Ronettes#1 – The Ronettes – “Be My Baby” – (1963)

This song is the epitome of the Phil Spector sound that dominated the early 1960s. It’s one of the greatest songs of all time and was released as a single in the fall of 1963 (even through this ridiculously-titled album wasn’t released until the end of 1964). Spector’s process for creating this song influenced music for decades to come. It was the song that gave Brian Wilson the inspiration for pretty much everything he did after he heard it. And the stuff Brian Wilson was doing in the 1960s influenced pretty much everyone after him, including The Beatles, who themselves were, I guess, kind of influential.

220px-TheKingsmenInPerson#2 – The Kingsmen – “Louie Louie” – (1963)

This might be the earliest popular example of that dirty, garage rock sound. A cover of a cover, Portland-based The Kingsmen ran this version up the charts and it’s become a classic. It achieved controversy in its day because apparently the lyrics are naughty, but I’m not sure how anyone could tell because the singer basically slurs half the song. The Kingsmen split into two rival bands before this reached maximum fame and a long legal battle ensued. Wikipedia has a borderline hilarious entry on this song… it’s like someone is writing their senior thesis on it. It’s pretty weird.

IfYouWannaBeHappy45#3 – Jimmy Soul – “If You Wanna Be Happy” – (1963)

While I appreciate Jimmy Soul’s attempt at advice, it seems a little rude doesn’t it? There’s no rule that says ugly women can cook. I love the tempo of this song, especially considering it was 1963, just three years after Bert Kaempfert had a #1 hit. 

220px-The_Angels_LP#4 – The Angels – “My Boyfriend’s Back” – (1963)

This #1 hit was originally written for the Shirelles, but was released by the Angels instead, becoming their biggest hit and making them a one-hit wonder. It’s a good example of the early-60s girl group sound.

Ring_of_Fire_-_The_Best_of_Johnny_Cash#5 – Johnny Cash – “Ring of Fire” – (1963)

This has to be one of Johnny Cash’s signature songs, if not the signature song. It’s at least his most widely known. It’s one of his biggest hits, topping the country charts for seven weeks, something this is nigh impossible these days with country music turning over hits on a weekly basis. Gotta love any song with Mariachi-style horns!

PleasePleaseMe_audio_cover#6 – The Beatles – “Love Me Do” – (1963)

In their early days, the Beatles were excellent at writing simple, catchy pop songs. This exemplifies that nearly as well as any song they recorded. This was their first single in the U.K. (it wasn’t a single in the U.S. until 1964, when it went to #1). Interestingly, the earliest recordings of this track, because of their age, are in the public domain in Europe.


5099994834659_1300x1300_300dpi#7 – Jan & Dean – “Surf City” – (1963)

Surf music strikes again in ’63. Surf City sounds like a great place as there are two girls for every body – good enough anyway to take this to #1. Let’s talk about how this might be the weirdest album of all time. Surf City an Other Swingin’ Cities. Literally every track on this album is about a specific place in the U.S… from “Honolulu Lulu” to “Tallahassee Lassie.” Yep.

Meet_the_Searchers#8 – The Searchers – “Love Potion No. 9” – (1963)

Recorded by a number of artists (including, originally, The Clovers in 1959), “Love Potion No. 9” was the biggest hit for Liverpool, England’s The Searchers. The song also charted best when recorded by these guys: it went to #3 in 1963. 

220px-Surfin'USACover#9 – The Beach Boys – “Surfin’ U.S.A.” – (1963)

“If everybody had an ocean… across the USA” – the opening lyrics to this song are so iconic that this song has become synonymous with the Beach Boys. And I love the Beach Boys… but this song is slightly problematic. It reached #3 in 1963 (and #36 in 1974, strangely) – but it’s just lyrics. The music is “Sweet Little Sixteen” by Chuck Berry. Like, they didn’t sample it, they just used it an Weird Al’d their own lyrics in there. The result is great, as is Berry’s original, but Chuck deserves some credit here.

60171#10 – Freddie and the Dreamers – “I’m Telling You Now” – (1963)

We’ll call this “early British invasion.” It sounds a lot like the stuff the Beatles were putting out circa 1963. And it was good enough to propel this song to #1 in the U.S. (albeit on a re-release in 1965). So maybe this was “too early” British invasion.

e9f7ef69d0183afa2de7ffb3e63206ae#11 – The Surfaris – “Wipe Out” – (1963)

Surf rock was in in 1963. This was a #2 hit for the cleverly-named Surfaris. It’s a rocking instrumental with just two words spoken at the beginning in a creepy, laughing-like way: “Wipe out!” The drumming here is particularly excellent.

220px-Bob_Dylan_-_The_Freewheelin'_Bob_Dylan#12 – Bob Dylan – “Blowin’ in the Wind” – (1963)

If you think of it in terms of career longevity, this might be the “newest” song on this 1963 list. While most of the top songs of 1963 are the sort of the end of their era, this was a beginning. This is from his second studio album and wasn’t necessarily a big hit in its day, but has quite a legacy, being named #14 on Rolling Stone‘s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list.

MI0000810841#13 – The Four Seasons – “Walk Like a Man” – (1963)

Man, listen to Frankie Valli hit those high notes at the beginning of this song. This was the third #1 hit for the Four Seasons. Whenever I hear it, I can only think of the Broadway, play Jersey Boys and the weird in-sync, in-place marching they do when they sing this. Apparently walking like a man means doing it in place and rigidly moving your arms.

220px-Then_He_Kissed_Me#14 – The Crystals – “And Then He Kissed Me” – (1963)

Before Motown’s girl groups there was Phil Spector. While not a number one hit, this is one of The Cyrstals best-remembered songs, perhaps because it was famously used in the legendary tracking shot from Goodfellas

The_Rooftop_Singers_-_Walk_Right_In#15 – The Rooftop Singers – “Walk Right In” – (1963)

Folk music definitely had its place prior to Bob Dylan and the quite political folk scene of the mid-1960s. Originally recorded in 1929, this version went to #1 for the Rooftop Singers, a folk trio who formed specifically to record this song. This is one of those songs most people know or can at least recognize the melody, even if they don’t realize it was a big hit from the 1960s.

220px-Elvis_Devil_in_Disguise#16 – Elvis Presley – “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise” – (1963)

We’re getting back to that point in time where Elvis was still churning out hits (prior to his late-60s revival). This #3 hit and was Elvis’ last top ten single on the R&B charts (who knew he had so many R&B singles?). 1963 was sort of the end of the road for Elvis’ unstoppable chart success. It would be years before he had another, memorable, smash hit (Christmas music not included).

Bluevelvet#18 – Bobby Vinton – “Blue Velvet” – (1963)

Immortalized by David Lynch’s movie of the same name, Bobby Vinton’s 1963 #1 hit is one of the best vocals of 1963. Lynch, correctly, points out that the mood of this song matches the mood of his film, and it does. This song has a certain mood about it and it still holds up 50+ years later.

R-5778530-1402408918-7949.jpeg#19 – The Chantays – “Pipeline” – (1963)

Imagine someone trying to release a hit single that is an instrumental in today’s world. Not gonna happen. Surf rock was huge in the early 1960s and had enough steam to put this into the top five. Over time it’s become one of the classic surf rock tracks.

51WRNaxdynL#20 – Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs – “Sugar Shack” – (1963)

This light rock song from New Mexico-based Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs was a #1 hit in 1963. Strangely, the guy who wrote the song gave the rights to his aunt as a gift. I like to imagine this being done prior to it becoming a big hit and the guy trying to wrestle the rights back after the fact.

2646959#9 – Dusty Springfield – “I Only Want To Be With You” – (1963)

Released at the tail end of 1963, this was English-singer Dusty Springfield’s debut single. It was upbeat, has horns, and Dusty’s vocal delivery has never given any hint to her British-ness. Somehow, it only managed to hit #12 in the U.S., while it peaked at #4 in the U.K.

R-2883539-1364799570-9512.jpeg#15 – Wayne Newton – “Danke Schoen” – (1963)

Immortalized by Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “Danke Schoen” is Wayne Newton’s signature song. It was originally recorded by Bert Kaempfert as an instrumental under a different title. In case you were wondering, like I always have, Wayne Newton was 21 years old when he recorded this song.

#15 – Byron Lee & The Dragonaires – “Kingston Calypso” – (1963)

In addition to the well known “Bond Theme,” the first James Bond movie, Dr. No, had a secondary theme song – this one. As strange as it seems, “Kingston Calypso,” – which is a cool, tropical calypso track, fit the exotic beach-filled movie quite well. I like tropical sounding music and that’s why this is almost halfway up the list. It was composed by Monty Norman – who also wrote the Bond theme – but was recorded for the soundtrack by Byron Lee & The Dragonaires, a Jamaican calypso and ska group that really opened the world up to Caribbean music. And this film was a major launching pad for that.

#24 – Matt Monro – “From Russia With Love” – (1963)

While From Russia With Love is one of the best Bond movies, it’s theme song is stuck in the lounge-singing era of the early 1960s. If it wasn’t connected to the James Bond franchise, it would be just another forgettable love song that probably wouldn’t even have charted.

Andy Williams – “Medley: Happy Holidays/The Holiday Season” – (1963)

This is a classic 1960s Christmas song. There are the back-up singers just highlighting random things. “He’ll be coming down the chimney, down.” And Andy is at his best: “So hoop-dee-doo and dickory-dock.” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” gets all the love but I’ve noticed this song getting more and more airplay every year. I heard recently that Andy Williams announced that he has cancer, which sucks because he’s got a great voice and he’s a classic entertainer. Like just a solid guy – you look at his Wikipedia article and you don’t see a section called “Controversy” or anything like that. This is among his best work.