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The 10 Best Rock Bands Of The ’60s

An in-depth examination of the best rock bands of the ’60s ranked by worldwide album sales

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best 60s rock bands

The best rock bands of the 60s witnessed significant changes in the world, like NASA landing a man on the moon to protests about the Vietnam War.

The result is bands and artists who captured the world’s consciousness and wrote prolific songs that are still being played today.

We will dive into this turbulent decade to discover the best bands from the 60s and learn more about how they became legendary.

 

The 10 Best Rock Bands Of The ’60s

In selecting our top ten bands, we calculated album sales from the 60s and considered bands that impacted rock music. 

While some would argue that Simon & Garfunkel are not a rock band, we included them since other rock bands recorded their songs and had staggering sales.

So grab your incense and peace symbol and join us as we look at our list of the 10 best 60s rock bands:

 

10. The Byrds

Album Sales: $1 million

The Byrds are an American band who flocked to Los Angeles in 1964, and although they didn’t last long, they created a style of music called folk rock.

Additionally, band member David Crosby would later form Crosby, Stills, & Nash, while singer/songwriter Roger McGuinn went on to have a successful solo career.

The Byrd’s tell-tale sound was McGuinn’s twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar that helped songs like “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” top the charts. Another critical aspect of The Byrd’s sound was their complex vocal harmonies that shine on the hit, “8 Miles High.”

The Byrds broke up around 1967 and were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, which would be the last time the band played together.

With their string of hits, genre-shaping sound, and dynamic vocal harmonies, The Byrds will always fly high as one of the best folk rock bands of the 60s.

 

9. Jefferson Airplane

Album Sales: $4 million

During the 60s, drug experimentation was widespread, and mind-altering drugs like LSD became the drug of choice in the area of San Francisco known as Haight-Ashbury.

The region became synonymous with representing the counter-cultural movement, and bands who used hallucinogenic drugs created a style of music known as psychedelic rock. One band emerged from this neighborhood as the top psychedelic rock band of the time: Jefferson Airplane.

The band started in 1965 with Grace Slick as lead vocalist, and they became superstars with hit songs like “White Rabbit” and “Don’t You Want Somebody to Love.” The band broke up in the 70s and formed spin-off groups like Jefferson Starship with some chart success.

In 1996, Jefferson Airplane was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and while the band no longer performs, they continue to be one of the great bands from the 60s.

 

8. Cream

Album Sales: $5 million

This power trio chose “Cream” as their name because fans considered them the Cream of the top, with Ginger Baker, one of the best drummers of all time, and guitarist Eric Clapton and bassist Jack Bruce.

Formed in England in 1966, Clapton, Bruce, and Baker hit the stage as seasoned players and took the world by storm with their blues-rock-infused music. All three musicians are considered the best at their instruments and continue influencing aspiring players today.

Cream wrote hit songs like “White Room” and explored some of the most popular music genres, like hard rock, with songs like “Sunshine of Your Love.”

The band broke up in 1968 due to a conflict between Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, but their farewell performances at the Royal Albert Hall proved that Cream will forever be one of the world’s most famous rock bands of the 60s.

 

7. The Beach Boys

Album Sales: $12 million

Although The Beach Boys may not have a rock or blues sound, their musical influence in the 60s and beyond cannot be overlooked or denied.

Formed in California in 1961, the Wilson brothers wrote classic surf rock with early hits like “Surfin’ USA,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” and “Surfer Girl.” The creative genius behind their sound and songs was Brian Wilson, who would take the band into new musical genres to explore.

For many of their albums, Brian Wilson opted to use one of the best female bass players of all time, Carol Kaye, along with other top-session players. The result is albums like “Pet Sounds” that influenced The Beatles, and hit songs like “Good Vibrations” that many fans and critics hail as Wilson’s musical masterpiece.

The Beach Boys have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, sold millions of albums, and continue to perform live concerts.

With music that explores various musical styles and that has influenced contemporary artists, The Beach Boys will forever reign as one of the best rock bands of the 60s.

 

6. Creedence Clearwater Revival

Album Sales: $16 million

Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) was America’s answer to the British Invasion and would be one of the few American bands of the 60s to perform at the Royal Albert Hall.

CCR is from the San Francisco area and began as a high school band playing cover songs and developing its style. While they had never been to the bayou region of the States, they were influenced by blues artists from this area. And with John Fogerty’s raspy voice and lyrics reflecting life on the bayou, CCR crafted what would be known as swamp rock.

The band’s most notable song is “Proud Mary,” which has been covered by Tina Turner, one of the best female rock singers of all time, and various bands throughout the years. CCR’s next hit song, “Born on the Bayou,” also had international success and spurred the decision for the band to tour and perform in Europe.

The band broke up in 1972 due to legal and musical control issues that became so heated that when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 93, John Fogerty refused to attend.

Despite such tensions and their short life as a band, Creedence Clearwater Revival continues to get airplay and impact new songwriters of all genres.

 

5. The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Album Sales: $20 million

The Jimi Hendrix Experience was formed in 1966 and was a trio consisting of Jimi Hendrix on guitar, Mitch Mitchel on drums, and Noel Redding on bass guitar. The group worked together for three years and recorded several albums, with Electric Ladyland being their last record, which critics hailed as their crowning achievement.

Jimi Hendrix, arguably one of the best guitarists of all time, wrote some of the most recognizable rock music, like “Purple Haze” and “Little Wing.” Hendrix liked to explore and experiment as a songwriter and is credited with shaping the psychedelic rock music style.

Although Jimi Hendrix was American, his career took off in England, where he developed his signature guitar sound using Marshall amplifiers. Hendrix was known for being one of the first to use distortion on his guitar, which enabled him to create raw, gritty, and unique music.

Jimi Hendrix performed as a lead guitarist at the Woodstock music festival, and his songs and stage persona became associated with the 60s counterculture movement. 

Less than a year later, Hendrix succumbed to asphyxia, but his impact on music history and the electric guitar still reverberates today.

Combine his masterful guitar playing, brilliant songwriting, and unique approach to producing records, and it’s easy to see why Hendrix was a powerhouse in the 60s.

 

4. Simon & Garfunkel

Album Sales: $89 million

The singer-songwriters Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were at the forefront of 60s folk music and are credited with crafting iconic hit songs. They were influenced by the 50s sensation, the Everly Brothers, and wrote pop music with harmonies similar to their heroes.

One of Simon & Garfunkel’s biggest hits, “Sounds of Silence,” began as a folk song until Columbia Records, one of the biggest record labels in the world, decided to transform it into a folk-rock single. The engineer added electric bass, guitars, and drums to give it a driving rock sound and feel.

The duo broke up in 1970, and each has gone on to solo careers, with Paul Simon outshining Art regarding album sales.

But as a duo, Simon & Garfunkel had their finger on the pulse of America’s youth during the 60s and wrote songs that best captured the folk rock scene.

 

3. The Rolling Stones

Album Sales: $111 million

Considered by fans and critics alike as the greatest rock and roll band of all time, The Rolling Stones began in 1962 and created timeless classic rock music during this era.

Like many British blues rock bands of the 60s, The Rolling Stones were influenced by American blues musicians like B.B. King and Muddy Waters. What separated them from the pack was that they could write songs that were a commercial success, like “Brown Sugar” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

The English rock band underwent some personnel changes in the 60s, landing on the final lineup of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Charlie Watts, and Bill Wyman.

Collectively, The Rolling Stones are some of the best musicians of all time and have written timeless blues rock hit songs like “Satisfaction” and “Honky Tonk Woman.”

The Rolling Stones continue to tour and sell out sports arenas worldwide, proving they were one of the top rock bands of the 60s and today.

 

2. Elvis Presley

Album Sales: $132 million

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the King of Rock ‘n Roll, Elvis Presley, made our top ten list since he is also considered one of the most influential cultural figures of the 20th century.

While most of Elvis’ hit songs were released in the late 50s, they snowballed with his acting career in the 60s to push album sales to new highs. He recorded some new material during the 60s in Nashville, including the hits “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and “It’s Now or Never.”

While Elvis Presley’s films were anything but award-winning, they fed his frenzied music fans who couldn’t get enough of the soulful singer. With each film, studios and record companies would release albums containing songs from the film, further bolstering earnings.

Many of these albums Elvis regretted recording because the songs didn’t capture his rock ‘n’ roll style or were poorly written. The exception to these were some gems like “Viva Las Vegas,” “Return to Sender,” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

Today, Elvis fans thrive and continue to purchase his songs and movies, making him an easy pick for our number two spot.

 

1. The Beatles

Album Sales: $377 million

The Beatles are the top 60s rock band based on their combined album sales in that decade and for spearheading the British Invasion in America. They are also one of the best bands of all time because they have sold millions of additional records throughout the decades.

Also known as The Fab Four, the lads from Liverpool stormed the American airwaves in the 60s with songs like “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help.” This musical invasion of America lured The Beatles to tour, but they quickly tired of the traveling, frenzied fans, and press and stopped performing live.

The Beatles devoted themselves to the craft of songwriting that touched on folk music and psychedelic rock while producing experimental albums.

The band utilized classical music to influence the production of songs like “Penny Lane” while also incorporating unique recording techniques on albums like “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

The Beatles broke up in 1970, and while there were constant rumors that the band would reunite, Harrison and Lennon’s tragic deaths ended such dreams.

Despite this, The Beatles’ songs are some of the most covered music in the industry, and their albums are musical masterpieces that inspire today’s artists and bands.

Combine these reasons with those we listed first, and you can understand why The Beatles are the best band of the 60s.

 

Summary

The 60s was a turbulent time that became the creative soil from which some of the best rock bands in the world were born.

The greatest rock bands of the 60s had short careers, while others, like The Rolling Stones, continued selling albums and are still touring.

But all of the artists included in the list wrote timeless hit songs that are still played today, which is why, in our opinion, they are considered the best 60s rock bands.

Who’s the best rock band of the ’60s, in your opinion? Leave a comment below. 

Jay is a professional bass player who spent years chasing Nashville’s neon rainbow performing with Shania Twain and other high-profile artists. As a musician, he's produced scores for videos and jingles using Pro Tools, vintage synths, and various plug-ins. When he’s not writing, he’s debating whether to ride his Italian racing bike, get funky on one of his many basses, or chill with the family.

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