The music that was most prominent in the 1960s was rock music, and it was a decade that saw a complete transformation of popular music. It was very challenging for us to come up with a list of the best bands of the 1960s, due to all of the outstanding bands that created music during the period. However, we’ve whittled the list down to 31 of the best rock bands of the 60s:
1. The Beatles
The Beatles have had record sales reaching over a billion globally, making them one of the most popular bands of all time. This band has had the most significant influence in the world in the history of rock music, too. They were an integral part of developing the 60s popular music and counterculture. The quartet was formed in Liverpool, England and were part of a trend of amazing music talent originating from the UK. The band comprised George Harrison, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney. The Beatles discography is hallowed and undeniable, and any of their albums from the 1960s are true musical masterpieces, making them an obvious choice on this list.
2. Pink Floyd
This is the ULTIMATE progressive rock band. Pink Floyd has sold over 200 million albums. This band was among the first to use fireworks and light shows during live performances. Pink Floyd comprised Nick Mason, Syd Barrett, Richard Wright, Roger Waters, and David Gilmour, who later joined the band. Definitely one of the best 60s bands, and their success would continue into further decades too.
3. The Who
The Who was a very innovative band musically, culturally, and in fashion. They were best known for their Union Jacket clothing. The Who band comprised Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon, John Entwistle, and Pete Townshend. The band, by 1969, had released 12 studio albums, such as Tommy. Tommy was used to tell the story of a deaf, dumb, and blind person (who’s also good at pinball). They were famous for hit songs like “The Kids,” “My Generation,” “Teenage Westland,” and “Baba O’Riley.” Definitely one of the best bands from the era, for sure.
4. Rolling Stones
They were the bad boys when it came to rock music. The band is often considered as a musical masterpiece, and they are still lauded for their success today. They reinterpreted American folk, blues, R&B, country, and rock to produce exciting music with raunchy lyrics in the rock and roll genre. The Rolling Stones was famous for hit songs like “Tumbling Dice,” “Wild Horses,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” and “Gimme Shelter,” amongst many others.
5. Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin focused on the heavy rock music genre. While their best decade was the 70s, we also HAD to include them in the 60s list. They pioneered using of sophisticated sound systems and light and are best known for their masterpiece “Stairway To Heaven.” This song is believed to have gotten the most airplay on the radio any song has ever gotten in the music industry .The band greatly impacted the music industry, especially stadium rock.
6. The Doors
The doors had a short lifespan but were still among the best and most influential 60s rock bands. The Doors comprised of Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, and Robby Krieger. The band was best known for hit songs like “Light My Fire,” “Break on Through,” “People are Strange,” and “Touch Me.” Globally, they sold about 100 million records, making them an extremely popular and successful band in history.
7. Moody Blues
Moody Blues was a progressive psychedelic band that began recording in 1964. The band became famous for their operatic tunes such as “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Nights in White Swan.” Moody Blues consisted of Ray Thomas, Mike Pinder, Denny Laine, Clint Warwick, and Graeme Edge. Moody Blues were the pioneers of classical rock, a subgenre of rock fusion of classical music and pop music.
The Cream was a classic rock power trio, even though the band lasted for only three years. Their popular classics like White Room have ensured their popularity has endured up to date. The trio in Cream gained their popularity independently before they came together to form a band. The band consisted of Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton, and Jake Bruce. Cream spotlight songs included “I’m So Glad,” “Spoonful,” “I Feel Free,” “Crossroads,” and “Bridge.”
9. The Byrds
The Byrds were a worthy rival to the Beatles in terms of popularity. They are considered the pioneers of folk-rock. The Byrds build an extensive family tree of significant pop and rock bands. Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, David Crosby, Chris Hillman, Michael Clarke, Gram Parsons, Winter Haven, and Clarence White make up the band. The Byrds was best known for songs like “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” “All I Really Want to Do,” “Fifth Dimension,” “My Back Pages,” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
This is a Latin band with tremendous success with its first album release performance in 1969 at Woodstock. Santana uniquely combines Latin blues, rock, salsa, and jazz with African rhythms. The band consisted of Carlos Santana (the only consistent member), David Brown, Jose Areas, Michael Shrieve, Gregg Rolie, and Michael Carabello. Sanatana has been among the best bands globally, with more than 47 million albums sold in America and around 100 million sold around the world.
11. Blood, Sweat, And Tears
The rock band created a massive milestone in the rock music industry with their blue jazz orientations and large horn sections. They were highly recognized by fans for combining rock band instrumentation and brass. Formed in New York in 1967, they were a formidable jazz rock band at the time. Keith Paluso, Dylan Elise, Jonathan Powell, Glen McClelland, Julian Coryell, Brad Mason, Michael Boscarino, and Ric Fierabracci make up the band.
12. Moby Grape
Moby Grape had a plethora of singer-songwriters in their lineup. Thankfully, there weren’t too many “cooks in the kitchen” for the band to make amazing music for their time. Their melodies and groundbreaking sonic capabilities helped pave the way for many bands in the future. Despite an early flameout in the 70s, they were so productive with expertly crafted music in the 60s that they deserve a spot on this list.
The band was founded in 1967. Genesis worked hard to put their music as a progressive rock among those in the mainstream and maintained it there. The band consisted of Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Steve Hackett, and Michael Rutherford.
14. The Allman Brothers
The band was created in the late 60s in Florida. The Allman Brothers thrived greatly by mixing blues, jazz, hard rock, and classical music uniquely. The band consisted of two brothers, Gregg Allman and Duane Allman, together with Jai Johanny Johanson and Butch Trucks. Their popular hit songs include “Dreams,” “In Memory of Elizabeth,” “Blue Sky,” “Statesboro Blues,” and “Ramblin Man.”
Traffic, an English band, was created in 1967 in Birmingham. It started as a psychedelic rock band but later changed its sound using new instruments such as keyboards and reed instruments in their music. The band has thrived more with albums than releasing singles. The band consisted of Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason, and Chris Wood. Traffic was popularly known for songs like “Medicated Goo,” “Paper Sun,” “Pearly Queen,” “You Can All Join In,” and “Freedom Rider.”
16. Jethro Tull
They are a British band created in 1967. Jethro Jull made unique sounds in rock and roll influenced by classical music. The band was able to utilize instruments such as the flute to make their sound their own. Jethro Tull first played a mixture of jazz and blues-rock before venturing out to progressive rock sound. The band consisted of Ian Anderson (the only constant member), Marin Barre, John Evan, Andrew Giddings, John Glasslock, Jonathan Noyce, Dee Palmer, and Doane Perry. Jethro Tull was best known for songs such as “Beggars Farm,” “Teacher,” “Thick As A Brick,” “Aqualung,” and “Too Old to Rock N’ Roll.
17. The Kinks
The Kinks were an English rock band that cleverly maintained their popularity in the music industry by constantly adjusting their musical style and lyrical themes varying with the public tastes. The members of the Kinks band were two brothers, Ray and Dave Davies. Their hit single “You Really Got Me” is among the most acknowledged songs in the history of rock music.
18. The Velvet Underground
Velvet Underground & Nico is regarded as one of the best albums in the history of music. At the time, it wasn’t actually highly regarded in music, but it’s influence on music culture is undeniable. The band underwent stylistic changes throughout the 1960s, but the brooding, seedy lyrics of Lou Reed combined with the beautiful melodies of the band will forever live on.
19. Buffalo Springfield
Buffalo Springfield was a band comprising Canadian musicians. The band members include Bruce Palmer, Richie Furay, Neil Young, and Stephen Stills. They were a short-lived rock band for about two years, but they created a significant impact on the rock music scene of the 1960s. The band was a contemporary band that aided in the early rise of folk-rock by combining their music with elements of country music, folk music, psychedelic rock, and British invasion influences. Buffalo Springfield is famous for songs like “Rock & Roll Woman,” “Expecting to Fly,” “For What It’s Worth,” “Mr. Soul,” and “Stop Children What’s That Sound.”
20. Deep Purple
They were an English band formed in 1968. The band started as a progressive and psychedelic rock band before they progressed to heavier sounds. Many critics consider Deep Purple to be part of modern hard rock and heavy metal rock pioneers. Their heavy grinding music was very influential in the rock music industry. The band, in its lifespan, has sold more than 100 million records globally. All of the members of Deep Purple included Jon Lord, Nick Simper, Glen Hughes, Ritchie Blackmore, and Rod Evans. Popular breakthrough songs of Deep Purple are “Smoke On The Water,” “Black Night,” “Child in Time,” “Not Fade Away,” and “Soldier of Fortune.”
21. Steve Miller Band
The Steve Miller Band was formed in San Francisco, California, in 1966. Many of the members of the band have passed away, sadly. The Steve Miller Band is comprised of Steve Miller, Kenny Lee Lewis, Ron Wikso, Jacob Petersen, and Joseph Wooten. Some of their most popular songs of were “Abracadabra,” “Jet Airliner,” “Take the Money and Run,” “Rock n’ Me,” and “The Joker.”
This was an American-Canadian band that had some major hits. Members of the band included John Kay, Goldy McJohn, Jerry Edmonton, Michael Monarch, and Rushton Moreve. They were famous for making rock in the subgenre of “biker rock.” The band managed to sell more than 25 million records around the world. They also ranged on the Billboard Hot with 13 singles and released one platinum album and seven gold albums. Steppenwolf had breakthrough singles like “Rock Me,” “Magic Carpet Ride,” and “Born To Be Wild” that all managed to be top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles.
The English band was formed in 1968 and was quintessential in progressive rock. The band members include Chris Squire, Jon Anderson, Tony Kaye, Peter Banks, and Bill Bruford. Before they focused on progressive rock music, the band rearranged covers of jazz, blues, rock, and pop songs.
This American band was formed in 1967 in (surprise) Chicago. The band uniquely blended classical music, pop, R&B, and jazz music. Chicago band thrived as an orchestral rock group globally. They had a distinct horn-based sound which made them very popular and attracted large audiences. The members of the Chicago band included Peter Cetera, Danny Seraphine, Walter Parazaider, Lee Loughnane, Robert Lamm, Terry Kath, and James Pankow. Chicago band has produced several hit albums such as “Make Me Smile,” “Chicago Transit Authority,” “Chicago,” and “Chicago XXXVII: Chicago Christmas.”
Love was a band that made waves in both the 60s and 70s, though their best successes came in the former decade. The albums “Love” and”Da Capo” were some of our favorites from the band in the 60s. Although they were heavily involved in psychedelic west coast rock, they never lost personality or lyricism in obscured experimental riffs and sounds.
26. Lynyrd Skynyrd
This band is an American group that was based in Florida. The band comprised Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington, Bob Burns, and Larry Junstrom. They focused on the subgenre of Southern rock, and are instrumental in making it popular. They are famous for hit songs like “Free Bird” “Simple Man,” “Tuesday’s Gone,” “Gimme Three Steps,” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”
27. Grateful Dead
This American Band was formed in 1965. Grateful Dead was famous for its extraordinary and electric style. The band fused elements of blues, rock, reggae, folk, bluegrass, gospel, country, and psychedelic rock uniquely. The band was considered the forefather of the music style of a jam band. The faithful fans of the Grateful Dead were affectionately called Deadheads. The members of the Grateful Dead band included Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia, Ron McKernan, Phil Lesh, and Bill Kreutzmann.
28. Simon & Garfunkel
It’s about time we included a duo on this list, and what better group than Simon & Garfunkel to grace this list? Their harmonies were in a class of their own from other rock bands on this list. “The Sounds of Silence” and “Wednesday Morning 3 A.M” are two of the greatest first two albums that any musical group has ever released. Then, as the decade wrapped up, the release of “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” and “Bookends” from Simon & Garfunkel convincingly placed them amongst the elite musicians of the 1960s.
29. Fleetwood Mac
The band was formed in 1967 in London. The band comprised Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, Jeremy Spencer, and John McVie. Fleetwood Mac is known for hit songs such as “Go Your Own Way,” “The Chain,” “Landslide,” “Dreams,” and “Little Lies.” Their music fused rock, folk, blues, art pop, and soft rock to create progressive rock music.
30. Sly & The Family Stone
The American Band originated in San Francisco and was formed in 1966. The Band mixed psychedelic rock, memorable melodies, and pop with funk influences. The popular hit songs of the band are such as “Family Affair,” “Dance to Music,” “Underdog,” “Loose Booty,” and “I Want To Take You Higher.” They comprised Sly Stone, Cynthia Robinson, Greg Errico, Rose Stone, Jerry Martini, Larry Graham, and Freddie Stone.
31. Beach Boys
The American Band was formed in 1961. The band consisted of Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine. The Beach Boys were skilled in songwriting with many songs about cute girls and surfing. One of the most well known bands on this list, they epitomized pop music and surf rock and were serious trendsetters throughout the 1960s.
That wraps up our list of the best 60s bands. Did we miss out on any of your favorites? Let us know by contacting us today and we’ll consider your input to add to the list!
As the Head Editor at Music Grotto, Liam edits content produced from over 30 professional music/media journalists and 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.