To celebrate one year of ProfPostman.com, I’ve decided to add a new tab: Lists!
For the next few months, I will be compiling lists of my favorite songs and albums of each decade. The rules: only one entry per artist per list. (Sorry, “Cowgirl In The Sand” and “Little Wing”) There are songs I consider the best, and there are songs I consider favorites; this list tends toward the latter. (Sorry, “The Weight” and “Like A Rolling Stone”)
Without further ado, these are my favorite songs of the 1960s. Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for the next installment, most likely my favorite albums of the 60s.
30. “That’s Life” – Frank Sinatra
From That’s Life (1966)
One time, I was hospitalized for my depression. While I was in the hospital, we had a Sunday morning coffee shop- with karaoke! Oh boy! So I picked this song. The irony of singing, “But if there’s nothing shaking come this here July, I’m gonna roll myself up in a big ball and die!” the day before getting discharged will stand with me forever.
29. “Downtown” – Petula Clark
From Downtown (1964)
What a simple, beautiful idea: when everything is grim, all you have to do is go downtown. “We can forget all our troubles, forget all our cares.” The key change in the middle is absolute genius, leading into the swelling horn melody.
28. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – The Rolling Stones
From Let It Bleed (1969)
I always underrated this song, until I put Let It Bleed on my iPod and listened to it a billion times. It gave me the chance to hear it with new ears. With this opportunity, I found it to be wildly relatable, and interestingly composed. Choirs, harmonies, acoustic and electric guitars, pianos, and perhaps Mick’s best delivery.
27. “In My Life” – The Beatles
From Rubber Soul (1965)
Hard to pick the best Beatles song. Usually I pick “I’m So Tired,” but for this list, I thought this was the appropriate tune. Rubber Soul features a number of my favorite Beatles songs: “Think For Yourself,” “The Word,” and “Wait” spring to mind. Hard to fight this one, though. George Martin’s piano solo in the middle is perfection. The lyrics and atmosphere are liquid nostalgia. Drink it.
26. “Pale Blue Eyes” – The Velvet Underground
From The Velvet Underground (1969)
A beautiful bummer. “I’d put you in the mirror, I put in front of me.” He sees her within himself. What a powerful sentiment.
25. “Your Time Is Gonna Come” – Led Zeppelin
From Led Zeppelin (1969)
Zeppelin was a defining band of the 70s, that happened to put out their first two stellar albums in 1969. You’ll see them much higher on my 70s list, but for now, I get to pick my favorite song from the first two albums. Easy pick; “Your Time Is Gonna Come” is a lamentation about getting cheated on, with an earworm of a hook. John Paul Jones’ intro is a great experiment that holds up, and he continues to go nuts the whole song.
24. “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” – Neil Young and Crazy Horse
From Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969)
Another artist who did a lot of work in the 70s, I think perhaps Neil Young’s best track is this 2-and-a-half minute folk blues number. The fact that “Everybody knows” only makes it hurt worse. Neil’s guitar tone is legendary.
23. “The Wanderer” – Dion
From Runaround Sue (1961)
A holdover from the 50s sound, it really distills the doo-wop genre into a medium that obviously inspired John and Paul an awful lot. Thematically, it’s a road song, and that jives with me.
22. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” – The Band
From The Band (1969)
I could’ve just as easily picked “The Weight” and had a hard time juggling them. But, myself, I grew up a fan of Southern rock, bafflingly interested in the Confederacy. This song helped to wake me from my slumber, showing the rebels’ inadequacies in the stark despair of a common working man from Danville, VA. He loses everything to the war: his job on the railroad line, his brother (“Just 18, proud and brave”), and in the end, his resolve to go on. “I swear by the mud below my feet, you can’t raise a Caine back up when he’s in defeat.” He’s tirelessly worked all this time- but when the course of history destroys your livelihood, how is one to have hope for humanity? Perhaps the greatest piece of historical fiction ever produced.
21. “Castles Made of Sand” – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
From Axis: Bold As Love (1968)
The verse about the little Indian brave is so rough. He has a dream, he gets to the night before its realization- and gets killed in his sleep. “And so, castles made of sand melt into the sea, eventually…” And the next verse, where she decides to die, then sees the golden ship coming her way, depicts it in the opposite light; the good goes away, but so does the bad. George Harrison would later express a similar sentiment with “All Things Must Pass”.
20. “I Haven’t Got The Nerve” – The Left Banke
From Walk Away Renée / Pretty Ballerina (1967)
In my opinion, the most underrated band of the 1960s. Sure, “Walk Away Renée” is probably their best, but this one’s my favorite. It switches from a jittery harpsichord chorus to a lilting arpeggiated verse. Really smart stuff from a band that never had the success they probably deserved.
19. “Magic Carpet Ride” – Steppenwolf
From The Second (1968)
This was one of the three songs on the soundtrack for NASCAR Thunder 2003 for Gamecube. I didn’t realize it was from the 60s at the time. Finding that out later has lead me to consider it as a Rosetta Stone of sorts for 70s rock and roll. Could you imagine “Radar Love” existing without this preceding? Ahead of it’s time.
18. “96 Tears” – ? and the Mysterians
From 96 Tears (1966)
Some people call it the first proto punk song. Some people call it the inspiration for The Zombies. That stuff’s probably true. I put it here because it’s one of the darkest songs I know. “Let me hear you cry now – All night long!” It is so forward.
17. “Son Of A Preacher Man” – Dusty Springfield
From Dusty In Memphis (1969)
Scandalous! So straight to the point- she’s sleeping with the preacher’s son, discovering each other. Sexy and controversial. My first introduction to this song was when a girl sang it in this contest I was in- which was hosted by the local Youth For Christ group. Eventually, she became a stripper. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Lord.
16. “The Sound Of Silence” – Simon & Garfunkel
From The Sounds Of Silence (1966)
No 60s list is credible without this song on it, and it has been thoroughly digested. So I’ll mention a couple of their other songs that get snubbed every time precisely because this one is so celebrated: “Richard Cory,” “Cecilia,” “I Am A Rock,” “A Most Peculiar Man,” “Homeward Bound”…
15. “A Change Is Gonna Come” – Sam Cooke
From Ain’t That Good News (1964)
One of the seminal songs of the Civil Rights movement, and relatable to anyone of any race or color or creed who has ever faced uncertainty or struggle or loss. Emotionally delivered, in a special way that few songs have ever attained. If this was a ‘best’ list instead of a ‘favorites’ list, this would be easily in the top 5.
14. “The Night (Nights In White Satin)” – The Moody Blues
From Days Of Future Passed (1967)
The first place I ever heard this song was on the ride at Hard Rock Park. I was blown away. The visuals helped, but this song stands alone. The sweeping orchestral sections give it a huge power. Its constant changing nature identifies with the ebbs of life. The poem “Late Lament” that leads into the conclusion is heartbreaking. “We decide which is right, and which is an illusion…”
13. “Linus And Lucy” – Vince Guaraldi Trio
From A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Its inclusion in the television show, and particularly its debut in the Christmas special, have made it one of the most popular jazz songs of all time. It’s so fun! The chorus is jubilant and youthful, just like the show. Then there’s this samba section in the middle, and I can’t help but move around. I just spilled half my coffee dancing to this song.
12. “Be My Baby” – The Ronettes
From …Presenting The Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica (1964)
Brian Wilson called it the best pop song ever. Hard to fight with that praise! The intro drum fill is lovingly called the “Be My Baby” now, and gets used everywhere. It’s really a sad song, if you listen to the lyrics close and imagine what situation is making her beg like this. It actually pains me not to put this song higher on the list.
11. “Surf’s Up (Solo Piano Version)” – Brian Wilson / The Beach Boys
Unreleased, Recorded at sessions for SMiLE (1967)
Speaking of Brian Wilson… Again, if this was a list of ‘best’ songs, I would pick “God Only Knows,” obviously- or maybe “Don’t Worry Baby”. The ill-fated SMiLE sessions produced a ton of great material that we only got to hear in 2011. This stunning solo performance is a crown jewel, bare compared to the high production quality of the rest of the record. The lyrics get to stand out here more than they do in the Smiley Smile version of a few years later. The wordplay is some of the best you’ll hear: “A music hall, a costly bow…” and “While at port adieu or die…”
10. “Maybe The People Will Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale” – Love
From Forever Changes (1967)
Fueled by an infectious stereo drum beat, it breaks into odd cadences where each verse completes the previous one. It’s unpredictable, and I love the way it keeps me on my toes, waiting for the end of the story- only for the ending to be the beginning of the next one. The punctuation of the horns is unique, and driving.
Some choice lyrics: “And if you think it obsolete, then you go back across the street…” and “When I leave, now don’t you weep for me – I’ll be back, just save a seat for me…” From one of the most perfect albums you’ll ever hear.
9. “This Will Be Our Year” – The Zombies
From Odessey And Oracle (1968)
A supremely uplifting number, from my favorite album of the 60s. “Now we’re there, and we’ve only just begun…” I always call rock radio stations on New Years Eve to request this song.
8. “These Days” – Nico
From Chelsea Girl (1967)
This song was actually written by Jackson Browne- when he was sixteen! Incredible! Now, I’ve been criticized before for picking this version; I’ve been told that Nico is not a great singer, and that the strings are overbearing. I personally disagree with every one of these sentiments, and so confidently put it in my top ten. “Please don’t confront me with my failures – I had not forgotten them” is one of the finest lyrics ever composed.
7. “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” – Procol Harum
From Procol Harum (US Version) (1967)
“And although my eyes were open, they might just as well’ve been closed…” It lilts along, fragile and reflective. This song was excellently used in the film Pirate Radio, the same film that produced the name of my first band, Thikc Kevin. No spoilers- but the scene where it plays is sad and moving, and it’s a perfect soundtrack. Fine standing alone, this song is a regular on my busking setlist. It’s so fun to sing.
6. “My Back Pages” – The Byrds
From Younger Than Yesterday (1967)
In my opinion, the best Byrds song comes from the pen of Bob Dylan- but isn’t “Mr. Tambourine Man”. This song has awakened me, then put me back to ignorance, so many times. The refrain is a difficult challenge: “Ah, but I was so much older then – I’m younger than that now…” It lets one embrace the wisdom of age only momentarily- then, when listened again, makes us recognize the foolishness of that moment we only just thought was inspired. Dylan does this song fine, but boy, those Byrds jangles get me every time. Don’t worry: Mister Zimmerman isn’t done with this list- and neither is David Crosby.
5. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” – Crosby, Stills & Nash
From Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)
One of my oldest memories ties to this song. We were driving in my Nagymama’s (that’s Hungarian for grandmother) blue boxy Oldsmobile, listening to 105.7 FM, then an oldies station exclusively. This song came on, and while it played, she recounted her memory of where she was when she heard about JFK’s assassination. Forever, yes and for always, this song will transport me back to that tender and intense moment of my youth.
I can sing praises for every movement, and won’t hesitate to do so. The guitar intro drives, creating an energy that pushes into the verse. “It’s getting to the point where I’m no fun anymore- I am sorry…” Verse two drops this zinger: “Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now…” There’s an excellent bridge section, which gives a lyric for almost every day of the week, and then: “Can I tell it like it is?” Throughout, it has biting lyrics: “I’ve got an answer – I’m going to fly away – What have I got to lose?” Then, the instrumentals sway into the moving poetic verse of “Chestnut brown canary,” eventually leading to a clinic in alliteration: “Lacy, lilting lyrics – Losing love, lamenting…” And finally after all of this, it rockets into the outro with do-do-dos, and the Spanish verse. Even if you don’t understand, it comes across honestly and gorgeously, an admission of love in depth.
Where nostalgia alone puts several songs on this list, this combines it with genuine, good composition, to vault it into the top 5.
4. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” – Iron Butterfly
From In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (1968)
I always try to pay attention to when I need to leave the house in 17 minutes. If I catch it in time, I put this on. Helped to create heavy metal, along with “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “21st Century Schizoid Man”. The Doors must have been scared shitless when they heard this playing across the street.
3. “The Kids Are Alright” – The Who
From My Generation (1966)
How confident! “I don’t mind other guys dancing with my girl!” How I wish I had an iota of that bravado. Fast and loose and rough, erupting with tape hiss. The bridge is one of the best in pop: “I know if I go, things would be a lot better for her…”
2. “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” – Arlo Guthrie
From Alice’s Restaurant (1968)
It’s hard to overstate how much I love the whole 18 minutes. I’ve called it my favorite comedy sketch ever (though ‘Let’s Make A Dope Deal’ and ‘The Black White Supremacist’ fight tooth and nail with it). All of the characters flesh out: Officer Obie, and the judge, and the shrink, and the sergeant, and Alice- “Remember Alice? It’s a song about Alice…” I think 1968 is the climax of the century, steeped in political turmoil and literary evolution and technological development. It’s hard to distill the feeling of the time better than “Alice’s Restaurant” does. It makes you laugh, cry, and think. It calls out the draft’s injustices intelligently and with plenty of comic relief and vivid imagery to keep it listenable. Ryan and I have burned a hole in no less than two copies of this record, and we’ll keep doing it probably forever. “Shrink… I wanna kill…”
1. “From A Buick 6” – Bob Dylan
From Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
Just a classic blues song. The Band cooks. Dylan wails. It’s so upbeat, despite perhaps his ‘graveyard woman’ wishing him dead. It’s hard for me to pin down exactly why this is my favorite song of the 60s- especially against such stout competition- but nonetheless, something about the whole package lights me up. Dylan is snarky as hell on Highway 61, and even if this song didn’t land in first, maybe “Queen Jane Approximately” or “Ballad Of A Thin Man” or “Like A Rolling Stone” or the title track would have instead.
So many good songs, I had to cut a few. Here are some notable extras you can dig:
- “The Year 2525” – Zager And Evans
- “War” – Edwin Starr
- “I Want You Back” – The Jackson 5
- “Happy Together” – The Turtles
- “Beyond The Sea” – Bobby Darin
- “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
- “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” – Otis Redding
- “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” – James Brown
- “I Fought The Law” – Bobby Fuller Four
- “Green Onions” – Booker T. & The M.G.’s
- “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” – The Animals
- “Spirit In The Sky” – Norman Greenbaum
- “Crimson And Clover” – Tommy James & The Shondells
- “Stand By Your Man” – Tammy Wynnette
- “Louie Louie” – The Kingsmen
- “Unchained Melody” – The Righteous Brothers
- “For What It’s Worth” – Buffalo Springfield
- “Zor And Zam” – The Monkees
- “Where Did Our Love Go” – The Supremes
- “Then He Kissed Me” – The Crystals
- “Touch Me” – The Doors
- “21st Century Schizoid Man” – King Crimson
- “Piece Of My Heart” – Big Brother And The Holding company
- “Volunteers” – Jefferson Airplane
- “Runaway” – Del Shannon
- “California Dreamin'” – The Mamas And The Papas
- “I Fall To Pieces” – Patsy Cline
- “Apeman” – The Kinks