Organizing a list of the best male vocalists from the 60s is no easy task as the decade was so full of legendary, incredible, ground-breaking, and genius musical artists. Many of the “firsts” in music occurred in the 60s when talent and creativity were at a fever pitch. From John Lennon to Marvin Gaye, here is a list of the best male singers of the 60s—a list which is by no means complete.
1. John Lennon
Although he would go on to an incredibly successful solo career in the 70s, singer and songwriter John Lennon first saw fame as one of the lead singers of the seminal rock band The Beatles. Throughout the 60s, The Beatles were a remarkable force in music because they were both critically and commercially successful.
The band began playing together in the very early 60s, and Lennon, with writing partner Paul McCartney, would be responsible for some of the greatest rock hits and albums of the decade. Lennon and his bandmates parted ways in 1970.
2. Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley became famous in the 50s, but he remained incredibly popular in the 60s as he starred in movies that topped the box office and recorded multiple chart toppers every year. Some of his notable songs from the 60s include “Return To Sender” and “Stuck On You.”
One of the remarkable things about Presley’s career is that his hits from the 50s paved the way for some of the biggest acts of the 60s. The albums he released in the 60s include “Elvis Is Back,” “His Hand In Mine,” “Something For Everybody,” and “Pot Luck,” and those are just the ones he released from 1960 to 1962.
3. James Brown
James Brown began his career as a gospel singer and would eventually go on to influence the creation of several modern music genres. He was at his most successful in the 60s with his release of the album “Live At The Apollo.” Huge hits included “I Got You” and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”
Not only did Brown experience monumental sales success in the 60s, but he would also release what many consider the first true funk song: “Cold Sweat.” He also started to change his method of singing to one that wasn’t fully sung but was not quite spoken either. This style of singing was seen as a major influence on the rap songs of the next decade.
4. Paul McCartney
Alongside writing partner John Lennon, Paul McCartney enjoyed the same incredible popularity as Lennon in the 60s as part of The Beatles. Like Lennon, McCartney would have a successful solo career after The Beatles parted ways in 1970.
Although Lennon is credited with the creation of the band, McCartney had a significant influence on the management and direction of the band from the mid-60s until the band broke up. The band was responsible for many changes to the industry. McCartney helped develop the first long-form music videos and helped advance artistic concepts in cover art and fashion.
5. Jimi Hendrix
The tragically short life of Jimi Hendrix robbed the world of one of the most creative American singers and songwriters. He’s been described as one of the greatest instrumentalists in the rock genre. Hendrix began playing guitar at the age of 15, and then, he spent some time playing with the Isley Brothers and, later, Little Richard.
After moving to England and signing a management contract with Chas Chandler, the bassist for The Animals, Hendrix would eventually create the Jimi Hendrix Experience and see immediate success. He became the highest-paid performer in the world by 1969 when he was the headliner for Woodstock.
6. Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger was in school at the London School of Economics but left without finishing his degree to join The Rolling Stones. Most of the first gigs the band played didn’t pay, and they often borrowed their equipment. The band focused on American R&B music and was heavily influenced by artists like Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry.
With his writing partner, Keith Richards, Jagger is responsible for writing the majority of the band’s songs. They released several successful albums in the 60s, but most of their early work consisted of doing covers of their favorite artists’ songs. Since their inception, The Rolling Stones has sold more than 66 million albums.
7. Brian Wilson
Although he’s mostly known for his vocal capabilities as part of The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson is considered one of the smartest and most creative musical geniuses ever to write a song. Although many songs by The Beach Boys sound simple and straightforward, they’re often filled with complex orchestrations and harmonies.
Despite suffering an abusive childhood, Wilson grew into an incredible musical talent as a child. Around the age of eight, a choir director discovered that he had perfect pitch, and the family soon bought a piano for their son. He formed The Beach Boys in 1961 with his brothers and their cousin Mike.
Next: Top 1960s bands list
8. Bob Dylan
The one-of-a-kind vocal sound of Bob Dylan is only overshadowed by the impact his lyrics have had on popular culture. Some of the most celebrated works were written and performed in the 60s during the height of the antiwar and civil rights movements.
No list of the best 60s male singers would be complete without the man responsible for “The Times They Are A-Changin'” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Not only was Dylan a landmark singer and songwriter of the 60s, but he eventually went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016.
9. Ray Charles
Ray Charles made an indelible mark on music in the 50s and 60s and would see his first number one hit in 1960 with “Georgia on My Mind.” Frank Sinatra called Ray Charles a “genius,” and Billy Joel said Charles was more important to music than Elvis Presley.
Charles was heavily influenced by Nat King Cole, Louis Jordan, and Charles Brown. He was a pioneer in soul music in the 50s, and he enjoyed incredible crossover success over the next decade. He was the first Black artist to gain significant creative control over his career but, eventually, he struggled with substance abuse for several years.
10. Roger Daltrey
Roger Daltrey is a co-founder and the lead singer of The Who, which is considered one of the most significant rock bands of the 20th century. With over 100 million records sold, their contributions to rock music included the use of a synthesizer, power chords, and the creation of the rock opera.
They enjoyed a string of hits throughout the 60s and ended the decade by playing at Woodstock and the Isle of Wight. They would enter the 70s as juggernauts of the rock genre. Their initial success was fueled by so-called “pirate radio,” which was the only way for British rock bands to get their songs heard on the radio since the BBC rarely played rock songs.
11. Art Garfunkel
Art Garfunkel is famous for his collaborations with singer and songwriter Paul Simon and their folk-rock group Simon & Garfunkel, but he also counts several top 10, top 20, and top 40 hits. He released his first album with Simon in 1964 but wouldn’t see success until a producer lifted “The Sound of Silence” from the disc and released it as a single in 1965.
Together with Simon, Garfunkel would release four exceptionally influential folk albums in the 60s, with “Bridge Over Troubled Water” recorded at the end of the 60s.
12. Tom Jones
Tom Jones rose to fame in the 60s with a string of hits like “It’s Not Unusual,” “What’s New Pussycat?” and “Delilah.” He began his musical career as part of a Welsh group called Tommy Scott & The Senators but would eventually sign on as a solo artist with record company Decca.
He would start his legendary residency in Las Vegas in 1967 with his signature style of extra tight trousers and half-open shirts. He played at least one night a week in Las Vegas from 1967 all the way until 2011.
13. Roy Orbison
Roy Orbison was born in Texas and began his career singing rockabilly and country songs in the late 50s. By the early 60s, he signed a record deal with Monument Records and released 22 singles that catapulted him into the Billboard Top 40. He was fully or partially responsible for writing all of those hits.
Interestingly, he wore dark sunglasses and dyed his hair black not because he wanted to exude a particular type of persona but because he had severe stage fright. Orbison was eventually inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is considered one of the greatest songwriters of all time.
14. Otis Redding
Otis Redding was not only responsible for some of the greatest songs produced in the 20th century, but he was also a major influence on many other singers who would find fame in the decades after his untimely death in a plane crash.
Redding didn’t get to finish high school because he had to quit to help support his family. He worked several menial jobs like gas station attendant and well digger but would occasionally play music. His debut album, “Pain in My Heart,” came in 1963, but his talented career was cut short with his death in 1967.
15. Dean Martin
Dean Martin was part of the famous “Rat Pack” of performers that included fellow artists Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra. Martin was responsible for some huge hits like “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head?” and “That’s Amore,” and he would also appear in 85 television shows and feature films over the course of his career.
During the 60s, Martin enjoyed huge success as a recording artist, television and movie star, and nightclub performer. Although he was an influential performer in his own right, artists that influenced him included Perry Como and Bing Crosby.
Born Donovan Phillips Leitch but known simply as Donovan, the Scottish musician and songwriter hit it big in the mid-60s with several singles in the U.K. He landed on America’s Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1966 with the release of “Sunshine Superman.”
He is responsible for teaching John Lennon a particular style of guitar playing that would eventually influence the sound of some of The Beatles’ songs in the late 60s. Although his career peaked in the 60s, he was still active in the 70s and 80s and even released albums in the 2000s.
17. Eric Burdon
As a member of the British Invasion group The Animals, Eric Burdon possessed one of the most distinctive and memorable voices of his generation. One of the early musical influences for Burdon was Louis Armstrong, who he saw on television at an early age when his family bought a television.
In the 60s, he joined a band named The Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo, but the band soon changed its name to The Animals, playing electric blues and rock. Some of their standout 60s hits with Burdon on lead vocals included “The House Of The Rising Sun,” “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”
18. Wilson Pickett
In his amazing and impactful career, Wilson Pickett was a major force in the development of soul music in the United States. He released more than 50 songs that made the R&B charts, and several of those songs made their way into mainstream music. Some of his famous tracks include 1962’s “Land of a Thousand Dances” and 1965’s “Mustang Sally.”
Born in Alabama and raised on the music of Baptist church choirs, Pickett had ten siblings and had a rough upbringing with a strict mother. He recorded his first songs in the late 50s in Detroit and released his first solo album in the early 60s.
19. Jim Morrison
The lead singer of The Doors, Jim Morrison is another of America’s famous 60s male singers whose life was cut short due to a suspected drug overdose. He was heavily influenced by famous poets and philosophers of the past, and those influences came through in his music. Highly intelligent, he earned a degree in theater from UCLA in the 60s.
Morrison came up with many of the lyrics for his band’s famous songs while he was living a bohemian lifestyle in Venice Beach, California. The Doors were named after Aldous Huxley’s book “The Doors of Perception.” The band rose incredibly fast in popularity, with “Light My Fire” reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967.
20. Johnny Cash
Though his fame stretched well before and beyond the 60s, the most prolific years of Johnny Cash’s musical career came in the 60s. He remains one of the best-selling musical artists of all time, with more than 90 million records sold worldwide. His eclectic style featured country, rockabilly, gospel, rock & roll, folk, and blues and earned him spots in multiple music halls of fame.
One of his most famous albums came in 1968 when he performed at Folsom State Prison in California and recorded “Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison.” A year later, he would follow that album with “Johnny Cash At San Quentin.”
21. Marvin Gaye
Nicknamed the “Prince of Motown,” Marvin Gaye was an influential member of the Motown sound in the 60s and eventually went on to embark on a successful solo career. A few of his famous songs from his Motown days include “How Sweet It Is” and “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”
After becoming one of the most famous 60s male singers, Gaye would see further success in the 70s and 80s. Unfortunately, his life ended just a day before he turned 45 when he was shot and mortally wounded by his father during an argument.
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