Britain’s top 8 pop and rock icons 

Britain’s top 8 pop and rock icons 

by Laura Jones

Updated November 7, 2022

How much do you know about British music? You know The Beatles for sure, and probably Ed Sheeran too. But what about some others in between? Britain is definitely better known for its pop and rock icons than for classical composers, so here’s a rundown of some of Britain’s most popular artists from the last 60 years. 

Britain’s top pop and rock icons

The Beatles

Who doesn’t know at least some of the lyrics to Hey Jude or Yesterday? Some of these lines are as famous as the Happy Birthday song. The Beatles are the best selling music artists of all time – not just in the UK, in the whole world! The Beatles are all from Liverpool and they were the first real boyband – they created such a frenzy with their fans that the newspapers dubbed it “Beatlemania”. The Beatles led the “British Invasion” in the United States in the mid 1960s, taking British pop and rock music to Americans.  

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones might not have sold as many copies as The Beatles but they are undoubtedly more rock and roll. They are just as famous for their hard-living lifestyles as they are for their music. It’s a wonder any of them have survived until now but they’re still going (and still having babies in their 70s). They began making music in the 1960s and their best-selling single is (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. They also followed closely behind The Beatles as part of the British Invasion.


Another British rock band, Queen are famous for their big hair and songs everyone still wants to sing along to. Queen’s frontman, Freddie Mercury, is instantly recognisable and many people think he was the best rock frontman ever. Queen’s most famous hits include Bohemian Rhapsody and We are the Champions. Bohemian Rhapsody was voted the British public’s favourite song ever in 2002 and was the most downloaded hit from the 20th century. 

David Bowie

David Bowie has only become more popular after his death in 2016. His most famous hits include Life on Mars and Under Pressure, which he sang with Queen. Bowie created a glam-rock alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, in the early 1970s and had a bright red mullet and very pale skin. He went through a lot of image changes while he was famous and his music changed a lot too from rock to new romantic, electronic to soul and more. His 25th and final album, Blackstar, was released two days before he died. 


The Gallagher brothers, Noel and Liam, as frontmen of Oasis were a huge part of the “Cool Britannia” era that swept the UK in the 1990s. Their songs like Wonderwall and Don’t look back in anger are still played on the radio in the UK today, but their music is only half the story. Oasis is another band whose members had, let’s say, interesting lifestyles. Their sibling rivalry often boiled over into physical fights and their infamous chart battle with band Blur became known as the “Battle of Britpop” and was definitely not just friendly rivalry.  

The Spice Girls

90s kids unite! The Spice Girls are the queens of the girl band and were another essential part of “Cool Britannia”. They released their first single, Wannabe, in 1996 and it went straight to number one on the UK charts. Each of the five Spice Girls had their own nicknames which became their identifiers – Baby, Sporty, Scary, Posh and Ginger, and every girl in the UK had their favourite. As well as their music, their shouting about “Girl Power” and wearing outrageous outfits made the Spice Girls the pop culture icons of the ‘90s in the UK. 


It’s hard (for me) to believe that Coldplay have been around for over 20 years but photos of a very young Chris Martin prove it. The song that made them famous was Yellow and that was followed by other hugely popular songs like Viva la Vida and Paradise. One of the most notable things about Coldplay is their lack of scandal – they’re better known for their charity work than hard partying or in-fighting. 

Ed Sheeran

Let’s be honest, Ed Sheeran doesn’t look much like a typical pop star. But, he’s had hit after hit starting in 2012 with The A Team and peaking in 2017 when he had the best-selling single of the year in the UK and the US with Shape of You. He’s also written songs with Justin Bieber and performed with Taylor Swift; they are just two of the people he counts as very famous friends. 

Which of these pop and rock icons have you heard of? Are any of them popular where you live?

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