37 Best 60s Rock Songs

Best ‘60s Rock Songs

Rock and roll underwent a seismic shift in the '60s. Building on the traditional sounds of the '50s, the next decade's musicians employed a swirl of blues, soul, and psychedelia.

As the counterculture movement grew, so did their music. Turn on with our far-out list of the best '60s rock songs.

Contents

1. “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen

Song year: 1963

Portland, Oregon's The Kingsmen changed the face of rock and roll with their raw, garage rock version of “Louie Louie.”

The raucous and incoherent song was a runaway hit with teens, leading concerned parents to complain. The FBI went so far as to investigate the song.

2. “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by The Stooges

Song year: 1969

The debut single from The Stooges, “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” was a ragged rock and roll song that was instrumental in developing punk and metal.

Singer Iggy Pop's live performances are legendary for their cathartic violence. Even on the record, he gives off an air of danger.

3. “Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan

Song year: 1965

Bob Dylan's “Like a Rolling Stone” is one of the most influential songs in history. The song marked Dylan's transformation from a folk artist to a rock and roll star.

The song's length was revolutionary for a rock single at the time, while its poetic imagery paved the way for the more lyrical songwriting of the late '60s.

4. “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream

Song year: 1967

Eric Clapton's blues-rock band Cream scored their only chart hit with the iconic single “Sunshine of Your Love.”

Inspired to write the song after seeing Jimi Hendrix in concert, the single would be instrumental in shaping the blues-heavy rock and roll sound of the '70s.

5. “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix Experience

Song year: 1967

One of the most famous songs of the psychedelic rock era, Jimi Hendrix Experience's “Purple Haze” is a masterful mix of styles and sounds.

By combing jazz chords with a mixture of Eastern and Western-influenced scales, Hendrix pushed the boundaries of guitar playing. All the more impressive is that he did it while writing catchy songs.

6. “My Generation” by The Who

Song year: 1965

The Who's Roger Daltry famously stutters his way through “My Generation,” the band's signature song.

The rollicking blues-inspired mod rock song is full of nervy energy that sounds like the punk music that would follow a decade later. The band would become one of the biggest of their generation.

7. “Turn Turn Turn” by The Byrds

Song year: 1965

Originally written as a folk song by Pete Seeger, The Byrds' single “Turn! Turn! Turn!” was a number one hit and helped define the sound of folk rock.

The song's biblical lyrics mixed with the band's chiming twelve-string guitars make this song an enduring classic that manages to sound of its time and timeless at once.

8. “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Song year: 1969

Creedence Clearwater Revival wrote an anti-war song for the ages with their single “Fortunate Son.” The single is now synonymous with the Vietnam War and is often used in media portraying the era.

The song is unique in its critique of war coming from the perspective of class consciousness.

9. “Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane

Song year: 1967

Psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane was one of the first San Francisco bands to explode onto America's main stage with the single “Somebody to Love.”

The band helped the hippie movement gain widespread recognition, and their psychedelic sound is still influencing bands half a century later.

10. “California Dreamin’” by The Mamas & The Papas

Song year: 1965

The Mamas and The Papa's scored a hit single with “California Dreamin',” an ode to the sunshine of California from the perspective of someone stuck in the cold.

California was the epicenter of the counterculture that began to take hold in the '60s, making the single a de facto theme song for the hippie movement.

11. “Green Onions” by Booker T. & The MGs

Song year: 1962

With its iconic Hammond M3 organ sound, Booker T. & the M.G.'s “Green Onions” is one of the most recognizable instrumental songs ever.

The group would become the backing band for most Stax Records releases, cementing their mix of soul and rock as one of the defining sounds of the '60s.

12. “Oh, Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison

Song year: 1964

Roy Orbison topped the Billboard charts with his single “Oh Pretty Woman.” The song's distinct guitar intro and heavy-hitting drums are a perfect marriage of soul and rock, making this track a signature of Roy Orbison.

The song was used in the '90s film Pretty Woman, proving its universal appeal endures.

13. “Sympathy For The Devil” by The Rolling Stones

Song year: 1968

Mick Jagger sings from the perspective of Satan in the Rolling Stones' rock and roll classic “Sympathy for the Devil.”

This controversial single follows Satan's accounts of world history, ultimately conceding that the real devil is humanity itself. The song remains a high watermark for rock music and a signature song of the Stones.

14. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Stills & Nash

Song year: 1969

Judy Collins was the inspiration behind the Crosby, Stills & Nash song “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” Stephen Stills wrote the track for Collins, his then-girlfriend, as he felt their relationship was falling apart.

The song is unique for its use of classical music song structure. In particular, the song's final coda has been covered, sampled, or parodied numerous times.

15. “Born Under a Bad Sign” by Albert King

Song year: 1967

Albert King's single “Born Under a Bad Sign” was a crossover blues hit. The track employed R&B rhythms and the '60s growing fascination with astrology to make one of the most influential blues songs ever.

Today the song is considered a blues standard. Its influence is vital to the development of rock.

16. “Good Times Bad Times” by Led Zeppelin

Song year: 1969

While Led Zeppelin's first single, “Good Times Bad Times,” wasn't nearly the smash hit that the band would have in their future, it did signal the beginning of a new bombastic era in rock and roll.

With its iconic bassline, frantic drum fills, and swirling guitar solo, “Good Time Bad Times” was our first chance to get the Led out.

17. “Wild Thing” by The Troggs

Song year: 1966

The Troggs topped the charts with their garage rock single “Wild Thing.” The band straddles the line between danger and love expertly, with the sing-along nature of the chorus anchoring their punkish performance.

In two and a half minutes, The Troggs turn a love song into a riotous affair.

18. “She’s Not There” by The Zombies

Song year: 1964

Taking lyrical influence from the John Lee Hooker song “On One Told Me,” The Zombies wrote their jazz-inspired British rock song “She's Not There” around the strength of keyboardist Rod Argent's electric piano.

The band's combination of blues phrasing, jazz chords, and British beat rhythms made them stand out amongst the wave of '60s English groups.

19. “Gloria” by Them

“Gloria” by Them

Song year: 1964

Before Van Morrison's storied solo career, he was the lead singer in the Irish garage rock band Them.

The band's most enduring single, “Gloria,” is a three-chord protopunk anthem about teenage lust that never deviates from its ragged, simple structure. Its simplicity has made it an enduring entry in the rock canon.

20. “96 Tears” by ? & the Mysterians

Song year: 1966

? & The Mysterians had the fifth-ranked Billboard chart song in all of 1966 with their single “96 Tears.” The song is an iconic example of the groovy garage rock sound that emanated from the midwest during the mid-'60s.

The band was a precursor to the heavier groups of the late '60s like the MC5 and The Stooges.

21. “Have Love, Will Travel” by The Sonics

Song year: 1965

Initially an R&B single by Richard Berry, The Sonics took the protopunk garage rock approach to their recording of “Have Love, Will Travel.”

The resulting song was a hit in their native Pacific Northwest and inspired dozens of other versions. Many critics credit the single with laying the foundation for the next decade's punk rock sound.

22. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Bob Dylan

Song year: 1965

Bob Dylan's first top 40 hit, “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” was also his first single to feature an electric sound.

Dylan's move away from folk to rock was in sound only, as his lyrics maintained folk and Beat poet lyrical influences. The song's images paint a picture of the turmoil of the '60s set to boil over.

23. “River Deep – Mountain High” by Ike & Tina Turner

Song year: 1966

While Ike & Tina Turner's “River Deep — Mountain High” did not perform well in America upon its release, it is now considered one of the greatest songs ever.

With producer Phil Spector at the helm, the song's bombastic swirl of R&B and rock required tens of thousands of dollars to record and 21 session musicians to produce.

24. “Ticket To Ride” by The Beatles

Song year: 1965

With its droning chords and heavy drumming, The Beatles' “Ticket To Ride” marks a departure from their earlier pop-centric sound and a preview of the experimentation that would define the back half of their career.

The single became another in a long line of number one hits for the Fab Four in the U.K. and U.S.

25. “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield

Song year: 1966

Buffalo Springfield, featuring a young Stephen Stills and Neil Young, wrote the most enduring counterculture anthem of their era with the single “For What It's Worth.”

The song's guitar harmonics and chorus are immediately recognizable and synonymous with the Vietnam War and hippie culture.

26. “Everyday People” by Sly & The Family Stone

Song year: 1968

Sly and the Family Stone's signature song, “Everyday People” is a slice of psychedelic soul that topped the Billboard charts for four weeks at the beginning of 1969.

The song's themes of racial unity were particularly notable during the unrest of the late '60s, particularly after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

27. “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and the Shondells

Song year: 1968

Tommy James and the Shondells had the biggest hit of their career with the psychedelic-tinged pop single “Crimson and Clover.”

The title for the vibrato-drenched song came to James in a dream. After recording a rough mix, the song was leaked to the airwaves by a local Chicago radio DJ. The public loved it, rushing the rough mix into production.

28. “Piece of My Heart” by Janis Joplin w/ Big Brother & The Holding Company

Song year: 1968

Big Brother & the Holding Company's “Piece of My Heart” is one of the signature recordings of powerhouse vocalist Janis Joplin.

Joplin would die tragically young, but the few recordings she left behind leave her without question on the rock and roll Mount Rushmore of singers.

29. “Light My Fire” by The Doors

Song year: 1967

The Doors' jazzy influenced psychedelic rock single “Light My Fire” was just the group's second release, but it shot to the top of the charts and catapulted the band to stardom.

With their unique rhythms, organ sounds, and enigmatic lead singer, The Doors would become one of the most influential countercultural rock bands of the '60s.

30. “The Twist” by Chubby Checker

Song year: 1960

Not only did Chubby Checker's “The Twist” become a rock and roll hit, but its ubiquity in the culture found adults accepting the rock and roll sound for the first time.

With exposure from American Bandstand, the song became one of the biggest dance fads and rock songs of the early '60s.

31. “Kick Out the Jams” by MC5

Song year: 1969

MC5's notorious single “Kick Out the Jams” is a flashpoint for heavy music. The chaotic energy of the band is a precursor to metal and punk.

The band's devil may care attitude and aggressive lyrics got them banned from department stores and radio stations, but the impact of their music far outweighs their place on the music charts.

32. “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks

Song year: 1964

The Kinks solidified their status as one of the premier British Invasion bands with the protopunk flavored single “You Really Got Me.”

The track would be the Kinks' first hit to reach the top ten in the U.S. and inspire hundreds of garage rock imitators. Two decades later, the hard rock band Van Halen would cover the song as their first single.

33. “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by The Animals

Song year: 1965

The Animals blend R&B with British Invasion rock and roll on their Nina Simone cover, “Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood.”

The song's unique sound earned the band global chart success and is an early example of the soul/rock blending that would begin in earnest during the '60s.

34. “Season of the Witch” by Donovan

Song year: 1966

While his career began as a Dylan-esque folk troubadour, by 1966's “Season of the Witch,” Donovan had come into his own as a fantasy-inspired psychedelic rocker.

There are rumors that Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page played on the track. Though they aren't substantiated, they just go to show how heavy Donovan's creepy tale is.

35. “For Your Love” by The Yardbirds

Song year: 1965

The Yardbirds' grew a reputation as a springboard for the career of amazing guitarists. Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton all played with the group at one time.

The group's biggest hit came with Clapton behind the ax. Though the band could shred, “For Your Love” is most notable for its use of a harpsichord.

36. “Walk, Don’t Run” by The Ventures

Song year: 1960

Surf-rock band The Ventures didn't hail from sunny California but rainy Tacoma, Washington. Despite the lack of sun and surf, they managed a number two hit with their surf version of the jazz track “Walk, Don't Run.”

The song was the band's first hit and established them as the premier instrumental surf rock group.

37. “I’m Waiting For The Man” by The Velvet Underground & Nico

Song year: 1967

The Velvet Underground took a sprawling lyrical approach akin to Bob Dylan in “I'm Waiting for the Man,” their story of scoring heroin in Harlem.

The song's jangling guitars and incessant rhythm section help hold the plain-spoken lyrics of Lou Reed above the chaos, creating a guide for New York's future are rock scene.

Top ‘60s Rock Songs, Final Thoughts

The '60s were an important decade for music. Innovations in technology allowed musicians to experiment with new sounds, and societal changes gave power to bands to challenge cultural norms.

The '60s' melting pot of musical ideas built a bridge from the rock and roll of the '50s to the punk, grunge, and metal of the late 20th century. We hope you enjoyed the best rock songs of the '60s. Peace!

P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.