The 1960s were a time when music changed drastically, leading to the genres we still enjoy today. From psychedelic rock to soul to folk-rock, and the British Invasion, here are the 25 best 1960s musicians—most of whom are now known as the best musicians in history.
1. The Beatles
The Beatles have long been considered the single most influential music group in history. They formed in Liverpool in 1960 and became wildly popular for their unique sound, which fused elements of many other genres. As the decade progressed their music strayed into genres of funk and psychedelic rock. Some of their most famous songs include Hey Jude, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and Yesterday.
2. Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan was one of the most influential folk musicians of the 1960s. His music was heavily intertwined with the Civil Rights movement and anti-war protests. He was known for his gentle, poetic songs whose lyrics focused on social, philosophical, and political topics. Some of his best-known songs include Blowin’ In The Wind and The Times They Are A-Changin’.
3. Ray Charles
Ray Charles had a successful career long before the 1960s, but he was also a hugely influential artist throughout the decade. Throughout the 1950s, he was a pioneer of the soul genre, helping fuse a wide number of genres into the contemporary music we know today. In 1960, he recorded Georgia On My Mind, one of the most famous tracks of his career. Charles is credited with modernizing country music and blending it with mainstream genres.
4. The Temptations
Formed in 1960, The Temptations were an all-male vocal group that spearheaded the sound of Motown throughout the decade. They were known for their flawless vocal harmonies and were considered to be a “brother group” to The Supremes. The Temptations’ song My Girl placed no. 1 on the Billboard charts in 1965 and is still their most famous track to this day.
5. James Brown
James Brown is widely referred to as “the Godfather of Soul.” He was one of the key musicians in the development of modern genres of funk, soul, and R&B. He is also considered one of the major influences on the development of hip hop and rap thanks to his unique, rhythmic speaking style used intermittently throughout his songs. His most famous tracks include Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, It’s A Man’s Man’s World, and Get Up Offa That Thing.
6. Otis Redding
Otis Redding was so influential during his career that he posthumously received two Grammy Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He made huge strides in the genres of R&B and soul before his death in a plane crash at the age of 26. Just three days before his death, Redding recorded the most famous song of his career, (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.
7. Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin may be one of the most influential singers not just of the 1960s, but of the entire 20th century. She has been named on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time and nicknamed “the Queen of Soul.” Her powerhouse voice propelled her to the front of the music industry with tracks such as Respect, You Make Me Feel (Like A Natural Woman), and I Say a Little Prayer. During her career, Franklin won 18 Grammy Awards.
8. The Beach Boys
Known for their high-energy, beach-inspired songs fueled by falsetto vocals, The Beach Boys pioneered the development of surfer rock in the 1960s. They are best known for songs such as Barbra Ann, Surfin’ USA, and Good Vibrations. They became synonymous with the emerging genre called “California Sound,” exemplified by surfer culture, party hits, youth, and romance. The Beach Boys were one of the best-selling rock bands of all time.
9. Sam Cooke
It is amazing to consider how much popularity and influence Sam Cooke held over music in the 1960s, considering he passed away in 1964. Despite his short career, he is considered one of the most influential soul artists not just of the decade, but of all time. Cooke was a major player in the rise of Civil Rights-inspired soul music and is best known for songs such as A Change is Gonna Come. Sadly, he was shot to death at the age of only 33.
10. Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye was a leader of the modern soul, funk, and R&B genres that were developing throughout the 1960s. He was also a major player in the world of Motown starting in the 1950s when the label was in its earliest stages. He released many songs during his career, but his best-known tracks include 1967’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and 1968’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine. He was murdered by his father during an altercation in 1984.
11. Janis Joplin
As one of the famed members of The 27 Club—celebrities and musicians who lost their lives at the age of 27—Janis Joplin accomplished a huge amount in her short career. She profoundly affected the development of genres such as psychedelic rock, soul, and blues rock. She became famous throughout the 1960s thanks to her flamboyant stage presence, signature style, and enormous musical talent. Joplin died in 1970 from a heroin overdose. She was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is considered one of the best musicians in history.
12. The Jackson 5
The Jackson 5 are still widely known as the group that led to the rise of Michael Jackson, one of the most influential musicians in the development of modern pop rock. But the group itself was also one of the best groups of the 1960s and 1970s. They began as a trio in 1964 before adding the two younger brothers. Though they didn’t record their first album until 1969, they were already well-known at the time. Some historians have called them the first official boy band.
13. The Mamas & The Papas
The Mamas & The Papas were a folk-rock group that performed from 1965 to 1968. They were characterized by their complex vocal harmonies and seamless fusion of gentler folk music with elements of rock and roll. Their most famous songs include California Dreamin’, Monday Monday, and Dedicated To The One I Love.
14. Simon & Garfunkel
Simon & Garfunkel were a two-man folk rock group formed in 1963. They had been active under the name Tom and Jerry throughout the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the early 1960s that they focused on their image as a folk duo. Their gentle, harmonious songs are still beloved to this day, especially The Boxer, The Sound of Silence, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Mrs. Robinson.
15. Etta James
Etta James’ sultry, powerful vocals earned her the nickname “the Queen of Soul.” Her career began in the 1950s before achieving widespread commercial success over the following decade. Her voice was extremely versatile, and she dabbled in gospel, blues, jazz, soul, and rock and roll. She is considered to be a trailblazer of modern blues music and is remembered for songs such as At Last and I’d Rather Go Blind.
16. The Jimi Hendrix Experience
The Jimi Hendrix Experience was a band centered around the talents of Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix, who passed away in 1970 at the age of just 27, achieved an extraordinary amount in his short career. He was one of the most influential musicians of the psychedelic rock movement of the late 1960s and is widely regarded as one of the most talented guitarists in history. He was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
17. Dusty Springfield
Dusty Springfield was a key player in the development of modern pop and blue-eyed soul. Famous for her elaborate style, which included platinum blonde wigs and opulent evening gowns, she had a voice that was uniquely soft and powerful at the same time. In particular, Springfield helped fuse soul and mainstream music by singing songs usually intended for black musicians; her most famous song was 1969’s Son Of A Preacher Man.
18. The Who
The Who was a British rock group formed in 1964. They were an enormous influence on modern hard rock, punk, and other genres, being the first to incorporate elements such as synthesizers, power chords, and Marshall stack amplifiers. Their cutting-edge music combined with their unique style and their love of smashing instruments onstage during their act made them wildly popular. Their top songs include A Quick One While He’s Away, I Can See For Miles, and My Generation.
19. The Isley Brothers
The Isley Brothers were a family group that was one of the biggest bands in Motown during the 1960s. Formed in 1954, the group originally consisted of brothers O’Kelly, Rudolph, and Ronald before expanding to add the remaining brothers and one brother-in-law. Though they are best known for their work in Motown, rock, and soul, their music was highly versatile and drew inspiration from many genres. They achieved moderate success throughout the 1960s before peaking in the following decade. Their top hits include Shout (Pts. 1 & 2) and This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You).
20. Martha & The Vandellas
Martha & The Vandellas were an all-female music group that was extremely successful from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. Formed in 1957, the group explored genres from doo-wop to R&B, soul, and pop. The height of their success started in 1963, and they continued to top the charts from then until their breakup in 1972. They are still known for songs such as Heat Wave, Honey Chile, and Bless You.
21. The Supremes
The Supremes were not just one of the best musical groups of the 1960s, but continue to be beloved to this day. They were responsible for launching the singing career of Diana Ross, one of the most successful female musicians of all time. However, The Supremes were also extraordinarily successful as a group and are considered one of the best female ensembles of the 20th century. Their top tracks include Stop! In The Name of Love and Baby Love.
22. The Doors
The Doors were pioneers of psychedelic rock and acid rock. Formed in 1965, they were one of the most successful rock bands of all time, having sold more than 100 million albums and garnered eight certified gold LPs. Lead singer Jim Morrison is a member of the infamous 27 Club, having passed away in 1971 at the age of 27. Despite his early death, The Doors remain among the key groups in the counterculture movement thanks to their flamboyant style and onstage performances.
23. Gladys Knight & The Pips
Gladys Knight & The Pips enjoyed an extraordinarily long career, performing until 1989. But the 1960s were the peak of their career as a group and the time when their music was most influential. They were known for their dynamic live performances, which include high-energy dance routines, and their flawless vocal harmonies.
24. The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones’ career may have started in the 1960s, but their influence has extended well into the 21st century. They were one of the earliest hard rock bands, paving the way for other groups through subsequent decades. Throughout the 1960s, they were the poster band of the counterculture, butting against the hippie movement and the rising folk-rock genre. Some of their greatest songs include (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction and Angie.
25. Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry already had a successful career through the 1950s, but his fame only grew in the subsequent decades. He was influential in helping to shape modern rock and roll, especially as other bands like The Beatles and The Beach Boys covered and adapted his songs. He is best remembered for his earlier hit Johnny B. Goode, though his hits in the 1960s included You Never Can Tell and Nadine.
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