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A List of Real Rock Music From the '60s and '70s

Festival goers at Woodstock in 1969.

Festival goers at Woodstock in 1969.

Inspiration for a Classic Rock Song List

I had the opportunity to spend an entire day travelling by car with a co-worker who was 25 years younger than me. Car conversations between two guys can range across multiple topics, including sports, hunting, fishing, cars, girls, and most importantly, music. Since he was driving, I deferred to his musical choices at first. But after several hours of listening to repetitive pop songs, hybrid rock-rap, speed metal, and weak ballads sprinkled with just enough easy listening to twist my insides up, I reached over and lowered the volume and began in earnest to take the musical discussion back to the roots of rock 'n roll.

In naming songs and bands from the 1960s and 1970s, I was given the blank look of questioning until I realized that this guy had never been exposed to classical rock and all of its history. Since we were travelling through a remote area, radio reception was thin at best, so I took the opportunity to plug my iPad into the stereo system and proceeded to properly introduce this young man to some of my collection of songs. Needless to say, the remainder of the trip was mostly music and me telling the backstory of every song and the band who was performing, that is until the battery ran out. At the end of our trip as we were saying farewell, I made this young guy a promise; that I would compile a list of great classic rock songs that when listened to as a collection would give him a musical experience unlike anything available today. What follows is my list. Everything is from the 1960s and 1970s, except for one song—but that one song fits, so I couldn't just abandon it.


In Bethel, New York, August 15th through the 18th, four young men brought together 32 bands and 500,000 people (estimated) for what has been called the pivotal moment in music history. John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld, and Mike Lang were looking for ways to earn money utilizing a large inheritance Mr. Roberts had received as seed money. Their idea started out as building a recording studio in Woodstock, NY where many musicians already lived and they envisioned sponsoring a rock concert for 50,000 people to generate the revenue for the total project. Nothing went right on the project as the four organizers really had no experience with handling crowds, concessions, water and comfort facilities management, and much more. Tickets had been sold, but because they were unable to finish fencing and ticket taking booths, they were forced to either cancel or turn it into a free event. The news of a free music festival brought armies of young people from across the nation and the rest is history.


The List

Many of the bands who performed at Woodstock were launched into stardom and many of the songs played on those three days in 1969 are still being played on classic rock stations today. Other bands were influenced by those groundbreakers and emerged on the music scene in the following years. And as the audiences grew, the bands started experimenting with new sounds, adding distortion, thumping bass lines, and psychedelic lyrics. There are so many great songs that it's hard to narrow them down to a "best" list, but in order to insure I could provide my young friend with a comprehensive guide, I made my best attempt.

Songs From the Early 1960s

The Kinks are considered one of the most influential British bands of all time and some of their early works can be heard in garage rock, heavy metal, and punk rock music in the decades following their release. Two of their songs make the first entries on this list. "You really got me" released in 1964 and "All day and all of the night" released the following year are both amazing albeit short songs, full of raw guitars and straight to the point vocals. Another addition to my budding list from the early '60s would be "It's my life," a 1965 release by The Animals. This song was recorded while the band was touring America and almost didn't make it due to the fact that lead singer Eric Burdon really hated the lyrics. If you listen closely the song is about a guy looking to find a sugar momma to live off of her money; hardly a rock anthem he wanted to get behind. Another great song released in 1966 is called "Eight Miles High," by the Byrds which was quite controversial putting the band at odds with radio stations. The band claims the song is about an airline flight, while the industry saw it as a depiction of a drug trip and saw to it that it was banned from airplay. Some credit that song with paving the way for the music genre called "acid rock."

The Animals - "It's My Life"

"Eight Miles High" - The Byrds

1967: A Year Apart

1967 was an amazing year for music including several songs that make my list. "Purple Haze" by The Jimi Hendrix Experience features what would later be called the signature Hendrix sound, which was a mixture of several techniques layered with blues riffs. The lyrics are somewhat hard to understand and although Hendrix himself calls it a love song, the world interpreted it as a drug trip or psychedelic experience. The longevity of Purple Haze is amazing and it's still considered as the best guitar song in history by many people. Also in that same year Jefferson Airplane released a lyrical journey through the world of Alice in Wonderland, a mythical following your dreams tale that was infused with psychedelic chords and vivid verses. The song "White Rabbit" had commercial success, rising to 8 on the charts but is best known as one of the earliest songs to sneak a drug reference past the radio censors. Another addition to my list from 1967 is the song "Nights in White Satin" from the Moody Blues. The song is a tale of love from afar and was written by one of the band members who slept on satin sheets given to him by his girlfriend. It's an amazing song full of orchestral sounds and is considered the best song by the band in their history.

"White Rabbit" - Jefferson Airplane

Moody Blues - Nights in White Satin

Groovy Sounds of 1968

1968 was a year when groovy, heavy, and mellow all converged, but each showing its head at different times. Iron Butterfly released the iconic rock song, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. Clocking in at 17 minutes long the tune covers an entire album side. The song is considered significant in rock history because it marks the early transition from psychedelic into a more harder rock called heavy metal. Also checking in are the Rolling Stones with their classic, "Sympathy for the Devil" and "A Hazy Shade of Winter" by Simon & Garfunkel; a song they wrote in 1966 but released In 1968. the first Supergroup emerged consisting of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. In their two year career they brought the blues to a whole generation of white rockers and spawned legions of power trios, boogie bands and heavy metal groups. 1968 was an excellent year for Cream who scored two amazing hits that year; "White Room," and " Sunshine of your Love."

Iron Butterfly - "In a Gadda Da Vida"

Simon & Garfunkel - "A Hazy Shade of Winter"

"White Room" - Cream

Cream - "Sunshine of Your Love"

A Change Is on the Wind in 1970

As the "hippie rock" period of the 1960s passed, the early 1970s stepped in with a new sound and plenty of conversation about the direction mainstream music would be moving to. Hard rock became one of the most popular genres of music but the rise of southern rock or country rock also put down roots and started to flourish. Disco was also born in 1970, on Valentine's Day specifically when David Manusco opened The Loft in New York City. It existed as an underground movement; that is until the movie Saturday Night Fever hit the theaters and it exploded, burning white hot for a few years before once again falling back to obscurity. Some of the rock classics that emerged from the early 1970s show unique styles with amazing sound effects. Rock and Roll fans still look back to the early 1970s as the beginning of a sound that still is being used today. Samples from this era include the legendary "Truckin" by the Grateful Dead which was released in 1970 as well as the British group The Who's "I can't Explain." Black Sabbath released their smash album Paranoid with the opening track "War Pigs" making this list. Also Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song," Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath," and "Aqualung," Rounding up the 1970 hits are "Moon Dance," by Van Morrison and "Travelling Band," an awesome song by Credence Clearwater Revival.

The Grateful Dead - "Truckin"

The Who - "I Can't Explain"

Black Sabbath - "War Pigs"

Led Zeppelin - "Immigrant Song"

Jethro Tull - "Locomotive Breath"

Jethro Tull - "Aqualung"

Van Morrison - "Moondance"

Creedence Clearwater Revival - "Travellin' Band"

1971 and Beyond

1971 produced many memorable songs. America was starting to see the influences of disco and easy listening. Some music scholars claim the year was the very best for album releases; something which can be debated in another forum. I could continue this list all the way up until today if I wanted to, but for the sake of taking a clean break, I'll stop here. Hope you enjoy the classics tunes I've chosen for this list. Feel free to comment with great rock and roll lists of your own.


Milo Cronos on May 23, 2019:

Great article

Ann Carr from SW England on March 09, 2017:

Great list; I entirely agree with you about 'proper' rock. There are many here which I loved at the time and still do. I couldn't bear travelling a long way with the music you initially described; enough to drive you round the bend!


Readmikenow on February 08, 2017:

I can't begin to tell you how much I enjoyed reading this article. I've tried, really tried, to enjoy the music that is popular now. It just hasn't worked for me. I grew up listening to the bands of the 1960s and 1970s and I believe it was a special time for music. Excellent article.

whonunuwho from United States on February 07, 2017:

Thank you for this trip back into the past and the early legends of Rock music. Brings back memories of protests, Vietnam, the music of the times that promoted feelings and what was right or wrong with the world. The Eighties were my favorite. Seems it has got to be more about sounds instead of telling a message. Blessings my friend. whonu