alongcomestheassociation#9 – The Association – “Along Comes Mary” – (1966)

The Association had quite a few hits, none better than this. Peaking at #7, this thinly-veiled song about marijuana was the perfect gateway for pop audiences into the music of the counterculture movement that was gaining steam across the country. It’s a perfect piece of mid-60s pop.

220px-black_is_black_album#10 – Los Bravos– “Black is Black” – (1966)

Los Bravos were actually from Madrid, Spain, and they released this awesome psychedelic-twinged rock record in 1966. It was a top five hit in the U.S. and U.K. (and a #1 in Canada), making them the first Spanish band to have an international hit song.

lou-christie#11 – Lou Christie – “Lightnin’ Strikes” – (1965)

Released right at the end of 1965, “Lightnin’ Strikes” combines girl group-style backing vocals with his own high pitched wailing. It was a #1 hit and Christie almost seemed to have a Frankie Valli-like ability to hit some really high notes. It’s a great song.

220px-fontellabassthenewlook#12 – Fontella Bass – “Rescue Me” – (1966)

Remarkably, this huge memorable hit never made it to #1 on the Hot 100, it peaked at #4. This was Fontella Bass’ biggest hit – but it’s just as good a vocal as Aretha’s “Respect” and it’s kind of crazy she didn’t have the same career trajectory Aretha had.

right5001z#13 – The Righteous Brothers – “(Your My) Soul and Inspiration” – (1966)

Damn could these guys sing. I’m not sure there’s a better track to hear these two belt out lyrics than this one. A #1 hit, it was their first successful single since leaving producer Phil Spector. Unfortunately, it was their last major hit until 1974 when they put out one more.

220px-the_vogues#14 – The Vogues – “Five O’Clock World” – (1966)

Also known as one of the theme songs to The Drew Carey Show this awesome hit is from the Pittsburgh-based vocal group The Vogues. That’s right, they are just singing to an already awesome backing track. It should be the theme for every person that works a 9-to-5. The tempo is quick and it’s a great rock song… just sung by a a non-rock band. It was also featured in Good Morning, Vietnam, cementing its place among other Vietnam-era hits.

donovan-sunshine_superman#15 – Donovan – “Sunshine Superman” – (1966)

This is one of the most psychedelic songs that ever made a real dent on the charts. In fact, it was a #1 hit and is considered one of the first examples of psychedelia – and if you listen to it, it’ll smack you in the face. It’s trippy. Donovan helped usher in a new era of music that would really take off in 1966.

supremes-a-go-go#16 – The Supremes– “You Can’t Hurry Love” – (1966)

Famously (and successfully) covered by Phil Collins, this #1 hit from the Supremes is among their best (and most upbeat) songs. Written by the legendary Holland-Dozier-Holland, Collins would also make it a #1 hit. Fun fact: the Supremes also recorded an Italian version.

220px-revolver#17 – The Beatles – “Eleanor Rigby” – (1966)

Revolver was a Beatles album from 1966 that featured quite a few hits, none better than “Eleanor Rigby.” There is a string section on this song that really makes for a great, haunting sound, which is appropriate because it’s kind of a sad song. It peaked just outside the top 10 in the U.S. at #11.

lil_red#18 – Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs – “Li’l Red Riding Hood” – (1966)

Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs had multiple big hits, with this being among the best. It’s a rock song but if it came out today it would probably be considered pop. But it doesn’t matter what you call it – how many popular songs have there been based around folk tales?  Not many.

220px-96tearsalbum#19 – ? and the Mysterians – “96 Tears” – (1966)

Has a catchier organ hook ever been recorded? Let’s start with the fact that “Question Mark and the Mysterians” is one of the greatest successful band names of all time. From Michigan, the “garage rock” band helped usher in the era of psychedelic rock with this #1 hit. The band is considered one of the first musical acts whose sound could be described as “punk rock.” We’ll let you decide…

mi0002782768#20 – Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels – “Devil With a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly” – (1966)

This song is a medley of two songs originally recorded by other artists. “Devil With a Blue Dress On” was originally done by Shorty Long and “Good Golly, Miss Molly” was a Little Richard hit from the 1950s. Ryder and crew turned the tempo up and made it into a great mid-1960s rock song, making it their signature song and a top five hit.

mi0000030065#21 – The New Vaudeville Band – “Winchester Cathedral” – (1966)

1966 was the year that things really started to get groovy. And the song we’re kicking off this year with makes it pretty clear. This was a novelty song recorded by Geoff Stephens and some session musicians. When it became an unexpected hit (#1 in the U.S.) he had to assemble a band to tour. This one hit-wonder has a really funky sound and is the perfect gateway to a year that would define the sound of the 60s.

220px-get_rich_or_die_tryin50 Cent feat. Nate Dogg – “21 Questions” – (2003)

This was 50 Cent’s second single and his second #1 hit. Hilariously, this was the only single from the album not to need a Parental Advisory sticker. What makes it good? Nate Dogg, of course, who is always the best part of anything he was ever a part of. He had the best voice in hip-hop. The best lyric of this song: “I love you like a fat kid loves cake.”

41b2nxwzv1lJohn Williams – “20th Century Fox Fanfare” – (1980)

You probably didn’t notice, but a few months ago I did three songs in a row: the first with “16” in the title, then “17” and “18.” This week we are doing 19-21 and there aren’t a whole lot of songs with “20” in the title, hence this. The iconic 20th Century Fox intro music was originally composed and recorded by Alfred Newman in 1933 and later updated to the version we now recognize in 1954. John Williams recorded a new version of it in 1980 for The Empire Strikes Back. It was later released on a Star Wars box set in 1993 (see image). Not sure there’s a more iconic sound to start a movie… other than maybe MGM’s lion roar… but we won’t feature that here…

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.