The future of music

65 Best Rock Bands of the ’60s (Ranked List)

December 14, 2023
best 60s bands

I’ve picked out the best rock bands of the ’60s, a decade that saw the birth and rise of some of the most influential groups in rock history.

This article revisits the iconic sounds and revolutionary spirit of the 1960s, showcasing the bands that defined a generation and changed music forever.

Top rock bands of the ’60s

  • The Beatles
  • The Rolling Stones
  • The Kinks
  • The Animals
  • The Who
  • The Doors
  • Jethro Tull
  • Jefferson Airplane
  • The Hollies
  • Ten Years After

1. The Beatles

As far as some people are concerned, The Beatles were the sixties – a 60s groups list would be meaningless without them.

That might not be the grandiose statement it seems – they released over ten groundbreaking albums that completely disrupted the music, artistic, and counterculture permanently. 

Their music was intensely catchy and radio-friendly, true, but they also expanded the horizons of what was possible with mind-bending, intellectual, and spiritual fare. 

They put Liverpool on the map in a major way and they are remembered as one of the most influential bands of all time.

You may like our list of the best Beatles songs

2. The Rolling Stones

Vying with The Beatles for the title of best band of the sixties and beyond are The Rolling Stones, Britain’s edgy, swaggering darlings.

Their music was decidedly raunchier than that of their peers, and it sent shockwaves through polite society.

With melodies and riffs belying a preternatural gift for sound, The Rolling Stones produced songs so audaciously fresh and energetic that they’ve been household names for sixty years and counting.

Go give “Under my Thumb” or “Let’s Spend the Night Together” a listen for a taste of their dynamic, self-assured output.

3. The Kinks

Part of the British Invasion that upended all expectations and norms up to that date, The Kinks have had 9 albums hit the Top 40 charts and are one of the most talented groups of the 60s.

So British they would make the queen blush, The Kinks were sensual, playful, melancholy, and sustained by an inimitable exuberance.

Sounds contradictory? Give “Waterloo Sunset”, “Lola”, and “All Day and All of the Night” a listen to get to the heart of their unadulterated dynamism.

They have sold over 50 million albums during their tenure, and they captured the romantic, untamed hearts of the sixties mod movement.

4. The Animals

Early British rock stars The Animals are an often neglected, yet vastly influential, band within the earliest days of the British Invasion.

They were known for their husky, bluesy, twangy bluegrass sound, best personified in their iconic “House of the Rising Sun”, considered by some to be one of the top ten songs ever written.

Their songs reflected a complexity and alluring darkness that complicated the neat boundary between rock and pop.

Their fearlessness and experimental rhythms chart a vast terrain: from moody and erudite to trippy and defiant – one of the best sixties bands hands down.

5. The Who

Surprise – we have another British band on our hands, and this one hit the music scene like a tectonic shock to the system.

The bold, jangly, defiant delight “My Generation” was an anthem that got to the heart of a musing, jaded, hopeful youth culture the likes that the world had never seen before – this was a music group from the 60s with guts.

Pete Doherty et all created precocious, explosive, and quirky anthems, but they were always that – anthems. 

The Who didn’t mess around with low key, delicate sounds – every one of their tracks made quite an entrance, and stopped the staid and conventional in their tracks. 

6. The Doors

Mature, with a technical proficiency and aesthetic mastery far beyond their years, The Doors achieved a mythical, cult status both in their own time and in the years that followed.

Their music was entrancing, hypnotic, and occasionally surreal, with hallucinatory walls of soft guitar and sitar components. 

They were heavily entrenched in California’s Summer of Love counterculture and their intrepid, aloof image struck a chord with the hearts and minds of the time.

Jim Morrison’s untimely death was a loss for the world as his was a talent that would have continued to evolve and innovate. 

7. Jethro Tull

So progressive that it hurts, Jethro Tull were the kooky, unapologetic, eminently whimsical group of the sixties that the hippie world needed.

They helped put the revolutionary genre of Prog on the map, influencing the genre with their bizarre literary allusions and unorthodox instrumental tangents.

Jethro Tull was sometimes frenzied, sometimes languorous but always intense, thought-provoking, and creatively avant garde. 

Give “Aqualung” or “The Witches Promise” a listen for a weird, immersive musical journey.

8. Jefferson Airplane

The undisputed legends of the Summer of Love, Jefferson Airplane had a sixties, freedom loving ethos through and through.

A list of 60s bands wouldn’t be complete without ‘em.

Their music was tender, often wistful, occasionally soaring, and always imbued with the raw passion and dedication that defined the currents of rock n roll at the tail end of the decade.

They are known for suggestive lyrics about hallucinogens, politics, and social justice, and Grace Slick and Marty Balin’s dynamic voices led harmonies packed with candor and veracity.

Start here: “It’s No Secret”, “White Rabbit”, “Today”, “Law Man”, “Fat Angel”, and “Somebody to Love”.

9. The Hollies

60’s group The Hollies dabbled in many sounds and bridged many gaps as they evolved throughout the sixties and seventies.

Their early music had the charming, endearing rhythm of the sixties while their later work captured the emerging folk and rock n’ roll sentiment of the seventies. 

They are renowned for their three-part vocal harmonies and rousing, unorthodox guitars.

Their jangly pop hit “Stop! Stop! Stop!” captures all the youthful vitality and prep school avant garde confidence of the British invasion.

They were a major band of the sixties, and I can’t understand why their legacy remains unexplored in popular media circa 2022.

10. Ten Years After

The unsung folk music group from the 60s, the legendary Ten Years After, don’t get the hype they deserve, despite releasing unequivocal gems like A Space in Time.

They created something of a sensuous brand of folk, with dreamy melodies and a carnal, unadulterated humanism.

Their songs captured the intoxicating minimalism of the age, when wild trips and back to the land ethics combined to create a subculture that was completely exploratory. 

Songs like “Here They Come” and “I’d Love to Change the World” capture their alluring, honeyed vocals and politically unbridled energy.

11. Crosby Stills & Nash

The unrivaled kings of folk, and one of my favorite groups of the 60s, CS&N have a dizzying number of poetic, provocative, transformative, and just plain beautiful songs in their canon.

They came to the table with a proficiency and dynamism that has rarely been seen before or since, able to construct tight arrangements and captivating melodies like it was child’s play.

With a career spanning decades, they were masters at moody, downtempo numbers and mesmerizing, almost surreal anthems.

“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and “Haven’t We Lost Enough” are great entries into their magical, mature, unflinchingly authentic canon.

12. Creedence Clearwater Revival

The kings of Woodstock 1969, CCR possessed a preternatural sense of cool, calm, and self-collected – the most iconic group of the 60s? You decide.

They went back to the roots of rock, with masterfully constructed guitar arrangements, taut drums, and raw vocals.

There was a no-holds-barred urgency to songs like “Fortunate Son” and a jangly delta vibe to “Bad Moon Rising”

Call them swamp rock, blue-eyed soul, rockabilly or Southern Rock but one thing is clear, they haven’t sold 30 million records in the U.S alone for nothing! 

13. Genesis

British progressive rock legends Genesis got their start in the creative melting pot of late sixties Surrey. 

While they are best known for their 1970s lineup featuring Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel, their 1969 debut From Genesis to Revelation already demonstrated their atmospheric, fully immersive soundscapes to the world.

When I think of Genesis I think of a full body experience – every instrument is activated to its highest powers and there is always a strange suggestion of an echo chamber in their generous, complex vocals.  

“In the Beginning” is a great intro to their spacey early sound. 

14. Santana

Carlos Santana introduced Mexican beats and musical arrangements into Americana rock and his fusion created a genre all its own.

His folksy sounds, affable vocals, and honeyed, complex melodies created lush soundscapes.

His Spanish language songs were infectious, mournful, and uplifting in turn, and they captured the adventure and individuality of a new age.

Bands from the 60s don’t come more creatively vigorous than Santana.

15. Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin are the kings of hard rock, and some consider them the fathers of heavy metal, though their sound sharply differs from the later iterations of what became metal.

They were a purist rock band with soul, flair, and self-assurance in droves.

Never ones to shy away from musical experimentation, they found influences and references in bizarre places, and produced a defiant, humane, and poignant breed of rock n’ roll that stopped people dead in their tracks.

“Good Times Bad Times” and “Dazed and Confused” capture the nonplussed, intransigent heart of a wild generation.

16. Pink Floyd

If you know me, you know I consider Pink Floyd one of, if not the, best band of the twentieth century, and I think their experimental, totally unprecedented early music needs the cred it deserves.

Pink Floyd charted some freaky, groundbreaking, surrealistic ground in their early albums, pioneering a progressive, psychedelic sound that was fearless in its execution, yet vulnerable in its content.

There was never any bravado or arrogance about Pink Floyd and their early music reflects the mentalities of philosopher-poets more than rock musicians.

The authenticity and jarring rawness this lends their songs needs to be heard to be believed.

17. The Eagles

The Eagles, perhaps more than any band in history, capture the wide open skies and road trip sensibility of the American West and their sounds resonate in small town bars across the world to this day.

No one does lonesome, wistful, affected ballads like The Eagles, as evidenced in their tear-jerking gems “Tequila Sunrise” and “Desperado”.

But before you go get a tissue, I guarantee that their unadulterated, restless spirit translated just as well into songs of breezy cynicism and optimistic insouciance.

Only masters could flawlessly switch from sardonic, dreamy hits like “Hotel California” to the sensual “One of These Nights” to cheery anthems like “Take It Easy”.

18. Lynyrd Skynyrd

Lynyrd Skynyrd, along with CCR and The Eagles, forms what I consider the holy triad of Americana bands from the sixties.

They had the Southern rock flavor, the rebellious tenor, and the gleefully open-hearted spirit that defined the collective ambitions of that brazen, yet vulnerable, decade.

Lynyrd Skynyrd contributed some of the most quintessential, venerated songs to the classic rock canon: “Free Bird” and “Simple Man” come immediately to mind.

They rank 95 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 Best Bands of All Time and their untimely demise in a fiery plane crash is the tragic stuff of rock folklore. 

19. Grateful Dead

One of the most enduring bands of the sixties, Grateful Dead resonates through the ages with their blend of psychedelic, folk rock, bluegrass, jazz, and world music.

Their eclectic, inimitable style features captivating lyrical narratives and extended instrumental jams with dynamic and unexpected chords.

Their bohemian, unapologetically original silhouette spawned many imitators and left a cult following in the legions of Deadheads who religiously replay the band’s ten minute jams while they tune in and zone out.

20. The Mamas and The Papas

You know ‘em for the defining anthem of the sixties “California Dreamin” but their repertoire is far more extensive, and storied, than just that one track.

The Mamas and The Papas personified the folk ethic of back to the land, anticonsumerism, pacifist bohemianism, and they did it with fringe, uncut hair, and gypsy garb galore.

They are known for their four-part harmonies and ethereal, rhythmic folk arrangements.

Tracks like “Monday, Monday”, in my opinion, best exemplify their wide-eyed, open road majesty and prove why they belong on any list of bands from the 60s.

21. The Belmonts

Ah, sweet, sweet nostalgia: Dion and The Belmonts are another quaint, delightful act from the early part of the sixties, and their sounds are more high school bop circa 1957 than looting and rioting 1967.

And I love them for it- they are the kings of innocent, sentimental doo-wop, and their songs just beg to be listened to while mending a wounded heart – or after being stood up on a date.

They hailed from Belmont, known as the Little Italy of New York, and their music captured the lonesomeness and exuberance of growing up in mid-century America.

22. Deep Purple

British group Deep Purple are another one of those great sixties bands that I consider purist rock n’ roll pioneers.

They explored dynamic new ground with hallucinatory, otherworldly instrumentals and enigmatic melodies, but they were classic rockers through and through.

Their sixties sound was decidedly progressive but they got harder and more rebellious in style with their seventies masterpiece Deep Purple in Rock.

“Listen, Learn, Read On” and “Hush” are mesmerizing material, and make for perfect summer driving music, or when you want to get deep and think about the meaning of it all, man.

23. The Supremes

The Supremes were, are, and will always be the queens of Motown. 

Diana Ross became an icon in her own right, but her work with The Supremes was her best, and hit all the right soaring, lively, melancholic notes.

They had 12 Number One singles on the Billboard charts that still get plenty of well-deserved airtime to this day.

Their catchy, harmonic, soulful sounds elevated songs about heartache, jealousy, and loss to beautiful, timeless effect.

24. The Byrds

Jangly, folksy, and California to the bone, The Byrds distill all the best musical tendencies of the Sixties with their easy, breezy, lively style.

Their harmonic compositions and raga-influenced beats quietly revolutionized the folk-rock genre, and whether you are familiar with their music or not, you are familiar with their influence.

Their songs demonstrate a generosity of spirit and an accessible sincerity: check out “Eight Miles High” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” for a healthy dose of sixties verve. 

25. The Yardbirds

London legends The Yardbirds approached Brit Rock with a prep school sensibility, a dash of elegant aloofness, and sensual analog garage rock.

But you might not know the full scope of The Yardbirds’ mastery: they were early, often unsung pioneers of psychedelic rock and they made vast contributions to the technical repertoire of the electric guitar.

Nothing makes you want to be a mod trawling the streets of Sixties Chelsea than “Heart Full of Soul” or “For Your Love”.

26. Simon & Garfunkel

Poets, philosophers, renegades, iconoclasts, countercultural heroes – all applicable and all true.

Simon and Garfunkel expanded the realm of what was possible with songwriting, and they lent their silken, evocative voices to the earnest hopes and justified discontent of a generation.

Their live performances are world renowned for masterful synchronization, and jarring candor. 

“The Boxer”, “Scarborough Fair” and “Sound of Silence” are stirring testaments to their musical courage and compassion. 

They are one of the best groups of the sixties, and their spirit will live on in the annals of rock for centuries.

27. Cream

Deep, dirty, hard rock met its match in the virtuosos of sixties guitar: Cream.

Cream is a staple of stoner dens and psychedelic afternoons then and now due to their completely immersive, unapologetic instrumental density and textured beats.

There is something languorous and nonchalant about their tunes, perfect for musings about infinity and the origins of the universe.

Cream is considered one of the world’s first supergroups, and launched the notable careers of Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce.

28. Buffalo Springfield

Buffalo Springfield is best known for being one of the early projects of Canadian folk hero Neil Young, and the band was a staging ground for the political, poetic style that Young became famous for.

The band’s dissolution also saw member Stephen Stills create his own legendary group Crosby, Stills & Nash.

They combined country and folk with British-invasion influences, but they maintained an allegiance to countercultural, pacifist, anticonsumerist values.

They were a short-lived act but they produced three albums during their tenure (1966-68) and became cultural touchstones for the growing hippie movement.

29. Yes

British Progressive supergroup Yes were fearless trailblazers of a musical movement that transformed rock, and completely influenced the next fifteen years of popular music.

Their songs had killer beats and dynamic vocals, and veered more towards a pop-rock progressive, rather than an obscurantist, quirky prog like that of peers Jethro Tull.

They’ve sold over 30 million records worldwide and their career spans decades – they had a powerful reemergence in the early eighties and are best remembered for their work during that period.

I still think their early work is their best – give “Sweetness” a listen for breezy, redolent fun. 

30. Steve Miller Band

The early kings of the road, the Steve Miller Band possessed a preternatural cool, just as comfortable rolling down Route 66 as in a dive bar in the middle of the American West.

Their songs are breezy, nonchalant, and evoke a relaxed, self-possessed philosophy on life.

Formed in San Francisco in the heady days of the year 1966, their suave roadie sound is best encapsulated in songs like “Fly Like an Eagle” and “The Joker” – two songs you’ve doubtless heard in your time.

31. King Crimson 

British progressive rock sleeper hit King Crimson is best known today for their curiously passionate cult following. 

They could best be described as eclectic, borrowing themes and musical motifs from classical, folky, new wave, industrial, and jazz genres.

They were unapologetically weird and irreverent, and it was damn near impossible then and now to put them in a box – if you are a new fan prepare for a trippy, unprecedented ride. 

Their vigorously experimental 1969 album The Court of the Crimson King is a full-on experience for the uninitiated. 

32. The Beach Boys

The sunny, sentimental, nostalgic California surf band par excellence.

The Beach Boys went all in with their delightfully melodramatic, exuberantly youthful musical fare and they captured the hopeful aspirations of a country at a crossroads.

The Beach Boys are fascinating characters, however, and the band members’ personal demons add a strangely compelling edge to their cheery, wistful tunes.

Their beachgoing anthems like “Good Vibrations” and “Surfin USA” bring you back to a simple, all-American time, while their love anthems are as good as any power ballad from the eighties.

33. Sly & The Family Stone

Sly and the gang were absolutely pivotal to the emerging popularity of funk and soul that exploded in the late sixties and seventies.

Their racially diverse group celebrated themes of community, belonging, hedonism, and pleasure, and they have brightened many a dance party to this day.

Their sound captures the free love, everything will be alright dogma of the times.

For a natural mood booster throw on “Dance to the Music” and “Everyday People”.

34. Them

Belfast legends Them might be unfamiliar to the uninitiated but you definitely know their lead act, Van Morrison for his masterful contribution to twentieth century musical culture.

Their blues rock, garage sound reached a peak with the jangly, Americana leather jacket and motorcycle anthem “Baby, Please Don’t Go” and their radio-friendly anthem “Gloria”.

While the bands tenure with Van Morrison was short-lived they had an outsized impact, influencing both the Irish music scene and inspiring contemporaries like The Doors.

35. Steppenwolf

Calling all you wild hearts and rebels with a cause, Steppenwolf is your sixties musical spirit animal.

You surely know their song “Born to Be Wild” but did you know that they sold more than 25 million albums during their short (1968-1972) careers?

Their star rose when their music was featured in the countercultural cult classic film Easy Rider (1969) which lent a cinematic, open road aesthetic to their trippy, unbridled musical offerings. 

Their 1969 album Monster was heavily critical of The Vietnam War, solidifying their reputation as social renegades with a powerful message. 

36. The Miracles

Smokey Robinson surely has one of the most engaging, infectious, delightful voices of all time, with a range that would make most of us green with envy.

The Miracles were one of the foundational bands in the Motown musical movement that grew out of African American communities in Detroit.

In many ways Motown is the defining genre of the early sixties, and is sometimes unjustifiably eclipsed by the later rise of British rock and San Francisco hippie folk.

Their music was packed with punchy lyrics, a spirited optimism, and a heartfelt pathos at every turn. 

37. The Lovin’ Spoonful

“Do You Believe in Magic”? Maybe you will after hearing The Lovin Spoonful’s generous, vivacious catalog of sixties gems.

Their sound deviated between playful and cheerful and languorous and jazz-tinged.

Their soulful and emphatic sound reflects the leisurely, unbothered sensibility of the sixties, and their song “Daydream” was on John Lennon’s personal jukebox.

“Summer in the City” is my favorite, a self-assured, Motown-inspired little number.

38. The Four Seasons

I told you Doo-wop was major news in the early sixties, and The Four Seasons is just another example of the well-deep soul and vocal dynamism of the movement. 

The Four Seasons created music that was warm, enticing, and nostalgic in turn, with an innocent affect that was scarcely seen again after 1965.

Their lead Frankie Valli was a throwback from the Grease-style fifties, when teens went on dates at car-hops and getting to second base was earth-shattering news.

I love the soft, hopeful, earnest sounds of doo-wop and I think The Four Seasons are one of the most enduring examples of a genre that definitely needs a reboot.

39. Fleetwood Mac

Most of us are ardent fans of seventies Fleetwood Mac, but did you know their early iteration, formed in 1967, had a more experimental, less pop-focused sound?

They started off as a blues band with absolutely killer guitar chords and an impressive stage charisma. 

Moody hits like “Oh Well” and rollicking, purist classic rock gems like “Green Manalishi” are often eclipsed by their later repertoire, dominated by the spirited vocals of Stevie Nicks, but I guarantee a listen will expand your horizons and allow you to more further appreciate how much ground they broke as a musical act.

40. The Moody Blues

Birmingham classic rock mainstays The Moody Blues came to prominence playing, well, rhythm and blues, but their talents quickly found new avenues to explore. 

Their masterful 1967 album Days of Future Passed was an alluring, experimental romp that helped raise the profile of both progressive and art rock.

With elements of classical music and bewitching melodies, it is considered one of the best concept albums of the decade.

41. The Allman Brothers Band

Classic rock to the heart and soul, these icons were pioneers of the Southern Rock genre that exploded during the late sixties and retained its hold on the American imagination until at least the mid 80s.

Their jam-band style live shows featured an affable medley of country, blues, and a healthy hit of improvised instrumental bridges.

The leader of the pack Duane Allman was tragically killed in that most rock n’ roll of accidents, a motorcycle crash, and his 1971 passing inspired the rest of the band to honor his memory for the remainder of the seventies. 

42. The Righteous Brothers

The humble, earnest, and vocally complex kings of early sixties blue-eyed soul, you probably know their beautiful lamentation “Unchained Melody”, one of the best heartsick songs of all time.

Their duets were uncommonly beautiful, pairing Bill medley’s bass-baritone and Bobby Hatfield’s tenor. 

Did you know that “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” was the most played radio track of the entire 20th century?

43. The Youngbloods

Often considered one-hit wonders, The Youngbloods deserve a place on this list because the hit they are renowned for so perfectly encapsulated the mood, atmosphere, and value system of the late sixties.

“Get Together” celebrates the temporality of life, community, and tolerance and is one of those anthems that was ‘at the right place, at the right time’. 

Their debut album is worth a listen for their folksy, wide-eyed sound.

44. Chicago

Despite their enduring worldwide popularity I always consider Chicago kind of a background, sleeper success, if you will – they don’t necessarily capture the public imagination the way the Dead or the Stones does, but by the numbers they’re damn near as successful. 

They have sold over 100 million records and are one of the best selling groups of all time.

They blended jazz, classical, and R&B rhythms into their soft rock sound, and made them bonafide adult radio sensations. 

Fun fact: they started as opening acts for counterculture icons Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix – talk about impressive roots!

45. Traffic

Birmingham rockers Traffic were formed by Steve Winwood, of later “Higher Love” fame.

They began their musical journey as a psychedelic rock group but they experimented widely with unusual instruments and chords, including the harpsichord, sitar, reed instruments, and keyboards. 

The result was a sound akin to a relaxed, pensive jam session tinged with jazz-elements and unexpected instrumental undertones.

Their aesthetic of stylishly mussed hair and world traveler accouterments fit the time and place to a tee.

46. The Crystals

Now we’re going to dig into the other side of the sixties – the pre-hippie, pre-Summer of Love explosion – back to the early days when the innocence and All-American nostalgia of the fifties still reigned supreme.

Speaking of reigning supreme, it all comes back to The Crystals, one of the defining girl groups of early rock, and pioneers of melodramatic, raining on prom night energy.

Based out of New York, they captured the airwaves and the hearts of solemn, wide-eyed teenagers everywhere with romping hits like “He’s a Rebel” and “Da Doo Run Run”.

47. The Drifters

The Drifters are one of the foremost doo-wop and soul vocal groups of the fifties and sixties.

Their music had a sophisticated, wistfully lush sensibility and a melodic, earnest sound that reflected the values and culture of the pre-hippie days.

They cycled through so many group members throughout their tenure that it would give you a headache, but their most popular lineup featured the master vocalist Ben E. King (of “Stand By Me” fame).

My favorite songs are “Under the Boardwalk” and “There Goes My Baby” (released in 1959 but immensely popular in the early sixties).

48. The Monkees

The Monkees started off as part of the cast of a sitcom of the same name, and they quickly became one of the most commercially successful bands of the sixties with their corny, delightful, catchy as all hell songs.

They’ve sold over 75 million records, thanks to upbeat ballads like “Last Train to Clarksville” and the made for the movies pop masterpieces “Daydream Believer” and “I’m a Believer.”

Their earnest, big-hearted lyrics and jangly guitar sound captured the hold that nostalgic motifs still held over the music lovers of the sixties.

49. The Troggs

English greats The Troggs (shortened from their original band name Troglodytes) were one of the formative bands in the early garage rock movement. 

Not to be confused with the early noughties revival of garage, the sixties iteration featured self-assured, plucky guitar chords and more pronounced drum beats, along with an unrefined, authentic vocal emphasis.

The Troggs sold over 1 million copies of their three sixties singles: “Wild Thing”. “With a Girl Like You”, and “Love is All Around”. 

Their influence was subtely felt one decade later in the emergence of garage punk and pure punk with bands like The Sex Pistols and UK Subs.

50. The Everly Brothers

Corny, sentimental, and unafraid to wrench at your heart, The Everly Brothers is what late fifties/early sixties music was all about.

You can feel the pathos and unbridled emotion in their sappy, unconstrained, and downright cult songs.

Renowned for their steel-string guitar acoustics and well-synchronized harmonies, the brothers bring us back to a time of milkshakes and letterman’s jackets.

51. The Shadows

Early 60s British rockers The Shadows moved in the direction of instrumental rock during their career, and were the backup band for famed singer Cliff Richard all throughout the sixties.

You may have never heard of them, as their star was quickly eclipsed by the emergence of The Beatles in the mid-sixties but they have – can you believe it – 69 UK chart singles under their belt.

They were foundational to the popularity of four-member instrumentalists and they had a range that included surf rock, jazz, and sheer rock n roll.

You’re in for a treat if you’re a Shadows rookie.

52. Vanilla Fudge

Vanilla Fudge, great band name, and even greater rock band.

They are best known for slow arrangements of contemporary hit songs, like their seductive and evocative heavy n brooding cover of “You Keep me Hangin’ On”, one of The Supremes’ biggest hits of the early decade.

Vanilla Fudge were off doing their own thing most of the time, performing for the love of musical arrangements and technical wizardry, and they achieved a loyal fanbase without all the frills and showmanship.

They paid homage to psychedelic motifs and even dabbled in some inchoate heavy metal sampling further into their careers.

53. Herman’s Hermits

Kitschy and corny doo-wop legends with an unlikely band name, Herman’s Hermits hit it out of the syrupy-sweet ballpark with songs like “I’m Into Something Good”.

Their PG-13 ethos demonstrates just how much of a tectonic change occurred in advance of the Summer of Love, when defiance and individuality began to replace the down-home family values that dominated the early decade.

Herman’s Hermits sounds thus seem outrageously nostalgic and twee, but I love them for it: they are an easy listening gem for when you need a musical pick me up. 

54. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band got their start the good old fashioned rockabilly way – they wanted to “figure out how not to have to work for a living”.

Their legacy endures to this day, and they continue to perform to legions of fans with their country rock sound.

You’ve definitely heard their music at a small town pool hall or a family backyard BBQ – they are something of a staple of Americana, and they are iconic figures in the country community.

55. Procol Harum

Named after an obscure breed of cat, British rockers Procol Harum had an unlikely origin story and are famed for releasing one of the most famous singles of the 20th century: “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”

Some of their musical arrangements had the flavor of the Baroque, but a deep, emotive soul permeated all of their erudite songs.

Their music was stylized and sophisticated, and meticulously executed, belying a technical mastery beyond their years.

56. Canned Heat

You may have heard their iconic hit “Going up the Country”, and if you’ve been to any small town bar in the American heartland then you almost certainly have. 

They were California bluesy-rockers in heart, mind, and spirit, capturing the adventurousness and happy defiance of the age.

They were staples of the late sixties festival circuit nationwide, and they were renowned for their cheerful, fast-paced instrumentals and occasional tangential psychedelic solos. 

57. The Band

The Band’s wheelhouse? Mellow, thoughtful, minimalist folk with tender melodies and beautifully crafted instrumentals.

The Canadian-American icons dabbled with classic Americana and bluegrass to create melodies that veered on the more introspective, reflective side of folk.

They influenced Grateful Dead, Elton John, and Eric Clapton with bluesy-folk numbers like “The Weight” and “Up on Cripple Creek”.

If you need some soulful old school country in your day, The Band is an unrivaled place to start.

58. Soft Machine

Canterbury rockers Soft Machine formed in 1966 and became one of Britain’s first bonafide psychedelic groups. 

As their careers professed they dabbled with prog and jazz fusion, very fitting for the time and place, no?

Their eclectic sound incorporated flutes, keyboard, and saxophone for an underground, acquired taste kinda sound, which modern critics often refer to as jazz-rock.

59. The Nice

Underrated, but outrageously talented British prog band, The Nice, were a lower key sibling of bands like Pink Floyd and Grateful Dead.

Their sound incorporated piano and often featured a strange surreal soundscape, almost redolent of echoes or other unexpected sound distortions.

While they never reached the enduring levels of fame of their prog rock peers, their use of classical and jazz components shaped the experimental directions that prog would so successfully dabble with in the fifteen years that followed.

60. 13th Floor Elevators

Best band name, ever, am I right? These early psychedelic innovators might not be a household name these days, but they had an outsized impact on the growth of prog and trippy rock during the heady days of the counterculture.

Give their music a spin for a new angle on the sixties mentality, and try and soak in how original and innovative they truly were. 

Proof that sixties bands were some of the most brave and brazen in history.

61. Free

Cited by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the pioneers of hard rock, Free were under the radar for much of their early career, until their blockbuster hit single “All Right Now.”

Formed in London in 1968, they spent the waning days of the sixties experimenting with different kinds of rock n’ roll and blues-inspired sounds. 

They are renowned for their energetic, playful, engaging live shows, of which they have played more than 700 during their decades-long tenure. 

62. The Electric Prunes

Psychedelic rock band The Electric Prunes played music on a darker, moodier, more introspective register than many of their California peers.

Their distant, fuzzy guitars and immersive, unexpected sound effects had an element of garage rock beats and a healthy dose of doleful melodies.

Music historian Richie Unterberger perhaps hit the nail on the head best when he spoke of the band’s uniquely crafted sound, as being “eerie [with a] sometimes anguished ambiance”.

Their compelling and slightly unsettling “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night” is their most enduring sixties hit.

63. Love

California rockers Love were one of the first racially diverse bands, in a very racially tense and divisive age. 

Their sound encompassed early garage rock, psychedelica, and blues.

They gained fame with their third album, 1967’s Forever Changes, which displayed their avant garde and brazenly innovative philosophy. 

You’ve definitely heard their trippy, mind bending sixties anthem “Alone Again Or”, and if not, well, you are in for a strange little treat.

64. The Shangri-Las

Ah, the ultimate sixties teen tragedy girl group: The rough and tumble, wrong side of the tracks Queens bred Shangri-Las.

These ladies personified the grit and naivete of the early 60s with their carefully cultivated aesthetic: that of gals always ready for a rumble, and to cheer on the boys in a tussle.

Their songs are melodramatic to a fault and therein lies their magic – nothing is cornier or more compulsively enjoyable than songs like “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” and “Leader of the Pack”.

65. The Guess Who

Canadian prairie icons The Guess Who came onto the scene hot in the sixties, and their career was strong and sturdy into the 1970s.

They are best known for their hard-hitting, punchy as hell anthem “American Woman” but I love their song “No Time” the best, personally.

Their relaxed, no-frills sound captured the authentic heart of the late sixties and early seventies, and they make for perfect road trip listening. 

Best Rock Bands Of The ’60s – Final Thoughts

Now that you’ve perused my list of the best sixties bands, I fully expect you to get down and get the record player on.

Embrace your inner flower child, your inner nostalgic prom queen, your inner roadtripper – whatever you’re called to do.

Now, go: let your hair down, light some incense, and get real.

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Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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