The 100 Best Songs of the 1960s

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The 100 Best Songs of the 1960s

The 1960s are often considered the best decade for music in America. Folk enjoyed a political revival, yet, the British Invasion was blessedly not political. The blues bled into hard rock. Pop music felt its soul. Jazz felt free.

Although we at Paste had previously compiled the 60 Best Albums of the 1960s, we felt that a number of songs were missing. With two dozen people voting for more than 500 songs, we whittled the list down to the top 100. However, bands with votes for multiple songs were limited to two tracks each. (But don’t worry, you can just click here to find our best-of lists for some of those bands like The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Kinks, and The Velvet Underground.) Here are the 100 best songs from the ‘60s.

100. Desmond Dekker & The Aces, “Israelites”
Reggae originated in the Jamaica in this decade, combining elements of ska, R&B, and Caribbean percussion to give sound to the country’s diaspora and social issues. “Israelites” was one of native Jamaican Desmond Dekker’s first international hits and offered the world its first taste of this now-beloved genre. —Hilary Saunders

99. Bobby Darin, “Beyond the Sea”
Adapted from a French pop tune from the ‘40s, Bobby Darin’s follow up to the one-two commercial punch that was his other late ‘50s hits, “Dream Lover” and “Mack The Knife,” allowed the crooner to show off another shade to his versatile voice. The romantic swoon and playful swing of those earlier singles was replaced with a Sinatra-like cool as he looks to the ocean and wonders what his lover is doing on the other side of that body of water other than “watching the ships that go sailing.” Would that he could split it in half like Moses and reunite with his lady love. —Robert Ham

98. The Righteous Brothers, “Unchained Melody”
Being of a certain age, this song will forever be cemented in my mind as the one that soundtracks Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore getting all sensual with clay in Ghost. The real story is that the song had been around for about a decade before The Righteous Brothers decided to record it for their 1967 album Just Once In My Life. The song ratchets up with intensity and emotion in much the same way that their ‘64 hit “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” did, but for much different aims. Here, the plea for reconciliation feels more agonized and terrified. It’s those first few moments after a bad breakup or the beginnings of a long distance relationship with an uncertain future. Carrying that weight for us is Bobby Hatfield reaching deep within his soul for a vocal performance that feels like he’s tearing his heart apart, bit by bit, with each line. —Robert Ham

97. Nancy Sinatra, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’”
We once designated this song as one of 10 songs people need to stop covering. Yet, Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 country-pop single is so relatable that it’s been adapted into metal, punk, and dance tracks. Apparently the Sinatra gene runs strong. —Hilary Saunders

96. The Marvelettes, “Please Mr. Postman”
Girl-group perfection, this song took The Marvelettes to the top of the charts right out of the gate. Fun fact: On drums is none other than Marvin Gaye. Though hailing from Hitsville U.S.A. in Detroit, the song has been covered by everyone from The Beatles to The Carpenters to The Saturdays. — Bonnie Stiernberg

95. Loretta Lynn, “Fist City”
SNAP! Before there was a mainstream feminist movement, Loretta Lynn was tackling the hardcore throw-down. While blues singers Irma Thomas and later Koko Taylor were howling “You Can Have My Husband (But Please Don’t Mess With My Man),” Lynn drew a line in the sand around her catting around lesser half Doolittle “Mooney” Lynn. One of many Lynn songs banned for their candor, the Kentuckian singer lobs a perky opening salvo at the bigmouth homewrecker. She sings, “You been making your brags about town/ That you been lovin’ my man/ But the man I love, when he picks up trash/ He puts it in a garbage can.”

Owning her man “ain’t” a “saint,” Lynn has no trouble suggesting to the brazen gal stay clear. With a chorus that boasts she’s going to grab that hussy “by the hair a your hand / and lift you off of the ground,” this is worthy of the WWF, and Lynn ain’t playing. In 1968, “Fist City” was a revolution—a woman with no shame taking care of what’s hers. An apt follow-up No. 1 to the equally conjugal boundary setting “Don’t Come Home A’Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind),” it cemented her no-mess reputation with a song that’s been covered by Pistol Annies, Johnny Paycheck, Nanci Griffith/Eilen Jewell/Kelly Willis* and the Little Willies. —Holly Gleason

94. Little Stevie Wonder, “Fingertips Part 2”
Stevie Wonder  was just 12 years old when he recorded what would go on to become one of the first live songs to hit number one, making him the youngest person in history to top the Billboard Hot 100. What did you do when you were 12? — Bonnie Stiernberg

93. The Crystals, “Then He Kissed Me”
This song is showcase not only for those delightful vocals by lead singer Dolores Brooks and her cohorts, but also the strange genius that was Phil Spector. The arrangement of this song is flat out ridiculous with those incessant castanets and the string section that dips and dives through the song like an excited bird. In other words, it’s a perfect approximation of the rapid heartbeat and soaring emotions of someone in love. —Robert Ham

92. 13th Floor Elevators, “You’re Gonna Miss Me”
It’s hard to think of any one record that has influenced an entire genre as much as the 13th Floor Elevators’ seminal debut The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators influenced the future of psych rock. Since its release in 1966, countless bands have tried to imitate the album’s sound, and every psych-oriented group from The Jesus and Mary Chain to The Black Angels are in some way indebted to The Elevators and their visionary frontman Roky Erickson. Though they would continue to record and tour following the release of The Psychedelic Sounds…, nothing they did came remotely close to having the impact and ferocious psychedelic energy of their debut and its incendiary single and leadoff track, “You’re Gonna Miss Me.”—Ryan Bort

91. Bobbie Gentry, “Ode to Billie Joe”
When Patti Smith name-checks this song in her book Just Kids as something important she heard on the radio in the late ‘60s, well, that must mean it’s culturally significant. Though seemingly saccharine thanks to Bobbie Gentry’s sweet soprano and the song’s repetitive structure, the lyrics actually detail a violent scene, as “Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.” Even still, the song spent four weeks at No.1 in 1967. —Hilary Saunders

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