220px-Elvis_presley_nowornever#2 – Elvis Presley – “It’s Now or Never” – (1960)

Oh well, this single was released in the middle of 1960. It’s Elvis’ second-best-selling single and one of the biggest singles of all time. I consider it to be the greatest vocal performance there is. It’s based on “O Sole Mio,” the famous Italian song. A #1 hit, it is said the song was written in about 30 minutes.


220px-Hi-werethemiracles-1961#3 – The Miracles – “Shop Around” – (1961)

Written by Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson, this song was recorded by the group that would later become Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. It’s immensely catchy in its vocal delivery and tells the story of a woman who tells her son to date a bunch of women. It peaked at #2 on the pop charts.

Runaway_(Del_Shannon_song)_single_cover#4 – Del Shannon – “Runaway” – (1961)

What a great song. This might be the epitome of post-1950s, pre-Beatles rock and roll. It was a #1 hit, Shannon’s biggest, and has been covered and featured countless times. Tom Petty must be a fan of this song because he references it in “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and actually recorded it as part of the Traveling Wilburys, which led to rumors that Del Shannon was going to join the group… which would’ve been awesome.

Cupid_Sam_Cooke#5 – Sam Cooke – “Cupid” – (1961)

Man, I wish Sam Cooke would’ve lived longer. We missed out on a lot of good music. This song peaked at #17 and was written by Cooke himself. I want to say this is one of hist most recognizable songs, but I feel like that can be said of about 10 different Sam Cooke songs.

220px-At_Last_-_Etta_James#6 – Etta James – “At Last” – (1960)

This is one of the greatest songs of all time. It’s Etta’s signature song but was originally written for a movie in 1941 where it was performed by Glenn Miller. It only reached #47 on the Hot 100, but it’s since been enshrined in the Grammy Hall of Fame and in wedding videos from coast to coast.

R-4060042-1353886337-7710.jpeg#7 – The Tokens – “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” – (1961)

I couldn’t spell the famous opening of this song if I had to. But they do say “Wimoweh” quite a lot. It was used in The Lion King but this is the most famous version, hitting #1 on the pop chart. Also, that guy in the middle below looks like Drew Carey.

JumpUpCalypso#8 – Harry Belafonte – “Jump in the Line” – (1961)

If it didn’t sound like it was recorded by a live band in pre-Castro Cuba, I would’ve had no idea this song was as old as it is. It’s way more upbeat than just about anything from this era. This Calypso classic was written in 1946, Belafonte did his version in ’61 and it gained huge attention in 1988 when it was featured in Beetlejuice.

R-2545674-1289779843.jpeg#9 – B. Bumble and the Stingers – “Bumble Boogie” – (1961)

The awesomely-named B. Bumble and the Stingers were an instrumental group that recorded rock versions of classical music, including this take on Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee” that is definitely more fun than the original.

220px-Shirelles_tonight's_the_night#10 – The Shirelles – “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” – (1961)

This was the first girl group #1 hit. Written by Carole King and her husband Gerry Goffin, this is the earliest “modern” (i.e. not the Andrews Sisters) girl group song I can think of. It set the stage for everything that came after it, from the Ronettes, to the Supremes, to Destiny’s Child.

R-1477843-1306806466.jpeg#11 – Connie Francis – “No One” – (1961)

Nearly every Connie Francis record has great vocals. This is among the best. It’s almost Patsy Cline-like, but with an Italian flair. I feel like Connie could’ve recorded a completely alternate soundtrack to West Side Story featuring original songs. What a voice.

R-2931300-1374419307-9225.jpeg.jpg#12 – Floyd Cramer – “On the Rebound” – (1961)

Floyd Cramer was a pianist who worked in country music in Nashville. In 1961 he released an album that contained this very distinctly not country song. It’s a somewhat jazzy instrumental with rock (and okay, a little country) elements.


Ricky_nelson_-_cover_is_21#13 – Ricky Nelson – “Travelin’ Man” – (1961)

If you listen, you can tell that this song was written for Sam Cooke (whose manager rejected it). It even has that chord progression that “Another Saturday Night” has (so much so that I thought that one of them ripped the other off and am still convinced of it). It hit number one and still  is a favorite of mine on oldies stations.

R-2395162-1459710174-7309.jpeg#14 – Bruce Channel – “Hey! Baby” – (1962)

This #1 hit, released as a single in December of 1961, has become a popular song among collegiate marching bands. It’s got great harmonica and could be heard in the movie Dirty Dancing.

R-3031020-1312499893.jpeg#15 – Jorgen Ingmann – “Apache” – (1960)

Released in November of 1960, this song hit #2 on the Hot 100 in 1961. Written by Jerry Lorden, the song was originally recorded by Bert Weedon and later The Shadows, but Ingmann (who is Danish), had the biggest hit with it. It was later heavily sampled by The Sugarhill Gang and then their song was sampled by Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Jump on It.” This is the rock instrumental that keeps on giving.

R-2777265-1342084633-6089.jpeg#16 – Neil Sedaka – “Calendar Girl” – (1960)

Neil Sedaka released this single at the tail end of 1960. It climbed the charts, peaking at #4 and becoming his first top five single.

R-4051077-1353605320-5137.jpeg#17 – The Church Street Five – “A Night With Daddy ‘G'” – (1960)

If this sounds pretty familiar, it’s because Gary U.S. Bonds pretty much straight took it and turned it into “Quarter to Three” – but he was nice enough to leave a lyric in there about dancing with “the Church Street Five.” It’s a funky, upbeat instrumental. This band is relatively obscure compared to Bonds.

R-1523495-1396522381-8451.jpeg#18 – The Highwaymen – “Michael” – (1961)

This #1 hit was by a folk group from Wesleyan University – not the country supergroup from the 1980s. “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” is a traditional hymnal that dates back to the Civil War. Good luck charting a traditional hymn nowadays.

220px-Patsy_Cline-_Original_Showcase#19 – Patsy Cline – “Crazy” – (1961)

Patsy Cline took this song to #2 on the country charts in 1961 (and the top ten on the Hot 100). It’s a straight-ballad, but did you know it was written by Willie Nelson (how long has Willie Nelson been around!?). It’s a great vocal performance and sounds like some of the great country vocals of the 50s.

220px-Blue_Moon_(The_Marcels_album)#20 – The Marcels – “Blue Moon” – (1961)

“Blue Moon” was written originally in 1934 and was a hit upon release by Billy Eckstine and later Mel Torme. The Marcels covered it in full doo wop style in 1961 and added some sound effects of their own to really make a standout version. It went to #1, making this version the biggest of them all.

little-caesar-and-the-romans-those-oldies-but-goodies-remind-me-of-you-delfi#21 – Little Caesar & The Romans – “Those Oldies But Goodies (Remind Me of You)” – (1961)

Welcome to 1961, when doo wop was still alive and well. Strangely, this song reminisces about older songs and looking back on it (what we consider “oldies”, i.e., songs that sounds like this) it’s like they are reminiscing about the genre they are singing, which was dying out.

220px-Bk_dontplaythatsong#1 – Ben E. King – “Stand By Me” – (1962)

The album that “Stand By Me” was released on came out in 1962. But the song itself was a #1 hit in 1961. It’s one of the greatest songs of all time, with one of the best vocal performances you’re likely to ever hear. King co-wrote it with the Leiber/Stoller team and wanted the Drifters to record it. But they passed… so he sung it himself and the rest is history.

FourSeasons-Sherry&11Others#2 – The Four Seasons – “Sherry” – (1962)

This #1 hit was written by Bob Gaudio in about 15 minutes. And it’s one of the all time great vocals. You can learn everything you need to know about how awesome Frankie Valli’s voice was just by listening to this. It was The Four Season’s first national single and, to me, remains their signature song.

117614483#3 – Little Eva – “The Loco-Motion” – (1962)

The cool part about this song, which was co-written by Carole King, is that it has charted into the top five on the Hot 100 in three different decades by three different artists. This is the original, but it was also done by Grand Funk Railroad and Kylie Minogue. Fun fact, this song was written for Dee Dee Sharp, who turned it down. So Little Eva recorded it… who at the time was Carole King’s babysitter.

220px-ILeftMyHeartInSanFranciscoLP#4 – Tony Bennett – “The Best Is Yet To Come” – (1962)

Tony Bennett released this as a single in 1961 and included it on one of his great albums, I Left My Heart in San Francisco. Some people associate this song with Sinatra, but it’s all Tony Bennett. I do like that we’re back in time to the point where some of the great jazz vocalists and pop standards singers are starting to make appearances on these yearly lists.

BookerT.&theMG'sGreenOnions#5 – Booker T. & the M.G.’s – “Green Onions” – (1962)

Here is one of the great pop music instrumentals. This song is a staple in films, especially those that take place in the early 1960s… it’s just one of those tunes you instantly recognize.