The 1960s was a monumental time for music. A staggering number of bands and musical styles were born in this period that continue to inspire modern music to this day.
So you’d have to be crazy to put together a list of the best 60s songs then? Yep, you would. But we tried it anyway.
Here is a list of the songs that made the swinging sixties such a rollicking good decade for music. Peace and love 🙂
A Day in the Life – The Beatles
A song about the tragic death of John Lennon’s good friend and heiress to popular beer brand Guinness, Tara Browne, the inspirational tune features a 41-piece orchestra. The tune was co-written by both John and bandmate Paul McCartney.
Related: Hear this song on our playlist of the best music ever.
All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix
Blues-rock impresario Jimi Hendrix was a huge Bob Dylan fan, even styling his hair like him in the early days of his career. Though Bob Dylan originally wrote ‘All Along the Watchtower,’ Hendrix’s amped-up version featuring multiple guitar solos became a huge hit.
Like a Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan
“How does it feel? How does it feel to be on your own, with no direction home?” Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ tells the story of a high society debutante falling out of aristocrats’ good graces. Some say the tune is about Edie Sedgwick, a confidante of Andy Warhol’s and friend of Dylan’s.
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – The Rolling Stones
One of The Rolling Stones’ most popular singles, guitarist Keith Richards wrote the tune after a rather rowdy show in Clearwater, FL. After experiencing the chaos of the crowd, he went to sleep in his hotel room and woke up with the tune’s signature guitar riff in his head.
Related: Sound like a pro with these songs that are easy to sing.
Be My Baby – The Ronettes
A romantic tune with a classic 1960s sound, The Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’ features a female protagonist longing for the man she loves to notice her. The pop-tinged tune was written by Jeff Barry, who often included romantic elements in his lyrics.
Related: This song is on our list of songs from Dirty Dancing.
Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys’ lead singer Mike Love provided the lyrics for ‘Good Vibrations,’ one of the band’s hits produced by fellow band member Brian Wilson. Love’s lyrics started as a poem Wilson transformed into a song over 17 recording sessions, racking up more than $50,000 in recording time.
Related: Cheer up with these songs about happiness.
The Sound of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel
Songwriter Paul Simon worked on lyrics for ‘The Sound of Silence’ for over six months before the duo presented the song to their label. The tune deals with people’s lack of ability to properly communicate with each other. It was featured in the controversial film, The Graduate.
Related: Shh…listen to these silence songs.
Suzanne – Leonard Cohen
Though Leonard Cohen developed the song’s chords and melody before ever writing the lyrics for it when he began writing the words, ‘Suzanne’ naturally became the title. The song is about Suzanne Verdal, a woman he had a well-known affair with.
The Weight – The Band
Band Leader Levon Helm sang lead on this classic rock tune written by fellow bandmate Robbie Robertson. The tune follows the story of a man rolling into a town called Nazareth, looking for a place to rest. The metaphor behind the song stands for the burdens we all carry.
Related: Find this song on our playlist of state songs.
Crying – Roy Orbison
Roy Orbison’s song ‘Crying’ wasn’t your typical rock song when he first wrote and released it. Featuring a story about a man crying over a woman, it went against the bad boy image often portrayed by rock bands. The song was biographical, based on a real-life woman he was still in love with, but she’d already moved on.
Related: Listen to our crying songs playlist.
The Twist – Chubby Checker
This fun song ushered in a brand new dance move for young people in the 1960s. Hank Ballard, a part of the band The Midnighters, originally wrote the tune to introduce his fresh dance moves. When Chubby Checker recorded it, he turned the dance into a national phenomenon.
Related: Dance along to more great line dance songs.
I Want to Hold Your Hand – The Beatles
American girls went crazy over The Beatles’ ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand.’ The song was their first to go to number one in the states and kicked off the “British Invasion” of the ’60s.
Related: This song features on our clapping songs playlist.
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ – The Righteous Brothers
Inspired by The Four Tops’ ‘Baby I Need Your Lovin’,’ The Righteous Brothers released ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” in 1965. The single became a huge international hit. It was played more in the 20th century on radio and TV than any other tune.
Related: Hear this song on the Top Gun soundtrack.
I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) – The Four Tops
In the 1960s, The Four Tops were among the most in-demand vocal groups. Their wildly popular ‘I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)’ was written by a songwriting trio responsible for quite a few of The Supremes’ hits, Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, and Eddie Holland.
Related: Get your dose of sugar with these sweet tooth songs.
California Dreamin’ – Mamas and the Papas
Band member Michelle Phillips was newly married to John Phillips and experienced an intense bout of homesickness when she wrote ‘California Dreamin’.’ Co-written with John, the song morphed into a layered story about longing to be in a different place.
Related: Listen to more of the best Golden State songs.
Strangers in the Night – Frank Sinatra
“Something in my heart told me I must have you.” In a gentle, sexy tune by “old blue eyes,” Frank Sinatra sings about a woman he’s fallen in love with in ‘Strangers in the Night.’ The song was a huge comeback for Sinatra. It scored him his first top hit in eleven years in 1966.
Related: Head over to our playlist of the best night time music.
I’m a Believer – The Monkees
“Then I saw her face. Now I’m a believer.” One of the most popular tunes of the ’60s, this feel-good song about brand new love was written by Neil Diamond. The Monkees’ version exploded on the charts, but other artists like Anne Murray also recorded it.
Related: You’ll be smiling when you listen to the best songs about being happy.
Light My Fire – The Doors
“Girl, we couldn’t get much higher. Come on, baby, light my fire.” The Doors’ guitarist Robby Krieger wrote this song after giving himself a songwriting prompt to write about one of the natural elements, fire, water, earth, or air.
Related: Check out these hot songs about fire.
Hey Jude – The Beatles
Though ‘Hey Jude’ was never supposed to be on the A side of their record, commonly referred to as their “White Album,” due to a dispute with John Lennon. But, the song ended up being one of their biggest hits. Paul McCartney wrote it for Lennon’s son Julian during his parents’ divorce.
Related: Here is our best karaoke songs playlist.
(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding
Classic Motown paired with an island vibe, Otis Redding scored a number one hit with ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay’ posthumously because he died tragically in a plane crash just before the song was released. It speaks to trying to find the beauty in life despite hardships.
Related: Whistle while you work with our playlist of songs with whistling.
Born to Be Wild – Steppenwolf
Rock band Steppinwolf’s biggest hit ‘Born to Be Wild’ created the genre we now call “heavy metal.” With their simple yet powerful line, “heavy metal thunder,” in the song, a brand new type of music was born. The tune is featured on their 1968 self-titled album.
Related: Hear more songs from the Easy Rider soundtrack.
Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash
June Carter wrote this Johnny Cash hit during a particularly turbulent time for the couple. When asked about the lyrics of the song, she explained that loving Johnny sometimes made her feel like she was living “in a ring of fire.”
Related: See this song on our list of the best songs about rings.
I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night) – The Electric Prunes
Released in 1966 by garage rock band The Electric Prunes, the tune chronicles someone waking up from a deep sleep after dreaming about an ex-lover. The title ‘I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)’ refers to the dizzy feeling accompanying alcohol, similar to waking up after an intense dream.
Runaway – Del Shannon
This international early rock n’ roll hit by Del Shannon tells the story of a man pining over lost love. An interesting sound can be heard during the track, played by a first-model synthesizer invention known as the Musitron.
She’s Not There – The Zombies
Recorded after winning a song competition, The Zombies’ ‘She’s Not There’ was partly inspired by blues legend John Lee Hooker’s tune ‘No One Told Me.’ The hit tells the story of a woman who can’t be bothered by only one man, and the singer warns people about her.
Dancing in the Street – Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
“Calling out around the world. Are you ready for a brand new beat?” ‘Dancing in the Streets’ was written by soul icon Marvin Gaye. The tune was written during the civil rights movement, but the inspiration came while riding around Detroit in the summertime and witnessing kids playing freely. Because of this, the single has an uplifting message.
Related: See similar songs on our playlist of the best songs about being stuck.
Bonnie And Clyde – Serge Gainsbourg
Based on the lives of two of America’s most notorious outlaws, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, Serge Gainsbourg based the tune on a poem Bonnie wrote herself towards the end of the couple’s infamous crime spree.
Related: Here are some more songs to dedicate to your boyfriend.
Cinnamon Girl – Neil Young
Folk songwriter Neil Young prefers to leave his lyrics up to the listener’s interpretation. It has long been speculated that ‘Cinnamon Girl’ is about Jean Ray, a folk singer from the ’60s who is also the sister of one of Paul McCartney’s guitarists, Brian Ray.
Related: Use our food songs playlist as the soundtrack for your next meal!
Eight Miles High – The Byrds
The tune ‘Eight Miles High’ was expected to lift The Byrds to new heights upon its release but, unfortunately, had the opposite effect. Due to the band’s substance abuse issues, key members such as Gene Clark left, leaving their future up in the air. Supposedly Clark wrote this song while on a long plane flight.
Related: Fly away with these airplane songs.
Green Onions – Booker T and the MGs
Instrumentals don’t normally make era-defining lists, but Booker T’s ‘Green Onions’ did just that, being recognized by the industry as one of R&B’s most popular instrumentals. This mainly improvised soul classic was released in 1962.
Related: Complete a musical rainbow with this playlist of songs about colors.
Dazed And Confused – Led Zeppelin
Jimmy Page paired up with folk singer Jake Holmes to beef up Holmes’ acoustic tune’ Dazed and Confused.’ The rock song went on to define a generation. The cult classic film Dazed and Confused was even named after the song, though Led Zeppelin music never appears in the movie due to licensing problems.
Wild Thing – The Troggs
“Wild thing, you make my heart sing.” A song capturing counterculture nightlife of the ’60s, the sexually-tinged song ushered in a new generation of music that allowed to address sexuality more openly.
Build Me Up Buttercup – The Foundations
Romantic in nature, ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ became one of the ’60s most popular hits. But a closer look at the lyrics reveals the protagonist is telling his lover he only wants to hear good things, even if that means she has to lie to him.
Related: Enjoy our playlist of songs about flowers.
Leader Of The Pack – Shangri-Las
A story about a typical bad boy whose parents fear their daughter will end up dating, the ’60s song was a bit too edgy for mainstream when it first came out. The BBC temporarily banned it in ’64 for “inappropriate content.”
Related: Listen to more of the Goodfellas music soundtrack.
I’m Waiting for the Man – Velvet Underground
An early “garage rock” song, Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Waiting for the Man’ chronicles the protagonist’s attempt to buy drugs in Harlem, New York. Garage rock pioneer Lou Reed wrote the tune.
Related: Waiting for something? Here are some songs about anticipation.
I Heard It Through the Grapevine – Marvin Gaye
Released in 1968, Marvin Gaye made the Motown Records song a hit. The tune finds Gaye singing about how he found out his girlfriend hasn’t been faithful to him.
Related: Want similar songs? Here is our affair songs playlist.
I Wanna Be Your Dog – The Stooges
The Stooges’ single ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ became an early punk classic thanks to the songwriting skills of bandmember Iggy Pop. The song tells the story of a man who sees a powerful woman walking down the street and wants to please her any way he can.
Related: This song is on our list of Cruella album songs.
A Whiter Shade of Pale – Procul Harum
Instead of communicating a specific meaning to their song, ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale,’ Procul Harum uses mournful instrumentation and powerful vocal delivery to tell the open-ended story of a relationship gone wrong.
You Really Got Me – The Kinks
After spending a night partying with a group of girls at a club, The Kinks were inspired to write their hit ‘You Really Got Me.’ Other popular rock groups, such as Van Halen, covered the popular tune.
Related: Feel at home with our list of songs about home.
Kick Out the Jams – MC5
Often viewed by listeners as a song about overcoming obstacles, MC5 actually had a different theme in mind when writing ‘Kick Out the Jams.’ It’s a song about all the bands they had to open for that really weren’t very good.
Son of a Preacher Man – Dusty Springfield
British siren Dusty Springfield sings about her love for a preacher’s son with her sexually-charged hit ‘Son of a Preacher Man.’ Aretha Franklin was first offered the single, but she turned it down due to its controversial message. She ultimately changed her mind and released a cover after Springfield’s version came out.
Related: This is one of the iconic Pulp Fiction songs.
My Generation – The Who
The hit song ‘My Generation’ spawned yet another new subgenre of the ’60s, “primal rock.” The subgenre stands for rebellious tunes like The Who’s hit single that are also anthemic in nature. With this single, they celebrate their generation’s defiance.
Stand By Me – Ben E King
Modeled after a gospel hymn by the same name, Ben E King released this as his first solo single after leaving The Drifters. The moving tune promises to loved ones that you will stand by them no matter how hard times get.
White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane
Iconic ’60s singer Grace Slick headed up the band Jefferson Airplane before striking it out on her own. When she wrote the tune ‘White Rabbit,’ she relied on inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s book Alice In Wonderland and Miles Davis’ album Sketches of Pain.
Related: Go wild with our animal songs playlist.
(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher – Jackie Wilson
“Your love, lifting me higher, than I’ve ever been lifted before.” An uplifting song about how true love can make you feel like you’re on cloud 9, Jackie Wilson was able to release this single first even though the group The Dells actually recorded it before he did.
See Emily Play – Pink Floyd
The song ‘See Emily Play’ was different than much of what English rock band Pink Floyd had recorded in the past, so they opted never to play the song live. However, fan obsession with the song forced them to put it on the setlist to avoid riots at their shows.
Related: Find more songs on our songs about women playlist.
Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag – James Brown
One of James Brown’s early hits after breaking away from his band The Famous Flames, ‘Pappa’s Got a Brand New Bag’ is pure, genre-defining funk through and through. This is exactly what the song was intended for, with the slang term “bag” meaning a new way to make music.
I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better – The Byrds
Columbia records heavily promoted ‘I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better’ though it was on the B-side of The Byrds’ album. Written by band member Gene Clark, the group’s lead vocalist and songwriter, he left the group shortly after its release for a solo career though he never wrote another hit.
Jumpin’ Jack Flash – The Rolling Stones
“I was born in a cross-fire hurricane.” Bandmates Mick Jagger and Keith Richards co-wrote this trippy song together. ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ is a lyrical metaphor for trying to get clean. One of Richard’s personal favorite guitar solos takes place in this tune.
Related: You’ll want to jump out of your seat when you hear these jumping songs.
People Get Ready – Curtis Mayfield
Curtis Mayfield is one of the ’60s and ’70s most iconic songwriters. Aside from his timeless work as a solo artist, he also released music with his band, The Impressions. Their tune ‘People Get Ready’ is an anthemic rallying cry for the civil rights movement.
Related: Get your hopes up with the best hope songs.
Fortunate Son – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Released in 1969, Creedance Clearwater Revival’s ‘Fortunate Son’ became wildly popular due to its anti-establishment theme. The anti-war movement opposing the Vietnam War and counterculture viewed the song as an anthem of the people.
Related: Head over to our list of songs from Forrest Gump.
What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
Though ‘What a Wonderful World’ would go on to be Louis Armstrong’s most popular song, it differs greatly from his general body of work which encompasses the jazz movement of the ’60s. The tune is about recognizing and embracing the beauty of the world.
Related: Say “thank you” with these grateful songs.
Psychotic Reaction – The Count Five
Early pioneers in the garage rock movement, The Count Five’s successful single ‘Psychotic Reaction’ began as an instrumental. After playing it for a while, the group added lyrics that focus on being rejected by a lover.
Summer in the City – The Lovin’ Spoonful
A song celebrating the wild ways and women of New York City, The Lovin’ Spoonful released ‘Summer in the City’ in 1966. Frontman John Sebastian based the track on a poem his brother Mark, who wasn’t part of the band, wrote when he was only fifteen.
Related: Turn up the AC and cool down with these heatwaves songs.
Dance to the Music – Sly and The Family Stone
Appearing on their second album with the same name, ‘Dance to the Music’ was the single that launched Sly and The Family Stone’s career. The track tells listeners to celebrate life and each other while dancing “to the music.”
Related: Dance the night away with our dance music playlist.
Will You Love Me Tomorrow? – The Shirelles
Folk icon Carole King wrote this song with her husband, Gerry Goffin. It was their first co-writing attempt, and it became a huge hit for The Shirelles. This ultimately helped make King and Goff an in-demand songwriting team.
Unchained Melody – The Righteous Brothers
Originally appearing in the 1955 film Unchained, the movie included both a vocal version of the song and an orchestral version. But it wasn’t until 1965 that mainstream music listened to the song with The Righteous Brothers’ version, and it exploded in popularity. Producer Phil Spector originally thought ‘Unchained Melody’ was just a filler song.
Related: Grab your sweetie and enjoy these classic romantic songs.
When a Man Loves a Woman – Percy Sledge
R&B/Soul singer Percy Sledge sings about the price a man sometimes pays when he loves a woman. Though the song has a romantic melody and Sledge’s powerful vocal performance stops listeners in their tracks, the lyrics hint at a man who is blind to his lover’s shortcomings due to his affection for her.
Related: Hear more oldies love songs.
House of the Rising Sun – The Animals
Rock group, The Animals, played the blues with abandon, the way the genre was originally intended. ‘House of the Rising Sun’ has long been a popular blues/folk song, going back to the days of Lead Belly. It tells listeners about days searching for a sign with a rising sun, signifying a brothel.
The Tracks of My Tears – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
Smokey Robinson had a hand in writing this emotional hit R&B song. The tune features a heartbroken man unable to hide his pain due to “the tracks” of his tears. It was an incredibly popular tune in 1965, winning multiple music industry awards.
Related: Broken heart? Here is our heartbreak songs list.
Alone Again Or – Love
Psychedelic rock gained a ton of ground in the ’60s, and the band Love was an early part of the psychedelic rock movement. Their tune ‘Alone Again Or’ was written by their guitarist Bryan MacLean about his mom, who was a Flamenco dancer.
Related: You won’t regret listening to these regretting songs.
Nothing But a Heartache – The Flirtations
One hit wonder, The Flirtations, scored their first and only hit with ‘Nothing But a Heartache.’ The tune was popular within the Motown movement, especially with the group having similarities to The Surpremes’ signature sound, which was a huge money-maker during the ’60s.
Yeh, Yeh – Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames
Though Georgie Fame would go on to have several more hits, his single ‘Yeh, Yeh’ has the most interesting story. When it was released, it went to number one on UK charts due to its heavy rotation on “pirate radio stations,” which were based on ships in international waters. Because of their location, they could play whatever they wanted, and this track was a common choice.
It’s Not Unusual – Tom Jones
If you watched the hit show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, in the ’90s, you remember the character Carlton Banks’ odd dance to Tom Jones’ classic hit ‘It’s Not Unusual.’ Though the song’s swinging rhythm gives it a happy tone, the lyrics are about a guy seeing his former girl out with a new beau.
Oscillations – Silver Apples
Featured on Silver Apples’ debut album by the same name, the pioneering work steering away from the conventional Beatle-esque sounds of the time still garners praise from critics to this day. ‘Oscillations’ is the first track on the album’s A-side, becoming the band’s most popular tune.
I Got You Babe – Sonny & Cher
Few couples were more recognizable in the 1960s than husband and wife music duo Sonny & Cher. Their sugary pop hit tune ‘I Got You Babe’ is a promise to each other that they’ll be there for one another no matter what.
Related: Find more songs that say baby.
Uptight (Everything’s Alright) – Stevie Wonder
This 1966 release finds Stevie Wonder madly in love. He might be strapped for cash, but he and his girl don’t care. Their dedication to one another will see them through hard times.
Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley’s powerful tune ‘Suspicious Minds’ finds him having to defend himself against an accusatory lover. The song famously contains a strange fade-out that awkwardly fades the song back in. This was a recording error from a time when analog tapes were still used in studios. People call it the song’s “scar.”
Under the Boardwalk – The Drifters
Written by Kenny Young and Arthur Resnick, this island-tinged song was recorded and released by The Drifters in 1964. One of their most popular songs, the lyrics paint the picture of a lazy beach town on a summer day.
Related: Hang ten with the best beachy music.
El Watusi – Ray Barretto
Puerto Rican band leader Ray Barretto put his own ensemble together in 1962 and recorded the record El Watusi, releasing a single to the public with the same name. Barretto’s Latin-themed record became the first of its kind to place on the Billboard top 20 charts.
Mama Tried – Merle Haggard
Before Merle Haggard became a country music songwriting legend, he spent time in prison for several petty crimes. While serving time in San Quentin, he wrote ‘Mama Tried’ in honor of his mother, who always tried to steer him back in the right direction.
Related: Hear more on our top country songs playlist.
Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison
One of the Northern Irish singer’s biggest hits, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ by Van Morrison is about more than just a summer romance. The song was originally called ‘Brown Skinned Girl’ and was about an interracial relationship.
Related: You can hear this song on our songs about girls playlist.
The “In” Crowd – The Ramsey Lewis Trio
This swinging hit is often associated with the Motown genre that was so popular in the ’60s. ‘The “In” Crowd’ originally features singer Dobie Gray singing about being a part of a popular high school “clique” and trying to impress a girl so she’ll go out with him. The Ramsey Lewis Trio later recorded a popular instrumental cover.
Louie Louie – The Kingsmen
The Kingsmen’s ‘Louie Louie’ helped establish an Afro-Cuban style and genre in America. The hit song was based on another tune, ‘El Loco Cha Cha.’ The story follows a Jamaican sailor returning home to see his lover.
The Girl From Ipanema – Stan Getz & João Gilberto ft. Antonio Carlos Jobim
Brazilian composers Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes originally wrote ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ in Portuguese. But the single became so popular in America that they added lyrics in English. The tune references a popular side of town in Rio de Janeiro.
Stand By Your Man – Tammy Wynette
Reminding women to stand by their man no matter what types of indiscretions he commits became country star Tammy Wynette’s biggest hit of her career. Despite its popularity, it received blowback from the women’s movement because of its message.
Israelites – Desmond Dekker & The Aces
One of the first mainstream reggae hits in America, Dekker’s producers worried their thick accent would turn listeners away from ‘Israelites.’ It had the opposite effect. Tons of artists ended up covering the song. The Clash played it in rehearsals all the time.
Sunshine of Your Love – Cream
After Cream bassist Jack Bruce attended a Jimi Hendrix concert, he developed a bass line that started the songwriting process for ‘Sunshine of Your Love.’ The 1967 rock tune featured psychedelic elements and hints of pop.
Related: Need some sunshine? Here are the best sunny songs.
For What It’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield
Many people associate Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’ with the anti-war movement. But when Steven Stills wrote the tune, he was speaking out against anti-loitering laws in L.A. and closing down a popular youth nightclub, Pandora’s Box.
Related: Feel at ease with our peaceful songs playlist.
54-46 That’s My Number – Toots and the Maytals
The ’60s saw a huge rise in reggae music in America (for more see our entire list of popular reggae songs), and ’54-46 That’s My Number’ was one of reggae’s big early hits in the American market. The song is about band leader Toots’ time spent in jail for a minor drug charge.
Related: Count this song on our playlist of numbers songs.
My Way – Frank Sinatra
One of Frank Sinatra’s hits late in his career, as he saw a new generation of artists coming onto the scene, he realized his time in the music industry was coming to a close. He wanted to send one final message to his fans and the industry and make it clear he did things his own way.
Related: Figure out the meaning of life with these deep songs about life.
A Change is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke
Soul singer Sam Cooke was deeply inspired by Bob Dylan’s protest song ‘Blowin’ In The Wind.’ He used that inspiration to pen ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ in honor of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Related: Need inspiration or encouragement? Listen to these songs about making changes.
These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ – Nancy Sinatra
Though Frank Sinatra is one of music’s most celebrated singers, his daughter Nancy spent a good amount of time in the spotlight with several top ten hits. Her first was ‘These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,’ a song she regretted releasing because it didn’t fit her personality at all.
Related: Step over to our list of footwear songs.
Tramp – Otis Redding and Carla Thomas
Both Otis Redding and Carla Thomas were artists on the record label Stax. The label had Redding record several duets with female singers, including ‘Tramp.’ The song is tongue-in-cheek, with Thomas playfully joking with Redding through some of the lyrics.
Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond
Neil Diamond’s famous hit, jukebox favorite ‘Sweet Caroline’ (Bum! Bum! Bum!), was written for his second wife, Marcia. When he was writing it, though, Marcia didn’t work with the beat of the song, so he had to come up with a three-syllable name, and Caroline was the first he wrote down.
Related: Find more great sing along songs.
Mustang Sally – Wilson Pickett
Wilson Pickett’s ‘Mustang Sally’ is such a timeless, genre-defining song it even has its own line dance. The tune tells the story of a wild girl running around town with the fancy car her sugar daddy bought her.
Related: Go for a drive with our driving songs playlist.
River Deep – Mountain High – Ike & Tina Turner
A song about one’s complete devotion to their sweetheart, the same theme showed up in other popular hits like ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.’ Nature’s toughest obstacles are used as symbols of commitment and love.
Related: Climb over to our mountain songs playlist.
Happy Together – The Turtles
While listeners often view The Turtles’ song ‘Happy Together’ as a love song, bandmembers have previously stated the tune is actually about unrequited love. The lyrics portray a man desperate for a girl to see how perfect they would be together, but she has no interest.
Related: Relax with our retirement songs playlist.
Blowin’ in the Wind – Bob Dylan
Folk icon Bob Dylan’s hit ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ has meant many things to many different people over the years. For soul artist Sam Cooke, it was a powerful civil rights song. Dylan wrote the powerful tune in about 10 minutes.
Related: You’ll be blown away by these windy songs.
To Be Young, Gifted, and Black – Nina Simone
Songwriter Nina Simone was good friends with playwright Lorraine Hansberry who wrote A Raisin In The Sun. Hansbury became the first African-American woman to have a play performed on broadway. Simone wrote ‘To Be Young, Gifted, and Black’ in honor of her.
God Only Knows – The Beach Boys
Brian Wilson’s ‘God Only Knows’ was entirely different than The Beach Boys’ signature sound when it was released in 1966 on their Pet Sounds album. With lyrics exploring spirituality, the band put it on the B side of the record because they thought radio stations wouldn’t play it since “god” was in the title.
Related: Hear this song on the Boogie Nights soundtrack.
Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones
Frontman Mick Jagger uses ‘Gimme Shelter’ as a metaphor for the “storm” society was facing at the time of the song’s release. The single was a respite from tragedies such as the Vietnam War, the shocking news stories about Charles Manson, and civil unrest.
Related: Here is our songs about storms playlist.
Tomorrow Never Knows – The Beatles
Beatles drummer Ringo Starr used ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ as one of his unique forms of expression. It is a riff off of the phrase “tomorrow never comes.” John Lennon has stated that he viewed the tune as his first real attempt at “psychedelic” music.
Related: See more songs on our sunset songs playlist.
Think – Aretha Franklin
Soul queen Aretha Franklin made her 1968 hit song ‘Think’ into one of the anthems associated with the women’s empowerment movement that would take place in the ’70s. She co-wrote it with her manager and husband, Teddy White. It was one of her 20 number one hits.
Related: Go to our playlist of songs about thinking of you.
I Want You Back – Jackson 5
A song about a guy who is trying to get his girl back, who he took for granted, the Jackson 5’s song ‘I Want You Back’ launched their career when it quickly went to number one. They enjoyed a string of hits after that, including ‘ABC’ and ‘I’ll Be There.’
Related: You can hear this song on the Guardians of the Galaxy mixtape.