whose powerful vocals helped to define the sound of the 1960s with the band Big Brother and the Holding Company.

This group has had a lot of different players over the years, but the classic lineup is considered Joplin on vocals, Sam Andrew on guitar, James Gurley on guitar, Dave Getz on drums, and Peter Albin on bass.

They got together in San Francisco, California, in 1966 and were known for their psychedelic sound and Joplin’s soulful vocals.

Joplin and Big Brother released two studio albums in the 1960s, but their most popular one was Cheap Thrills, which reached #1 on the Billboard 200 when it was released in 1968.

8. Jefferson Airplane

Another band that was formed in San Francisco, California, Jefferson Airplane got together in 1965 and initially consisted of Marty Balin, Paul Kantner, Signe Anderson, Jorma Kaukonen, and Spencer Dryden. However, Anderson left the band in 1966, and Grace Slick joined as a replacement.

Jefferson Airplane is most famous for psychedelic sounds and collaborations with other San Francisco bands like the Grateful Dead and Santana.

They released several albums in the ’60s, but their two biggest hits were “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit” in 1967, which both reached the top 10 in the Billboard 100.

9. Pink Floyd

In 1965, Pink Floyd formed and quickly became popular in the psychedelic and progressive rock movements. Despite their popularity, the band has had a relatively high turnover rate, with members dropping out and new ones joining.

The founding members were Syd Barrett, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright. David Gilmour joined later, in 1967.

Though the height of their popularity was more in the seventies, Pink Floyd was already rocking charting songs during the ’60s, like their debut single “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play.” The four albums they released during the decade we all top tens, with the four being their highest at #5.

10. The Who

Our next band, the Who, came together in 1964 and initially composed of Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon.

The 1960s was one of the decades the Who thrived in, with hit singles like “I Can’t Explain” and “My Generation.” Like with the Pink Floyd, they had four studio albums during that time, all charting on the UK chart, with the fourth, Tommy, being their highest charting at #2.

Despite the often destructive live performances and broken instruments, the Who is considered one of the most influential rock bands whose heavy style and inspired many bands following them.

11. Creedence Clearwater Revival

Consisting initially of John Fogerty, Tom Fogerty, Stu Cook, and Doug Clifford, Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) was formed in 1959 as the Blue Velvets in El Cerrito, California. They became Creedence only in 1967.

The group had quite big hits during the end of the 1960s, with a series of top-ten hits climbing the charts, including “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising,” and “Fortunate Son.”

Sadly, despite their rising popularity, Creedence Clearwater Revival disbanded in 1972 following the separation of John Fogerty. Clifford and Cook continued and created Creedence Clearwater Revisited.

12. The Kinks

English rock band the Kinks, formed in 1964, were hugely successful during the later part of the ’60s. Formed by brothers Ray and Dave Davies, they quickly rose to fame in the UK with their debut album, Kinks.

The album featured the single “You Really Got Me,” which hit #2 in the UK chart and #7 in the US. The song was one of the first to utilize guitar distortion, and it helped to launch the Kinks’ career. Other hit songs of theirs that came out in the 1960s are “Tired of Waiting for You” and “Sunny Afternoon.”

The Kinks continued recording and performing throughout the ’70s and ’80s, but disbanded soon after the ’90s rolled in. In 1990 and 2005, respectively, they were added to both the Rock and Roll and UK Music Halls of Fame.

13. Cream

Back when iconic guitarist Eric Clapton was part of music groups, Cream was one them he formed with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker in 1966. They were known for their innovative sound, which blended blues and hard rock.

The band rose to fame with their first album, Fresh Cream; however, it was their 1967 album Disraeli Gears that featured one of their most famous singles, “Sunshine of Your Love.” This is one song every budding bassist and guitarist will learn at some point.

As a band who landed a spot on Rolling Stone‘s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list, they greatly influenced many future musicians, including Jimi Hendrix, Their works have earned them multiple Grammy Awards as well as an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

14. Simon & Garfunkel

While they might not be considered a band by the usual definition, Simon & Garfunkel were were a folk rock songwriting duo who were one of the best selling artists in the ’60s.

The duo formed in 1963 and released their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., the following year to moderate success. Not deterred, they released three more in the ’60s, with the last two becoming commercial hits.

“The Sound of Silence,” which is part of their second album of the same name, helped put them on the map. Other hits of the decade, like “Mrs. Robinson,” “Homeward Bound,” and “I Am a Rock,” all charted well.

15. The Byrds

And finally, we have The Byrds, who came together in 1964 in Los Angeles, California. With an original lineup of Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, David Crosby, Chris Hillman, and Michael Clarke, the Byrds were known for their folk and psychedelic sound and use of the 12-string guitar.

The 1960s saw the release of their hit songs “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” The Byrds would continue performing throughout the decade and part of the ’70s before disbanding in 1973.

Even though their career was short, they were considered pioneers in the folk rock genre and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

Summing Up Our List Of 1960s Rock Bands

These are a few of the most popular rock bands from the 1960s. These bands helped shape rock music’s sound and influenced many future musicians.

Though music from the 1960s was released a long time ago, their sound is still popular, and people remember these artists as some of the greatest rock bands of all time.

The groundbreaking contributions of these bands continue to inspire people today. They defined an era and changed the course of popular music.

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Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.