The 60 Best Albums of the 1960s

Music Lists 1960s
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220px-Wild_honey_beach_boys.jpg 40. The Beach Boys, Wild Honey (1967)
Brian Wilson  slacked his reigns on Beach Boys’ Wild Honey’s recording process, thus lending to the more natural, flowing feel of the pop record. Heavy on theremin and teenage romanticism, it’s surprising Honey wasn’t packed with radio hits. It’s more of a quiet, unpretentious gem, less slathered in sunscreen than previous releases, more soaked in its namesake. —Beca Grimm

220px-The_who_sell_out_album_front.jpg 39. The Who, The Who Sell Out (1967)
This 1967 concept album challenged the idea of rock ’n’ roll converging with commercial success and profit. It displayed the undeniable ironic personality of the band, but most of all contributed a solid collection into the iconic band’s repertoire. The record stands out particularly for featuring vocals from not only lead singer Roger Daltrey, but also John Entwistle and Pete Townshend. The message and music of The Who Sell Out is no less relevant today. —Nicole Oran

220px-At_Last_-_Etta_James.jpg 38. Etta James, At Last! (1961)
Etta James  was one of those rare singers who absolutely defied genre. Soul, blues, jazz, pop—put it in front of her, and she could sing it, breaking your heart on one track by sounding gritty, raw and broken before putting a big, stupid grin on your face on the next song with vocals that were smooth and pristine. Nowhere is that more apparent than on her 1961 full-length debut, At Last!. Some of the tracks are the absolute essence of heartbreak; the vocals on “A Sunday Kind of Love” are so silky smooth that it’s easy to get caught up slow-dancing to it and overlook the fact that it’s actually a sad track. James can’t seem to find the kind of love she’s singing so beautifully about, and she’s “on a road that leads to nowhere,” but she sounds excellent along the way. On “All I Could Do Was Cry,” Etta kicks herself for sitting idly by and watching her love walk down the aisle with someone else. As the background vocals almost tease her with echoes of “cry, cry, cry,” she absolutely wails, heartbroken and perhaps a little angry at herself over what might have been. It’s not all gloom and doom though. With “At Last,” she delivers arguably one of the most iconic songs of all time, and her performance embodies joy, romance and triumph. It’s like listening to a smile, and no matter how many cheesy romantic comedies it soundtracks, that never gets old. —Bonnie Stiernberg

220px-Jimi_Hendrix_-_Electric_Ladyland-1.jpg 37. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Electric Ladyland (1968)
If any student of modern guitar hasn’t worn out a copy of Jimi Hendrix’s classic Electric Ladyland, they’re not treating their education with respect. From the sonic experiments featured on opener “...And the Gods Made Love” to the lazy, impressive guitar fills on “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” to the wah-wah soaked intro of closer “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” Hendrix solidified the handbook for how the instrument should be played. The album would be the last for Hendrix’s The Jimi Hendrix Experience before starting Band of Gypsys. —Tyler Kane

220px-Night_Beat_cover.jpg 36. Sam Cooke, Night Beat (1963)
Sam Cooke died an embattled icon. The man’s specter loomed so large over the Civil Rights movement that it took a gunshot to the chest to prove he was mortal. And yet Night Beat was more a footnote than a chart-busting opus: it’s far slighter in nature than Ain’t That Good News, the album that promised “A Change Is Gonna Come.” But peel away the pomp and circumstance and you’ll hear Night Beat for what it is—an airtight pop record, sold with a sincerity that makes time for the lordly gospel of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” but lets arch humor creep in on “Get Yourself Another Fool.” —MT Richards

220px-TheByrdsSweetheartoftheRodeo.jpg 35. The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968)
Considered the definitive moment when hippie rock met country, Sweetheart of the Rodeo marked Chris Hillman’s buddy Gram Parsons joining the band that defined folk-rock with “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Suddenly aligned with a hardcore right-wing genre, stereotypes were shattered—not with Clarence White’s electric guitar, but pools of Jay Dee Maness and Lloyd Green’s plangent steel. Songs from bluegrass stalwarts The Louvin Brothers (“The Christian Life”), hard folkie Woody Guthrie (“Pretty Boy Floyd”) and emerging superstar Merle Haggard (“Life in Prison”) sat comfortably beside Dylan (“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”) and Tom Hardin (“You’ve Got A Reputation”) as simpatico companions, making the synthesis seamless. Parsons’ enduring “Hickory Wind,” a wistful song of time spent growing up, embodies what’s to come, stands out along with his “100 Years From Now.” Considered a failure when it was released, the visionary adaptation of country & western with California rock and pop paved the way for The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Poco and Emmylou Harris. —Holly Gleason

220px-Beggar_Banquet.jpg 34. The Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet (1968)
While many of their contemporaries were foraying into psychedelia, the Stones went in the opposite direction with 1968’s Beggars Banquet, delving deeper into their roots to write one of their bluesiest records to date. The album marks the end of “early” Stones, and kicks off what is widely considered one of the best stretches in rock history, as the band released Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street in a span of just four years. In other words, this was The Rolling Stones entering their prime. Choice cuts include “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Street Fighting Man,” “Jigsaw Puzzle” and “Salt of the Earth.” —Ryan Bort

Thumbnail image for 220px-Jeffair.jpg 33. Jefferson Airplane, Surrealistic Pillow (1967)
While there remains some mystery surrounding Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead’s involvement with Jefferson Airplane’s folk-psychedelic classic Surrealistic Pillow, it’s certain that the album remains a premier example of the concise blends of the bohemian 1960s. Spawning two major hits, the powerful “Somebody to Love” and the ever-trippy “White Rabbit,” the album was a flagship for the counterculture movement filled with an influx of traditional pop and hallucinatory vibrations. Marty Balin and Grace Slick’s harmonization remains one of the first important guy/gal pairings that has influenced countless bands through the decades. —Adam Vitcavage

220px-Miles-davis-in-a-silent-way.jpg 32. Miles Davis, In a Silent Way (1969)
Polarizing is just one word out of many (some much more colorful) that jazz enthusiasts would use to describe Miles Davis’ 1969 foray into electric jazz, In A Silent Way. Though a far cry from his seminal Kind of Blue, it’s still just as transportive: two different means to the same end. Davis has a way of using his solos like sentences to express a certain thought or feeling, and here, Davis’ solos delineate a newness of vision that his previous material didn’t. The social and political climate of the late 1960s had huge influences on many artists of the time, and Davis’ takeaway was incorporating some more rock ‘n’ roll sounds while still staying true to his jazz roots, a line he expertly toes on In A Silent Way. —Patty Miranda

Otisdockofthebay.jpg 31. Otis Redding, The Dock of the Bay (1968)
What should have been a beautiful turning point in Otis Redding’s career became a bittersweet ending when, two days after recording The Dock of the Bay’s title track, Redding died in an unexplained plane crash. The song was more folksy Dylan than soul, and it was a glimpse of a more thoughtful, less formula-driven side of Redding, reflective of the sea change going on within him due to the political climate of the late ‘60s. The same youthful drive runs through most of the songs, especially evident on “Tramp,” Redding’s duet with Carla Thomas. Even the ballads never sacrifice energy for emotion. Of all Redding’s posthumous releases, this one is the most revelatory of the direction his career could have taken. —Patty Miranda

220px-Aretha_Franklin.jpg 30. Aretha Franklin, I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You (1967)
Her subsequent LP was titled Aretha Arrives, but it was actually this release that ushered the Queen of Soul into the mainstream. Along with now-classic hits like the title track, she delivered outstanding covers of songs that, on paper, shouldn’t be touched, like “Drown in My Own Tears” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”—and she more than did them justice. The strongest cover of all, of course, is her legendary take on Otis Redding’s “Respect,” which she truly made her own, turning it into perhaps the female empowerment anthem and wowing us with unparalleled vocals. Yes, this is the album where Aretha arrives. —Bonnie Stiernberg

220px-LedZeppelinLedZeppelinalbumcover.jpg 29. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin (1969)
Led Zeppelin  weren’t exactly treading new ground when Jimmy Page formed the group in 1968, bringing them together to release their self-titled debut a year later. It would be years before the band finally stepped out of their borderline-derivative blues-meets-rock fusion. On Led Zeppelin, however, the group found themselves on the right side of that fine line, creating a refreshing take on the genre they heavily drew from while finding themselves as a supergroup worth taking seriously. Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, John Bonham and Page laid down the groundwork for a storied decade to come, with legendary originals (“Good Times Bad Times,” “Dazed and Confused”) and heavy covers (“You Shook Me,” “I Can’t Quit You Baby”). —Max Blau

220px-Crosbystillsandnash.jpg 28. Crosby, Stills & Nash, Crosby Stills & Nash (1969)
The self-titled debut album from this supergroup made up of former members of The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Hollies starts with the flooring and intricate harmonies on “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and doesn’t let up. While their musicianship—blending the rootsy sounds of blues, jazz, country and folk—was undeniable, Crosby, Stills & Nash’s legacy is also heavily politically vibrant. Later albums would include responses to police brutality during peaceful protests, but their involvement with activism stems from “Long Time Gone”—a response to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. The reflection of their bold viewpoints begins on this friendly pop-medley album that became a cornerstone and a launching point for many musicians’ activism. —Adam Vitcavage

220px-SongsOfLeonardCohen.jpeg 27. Leonard Cohen, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)
After finding it impossible to make a living north of the border, a young Leonard Cohen joined a long list of Canadian expatriates that included Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot who migrated to America during the mid-’60s in pursuit of a career in folk music. Unconvinced of his singing ability and with only a modest ambition to eke out a living as a songwriter in Nashville, it’s safe to assume that few people who first heard Cohen’s deep baritone voice intone his way through ‘Suzanne,” “Stranger Song” or “Sisters of Mercy” when Songs of Leonard Cohen first came out in 1967 could have predicted the Montreal singer’s artistic longevity. The power of each of these songs has endured, and no matter how many classic anthems such as “Hallelujah” or “Dance Me To The End Of Love” that Cohen has written in the ensuing years, he’s never sounded better than he does here. —Doug Heselgrave

220px-Sketches_of_Spain_-_Miles_Davis.jpg 26. Miles Davis, Sketches of Spain (1960)
Evocative, meditative, wildly romantic and essential to the unspoken places of desire, Sketches is Miles Davis’ most contemplative—and to some controversial— records of his career. Having worked with Gil Evans on the Birth of the Cool, as well as the orchestral Porgy & Bess and Miles Ahead, the pair came together for their most ambitious orchestral collaboration: an exploration of flamenco where Davis’ trumpet sets tone and deepens emotional reservoirs over the five musical pieces. Following up Kind of Blue, Spain was a myriad of soundscapes—building from the almost classical “Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)” to the incandescent passion of “Solea,” a woman’s recounting of Christ’s walk to crucifixion. Impacting from the core, with its shifting tension and release, rising epiphanies and startling solos, Sketches conjures feelings from deep, deep sources. —Holly Gleason

Otisblue.jpeg 25. Otis Redding, Otis Blue (1965)
A common trope in talking about the music of the ’60s, particularly rock ’n’ roll, soul and R&B, is this idea of finding fame through covering and recontextualization (and, in some cases and camps, flat-out cultural theft). The Beatles began as a cover band; pretty much everyone from Stevie Wonder to Peter, Paul and Mary brought their own takes on “Blowin’ In The Wind.” Otis Redding’s career was just emerging when, one weekend in July 1965, he recorded the better part of a mostly covers album called Otis Blue and made a slew of established blues and soul tunes by greats like Sam Cooke, The Temptations, The Rolling Stones and B.B. King feel fresh and urgent and otherworldly once again. Backed by an all-star cast including producer/keyboardist Isaac Hayes and the recently departed Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass, Redding recorded bold, electric reworkings of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby,” two of the most memorable tunes of his career (“Respect” and “Shake”) and a version of “A Change Is Gonna Come” that—and this is probably heresy—may just be better than Cooke’s original. If anyone asks you for a working definition of “soul,” point them in the direction of this album. —Lindsay Eanet

220px-LedZeppelin2IIAlbumArtLarge.jpeg 24. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II (1969)
Let’s all pause for a second and reflect one of the most astounding facts in rock history: The first four Led Zeppelin albums were released over a period of three years. Led Zeppelin II is the pioneering quartet’s most hastily assembled work, written and recorded largely on tour (occasionally the result of extended in-concert improvisation), laid down on the cheap with breakneck speed at various studios in both Britain and the U.S. The band’s sophomore opus takes the psychedelic blues-rock template of their debut and amplifies it, cranking frontman Robert Plant’s mystique and raw sexuality to 11. And the album never sounds like a patchwork, partly due to guitarist Jimmy Page’s groundbreaking production, and also due to the band’s well-rehearsed power and finesse. And for every voodoo-blues riff anthem like “Whole Lotta Love” and “Heartbreaker,” there’s a tasteful reinvention like the groovy, harmony-filled “What Is And What Should Never Be” or the folky-turned-heavy “Ramble On.” —Ryan Reed

Tommyalbumcover.jpg 23. The Who, Tommy (1969)
On 1967’s excellent The Who Sell Out, guitarist-composer Pete Townshend attempted his first “concept album,” a fake radio broadcast which blended original acid-rock tracks with brief, silly commercial jingle interludes. The “concept,” of course, was just cutesy fluff—nobody was likely prepared for the band’s sprawling 1969 rock opera, Tommy, which (in slightly confusing fashion) chronicles the rise of a “deaf, dumb and blind,” pinball-playing, child-abuse victim who finds fame and a (literal) cult following after being “cured” by a smashed mirror. Or something. While Tommy’s borderline-silly narrative nearly ODs on hippie-fried Summer of Love excess, the music is simply majestic, from psych-pop gems like “Amazing Journey” and “The Acid Queen” to classic rock anthems like “I’m Free,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” and the legendary “Pinball Wizard.” —Ryan Reed

In_the_Court_of_the_Crimson_King.jpg 22. King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)
Although it’s tried ever since, progressive music has never been as heavy-hitting as the opener of King Crimson’s debut album, “21st Century Schizoid Man.” The song, which was dressed up with over-distorted guitars, finger-flying note runs and radio-filtered hooks, brought a new focus to rock music by leaning on jazz and classical influence over the English love of blues music. The result was a highly influential album that will be referenced by progressive acts for years to come. —Tyler Kane

220px-EverybodyKnowsThisIsNowhere.jpg 21. Neil Young, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (1969)
After the commercial success of the singer/songwriterly Neil Young, the iconoclastic rocker tore down everything he’d built with the fractious Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Built on long jams, jarring guitars and a sense of looseness that bordered on sloppy, there were few records as thrilling as the churning build of the 9:27 “Down By The River” or the ebb and flow of the 10:06 “Cowgirl In The Sand.” Crazy Horse was kerosene to Young’s spark, and Danny Whitten (guitar), Ralph Molina (drums) and Billy Talbott (bass) created a churning foundation for the songwriter to work against. From the opening blasts of “Cinnamon Girl,” it was obvious Young wanted to blaze; even on the more expected “The Losing End (When You’re On),” there was a brio that spoke to this newfound raucousness. —Holly Gleason

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