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Best Oldies Singers and Bands of the '50s, '60s, and '70s

by Robert Fontenot as published at LiveAboutDotCom - 1/3/2019


Ranking the top oldies artists of all time is no easy task because there were so many great singers in the '50s, '60s, and '70s—from Elvis and Barbra to a few rockers who've since been knighted by the Queen. One way to gauge a singer's or group's popularity is measuring how many records they've sold. The highest numbers of "certified units" sold naturally point to which influential rock 'n' rollers from the '50s, '60s, and '70s still have us singing their tunes.


1950s: Elvis Presley

Elvis has been dead since 1977, yet he remains the top-selling '50s singer as of 2017. In fact, the only musicians who have outsold Elvis are the Beatles. Presley certainly wasn't the first to sing what's now considered rock 'n' roll; other notable artists like Chuck Berry, Ike Turner, Ray Charles, and Bo Diddley were also making their mark in the middle years of the 1950s. But Presley was the first to become a true pop star, appearing on popular TV programs like "The Ed Sullivan Show" and in hit films like "Jailhouse Rock." He had more records in the Billboard Top 40 than any other singer and more No. 1 albums than any other solo artist.


1950s: Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash's recording career began at Sun Records, the same Memphis, Tennessee, studio where Elvis Presley cut his first songs. Cash's music ranges from country to gospel to rock 'n' roll, and more than 30 million certified units had been sold as of 2017. His career was marked with several highs and lows, professional and personal, but over his four-decade career, he recorded many notable songs and albums. Critical favorites include the 1968 live recording "At Folsom Prison" and the multialbum "American Series" of cover songs he laid down in the final years of his life with producer Rick Rubin.


1960s: The Beatles

The Beatles' influence is unquestionable. They've sold more records than any other singer or band (220 million as of 2017), had more No. 1 singles in the U.S. than anyone else (20), and had the most No. 1 albums in the U.S. by a group (19). The song "Yesterday," credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney (but written by McCartney), remains the most recorded song of all time as of July 2017, with more than 1,600 known versions. Lennon and McCartney are also considered the most successful songwriting duo in modern pop music, with more No. 1 singles than any other pair. All four Beatles enjoyed successful solo careers after the band broke up in 1970.


1960s: The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones can't match their British peers, the Beatles, in terms of sales, but there's no question that they, too, are rock royalty. The band had sold more than 96 million units as of 2017, since the band formed in 1962, and have recorded 30 studio albums. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and company have much to boast about, including a string of eight consecutive No. 1 albums in the U.S., beginning with 1971's "Sticky Fingers" and ending with 1981's "Tattoo You." As of October 2018, the band is still actively touring the world.


1960s: Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand isn't a rock singer like most of the artists on this list, but the Brooklyn-born vocalist has enjoyed plenty of pop music appeal in her career. Streisand has more top-10 albums than any other female singer (34) and is the only performer to have No. 1 albums in six consecutive decades. Her influence extends to other performing arts as well. She's won two Academy Awards, for her acting in "Funny Girl" and "A Star Is Born," as well as Emmy, Tony, and Peabody Awards.


1960s: Bob Dylan

Although other '60s singers have enjoyed more commercial success than Bob Dylan, none of his musical peers can boast of having received the Nobel Prize in Literature, as he did in 2016. Among his other achievements: more than 100 million records sold, 12 Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, and even a special Pulitzer Prize citation. Musicians ranging from David Bowie to Paul McCartney to Bruce Springsteen have cited Dylan's influence in their own work, and '60s performers like Jimi Hendrix ("All Along the Watchtower") and the Byrds ("Mr. Tambourine Man") enjoyed big hits with songs Dylan wrote.


1970s: Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin's unique blend of blues, folk, and rock made it one of the most successful '70s bands, and Jimmy Page's heavy-handed guitar work is an unquestionable influence on the pioneers of heavy metal. They released their first four albums—officially unnamed, but commonly known as Led Zeppelin I, II, III, and IV—between 1969 and 1971, all of which are considered staples of classic rock. In 2008, Guitar World magazine named "Stairway to Heaven" from Led Zeppelin IV as featuring the best guitar solo of all time. 


1970s: Michael Jackson

You could argue that Michael Jackson is an '80s singer because that's the decade when he enjoyed his greatest fame and influence. You could also argue that he's an oldies act from the '60s, when he and his brothers performed as the Jackson 5. But it was the 1970s, as Jackson grew up and went solo when his true talents began to emerge. His 1979 album "Off the Wall," co-produced with Quincy Jones, became the first U.S. solo album to generate four top-10 hits: "Rock With You," "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," "She's Out of My Life," and the title track. Amazingly, this was already Jackson's fifth solo album of the decade, the other four recorded when he was still a teen. 


1970s: Elton John

Elton John is the top-selling British singer of all time, having sold more than 167 certified units, as of 2017, since his 1969 debut album. Elton John, born Reginald Dwight, got his start as a professional pop songwriter in the mid-1960s, writing songs for others with Bernie Taupin, who would remain John's creative partner after he went solo. Between 1972 and 1975, Elton John had five No. 1 albums in the U.S., including the landmark double album "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." Elton John is still recording albums and touring, with nine No. 1 U.S. singles and 27 songs in the top 10. His farewell tour is scheduled for 2019.


1970s: Pink Floyd

Psychedelic English rock band Pink Floyd had sold more than 118 million units worldwide as of 2017, but they're best known for two albums. "Dark Side of the Moon," released in 1973, and "The Wall," a double album from 1979, remain two of the best-selling albums of all time. "Dark Side of the Moon" spent 14 years on Billboard's top 200 sales charts and has sold more than 45 million copies to date. "The Wall" spent 15 weeks atop the U.S. charts and has sold more than 23 million copies. 


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