The 1960s were a time rife with change. By 1965 people talked with increasing openness about the need for better civil liberties and environmental awareness.
They were also a time full of experimentation. That got reflected in the decade's music, so when talking about good music from 1965, the selections can be varied and eclectic. Here are some of the best songs from 1965.
1. “Help!” by The Beatles
It’s impossible to talk about good music in 1965 without talking about The Beatles.
The song was one of many successful collaborations between McCartney and Lennon. Talking about the title in an interview, McCartney said it came from how overwhelmed the band felt by their sudden and overwhelming success.
They started music on a lark and wound up the sensation of the decade. It was a lot to process while continuing to produce music, and some of that confusion inspired “Help!”
2. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones
“I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” came from a collaboration between Rolling Stones band members Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
The lyrics explore the sexual frustration of the speaker, reflecting the increasingly relaxed attitude of young people in the sixties towards sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
It was an immediate success with the Stones’ contemporaries, but the sexualized content horrified radio stations. Many stations tried to censor the song; Initially, listeners wanting to hear the song had to resort to pirate radio stations.
3. “Downtown” by Petula Clark
Today, most younger listeners recognize Petula Clark’s “Downtown” because it was featured on the hit TV show “Lost.”
But before that, it was one of the best songs of 1965.
Tony Hatch wrote the song after visiting New York City. He gave it to Clark, who recorded and released it in 1964. The combination of its upbeat rhythm, propulsive pacing, and lyrics anyone could pick up ensured it was at the top of the billboard charts by the time 1965 rolled around.
4. “Cryin’ in the Chapel” by Elvis Presley
By the time Elvis Presley recorded “Crying in the Chapel,” several versions existed.
Artie Glenn wrote the song in 1953, and his son, Darrell Glenn made it a hit. Other notable versions included performances by:
- The Orioles
- June Valli
But in 1965, Presley decided he would make his own version.
People loved it. Presley’s rendition outperformed the original Darrell Glenn version. In its heyday, it ranked third on America’s top one hundred charts. In the UK it did even better, reaching number one. Consequently, when talking about good music from 1965, you must mention Presley’s version.
5. “Chi Il Bel Sogno di Doretto” by Leontyne Price
Not all good music from 1965 was doo-wop, folk, or even all that modern.
Classical music was also changing. By 1965, one of its most notable names was African-American soprano Leontyne Price.
Most viewers recognize it as the aria that opens the 1980s adaptation of “A Room With a View.”
Here Price makes it sound like liquid gold as she floats her top notes and imbues the music with a warm, shimmering quality.
6. “My Girl” by The Temptations
Another staple of good music from 1965 is The Temptation’s upbeat “My Girl.”
It stands out as the first Temptations song to feature David Ruffin on vocals. Previously, the band had used Kendricks and Williams on its vocal lines. But the warm and mellow tone produced by Ruffin proved perfect for “My Girl.”
Jaunty and doo-woppish, it was originally intended for The Miracles. When The Temptations got the recording, they were allowed to create their background harmony because their technique was notoriously good.
It was a vote of confidence that paid off when The Temptations made “My Girl” a household hit almost overnight.
7. “Stop! In the Name of Love” by The Supremes
“Stop! In the Name of Love” combines two 1960s staples; Motown and themes of love.
The free love movement had everyone talking and singing about love, so it was the natural subject for this Supremes song.
Also increasingly prevalent was Motown, a type of rhythm and blues music that relaxed singers’ vocal technique and was popular with girl groups and solo artists.
It’s distinctive to pop music because it retains the musical ‘polish’ of more serious musical styles, but without the stress on clarity of sound and diction, you hear in classically-trained singers.
8. “The Name Game” by Shirley Ellis
When talking about good music from 1965, Shirley Ellis’ “The Name Game” is an excellent counterpoint to Motown.
Stylistically, it’s closer to R&B, with its near-speech patterns. But it shares a similar musicality to Motown music.
9. “Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds
Another important genre when discussing good music of 1965 is folk. One of the biggest contributors to the American Folk Revival was artist Bob Dylan, who wrote and sang “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
But the version The Byrds recorded in 1965 made it a song for the ages.
Many of the sixties folk songs people remember championed a specific cause. “Tambourine Man” famously breaks from that pattern. Instead, it’s full of surreal imagery that anticipates some of The Beatles' more experimental songs while still being lyrical.
10. “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane
Another source of evolving but good music from 1965 was jazz.
Tenor saxophonist John Coltrane famously recorded this song in a single session. It’s a jazz suite, so uses classical musical conventions within the bounds of the more musically fluid jazz genre.
Viewed by many as a display of genius, this jazz suite prominently features Coltrane’s artistic talents to explore the power of music.
11. “Do You Believe In Magic” by The Lovin’ Spoonful
As the lyrics of “Do You Believe in Magic” stress, the magic of the title isn’t the spells and chants variety. It’s about our ability to spread happiness.
That ties it in with some of the themes permeating 1960s music.
It was also an immediate success. When The Lovin’ Spoonful released it on an album by the same title, it skyrocketed to number nine on America’s music charts, making it not only one of the best songs of 1965 but one of the top ten.
12. “I’ll Never Find Another You” by The Seekers
Sometimes The Seekers get lost in the shuffle when discussing good music from 1965. But when they released “I’ll Never Find Another You,” it became their first UK hit.
It was equally successful in America. It’s a sentimental, gentle song with a cadence that almost anyone can sing.
13. “Ferry Across the Mersey” by Gerry and the Pacemakers
“Ferry Across the Mersey” is an unlikely hit when discussing good music from 1965. The song debuted in a film of the same title and was a transatlantic success.
Gerry Marsden wrote it, and the group Gerry and the Pacemakers sang it. It continues to be the song ferries play as tourists cross the Mersey and have featured prominently at several charitable fundraisers.
14. “Maiden Voyage” by Herbie Hancock
Here’s an extremely different example of how a jazz composition became one of the best songs of 1965.
Herbie Hancock was always experimenting with music. “Maiden Voyage” is an example of modal jazz. That means instead of using the diatonic scale, it relies on musical modes associated with plainchant.
15. “California Girls” by The Beach Boys
Another song that deserves a mention when discussing good music from 1965 is The Beach Boys’ hit “California Girls.”
It’s heavily chromatic, full of dissonant tones and harmonies.
Famously, Brian Wilson got the idea for the song from the peculiar combination of drugs and contemplating western film scores. Whatever inspired him, he got something right. The peculiar musical alchemy of “California Girls” made it one of the best songs of 1965.
16. “Love Potion No. 9” by The Searchers
Always a popular song, “Love Potion No. 9” was originally sung by The Clovers. In their hands, it ranked 23 out of the top 50 songs on the US music charts.
In 1964, The Searchers did a version. Its description of a man desperately seeking love appealed to the sensibilities of many listeners. So, when The Searchers released the song in 1965, it gained even more popularity than before, ranking third on those same music charts.
17. “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” by The Animals
“We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” sung by The Animals is another notable song when discussing good music from 1965.
The song resonated with many people. That was especially true of Vietnam War veterans, who felt frustrated by their experiences overseas.
18. “I Want Candy” by The Strangeloves
“I Want Candy” is another unlikely example of good music from 1965. The Strangleoves, who first performed it, was a group of music producers turned singers. But they claimed to be wealthy sheep farmers from Australia.
Bert Berns of ‘Twist and Shout’ fame helped compose an original composition for the band, and “I Want Candy” was the result.
19. “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat?” by Herman’s Hermits
Another of the best songs of 1965 is “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat?” Herman’s Hermits had several hits, but this might be the most catchy.
In the UK, the song was released alongside the band’s other hit from 1965, “Silhouettes.” It stayed at the top of the charts until the Supremes displaced it with “Stop! In the Name of Love.”
20. “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire
Barry McGuire released “Eve of Destruction” in 1965. Like many songs of the time, it commented on the rapidly-changing attitudes of Americans.
It’s most obviously a damning indictment of the nuclear arms race. But people also considered it a comment on the Vietnam War and an anthem of the Civil Rights Campaign. That it became associated with disaffected youth was an unintended irony.
21. “All I Really Want to Do” by Cher
Finally, Cher’s “All I Really Want to Do” is our last example of good music from 1965. It’s a rare example of a Bob Dylan song that isn’t topical.
Dylan released the song in 1964, but by 1965 Cher and several artists were making covers, and those versions became just as popular. That it remains popular with listeners today is a testament to its timelessness.
Top Songs From 1965, Final Thoughts
Good music from 1965 varies wildly. Much of it is Motown or doo-wop. But there’s also lots of rock, jazz, and even classical music released in 1965 that remain popular today.
The sixties was a time of significant change for Americans, and you see that reflected not only in their music but in the songs they considered the best songs of 1965.