The 1960s changed popular music. The first Rock n Roll Era ended ignominiously with scandal and a plane crash. The second began with the Surf Craze and British Invasion. However, there was a folk revival sandwiched in between. The top 10 songs of the decade represent the period and its culture. The following are the decade’s most important tunes based on their impact, popularity, and cultural relevance.
1. Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan: Dylan portrays a high society woman that falls from grace and has to learn to survive. In the end, she has nowhere to go. It is an angry piece of music both lyrically brilliant and revolutionary. Dylan combined the electric with folk music to invent his own sound. The song’s influence and brilliance led Rolling Stone magazine to rank it the greatest ever written. “Like a Rolling Stone” is still relevant in the Occupy era.
2. A Day in the Life by The Beatles: John Lennon and Paul McCartney each had partial songs written. They took them to George Martin who combined them into one. They added an orchestra and sonic boom at the end to complete their musical orgasm. “A Day in the Life” represents song craft at its finest.
3. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones: “Satisfaction” is the ultimate young man’s song. It combines youthful angst with male frustrations to create a mood. Interestingly, the song was geared toward youth, but any age can identify with the themes. However, critics at the time believed the Stones were attacking the consumer culture and were disturbed by the sexual overtones.
4. My Generation by The Who: Baby Boomers warned people not to trust anyone over 30. At the same time, The Who opined “I hope I die before I get old” in “My Generation.” Pete Townshend later claimed the song was about getting rich as opposed to old. The song itself is about the age old problem of fitting in with society. The boomer generation seemed to have the hardest time accomplishing this.
5. Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys: “Good Vibrations” is not really a rock song. Rather, it is an orchestral arrangement. Brian Wilson revolutionized studio recording while producing this piece. Essentially, he recorded parts of the song and then spliced them together. Other acts later followed Wilson’s pioneering efforts. At the time, some worried that music would become overproduced. Their fears were realized with disco.
6. I Heard It Through the Grapevine by Marvin Gaye: Barry Gordy despised “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” but Marvin Gaye proved too popular to deny. Gordy finally relented and Motown released the single. It proved a departure from the typical Motown venture. The song was dark, slow, and spooky as opposed to most Motown hits. It signaled a change in musical direction that reflected the culture at large in 1968.
7. Respect by Aretha Franklin: Otis Redding recorded “Respect” in 1965, but his version differed dramatically from the Aretha Franklin product. Redding’s song was about a love-starved man while Franklin’s became an anthem for the women’s movement. Franklin’s “Respect” evolved into one of the most important artworks of the twentieth century.
8. Light My Fire by The Doors: 1967 was the Summer of Love. Hippies and youths around the nation celebrated liberation, peace, and harmony. However, others protested or fought the Vietnam War, which provided a dark undercurrent to the sixties. The Doors embraced the darkness as evidenced in the line “our love becomes a funeral pyre” in “Light My Fire.” The song connected with people and radio stations were inundated with requests for the seven minute work.
9. She Loves You by The Beatles: Rock n Roll had collapsed under its own excess. Although surf rock had emerged, the genre appeared to be dissipating into the mists of time. Then, The Beatles released “She Loves You” and ushered in the British Invasion. The music had a profound impact on the culture of the period. Today, music is background noise for teens and people in their twenties. In the sixties, music was life and The Beatles ushered in this phenomenon.
10. Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix: The sixties were about experimentation. Drugs, sex, and music intermixed. “Purple Haze” references a drug trip while Hendrix’s guitar work was revolutionary. Every guitarist since has directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, been influenced by Hendrix. “Purple Haze” is a musical masterpiece, but also a window into the counterculture.