Considered a decade of profound transformation, the Swinging Sixties were a vibrant era full of cultural shifts, technological innovations, and musical revolutions. From soulful tunes to electrifying rock ballads, the best songs of the 1960s inspired social change, encouraged unity, and uprooted prejudicial barriers in the music industry. With timeless tunes depicting significant events in our history, the lyrical journey of these songs takes us on an unforgettable ride with each listen.
With soundtracks that shaped generations and messages of peace, love, and unity, the ’60s had an influential impact in molding pop culture. From the timeless melodies of The Beatles‘ “Hey Jude” that captured the essence of unity, to Bob Dylan’s poignant anthem “Blowin’ in the Wind” that echoed the era’s social consciousness, these songs are cultural touchstones that defined a generation. With the soulful resonance of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and the psychedelic vibrations of The Rolling Stones‘ “Paint It Black,” the 1960s remains a treasure trove of musical masterpieces that shaped the course of music history.
Music has powers beyond just making you want to dance. In a new study, it was found that listening to music can improve our mood and lower stress levels. With 90 percent of participants experiencing a boost in their mood and an average decrease in stress by eight percent, the evidence is irrefutable that music has a way of touching the deepest parts of our souls. Additional findings suggest that listening to music can modulate stress and mood during challenging times. That being said, you may want to turn on one of these classic tracks for a stress-free trip down memory lane.
Uniting people across continents and transcending language barriers, the best songs of the 1960s served as a cathartic release, expressing the joys, struggles, and dreams of a vexed society. With lyrics as rich as the new smell of vinyl records, the top songs of the ’60s serve as a time capsule into how life was back in the day. Don’t happen to see your favorite on our list? Let us know in the comments below!
The List: Best Songs of the 1960s, According to Music Fans
1. “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong (1959)
Capturing the essence of an era, “What A Wonderful World” is an iconic track. From its debut, it registered with people of all backgrounds and ages. As NMe recalls, “What A Wonderful World grew to become the UK Number One single in 1968.” Then in 1987 when “Good Morning, Vietnam” was released, “the song found a new, memorable lease of life.” Also what many people don’t know is how “Louis Armstrong was second choice to Tony Bennett, but he ‘made it his own,’ delivering a song of hope to a backdrop of domestic upheaval.”
“What A Wonderful World” is an uplifting reminder of the potential for goodness in our world. As one of the best songs of the 1960s, it offers a ray of hope by reminding us of the simple joys that make life worth living. As U Discover Music says, “What A Wonderful World is a lesson in perseverance and is also one of the best pop ballads ever recorded…What A Wonderful World yearns for optimism in an increasingly fragile world.”
Upon its release, the song grew into an instant success and today is best known for being played at graduations, weddings, and other significant life events. As an enduring classic, “What A Wonderful World” has a unique and special way of connecting people across time and space. Unknown to most, though, is how “this song didn’t get promoted much in the United States when it first came out,” writes Music Grotto. As a result, the song “became a smashing hit in the UK long before the US realized what an amazing song it was.” To cap it off, in 1999, “Louis Armstrong finally got inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.”
2. “Tossin’ and Turnin’” by Bobby Lewis (1961)
Speaking of a relatable theme of restless nights and the longing for company through young romance, Tossin’ and Turnin’ by Bobby Lewis is an infectious tune adored by those drawn to young love. Striking a chord with the teenage audience of the time, this song became an instant success. As Midder Music breaks down, “This 60s hit by Bobby Lewis dominated the Hot 100.” Not just for one week but “for seven weeks after it was released in 1961.”
July 10th 1961 – "Tossin' and Turnin'" by 28 year old Bobby Lewis reaches the top of the Billboard chart for the first of a seven week run, one of the longest of the year. A few months later he'll have another Top Ten song, "One Track Mind", his only other major hit record. pic.twitter.com/WN9QVDwBSv
— Psychedelic Jukebox (@60sPsychJukebox) July 10, 2022
Embodying young enthusiasm and exuberance, this hit by Bobby Lewis is one of the best songs of the 1960s. To this day, “Tossin’ and Turnin'” is credited for paving the way for more rock-oriented pop songs. As Gold Derby sums up, “This song was number one for seven weeks during 1961.” Through its widespread popularity and continuous airplay, the song grew into a generational hit.
“Tossin’ and Turnin’” serves as an iconic representation of the carefree and joyful spirit of the Swinging Sixties. Coupled with Lewis’s smooth, soulful vocals and groovy instrumentation, the tune is a timeless classic. As Rolling Stone mentions, “Tossin’ And Turnin’ ruled the Hot 100 for weeks of sleepless nights between July and August.” In fact, many believe that if it wasn’t for this song, “Lewis may have been deemed a one-hit wonder.”
3. “All Along The Watchtower” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1968)
“All Along The Watchtower” is a revolutionary and transformative rock masterpiece that pushed the boundaries of musical expression to new heights. As a reimagined Bob Dylan song, Jimi Hendrix packs a punch behind the mic like no other. As NMe puts it, “This is such a great cover of the Dylan classic that Bob himself tweaked his own version upon hearing it.” At one point, “Hendrix redid his guitar parts umpteen times” moving the song from “four tracks to eight tracks to even 16 tracks as he went.” As we say, “his pain is our gain.”
Prepare to enter a psychedelic realm of sound and emotion from the very first note. With a hypnotic melody coupled with Hendrix’s emotive and soulful vocals, there’s a reason why this song grew to the top of the music charts. As U Discover Music elaborates, “Jimi Hendrix received a copy of the record from Dylan’s manager and essentially attached a bunch of bottle rockets, and sent it to the moon.” As many argue, “It’s hard to make chaos sound this effortless, but few could pull this transformation off more easily than Hendrix.”
This song continues to serve as an enduring symbol of the ’60s social and musical revolution. For context, Music Grotto explains, “It’s no secret that a ton of hits from the ’60s were written by Bob Dylan, but this song makes our list for a reason.” For starters, “Jimi Hendrex had one of the most impressive performances of his career” and showcased a masterful stage performance.
4. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones (1965)
A rebellious and iconic rock anthem, this Rolling Stones hit is a top contender for one of the best songs of the 1960s. The success of this hit further cemented The Rolling Stones as a formidable force in music entertainment. As U Discover Music describes, “It is impossible to choose a Rolling Stones song to represent the band of the 60s but if we had to make our best bet, then Satisfaction feels right due to its story, impact, and cultural legacy.” Interestingly, “in the UK the song was only available on pirate radio stations as the song was initially deemed too sexually suggestive for commercial audiences.”
The US issue of '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' by The Rolling Stones, released by London in 1965. pic.twitter.com/ehRlSoCyR7
— Art Of The 45 (@GoldenArmRadio) July 27, 2022
Topping charts around the world, this was the first U.S. number one hit for The Rolling Stones. In a way, the electrifying nature of the song became synonymous with the movement and style of rock ‘n’ roll music. As Rolling Stone recounts, “It was perhaps the most important nap in rock history.” With “Keith Richards nodding off and snoring into his tape recorder for 40 minutes after laying down the riff.” Even still, “the riff wouldn’t become famous until he ran it through a Gibson Maestro fuzz box.”
Expressing deep yearning for personal liberation and fulfillment, this song epitomizes the restless youthful spirit of the 1960s. Despite being released nearly 60 years ago, it continues to unite music lovers across generations. For depth, Midder Music explains, “Satisfaction originated as a partnership between Mike Jagger and Keith Richards.” Featuring a popular riff by Richards, this “riff is widely considered as one of the greatest hooks of all time.”
5. “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)
A powerful and timeless protest rock anthem, Fortunate Song encapsulated the era’s social and political turbulence. It’s raw, unapologetic energy is powerful and thought-provoking and for these reasons it’s a must-have for our list. As Vinyl Mapper states, “It comes so close to our number spot as the track exemplifies rock as a form of protest.” Regardless of opinion, “this song’s popularity continues to grow,” while the song has also been covered by numerous artists including Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Santana, Bob Seger, and The Dropkick Murphys.
'Fortunate Son' by Creedence Clearwater Revival, released by Fantasy in 1969. pic.twitter.com/HyieJQeaem
— Art Of The 45 (@GoldenArmRadio) February 3, 2021
Over the decades, “Fortunate Son” has been included in various films, commercials, and TV shows as a rallying cry for those seeking change. Even today, the song inspires action against the injustice we face worldwide. As U Discover Music explains, “Fortunate Son is widely viewed as one of the great protest songs in American history.” It “sears with passion and catharsis” and even though “it’s been used countless times in films, it’s never lost its power.”
Highlighting the social inequalities and disparities plaguing society, the song captures the sentiment of a generation and endures as an anthem of protest and resilience to this day. For these reasons, it’s undoubtedly one of the best songs of the 1960s. As Pitch Fork puts it, “Fortunate Son has lost none of the ferocity with which it was initially written and recorded.” Retaining its power, “few of the era’s protest songs can say the same” while the “continued political relevance goes to show how little has changed these last 40 years.”
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