Counting Down the Greatest Hits of the 60s
Launching into a new world, the 60s not only saw the first man on the moon but a series of waves that implored musicians to question the ways of the world. From this questioning, came the magic of psychedelic rock, sweet soul, progressive folk, and more. The cultural clash of old and new philosophies created a music scene in an explosive decade that informed so many genres that we celebrate today.
In this Top 50 Songs of the 1960s article, I cover the decade’s greatest songs, taking into consideration a few key ranking factors:
- The song’s power in capturing the culture of the 1960s.
- Its impact on the music industry.
- The song’s ability to move people since its release.
As you can imagine, ranking the greatest songs of the 1960s was a hefty task. Compiling a collection of tracks that capture a well-rounded view of the 60s means looking at the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of history. The one resounding quality each one of these top 1960s songs has is that they stand proudly on their own as songs that have affected the listeners. That’s what all we’re looking for from a music list like this, a collection of tracks that remind us of the power musicians have in uplifting us, feeling things with us, and making us want to dance.
Without further adieu, here’s my list of the Top 50 Songs of the 1960s:
50. Stand By Your Man – Tammy Wynette (1969)
Why it’s the 50th Greatest song of the 60s
Upon first impressions, the title track of Stand By Your Man (1969) was a controversial release for Tammy Wynette. At the peak of second-wave feminism, this bright country track broke into the pop charts and caused a stir amongst free-thinking modern women. Regardless of interpretation, this track’s undeniable swell of emotion and artistry holds strong.
49. Catch the Wind – Donovan (1965)
Why it’s the 49th Top song of the 60s
Released at just 19 years old, Donovan’s first album What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid (1965) spared no feelings with the single Catch The Wind. This sweet ballad displays deep vulnerability and passion, sewn together so carefully with delicate folk instrumentals. Inspiring artists to come, this track has been covered by the likes of Cher and Eartha Kitt.
48. Knock on Wood – Eddie Floyd (1966)
Why it’s the 48th Greatest hit of the 60s
Striking swiftly with a bold and brassy intro, the title track to his debut album Knock on Wood (1966) launched Eddie Floyd’s career as a soul king. The harmony in the pre-chorus grabs the listener’s attention and demands they boogie. Inspiring a disco cover from Amii Stewart and the attention of Count Basie and David Bowie, there is no doubt that this track has earned a spot on this list!
47. I Feel Free – Cream (1966)
Why it’s the 47th Greatest song of the 60s
Making a memorable impression with their acapella introduction, I Feel Free is the 1966 single from Cream that floats along the border of psychedelic pop and rock. A surefire 60s sound, this song plays on Eric Clapton’s guitar riffs and Jack Bruce’s striking vocals to create an iconic journey. Polishing their eccentric single off is Ginger Baker’s cheeky drumming, making this track a gem.
46. These Days – Nico (1967)
Why it’s the 46th Top song of the 60s
Looming from a cloud of melancholy, These Days from the debut solo album Chelsea Girl (1967) by Nico sets a pensive and intricate mood. With delicate fingerpicking and swelling instrumentals, this avant-garde track flew under the radar until the early 2000s when writer Jackson Browne licensed the track for use in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). Whether you’re a hardcore Nico fan from the Warhol days or just an indie movie buff, there is no denying that this track is a unique sound that exemplified chamber folk.
45. Friday on my Mind – The Easybeats (1966)
Why it’s the 45th Greatest hit of the 60s
The Easybeats know the struggles of the 9-5, which is why Friday On My Mind from the album Good Friday (1966) was an instant hit. The Australian band’s clever use of minor to major key shifts and vibrant guitar riffs made a stark comparison between the weekend chorus and weekday verses. This joyous track celebrates the freedom of a Friday afternoon and (unfortunately) still relates to the 2020s!
44. The Letter – The Box Tops (1967)
Why it’s the 44th Greatest song of the 60s
Debuting Alex Chilton’s scratchy vocals, The Letter is the A-side to The Letter/Neon Rainbow (1967) that put The Box Tops on the map. Charmingly swinging in the odd trumpet, violin, and keyboard, this track’s percussion holds an urgent pace that plays into the narrative and strings it all together. The song’s popularity even inspired an early Joe Cocker to create his popular cover.
43. The Twist – Chubby Checker (1960)
Why it’s the 43rd Top song of the 60s
Covering Hank Ballard and the Midnighters 1958 track The Twist, Chubby Checker’s very own “twist” created a whole new lease of life for the song. Using his signature sound and explosive sax gave the original a new and vibrant lift. The Twist with Chubby Checker (1960) set in motion a dance craze across the US and is still noted as one of the most iconic songs of the 60s.
42. Rescue Me – Fontella Bass (1966)
Why it’s the 42nd Greatest hit of the 60s
Fontella Bass’ track Rescue Me, from the album The New Look (1966), bounces. Seriously, between the brass and the iconic bass riff, this track holds that sweet spot of deep lyrics and levity, making it a fantastic example of 60s R&B. Even the “mmm”s hummed throughout the final chorus keep an uplifting and powerful pace to the song.
41. You Never Can Tell – Chuck Berry (1964)
Why it’s the 41st Greatest song of the 60s
Leading with an iconic piano melody, Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell follows the story of a young married couple in New Orleans. From the album St Louis to Liverpool (1964), the track shines as a classic Rock’n’Roll ballad. It even caught Quentin Tarantino’s attention, using it in his 1994 hit Pulp Fiction.
40. I Got You Babe – Sonny & Cher (1965)
Why it’s the 40th Top song of the 60s
A humble beginning for soon-to-be superstar Cher, I Got You Babe, from the album Look at Us (1965), quickly became an iconic track for Sonny & Cher. Skyrocketing international charts, the song’s conversational format, and folk-rock style create sweet chemistry. The instrumental build-up powers the track’s end, even throwing in an oboe to amplify a strong 60s sound.
39. Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag – James Brown (1965)
Why it’s the 39th Greatest hit of the 60s
Introducing James Brown Plays James Brown Today & Yesterday (1965) is Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, and does it make a brilliant impression! Bright horns and that famous guitar riff scream for attention in this funk track that tells the story of an old man hitting up a nightclub and busting out some iconic moves. James Brown’s exceptional talent for sound gained great commercial success, making this song a staple to movie soundtracks, advertisements, and television shows.
38. Wild Thing – The Troggs (1966)
Why it’s the 38th Greatest song of the 60s
How many chart-topping bands can say they’ve successfully had an ocarina solo in their top songs? As oddly specific as that may sound, The Troggs sure can speak to that success with their track Wild Thing from the album From Nowhere (1966). This scrappy garage rock track has a cool raunchy sound that made the band stand out as mid-60s rockers.
37. I Just Want To Make Love To You – Etta James (1960)
Why it’s the 37th Top song of the 60s
From her hit record At Last! (1960) Etta James seduces the audience with her cover of Muddy Waters’ I Just Want To Make Love To You (formerly Just Make Love To Me). This sultry track is a faster tempo than the original and holds stronger pop influences. Sharp and expressive, this song captures her shift from doo-wop to jazz and blues.
36. Everybody’s Talkin’ – Harry Nilsson (1968)
Why it’s the 36th Greatest hit of the 60s
Fingerpicking one of the most famous folk-rock intros is Harry Nilsson’s track Everybody’s Talkin’. This gentle track creates intrigue with the strings and a quiet reassurance in longing for something better. Whilst originally released on his album Aerial Ballet (1968) the track found its way to commercial success in the Midnight Cowboy Soundtrack.
35. A Whiter Shade of Pale – Procol Harum (1967)
Why it’s the 35th Greatest song of the 60s
Released as a single in 1967, Procol Harum’s track A Whiter Shade of Pale transcended modern rock. As if creating a spiritual awakening in the audience, this song’s deep roots in classical music and its bending narrative created an unusual track that unexpectedly took off. Due to the song’s surge in popularity, it quickly established itself as an iconic anthem of the 1960s.
34. Daydream Believer – The Monkees (1967)
Why it’s the 34th Top song of the 60s
The Monkees casual introduction to Daydream Believer is fitting given the song’s story of daydreaming a suburban life away. From the album The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees (1967) this song uplifts listeners from their mundane reality with a pop beat and cheering chorus.
33. A Change Is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke (1964)
Why it’s the 33rd Greatest hit of the 60s
Heavy with the sorrow of inequality, Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come is a weighty track that has been held in high regard as an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement. Leading with swelling instrumentals and a deep soul sound, the song tells of Cooke’s first-hand experience with racism in the south. Released on the album Ain’t That Good News (1964), the song is a profound example of exceptional composition and poignant social commentary.
32. Hold On, I’m Comin’ – Sam & Dave (1966)
Why it’s the 32nd Greatest song of the 60s
Featuring the masterful instrumentals of Booker T & the M.G.s alongside the Mar-Keys Horns, it’s safe to say Sam & Dave’s title track to Hold On, I’m Comin’ (1966) packs a punch. Capturing that 60s big band sound, the track builds a funky melody that you can’t help but bop along to. As the band sings back and forth to a strong soul sound there is an undeniable joy that comes from this track.
31. Dancing In The Streets – Martha Reeves & The Vandellas (1964)
Why it’s the 31st Top song of the 60s
One of Motown’s most notable songs, Dancing In The Streets was released as a single by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas in 1964. Written by Marvin Gaye, the track’s quick success garnered the status of a soul party anthem. Following its success, came a myriad of covers from The Mamas & Papas to The Rolling Stones.
30. My Generation – The Who (1965)
Why it’s the 30th Greatest hit of the 60s
Scratchy and restless, the title track to The Who’s My Generation (1965) is one of the most recognizable rock songs of the 1960s. Lead singer Roger Daltrey’s stutter commands the listener’s attention and pushes boundaries, building an aggravation that is infectious. The Who’s pivotal place in Rock’n’Roll was cemented with the release of this track.
29. Green Onions – Booker T. & The M.G.’s (1962)
Why it’s the 29th Greatest song of the 60s
The only instrumental track in this list, Green Onions has made a name for itself since its release in 1962. In what sounds like an impromptu jam session, the track builds into a fantastic fusion of keyboard, bass, and a peppery guitar riff. Capturing a classic soul sound true to the 60s, this song has become a staple in midcentury instrumentals.
28. Time of the Season – The Zombies (1968)
Why it’s the 28th Top song of the 60s
Sliding into this spot is The Zombies with their smooth psychedelic track Time of The Season (1968). Despite the track’s lacking reception on the band’s home turf of the UK; American, Canadian, and South African audiences immediately fell for the bassline and keyboard solo that made this song stand out. Capturing an effortless level of cool, this song, which has been covered by the likes of the Dave Matthews Band, and the Guess Who, has become a representative of the 60s in modern media.
27. The Weight – The Band (1968)
Why it’s the 27th Greatest hit of the 60s
Slipped in at the fifth spot of Music from Big Pink (1968), The Weight meanders along carrying a vivid story for the listener. The Band’s track grew quietly in popularity upon release, despite the slow burn to discovery the clear southern influence and roots sound makes this track feel like a familiar journey. With bright imagery and an iconic voice, this track, which also appears on The Last Waltz, holds up as an influential contributor to country music’s growth.
26. Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash (1963)
Why it’s the 26th Greatest song of the 60s
Written by June Carter, Ring of Fire quickly spread to be one of Johnny Cash’s most famous songs. Featuring an introduction fit for a mariachi band, the track delves into the burn of falling in love. From the album Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash (1963), this iconic song has become a staple in any Johnny Cash crash course.
25. (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher – Jackie Wilson (1967)
Why it’s the 25th Top song of the 60s
Topping the R&B charts in 1967, (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher is one of Jackie Wilson’s best-known songs. The superb soul sound combined with joyous lyrics makes for an infectiously upbeat track. Polishing it all off with an iconic brass riff, there’s no surprise why the album Higher and Higher (1967) was so successful.
24. You Really Got Me – The Kinks (1964)
Why it’s the 24th Greatest hit of the 60s
Scrappy and loud, You Really Got Me by The Kinks made waves in 60s Rock. Released as a single in 1964, the track paved the way for garage and hard rock during the early British Invasion. From gruff solos to playful screams, lead singer Ray Davies launched the band’s future as rockstars.
23. I Got You (I Feel Good) – James Brown (1966)
Why it’s the 23rd Greatest song of the 60s
Screaming his way into the charts is James Brown with his title track I Got You (I Feel Good) (1966). With a big band sound, iconic vocals, and smooth soul, even complete 60s music novices know this track. As popular today as it was upon its release, this fabulous track caused the only artist to double up on this list!
22. Like A Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan (1965)
Why it’s the 22nd Top song of the 60s
Creating a blazing introduction to the album Highway 61 Revisited (1965), Bob Dylan’s track Like A Rolling Stone was the first of its kind in the folk-rock industry. Tangling his magic of witty lyrics and fantastic imagery, this track makes clever social commentary on America at the time with layered folk instrumentals as backing.
21. Happy Together – The Turtles (1967)
Why it’s the 21st Greatest hit of the 60s
Possibly the grooviest track on the list (so far!) is The Turtle’s title track Happy Together (1967). This psychedelic pop song celebrates unrequited love with the flare of an orchestra, giving it a stunning fanfare vibe. Upbeat, playful, and unforgettable, this song has become a huge commercial success thanks to its clever composition.
20. Son of a Preacher Man – Dusty Springfield (1969)
Why it’s the 20th Greatest song of the 60s
Capturing a Memphis soul sound through a UK artist sounds like an interesting combination, but it worked well for Dusty Springfield. Son of a Preacher Man from the album Dusty in Memphis (1969) was the most popular track on the album. Telling the story of sneaking off with the preacher’s son, this song’s gradual build captures a vibrant addition to blue-eyed soul.
19. For What It’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield (1966)
Why it’s the 19th Top song of the 60s
Known best as a protest anthem, For What It’s Worth (Stop Hey What’s That Sound) rose to fame during civil rights movements of the 60s, famously due to the Sunset Strip Curfew riots. This folk-rock track by Buffalo Springfield was released on the album Buffalo Springfield (1966) and was immediately embraced by the counterculture movement. Since then, the track has been highly regarded as culturally significant to the 60s and highly praised.
18. Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley (1969)
Why it’s the 18th Greatest hit of the 60s
The last track to hit #1 on the charts during his lifetime, Suspicious Minds is a staple soul-rock track in Elvis Presley’s legacy. Released as a single in 1969 then later added to the tracklisting of From Elvis in Memphis (1969), this song carries unique elements like the fade-out that quickly fades back into the final verse. Cooing at the signs of an unhealthy relationship and balancing on variations in tempo, this song holds true to The King’s longstanding love-song repertoire.
17. Feelin’ Good – Nina Simone (1965)
Why it’s the 17th Greatest song of the 60s
From the album, I Put A Spell on You (1965), Nina Simone’s powerful track Feelin’ Good created a wave of covers from all kinds of musicians. The lofty jazz track has not only shone as a commercial success but held strong as an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement. From Muse to John Coltrane, covers of this track have swept across the world in the 60 years since the song’s initial release.
16. Somebody to Love – Jefferson Airplane (1967)
Why it’s the 16th Top song of the 60s
Surrealistic Pillow (1967) by Jefferson Airplane is home to a handful of phenomenal tracks, but Somebody to Love shines through in particular. Kicking off with a distinct rock sound, lead singer Grace Slick smacks audiences with gut-punching vocals. Regarded as a psychedelic rock and counterculture classic, this song holds up even in the 2020s.
15. What A Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong (1967)
Why it’s the 15th Greatest hit of the 60s
Regardless of whether you’re a jazz fan, chances are you’ve heard Louis Armstrong’s award-winning single What A Wonderful World (1967). This infamous song goes beyond just a notable 60s track, it is a work of art. From careful composition to signature gravelly vocals, this song stands as a pivotal point for jazz and pop.
14. My Girl – The Temptations (1965)
Why it’s the 14th Greatest song of the 60s
Arguably one of the most well-known soul songs from the 1960s, My Girl by The Temptations leads with that iconic first lyric, “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day.” Written by Smokey Robinson, the track was an instant success and the band’s very first #1 song on the charts. Nestled on the first side of The Temptations Sing Smokey (1965), this sweet track’s sunny outlook is infectious.
13. Born To Be Wild – Steppenwolf (1968)
Why it’s the 13th Top song of the 60s
Pioneering hard rock with their track Born To Be Wild, Steppenwolf took the world by storm with their explosive riffs and gruff sound. Fueled by a drive for adrenaline, this track grew to fame in representing biker culture and attitude. From their wild and free album Steppenwolf (1968), this track sparked a big shift in rock’n’roll.
12. Wouldn’t It Be Nice – The Beach Boys (1966)
Why it’s the 12th Greatest hit of the 60s
The Beach Boys’ usual lighthearted songs aren’t an equal comparison to Wouldn’t It Be Nice from the album Pet Sounds (1966). Known for their sweet and charming style, this track explores the longing of a young couple to be married. Playfully composed and using tempo to their advantage to create impactful verses, this song’s bright orchestral sound makes it a fun and lovable track that is impossible to get out of your head.
11. Respect – Aretha Franklin (1967)
Why it’s the 11th Greatest song of the 60s
Possibly one of the most famous covers of all time, Aretha Franklin’s track Respect turned Otis Redding’s original into a feminist anthem by cleverly flipping the gender of the lyrics. The song empowered female audiences and became the top-selling single from the album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (1967). Aside from teaching younger generations how to spell “respect,” this track launched Aretha Franklin into stardom.
10. California Dreamin’ – The Mamas & The Papas (1966)
Why it’s the 10th Top song of the 60s
Written by John and Michelle Phillips whilst missing their sunny home state of California during a New York winter, California Dreamin’ captures a distinctive 60s folk-rock image. One of The Mamas and Papas most notable songs, the track has a sunny sound reminiscent of hippie culture. If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears (1966) introduced the band to audiences as a cool and far-out band that simply craved their roots.
9. Stand By Me – Ben E. King (1961)
Why it’s the 9th Greatest hit of the 60s
Ben E. King’s track Stand By Me is a highly regarded classic soul song. Initially released as a single, then later released on Don’t Play That Song! (1962), the track’s perfectly timed instrumentals and crooned vocals create an infectious melody. The song’s popularity already stood for itself, but further grew when the 1986 film of the same name featured the song on the soundtrack.
8. Space Oddity – David Bowie (1969)
Why it’s the 8th Greatest song of the 60s
Notably one of David Bowie’s most iconic songs, Space Oddity from the album David Bowie (1969) was a cosmic wonder. Following commercial failure from his debut album, the track launched success for Bowie due to its release in conjunction with the Apollo 11 moon landing. From that uplifting composition that gives a feeling of weightlessness, to the clear path that formed Ziggy Stardust, this track undoubtedly captured David Bowie’s vibrant imagery and a creative knack for songwriting.
7. I Can’t Get No Satisfaction – The Rolling Stones (1965)
Why it’s the 7th Top song of the 60s
Who else rocked the 1960s like The Rolling Stones? With Keith Richard’s gritty opening guitar riff and Mick Jagger’s provoking vocals, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction quickly became one of the band’s hottest tracks of the decade. From the album Out of Our Heads (1965), this classic rock’n’roll song pokes fun at little ironies that we all observe.
6. Come Together – The Beatles (1969)
Why it’s the 6th Greatest hit of the 60s
Full of wit and wiles, The Beatles pop into number six with their slick track Come Together. From the award-winning album Abbey Road (1969), this song combines surreal lyrics and strong ties to counterculture, creating an empowering and eccentric statement about connection. Regardless of their legacy, there is no doubt that this track stands out as a distinct sound that can only come from The Beatles.
5. All Along the Watchtower – The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1968)
Why it’s the 5th Greatest song of the 60s
Capturing the true sound of 60s rock is The Jimi Hendrix Experience with their cover of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower. Released on the album Electric Ladyland (1968), this track explodes with passion and intricate guitar solos. The song was such a success upon its release that even Bob Dylan himself prefers to sing the track in the same format as this cover.
4. Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison (1967)
Why it’s the 4th Top song of the 60s
Considered a staple in “oldies” rock stations, Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison is not a track to overlook. This sweet track captures a summer love that goes beyond just the summer of its release on the album Blowin’ Your Mind! (1967). The narrative of this track and the infectious “sha-la-la-la” makes this song a timeless 60s folk-rock staple.
3. House of the Rising Sun – The Animals (1964)
Why it’s the 3rd Greatest hit of the 60s
Opening with that iconic fingerpicking and the ominous line “there is a house in New Orleans,” is one hell of a way to make an introduction, but The Animals do it so well. This howling version of the historic folksong builds to an iconic foundation of rock music. With the instrumentals that harrowingly support Eric Burdon’s crackling vocals, this song explodes with story and passion.
2. Fortunate Son – Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)
Why it’s the 2nd Top song of the 60s
Coming in so close to the number one spot is Creedence Clearwater Revival’s classic Fortunate Son. Speaking out against the Vietnam War, this track exemplifies rock as a form of protest. This song’s popularity continues to grow, since its release on Willy and the Poor Boys (1969) the track has become a commercial success seeing use from Forrest Gump to Battlefield. The song has also been covered by numerous artists including Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Santana, Bob Seger, and The Dropkick Murphys.
1. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell (1967)
Why it’s the 1st Greatest hit of the 60s
As far as iconic soul tracks go, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough is stiff competition. The single by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell launched their success with Motown and featured on the album United (1967). This uplifting track exemplifies the 60s vibrance and growth in the music industry, focusing on composition and artistic expression.
What are Your Top 1960s Songs?
Now that you’ve gone through my list of the top songs of the 60s, we want to hear from you! Are there any songs rated too high or too low? Any 1960s greatest hits that didn’t make the list? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!