There are few decades as revolutionary as the 1960s in music history. Influenced by political and social upheaval, the decade gave way to R&B, soul, funk, and new forms of rock. These 51 best albums of the 1960s paved the way for music as we know it today.
1. Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band — The Beatles
The Beatles strayed into a more experimental sound with their 1967 album Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band. It is an early example of psychedelic rock, influenced by the band members’ exploration into new types of spiritualism and drug use. LSD played a huge role in McCartney’s contributions to the album, considered a monumental piece of artwork in the history of American music. The album’s most iconic songs include Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds and When I’m Sixty-Four.
2. Live At The Apollo — James Brown
James Brown’s first live album was 1963’s Live at The Apollo. A monumental step in Brown’s career, the album has since been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. Its popularity and legacy are particularly impressive since it is less than 30 minutes long and features only eight songs.
3. I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You — Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin’s 1967 album I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You was her 10th studio album; amazingly, her nine previous albums were largely unpopular. It was this one, released under a new recording label, that propelled her to superstardom. I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You introduced some of Franklin’s most iconic songs, including Respect and the title track.
4. Stand! — Sly & The Family Stone
Stand! has been called the greatest album of Sly & The Family Stone’s time as a group. Released in 1969, the album featured many songs that would go on to become standards. Later that year, the band performed at Woodstock, further popularizing the recent album. Stand! was inducted to the National Recording Registry in 2014. The album includes the songs Sing a Simple Song, I Want to Take You Higher, and Everyday People, all of which would be extensively covered by other groups.
5. Green River — Creedence Clearwater Revival
1969 was a busy year for Creedence Clearwater Revival; the group released three albums that year: Bayou Country in January, Green River in August, and Willy And The Poor Boys in November. Green River is considered the best of the three, with critics saying it provided a mature sound. The album included the songs Green River and Bad Moon Rising, both of which would become standards for the group.
6. The Who Sell Out — The Who
The Who Sell Out is certainly in a league of its own; the 1967 album is part musical experiment, part ad extravaganza, together making a concept album with a heavy critique of capitalism. Some of the ad tracks were true commercials they had been hired to do, while others were intended as satire, such as the song, Heinz Baked Beans. Though it reportedly led to a flurry of lawsuits, it is widely considered the group’s best album and a remarkable piece of art.
7. From Elvis to Memphis — Elvis Presley
For much of the 1960s, Elvis released only soundtrack albums and did not perform live at all. His 1969 album From Elvis to Memphis marked a return to live performances that would continue until his death just four years later. Elvis was determined to make his future shows his own once again, leading to From Elvis to Memphis. The album included his famous song In The Ghetto and is considered one of the best of his later career.
8. The Stooges — The Stooges
The Stooges released their debut album in 1969. It was met with mixed reviews, though the singles 1969 and I Wanna Be Your Dog were popular. Contemporary music critics have said that the album was historic, yet unappreciated in its time, thanks to its pioneering take on the emerging genres of proto-rock and garage rock.
9. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme — Simon & Garfunkel
Duo Simon & Garfunkel were prolific throughout the 1960s, and it is difficult to pick a single album that stands out among the rest. Contemporaries widely consider 1966’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme to be the duo’s best artistic endeavor. It was popular on the folk scene of the time, particularly the songs Homeward Bound and Scarborough Fair/Canticle. The album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
10. Santana — Santana
Santana’s first album, released in 1969, was heavily geared toward their original preference for free-form jam music; subsequently, about half of the album is purely instrumental. After the band’s successful performance at Woodstock earlier in the year, the album was a flop. However, contemporary music critics have called it one of the best jazz fusion/psychedelic rock albums ever to be recorded.
11. Pet Sounds — The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys’ 1966 album Pet Sounds is another album that was largely unappreciated in its time. It was met with an underwhelming response from both the public and critics, at least in the US. In the UK, however, Pet Sounds became wildly popular and was hailed as a pioneering progressive pop album. Modern critics tend to agree with this assessment, citing the album’s innovative use of harmonies, musical experimentation, and layering recording tracks as a foundation for future progressive pop records.
12. Abbey Road — The Beatles
The Beatles’ 1969 album Abbey Road was released just months before their official breakup, with the band members on the rocks. It was their second-to-last album, followed only by Let It Be. It topped the charts around the world, and modern critics have called it one of the best albums of the band’s time together. Abbey Road also features some of the most famous cover art in music history: the band members walking over a crosswalk near Abbey Road Studios.
13. The Velvet Underground & Nico — Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground & Nico was controversial and shocking when it was released in 1967. The album was ahead of its time, experimenting with emerging elements of psychedelic rock and featuring songs about drug use, free sex, and sadomasochism. It became hugely influential on later albums in psychedelic rock as well as alternative, punk rock, indie, and goth music.
14. Sweetheart of The Rodeo — The Byrds
The Byrds’ 1968 album Sweetheart of The Rodeo may have been the first example of modern country rock, depending on who you ask. It was undoubtedly responsible, at least partly, for popularizing country music in the pop music sphere, leading to the rise of other modern country artists. The album featured an excellent fusion of musical genres that paved the way for other country greats throughout the 1970s.
15. Dusty in Memphis — Dusty Springfield
Dusty Springfield’s 1969 album Dusty in Memphis was not particularly successful at the time of its release, despite the fact that it included a highly popular single, Son of a Preacher Man. Modern critics, however, have said that the album was historically significant as a work of a female musician in rock and roll during the late 60s; it was added to the National Recording Registry in 2019.
16. Love Child — Diana Ross & The Supremes
In 1968, The Supremes released Love Child, a departure from their past soul-infused music. The group’s career had been flagging, and the album was considered a Hail Mary. Luckily, it did the trick, propelling them back to the top of the charts. Love Child has been called the group’s most mature album, paving the way for the course of their career through the next decade.
17. St. Louis to Liverpool — Chuck Berry
Released in 1964, St. Louis to Liverpool was far from Chuck Berry’s first album; however, it was his first to hit the Billboard charts. It was released during the British invasion when groups such as the Beatles were drawing on inspiration from Berry’s music. The album was his response, resulting in a commercial comeback that spawned four hit singles, including You Never Can Tell and Little Marie.
18. A Saucerful of Secrets — Pink Floyd
A Saucerful of Secrets was Pink Floyd’s second album, released in 1968. The album came several years before the group gained mainstream popularity; nevertheless, it was still widely acclaimed in the UK. Later music critics praised its gentle instrumental tracks and exploratory musicality. The band members themselves spoke of the album as laying the groundwork for their identity as a group, which would become more apparent with later releases such as The Dark Side of The Moon.
19. The Buddy Holly Story, Volume 2 — Buddy Holly
The Buddy Holly Story, Volume 2, was one of two albums released posthumously after the untimely death of singer Buddy Holly. Holly was killed in a plane crash in February 1959. The two albums featured unreleased and unfinished tracks that were completed via overdubbing after Holly’s death. These volumes, released in 1960, featured a treasure trove of Holly’s last composed works. Songs such as That Makes It Tough would go on to shape the maturation of rock throughout the 60s that Holly himself never lived to see.
20. Groovin’ — The Rascals
The Young Rascals, later styled simply as The Rascals, were still emerging in the genre of rhythm and blues when they released Groovin’ in 1967. Though they had previously released two other albums, Groovin’ was the first to be widely commercially successful. The album spawned eight singles, including Groovin’, You Better Run, and How Can I Be Sure?
21. Highway 61 Revisited — Bob Dylan
The 1960s were undoubtedly Bob Dylan’s decade. He released 10 albums throughout the decade, dropping a new one on a nearly annual basis. Highway 61 Revisited was released in 1965. It was remarkable for its departure from Dylan’s earlier acoustic music; critics, meanwhile, praised it for its combination of blues-rock and lyrical poetry. With songs all about the upheaval of culture in 1960s America, there are few albums that are more representative of the Zeitgeist.
22. Led Zeppelin II — Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin were pioneers of the emerging heavy rock genre, still in its infancy in the late 1960s. Their 1969 album Led Zeppelin II was (unsurprisingly) a sequel to their debut album, Led Zeppelin. It was highly commercially successful thanks to its unique fusion of blues-rock and heavy rock. Though it featured a significantly heavier sound than the band’s later material, Led Zeppelin II has been called one of the most influential early heavy rock albums in history.
23. Electric Ladyland — The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Electric Ladyland was released in 1968 while Jimi Hendrix was still styling himself as The Jimi Hendrix Experience. It was his final studio album, coming roughly two years before Hendrix’s death at the age of 27. Electric Ladyland was his first and only album to peak at No. 1 on the Billboard Charts, despite baffling critics at the time. It seems that Hendrix was ahead of his contemporaries, as the album is now considered revolutionary in the development of modern rock and roll.
24. Surrealistic Pillow — Jefferson Airplane
Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 album Surrealistic Pillow was undoubtedly one of the earliest examples of psychedelic rock or even acid rock. “Surreal” is the name of the game, as with much of Jefferson Airplane’s material. Featuring revolutionary songs such as Somebody to Love and White Rabbit, the album has been called an essential piece of the body of psychedelic rock.
25. Something Else — The Kinks
The Kinks were known for their unusually deep and introspective lyrics as well as their skilled use of baroque pop. Their unique genre was never better explored than in 1967’s Something Else, the group’s fifth studio album. Widely called one of the best albums of all time, it included several of their best-known songs, including Death of a Clown and Waterloo Sunset.
26. The Dock of The Bay — Otis Redding
There is something tragically poetic about the fact that Otis Redding died mere days after recording the biggest song of his career. The Dock of The Bay was the first album released after his death in a plane crash in 1967. It took its title from Redding’s main single and featured a variety of the singer’s past hits.
27. In Dreams — Roy Orbison
In Dreams was one of Roy Orbison’s most famous albums, released in 1963. The album’s titular song would go on to become one of Orbison’s biggest hits; in 2004, it was named on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The album did well in both the United States and Australia, where it hit No. 1 on the Australian singles chart.
28. It’s Everly Time — The Everly Brothers
The Everly Brothers had already enjoyed a successful career throughout the 1950s, but critics regard 1960’s It’s Everly Time as their best album. The song hit No. 9 on the charts and set the course for the group’s music throughout the decade. It set a marked tone that contrasted with the more over-the-top genres emerging throughout the 60s.
29. Bees Gees’ 1st — The Bee Gees
Despite the name, the 1967 album Bee Gees’ 1st was actually the group’s third studio album. It features the Bee Gees’ exploration into psychedelic pop, which would pave the way for their branching into disco 10 years later on the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever. The album was singlehandedly responsible for placing them at the forefront of the emerging psychedelic rock genre of the late 60s.
30. In a Silent Way — Miles Davis
Miles Davis released In a Silent Way in 1969 to mixed reviews from critics, who were perplexed by his fusion of jazz and electronica. The album marks the beginning of the jazz musician’s shift to electronic instruments, a trend he would continue to explore for the rest of his career. Though largely dismissed by Davis’ contemporaries, In a Silent Way was a significant turning point in the developing trend of blending traditional genres with electronic instruments.
31. Are You Experienced — The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Jimi Hendrix’s first studio album, Are You Experienced, was released in 1967. It was the first of the singer’s three albums released during his lifetime, each of which was considered revolutionary in the development of rock and roll. Are You Experienced was wildly successful, peaking at No. 44 on the Billboard charts over a total of 34 weeks. The album included many of Hendrix’s most iconic songs, including Hey Joe, Purple Haze, and The Wind Cries Mary.
32. The Doors — The Doors
The Doors released their self-titled debut album in early 1967. The band was highly influential in the development of hard rock at the turn of the 1970s, and their introductory album was just as revolutionary. Some critics have called it the best debut album in history, showing all of the polish of much more mature groups. The album includes the songs Light My Fire and The End, both of which would become The Doors’ standards.
33. Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul — Otis Redding
Released in 1965, Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul was Otis Redding’s third album, coming just two years before his death in December 1967. While most of his other albums featured self-composed songs, Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul largely focused on covers of modern R&B hits. Notably, however, the album included three of Redding’s own compositions: Ole Man Trouble, I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, and Respect, which would later be famously covered by Aretha Franklin.
34. At Last! — Etta James
At Last! was Etta James’ debut album, released in 1960 to instant success. It is James’ best-known album, particularly the title song, which would become a standard of her later career. It has become a standard of the jazz genre as well, being covered by musicians as varied as Stevie Wonder, Cyndi Lauper, Céline Dion, Christina Aguilera, and Beyoncé.
35. Days of Future Passed — The Moody Blues
Despite the name, The Moody Blues weren’t a blues group; instead, their 1967 album Days of Future Passed is widely considered to be one of the earliest examples of progressive rock. The album was an explorative project about the cycle of life, alternating rock songs with orchestral interludes. Though it received mixed reviews at the time, several singles received regular airplay. Today, it is considered a monumental album in the development of modern rock.
36. We’re Only in it For The Money — The Mothers of Invention
Released in 1968, We’re Only in it For The Money was a concept album that combined political satire with criticism of the hippie movement, commercialism, and pop culture. The Mothers of Invention took stabs at almost everyone on the album, from politicians to The Beatles. Producer Frank Zappa felt that popular groups like The Beatles were motivated by money, not art, and that the young people involved in the counterculture were self-important and too serious.
37. The Temptations Sing Smokey — The Temptations
The Temptations Sing Smokey, unsurprisingly, was a 1965 album consisting of covers by The Temptations of songs written or originally performed by Smokey Robinson. The album included some of the group’s most popular songs, including My Girl and The Way You Do That Thing You Do (though they had also recorded this track for their previous album). It is considered one of their best albums and a perfect example of R&B and soul in the mid-1960s.
38. Live/Dead — Grateful Dead
Grateful Dead’s 1969 live album Live/Dead features a clever play on words; it was their first live album, recorded over a run of concerts throughout the year. From a technical perspective, the album was remarkable for its pioneering use of 16-track recording. It was met with glowing reviews, with critics calling it one of the best rock albums of the modern era, particularly in regard to the band’s improvisational playing.
39. At Folsom Prison — Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash’s live 1968 album At Folsom Prison was an attempt to bolster his career, which had been flailing after his struggles with addiction. Though his record label wasn’t confident, the album proved to be a huge success. Recordings were taken from two live shows at the prison and featured some of Cash’s most iconic and powerful songs, including Folsom Prison Blues and Jackson.
40. Elvis is Back! — Elvis Presley
Elvis is Back! was Elvis’ triumphant return to recording after his two years of service in the United States Army. He was drafted in 1957 amidst popular uproar and did not release any new content for the last several years of the decade. Though critics were divided about the album, it was wildly successful with the public — unsurprisingly. The album also featured a move toward pop music and more mature vocals from Elvis.
41. Blonde on Blonde — Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan released an album almost every year of the 1960s, but his 1966 album Blonde on Blonde is one of his most acclaimed. One of the first double albums in history, it was considered to be an ambitious exploration both musically and lyrically. Blonde on Blonde includes Dylan’s iconic songs Visions of Johanna, Just Like a Woman, and Rainy Day Women #12 and 35. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
42. Let It Bleed — The Rolling Stones
Sliding in at the tail-end of the decade is The Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed, released in November 1969. The album was marked by a genre shift, drawing inspiration from blues music as well as country and gospel. It featured some of the band’s most acclaimed songs, including You Can’t Always Get What You Want and Gimme Shelter. Notably, it was also the last album to feature founder Brian Jones, who left the band and died just two months later.
43. Astral Weeks — Van Morrison
Van Morrison was largely unsuccessful throughout the 60s, with his career breakthrough coming with 1970’s Moondance. Nevertheless, his 1968 album Astral Weeks has gained attention from modern critics, particularly for its impressionistic, dreamlike lyrics and musical feel. Though Morrison has dismissed critics who call it one of the most influential rock albums of the 1960s, he hasn’t been able to change any minds.
44. Lady Soul — Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin released Lady Soul in 1968; it met with instant acclaim from both critics and the public. The album included some of the biggest songs of Franklin’s career, including Chain of Fools and (You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman. It has been regularly named on lists of Best Albums of All Time. In addition to the success of the singles named above, the track Ain’t No Way also placed in the Top 10 of the Black Singles Chart.
45. Crosby, Stills & Nash — Crosby, Stills & Nash
Crosby, Stills & Nash was released in 1969 as the group’s debut album, the only album that preceded Neil Young’s addition to the band and their subsequent name change. Though many artists struggle to gain notice with their debut albums, this one was an instant game-changer for Crosby, Stills & Nash. It was considered an incredibly confident debut, putting them on the charts and gaining immediate mainstream attention. The album included two top singles, Marrakesh Express and Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.
46. California Dreamin’ — The Mamas & The Papas
It seems amazing to think about the modesty of the California Dreamin’ album, contrasted with its legacy. Released in 1965, the album featured only two songs, California Dreamin’ and Somebody Groovy. Nevertheless, its reach was phenomenal; the titular song not only became the signature track of The Mamas & The Papas but has also been called the original California Sound song.
47. The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie — Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder was still a child prodigy during the 1960s; his debut album The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie was released in 1962 when he was just 12 years old. The album is purely instrumental, though Wonder would sing much more frequently on his later albums. However, it features several of his own compositions as well as performances on the piano, drums, and harmonica. The album includes the song Fingertips, Wonder’s first hit.
48. Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music Vol. 2 — Ray Charles
Though Ray Charles is largely associated with the genres of jazz, soul, and blues, he is also credited with shaping modern country music. In 1962, Charles released two albums of exploratory country music that would become the blueprint for the genre for the rest of the century. The second album was more acclaimed than the first, with some critics saying that it perfectly straddled the line between smooth jazz and country western music.
49. Moby Grape — Moby Grape
Psychedelic rock group Moby Grape exploded onto the scene with their debut album in 1967. They met with immediate success, with their album placing on the Billboard 200, leading to an instant recording deal with Columbia Records. Moby Grape was praised for its effortless combination of psychedelia, hard rock, blues, and even country music. It includes several of the group’s best-known songs, including Naked, If I Want To, Omaha, and Hey Grandma.
50. Bookends — Simon & Garfunkel
Simon & Garfunkel had enjoyed a successful career throughout the 1960s, but it wasn’t until the end of the decade that they were propelled to superstardom. This was in part due to the success of their previous two albums and in part due to their 1967 soundtrack work for the film The Graduate. Their 1968 album Bookends was considered to be a step above their previous work, exploring the theme of life stages from beginning to end.
51. Tommy — The Who
The Who’s 1969 album was more than an album — it was an entire rock opera following the story of a boy named Tommy Walker. The album explored themes of trauma, healing, and disassociation. Hailed as revolutionary for its time, Tommy is still considered one of the most highly influential albums in the history of rock and roll.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
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