No decade in British rock music history had such an array of impressive bands as the 1960s. Indeed, several decades on the influence this list of groups had on popular music worldwide can still be felt.
10. The Troggs
Coming out of the Hampshire town of Andover The Troggs fought against the odds to compete well against bands from Britain’s big cities. The Troggs had hits with Wild Thing, Love Is All Around and With a Girl Like You, which were some of the most memorable songs of the decade.
9. The Moody Blues
A group that produced wistful music, The Moody Blues had burst into the British charts with the epic Go Now, before singer-songwriter Justin Hayward’s arrival led to a radical change of direction for the group. Through Hayward’s influence the group’s songs became more cerebral, while still being hummable tunes – as with the 1967 classic Nights In White Satin.
8. The Small Faces
Small in stature, hence their name, The Small Faces exploded onto the British music scene with a string of catchy songs, including All or Nothing and Itchycoo Park. The Small Faces were also one of the leading Mod groups of the ’60s alongside The Who. One of the most famous songs of the band is Lazy Sunday Afternoon.
7. The Animals
The House of the Rising Sun was turned into a tour de force by this group from England’s North East – and it put The Animals at the top table of British groups in the ’60s. With Eric Burdon’s soulful vocals, and Alan Price’s notable organ playing, The Animals had a very distinctive, if hardly typical pop music, sound. The group’s We Gotta Get out of This Place also became an anthem for American soldiers during the Vietnam War.
6. The Yardbirds
Arguably the best three guitarists Britain has produced – Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck – all played in The Yardbirds at various points. Though they found success with standard pop songs The Yardbirds were one of the most innovative of British bands. Towards the end of the group’s life Jimmy Page was moving them into a heavier direction, and Led Zeppelin was the eventual result.
The greatest of the supergroups, Cream consisted of guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker. Clapton and Bruce shared the vocals. Individually, the trio were virtually untouchable as musicians, and as a group they complemented each other superbly. Cream only lasted a couple of years, but Clapton would go on to become a superstar.
4. The Kinks
Similarly to The Beatles Lennon and McCartney, Ray Davies of The Kinks wrote songs that proudly emphasised the group’s British roots. Classic songs from The Kinks included pop masterpieces like Sunny Afternoon and Waterloo Sunset, while guitarist Dave Davies is often credited with producing the first instance of a heavy rock guitar sound on record – on 1964’s You Really Got Me.
3. The Who
The Who were the nearest challengers to The Rolling Stones as British music’s best live band in the 1960s. With drummer Keith Moon at the forefront, The Who were also known for being wild off stage as well as on, but their songs remain timeless. The Who were the favourite group of the Mods, and they went from early witty pop songs, notably Substitute and I’m a Boy, to producing the wonderful rock opera Tommy and appearing at Woodstock by the end of the decade.
2. The Rolling Stones
With Mick Jagger as British rock’s first great frontman, The Rolling Stones songs often covered dark themes, such as Sympathy for the Devil and Paint It Black. But, despite this, the Jagger-Richards songwriting combination produced a string of memorable hits throughout the ’60s. The Stones were often seen as the complete opposite of the seemingly more clean-cut Beatles (though time would prove that The Beatles were just as rebellious), and, consequently, the British tabloid press demonised the group. However, the bad publicity did little to harm the success of The Stones, and there was only British group that could claim to have been bigger than them in the ’60s.
1. The Beatles
The Beatles are the most important music act to have ever come out of the UK, and, despite some outstanding British artists emerging in the ’60s, The Beatles comfortably top our list of top 10 British bands of the decade. The Beatles revolutionized music, but they also influenced a generation in terms of fashion and social issues. No musical genre seemed beyond The Beatles, with their songs ranging from the ragtime sound of Honey Pie to the psychedelic Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Lennon and McCartney also rank among the top songwriting duos of all-time. Five decades on from Beatlemania still no group has managed to match the consistently high quality music produced by The Beatles.