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The ’70s, boldly stated, is the decade that put classic in front of rock. All the experimenting done by psychedelic and blues rock bands had matured enough for multiple new waves of music to finally explode. Now, the public was hungry for more; rockers thrived, and arguably, this list of 10 best 70s Rock Trios would fill many of the top spots of the best bands of all time.
In other decades, whether the experimental 60s, glam 80s, or grungy 90s, it’s hard to instantly recall 10 great trios that peaked the charts. For the 70s, though, it took a lot of work for me to keep the list this short. Astonishing musicians in the prog, blues, and heavy metal world that inspired me to pick up a guitar kept running through my mind.
Hard as it was, here are my top bands, their history, and some essential listen to introduce you to their music if you’re one of the lucky ones who can still enjoy them for the first time.
The Early 70s Music Scene
To understand why trios became so popular in the 70s, we need some contest on the music scene. The hole left by the Beatles and the passing of Jimmi Hendrix was immense at the beginning of the decade insane.
Cream and the Yardbirds had disbanded, with Led Zeppelin ruling the rock world alongside the smooth singer-songwriter style of Dylan and Jonni Mitchel. New genres were born: Punk was in its baby phase in London and New York, Heavy Metal saw its birth with Sabbath, and Prog Rock was well underway but still not at its commercial peak.
Important Note: To do justice to the many styles of the era, I’ve picked stylistically diverse bands that spearheaded them. So, If you feel I’ve left out your favorite band, it’s only to make space for other influential acts in different genres.
To avoid giving you too much all at once, I focused on ’70s lineups and time active, even though the bands might have had other members and reunited in the future.
- Members: Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee, Neil Peart
- Essential Listen: Moving Pictures
The first on the list is the band that all prog rockers, especially drum lovers, hail as a trio formation’s musical and technical peak – and they are not wrong. Rush, with their legacy of highly sophisticated, complex, yet catchy music, earned themselves millions of fans and a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Rush was formed in Toronto, Canada, from the initiative of guitarist Lifeson. From a cover blues rock band walking in the steps of Hendrix, they evolved into the progenitors of hard rock and prog metal when Lee and especially Neil Peart stepped in.
Nothing sounded like “Hemispheres” when the album came out. Sure, other bands were performing 10 + minute-long songs. Pink Floyd had ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’ and ‘Echoes,’ Yes, and Camel had full albums of high-level prog – yet no one was heavier and packed a punch like Rush.
The band released 19 albums and sold 42 million records until the recent passing away of Peart, one of the greatest to ever sit behind kit.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1970–1979)
- Members: Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Carl Palmer
- Essential Listen: Trilogy
ELP success is a natural derival of having the three established prog monsters in the same band and letting them loose to an already established fan base. They rode the wave of their previous bands and even surpassed them with a stunning total of 48 million albums sold.
What puts the trio on top of many proggers beyond the commercial success and virtuosity is the live shows. Often considered over-the-top by critics and media, the band behaved wilder than an 80s punk band while still laying down complex rhythms and classical and jazz-inspired melodies.
There’s no way of encapsulating ELP with a genre, yet the word ‘ambitious’ might best describe them and ’70s music.
- Members: Javier Martínez, Claudio Gabis, Alejandro Medina
- Essential Listen: Manal
As the northern hemisphere indulged in 20 solid years of rock n’ roll, no real rock existed in Argentina before Manal stepped on the stage. The Latin trio got their inspiration as all the world’s trios did, looking up to Creme and Hendrix – what they did with that is giving birth to Argentinian blues rock.
As one of the only bands in Latin America of that time signed to a major label, they released cult albums but, over time, got overshadowed by hard rock, surpassing blues in all worldwide charts—their importance, though, for all of Latin rock far surpasses the record sales of the decade.
Their run in the 70s was less than two years, yet it was enough to fuel the entire rock movement in Argentina.
The Police (1978 – 1986)
- Members: Sting, Andy Summers, Stewart Copeland
- Essential Listen: Reggatta de Blanc
Rock, pop, punk, reggae, jazz, and ska found their way into London during the ’70s and peaked when Sting and Copeland convinced the much more experienced Andy Summers to join their band. His condition was only one; they would never add more members than three.
The Police hit the end of the ’70s harder than any band and became the music act in the world a few albums into their eight-year career. What made them so special, besides the genius songwriting of Sting and the vision of all three of pushing the boundaries of the guitar, bass, and drums, was how appealing their music was to everyone.
No one disliked The Police, neither prog snobs, disco heads, or casual pop fans. The trio defied the ‘criteria’ of blending genres into a pop song and became a cornerstone of 20th-century music, topping charts and selling over 75 million records.
The Jam (1972 – 1982)
- Members: Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton, Rick Buckler
- Essential Listen: Setting Sons
The Jam came with a blast, releasing more than a dozen consecutive top 40 hits in the UK, consolidating punk and new wave as a force to be reckoned with. Just as prog was leaving the charts, they found themselves to be the latest evolution of British rock.
What started as a rock n roll cover band evolved into a Pual Weller-led trio that mixed and merged all musical influences that London absorbed in the 70s. Unlike other punk bands, though, whose ‘mojo’ relied on being reckless and ‘amateurish,’ the Jam were refined and far more professional, almost ‘prog-like’ in their music and attitude.
Paul Weller is still going with his multiple projects, keeping The Jam’s sound alive and strong.
ZZ Top (1969–present)
- Members: Billy Gibbons, Frank Beard, Dusty Hill
- Essential Listen: Eliminator
Blues rock in steroids, boogie, and beards come to mind whenever ZZ Top is mentioned. Led by Billy Gibbons’s snarly guitar tone, groovy riffs, and sarcastic lyrics, the band quickly became synonymous with Texas rock music, continuously producing hits and filling arenas.
The 70s was the band’s golden age, with six albums, each more impressive than the other artistically and commercially. Slowly but surely, Gibbons and Hill’s duo choreography, looks, tight live performances, and brilliant songwriting turned them into a cult.
ZZ Top never stopped recording and touring, even after the recent death of Dusty Hill, who was replaced in 2021 by Elwood Francis.
- Members: Dewey Bunnell, Dan Peek, Gerry Beckley.
- Essential Listen: America
Folk was still at its highest at the start of the 70s, with Dylan being the superstar. On the other side of the Atlantic, though, three American high school kids in London would form a Trio that kept the folk torch alive, adding a modern touch of soft rock and pop.
The trio rose to success very quickly with ‘A Horse With No Name,’ their most streamed song today, and kept producing hit albums supported by London’s best team of managers and producers, some of whom were behind the Beatles.
All the work done by the trio, their perfect harmonies, striking ability to switch between instruments, evolution to electric, and their continuous stream of songs made America effectively Warner Brothers Records’ biggest-selling act of the 1970s.
- Members: Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor, “Fast” Eddie Clarke
- Essential Listen: Ace Of Spades
If heavy metal would turn into a person, it would be Lemmy and everything he and Motörhead stand for. The band is the ultimate heavy power trio of the ’70s, embodying the rage of punk, speed of metal, and extreme lifestyle that comes with them.
Lemmy founded the band after being fired by his previous band, Hawkwind, after being arrested for drug possession. His new band had to be louder, faster, and. In his own words, ‘It will be so loud that if we move in next door to you, your lawn will die.”
The band released 23 studio albums, which you could spin from the first track to the last they ever released, and you’d feel as if they are 20 years old, thrashing a club in London and gambling on their gig earning afterward.
- Members: Rik Emmett, Mike Levine, and Gil Moore
- Essential Listen: Just a Game
Rush was not the only Canadian band in the ’70s to conquer the rock charts and tour the world with their guitar-driven hard rock at the edge of prog style and a reputation as a spectacular live band.
The trio was originally a blues 4-piece, which then turned into a far flashier and powerful trio when guitarist and songwriter Rik Emmett joined Levine and Moore. Eighteen gold and nine platinum awards followed their career – which, as impressive as it is, is still considered ‘underrated’ as their commercial peak lasted only a short time.
In later years, the guitar legacy of the band continued, with monstrous players like Phil X and Steve Morse joining their ranks in different periods.
Robin Trower Band (1973 – Present)
- Members: James Dewar, Reg Isidore, Robin Trower
- Essential Listen: Bridge of Sighs
You will see the name Robin Trower come In all the lists of most underrated guitar players and rock musicians. One of the greats ever to pick up a guitar and bend a G string, Trower loved to perform as a power trio formation with a solid bass and drum to back him up.
Trower’s playing and songwriting have inspired countless rock musicians, and at the time, he was even compared to Jimmi Hendrix for the title of the most outstanding player who dared to turn blues into rock.
The band’s lineup changed many times over the years as Trower was involved in different projects – he still goes on to this day, strong as ever, rocking his Stratocaster.
Will We See a 70s Music Comeback?
The ’70s are not one sound, nor have they had a predominant genre, and there is no way to say that a song ‘sounds like the 70s’ as you would arguably say about many songs today that ‘sound like the ”80s.’
That decade of experimenting brought to light today’s most popular genres, including dance, electronic, jazz fusion, and various forms of early hip-hop beyond the notorious rock bands.
Shortly said, the evolution that started in that decade is still audible today, yet arguably not as much in the pop charts or commercial rock, but in the indie and underground scene.
Answer: Bridge Over The Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel was the best-selling album of the 70s, surpassing the Dark Side Of the Moon. The title track from the album is the most successful charting single of the decade.
Answer: Pink Floyd was the best-selling and most acclaimed British band of the 70s with their stream of classic records, helmed by “The Dark Side Of The Moon,” which never left the charts for the entire decade.
Answer: The Eagles were the most prominent US band of the ’70s, with their album Their Greatest Hits still being the biggest-selling album in US history.