Following the bubble gum pop records of the 50s and 60s, the 1970s brought us rock bands, that many consider being among the most legendary of all time.
The 70s 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 story-telling, with glimpses of the arena rock gods of the 1980s beginning to peek through.
With that established, we decided to look at 15 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 became some of the most successful records in rock history.
The fourth album in particular, featuring hits such as “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll,” and “Stairway to Heaven,” 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.
The band released six total albums in the 70s before disbanding after drummer John Bonham’s death in 1980. Still, their legacy endures.
2. Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd is another English rock band that succeeded thanks to an 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 70s 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
Fleetwood Mac is the ultimate example of using pain, frustration, and band strife to fuel success rather than breed contempt.
A string of band departures led the remaining members to turn to folk-rock duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who soon joined the band.
The addition of Nicks and Buckingham 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.
But that strain 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.
AC/DC was formed by two Scottish brothers, Malcolm and Angus Young, 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, the band continued to release records into the 1980s and achieved greater heights.
5. Lynyrd Skynyrd
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.
With Van Zant killed, the soul of the band was gone. However, the band was able to reform with new members in 1987, including Van Zant’s brother Johnny Van Zant taking over on vocals.
Related: For more like Lynyrd Skynyrd, check out our list of southern rock bands here.
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 70s, 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-90s AIDS diagnosis compromised his immune system enough for a case of pneumonia to ultimately end his life.
The other members of the band are still alive and contributed to a Mercury biopic called “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Chicago formed in, well, Chicago back in 1967. 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 the band, with multiple albums reaching No. 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 2022, The Lincoln State band has recorded 38 albums total, including a Christmas album in 2019.
Despite the ever-changing lineup, the band will soon approach its 60th anniversary.
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 band, Kansas would complete four albums before their most successful hit, “Carry On My Wayward Son.”
“Wayward Son” – the single specifically – sold over one million copies. Another Kansas hit, “Dust in the Wind” achieved similar success.
The band released a new album, “The Absence of Presence,” in 2020.
If you ever need the poster kids for rock gods, KISS is likely one of your first thoughts.
The goth-inspired, make-up 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, the group launched a party rock anthem with “Rock and Roll All Nite” in 1975.
The group 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.
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 albums sold.
It was three songs on that album – “More Than a Feeling,” “Long Time,” and “Peace of Mind” – that 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 previous album, it was successful.
While lead singer Brad Delp passed away in 2007, the band soldiered on and is allegedly working on a seventh album.
11. Steely Dan
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 the group 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 in the U.S. top five charts and earned the group a Grammy for sound engineering.
The band released albums until 2003. They even took up touring until Becker’s 2017 death. Fagen, the only member remaining, still performs as Steely Dan, though.
Styx has one of the most unique band names. Named after the River Styx, the band formed in 1972 and pushed out nine albums through the rest of the 70s.
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, they would reform and begin touring again through the 1990s and into the 2020s.
Aerosmith nearly became another failed band in the 1970s due to band strife and drug use, but renewed success in the 1980s saved the band.
The band formed in Boston in 1970 and cut six albums before 1979. But 1975’s “Toys in the Attic” established the band as rock kings.
With three songs on the album – “Dream On,” “Walk This Way,” and “Sweet Emotion” – Aerosmith gave rock fans three new classics that still get radio play.
As of late, Aerosmith is the best-selling band in American history because of their number-one 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 bands of the 1970s.
The band saw the addition of several members after the Steely Dan opted to end live touring. Michael McDonald joined in 1975.
Jeff “Skunk” Baxter also joined in 1974. 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
The Allman Brothers Band is another 70s band featuring a tragic end to one of its members.
With three albums released and the band well on their way to runaway success, frontman Duane Allman died in 1971 following a motorcycle accident.
The band endured, though, releasing an album in 1972 dedicated to Allman’s memory. Bassist Berry Oakley would pass away due to a motorcycle accident as well a year later.
New members continued to join and helped to propel the band further into mainstream success with songs like “Jessica” and “Ramblin’ Man.”
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.
But, which bands do you think we missed off our list? Let us know and we’ll add them in!