The 100 Best Songs of the 1960s

Music Lists
Share Tweet Submit Pin
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 hits of the ‘60s. 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

90. Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, “Tramp”


King and Queen, consisting of duets between Stax stars Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, was the last album Redding would release in his lifetime. Stax president Jim Stewart apparently thought ”[Redding’s] rawness and [Thomas’s] sophistication would work” together. The album also features Redding’s recording of the Sam & Dave hit “Knock On Wood,” which is also featured on this list. — Bonnie Stiernberg

89. The Four Tops, “Bernadette”


The passion in frontman Levi Stubbs’ vocals is palpable, but in case you didn’t pick up on it, he drives it home with the line “You mean more to me than a woman was ever meant to be.” — Bonnie Stiernberg

88. Jackie Wilson, ”(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher”


If this song sounds suspiciously like a Motown rip-off, fear not. Columbia Records was more than happy to bring in members of the Wrecking Crew for session work to help supplement their meager earnings from Berry Gordy. True to the title and the song’s worshipful spirit, it moves up into the stratosphere with each passing minute with the help of Jackie Wilson’s unbound falsetto and a bridge section that lets the horns burst out like a heavenly call to action. —Robert Ham

87. The Hollies, “”Bus Stop”


The Hollies, one of the more underrated groups to come from the British Invasion, finally broke through in America with this chirpy 1966 single that charmingly tells the tale of finding love while waiting for public transit. Written by future 10cc member Graham Gouldman, the song still works in the way that romantic movies still capture our attention. We have all, at one point or another, longed to stumble upon that special someone in “meet cute” fashion. It took Gouldman to give that feeling a musical lift buoyed by little lyrical details (“Sometimes she’d shop / and she would show me what she bought”) and a shimmying rhythm. —Robert Ham

86. Beach Boys, “Good Vibrations”


“Good Vibrations” was Brian Wilson at his best, before he became his worst—a brilliant demonstration of what The Beach Boys may have done before mental illness derailed their frontman’s career soon after this song became released. —Max Blau

85. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You”


Up there with “Sweet Caroline” when it comes to most memorable horn licks of all time. It’s one of the better love songs of the ‘60s because of its doe-eyed simplicity, the ease of its melody, and, of course, the power of Valli’s voice when he belts the iconic “I LOVE YOU BABY!” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” will remain a classic until drunk grooms stop singing it at weddings, which is to say that it will always be a classic. — Zach Blumenfeld

84. Neil Diamond, “Sweet Caroline”


This platinum-selling 1969 single was one of Neil Diamond’s biggest hits. Even if its demarcation of “soft rock” is a bit belittling, this sing-along has endured over the decades. Back in 2008, Diamond told us the history of the song, written for John F. Kennedy’s daughter Caroline: “It was her birthday and her husband [Edwin Schlossberg] called up and said, “Neil, could you sing happy birthday to Caroline?” I agreed to do it so we set up a cross-country satellite thing in my little studio here in LA. I asked if they’d mind if I sang “Sweet Caroline.” So the connection was made to this gathering at the New York Public Library. I said “hi” to Caroline, said a few words, and then I told her the story about how the song title came from a photo I’d seen of her and her little pony. I was an unknown songwriter at the time and it was just an idea I had. She was thrilled. Somehow, I suppose somebody from the press was there and it got picked up. The news went everywhere…I was overwhelmed by it.”

83. Wilson Pickett, “Mustang Sally”


This song incorporates so many important elements of R&B in the ‘60s—the call and response of “All you wanna do is ride around Sally” and “Ride, Sally, ride,” the 12-bar blues, and the brass funkiness. Pickett’s version, which appeared on his 1966 album The Wicket Pickett is the most recognized, even getting adapted again in the early ‘90s in the music film The Commitments. —Hilary Saunders

82. King Crimson, “21st Century Schizoid Man”


Although it’s tried ever since, progressive music has never been as heavy-hitting as the opener of King Crimson’s 1969 debut album In the Court of the Crimson King. 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. —Tyler Kane

81. Edwin Starr, “War”


Starr was given the chance to record this snarly, iconic protest song after it was decided that it was too controversial for The Temptations. After the track hit number one, The Temptations’ decidedly less gritty version was released, but by then, Starr’s take had already cemented its status as the definitive version. — Bonnie Stiernberg

80. “Walkin’ After Midnight,” Patsy Cline


“Walkin’” certainly marks the height of Cline’s crossover success, ranking high on both country and pop charts—peaking at No. 2 and No. 12—respectively. It’s also probably the first song most folks use to turn on others to the contralto singer. —Beca Grimm

79. The Kinks, “Waterloo Sunset”


Other songs may be more influential or boast wittier lyrics, but none are as simply beautiful as “Waterloo Sunset.” The guitar part feels like a hug from an old friend, and the lyrics remind us that sometimes all you truly need is someone to walk along a bridge with. — Bonnie Stiernberg 28563

78. Dusty Springfield, “Son of a Preacher Man”


Aretha Franklin was originally offered a chance to record “Son of a Preacher Man” but turned it down, leaving it to become British pop diva Dusty Springfield’s trademark song. The iconic single appeared on her 1969 masterpiece album Dusty in Memphis. —Logan Lockner

77. Led Zeppelin, “Dazed and Confused”


Led Zeppelin wasn’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. “Dazed and Confused,” one of the lead, legendary originals from the band’s self-titled debut, however, helped lay down the groundwork for a storied decade to come. —Max Blau

76. The Shangri-Las, “Leader of the Pack”


The Shangri-Las’ 1965 album Leader of the Pack never performed as well on the charts as the singles it spawned. But its titular song stands today as an immortal girl-group pop hit, a nuanced juxtaposition of little-girl sweetness and adult tragedy. An archetypal “splatter platter,” “Leader of The Pack” was just one of many teenage tragedy sides the Shangri-Las would cut, making them something of icons in macabre sub-genre. —Bryan C. Reed

75. Booker T and the MG’s, “Green Onions”


Condense everything that made the Stax sound so gritty into one three-minute capsule, and you’ll get “Green Onions.” The label’s most recognizable melody—inspired, allegedly, by Ray Charles—came from Booker T. and the MG’s, Stax’s long-time house band and one of the most racially integrated soul groups of all time. Fifty years later, the chemistry between organist Booker T. Jones and guitarist Steve Cropper still feels like it’s happening live. —Lane Billings and Logan Lockner

74. Ike & Tina Turner, “River Deep – Mountain High”


The music was phenomenal. The marriage—not so much. Their turbulent domestic life (Tina accused Ike of being an abusive husband) has overshadowed their legacy, but there’s no denying the electricity the two had on stage. This song in particular, the first song off 1966’s album of the same name, was an especially soulful and successful example of their musical spark. —Josh Jackson

73. Louis Armstrong, “What a Wonderful World”


Supposedly, this ballad was written as a response to the turbulent times when the Civil Rights Movement and anti-war protests were reaching their peak temperatures. If it was a balm, it failed, but if it was just another gentle song and career highlight for jazz pioneer Louis Armstrong, the tune was still a huge success. Try to listen to this song, even in our current cynical and overstretched times, and remain unmoved or unemotional. It’s impossible. You will either start tearing up or looking out your nearest window to watch the world drift by. —Robert Ham

72. James Brown, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”


The 1965 single cut of “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” became a smash because of James Brown’s introduction of funk elements. But, the Godfather of Soul’s performance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966 helped secure this song’s importance simply because of the fancy footwork he showcases here. —Logan Lockner

71. The Velvet Underground, “Pale Blue Eyes”


A hauntingly beautiful tale of unrequited love, “Pale Blue Eyes” is about recognizing you’re being used and allowing it to happen anyway. It’s one of the few songs that can make the phrase “best friend” feel as cutting as a four-letter word, as Reed sings “It was good what we did yesterday, and I’d do it once again. The fact that you are married only proves you’re my best friend.” Anyone who has ever been friend-zoned can relate to the aching sadness oozing from this track. — Bonnie Stiernberg

70. The Shirelles, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”


This song is the consummate piece of early ‘60s pop. Written by then-Brill Building stars Gerry Goffin and Carole King, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” became the first Billboard No. 1 single by an all-girl group. Despite the anxiety of the titular question, the melody and chord progression capture the essence of the time: the optimism that accompanied the end of Eisenhower’s presidency and the beginning of Kennedy’s. — Zach Blumenfeld

69. The Sonics, “Have Love Will Travel”


“Rock and roll—it’s the only place you can scream like that without going to jail,” Sonics vocalist-keyboardist Gerry Roslie told me a few years ago. That voice—sounding pissed and possessed—lit up the band’s two releases, 1965’s Here Are The Sonics and Boom, released the following year. The Sonics were uglier, louder and scarier than anything that had floated this way during the British Invasion. They were also playing what was essentially punk rock in the small town of Tacoma, Wash. one year before bands like The Seeds and the 13th Floor Elevators had done anything, three years before the Brits gave us The Pretty Things or The Deviants, and almost five years before The Stooges and MC5 blew up Detroit. “Have Love Will Travel” isn’t as in-your-face as “The Witch” or “Strychnine,” but it’s still a primal slab of garage rock (the skronky sax solo rips, too). Some insist that punk rock started in the U.K. in the ’70s; the Sonics tell us otherwise. —Mark Lore

68. Leonard Cohen, “”So Long, Marianne”


This song is poignant as a longing, even desperate, appeal to his real-life lover Marianne Jensen but, like much of Cohen’s work, it’s so much more than autobiography because of a soaring refrain that gains meanings with each of its many repetitions. The 6/8 time signature and the renaissance feel of the instrumentation give the song the tone of a dirge but Cohen’s vocal performance – exploding into each refrain with a tangible sense of awe – is the essence of rock ’n roll. —Nate Logsdon

67. The Zombies, “She’s Not There”


The debut single from The Zombies put them on the charts in both the U.K. and the U.S. Songwriter Rod Argent’s keyboard and a choppy jazz beat open things up before the band’s familiar harmonies come in on the driving chorus. This was only a prelude to the true greatness to come. —Mark Lore

66. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Fire”


The Jimi Hendrix Experience never sounded better than they do on “Fire,” arguably the liveliest performance the trio ever put to tape. Mitch Mitchell’s drums go off like funky firecrackers. Noel Redding’s bass bobs and weaves around howling guitar leads. Hendrix exudes soulful swagger, dripping with leering bravado and uncoiled sexuality. And yet the sing-along chorus – a rarity in Hendrix’s catalog — outshines everything. Not bad for a song reportedly written after Hendrix wanted to sit by a fireplace on a cold English day. —Matt Fink

65. The Troggs, “Wild Thing”


Like many of the early garage-rock standout songs, “Wild Thing” is a cover: written by Chip Taylor, New York City band The Wild Ones first recorded the song in 1965. The Troggs’ version quickly eclipsed it the following year. The English rockers hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart thanks to the bludgeoning guitar and singer Reg Presley’s vocals, which go from sounding almost distracted to unsettlingly focused when he veers into the famous chorus. Other acts have since recorded “Wild Thing,” including Jimi Hendrix, The Runaways, X, Cheap Trick, Liz Phair, Sam Kinison and, of course, Animal from The Muppet Show. —Eric R. Danton

64. The Yardbirds, “For Your Love”


Considering the career he has had since, it’s wild to think that this song convinced Eric Clapton to leave The Yardbirds because their sound was getting too commercial in his eyes. It may have been a hard left turn away from the blues-based rock and pop the group was doing up to that point, but that doesn’t diminish the song’s power one iota. Rather, the glinting harpsichord and lightly Eastern-influenced percussion simply nudged the door open for the group to embrace more psychedelic sounds. And it helped bring their second guitarist Jimmy Page into the fold. —Robert Ham

63. The Angels, “My Boyfriend’s Back”


The key to loving this song is to falling hard for the very end when lead Angel Peggy Santiglia moves past the restraint she’s exhibited for the rest of the song and starts singing for the rafters. Up until that point, the song had been bouncing along the runway, fueled by handclaps and those tightly wound harmonies of the backing vocals. But once Santiglia goes off on her own melodic trip at about the two-minute mark, “My Boyfriend’s Back” soars. —Robert Ham

62. The Turtles, “Happy Together”


Just as “Umbrella” was kicked down to Rihanna after being rejected by Britney’s label, so too did a dozen or so other bands refuse to record “Happy Together” before it was offered to The Turtles in 1967. And as we all know, the song went on to be a huge hit, giving this California-based pop group their lone No. 1 single and knocking “Penny Lane” out of the top spot. It also gave the world one of the catchiest love songs in the world that’s capable of turning a small group of people into a rousing choir once the chorus kicks in. —Robert Ham

61. Love, “Alone Again Or”


Covered by the likes of Calexico and The Damned, “Alone Again Or” was written by Love guitarist Bryan MacLean, and intended for the band’s 1965 debut. By the time MacLean completed it, though, Love was already working on their seminal 1967 record Forever Changes. The extra time, no doubt, added to the songs depth and drama, accentuated by mariachi-inspired horns and a striking string section. —Mark Lore

60. Smokey Robinson, “Tears of a Clown”


Stevie Wonder wrote the music for this song, but he went to Robinson for help with the lyrics. Robinson remarked that it “sounded like a circus,” and the rest, as they say, is history. — Bonnie Stiernberg

59. Sonny and Cher, “I Got You Babe”


This lead single from Sonny & Cher’s 1965 album Look at Us is a perfect pop boy-girl duet. One of our favorite performances of this song actually came almost 20 years later, though, after divorce and solo careers. And supposedly that television appearance wasn’t planned. Supposedly when a very inebriated Sonny Bono and his former musical/romantic partner Cher went on Letterman back in 1987, they weren’t expecting to get shoved unceremoniously into the spotlight once more to sing their signature pop classic “I Got You, Babe.” Prearranged or not, the moment when they both gave in and gave a delightful performance of the song made for some great television. —Robert Ham

58. Jefferson Airplane, “White Rabbit”


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. The ever-trippy “White Rabbit,” one of the album’s two major hits, helped a 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

57. The Byrds, “Turn! Turn! Turn!”


The Byrds—a ‘60s group including the folks who went on to become Crosby, Stills, and Nash—are eclectic. That’s what the guy on the back of their second album _ Turn! Turn! Turn!, _said. (“This album is eclectic?) But the prominence of the form undermines our knowing anything about all that. When the Byrds got started, somebody (in Hit Parader, I think) said that their first album was very nice, but it all sounded the same. Now we are up to taking that. It’s become a virtue. What started out as a folk-rock style on the first album has been turned, via repetition, into a form. The formal structure of a constant rhythmic ground can overcome any material. The rhythmic ground is so dependable that once, when lying on a cliff overlooking the Long Island Sound, not so far from where Walt Whitman did it, I thought I heard the earth turning beneath my head and it reminded me of—of all things—the Byrds. That is, the Byrds’ music has that sort of dependable self-energizing kineticism. It doesn’t go anywhere. But it never comes to rest. Turn! Turn! Turn! And that’s very strange and also very sad. —Sandy Pearlman

56. Frank Sinatra, “My Way”


With Frank Sinatra now long passed, “My Way” has taken on a new, beautiful significance. In this song, Sinatra sings about looking back on his life and his work: “I’ve lived a life that’s full / I traveled each and every highway / And more, much more than this, I did it my way.” While he still had many years to go after he recorded this song in 1969, the majority of his career and most well-known albums were in the rearview at that point, especially since his big band style had given way to the British invasion and rock ‘n roll. And yet, in 1969, when bands such as Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones were playing stadiums with electric guitars, he got his band of violins and horns together to record this emotional song in his unique style that endures to this day. “My Way” is both melancholic and uplifting, not afraid to confront emotion. “As tears subside, I find it all so amusing,” he sings, “To think I did all that.” ‘Ol Blue Eyes is looking back on everything, and though things may be coming to an end and he may not have made all the right choices, he—and anyone else listening—can be proud that they’ve done it their way. More than the specifics of what he did, it’s important to him that he stayed true to himself. —Kyle McKenney

55. Phil Ochs, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore”


As the American public and mass media learned in the ‘60s, one of the best ways to protest unsavory governmental decisions was through song. Phil Ochs, the Texan-born singer, self-described social democrat, and revolutionary, epitomized this. “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” criticizes America’s futile Vietnam invasion with zing and zest over quick acoustic strumming in the tradition of folk heroes like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthie. —Hilary Saunders

54. Simon & Garfunkel, “The Boxer”


As a song about endurance, it is fitting that “The Boxer” remains a powerful and lasting anthem. The soft layer of sound created by Simon’s guitar is pierced by fierce beats on a snare drum that makes one of the best instrumental moments from any Simon & Garfunkel song. For a hopeful and everlasting sentiment, the song’s final line reads, “I am leaving, I am leaving / But the fighter still remains.” —Laura Stanley

53. Steppenwolf, “Born to be Wild”


Has there been any song from the ‘60s that has been more watered down and neutered by its continued use in commercials, TV shows, and films than “Born To Be Wild?” There are likely arguments to be made for a lot of tunes from that decade, but the unbound spirit and thudding oomph of this song has lost all its meaning as a result. Divested of any visual accompaniment, “Born” still sounds as fierce as ever with a searing guitar hook and growling vocal performance by John Kay that laid the template for hard rock and heavy metal. —Robert Ham

52. The Mamas & the Papas, “California Dreamin’”


California, land of Ronald Reagan and P. F. Sloan, deserves the credit for latching on to these four wanderers long enough to record them and turn them into superstars. Appropriately, their first single, “California Dreamin’,” is a paean to that state, and is still, for my money, the finest song they have recorded. The very concept of the song (“California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day”) is evocative; but it is the execution of the song that makes it a masterpiece. The Mamas and the Papas are extremely sensitive to their material and to the impact of their finished product (producer Lou Adler probably deserves quite a bit of the credit here); their whole gimmick, if you want to call it that, is complex harmonies, each group member singing on one or several tracks which, when all mixed together, produce a new sort of harmony, not at all choral. The ancient concept of the round figures importantly, as do the very modern innovations of the Beatles and the Beach Boys. The impact of this harmonic style, used effectively, is wondrous: “California Dreamin’” changes from a still image into a movie of emotion, tapping the listener on the shoulder and swirling him through the singers’ world. And the vocal is framed with precision and love by the instrumental solos: guitar at the opening, electric violin and flute in the middle of the song. The poignant effect of the flute is a tribute both to the orchestration and to John Phillips, who arranged (and wrote) the song. —Paul Williams

51. Crosby, Stills & Nash, “Wooden Ships”


“Wooden Ships” is a staple from Crosby, Stills & Nash’s eponymous debut album from 1969. In this performance from 1973—the first time the trio had performed together in years—their harmonies are ragged and the delivery unrehearsed, but regardless, just having these musicians playing together again, and more importantly, obviously enjoying it, was a cause for celebration. —Paste Archives

50. The Monkees, “I’m a Believer”


The Monkees didn’t form; the band was made – in this case for an American TV show inspired by The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night. Saying The Monkees were successful during 1966-1969 is a dramatic understatement, though. There were points during that time when, despite the ire of rock ‘n’ roll hipsters, the so-called pre-fab four outsold their Liverpudlian predecessors, thanks in large part to the bouncing pop of 1966’s single “I’m A Believer.” Ultimately, The Monkees enjoy a kind of iconic pop culture status both because of and in spite of the unusual and even existential way the group came to be. —Paste Archives

49. Tommy James and the Shondells, “Crimson and Clover”


Even though Prince and Joan Jett later covered this song, it’s the 1968 original that really made its mark on the industry. Technically, “Crimson and Clover” was one of the first songs recorded on a 16-track tape, and Tommy James’ use of tremolo foreshadowed much of the acid rock and psych rock to follow. But within the band’s own history, “Crimson and Clover” served as the turning point for more conceptual work. —Hilary Saunders

48. Merle Haggard, “Mama Tried”


Haggard had already landed four No. 1 singles by the time this single was released in 1968, but the country star’s incarceration a decade earlier gives this rueful number a particular authenticity. “I turned 21 in prison doing life without parole / No one could steer me right, but mama tried—mama tried” may not have been strictly autobiographical—Haggard never served a life sentence, after all—but he did his share of hard time for offenses beginning in his teenage years. “”Some things we fudged on slightly to make it rhyme, but the majority of it’s pretty accurate, I guess,” Haggard told NPR of the song in 2010. “I was probably the most incorrigible child you could ever meet. I was already on the way to prison before I realized it, actually.” The marrying of sweet sentiments towards mama and the gruffness of life behind bars has lent the song a staying power in country music and popular culture at large, and the track has been covered by a multitude of acts, including The Grateful Dead, Reba McEntire and The Everly Brothers. —Dacey Orr

47. Martha and the Vandellas, “Dancing in the Street”


As much as we love David Bowie and Mick Jagger, the fact that their ridiculous cover of this has nearly twice as many YouTube views as the classic original is an absolute crime. — Bonnie Stiernberg

46. Roy Orbison, “Oh, Pretty Woman”


This 1964 single maybe have been the last time Roy Orbison reached the top of the charts in the U.S., but the impact it had on the pop music world was marked. Co-written by the artist with his longtime collaborator Bill Dees, the tune remains iconic thanks to its perfect structure, the range of emotions it hits on (joy, sadness, lust, envy, and more) in just under three minutes, and that opening guitar hook that will remain part of the rock canon until this planet disintegrates. —Robert Ham

45. Patsy Cline, “Crazy”


There is a reason everyone in the karaoke booth fights over covering this classic tear-jerker and if we have to tell you, well, you just wouldn’t understand. —Beca Grimm

44. Peter, Paul and Mary, “If I Had A Hammer”


One of the leading groups of the early ‘60s, Peter, Paul and Mary took inspiration from old-timey folk groups and reinvigorated it with pop harmonies fitting for the day. This cover of an old Pete Seeger tune was one of the many hits off the trio’s self-titled 1962 debut album. —Hilary Saunders

43. Bob Dylan, “Blowin’ in the Wind”


Bob Dylan’s second album, Freewheelin’ came out in 1963 right at the beginning of his career. Even though he’s gone on to write literally thousands of great songs since then, nothing has ever surpassed the sincerity and passion the 21- year-old musician poured into every track on the record. “Blowin’ in the Wind” stood out for its brevity (rare for Dylan) and social consciousness at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. —Doug Heselgrave

42. The Beatles, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”


I remember the exact moment I found the deeper meaning to “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” I sat in a London hotel room too fancy for two college freshmen to inhabit and babbled to my best friend about how electric the most common tactile gestures become when you fall in love. But even if this 1963 single should actually just be taken at face value, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” exemplifies the era’s joyful pop rock, noted by kitschy handclaps, a swinging backbeat and perfect Fab Four harmonies. —Hilary Saunders

41. Nina Simone, “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black”


Although the album version of this significant song appeared on Nina Simone’s 1970 album Black Gold, the single was actually released in 1969, thus making it eligible for this list. Written in honor of Simone’s friend Lorraine Hansberry, author of the play A Raisin in the Sun (which, consequently, takes its name from Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem”), the song became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. The song is vocally percussive, yet smooth and swaying; its bold lyrics are both timely for the era, yet utterly timeless in an age where Black Lives Matter. —Hilary Saunders

40. Sly & The Family Stone, “Everyday People”


Years before Sly Stone’s drug addiction and enigmatic persona fully materialized, he was changing the way people viewed soul and pop music from a musical, cultural and racial standpoint. On Stand!, Sly & the Family Stone achieved a near-perfect balance, especially with songs like “Everyday People” that epitomized the refinement of their earlier work. —Max Blau

39. Etta James, “At Last”


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. With “At Last,” the title track of her 1961 album, she delivers arguably one of the most iconic songs of all time. 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

38. Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”


This legendary duet ranks among the best of all time—Motown or otherwise—and it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of songwriter Nick Ashford. It’s inspired countless “singing into a hairbrush” moments, in film and real life alike. Plus, it helped those boys in Remember The Titans work out their differences. — Bonnie Stiernberg

37. Cream, “Sunshine of Your Love”


One of the first supergroups, Cream—composed of Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton—moved from blues to psychedelic rock with their second album Disraeli Gears. Although songs like “Sunshine of Your Love” deliver a distinctly late-’60s psych sound, the band went on to become influential in the forming of metal, prog and jam bands. —Ross Bonaime

36. Johnny Cash, “Ring of Fire”


Maybe the best known of all the Man in Black’s songs, “Ring of Fire” perfectly encapsulates the Tex-Mex style of country that would propel Cash to lasting stardom. The mariachi horns are instantly recognizable, as is Cash’s idiosyncratic baritone. As for the central metaphor, comparing love to a burning ring of fire was a creative, almost counterintuitive step that successfully brought together both the joy and the pain of falling hard for someone. — Zach Blumenfeld

35. John Coltrane, “A Love Supreme”


Jazz has a supernatural presence when crafted correctly. Through all its agitation—the off-kilter drum fills, furious horn solos, and rolling bass lines—there’s an underlying heartbeat centering the rhythm when it almost falters. Released in 1965, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme—led by the strength and cohesion of its title track—was certainly celestial. —Marcus J. Moore

34. The Rolling Stones, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”


If you were to round up a team of the world’s finest scientists, mathematicians and pollsters to determine the most instantly recognizable guitar riff of all time and came back with anything other than the pure bliss of Keith Richards’ fuzzed-out “Satisfaction” intro, we’d tell you to throw out all your data and go back to the drawing board. Beyond Richards’ iconic riff (which he claims came to him in a dream), there’s Mick Jagger—part bluesman, part Marilyn Monroe—in top form, pouting out verses about being sexually frustrated and fed up with commercialism. — Bonnie Stiernberg

33. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, “You Really Got A Hold on Me”


Everyone from The Beatles to She & Him has covered this track, but no one can touch the original. — Bonnie Stiernberg

32. Van Morrison, “Brown Eyed Girl”


Originally titled “Brown Skinned Girl,” this Calypso-kissed AOR staple about an alleged interracial tryst and deemed too hot for pop radio upon its release was without question the biggest hit from Morrison’s ill-fated tenure with groundbreaking producer/songwriter Bert Berns and his Bang Records label. Van claimed he never saw a penny of royalties and the contract he naively signed rendered him liable for all expenses incurred during the recording process, which is probably a big reason why he doesn’t consider it one of his favorite songs from the catalog. However, whether he liked it or not, “Brown Eyed Girl” has since become his reluctant calling card, the one Van Morrison song everyone seems to know about due to its firm place on classic rock radio, its appearance in such acclaimed films as The Big Chill and Born on the Fourth of July and the fact its a song in regular rotation in the iPods of no less than two American presidents. —Ron Hart

31. “Georgia on My Mind,” Ray Charles


This song became a big deal even before the 13th state in the union officially decreed it the official state song in 1979. When R&B legend, pianist, singer, and songwriter Ray Charles covered this old tune from the ‘30s, it leapt to the top of the charts in 1960. Its strings and sentiment, laid on thick with Charles’ cooing and piano plinking, make it irrelevant whether the lyrics are about a state or the sister of the original songwriter Hoagy Carmichael. —Hilary Saunders

30. Big Brother and the Holding Company, “Piece of My Heart”


Almost 50 years since the release of Big Brother and the Holding Company’s cover of “Piece of My Heart” and still no one can wail like Janis Joplin. Heavily inspired by the Texas blues that imbued her first musical endeavors, “Piece of My Heart” is a symbol of the time it was released; the perfect mix of blues and psychedelic hard rock to soundtrack the free-love ideology of the Hippie counterculture. Much more than a classic rock anthem, “Piece of My Heart” is a cultural emblem in itself, as well as an icon of a timeless talent gone far too soon. —Kurt Suchman

29. The Animals, “House of the Rising Sun”


The early days of rock music found its many stars and wannabe stars digging through the treasure trove of folk and blues for inspiration. So it was with Eric Burdon of The Animals who heard this song first from a British folk singer and then brought it to his band who helped him turn it into a Hammond organ drenched hit that somehow felt both soothing and electrifying. They may have been beaten to the punch by Nina Simone and Bob Dylan, who both recorded versions of the song earlier, but it’s The Animals whose rendition dominated the hearts of listeners for decades to come. —Robert Ham

28. The Doors, “Light My Fire”


Ed Sullivan famously told Jim Morrison to refrain from singing the line, “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher,” before the Doors’ performance of “Light My Fire” on his show on live television in 1967. Naturally, that was a recommendation flagrantly disregarded. The sultry song, released as a single that year, went on to become one of the Los Angeles band’s most recognizable and best-selling hits. —Logan Lockner

27. The Temptations, “My Girl”


David Ruffin’s smiling vocals, that bass hook and those pentatonic scales all make this feel-good track unforgettable. — Bonnie Stiernberg

26. The Supremes, “Stop! In the Name of Love”


The Supremes were, bar none, the most successful Motown girl group. The iconic chorus features Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, and Mary Wilson all singing in unison, throwing up choreographed hand gestures that undoubtedly inspired the wrist-twisting of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It.” —Hilary Saunders

25. Jackson 5, “I Want You Back”


Well, lemme tell ya now: With that piano slide and a bassline that just can’t be beat, this one’s a shoe-in. We’ve never met a human being who will admit to disliking this song (that’s your cue to take to the comments section if you exist, you poor, misguided souls), and for good reason; no matter how many times we hear this one, it simply doesn’t get old. — Bonnie Stiernberg

24. The Stooges, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”


No one wonders why bands still love to cover “I Wanna be Your Dog” in 2014. In fact, even in its much tamer studio version, The Stooges’ feedback-heavy force of a song still out-fought most hard-rockers in ’69, only being outdone by Detroit brothers The MC5. It’s a blistering piece of proto-punk, one that set the stage for any outlandish, fuzzed-out guitar line that would follow in a garage, and Iggy Pop’s unforgettable wails—“Now I wanna be your dog!”—can’t be unheard. Sorry, late ‘60s parents. —Tyler Kane

23. The Zombies, “Time of the Season”


One of the quintessential ’60s songs, “Time of the Season” is easily identifiable from Chris White’s simple and sturdy bass line, which gives space for Rod Argent’s psychedelic scribble. The call-and-response of lines like “What’s your name? Who’s your daddy?” gives the song an added risqué allure. It wasn’t the record’s first single, but it’s no doubt the most enduring, and a permanent soundtrack to late-’60s counterculture. —Mark Lore

22. The Kinks, “You Really Got Me”


The Kinks’ 1964 breakthrough hit is widely (and rightly) considered an all-time great. Those unforgettable power chords laid the groundwork for generations of hard rock bands to come. — Bonnie Stiernberg

21. MC5, “Kick out the Jams”


The MC5 group was known for their aggressive, political-fueled live shows that, along with fellow Michiganders the Stooges, set the stage for punk rock acts for years to come. Their catalog included their infamous, yet, most famous, f-bomb-dropping “Kick Out the Jams”—a hard-rocking tune that’s been covered by the likes of Rage Against the Machine and Pearl Jam. —Tyler Kane

20. Jimi Hendrix, “Purple Haze”


It wasn’t the first entry in the psychedelic rock canon, but by March of 1967 no song had gone quite so far in creating a nightmarish alternate universe as “Purple Haze.” Structurally simple yet harmonically complex, it was a plodding, bad trip anthem that turned the blues inside-out and invented heavy metal doom riffage in the process. Whether the lyrics implied drug consumption (as listeners suspected) or a foggy-brained love song (as Hendrix claimed) is irrelevant. The electric guitar’s role in rock music would never be quite the same. —Matt Fink

19. Otis Redding, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”


Probably the song that Redding is still the most well-known for, “Sitting On A Dock Of The Bay” was co-written by legendary soul man Steve Cropper and recorded mere days before Redding’s death, released posthumously. It became his only No. 1 single. A simple tune, not full of the vocal theatrics that he so often performed, it could easily start conversations about the Otis Redding that could have come. It stands alone as a nostalgic ode to home, one of his truly universal themes. —Katie King

18. The Velvet Underground, “Heroin”


No single song captures The Velvet Underground’s ethos more perfectly than “Heroin.” Contrary to popular belief, it’s not an endorsement of the drug (you only need to listen to Reed’s wry, self-deprecating laugh after he sings “it’s my wife, and it’s my life” to glean that much), but it’s also not an after-school special. Like in most of his work, Reed offers a harrowing tale without any overwhelming judgment. Musically, the song mimics the narrator’s high, starting off slowly, then picking up speed and building to a frenzied crescendo (highlighted by John Cale’s viola screeches) before coming back down again in the end. It’s a song that serves as a portrait of a specific scene, expertly reflecting a certain time and place when hedonistic socialites, intellectuals and bohemians converged on The Factory to challenge social norms, demand acceptance and be codependent—and it does it all with only two chords. — Bonnie Stiernberg

17. James Brown, “I Got You (I Feel Good)”


The first of two appearances James Brown made on The Ed Sullivan Show included this song and “Papa’s Got A Brand New Back” (see below) back in 1966. “I Got You (I Feel Good)” is his highest-charting single, though, lead by Brown’s squeals, yelps, and shaking hips. How could you not feel good with all those saxes and bass?—Hilary Saunders

16. Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth”


Stephen Stills wrote his first major topical song since “Hard Rain” with this song, the first Buffalo Springfield single to make the charts. “There’s something happening here; what it is ain’t exactly clear. There’s a man with a gun over there, telling me I’ve got to beware. I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down…” The title of the song is perfect: “For What It’s Worth.” There is no bitterness, no dialectic…just description, and a word of unspoken advice: hold back from the battle—look around—we’ve already won the War. —Paul Williams

15. Ben E. King, “Stand By Me”


Ben E. King began his career in the late 1950s with The Drifters, singing on several hits including “There Goes My Baby” and “Save the Last Dance for Me,” but he went solo shortly after and this song became a hit in 1961. In 2015, the US Library of Congress added “Stand By Me” to the National Recording Registry, declaring that “it was King’s incandescent vocal that made it a classic.” —Danielle Ryan

14. Creedance Clearwater Revival, “Fortunate Son”


It’s impossible to get a proper education on the Vietnam War without listening to this iconic and subversive song. The opening lick over the quick bass/snare drum combo is instantly recognizable. The music itself is simple, as most of Fogerty’s tunes are. But the special thing about this song is that it’s the most direct and rebellious song he’s ever penned. It’s “Born in the U.S.A.” without the irony and misinterpretation. Fogerty goes back and forth from point-of-views—from the millionaire’s son to the senator’s son to the folks born to wave the red, white and blue. It’s not a cry for help but a cry for ownership and pride. Fogerty gave the people a voice so unique and honest that you couldn’t ignore it. —Patrick Filbin

13. The Who, “My Generation”


“I hope I die before I get old.” In a generation full of spokespeople, Townshend may not have been quite as outspoken as his peers, but this simple phrase from “My Generation” continues to capture the essence of its time. Furthermore, the track introduces the arrival of John Entwistle as the undisputed king of his instrument and perhaps the most memorable stutter in all of rock history. —Brian Tremml

12. Marvin Gaye, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”


Gladys Knight & The Pips and countless others recorded their own admirable versions of this song, but the pain audible in Marvin Gaye’s rendition lends the lyrics some added pathos. — Bonnie Stiernberg

11. The Ronettes, “Be My Baby”


With the signature kick drum intro that has been emulated and imitated ad nauseum since, Phil Spector outdid himself when he wrote the girl-group classic “Be My Baby.” The only thing that could improve such a simplistically genius song is the impeccable vocal capacity of the remarkable Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes. Laden with clap-along drums and a flourishing string section, “Be My Baby” is a aural depiction of fresh, undying love; the kind that makes people nauseous both from it’s sickening sweetness and everyone desire to find the same. Love is right when it’s simple, and it is in the simplicity of “Be My Baby” that makes it so ingenious. —Kurt Suchman

10. The Band, “The Weight”


“The Weight” remains The Band’s most well-known song to date, and who can complain with that? —Max Blau

9. Led Zeppelin, “Whole Lotta Love”


Our favorite moment comes around the three-minute mark, when Page concludes an extended trippy breakdown with peals of electric guitar that make the song’s signature riff seem boring by comparison. —Nick Marino

8. The Beatles, “A Day in the Life”


The magic of The Beatles is that two men with very different aesthetics, Lennon and McCartney somehow formed one of the most dynamic combinations in the history of rock and roll. “A Day in the Life” is the consummate example of how perfectly their collaboration could work when the elements mashed. The song starts with Lennon’s reflections on the news of the day, tinged with his usual dark outlook. By itself, it’s no more than a melancholic mood piece, but then, after a sudden transition made from harsh glissandos, it changes into what sounds like a separate song—McCartney, churning out one of the light, gorgeous melodies he seemed to summon at will. Again, it may have been insubstantial on its own, but the very English nostalgia is a perfect fit with Lennon’s moody discourse on the dingy present. As they move back for one last verse with Lennon, the transition is made with Lennon drifting off into a vocal daze, druggy and gorgeous, and it all leads to that long final chord, made from three pianos and a harmonium—the perfect, haunting end to the perfect song. —Shane Ryan

7. Aretha Franklin, “Respect”


Nearly 50 years after its release, “Respect” is still ubiquitous. This classic Otis Redding cover is not only one of the best Aretha tracks, but also one of the best songs of all time. From that very first “WHAT you want…” it’s clear this is an anthem, one that timed out perfectly with the civil rights era and the feminist movement, but it can be applied to pretty much anyone who’s looking for a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Aretha demanded her propers, and nearly half a century later, she still reigns as the Queen of Soul, thanks in no small part to this undeniable track. — Bonnie Stiernberg

6. Simon & Garfunkel, “The Sound of Silence”


“Hello, darkness, my old friend / I’ve come to talk with you again.” Arrested Development jokes aside, this lyric from “The Sound of Silence” is one of the most iconic song openers in music. Though Simon admitted later to being inspired to write that lyric after turning off the bathroom light during a songwriting session (for the bathroom often has the best acoustics), the song is a perceptive commentary on people’s inability to communicate. Other timeless lyrics like, “And the people bowed and prayed / To the neon god they made” makes “The Sound of Silence” forever an important song in music’s history. —Laura Stanley

5. Sam Cooke, “A Change is Gonna Come”


The King of Soul was known at times as a gospel prodigy, a pop star, and a stirring soul singer, but with this song, he cemented his place as a voice in the Civil Rights Movement. “A Change is Gonna Come” was released during the end of a tempestuous 1964. And Cooke, whose sweet, smooth voice flows as easily as the river he sings he was born by, embodies each of these former selves at once. As the orchestral strings and horns assemble and rise, Cooke proffers a timeless mantra in the refrain—part hope, part prayer, part demand—that a change is going to come. —Hilary Saunders

4. Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone”


Dylan’s convention-defying song announced rock ‘n’ roll would become the voice—his voice—for disaffected Boomers out to revolutionize everything they could touch. Including rock ‘n’ roll, itself. That startling drumshot of an opening: Al Kooper’s beckoning, carnivalesque Hammond B-3 organ part and Michael Bloomfield’s electric-guitar curlicues run around Dylan’s own determined rhythmic playing. And over which, Dylan’s strange lyrics seem triumphant, yet also full of warning, as his unglamorous voice brimming with attitude, holds onto syllables as if they were gleeful riders on a hurtling-downward roller-coaster. He sings phrases like “Mystery tramp?” “Chrome horse with your diplomat?” “Napoleon in rags?” as if they were a new language, a secret code, masquerading as popular song.

With 50 years of study, it’s easy today to see the song’s surrealistic lyrics for what they were—a knowing retort, but empathetic, to a privileged woman who has had her comeuppance. As such, its attitude and subject matter aren’t the song’s most progressive aspect. Rather, Like a Rolling Stone”’s intended audience saw themselves as the subject, the “you,” at the same time they were being shaken by their country’s violence in the mid- to late-1960s. Many were preparing to seek radical change in so many ways, and that idea was both scary and liberating. “Like a Rolling Stone”’s refrain, “How does it feel / To be on your own? / With no direction home,” quickly became prophetic to them. It was a call to liberation. —Steve Rosen

3. David Bowie, “Space Oddity”


It’s telling that, 40-plus years after its initial release, “Space Oddity” remains a weird, weird song. Inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, the song spins the tale of “Major Tom” an unfortunate astronaunt trapped drifiting in space. While many of Bowie’s best are based around the gradual build or surprising the listener, this is by far the one that does it best. “Space Oddity” certainly feels like two or three different parts of songs melded together. That Bowie makes it seem so seamless is a sign of his mastery. And who doesn’t inadvertently clap along to that middle section? Just sayin’. —Mark Rozeman

2. The Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter”


It’s hard to fathom that “Gimme Shelter” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” appear on the same album; the former is as eerie and foreboding as the latter is encouraging and comforting. But with “Gimme Shelter,” the Stones—those Satanic majesties—go full-tilt to the dark side, reflecting all the apocalyptic anxiety of the Vietnam era without ever directly referencing the conflict that defined their generation. Merry Clayton’s wailing vocal solo is positively chilling, but in the end, there’s a glimmer of hope that reminds us that maybe this song and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” aren’t so different after all: “Love, sister, is just a kiss away.” — Bonnie Stiernberg

1. The Beach Boys, “God Only Knows”


This was one of the first pop songs to include “God’ in its name. But quite simply, “God Only Knows” is the group’s best song on its best album. —Max Blau

Also in Music