steely_dan_-_gauchoSteely Dan – “Hey Nineteen” – (1980)

Not a lot of rock songs from the 1980s could be described as “beautiful.” I submit this as the exception. The jazzy instruments and overall mellow sound – coupled with classic Steely Dan vocals – add to a great, smooth soft rock tune. It actually peaked at #10 on the Hot 100. Synthesizers were in in ’80 and this track makes perfect use of them without overdoing it. It is my favorite Steely Dan song.

smileysmilecover#1 – The Beach Boys – “Good Vibrations” – (1967)

“Good Vibrations” was released as a stand alone single in October 1966. It appeared on Smiley Smile the following year but this masterpiece first came alive in the recording studio during the Boys’ recording of Pet Sounds – one of the greatest albums of all time. The full genius of Brian Wilson is on display in the mixing and recording of this track – at the time it was the most expensive song ever recorded (it would’ve cost over $500,000 in today’s dollars). Listen to the layers – there’s so much going on and it almost defines the era from which it sprang. Like it or not, what was accomplished with this lone track is pretty much responsible for about everything we’ve heard on the radio in the past few decades. 

aretha_franklin_-_i_never_loved_a_man_the_way_i_love_you#2 – Aretha Franklin – “Respect” – (1967)

One of the greatest soul records of all time, “Respect” was originally written and recorded by Otis Redding in 1965. Aretha’s cover is one of the best known songs anywhere. She took it uptempo and paved the way for female artists for decades to come.

14231337_10155239453374966_3845707010656425530_o#3 – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – (1967)

This might be the best “Motown” song (even though technically it was released on Tamla label, which is what Motown was called first). Marvin Gaye had a lot of duet hits in the 1960s and did an entire album with Tammi Terrell. It’s been covered a lot (and Diana Ross took it to #1) but this is and always will be the best version. Fun fact: this song was written by Ashford & Simpson who would have their own success about a dozen years later.

gimme_some_lovin#4 – The Spencer Davis Group – “Gimme Some Lovin'” – (1966)

Can you believe Steve Winwood, who had all those solo hits in the 1980s, was churning out amazing soul/rock records in the mid-1960s? Well he wrote this and performed it as part of the Spencer Davis Group. The song is just awesome – from the tambourine to that wailing Hammond organ. And yes, it was released at the tail end of 1966.

220px-lets_live_for_today#5 – The Grass Roots – “Let’s Live For Today” – (1967)

“Let’s Live for Today” is an underrated song for the 1960s. If you look at it in the context of Vietnam, it really should rank right up there with the best songs of the era. It was originally recorded by The Rokes in the U.K. The Grass Roots made it a hit in the U.S.

blowin-yourmind#6 – Van Morrison – “Brown Eyed Girl” – (1967)

This is one of the all-time greats. A lot of Van Morrison’s songs are… well “somber” might not be the best word, but they aren’t all really upbeat and happy. But this one is. And really, it may have been originally released in 1967, but it could’ve come out whenever. It’s timeless.

220px-fourtops-reachout-album#7 – The Four Tops – “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” – (1967)

Here is probably the best song by one of the best Motown acts of the 60s. Written by Holland-Dozier-Holland, this #1 hit remains one of the best-known soul songs of all time. The lead vocals are spot on – as are the backing vocals and great rhythm. Motown really had a way to make it all come together seamlessly. 

frankievalli#8 – Frankie Valli – “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” – (1967)

If you’ve ever seen Jersey Boys you’ll know that this song was written by Bob Guadio and Bob Crewe and was presented to Frankie Valli to record as a solo record. It ended up being a smash hit, hitting #2 in the U.S. and rivaling some of the Four Seasons best work as Frankie Valli’s best performance. It’s a classic.

220px-jeffair#9 – Jefferson Airplane – “Somebody to Love” – (1967)

This, possibly the signature song of Jefferson Airplane, was originally recorded by The Great Society, Grace Slick’s band immediately prior to this one and was written by her brother-in-law. It ended up in the top five on the Hot 100 and might be the defining song of the acid rock scene that developed in San Francisco in the late 1960s.

220px-buffalo_springfield_-_buffalo_springfield#10 – Buffalo Springfield – “For What It’s Worth” – (1966)

Released at the tail end of 1966, Buffalo Springfield (which included Stephen Stills and Neil young) had a slightly more subtle take on the protest song. It was even written about the war, but about riots in L.A. (which were counterculture clashes with police and if the counterculture was partly a result of Vietnam, then I guess it was, in a roundabout way, about the war). It was a top 10 hit and the only major hit the band had.

jackie_wilson_-_higher_and_higher#12 – Jackie Wilson – “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher” – (1967)

This top ten hit from Jackie Wilson is a great example of upbeat soul music that did not come from Motown. It’s a great vocal with a great beat and was the best song Wilson ever released.

220px-groovin#13 – The Young Rascals – “Groovin'” – (1967)

This top five album from The Young Rascals (later, The Rascals after they presumably aged a to hit whatever arbitrary age they decided they were no longer “young”) features this #1 hit. It’s a great summer song and pretty relaxing: perfect for dropping acid in the middle of a park in the 1960s.

220px-thebeatlesmagicalmysterytouralbumcover#14 – The Beatles – “All You Need Is Love” – (1967)

More like “All You Need is Copyright Law.” The hardest place to find the Beatles is YouTube. Hey, but I guess McCartney needs the money… which must be nice because he is credited as a co-writer of this song, even though John Lennon wrote it. It was a #1 all over the world, including the U.S. and U.K. Included on Magical Mystery Tour, you can just imagine this song at the heart of Swinging London.

are_you_experienced_-_us_cover-edit#15 – The Jimi Hendrix Experience – “Purple Haze” – (1967)

Jimi Hendrix may have been an incredible guitarist, but he doesn’t sound anything like his records when he performs live. This was a big hit all over the world and was only Hendrix’s second single so we can thank it for really help launch him into the mainstream.

the_turtles_-_happy_together#16 – The Turtles – “Happy Together” – (1967)

The 60s were a great time for rock and roll – but pop music had its place too. This psychedelic pop song was a #1 hit in the U.S. and, as its name implies, is just a very upbeat and happy song.

61fcdkzeqkl#17 – The Chambers Brothers – “Time Has Come Today” – (1967)

This is one of few songs that can easily be imagined to be blaring out of the side of a helicopter buzzing over Vietnam. Probably because it was used in a movie to that effect. It’s a great example of psychedelic rock. The album version of this song is 11 minutes long, but the radio version is much shorter. Also, The Chambers Brothers were four brothers from L.A. (all African-American) and they had one white guy in the band, the drummer. Which I think makes them the inverse of Hootie & the Blowfish.

supremes-sing-hdh#18 – The Supremes – “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” – (1967)

Damn The Supremes were good. Not only them: so were Lamont Dozier and Brian and Eddie Holland, who wrote this and so many other Motown hits. This song has been a #1 hit twice, first with The Supremes, and later again in the 1980s with Kim Wilde.

220px-the_feel_of_neil_diamond#19 – Neil Diamond – “Cherry, Cherry” – (1966)

Ugh. This is technically from 1966 (the year Neil Diamond released his debut album, from which this was a single). It was a top 10 hit on the Hot 100 in the fall of 1966 and remains one of Neil Diamond’s best-known and catchiest tunes.

the_youngbloods_get_together_album#20 – The Youngbloods – “Get Together” – (1967)

Those first notes of this song can really set your state of mind. It puts you right there in the flower power era. First recorded by the Kingston Trio, it became a huge hit for The Youngbloods – their only top 40 hit.

incense_and_peppermints_album#21 – Strawberry Alarm Clock – “Incense and Pepermints” – (1967)

This is about as psychedelic as psychedelic pop and rock ever got. 1967 was a great year for music – the 60s turmoil thing was in full swing. You had far out stuff like this, Motown was firing on all cylinders, and some of the best protest songs ever came out this year. This song is pure 60s. It was even a #1 hit.

220px-acloveAlice Cooper – “I’m Eighteen” – (1971)

This was Alice Cooper’s first top 40 hit – having been released as a single in the fall of 1970 ahead of the release of their third album, Love it to Death. Most of Alice Cooper’s early work seems like they were all written by someone in high school, including this temper-tantrum of a song about barely being an adult.

220px-bella_donna_albumStevie Nicks – “Edge of Seventeen” – (1981)

When an artist goes solo and has a huge hit I always wonder if their solo hit would’ve worked if it came from the band. In this case, I don’t think this would’ve made a great Fleetwood Mac song. This was her first true solo single (there were two before it but both were duets). The guitar riff was later used by Destiny’s Child on “Bootylicious.” “Edge of Seventeen” has to be Stevie Nicks’ signature solo tune, even if it (barely) failed to crack the top ten on the Hot 100.

220px-the_house_that_dirt_builtThe Heavy – “Sixteen” – (2009)

The Heavy is a British indie rock band that had one smash hit, but this follow up single didn’t get as much love. But it should – it has a very old feel and fit in really well with other songs that came out about this time (see: horns). It’s worth a listen.