220px-themamasandthepapas-ifyoucanbelieveyoureyesandears#1 – The Mamas & the Papas – “California Dreamin'” – (1966)

Here it is – the song that defines the entire decade. Originally recorded by Barry McGuire, it was actually written by members of this group. This song marked the arrival of the entire counterculture movement and announced California as its home. It was a top five hit and has been used in numerous other works… it just has that ability to set you in a time and place like very few other songs can.

petsoundscover#2 – The Beach Boys – “God Only Knows” – (1966)

There’s only one reason this wasn’t our #1 song of 1966 and that is the fact that our #1 pick sort of defines the entire decade. This beautiful song was co-written by Brian Wilson and included on Pet Sounds, largely regarded as one of the best albums ever released. The lead vocals were actually done by Carl Wilson and it features a bunch of weird instruments including sleigh bells and the French horn. But all comes together absolutely perfectly.

220px-tempts-gettin-ready#3 – The Temptations – “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” – (1966)

Perhaps because it has been successfully covered by artists like The Rolling Stones, “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” might be the most well-known Temptations tune with the probable exception of “My Girl.” People love this song and this is without a doubt the best version.

220px-aftermath-rollingstones-usalbum-cover#4 – The Rolling Stones – “Paint It, Black” – (1966)

Anyone ever figure out what Mick Jagger has against red doors? This song actually features a sitar, and rather prominently, giving it a weird feel – one very similar to that of “Sympathy for the Devil.” This was the Stones’ third #1 hit in the U.S. and it remains one of their most well-known and popular songs.

bustop1966hollies#5 – The Hollies – “Bus Stop” – (1966)

“Bus stop. Wet day. She’s there. I say: ‘Please share my umbrella.'” This song about a rainy day waiting for a bus is actually a love song about a guy meeting a girl at the bus stop and, after chasing her for a few months, finally getting to date (and eventually) marry her. It hit #5 in the U.S. and the U.K. and it’s a fantastic pop song.

220px-hums_of_the_lovin_spoonful#6 – The Lovin’ Spoonful – “Summer in the City” – (1966)

This quickly sung song features a variety of real life noises (like car horns and jackhammers) is one of the best songs from John Sebastian’s The Lovin’ Spoonful. It was a #1 hit in the U.S. and is a song unlike many others of its era due to its rapid pace.

soundssilence#7 – Simon & Garfunkel – “The Sound of Silence” – (1966)

“Hello darkness, my old friend…” This song is as at home in a scene of helicopters blasting over Vietnam as it is a New York apartment in 1966. The song was originally released in 1964 and it flopped, splitting up S&G. But then it started getting airplay and the producer remixed the song to make it a little livelier and it became the first #1 hit of 1966. Simon & Garfunkel reunited and put out this album. And hit after hit followed.

220px-i_got_you_i_feel_good_album#8 – James Brown – “I Got You (I Feel Good)” – (1966)

That opening scream is your hint that you’re in for a funky, soulful ride on James Brown’s signature song. I’m pretty sure it’s been used in almost every movie that takes place in the 1960s. Remarkably, this was James Brown’s highest charting hit (he had 99 of them) only reaching #3. Doesn’t seem right for one of the most recognizable songs of the decade.

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.

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-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.

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.

Percy Faith & His Orchestra & Chorus – “We Need a Little Christmas” – (1966)

“We Need a Little Christmas” is a song that was written for the Broadway musical Mame. It was first recorded by Angela Lansbury, the star of the original Broadway production. But, honestly, her voice is so grating that her version of the song is nearly unlistenable. It’s way to show-tune-y. This is a fairly popular rendition with a simple choral arrangement instead of one booming female voice. Likely, this is the one that’s been playing on the radio since Thanksgiving.