There’s an adage that goes, “If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t really there,” a sly observation to the decade’s rampant drug use. But this was really just one aspect of the times. Perhaps no other decade of the 20th century was as tumultuous, and as difficult to define by a small handful of songs. Someone who spent the decade raising children has a different outlook than someone who was a teenybopper. And even those of the same generation which came of age would argue over the time’s top songs, depending as much on whether you were a draft dodger or draftee, black or white, part of the counterculture or part of the lunch counter culture.
There are numerous web sites that provide top lists, among them www.mbgtop40.com, or the UK-based www.everyhit.com. Of course www.billboard.com will list the chart-toppers, year by year, but that may not be the purpose: After all, in a decade where the counterculture and civil rights increasingly held sway, is it appropriate to measure the best songs solely by their ability to generate sales?
CD collections can sometimes be helpful, such as Casey Kasem Presents America’s Top 10: 1960s, available on americastoptenhits.com. However, other CD compilations can obfuscate the issue, as they are often just as much about how available the rights to a particular song actually are as to whether or not said song was truly the blockbuster hit the CD issuers claim. Kasem’s compilation seems like the genuine article, however, and that isn’t surprising – he has built an empire on Top 40 hits, and isn’t likely to compromise that status.
What this all leads up to is some considerable room for personal perspective – and a lot of interesting debate. So without further ado, the top 10 hits of the 1960s (in my opinion) are:
1. I Want to Hold Your Hand, The Beatles – Yes, the Beatles ruled much of the decade, keeping the teenybopper sound alive and well (as here), but reinventing themselves to appeal more to the counterculture as the decade came to a close.
2. Light My Fire, The Doors – This song’s longevity, and its appeal to those who weren’t even born in the 1960s, speaks to the song’s seminal influence.
3. I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Marvin Gaye – Soul music was a key part of the 1960s, and Marvin Gaye’s hit about hearing of probable cheating by his sweetie remains a popular favorite.
4. Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In, The Fifth Dimension – From the musical Hair, this song medley epitomized the counterculture.
5. The Sound of Silence, Simon & Garfunkel – Folk rock at its finest, this song was later featured on the soundtrack of the movie The Graduate.
6. Suspicious Minds, Elvis – Although Elvis’ star had faded somewhat during this decade, eclipsed by The Beatles and The Beach Boys, this was one of several hits that kept him on the charts.
7. Good Vibrations, The Beach Boys – The original surfer band, this hit helped the Beach Boys beat out competition such as The Beatles for a spot on the charts.
8. Tossin’ and Turnin’, Bobby Lewis – Soul is key to the decade, and nothing quite gets to the roots of that better than this hit song by Bobby Lewis.
9. Yesterday, The Beatles – Another Beatles hit.
10. Soldier Boy, The Shirelles – Girl groups were prominent in the early 1960s, and this one is typical of the genre.