30 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Rock Bands Of The 1970s

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Following the bubble gum pop records of the 1950s and 1960s, the 1970s brought us rock bands that many consider among the most legendary of all time.

The 1970s gave rock fans a new type of sound that was more blues and folk-infused after the previous decade’s rampant psychedelic sounds and melodies. The focus was on songwriting and storytelling, with glimpses of the arena rock gods of the 1980s beginning to peek through.

With that established, we decided to look at 30 of the most famous rock bands of the 1970s. There is no need for disco here, so fire up the record player and let’s enjoy the list.

1. Led Zeppelin

The quintessential 1970s rock band Led Zeppelin made waves in their native England before hopping across the pond to the United States.

Their first two albums, released in 1968 and 1969, were already stunning successes. The third and fourth albums, however, became some of the most successful records in rock history.

The fourth album in particular—which is untitled but called Led Zeppelin IV by fans—features hits such as “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll,” and “Stairway to Heaven” and sold 37 million copies worldwide. Of course, we do not have to tell you how influential “Stairway to Heaven” became in rock through the years.

Led Zeppelin released six total albums in the ’70s before disbanding after drummer John Bonham’s death in 1980. Still, their legacy endures.

2. Pink Floyd

Another English rock band, Pink Floyd found success thanks to their emphasis on lyricism and musical ability. The band shot to fame and stardom on the strength of a string of albums released from 1973 to 1979.

Of particular note in this period was the release of 1973’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” That album is considered one of the most crucial rock albums ever released.

Pink Floyd bookended the 1970s with the release of “The Wall,” another stunning concept album that spawned a film in 1982.

The band would struggle in the remaining years due to internal strife between singer Roger Waters and the other band members. Waters would leave Pink Floyd for a solo career in 1984, not returning to the group until 2005.

3. Fleetwood Mac

British-American rock band Fleetwood Mac is the ultimate example of using pain, frustration, and band strife to fuel success rather than breed contempt.

A string of band member departures led the remaining members to turn to folk-rock duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who soon joined the band. The addition of these two led to the band’s most successful period with their self-titled album’s release in 1975.

However, the struggles between Nicks and Buckingham’s rocky relationship, a failed marriage between fellow band members John and Christine McVie, and Mick Fleetwood’s divorce put a serious strain on the band.

That strain, though, led to the rock classic Rumours in 1977, which featured four top-10 singles in the United States and a Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1978.

4. AC/DC

In 1973, two Scottish brothers, Malcolm and Angus Young, formed AC/DC in Sydney, Australia.

With seven albums released by the band in the 1970s alone, AC/DC gained success despite the death of a band member, constant lineup changes, and band turmoil. The band’s 1979 release, Highway to Hell, became a hit in the United States.

Regardless of the band’s issues, AC/DC continued to release records into the 1980s and achieved greater heights. They eventually became one of the best-selling musical groups, with over 200 million records sold worldwide.

5. Lynyrd Skynyrd

From Jacksonville, Florida, Lynyrd Skynyrd became one of the most well-known southern rock bands on the strength of two songs: “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird.” Both songs became instant rock classics and propelled the band into the stratosphere.

With six albums released before 1977, the band seemed destined to sustain their success into the next decade. Then, tragedy struck. An airplane crash killed lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines.

Without Van Zant, the soul of the band was gone. However, Lynyrd Skynyrd was able to reform with new members in 1987, including Van Zant’s brother Johnny taking over on vocals.

Related: For more like Lynyrd Skynyrd, check out our list of southern rock bands here.

6. Queen

It goes without saying that Queen is one of the many rock bands that define the concept without thought. Led by flamboyant and bombastic frontman Freddie Mercury, Queen became a sensation by combining rock sensibilities with Mercury’s intellect.

The result was a group that produced some of the mega-hits of the 1970s, including the classic “Bohemian Rhapsody” and others like “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.”

The band’s success extended into the 1980s when they played one of the most appreciated live sets of all time at Live Aid at Wembley Stadium in 1985. 

Sadly, Mercury’s early-1990s AIDS diagnosis compromised his immune system, enough for a case of pneumonia to ultimately end his life. The other members of the Queen are still alive and, in honor of their late vocalist, contributed to a Mercury biopic called Bohemian Rhapsody.

7. Chicago

In 1967, Chicago formed in, well, Chicago. The 1970s were an exceptionally busy time for the band from Illinois as they released 10 albums over the decade.

Endless accolades and commercial success followed them, with multiple albums reaching #1 on the Billboard sales charts.

Several songs from these albums are soft-rock hits that still receive regular rotation on your favorite classic rock stations. Those songs include “Baby, What a Big Surprise” and “If You Leave Me Now.”

As of 2023, the Lincoln State band has recorded 38 albums total, including a Christmas album. Despite the ever-changing lineup, Chicago will soon approach its 60th anniversary.

8. Kansas

There was something about city and state-themed bands in the 1970s, and Kansas is another example of this thought process.

Formed in 1973 after the merging of two rival bands and the disbandment of the first version of the group, Kansas would complete four albums before their most successful hit, “Carry on My Wayward Son.”

“Wayward Son”—the single specifically—sold over a million copies. Another Kansas hit, “Dust in the Wind” achieved similar success. 

Kansas released a new album, The Absence of Presence, in 2020. Three years later, they dropped Another Fork in the Road—50 Years of Kansas, a special three-disc compilation commemorating their 50th anniversary.

9. Kiss

If you ever need the poster kids for rock gods, Kiss is likely one of your first thoughts. The goth-inspired, makeup- and costumed-heavy metal group started in 1973. The band quickly gained a reputation for high-energy shows that had every mom clutching their pearls.

Consisting of Gene Simmions, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, and Paul Stanley, Kiss launched a party rock anthem with “Rock and Roll All Nite” in 1975. They would never be the same again, touring worldwide and creating a legion of fans known as the Kiss Army.

Simmons and company continue to tour in the 2020s, but their ubiquitous logo and ravenous fans continue to give the band all the merchandise money they will ever need.

10. Boston

Yes, there was another city-named band in the 1970s. Boston formed in Massachusetts in 1975 and immediately gained a following.

Their self-titled debut album was released in 1976. That album became one of the most successful debut albums of all time with 17 million copies sold. Three of its songs—”More Than a Feeling,” “Long Time,” and “Peace of Mind”—helped fuel the album’s success.

Two years later, Boston returned to the airwaves with another album, Don’t Look Back. While that album never reached the heights of the Boston, it was successful.

Though lead singer Brad Delp passed away in 2007, the band soldiered on, releasing albums and touring. Their latest release was Life, Love & Hope in 2013.

11. Steely Dan

New York rock group Steely Dan defied expectations as a band in the 1970s. Instead of a group with stable membership, band founders Walter Becker and Donald Fagen opted for their band lineup to change.

On top of that, they decided against live performances and worked solely as a studio band. This thought allowed Steely Dan nearly limitless time to be creative.

While they had limited success, the release of 1977’s Aja gave the band the commercial boost they needed. The album peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200 chart and earned the group a Grammy for sound engineering.

Steely Dan released albums until 2003. They even took up touring until Becker’s 2017 passing. Fagen, the only member remaining, still performs as Steely Dan, though.

12. Styx

Another band from Chicago, Styx has one of the most unique group names. Named after the River Styx, the band formed in 1972 and pushed out nine albums through the rest of the 1970s. Some of the band’s most well-known hits include “Lady,” “Babe,” and “Come Sail Away.”

Merging multiple music styles and formatting, Styx created a sound ripe for the upcoming arena rock era of the 1980s. The band’s success expanded during that decade despite issues between members. 

While the band split up in the 1980s, Styx would reform and begin touring again through the 1990s and into the 2020s. In 2022, they were inducted into the Illinois Rock and Roll Museum Hall of Fame.

13. Aerosmith

In the 1970s, Aerosmith nearly became another failed band due to band strife and drug use, but renewed success over the next decade saved them. 

The band formed in Boston in 1970 and cut six albums before 1979. But 1975’s Toys in the Attic established the Aerosmith as rock kings. With the album’s three hit songs—“Dream On,” “Walk This Way,” and “Sweet Emotion”—Aerosmith gave rock fans new classics that still get radio play to this day. 

As of late, Aerosmith is the best-selling band in American history because of their #1 singles, critically acclaimed albums, and astonishingly stable lineup with frontman Steven Tyler at the helm.

14. The Doobie Brothers

With 15 albums to their credit, the Doobie Brothers are one of the more enduring music groups of the 1970s. Formed at the start of the decade, the band saw the addition of several members after the Steely Dan opted to end live touring.

Jeff “Skunk” Baxter also joined in 1974, followed by Michael McDonald the year after. With a more diverse lineup of talent, the Doobie Brothers achieved success.

In 1978, the band released arguably their most successful album, Minute by Minute, which was also a critical success and received Grammy nominations. The album’s most beloved song, “What a Fool Believes,” is still a rock classic by many.

15. The Allman Brothers Band

Brothers Duane and Gregg Allman—with Dickey Betts, Berry Oakley, Butch Trucks, and Jai Johanny Johanson—formed the Allman Brothers Band in 1969. Their group is one 1970s band featuring a tragic end to its members.

With three albums released and the band well on their way to runaway success, frontman Duane died in 1971 following a motorcycle accident.

The band endured, though, releasing an album in 1972 dedicated to Allman’s memory. The bassist, Oakley, would pass away due to a motorcycle accident as well a year later.

New members continued to join and helped to propel the Allman Brothers Band further into mainstream success with songs like “Jessica” and “Ramblin’ Man.”

16. Van Halen

Legendary guitarist Eddie Van Halen—along with Alex Van Halen, David Lee Roth, and Michael Anthony—formed the heavy metal group Van Halen in 1972. They became known for the lively and often sold-out performances.

The 1970s were a great decade for Van Halen, as it was in 1977 that they had their breakthrough. They released their self-titled first album to critical acclaim. The album holds “Eruption,” which has the guitar solo showcasing Eddie’s skills with the finger-tapping technique.

Van Halen’s conquest of the 1970s propelled them to over four decades of success and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After Eddie’s passing in 2020, however, it was announced that Van Halen had disbanded.

17. Black Sabbath

English rock band Black Sabbath came to be in 1968. They changed the face of music with their raw heavy metal sound and is often considered pioneers of the genre.

At the turn of the decade, Black Sabbath released their self-titled debut album to great commercial success. It landed at #8 on the UK chart and #23 in the US. Over the next 10 years, they dropped seven studio albums, all of which landed in the top 15 of the UK Official Albums Chart.

Black Sabbath would continue their heavy metal reign until 2017, with a few sporadic breaks in between. However, their legacy continues. In honor of their works, they received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.

18. ZZ Top

Most are probably familiar with the Texas band ZZ Top. Sporting hats and long beards, they gained a wide following with their blues rock sound, humorous lyrics, and lively performances.

Their first two albums, including the debut in 1971, were moderate success; however, in 1973, they dropped Tres Hombres, which became their first high-ranking album. It peaked at #8 on the Billboard 200 chart.

Then in 1975, their single “Tush,” from the album Fandango!, became a hit. The blues-rock song features Billy Gibbon’s signature slide work on the guitar.

Now, over five decades later, ZZ Top is still making music and touring. They recently announced a tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd scheduled for the summer of 2023.

19. Journey

In the 1970s, rock group Journey was just starting. But despite being a young band on the scene, they were already making huge waves.

Fronted by Steve Perry, Journey had their first top 20 album in 1979. It was their fifth studio album, called Evolution. It also featured one of their earlier hit songs, “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’,” which peaked at #16 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.

This success at the end of the decade skyrocketed Journey’s fame through the 1980s and onwards. The group’s phenomenal performances have won them the Billboard Legend of Live Award, and in 2017, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

20. Ramones

Spearheading punk rock during the 1970s was the Ramones. The New York group was unique in that all the members adopted a pseudonym for their last name, which was—you might have guessed—Ramone!

Their eponymous debut album in 1976 was a commercial flop, yet it received positive reviews and is considered one of the most influential in punk rock. It contains one of the Ramones’ popular songs, “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Despite not charting, the song is certified Gold.

The Ramones went on to release three more albums in the decade, as well as three singles that cemented their spot in rock history: “Rockaway Beach” “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” and “Do You Wanna Dance?”

21. The Who

One of the most influential rock bands of the 1970s—of the 20th century even—was The Who. With Pete Townsend on guitar, Keith Moon on drums, John Entwistle on bass, and Roger Daltrey on vocals, the group established themselves as a power pop, hard rock band known for their auto-destructive acts during performances.

Destroying drums and guitars aside, The Who breezed through the ’70s like they did with the ’60s with songs like “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Join Together,” “Squeeze Box,” and “Who Are You.”

Sadly, tragedy hit at the closing of the decade for The Who. Eleven fans were killed due to a crush of crowd at the band’s December 1979 gig at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati. The members, shocked and saddened after being informed of the incident post-event, dedicated the rest of the tour to the 11.

22. Eagles

Formed in 1971, the first few years of the soft rock band the Eagles were moderate success, yet by the time the mid-’70s came, they were booming!

Their 1975 album, One of These Nights, became their first commercial success at #1 on the Billboard 200. The year after, however, was the Eagle’s greatest of the decade.

The album Hotel California was dropped to critical acclaim. It topped charts of the US, UK, and Canada, as well as several other countries. It was nominated for two Grammy awards, including Album of the Year.

The title track is considered the Eagles’ signature song and their best-selling, with over four million digital and physical copies sold in the US alone. It won a Record of the Year Grammy. Other 1970s hits the Eagles’ had were “Desperado,” “Best of My Love,” and “New Kid in Town.”

23. Rush

Canadian band Rush was well-known for their progressive rock music and the heavy beats of iconic drummer Neil Peart. Formed in 1968, they played regular gigs in local venues before releasing their self-titled debut album in 1974.

It was a moderate success in Canada, but when Rush followed it with Fly by Night the year after, the group shot to fame. It peaked at #9 on Canada’s chart. Their fourth album, 2112, however, was even better, charting at #5 and reaching double-Platinum status in Canada and triple in the US.

Rush went on making music and performing for almost five decades, disbanding in 2018—but not before being inducted into both Canada Music Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Music Hall of Fame.

24. Electric Light Orchestra

Progressive rock hit Birmingham, England, in 1970 with the rise of Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). This would lead to an on-again, off-again career of the group that is still on now.

However, during the 1970s, ELO had a string of charting singles—majority of which landed in the top 10. Some of the most notable are “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Evil Woman,” “Telephone Line,” and the triple-Platinum hit “Mr. Blue Sky.”

In 1986, ELO disbanded but came back as ELO Part II three years later. In 2000, the group had another reformation. They would release only one album before coming in 2015 with a Platinum hit, Alone in the Universe, as Jeff Lynne’s ELO.

25. Genesis

Formed in 1967, English prog rock band Genesis entered the 1970s with their second studio album called Trespass. It had moderate success at #98 on the UK chart, but things got better for the group then on.

In particular, their fifth album, Selling England by the Pound, which landed on #3 on UK’s Official Albums Chart, was their ticket to the US market. It peaked at #70 on Billboard, but it was enough: their work continued gaining attention and acclaim, earning them a spot as one of the best rock bands of the ’70s.

Over the decades, Genesis has had a few breaks and lineup changes. Currently, the group consists of Phil Collins, Tony Banks, and Mike Rutherford, and are still actively touring.

26. The Kinks

Next up, we have another English group. Formed in 1963, The Kinks were known for their pop rock music and had quite the success in the 1970s.

They opened up that decade with their eighth studio album, Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One. Though it didn’t chart in the UK, it had some success in Australia and the US.

“Lola” is one of The Kinks’ greatest hits. It topped charts of several countries, #2 in the UK, and #9 on Billboard Hot 100.

The Kinks would continue their success well into the 1980s but slowly declined towards the ’90s, eventually disbanding in 1996. Nevertheless, the legacy they created by this time was firm: they were inducted into both Rock and Roll and UK Music Halls of Fame.

27. Blondie

Second on our list of rock bands to be fronted by a woman, Blondie began in 1974, co-founded by Debbie Harry and Chris Stein. Soon, their unique mix of genres—pop, funk, reggae, and disco—became well-known.

Despite starting in the middle of the decade, Blondie was able to send out many popular hits before the ’80s came about. “Denis,” “Hanging on the Telephone,” and “Heart of Glass” are among those 1970s songs that propelled them to greater heights.

After Stein was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease in 1982, Blondie disbanded, with Harry moving on to a successful solo career. However, they got back together in the late ’90s to continue contributing to the music industry.

28. Deep Purple

As one of the trailblazers of heavy metal and hard rock in the UK, Deep Purple deserves to be on this list. The group formed in 1968 and had great commercial and critical success during the ’70s.

Despite having a number of lineup changes in just one decade, Deep Purple released seven studio albums with two gaining the top spot on UK’s Official Albums Chart. Their most successful album in the US market at the time was Machine Head (1972), which became certified double-Platinum.

Even after their early success, Deep Purple went their separate ways in 1976. After eight years of inactivity, they came back together and have been active since—albeit still with many lineup changes.

29. Sex Pistols

We have yet another band from the UK, this time with punk rock sounds. Sex Pistols had their start in 1976 and was an immediate success, partly due to their notoriety—they were an aggressive group, known to swear during performances and pushed limits.

The group only has one studio album released, in 1977. Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols topped the UK chart.

Aside from the use of “bollocks,” its track “God Save the Queen” made the album controversial, enough to get it banned from stores and the radio. Yet the song is considered their best, landing on #2 on the Official Singles Chart.

Controversy aside, the Sex Pistols is one of the most significant rock bands to play; their influence extended to many later bands, like Guns N’ Roses, Green Day, and Nirvana, all of who are iconic in the music industry.

30. Grateful Dead

We head back to the US to end this list of 1970s rock bands with Grateful Dead. The group, known for their extended jams and improvisation, has an eclectic mix of sounds. Rock, psychedelia, folk, blues, reggae, country, jazz—you name it, they must have played it at some point.

Formed in 1965, the Grateful Dead was already well-established by the time the ’70s rolled in. They had a number of charting albums, like American Beauty, Wake the Flood, and Terrapin Station, in 1970s. Songs like “Truckin'” and “Dancin’ in the Streets” rang loud on the radio.

After the passing Jerry Garcia, their lead guitarist and vocals, in 1995, Grateful Dead went their separate ways. They had been active for 30 years. Their amazing work has earned them a Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Summing Up Our List Of Famous 1970s Rock Bands

The 1970s brought a focus on more rock bands rather than solo artists. The result created some of the most crucial bands in rock history. Influences from 1970s rock and roll remain in the modern era.

While the hair might be shorter and the facial hair a bit cleaner, these ’70s rock bands showed everyone what it took to sell albums and spawn rock favorites to stand the test of time.

However, which bands do you think we missed off our list? Let us know and we’ll add them in!

Photo of author

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.