The Greatest Musical Acts Of The ’60s And ’70s
Much of today’s music might not even exist if not for the generations that came before us. Music out of the 1960s and 1970s has been especially influential as it came during a time of tremendous cultural and political shifts in modern American history. As a result, music artists of the era — including everyone from The Beach Boys to Stevie Wonder — have been regarded as the “greatest artists of all time.” Keep reading to see if you agree with this list! But first, you can’t have a “greatest artists” list without mentioning this band:
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Fresh out of Liverpool, England, The Beatles led the “British Invasion” into the United States in the late ’50s. Together, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr have become what is arguably the most popular rock and roll band in musical history.
The Beatles maintained their success throughout the ’60s by experimenting with a variety of musical styles, gracing fans with iconic albums such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Revolver, and Abbey Road. But tensions within the band caused them to break up by the mid-’70s.
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“Prince of Motown” Marvin Gaye stands as one of the most influential artists in the history of soul music. Rising as a solo artist in the ’60s, he dominated the airwaves with tunes such as “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”
Gaye’s success as an artist was highlighted by his best-selling album, What’s Going On. Coming out in 1971, the concept album was touted as revolutionary for its time. Told from the point of view of a Vietnam War veteran, What’s Going On was a social commentary on drug abuse, poverty, war, and global warming.
The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys defined the ’60s California surf rock sound. Brian Wilson, along with brothers Carl and Dennis, started The Beach Boys out of their garage with cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine.
They are known for their intricate vocal harmonies that combined doo-wop, rock and roll, jazz, and sometimes classical. With 1966’s Pet Sounds their most successful album, soon the band would dissipate as Brian Wilson’s mental health and drug abuse took over. Despite this, the band continued to produce music and were able to maintain their popularity with their single “Good Vibrations” and their project, Smile.
Coming up, a group of brothers also gained popularity for their harmonizing vocals.
The Rolling Stones
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The ’60s British Invasion brought with it London’s The Rolling Stones. Though they experimented with psychedelic styles in the beginning, their “bluesy” roots are what shot them to the height of their career in the ’70s.
Records such as Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St. helped boost them into mainstream success. Seen as the bad boys of rock and roll, The Rolling Stones swiftly became part of the ’60s counterculture movement. This was especially due in part to the help of manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who started the “Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone” press campaign.
David Bowie didn’t see any major success until he debuted as Ziggy Stardust in 1972. That year, he came out with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and as strange as it was for music at the time, everyone was there for it.
Since then, Bowie has been regarded as one of the greatest standalone rock acts in history, known for the way he brought new innovations into the rock genre. What made him even more popular was his individuality. A creative soul at his core, he also took up sculpting, acting, and painting.
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Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb debuted in Australia as the Bee Gees in the late ’50s. The pop group didn’t achieve international recognition until the late ’60s, especially with their second single, “To Love Somebody.”
From there, the Bee Gees managed to stay in the charts through the ’70s. Their career reached its peak by the disco-era of the late ’70s. Their contributions to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack only prolonged the popularity of disco, during which time singles such as “How Deep Is Your Love,” “Stayin’ Alive,” and “Night Fever” topped U.S. charts.
The “Brothers Gibb” arose during the ’70s, but there was another group of young brothers that became just as popular during that time.
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Lynyrd Skynyrd was started by friends Ronnie Van Zant, Bob Burns, Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, and Larry Junstrom the summer of 1964 in Jacksonville, Florida. Synonymous with “Southern rock,” the band featured a three-guitar lineup that has graced fans with “Free Bird,” while their song “Sweet Home Alabama” has more or less become the anthem of the American South.
In 1977, three members, including founder Ronnie Van Zant, died in a plane crash, ending the original lineup of the classic band. However, they continued to perform with Van Zant’s younger brother as the lead singer, embarking on their farewell tour in 2018.
Guitarist Jimmy Page recruited Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham to form English rock outfit, Led Zeppelin, in the late ’60s. Starting out with a heavy blues-rock sound, the band is known for setting the precedent for heavy metal and hard rock.
Led Zeppelin maintained commercial success throughout the ’70s, but nothing hallmarked their career like the song “Stairway to Heaven,” which is regarded as one of the most influential rock songs in history. In 1995, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, who noted their influence in the ’70s comparable to that of The Beatles in the ’60s.
The Jackson Five
Brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael Jackson made up The Jackson Five. Managed by their father Joe Jackson, the young boys got started on the chitlin’ circuit before getting their big break as the opening act for Diana Ross and The Supremes.
Their first single “I Want You Back” caused Jacksonmania to hit the United States. That, along with “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” and “I’ll Be There” consecutively became number-one singles. The brothers were a pop music phenomenon throughout the ’70s, but are most noted for launching the career of their youngest, late legend Michael Jackson.
Coming up is an artist whose music spoke to the social ires of her generation.
Fleetwood Mac started out in London as a blues outfit with Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Christine McVie. By 1975, the addition of Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks made the band a mainstream success.
Rumours was released in 1977 and later won the Grammy for Album of the Year. Rumours has since become the fifth best-selling album in U.S. history and was certified diamond in 2010 for having sold 20 million copies since its release. The ’70s were the height of Fleetwood Mac’s career, buy they would see members leave and re-enter the band as they continued to tour throughout the years.
Otis Redding stands as one of the most influential R&B and soul singer-songwriters in musical history. His 1960s hits “Fat Gal” and “Shout Bamalama” were enough to get him signed with Memphis-based Stax Records.
He was only 26 years old when he passed away in a plane crash in 1967. By then he penned “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” which was released posthumously. It became the first posthumous No. 1 single and Redding’s most popular song in his repertoire. Redding’s Southern-style soul has influenced many artists in later years outside of his genre.
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Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell has been frequently cited as one of the greatest songwriters ever throughout her career. Her songs painted pictures of the late ’60s and early ’70s, often about environmental and social ideals, romance, and disillusionment.
She recorded her debut album with Reprise Records, defining the era with songs like “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Woodstock.” Music critics consider Mitchell’s 1971 album Blue to be one of the greatest albums of all time. The album is said to be inspired by her relationship with Graham Nash, particularly the songs “My Old Man” and “River.”
Later in this list is an essential band when it comes to psychedlic rock.
Donna Summer was the “Queen of Disco.” Her 1975 single “Love to Love You Baby” became an overnight sensation in the U.S. as her sensual voice paved the way for disco music. With a vocal range of epic proportions, Summer could dominate any track whether it was disco or gospel music.
Her career remained steady as she released numerous albums throughout the late ’70s, hallmarked by an Academy Award for Best Original Song for 1978s “Last Dance” from the soundtrack of Thank God It’s Friday. Though disco faded out into the ’80s, Donna Summer was undeniably a legendary singer in her own right.
English rock band The Who stood as the greatest live performers of their generation. Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon formed the iconic band in 1964.
Hits such as “My Generation,” “I Can’t Explain,” and “Happy Jack” established The Who as rock sensations both in the U.K. and the U.S. But it was their penchant for destroying instruments on stage that singled them out from the rest, making them proponents of the pop art and mod movements through the late ’60s and early ’70s. As of 2018, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey are the remaining final members of The Who.
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Pink Floyd broke ground in the realm of progressive and psychedelic rock. Formed in Cambridge in 1965, Pink Floyd originally consisted of Roger Waters, Rick Wright, Nick Mason, and Syd Barrett, who was later replaced by David Gilmour due to deteriorating mental health.
Waters became the primary lyricist, leading the band on much of its repertoire including 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon and 1979’s The Wall, which became Pink Floyd’s best-selling albums. The last time Pink Floyd performed together was at 2005’s Live 8 concert in London. Barrett and Wright passed away in 2006 and 2008, respectively.
Coming up is a band who still managed to make an international hit 20 years after their debut.
Perhaps one of the best acts to come out of Los Angeles’ country-rock scene was the Eagles. After five No. 1 singles and six No. 1 albums, the Eagles are regarded as one of the most successful music acts of the ’70s, having been rewarded as such with six Grammy Awards and five American Music Awards.
Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) and Hotel California are among the best-selling albums of the 20th century. Singles such as “Desperado,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “LIfe in the Fast Lane,” and of course, “Hotel California” have kept the Eagles on the charts throughout the ’70s.
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ABBA is perhaps the most successful pop group to come out of Sweden. Standing for the first letter in each member’s name (Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngsta), ABBA saw international success after winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974.
They’ve reportedly sold over 500 million copies in record sales worldwide throughout their career, which lasted until 1982 when the group disbanded as each member went on their own path. Still, their music has been immortalized when it was adapted for the musical Mamma Mia!, which has been successful since it premiered in 1999.
Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Tom Hamilton, and Joey Kramer formed Aerosmith in 1970. Inspired by ’60s hard rock and rhythm and blues, Aerosmith became influential as they incorporated elements of pop rock and heavy metal into their style throughout the years.
Tyler and Perry were known as the “toxic twins” during Aerosmith’s heydey for their wild performances and drug-addled lifestyle. By the late ’80s, the band more or less sobered up and forayed into hip-hop, collaborating with Run-D.M.C. for a remix of “Walk This Way.” 1996’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” became an international hit, but ’70s hits like “Dream On” and “Back In The Saddle” remain their classics.
Bob Dylan is perhaps one of the most influential stand-alone musical acts of all time. His rise in popular culture came into fruition during the civil rights movements of the early ’60s and the subsequent anti-war sentiments at the start of the ’70s.
Songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” and “Like a Rolling Stone” made Dylan a “reluctant voice of a generation” and a mainstay in ’60s counterculture. Bob Dylan’s numerous awards not only include Grammy’s, but also an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Stevie Wonder was a wonder in himself when complications at the time of his birth caused him to go blind. Despite his disability, Wonder was a child prodigy. Playing instruments and singing since a young age, he was talented enough to get signed to Motown’s Tamla label at the age of 11.
His music fuses soul, R&B, and jazz into classic hits that have influenced generations of musical artists that came after him. Wonder is one of the most-awarded male solo artists, having received 25 Grammy awards over the course of his career. He’s recorded over 30 top ten hits including “Superstition” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours.”