Songs you'll remember if you grew up in the '60s

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November 28, 2018
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Songs you’ll remember if you grew up in the '60s

The 1960s was a great era for music. Beatlemania took over the world, Chubby Checker inspired a dance craze, and Nancy Sinatra sent girls flocking to buy go-go boots. In 1964, Motown Records—which launched in 1959—got its first #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 with "My Guy," a song written for Mary Wells by Smokey Robinson.

As the civil rights movement gained force and Vietnam War raged on, Bob Dylan sang about racial injustice and a possible nuclear apocalypse. The Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, and Johnny Cash also graced the radio waves. Popular songs like “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye, and “Hey Jude” all topped the charts. At 63 years old, Louis Armstrong became the oldest man to get a #1 hit with “Hello Dolly.”

For a walk down musical memory lane, Stacker combed through news reports about influential songs in the 1960s and consulted data from the Billboard Hot 100 to create a list of 50 songs you’ll remember if you grew up during the decade. Read through to see which hits take you back.

ALSO: Longest-running Billboard #1 singles from the 1960s

The Twist

Chubby Checker released his version of "The Twist” first in the summer of 1960 and then again in the winter of 1962, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 both times. The song not only topped the charts, it inspired a dance craze that spread across the nation in the early 1960s.


Hey Jude

The Beatles gave the world "Hey Jude” in 1968. It was a tribute to friendship, written by Paul McCartney for John Lennon’s son Julian during Lennon’s divorce from his first wife. The Beatles performed the song on the "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” instead of "The Ed Sullivan Show” for its U.S. television premiere.


Ring of Fire

Johnny Cash released "Ring of Fire” in the summer of 1963. June Carter, his future wife, co-wrote the song for her sister Anita Carter, who also recorded a version of the song. Johnny Cash said he decided to add mariachi trumpets after hearing them in a dream. Carter’s version topped both the country and pop charts, becoming one of his most iconic hits.


Tossin' and Turnin'

"Tossin’ And Turnin'” topped the Hot 100 for seven weeks during the summer of 1961. Bobby Lewis only had one other Top 10 hit in his career: "One Track Mind,” released the same year.


I Want to Hold Your Hand

The Beatles released "I Want To Hold Your Hand” in 1963. The Lennon-McCartney collaboration fueled Beatlemania in the U.S, staying at #1 for seven weeks right before the group made its first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964. By that time, more than 2 million copies of the single had been sold in the U.S.


I'm a Believer

"I’m a Believer” was written by Neil Diamond and recorded by the Monkees in 1966, the same year the boy band’s sitcom started on NBC. The television show aired for two years. During the summer of 1967, the Monkees sold more albums than the Beatles and The Rolling Stones, combined.


Aquarius/Let the Sunshine in

Sometimes called "The Age of Aquarius” or "Let the Sunshine In,” this medley of songs first appeared in the musical "Hair” in 1968. The recording by the 5th Dimension spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969.


Sugar, Sugar

The Archies, a cartoon band, introduced fans to the bubblegum pop hit "Sugar, Sugar” in 1969. The song, composed by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim, spent four weeks at #1.


I Heard It Through The Grapevine

In 1968, Marvin Gaye reached #1 for the first time with "I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” Smokey Robinson and Gladys Knight had already released versions of the song, but Gaye’s vocals made the tune famous. It became the best-selling Motown single of the 1960s.


Are You Lonesome Tonight

Originally written in 1927 by Lou Handman and Roy Turk, Elvis Presley made this song an international success when he covered it in 1960. Fans loved his 1969 live version, when the King broke out into laughter on stage.


It's Now or Never

Elvis Presley recorded this ballad in 1960. "It’s Now or Never” sold 25 million copies worldwide, making it the best-selling single of Presley’s career.


I Can't Stop Loving You

"I Can’t Stop Loving You” by Ray Charles spent five weeks at #1 in 1962, making it the biggest Hot 100 hit for Charles. Don Gibson wrote the song in 1957, and it has since been covered by more than 700 artists.


I'm Sorry

In 1960, a teenage Brenda Lee topped the charts with "I’m Sorry.” The song was nominated for a Grammy.


Then He Kissed Me

"Then He Kissed Me” by the Crystals hit #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September of 1963. In 1962, the group released "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)," written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and recorded by the now-convicted murderer Phil Spector.


Hello, Dolly!

Louis Armstrong recorded the title track for the musical "Hello Dolly!” in 1963, despite not being familiar with the show. Apparently, Armstrong was not all that impressed with the song. It reached the top spot on the Billboard top 40 in 1964, making the 63-year-old Armstrong the oldest person to have a #1 hit record.


Big Girls Don't Cry

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons reached #1 in November of 1962 with this break-up song. The band also had hits with "Sherry” and "Walk Like A Man” the same year.


Sugar Shack

"Sugar Shack” by the Fireballs was the best-selling song of 1963. The pop hit also topped the charts in Australia, Hong Kong, Sweden, and South Africa. According to frontman Keith McCormack, the song was composed over coffee during breakfast.


Honky Tonk Women

The Rolling Stones released "Honky Tonk Women” on July 4, 1969, a day after the death of their former band member Brian Jones. The song marked the band’s shift from pop to rock.


(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay

This 1968 classic was the first and only Billboard #1 hit for Otis Redding. It topped the charts the year after Redding died in a plane crash. The song was written as an overture to the Tet Offensive, assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy, and the election of President Richard Nixon.


Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini

In the summer of 1960, Brian Hyland released the bubblegum pop classic "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” The catchy tune—which debuted during a time when two-piece swimsuits were not yet mainstream—hit #1 on Aug. 8, 1960. The song helped popularize and destigmatize the bikini.


Good Vibrations

This American classic was almost called "Good Vibes,” but Beach Boys frontmen Mike Love and Brian Wilson changed it to vibrations and a hit was born. The song was the last #1 hit written by Wilson, who later spiraled into drugs and depression.


My Girl

Smokey Robinson, one of the biggest Motown songwriters of the 1960s, wrote "My Girl” for the Temptations because he liked the sound of David Ruffin’s voice, effectively making Ruffin the band’s new lead singer. In 1965, it became the band’s first #1 song.


(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

In the summer of 1965, The Rolling Stones released one of their most famous songs: "(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” It became the band’s first #1 hit in the U.S. According to Rolling Stone magazine, it’s the #2 greatest song of all time. According to Keith Richards, he recorded the 30-second riff that inspired the song while he was asleep.


Louie Louie

The Kingsmen released "Louie Louie” in 1963, sparking interest with the Federal Bureau of Investigation after a complaint that the lyrics weren’t suitable for the public. For two years, the FBI analyzed the song before determining "it was not possible to determine whether this recording is obscene.”


Where Did Our Love Go

In August of 1964, "Where Did Our Love Go” by The Supremes reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The trio—Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard—didn’t like the song at first, but they weren’t in a position to turn it down. Just a few weeks later, the group had another hit with "Baby Love.”


Unchained Melody

Before Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze molded clay to "Unchained Melody” in the movie "Ghost,” the Righteous Brothers made the song a success in 1965. The group recorded the hit almost a decade after its original release by Todd Duncan, and it is one of the most-performed songs of the 20th century.


Be My Baby

In 1964, Dick Clark told the country that "Be My Baby” by The Ronettes would be "the record of the century.” In 2017, Billboard put the song at the top spot on their "100 Greatest Girl Groups of All Time” list. Lead singer Ronnie (born Veronica Bennett) met future husband Phil Spector—whom she divorced in 1974—while recording the album.



On Valentine’s Day in 1967, an up-and-coming gospel singer named Aretha Franklin recorded "Respect.” Franklin rearranged the Otis Redding song to have a more feminist tilt, making it an anthem for the women’s rights movement and launching her career. Franklin released "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” later the same year.


My Guy

In 1964, Motown Records got its first #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 with "My Guy." Smokey Robinson wrote and produced the song for singer Mary Wells, who toured with The Beatles.


Mrs. Robinson

In 1968, Simon & Garfunkel released "Mrs. Robinson,” made famous in the film "The Graduate.” The song is known for referencing the older love interest of Dustin Hoffman in the movie, but it originally paid homage to Eleanor Roosevelt.


Turn! Turn! Turn!

The Byrds hit #1 with their single "Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)” in 1965. Pete Seeger originally wrote the song, which he adapted from the third chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes in the 1950s. In 2003, the song was turned into an illustrated book.


Wild Thing

"Wild Thing” was written by Chip Taylor and released by The Troggs in 1966. Dozens of musicians have covered the song. Jimi Hendrix famously ended his set at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival playing the hit, and even Animal from "The Muppets” performed the tune.  


Stand By Your Man

In August of 1968, Tammy Wynette recorded "Stand By Your Man.” Wynette originally wanted to call it "I'll Stand By You, You Please Stand By Me," but Ben E. King had already hit #1 with "Stand By Me."


Ain't No Mountain High Enough

In 1967, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell hit #1 with "Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” The husband-and-wife writing team of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson wrote the song, and the voices of Gaye and Terrell made it a hit.


I Got You Babe

Sonny Bono and Cher’s hit "I Got You Babe” topped the Billboard Hot 100 on Aug. 14, 1965, spending three weeks at the top of the chart. Bono wrote the song, which Cher did not think would be a hit.


She Loves You

As the Beatles prepared to record "She Loves You” in the summer of of 1963, a swarm of female fans broke down the front door of their recording studio. By the next year, Beatlemania was worldwide.


Blowin' in The Wind

Bob Dylan claims it took him 10 minutes to write "Blowin‘ in the Wind,” which he recorded in 1962. It became an anthem of the civil rights movement, with Dylan singing the song at a voter registration rally in Greenwood, Mississippi, in 1963.


I Get Around

In the summer of 1964, the Beach Boys had their first #1 hit in the U.S. with "I Get Around.” The song spent two weeks at the top of the charts. The following year, the band hit #1 with "Help Me, Rhonda.”


Fortunate Son

In 1969, John Fogerty wrote "Fortunate Son” as member of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Fogerty penned the song about men being drafted into the Vietnam War. Despite what some people may think, the lyrics about a "senator’s son” do not reference former Vice President Al Gore. Instead, it’s a reference to David Eisenhower, who is the the grandson of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the son-in-law of President Richard Nixon.


Pretty Woman

Roy Orbison wrote "Pretty Woman” about his first wife Claudette Frady, who died in a motorcycle accident two years after the song hit #1. The Library of Congress added the song to the National Recording Registry in 2008.


California Dreamin'

Michelle Phillips and her husband John—half of the Mamas & the Papas—wrote "California Dreamin” after the former West Coast residents spent a winter in New York. The couple divorced in 1970, and in 2001, Michelle said she was shocked when her ex claimed she didn’t deserve any creative credit on the song.


Born to be Wild

Songwriter Mars Bonfire—or Dennis Edmonton—said his Ford Falcon was the inspiration behind “Born to be Wild.” The following year, the tune appeared in the the counterculture classic “Easy Rider.”

At Last

Etta James released her version of "At Last” in 1960. The song was originally written in 1941 for the musical film "Sun Valley Serenade.” In 2009, Beyoncé sang the song at the inauguration of President Barack Obama, though James didn’t approve of the performance.


These Boots Are Made for Walkin'

In 1961, Nancy Sinatra made go-go boots a must-have after the music video for "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” was released. Sinatra said she immediately knew the song would be hit after she recorded it.


Purple Haze

In 1967, Jimi Hendrix released "Purple Haze.” Hendrix said the lyrics for the song came to him during a dream after he read a sci-fi novel before going to sleep. His band, The Experience, performed the song for the first time in the U.S. at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, the show where Hendrix lit his guitar on fire.


Twist and Shout

The Beatles performed their version of "Twist and Shout” in 1964 on "The Ed Sullivan Show.” Despite popularizing the hit, the Beatles did not write it. The original song was written by Bert Berns for the group The Top Notes in 1961.


The Sound of Silence

The original recording of "The Sound of Silence” wasn’t an instant hit. In 1965, the record company remixed Simon & Garfunkel’s folk version with more rock. It hit #1 three months later.


Stand by Me

Ben E. King released "Stand by Me” in 1962. The group’s producer was originally upset that the band—and an accompanying orchestra—took longer than expected to record the song. It went on to become a #1 hit, and inspired author Stephen King, whose novella was the basis for the 1986 film "Stand By Me.”


Sweet Caroline

Neil Diamond’s "Sweet Caroline” hit the radio waves in 1969. In 2007, Diamond said the song was an ode to President John F. Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline. In 2014, however, he told "Today” that the love song was actually written about his wife. He just couldn’t couldn’t think of anything to rhyme with Marsha.


Brown Eyed Girl

In 1967, Van Morrison released his first solo album, including the hit song "Brown Eyed Girl.” The song was a hit, but Morrison didn’t continue his foray into pop. Instead, he created "Astral Weeks,” an artistic success that wasn’t considered to be a commercial hit.

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