With Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, Sean Connery as James Bond, and Alfred Hitchcock making everyone fear birds, pop culture was colorful in 1963.
Popular music came in a variety of genres. From the reigning favorite surf rock, to mashed-potato style dance hits, and soulful rhythm and blues; the singles charts were full of songs meant to get people moving.
Here is a breakdown of the best songs from 1963 – enjoy!
1. “Surfin' USA” by The Beach Boys
The first song on our list is one of those iconic songs in history that symbolizes an entire culture. “Surfin' USA” was a national phenomenon, though it became synonymous with California's laid-back and sunny energy.
Not many people are savvy of the fact that this American rock classic is a rewrite of a different song: “Sweet Little Sixteen” by one of rock's founding fathers Chuck Berry.
The upbeat hit mentions several surfing locations, including areas in Hawaii, Australia, and of course, California. This song hit the international music charts and gave The Beach Boys a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
2. “The End of the World” by Skeeter Davis
This country song sees many features in the media and is highly recognizable. It was released at the end of 1962 out of Nashville and reached its peak on the music charts in the spring of 1963.
It has an eerily easy-listening vibe for a song about earth-shattering heartbreak. Poetically, the song played at Skeeter Davis' own funeral.
3. “Rhythm of the Rain” by The Cascades
Number three on our list features the male ensemble vocal style popular that year, seen in The Beach Boys' success and others. It had international appeal and made chart appearances in many countries.
Some people refer to this song as a One-Hit Wonder, but it is a wonder indeed.
4. “He's So Fine” by The Chiffons
Males ensembles weren't the only ones charting in 1963. Many golden-oldie playlists feature this doo-wop pop classic by The Chiffons.
Capitol Records famously turned down “He's So Fine” on the grounds of it being too corny. The group's management team tried ten record labels before New York City's Laurie Records bought the single.
It went on to top global music charts and is now one of the most iconic songs in popular soul music history.
5. “Blue Velvet” by Bobby Vinton
This song was originally recorded and brought to fame by Tony Bennett. It has since been recorded by many artists, including Bobby Vinton. His version is the most successful.
A film titled “Blue Velvet” was inspired by the jukebox hit, which itself came from the writer's experience pining after a woman in a blue velvet dress.
6. “Hey Paula” by Paul and Paula
“Hey Paula” is a classic American pop song with all the sappy, schmaltzy sentiment you would expect from a love song of this era.
It made the music charts under the pop and R&B hit categories. It set the stage for the Paul and Paula duo to record more successful love songs.
7. “Fingertips” by Little Stevie Wonder
Number seven on our list is a unique song because it is mostly instrumental.
Stevie Wonder, going by the stage name Little Stevie Wonder at the time, played the harmonica and bongos in a now-famous live performance at Chicago's iconic Regal Theater in 1963.
The recording saw success on the R&B Singles and Pop Singles charts. The vocals are spur-of-the-moment and engage with the audience.
8. “Can't Get Used to Losing You” by Andy Williams
This song plays on the popular ensemble style by stacking the recording artist's vocals. It was massively popular in the UK and the US, topping Easy-Listening music charts.
9. “My Boyfriend's Back” by The Angels
Deemed one of the 100 Greatest Girl Group Songs ever by Billboard, this catchy 1960s anthem never gets old.
It has been covered by too many other recording artists to count. It has been in marketing campaigns, feature films, television series, and a Broadway production.
10. “Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto
This song made its way to American music charts from Japan. Its catchy melody has vast global recognition.
“Sukiyaki” is not the original song title but rather an American nickname given to be more easily said and remembered by English-speaking listeners. Sukiyaki is a traditional Japanese beef dinner, unrelated to the song's romantic and poetic context.
Despite American pop culture's warping of the song, it captured our hearts and our ears.
11. “So Much in Love” by The Tymes, Good Music From 1963
True to early 1960s fashion, this hit features a vocal ensemble. It's a cheerful, melodic tune about a heartfelt summer romance.
“So Much in Love” reached the R&B Singles chart and was the band's first popular single. Other, more recent R&B groups have successfully covered this catchy song.
12. “Puff, the Magic Dragon” by Peter, Paul, and Mary
Number twelve on our list is an American folk song based on a poem written by the lyricist's college roommate in 1959. The song has a fairytale-like nature and centers around a young boy's friendship with a magical dragon.
The song had mass appeal. Despite a cultural theory that the lyrics contained multiple drug references, the song's creators refute the idea.
13. “Blowin' in the Wind” by Peter, Paul, and Mary
This song was originally a Bob Dylan recording, but the musical group Peter, Paul, and Mary recorded a cover under the same management team as Dylan.
The trio and their folksy performance of this song hit the music charts and sold hundreds of thousands of copies within its first week after release. Eventually, it sold over one million. Bob Dylan received publishing royalties.
14. “Wipe Out” by The Surfaris
“Wipe Out” follows Little Stevie Wonder's “Fingertips” as an instrumental hit that found insane success. The song is now synonymous with beach culture and has been featured in dozens of films and television series over the decades since its release.
Fellow surf enthusiasts The Beach Boys did a cover of “Wipe Out” in the late 1980s that also reached the music charts. Though many write this off as another one-hit wonder, no one can deny its impact on pop culture.
15. “Wild Weekend” by The Rockin' Rebels
This is another instrumental hit. It started as a theme song for a radio show and The Rockin' Rebels adapted it for their album, also titled “Wild Weekend.”
It has been covered by many other recording artists, including The Surfaris, and others as recently as 2017.
16. “You're the Reason I'm Living” by Bobby Darin
Here is a country song that saw massive success in 1963. The single had so much star power that the recording artist, Bobby Darin, created a full-length album around it.
The single's accompaniment has some jazz flair that set it apart from other country songs on the charts. Some people weren't fond of him meshing musical styles, but the fans widely outnumbered the critics.
17. “Walk Like a Man” by The Four Seasons
The Four Seasons made their stamp on the hit music charts in 1963 with this beat-heavy ensemble smash.
Many attribute this danceable single's success to the juxtaposition of lead vocalist Franki Valli's famous falsetto singing in conjunction with the heavily deep vocals of another band member, Nick Massi.
18. “Mockingbird” by Inez & Charlie Foxx
Here is a soul music version of the classic children's lullaby that hit the R&B Singles and Pop Singles charts. The sister and brother duo became famous under US Top Black Singles performers.
Some famous performers with covers of “Mockingbird” include American soul music legend Aretha Franklin and 1970s sensation Carly Simon.
19. “I Will Follow Him” by Little Peggy March
“I Will Follow Him” reached the number one spot on the American pop music charts, breaking a record for a single by the youngest female recording artist to hit number one. She was fifteen years old at the time.
The song is unbelievably catchy and it's no surprise to anyone who listens that it had such massive success.
20. “Pipeline” by The Chantays
Surf-rock group The Chantays made a name off this instrumental hit. The song's title, “Pipeline” is surfer slang.
Music industry pros credit this single's popularity to its unique composition. Instead of emphasizing the leading instruments, the song dulls the piano, drums, and guitar to the background and highlights the rhythm and bass guitars.
21. “Surf City” by Jan and Dean
You might be picking up that there's a common theme in 1963's most popular music. In the same vein as The Beach Boys, surf vocal duo Jan and Dean sang ensemble style.
The song details a dreamy surfing location with the famous tagline “two girls for every boy.” Despite not reaching the same success as The Beach Boys' Surfin' USA, it was the first surf song to make number one on the popular music charts.
Huntington Beach, CA fought for the legal right to hold the trademark to “Surf City.”
22. “It's My Party” by Lesley Gore
Arguably one of the most famous songs from the 1960s, “It's My Party” has unique production qualities brought by the talent of Quincy Jones.
The song is about a teenage girl who is devasted at her sweet sixteen because her high school boyfriend replaced her with another girl from the party. The lyricist says it is inspired by a real teenage girl he saw crying at her sweet sixteen.
This single has a catchy melody, a danceable beat, and dramatic heartbreak that are hallmarks of 1963 music. It had international success and has been heavily featured in the media.
23. “Blame it on the Bossa Nova” by Eydie Gormé
This single is by artist Eydie Gormé whose music specializes in Latin influence on traditional pop. It is about a romance forming while engaging in the bossa nova, which is a sensual Brazilian dance that was popular during this time.
The artist famously disliked the single and tried to convince the record label not to release it. It was an international smash hit that has been covered by many artists and featured in different television series, films, and advertising campaigns.
Top Songs From 1963, Final Thoughts
Those are some of the best songs from 1963. Hopefully you enjoyed this trip down memory road or even found some music that you missed out on. When it comes to music, every year offers something special. So search the site for our coverage of other years to come. You can use the search bar in the sidebar.