The 10 Decade Defining Tunes Of The ’60s
Nothing But The Best
The 1960s is undeniably one of the best era in music and more than half a century later, the impact and influence still remains. More than pure rock ‘n roll, the swingin’ 60s had so much to offer from psychedelic and folk rock to beat, blues and pop rock. We know how difficult it is to try to compress this decade’s musical greatness into just 10 songs but we took it upon ourselves to take on this daunting task.
So brace yourselves as we go on a quick trip down memory lane, one song at a time.
10. Ray Charles – “Hit The Road Jack” (1961)
Classic and catchy – those two words always come to mind whenever this song comes on. Written by Percy Mayfield, it’s the shortest among Ray Charles’ no. 1 hits. Released in 1961, this still continues to enjoy massive popularity today (largely thanks to hockey teams playing it during games) and it only proves that this masterpiece never goes out of style.
Fun Fact: It topped the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks and also won a Grammy award for Best Rhythm and Blues Recording. It ranked no. 387 on “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list by the Rolling Stone magazine.
It’s the best way to kick off this list and it has the whole ‘60s vibes peppered all over it. It takes you back to simpler times when music was this raw and good. If someone asked us to name just one decade-defining song, then this would be it.
9. Simon and Garfunkel – “Mrs. Robinson” (1968)
If anyone wants to start petitioning so this song can be acknowledged as a National Treasure, please count us in. It’s also famous for containing a line in reference to Joe DiMaggio, an American Major League Baseball center fielder playing for the New York Yankees.
“The Joe DiMaggio line was written right away in the beginning. And I don’t know why or where it came from. It seems so strange, like it didn’t belong in that song and then, I don’t know, it was so interesting to us that we just kept it. So it’s one of the most well-known lines that I’ve ever written.” – Paul Simon
It became Simon & Garfunkel’s second chart-topping hit and the very first rock song to bag the Grammy Award for Record of the Year. There may be other cover versions but we still go back to the original. There’s just something about it that’s hooks you right up.
8. Aretha Franklin – “Respect” (1967)
Although originally recorded by Otis Redding, it became a huge hit for Aretha Franklin. It’s basically the song that cemented her status as the Queen of Soul. While Redding was singing a plea from a desperate man, Franklin became the voice of a strong and confident woman. Thus, it’s not surprising that it became an anthem for feminist movements.
“For Otis, respect had the traditional connotation, the more abstract meaning of esteem. The fervor in Aretha’s voice demanded that respect; and more respect also involved sexual attention of the highest order. What else would ‘Sock it to me’ mean?” – Producer Jerry Wexler
The brilliant and unforgettable rendition earned her two Grammy Awards: “Best Rhythm & Blues Recording” and “Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Vocal Performance, Female.” And one more thing, Franklin sounds so good live. Just check out this video. If it doesn’t give you goosebumps, you’re listening to it wrong.
7. Bob Dylan – “Like A Rolling Stone” (1965)
Yes, we can never leave Bob Dylan’s epic masterpiece from this list. Decade defining? That’s a bit of an understatement, actually. The song transcends time and generation. Who would have thought it would sound just as awesome more than 50 years after it was released? What made it more special though was that it was written at a time when Dylan was in a creative rut.
“I guess I was going to quit singing. I was very drained.” – Dylan to Playboy magazine
And while most musicians would most likely end up with a mediocre set at best, Dylan was able to craft something that changed the face of rock music.
“It was 10 pages long. It wasn’t called anything, just a rhythm thing on paper all about my steady hatred directed at some point that was honest. In the end it wasn’t hatred, it was telling someone something they didn’t know, telling them they were lucky. Revenge, that’s a better word. I had never thought of it as a song, until one day I was at the piano, and on the paper it was singing, “How does it feel?” in a slow motion pace, in the utmost of slow motion.” – Dylan to Saturday Evening Post
Aside from doing well commercially, this song also served as a huge influence to none other than Jimi Hendrix. Now that says a lot.
6. The Kinks – “You Really Got Me” (1964)
The Kinks – one of the few bands that sound as good live as they do in recordings. Let’s be honest, that alone is rare to find. But to release a song as epic and irresistible as “You Really Got Me,” that’s truly something else. Without a shred of doubt, this truly defined the 60s. It was a huge hit worldwide and simply solidified their spot in the rock ‘n roll pantheon.
“I was playing a gig at a club in Piccadilly and there was a young girl in the audience who I really liked. She had beautiful lips. Thin, but not skinny. A bit similar to Françoise Hardy. Not long hair, but down to about there (points to shoulders). Long enough to put your hands through… (drifts off, wistfully)… long enough to hold. I wrote You Really Got Me for her, even though I never met her.” – Ray Davies to Q Magazine
Built around power chords, it wasn’t just an immediate sensation at the time, it was also something that would later influence the next generation of musicians.
5. The Beach Boys – “Good Vibrations” (1966)
This was the psych-pop song that changed the game. It was Brian Wilson’s magnum opus as a singer/songwriter. We can go on and on about its musical brilliance and how its structure was something no one has ever heard before. It was definitely the work of a genius. Largely the result of experimentation, it was innovative and highly complex.
Brian Wilson himself claimed that this track is “the summation of my musical vision. A harmonic convergence of imagination and talent, production values and craft, songwriting and spirituality.”
And we couldn’t agree more. It was a masterpiece – to the truest sense of the word. It makes you wonder though. While he was writing it, did it even cross his mind than more than half a century later, people would still be blown away by its sheer awesomeness? From the lyrics to the structure and the range and quality of the harmonies – it’s nothing short of perfect.
4. The Rolling Stones – “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)” (1965)
Kids today are listening to cover versions probably not knowing it’s originally by The Rolling Stones. It’s a beast of a song and that’s perhaps why it’s enduring and still well-loved even after all these years. And well, musicians today can’t hold a candle to these guys. Let’s face it, Mick Jagger can still rock it harder than anyone else.
“It’s the riff heard ‘round the world. And it’s one of the earliest examples of Dylan influencing the Stones and the Beatles — the degree of cynicism, and the idea of bringing more personal lyrics from the folk and blues tradition into popular music.” – Steve Van Zandt, E Street Band guitarist
Ranking second on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time,” Keith Richards managed to come up with a riff that everyone would come to recognize within the first few seconds of the song. But did he really dream about it? Well, he’s the only one who knows.
3. The Who – “My Generation” (1965)
We pity those people who don’t know The Who and never heard of “My Generation.” It has become their signature song and easily one of their biggest hits. The thing is, it’s not just any track. It’s the anthem of the youth at the time and it’s safe to say, it still rings true and relevant for all the frustrated and rebellious teens today.
“’My Generation’ was very much about trying to find a place in society. I was very, very lost. The band was young then. It was believed that its career would be incredibly brief.” – Pete Townshend to Rolling Stone magazine
It landed on the 11th spot of Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” and it also made it to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Perhaps the most spot on description of this track is that it “encapsulated the angst of being a teenager.”
2. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – “All Along The Watchtower” (1968)
Two words: Jimi Hendrix. The man wasn’t just an innovator; he was a guitar god and a musical genius. Although it’s originally recorded by Bob Dylan, the song is strongly identified with The Jimi Hendrix Experience who released their version a few months after Dylan. In fact, Hendrix played the final bass part because some of the band members became dissatisfied after several takes.
“I liked Jimi Hendrix’s record of this and ever since he died I’ve been doing it that way… Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him in some kind of way.” – Bob Dylan
Not only did it rank no. 47 on the Rolling Stone magazine’s “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” but it also topped the list of Total Guitar’s Greatest Cover Versions of All Time. And if that’s not enough, Jimi Hendrix even influenced Dylan to play the song a bit ‘heavier.’
1. The Beatles – “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (1963)
Let’s all be honest here, The Beatles could easily take five out of ten spots on this list. Their music, all by itself, is era-defining. In fact, it’s not even surprising that it’s the Fab Four’s best-selling single worldwide. And the only reason it didn’t immediately take the top spot in the British record charts was because The Beatles’ other hit, “She Loves You,” was enjoying popularity resurgence.
“We wrote a lot of stuff together, one-on-one, eyeball to eyeball. Like in I Want To Hold Your Hand, I remember when we got the chord that made the song. We were in Jane Asher’s house, downstairs in the cellar playing on the piano at the same time. And we had, ‘Oh you-u-u… got that something…’ And Paul hits this chord and I turn to him and say, ‘That’s it!’ I said, ‘Do that again!’ In those days, we really used to absolutely write like that – both playing into each other’s nose.” – John Lennon
It was the song that introduced them to America. And they did manage to break into another continent with a BIG BANG.