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50+ of The Best Songs From The 1960s

The ’60s were all about developing different genres. The top 100 was filled with Motown, experimental, love ballads, and classic rock n’ roll to name a few.

Check out our top 50 picks from the 1960s

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Tokens
Album:
  • The Lion Sleeps Tonight
Description

This South African hunting song was originally titled “Mbube” translating to “Lion”. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was recorded by The Tokens in May 1961. The Tokens were not happy with their somewhat embarrassing release and didn’t believe that it would ever gain any positive attention. Boy were they wrong! It became a #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart during the holiday season of 1961.

Stand By Me

Listen:
Artist:
  • Ben E. King
Album:
  • Dont Play That Song!
Description

In the year 1960, Ben E. King and The Drifters inquired about releasing Stand By Me as a single. However, after much discussion with the group’s manager, the song would eventually be rejected. In the year 1961, Ben E. King would release Stand By Me as a solo project. It is now the 6th highest-grossing single of its era.

Green Onions

Listen:
Artist:
  • Booker T. & The M.G.'s
Album:
  • Green Onions
Description

Recorded in 1962, Green Onions was almost released under the name Funky Onions. You may remover hearing this tune in cult classics such as Happy Gilmore, and The Sandlot.

My Girl

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Temptations
Album:
  • The Temptations Sing Smokey
Description

My Girl was written by singer/songwriter Smokey Robinson about the love of his life, Miracles member Claudette Rogers Robinson.

Wipe Out

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Surfaris
Album:
  • The Best of The Surfaris
Description

The Surfaris manager Dale Smallin’s voice was made famous for his “ha ha ha ha ha, wipe out” intro for this 1962 beach tune.

Ain't No Mountain High Enough

Listen:
Artist:
  • Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
Album:
  • United
Description

This Billboard chart topper was recorded at the Hitsville USA studio in Detroit, MI in 1967. It is now known as one of the most successful singles to ever be released by Motown.

Try A Little Tenderness

Listen:
Artist:
  • Otis Redding
Album:
  • The Very Best of Otis Redding
Description

Otis Redding on the microphone and Booker T. & The M.G.’s on the instrumental? This song had the perfect recipe for success. Try a Little Tenderness is now listed as one of “the best sons of all time” in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

My Favorite Things

Listen:
Artist:
  • John Coltrane
Album:
  • My Favorite Things
Description

My Favorite Things has sold more than 500,000 copies. The soprano saxophone used for this recording was gifted to John Coltrane from his good friend Miles Davis.

Blackbird

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Beatles
Album:
  • The Beatles (The White Album)
Description

Paul McCartney recalls that this song was written as a combination of a blackbird call he heard on a trip to India, and the 1960 race riots happening in the United States.

The Times They Are A-Changin'

Listen:
Artist:
  • Bob Dylan
Album:
  • The Times They Are A-Changin'
Description

This Folk song was written to invoke chance during the Civil Rights Movement and the Folk music revive. The Times They are a Changin’peaked at the #9 position of the UK singles chart.

The Weight

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Band
Album:
  • Music From Big Pink
Description

Although this song never made it to the top of the charts, The Weight is one of the greatest classic rock songs of all time.

Down by the River

Listen:
Artist:
  • Neil Young, Crazy Horse
Album:
  • Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Description

Calm down everyone, Neil Young is not a crazy person who shot his baby Down by the River. This song is actually about overcoming a horrible drug addiction.

I Want You Back

Listen:
Artist:
  • Jackson 5
Album:
  • Jackson 5: The Ultimate Collection
Description

Motown hit the jackpot with the Jackson 5! The group’s first single “I Want You Back” would be the first of four back to back singles to hit #1 on the Billboard Charts.

I Say A Little Prayer

Listen:
Artist:
  • Dionne Warwick
Album:
  • The Windows of The World
Description

Released in 1967 as a love song during the Vietnam War. I Say A Little Prayer For You resonated with the wives of the men who were in battle.

Cast Your Fate to the Wind

Listen:
Artist:
  • Vince Guaraldi Trio
Album:
  • Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus
Description

This song won a Grammy for the Best Original Jazz Composition category. The award would later lead the Trio into much success recording for the hit cartoon Peanuts.

Season of the Witch

Listen:
Artist:
  • Donovan
Album:
  • Sunshine Superman
Description

This song is a psychedelic masterpiece! The Season of the Witch was released shortly before Donovan’s arrest for his possession of the devil’s lettuce.

Time of the Season

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Zombies
Album:
  • Odessey and Oracle
Description

The Zombies broke up the group shortly after the release of Season of the Witch. The song would go on to sell over a million copies and secure a #3 spot on the Billboard charts.

King of The Road

Listen:
Artist:
  • Roger Miller
Album:
  • All Time Greatest Hits
Description

King of the Road is an anthem for the less fortunate. Roger Millers ballad of life on the road reminds us that we don’t need much to keep our spirits high.

California Dreamin'

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Mamas & the Papas
Album:
  • If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears
Description

Are you feeling homesick yet? This song was written to explain the hate for New York winters and the love for California Summers. It peaked at #4 on the Billboard charts in the year 1966.

Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In

Listen:
Artist:
  • The 5th Dimension
Album:
  • The Age of Aquarius
Description

Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In was written for the Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical. This song would later become a protest anthem for long-haired hippies who disagreed with government policy.

The Twist

Listen:
Artist:
  • Chubby Checker
Album:
  • The Twist-Single
Description

The Twist was originally released by The Midnighters in 1958, peaking at #28 on the Billboard chart. Chubby Checker’s 1960 cover landed the #1 spot, and also started The Twist dance craze.

Sugar, Sugar

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Archies
Album:
  • Sugar, Sugar
Description

The song Sugar, Sugar was written for the Saturday morning cartoon Archie. The Archies were portrayed on the show as cartoon characters and needed a song that would speak to the audience.

I'm a Believer

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Monkees
Album:
  • More of the Monkees
Description

I’m a Believer was originally written by Neil Diamond. When The Monkees gained the rights to do a cover, producers were not convinced they had the talent to play the instrumentals for the song. Only their vocals were used for the final product.

Good Lovin'

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Young Rascals
Album:
  • The Young Rascals
Description

Good Lovin’ is the only prescription that you really need. At least that’s what The Young Rascals would tell you. Their 1966 cover song went all the way to the top of the Billboard charts.

Happy Together

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Turtles
Album:
  • Happy Together
Description

This song is about a boy’s crush on a girl that goes unreturned. “Imagine how the world could be so very fine” sounds more like pleading love when you understand the context.

Mrs. Robinson

Listen:
Artist:
  • Simon & Garfunkel
Album:
  • Bookends
Description

Mrs. Robinson won the first-ever Grammy Award in the Rock category for Record of the Year. You can now hear this song covered by artists such as The Lemonheads, Frank Sinatra, and Bon Jovi.

Touch Me

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Doors
Album:
  • The Soft Parade
Description

Robby Krieger, the drummer of the Doors, wrote this song originally with the title Hit Me as an homage to the relationship he had with his girlfriend. Jim Morrison would later have the song title changed to Touch me.

All Along the Watchtower

Listen:
Artist:
  • Jimi Hendrix
Album:
  • Electric Ladyland
Description

Believe it or not All Along the Watchtower was Jimi Hendrix’s’ only top 40 hit. Bob Dylan originally wrote and recorded the song. However, Dylan loved the Hendrix version so much he would go on to play the way Jimi did moving forward.

Whole Lotta Love

Listen:
Artist:
  • Led Zeppelin
Album:
  • Led Zeppelin II
Description

Whole Lotta Love is like a Rock and Roll Viagra. Robert Plant is yearning, and he wants everyone to know. Led Zeppelin landed this song on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest songs of all time list in 2004.

I Can See For Miles

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Who
Album:
  • The Who Sell Out
Description

Lead singer Pete Townshend wrote this song for his now-wife then-girlfriend Karen to ensure that even though he was touring on the road, he would still be able to see her.

Piece of My Heart

Listen:
Artist:
  • Big Brother & The Holding Company
Album:
  • Cheap Thrills
Description

While most people think this song was solely credited to the late Janis Joplin, her band Big Brother & The Holding Company wrote and recorded the song in 1968.

Hey! Baby

Listen:
Artist:
  • Bruce Channel
Album:
  • Hey! Baby
Description

Bruce Channel wrote Hey! Baby in the year 1959. However, this #1 hit single would not get an official release until the year 1962.

Good Vibrations

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Beach Boys
Album:
  • Smiley Smile
Description

Good Vibrations cost nearly $50,000 to be released, making it the most expensive pop song in American history. The song is about invisible feelings that sometimes you can’t explain.

Last Kiss

Listen:
Artist:
  • J. Frank Wilson & The Cavaliers
Album:
  • Last Kiss
Description

Based on a true story, Last Kiss tells an unfortunate event of a girlfriend who dies in her boyfriend’s arms after a tragic car crash.

You Keep Me Hangin' On

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Supremes
Album:
  • The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland
Description

This #1 song from The Supremes tells a story of a man who doesn’t love his woman anymore, and all she wants from his is to be set free.

Ticket to Ride

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Beatles
Album:
  • Help!
Description

Ticket to Ride is rumored to be about the streetwalker girls of Hamburg having the green light from the authorities to go about their business.

Dance to the Music

Listen:
Artist:
  • Sly & The Family Stone
Album:
  • Dance to the Music
Description

Dance to the Music is said to be Sly & The Family Stone’s least favorite song. Despite the bands’ thoughts’ on the single, this song would be their first #1 hit.

Hush

Listen:
Artist:
  • Deep Purple
Album:
  • When We Rock, We Rock and When We Roll, We Roll
Description

The Rock and Roll sound that Deep Purple delivers with this track landed them a #4 spot on the U.S. Billboard charts. Although it never did gain much success over in the U.K.

House of the Rising Sun

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Animals
Album:
  • The Animals
Description

Some wish to believe this song is about a woman’s prison with a rising sun gate entrance, and others will say it’s about a women’s brothel in New Orleans. We will leave this for you to decide.

Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Byrds
Album:
  • Turn! Turn! Turn!
Description

Turn! Turn! Turn! was written as a folk song by Pete Seeger in 1961. The Byrds loved the song but wanted to record a more electric feel. Their version would make it to the #1 spot on the Billboard charts in 1965.

Have You Ever Seen the Rain

Listen:
Artist:
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival
Album:
  • Pendulum
Description

Have You Ever Seen the Rain was written in by John Fogerty about his brother Tom Fogerty leaving the band. Tom Fogerty sadly passed away from tuberculosis in 1990.

One Fine Day

Listen:
Artist:
  • The Chiffons
Album:
  • Absolutely the Best!
Description

The lyrics say it all, “One fine day you’re gonna want me for your girl”. This song is about a girl who wants a boy who isn’t interested in her. A girl can dream, right?

These Boots Are Made for Walkin'

Listen:
Artist:
  • Nancy Sinatra
Album:
  • Boots
Description

Nancy Sinatra is no stranger to success. After all, Nancy’s father is the great Frank Sinatra. These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ is one of 10 top 40 hits recorded by Nancy.

Can't Help Falling In Love

Listen:
Artist:
  • Elvis Presley
Album:
  • Blue Hawaii (Original Soundtrack)
Description

Can’t Help Falling In Love is a love song that was featured in the 1961 film Blue Hawaii, in which Elvis Presley stars and sings.

It's Not Unusual

Listen:
Artist:
  • Tom Jones
Album:
  • Along Came Tom Jones
Description

How would you feel if you saw your girlfriend out and about with another guy? Well, Tom Jones decided to write It’s Not Unusual to help us cope with the feeling.

Born to Be Wild

Listen:
Artist:
  • Steppenwolf
Album:
  • Steppenwolf
Description

Born to Be Wild is know for being the first rock song to use the words “heavy metal”. Steppenwolf however, did not coin the phrase. Those honors go to a man named William Burroughs.

Reach Out I’ll Be There

Listen:
Artist:
  • Four Tops
Album:
  • Reach Out
Description

Reach Out I’ll Be There reached #1 in both the U.S. and the U.K. Thus making this single only the second recording ever to do so from Motown Records.

Can't Take My Eyes Off You

Listen:
Artist:
  • Frankie Valli
Album:
  • Frankie Valli: Solo
Description

Can’t Take My Eyes Off You was 2nd only to the song titled Windy released by The Association. Lauren Hill would later cover this song and win herself a Grammy in 1999.

Dancing In The Street

Listen:
Artist:
  • Martha and the Vandellas
Album:
  • Dance Party
Description

Dancing In The Street was written by Marvin Gaye, Ivy Jo Hunter, and Mickey Stevenson. This song is about a visit to Detroit, where the group noticed kids playing in the street and dancing around open fire hydrants to keep cool.

Spanish Flea

Listen:
Artist:
  • Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
Album:
  • !!Going Places!!
Description

Going Places won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental in the year 1965. Spanish Flea was an instant classic that would make it to the #3 spot on the Billboard Chart.

Incense and Peppermint

Listen:
Artist:
  • Strawberry Alarm Clock
Album:
  • Incense and Peppermint
Description

Incense and Peppermint is a prime example of the psychedelic music genre. Most psychedelic music was written on or about drugs in the ’60s. Few would argue that drugs were the inspiration behind this #1 Billboard chart-topper.