There is a wealth of riches when it comes to any list containing the most famous British Rock Bands. The 60s produced most of the best-known British Rock bands, which is why they are so heavily featured.
So, with the entire playlist being made up of groups from the 60s and 70s, it is, therefore, a bit of a nostalgic trip to the past. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey, and I hope there are at least one or two of your favorite bands among my picks.
So, let’s get to it and take a look at the first band.
Top 6 Most Famous British Rock Bands
The Beatles are not just the most famous British Rock band. No. They are much more than that. Without a doubt, The Beatles are the most famous Rock band in history.
The facts speak for themselves. When we look at their commercial success, the figures are frankly staggering. During their eight years as the “Fab Four,” they sold a mind-blowing 600 million albums and over two billion singles.
I honestly can’t get my head around those figures…
These sales even put them ahead of Rock and Pop icons Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Elton John. The next group of musicians on the list is Queen, with “only” 300 million album sales to their name. But we’ll come on to Queen a little later so let’s get back to The Beatles.
All four members of The Beatles were from Liverpool in the north of England. They formed in 1960 and released their first of thirteen albums in 1963, Please Please Me. It was an instant success and went to #1 in the UK as well as in a host of other countries worldwide.
Sales exceeded a million. And, after three years spent previously grinding out performances in Liverpool and Hamburg, they were on their way.
During their careers…
The best-selling album was the one commonly referred to as, The White Album. It was released in 1968 and globally sold 24 million copies. As far as singles are concerned, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which was released in 1963, proved to be their most popular, chalking up 12 million in sales.
It’s easy to just focus on the music, and why not. However, when talking about The Beatles, it’s also worth paying attention to the cultural impact they had on the UK and society at large.
In the early 60s…
Much of the UK was living under the constraint of societal norms. The establishment and status quo were very much the order of the day. Very little in the way of free or alternative thinking was either encouraged or tolerated.
The Beatles dared to be different. Dared to dress and behave differently. And dared to speak out on issues that affected the youth of the time.
Through their music, they spoke directly to the people, and they listened. They simultaneously brought in new styles of music, fashion, and behavior. And they helped to usher in a very different era from the dour post-war years that had gone before.
This often comes as a shock, but Queen is the second most successful band in history. Yes, you heard that right. They sold a total of 300 million albums which not only makes them one of the most famous British Rock bands of all time. But it also makes them Rock legends.
So, how did they do it?
The band was formed in 1970, and it was during this decade that they reigned supreme. They had hit after hit and couldn’t seem to put a foot wrong. This was the time when they sold most of their records and when they cemented their reputation as global superstars.
Under the leadership of Freddie Mercury, they experimented with a series of sounds and increasingly introduced a theatrical style to their music and performances.
Like The Beatles and Pink Floyd, they also started to introduce concept albums rather than merely a random collection of songs packaged into an album.
The best example of all of this…
The album, A Night at the Opera, was released in 1975 and sold close to 12 million copies. It became their best-selling album, excluding the compilation release Queen Greatest Hits, which came out in 1981 and sold 25 million copies.
A Night at the Opera also contained their most famous hit, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” This, more than any other, would be the song that came to define the very essence of Queen. It became their best-selling single, with over six million copies sold.
Everything was going great, but then at the end of the 70s, they just dropped out of fashion. Punk and New Wave had hit hard in the UK with the consequence was that Queen seemed old-fashioned. Sadly, the consequence was that during this time, they could hardly give away tickets, never mind fill arenas.
But, like all things in life, things change…
Fortunately for Queen, that change came in the form of a performance to end all performances at “Live Aid” in London on the 13th of July 1985. It reminded everyone just what a great band Queen was. However, that, too, was short-lived.
Sadly, Freddie Mercury was also suffering from AIDS. Even more tragically, with very poor treatment choices available at the time, he consequently passed away in 1991. Without Freddie Mercury, possibly the greatest Rock frontman in Rock history, the band’s decline continued.
They’ve since replaced him with the awful Adam Lambert. Frankly, he’s crap and not worth listening to. It’s fair to say that Punk killed Queen, but their legacy lives on.
The talent in this band was off the scale. In one band, they had four of the greatest musicians to ever pick up an instrument or perform. With such a wealth of riches, it is hardly surprising that they rose to become of the most successful bands of all time.
They got together in 1968…
And, just a year later, they released two albums that quickly established them as a global force. Their debut album was Led Zeppelin, and the second was Led Zeppelin II. Hardy original titles. But, with the first album selling 10 million copies and the second 16 million copies, they had little to worry about.
They continued with this rather unimaginative numbering system until they reached their fourth. They then appeared to lose all interest in numbers and couldn’t even be bothered to think of a name.
It’s the Zep album most people know…
The Untitled Album was released in 1971 and proved to be their most popular, notching up 37 million in sales. Subsequently, the band got the hang of using names with Houses of the Holy following in 1973 and then Physical Graffiti in 1975.
Personally, from 1975 on, I felt that their best music was behind them, and the buying public agreed.
So, what about singles?
Contrary to what some might believe, Led Zeppelin did release singles, but not in the UK. At least not until 1997 when they finally caved and released a version of “Whole Lotta Love” as a celebration of their 30th year since getting together.
It got to #2 on the Rock and Metal Chart and #21 on the main charts.
Why didn’t the band want to release singles?
Because they wanted their albums to stand on their own as an entire piece of music. A similar stance to bands like Pink Floyd. However, this still didn’t stop them from releasing ten singles in the US, discounting promotional releases.
Interestingly, it was “Whole Lotta Love,” released in 1969, that achieved the highest chart position in the US. Although, it still only reached #4.
Despite their lack of singles…
They were still hugely popular as an album and live band. They sold 300 million albums, making them one of the biggest-selling bands of all time. Probably their most famous song is “Stairway to Heaven” from the Untitled Album.
Who knows how many copies that would have sold if it had been released as a single?
There has never been a band like Pink Floyd before or since. They stand alone as being one of the most unique bands in history. Formed in London, England, in 1965, they pioneered, developed, and mastered the art of Psychedelic Rock.
The initial lineup consisted of Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Richard Wright, and Syd Barrett. This stayed the same for two years until 1967.
By this time, Syd Barrett, lead vocalist and guitarist, began to suffer ever-increasing mental health problems due to his excessive drug taking. He became unreliable and was finally replaced by David Gilmour after a short period when they played side by side.
Syd Barrett left a lasting impression on the remaining members of the band. His contribution was never forgotten. His brilliance and loss were acknowledged in the 1975 album, Wish You Were Here, which in so many ways was a tribute to their departed friend.
Let’s turn the clock back a little now…
The 60s was a time of huge experimentation as Pink Floyd strove to perfect their sound. Their debut album, The Pipers at the Gates of Dawn, was a clear indication of what was to come. It was an essential piece of music that laid the foundations for the now legendary 1973 album, The Dark Side of the Moon.
I can remember first listening to it fifty years ago on the day of its release. It was nothing short of mind-blowing. It’s an album I listen to even now and still derive a huge amount of pleasure from.
It’s one of the most important albums in Rock history. Also, it’s one of the most commercially successful. Incredibly, it somehow managed to remain on the US Billboard album charts for four years. And it also sold over 45 million copies globally.
Just as impressive was the fact Pink Floyd followed up with a further three classic albums. These were Wish You Were Here, released in 1975, which I’ve already discussed. Followed by Animals in 1977 and then The Wall in 1979.
Subsequently, they released The Final Cut in 1983. It was at this point that their insanely talented bassist and lyricist, Roger Waters left the band. The album was frankly depressing and awful, and the result was a long hiatus for the remaining trio that still made up Pink Floyd.
After four years of sitting at home counting their money…
The band got back together, minus Roger Waters, and released a couple of new albums, A Momentary Lapse of Reason, in 1987 and then a live album, recorded in 1998 over five nights in New York, A Delicate Sound of Thunder.
On balance, they were pretty good. But, in reality, they were nowhere near the same standard as the last four albums of the 70s.
They finished their second money count and, for the first time in years, embarked on a world tour. I was lucky enough to see them at Earls Court as part of this “Division Bell” tour.
They were brilliant, and I was also lucky enough to hear them play “Comfortably Numb.” I consider this to be the greatest guitar solo in Rock. And, on the night I was there, it was very probably their very best performance of the song. Rock legends.
The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones are often mentioned in the same sentence as The Beatles since they were both formed in the UK in the early 60s. Both bands were important in shaping the music of their generation as well as cultural trends. But, the fact is that there was a world of difference between the two.
The Rolling Stones were all about Rock, whereas The Beatles were more about Rock/Pop. I prefer the harder Rock sound of The Rolling Stones, but I do understand why many people were more into The Beatles.
The Rolling Stones were formed in 1962, and one of the things I still have problems getting my head around is that they’re still together, recording and performing. The current line-up has a total age exceeding 300 years.
How the hell can that be?
Most of the guys in the band are pushing 80 but still showing no appetite to slow down. Mental. This crazy energy and desire to play have made them the biggest-grossing live band in history.
They currently have over two billion dollars of ticket sales to their names. To be precise, it stands at $2.17 billion as I write this. But since they have a tour planned early next year, that’s likely to change very soon. I want some of what they’re on.
The Rolling Stones have recorded 92 albums and 121 singles. These figures include the release of 34 live albums. All of this adds up to over 200 million album sales… and counting.
It’s not an easy task to pick my favorite song from their extensive catalog. But, if pushed, I’d choose “Start Me Up,” which was released in 1981 from the album Tattoo You. My favorite album would have to be 1971, Sticky Fingers.
No list of the most famous British Rock bands would be complete without The Who. Like many of the biggest British Rock bands, they were also formed in the 1960s. 1964 to be exact.
The Who, like many British bands of the era, introduced new styles and techniques into their playing. Pete Townsend, their lead guitarist, helped to develop the use of power chords and feedback. Something now commonplace and very much taken for granted by musicians the world over.
The Who also championed the idea of the concept album…
Although, at around the same time, it’s something that Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd were also pursuing. Which band came up with it first is unclear. But it’s clear that The Who ran with it and developed it further.
Their contributions to the cause came with the release of the 1969 album Tommy. This was a soundtrack to the 1975 movie, “Tommy,” and was something that was also turned into a stage show. This initially ran in 1971 in Seattle, and then later, in 1992, it appeared on Broadway.
The album became their best-selling, notching up 20 million in sales, and the movie took a healthy $35 million at the box office. Google tells me that this is around $200 million in today’s money. Interestingly, the movie included all of the band members of The Who as themselves. Meta.
The Who’s best-known songs…
It starts with “Pinball Wizard,” which was released in 1969. It went to #19 in the US and #4 in the UK. Additionally, “Who Are You,” released in 1978, is another firm fan favorite. This went to #14 in the US and #18 in the UK.
The Who is still recording and playing live after 60 years which is amazing. Sadly, Keith Moon and John Entwistle are no longer with them. However, founding members Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend are still going strong and, by all accounts putting in some incredible live performances.
Grab your Parka, fire up your scooter, and get yourself to see them sometime soon.
Looking for More Great Rock Music?
Well, check out our thoughts on the Best Classic Rock Songs, the Best 70s Rock Songs, the Best 80s Rock Songs, the Best 90s Rock Songs, the Best 80s Rock Bands, the Best 70s Rock Bands, and the Best 60s Rock Bands for more awesome Rock songs.
Also, you need to listen to all that music. So, take a look at our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones For Rock & Metal Music, the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, the Best Noise Isolating Earbuds, or the Best Wireless Bluetooth Headphones that you can buy in 2023.
Most Famous British Rock Bands – Final Thoughts
So, there you have it. That was a lot of fun, and it brought back a lot of memories from an era that, for me, at least, feels like it was just yesterday. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since these bands’ first got together, but I believe their music is every bit as good today as it was then.
Good music is timeless…
But, I do not doubt that new bands will come to challenge the position of the most famous English Rock bands. No doubt, many of you will think that this is already the case and that more contemporary bands already deserve inclusion on this list.
Regardless, I’m sure we can all agree that British Rock music continues to enjoy a wealth of talent.
Until next time, happy listening.