15 Of The Most Famous Rock Bands Of The 1960s

The 1960s was a tumultuous decade that saw the rise of many famous rock bands. 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

The Beatles are undoubtedly the most successful and influential rock band of the 1960s (and in the history of music, probably).

The Beatles formed in Liverpool, England, in 1960 with a lineup consisting of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr.

They 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 their groundbreaking albums and chart-topping singles.

They recorded a string of classic albums, such as “Rubber Soul” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” that defined the decade’s sound.

Throughout their career, they 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 in the United Kingdom.

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.”

They released many classic albums in the 60s, such as “Beggars Banquet” and “Let it Bleed,” that are considered compulsory listening for any fan of rock music.

The band enjoyed many hits throughout the 1960s, including “Paint It, Black” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

This band also won nine NME Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

3. The Beach Boys

Another 60s rock band worth mentioning are The Beach Boys who were a pop-rock band that defined California’s sound in the 1960s.

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

They released several classic albums, such as “Pet Sounds” and “Surf’s Up,” that are considered essential listening for any fan of surf rock music.

The band 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 debut album, “The Doors.” The album included the hit single “Light My Fire” and quickly went to number one on the Billboard charts.

They released four albums throughout the late 1960s, such as “Strange Days” and “Waiting for the Sun,” and continued releasing music into the early 70s. But, sadly, their lead singer Jim Morrison died at the young age of 27 in 1971.

5. The Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead were a psychedelic rock band famous for their live performances. They were one of the first bands to popularize the use of LSD at their concerts, which helped shape 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.

They were known for their long improvisational jams and unique music style. They 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

But 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 they 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.

Hendrix was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame posthumously 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.

They’ve 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.

They released two studio albums in the 60s, but their most popular one was Cheap Thrills which reached number one 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.

The band’s lineup 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 US top 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. 

The sixties were a busy decade for the group, with many hit performances, like “Freak Out Ethel” at Seymour Hall.

They produced their debut single, Arnold Layne (as well as Candy and a Currant Bun), and also produced their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, in 1967.

10. The Who

The Who are best known for their classic singles “I Can’t Explain” and “My Generation.” The band has sold over 100 million albums worldwide.

Coming together in 1964, the Who was initially composed of Roger Daltrey (lead vocals), Pete Townshend (guitar, vocals), John Entwistle (bass, vocals), and Keith Moon (drums).

The band’s sound was a mix of hard rock and pop, which appealed to many fans. The Who were also known for their destructive live shows, where they often broke their instruments on stage.

11. Creedence Clearwater Revival

Creedence Clearwater Revival is best known for the album “Bayou Country,” which included the song “Born on the Bayou” and reached number seven in America.

Creedence was formed in 1964 as the Blue Velvets in El Cerrito, California. The band consisted of lead vocalist and guitarist John Fogerty, guitarist Tom Fogerty, bassist Stu Cook, and drummer Doug Clifford.

A name change to Creedence Clearwater Revival occurred in 1967, and they released their debut album the following year.

“Down On The Corner”  and “Fortunate Son” are among the band’s other well-known songs. Creedence Clearwater Revival disbanded in 1972, but they have continued to be popular thanks to classic rock radio.

12. The Kinks

The Kinks were a hugely successful rock that was formed in 1964 by brothers Ray and Dave Davies, and they quickly rose to fame in the UK with their debut album “Kinks.”

The album featured the single “You Really Got Me,” which hit number two in the UK and number seven in the US.

“You Really Got Me” was one of the first popular songs to utilize guitar distortion, and it helped to launch the Kinks’ career.

The Kinks are also considered one of the first British Invasion bands.

13. Cream

Cream was a supergroup formed by Eric Clapton, 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.” But, their 1967 album “Disraeli Gears” featured one of their most famous singles “Sunshine of Your Love” which every budding bassist and guitarist will learn at some point.

The band also influenced many future musicians, including Jimi Hendrix and won multiple Grammy Awards, and ZZ Top inducted the band 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.

Simon & Garfunkel formed in 1963 and released their debut album “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.” the following year. 

But it was their hit single “The Sound of Silence,” which is part of their classic album with the same name which put them on the map. That album has sold over 25 million copies and is a classic.

They continued releasing music through out the rest of the decade with hits like “Mrs Robinson,” “Homeword Bound” and “I am a Rock” which all charted well.

15. The Byrds

And finally, we have The Byrds who came together in 1964 in Los Angeles, California. They were known for their jangly sound and use of the 12-string guitar.

The band’s original lineup consisted of Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, David Crosby, Chris Hillman, and Michael Clarke.

They released their classic album “Mr. Tambourine Man” in 1965. This album, featuring the hit single “Mr. Tambourine Man,” reached number six in the US.

Bob Dylan wrote the title track, which became one of the first Dylan songs to be successfully covered by another artist.

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.

Music from the 1960s 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. These classic bands defined an era and changed the course of popular music.

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Written by Laura Macmillan
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.