The following page includes a year-by-year snapshot of what was happening in the world of Top 40 music in the 1960s. With the help of music industry professionals like Ed Osborne and the Top40Weekly staff, we have compiled a brief overview of some of the important events, songs, and artists influencing the music landscape and the Top 40 charts during each year in this decade. The artists and songs included in the Top 40 charts during these years impacted our lives in many ways. Top40weekly is simply looking back through a wide-angle lens to share with you our thoughts. We hope that you enjoy reading our year in music commentaries.
Table of Contents
- A Year in Music 1960
- A Year in Music 1961
- A Year in Music 1962
- A Year in Music 1963
- A Year in Music 1964
- A Year in Music 1965
- A Year in Music 1966
- A Year in Music 1967
- A Year in Music 1968
- A Year in Music 1969
- More 1960s Content
A Year in Music – 1960
One of the more infamous media stories of the 1950s involved the television quiz show cheating scandal that resulted in mass cancelling of the networks’ top programs. Now, it was the music industry’s turn.
Although payola was not illegal at the time, commercial bribery was and the anti-rock ’n’ roll forces saw in the TV investigations a way to rid America of the “devil’s music” and its purveyors once and for all.
The witch hunt had a direct impact on what was played on Top 40 radio and, consequently, what types of records became the biggest sellers
The number of rhythm and rockin’ records shrunk, replaced by an increased number of novelty discs…”Running Bear“, “Teen Angel”, “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”, “Alley Oop”, and “Mr Custer” and middle-of-the road ballads by Elvis, Brenda Lee, Connie Francis, and even Ray Charles (all of which were #1 hits).
The biggest of these “adult” singles was “The Theme From ‘A Summer Place’” which topped the Hot 100 for nine weeks: a record that stood until tied by The Beatles in 1969.
Country hits that crossed over to the pop charts were devoid of twang, replaced by the smooth Nashville croning of Gentleman Jim Reeves and an easy-to-listen-to story song by Marty Robbins. Even one-time honky-tonker Johnny Horton went mainstream with the movie-inspired “Sink The Bismarck”.
In fact, only a handful of 1960s biggest hit 45s came close to classic R&B and rock ’n’ roll; among them “Save The Last Dance For Me”, “Handy Man” and “Good Timin’” “Stay” and “Finger Poppin’ Time”.
This is what parents and other adults, major record labels and song publishers, and lovers of Broadway and American Songbook standards had been praying for since 1954 or so. Finally, a return to sanity; to the good-old-days of Good Music!
As for the post-WWII teen radio listeners and Top 40 fans, they didn’t necessarily hate the gorgeous “Summer Place” the plaintive “I’m Sorry” and other softer sounds, it’s just that…well…they didn’t move them to dance, shout, and get crazy.
1960 closed out with Elvis Presley’s revival of a song from 1926 at #1 and three middle of-the road instrumentals in the Top 10. Rock and rhythm music appeared to be “on the ropes” but it wasn’t dead…yet.
(Although this section of Top 40 Weekly deals with hit singles, over on the album charts — where significantly more expensive long-playing discs were traditionally bought by adults — a phenomenon called The Kingston Trio was selling records by the millions to college students: a hint of the rise in importance of that format to young people in the future. In 1959, the striped-shirt folkies held down the #1 position for an amazing 23 weeks and continued that trend through 1960, adding another 22 weeks to their top-slot total.)
Record of the Year – The Theme from a Summer Place by Percy Faith and His Orchestra
Album of the Year – The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart by Bob Newhart
Song of the Year – Theme from Exodus by Ernest Gold
Best New Artist – Bob Newhart
Top Songs of 1960 based on the Nolan Method
1. He’ll Have to Go by Jim Reeves
2. Theme from “A Summer Place” by Percy Faith
3. It’s Now or Never by Elvis Presley
4. I’m Sorry by Brenda Lee
5. The Twist by Chubby Checker
For the complete list of Top 100 songs for 1960, click here.
A Year in Music – 1961
As 1961 opened, it appeared that the non-rock Top 40 sound of 1960 was settling in for the long haul as the month closed out with “Wonderland By Night”, “Exodus” and “Calcutta” adult instrumentals one and all in the Top 3 slots of the Hot 100.
And yet there were hints of a resurgence of rhythm and rock also in the Top 10 were records by The Shirelles, Rosie & The Originals, and The Miracles…all 45s aimed at teens and all on independent (vs. major) labels.
As spring arrived and then summer, the national trade charts and local radio surveys were dominated more and more by teen-appeal singles from the group harmonizing (later called doo-wop) of The Marcels (“Blue Moon”), The Jive Five (“My True Story”) and The Capris (“There’s A Moon Out Tonight”) to the rollin’ piano New Orleans sound of Ernie K-Doe (“Mother-In-Law”) and the raucous party records out of Norfolk by Gary (U.S.) Bonds (“Quarter To Three” and “School Is Out”) and the monster R&B rave-up from Bobby Lewis (“Tossin’ And Turnin’”).
Songs by the older Tin Pan Alley composers gave way to barely-out-of-their-teens Brill Building writing teams Goffin & King, Mann & Weil, Barry & Greenwich, Sedaka & Greenfield with Neil Sedaka also racking up a string of hit singles as a singer.
In addition, a new generation of unique solo artists (who also wrote their own songs) appeared on the scene to fill the void left by the departure from the Top 40 of Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly.
Dion tossed aside the teen idol role he had been given in favor of an urban street-wise persona (“Runaround Sue”), Del Shannon let loose with tortured tales of loss (“Runaway”), and Roy Orbison solidified his stance as the king of sad (“Running Scared” and “Crying”).
Even Elvis shook off his fascination with Neapolitan love songs (“It’s Now Or Never” and “Surrender”) and returned to fine rockin’ form with the great two-sided 45 “Little Sister” b/w “(Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame.”
Historically, instrumentals had always been an important part of popular music, and so with rock ’n’ roll came teen-oriented 45s which shared the charts with discs by more traditional orchestras and bands, and jazz and country combos. In fact, 1961 was the peak year for instrumental singles with 14 of them reaching the Top 10 and 39 making the Top 40. (From then on the form would decline in popularity and was almost nonexistent on the charts by decade’s end.) Among the more memorable of them was “Last Night” a slow-burn R&B tune by The Mar-Keys on Satellite Records. Memphis-based Satellite would morph into Stax which along with its sister label Volt, became the most important outlet for Southern soul in the 1960s, just like Tamla — which scored its first #1 in ’61 (“Please Mr. Postman”) — would, along with other Motown labels, be the foremost source of Detroit R&B.
After the tame tunes of 1960, the records of ’61 marked a resurgence of rock ’n’ roll and rhythm & blues. Alas, it would be short-lived as the year closed out with two records in the Top 10 that represented the genre which would dominate 1962: “The Twist” and “Peppermint Twist (Part 1)”
Record of the Year – Moon River by Henry Mancini
Album of the Year – Judy at Carnegie Hall by Judy Garland
Song of the Year – Moon River by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer
Best New Artist – Peter Nero
Top Songs of 1961 based on the Nolan Method
1. Tossin’ and Turnin’ by Bobby Lewis
2. Exodus by Ferrante and Teicher
3. Worderland by Night by Bert Kaempfert
4. Will You Love Me Tomorrow by The Shirelles
5. Are You Lonesome Tonight? by Elvis Presley
For the complete list of Top 100 songs for 1961, click here.
A Year in Music – 1962
With the onset of 1962, the group harmony, R&B, and rock-style hits of the previous year vanished overnight: before January was out, the top two records in the US were Twist discs by Joey Dee & The Starliters and Chubby Checker.
Although Chubby’s “The Twist” had topped the charts in 1960, the craze didn’t catch fire until his 1961 late summer reminder record “Let’s Twist Again,” his appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in October, the re-release of “The Twist,” and the subsequent mass marketing of Chubby & Twist merchandise.
When “The Twist” reached #1 again in January it made history: no other record had ever gone to the top twice in different years.
But the thing that really kicked the Twist into the stratosphere was a dingy, hole-in-the wall club in midtown Manhattan called The Peppermint Lounge where, starting in the fall of ’61, the high society crowd joined the resident teens and toughs to dance the night away to the raucous sounds of a house band fronted by Joey Dee.
By early 1962, there were dozens of Twist records competing for airplay and attention, which generated more dance crazes and associated singles: among them, the mashed potato (Dee Dee Sharp), the loco-motion (Little Eva), and the watusi (The Orlons).
In all, almost 20% of the Top 10 Hot 100 singles in 1962 were dance or party themed. Still, that wasn’t the only thing happening.
In June, Top 40 included five dance discs from Cameo/Parkway (the Philadelphia labels that dominated that genre), several adult-appeal instrumentals (“Stranger On The Shore” and “The Stripper”) and vocals (“Al Di La” and “Ramblin’ Rose”) and some teen ballads (“Cindy’s Birthday” and “Rises Are Red”) an artist who typically traded in blues, R&B, and jazz-infused music, blended R&B and country, and hit a home run.
That artist was Ray Charles, who topped the album and the single charts simultaneously with Modern Songs In Country And Western and “I Can’t Stop Loving You” which had been a country hit in 1958.
Unlike many in the music business, Charles didn’t see blues and country as mutually exclusive. Pop music fans agreed and five tracks off the album became hits.
As summer gave way to fall, a New Jersey group called The 4 Seasons which blended doo-wop falsetto with a pounding beat exploded onto the scene with “Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” Together they topped the national chart for a total of 10 weeks: the beginning of a 13 year run of Top 40 hits.
In between, the Seasons chart toppers was a 45 produced by Phil Spector whose career as a record producer began in 1958. Now he was creating what he called “little symphonies of the kids” “He’s A Rebel” — billed to, but not recorded by, The Crystals — became the first #1 on his own label.
Meanwhile, although its glory days had yet to arrive, Berry Gordy’s Motown group of labels gained some ground on the pop lists with Top 10 singles from Mary Wells and The Miracles.
And to top it all off, in October a new group called The Beach Boys racked up their first Top 20 single, setting up an East Coast vs. West Coast Battle of the Groups with The 4 Seasons that would play out in the coming years.
Mention should also be made of the last gasp of group harmony records — a genre that dated back to the 1940s — notably The Tymes gorgeous summer smash “So Much In Love” and Randy & The Rainbows New York City uptempo doo-wop “Denise.”
1962 ended with a hodgepodge of genres jockeying for prominence on the Top 40, which begged the question: in what direction was pop music headed?
Records of the Year– I Left My Heart in San Francisco by Tony Bennett
Album of the Year (Other than Classical) – The First Family by Vaughn Meader
Album of the Year (Classical) – Columbia Records Presents Vladimir Horowitz by Vladimir Horowitz
Song of the Year – What Kind of Fool Am I by Leslie Briscusse and Anthony Newley
Best New Artist – Robert Goulet
Top Songs of 1962 based on the Nolan Method
1. The Twist by Chubby Checker
2. I Can’t Stop Loving You by Ray Charles
3. Peppermint Twist by Joey Dee and the Starliters
4. Stranger on the Shore by Acker Bilk
5. Roses Are Red (My Love) by Bobby Vinton
For the complete list of Top 100 songs for 1962, click here.
A Year in Music – 1963
1963 opened with an eclectic mix of singles not unlike that of 1962: an adult ballad from Steve Lawrence (“Go Away Little Girl”) a Chubby Checker dance side (“Limbo Rock”), a novelty disc from Lou Monte (“Pepino The Italian Mouse”) and a couple of teen tunes (“Bobby’s Girl”, “Hey, Paula”).
The lead-off #1 hit was “Telstar” an instrumental record from England’s Tornadoes, notable for being the first single to top both the UK and the US charts.
January also saw the spread of folk music by its contemporary proponents such as The Kingston Trio, Joan Baez, and The Limeliters from college campuses and the album chart to the Top 40 singles list and primetime television.
The opening salvo was “Walk Right In” by The Rooftop Singers, which went all the way to #1 in January. In its wake came Peter, Paul & Mary — whose debut album had stayed at #1 for 7 weeks the previous year — and their three Top 10 45s, and Trini Lopez with “If Had A Hammer.”
(Two of PP&M’s hit singles “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “Don’t Think Twice” had been written by Bob Dylan, and he included them on his first album release and chart appearance that year.)
The April launch of ABC television’s primetime folk music variety show Hootenanny fueled the phenomenon, but the fad was relatively short-lived with only Baez and Dylan succeeding beyond 1963.
Over on the pop side, The Beach Boys’ career kicked into high gear with surf-and-drag related songs, plus an homage to high school and an ode to the emotional safety of one’s room.
Meanwhile, The 4 Seasons continued their streak of chart sides, not as strong as in ’62 or ’64, yet enough to keep them front of mind with deejays and teens.
Here was the beginning of rival views of America: the gritty, heartbreak of East Coast urban streets vs. the West Coast devil-may-care freedom and a promise of endless summers. The records even sounded different.
For years New York City had been ground zero for the record business: now as the surf craze spread into landlocked suburbia attention began to shift westward, with significant implications for the industry’s future. Another notable shift in this thing called rock ’n’ roll was also taking place. Traditionally, it had been — apart from Connie Francis and Brenda Lee – a male-dominated genre. And although The Chantels and then The Shirelles had cracked the industry and cultural glass ceiling, it was still tough going for female artists.
That entrenched bias began to weaken in the spring when Little Peggy March and The Chiffons scored #1 records. Those were followed by the first of Lesley Gore’s Top 40 singles and another chart-topper from “Girl Group” The Angels: “My Boyfriend’s Back.” Two female-fronted groups — The Essex and Ruby & The Romantics — also matched their chart feat.
Producer Phil Spector’s specialty was female groups and singers, and he had a banner year with three hits by The Crystals, four Top 40s from Darlene Love (solo and as lead of Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans), and a classic track by his main squeeze Ronnie Bennett — the voice of The Ronettes.
And although it would take him another year-and-a-half to capitalize on it, future superstar “Little” Stevie Wonder also went all the way with “Fingertips – Pt 2.”
So ended 1963: A Singing Nun held down the #1 spot. There were a couple of fun, lightweight girl group singles, the latest hit from Motown, a garage rocker from The Kingsmen, and Dion’s cover of an old Drifters track. All in all, it was a Top 40 with barely a hint of rock ’n’ roll or R&B. The exciting music of 1961 was now a distant memory by pop culture standards. Has the post WWII generation seen the demise of “their music?” Only time would tell.
Records of the Year: Days of Wine and Roses by Henry Mancini
Album of the Year (Other than Classical): The Barbra Streisand Album by Barbra Streisand
Classical Album of the year: Britten: War Requiem by Benjamin Britten
Song of the Year: Days of Wine and Roses by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer
Best New Artist: Ward Swingle (The Swingle Singers)
Top Songs of 1963 based on the Nolan Method
1. Go Away Little Girl by Steve Lawrence
2. He’s So Fine by The Chiffons
3. Blue Velvet by Bobby Vinton
4. Hey Paula by Paul & Paula
5. My Boyfriend’s Back by The Angels
For the complete list of Top 100 songs for 1963, click here.
A Year in Music – 1964
January 1964: business as usual at Top 40 radio. Crooner Bobby Vinton’s latest single was #1 — his ninth Top 40 side in 18 months — followed by a miscellaneous collection of pleasant-enough 45s, very few of which would inspire one to slow dance or rock out.
True, there had been some rumblings of a band in England that was creating quite a stir, yet no UK rock ’n’ rollers had ever conquered America, so why now?
That question was answered with a bang later in January when “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles roared from nowhere to the top in three weeks. It was followed by one Fab Four disc after another. By the beginning of April the Top 5 contained only Beatles tracks and the rest of the Hot 100 included another seven.
The Beatles were everywhere: radio, television, and magazines, plus a dizzying array of merchandise. Such a media blitz hadn’t occurred since Elvis or Disney’s Davy Crockett TV show back in the mid-50s.
It seemed as if only records by British artists were being played, however in the first three months of Top 40 Beatlemania less than 10 non-Fab 45s landed in the Hot 100. Soon, however, UK singles flooded the US among others the Dave Clark Five, The Searchers, Dusty Springfield, Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Peter & Gordon, The Rolling Stones, Manfred Mann, The Animals, Chad & Jeremy, and The Kinks. It made for the most exciting time in rock ’n’ roll in years.
Still, the year-end tally of UK Top 40 singles was only about 20%, which left plenty of slots for US records. (The Hot 100 tells only half of the story: the rest of it lay with the additional Beatles album cuts heard on Top 40 radio stations.)
And there were American 45s with youth appeal that successfully competed with the Brits.
For instance, The Beach Boys had five sides that peaked in the Top 40 (including their first #1 “I Get Around”), plus a couple of EP tracks that landed outside it. Their New Jersey counterparts, The 4 Seasons, also had a banner year, placing five singles in the Top 20, four of which made Top 10 with “Rag Doll” going all the way.
Detroit’s Motown labels also began to pick up speed, on the way to becoming the top source of ‘60s soul music. The Supremes accounted for three #1 singles (in a streak that would total five consecutive chart toppers), the Four Tops scored their breakout 45 in “Baby I Need Your Loving,” Mary Wells delivered her final #1 “My Guy,” and The Temptations just missed the Top 10 with “The Way You Do The Things You Do.”
Then, there were Jan & Dean, Lesley Gore, and Johnny Rivers; Little Anthony & The Imperials (making a remarkable return to the Top 10 since their last appearance in 1958); a pair of hits by Gene Pitney and The Ronettes, plus many less successful artists who delivered fine records.
1964 also saw the Top 10 arrival of Dionne Warwick with “Anyone Who Had A Heart” and “Walk On By”: songs written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, whose tunes — most sung by Dionne — represented the epitome of musical sophistication in the 1960s.
(Over on the album side, music for the “younger set” dominated with LPs by The Beatles and The Beach Boys accounting for 34 weeks at the #1 position.)
Musically, 1964 came in like a lamb and left like a lion with The Beatles, The Supremes, The Zombies, Little Anthony & The Imperials, The Beach Boys, and The Rolling Stones in the Top 10.
The question hanging in the air was, “Can this last?” And, if so, what’s next?
Records of the Year: The Girl from Ipanema by Stan Gets and Astrud Gilberto
Album of the Year: Gets/Gilberto by Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto
Album of the Year (Classical): Bernstein: Symphony No.3 “Kaddish” by Leonard Bernstein
Song of the Year: Hello, Dolly! by Jerry Herman
Best New Artist: The Beatles
Top Songs of 1964 based on the Nolan Method
1. Hello, Dolly! by Louis Armstrong
2. I Want to Hold Your Hand by The Beatles
3. She Loves You by The Beatles
4. I Get Around by The Beach Boys
5. Oh, Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison
For the complete list of Top 100 songs for 1964, click here.
A Year in Music -1965
Between the excitement of the British Invasion, the emergence of surf and drag music, and the rising popularity of soul from the Motor City… 1964 had been a very exciting year for fans of the Top 40. Now, as that year slid into 1965, everyone was wondering what the new year would bring to the contemporary music table.
(Of course, musical trends and movements know no 365-day boundaries, but that’s how we categorize charts and sales data. That’s how we’ll address the events over time.)
Although, as we shall see, 1965 opened with a bang and it would build to a crescendo of musical excellence by late summer.
The Beatles were still riding high — with “I Feel Fine” and “Ticket To Ride” in the Top 10 — and The Supremes were represented by their third (of five straight) chart-topper.
Along with them, singles by UK non-Fab Four artists (The Searchers, Petula Clark, Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders, Dave Clark Five, and Chad & Jeremy) were strong sellers, as well as 45s from a couple of new US acts.
Gary Lewis & The Playboys initial release entered the Hot 100 at #6, then took 30 spot leaps into the Top 10, peaking at #1. It was the start of a 1960s record-setting stretch of Top 10 singles, from their debut 45 to their seventh.
The disc that Lewis bumped from #1 was the creation of indie record producer, Phil Spector, whose majestic “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” was an exceptional example of his “Wall of Sound” and his most successful single ever.
As the year wore on, several British artists emerged as Second Wave successors to the initial invaders. Petula Clark scored four hits in ’65, Herman’s Hermits racked up six Top 10s (including the #1s “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” and “I’m Henry VIII, I Am”), The Yardbirds gave us “For Your Love” and “Heart Full Of Soul’” while The Rolling Stones settled in for the long haul with the iconic ”(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Get Off Of My Cloud.” Both of these latter songs went all the way.
Also, building on their previous track records were the USA’s Beach Boys and 4 Seasons, who made another strong chart showing with Top 40 hits.
At mid-year, rock began to expand beyond its traditional lyric subject of love and relationships and it incorporated other forms of pop music, most demonstrably in The Byrds end-of-June smash “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
Although classic folk had dropped out of the mainstream, echoes of it reverberated through Roger (then Jim) McGuinn’s 12-string lead guitar and his Dylan-inspired vocals. The record’s success spurred a rush to cover Dylan songs in the newfound folk-rock style.
Dylan’s cryptic lyrics opened the door for other non-romantic records, such as The Stones aforementioned ode to sexual frustration, one-time folkie Barry McGuire’s watershed protest “Eve Of Destruction,” and Dylan’s own snarling put down “Like A Rolling Stone.”
(Worth noting is that The Byrds and McGuire were products of the nascent West Coast pop music scene, as were Sonny & Cher: a self-described flunky of Phil Spector and his singer-in-training girlfriend who scored with “I Got You Babe” and became America’s premier family-friendly hippy couple.)
Another significant trend was the ever-increasing inclusion of R&B into Top 40 radio playlists. The Four Tops hit their stride with two Top 10s (including the #1 “I Can’t Help Myself”), The Supremes added four more hits to their pop resume, The Miracles released two of their most highly regarded singles (“Ooo Baby Baby” and “Tracks Of My Tears”), while The Temptations placed four in the Top 20, capped by the classic “My Girl.”
For many, the pop-friendly Motown singles were what soul music was all about, yet the true believers knew that honor went to the funk of James Brown. Starting with his first R&B hit in 1956, Brown had reeled off 18 Top 20 R&B sides, only one of which crossed over to the pop side. That changed dramatically in 1965 when he and his Famous Flames stormed into the Hot 100 Top 10 with “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag (Part 1)” and “I Got You (I Feel Good).”
Radio also had some new competition as the only go-to source for hit music when network television “discovered” rock ’n’ roll. Previously — apart from artist appearances on American Bandstand, The Ed Sullivan Show, or an occasional guest spot on a prime time comedy series — the Top 40 was MIA on the little screen. In 1965, Shindig!, Hullabaloo, Where The Action Is, Hollywood a Go-Go, and Shivaree (along with many local Bandstand-style shows) were playing an important role in the spread of new artists and their records.
The year closed out with future classics that filled Top 40 and high expectations for 1966. Would the quality of that music match the heights of ’65?
Records of the Year: A Taste of Honey by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
Album of the Year: September of My Years by Frank Sinatra
Album of the Year (Classical): Horowitz at Carnegie Hall – An Historic Return
Song of the Year: The Shadow of Your Smile (Love theme from “The Sandpiper”) by Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster
Best New Artist: Tom Jones
Top Songs of 1965 based on the Nolan Method
1. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ by The Righteous Brothers
2. Wooly Bully by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs
3. Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter by Herman’s Hermits
4. I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) by Four Tops
5. Downtown by Petula Clark
For the complete list of Top 100 songs for 1965, click here.
A Year in Music – 1966
1966 picked up where 1965 left off with pop oriented records being more prevalent than rock ’n’ roll. This year The Beatles, The Stones, and The Hollies would continue to make strong showings on the Hot 100, but — apart from Herman’s Hermits, Petula Clark, and the Dave Clark Five (who were showing signs of fading) — the rest of the original British Invaders had left American shores.
New to the Top 10 at #1, was a duo which would become the top two-member team of the decade: Simon & Garfunkel and “The Sounds Of Silence,” a song with literary social commentary uncommon to the Top 40. By year’s end S&G would score four other hits, all equally high-browed, elegant, and engaging.
Continuing their run of “good-time music” is the The Lovin’ Spoonful, led by one-time Greenwich Village folkie John Sebastian, scored with “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice.” This is also the first of four hits in ’66, which included the summertime anthem “Summer In The City.”
In the close community of the Village, Sebastian rubbed shoulders with four singers who ultimately landed in Los Angeles where, using their unique blend of two female/two male voices, they scored two smash hits in rapid succession — “California Dreamin’” and “Monday, Monday” — as The Mamas and The Papas.
These artists created fine music that went down easy, yet what about good old rock ’n’ roll? Carrying the torch for the bass/drums/guitar crowd were Paul Revere and The Raiders who — their visibility and music boosted by daly appearances on Where The Action Is — brought kick-ass attitude to “Just Like Me” and to hit-after-hit over the next three years.
Equally potent was Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, a fiery white soul group which pounded out party rock classics with a rhythm rarely heard in 1966. “Jenny Take A Ride!” set the tone for their most popular singles: one of unrelenting rhythm and beat.
Another blue-eyed soul band called The Young Rascals also appeared in early ’66. They honed their craft nightly at New York area clubs, retooling R&B records such as “Good Lovin’.” After that one topped the charts, group members Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati started writing original songs, racking up nine Top 20 hits over the next two years plus.
In the wake of all this reelin’ and rockin’ came so-called Garage Rock. Tommy James and The Shondells went gold with “Hanky Panky” along with other less successful artists who nonetheless released memorable 45s, among them The Shadows Of Knight, The Syndicate Of Sound, and The Standells. Going head-to-head with the rock and pop acts were artists promoting Berry Gordy’s self-proclaimed “Sound Of Young America”: The Supremes, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Martha & The Vandellas, The Marvelettes, Jr. Walker and The All Stars, Stevie Wonder, and others. The Motown group of labels accounted for 22 Top 20 singles in ’66.
The Southern side of soul was represented by notable singles from Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, and James Brown.
Then, there was The Monkees who was much maligned by followers of contemporary music because the group members were chosen by music biz execs rather than coming together organically plus (gasp) they didn’t even play on their records! (Few fans knew back then that using session musicians and singers rather than band members was a common practice.)
That mattered not to female teen TV watchers and record buyers who propelled the group’s first two 45s — “Last Train To Clarksville” and “I’m A Believer” — to the top for a total of eight weeks and earned the group two gold records.
The writer of Monkees single number two, Neil Diamond, also kicked off his career as a solo artist that year, and this would make him a SRO superstar.
And… smack dab in the middle of all this youthful excitement, the reigning male vocalist of the Greatest Generation known as Frank Sinatra had his first #1 in 11 years with the lovely ballad “Strangers In The Night.”
But the biggest event of the year was the release of Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. Although it’s now acclaimed as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) albums of the rock ’n’ roll era, back then it was deemed a relative failure (it wasn’t certified as a gold million seller until 2000).
Capitol Records avoided Brian Wilson’s deeply personal and musically innovative songs and released the most commercially viable tracks first: “Sloop John B” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”
The third single from the album, which was “God Only Knows,” barely scraped into the US Top 40. Nonetheless, Paul McCartney deemed it “brilliant” as was all of Pet Sounds, which directly inspired The Beatles’s legendary Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
Then, to top it all off, The Beach Boys released the most expensive, complex single to date. “Good Vibrations” went to #1 and added a new, hip phase to the pop culture lexicon.
It had been an exciting year in music, to say the least: one that ended with a diverse number of genres represented in the Top 40. What would 1967 bring?
Records of the Year: Strangers in the Night by Frank Sinatra
Album of the Year: A Man and His Music by Frank Sinatra
Song of the year: Michelle by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Best New Artist: Tom Jones
Top Songs of 1966 based on the Nolan Method
1. Ballad of the Green Berets by SSgt. Barry Sadler
2. 96 Tears by ? and the Mysterians
3. (You’re My) Soul and Inspiration by The Righteous Brothers
4. We Can Work It Out by The Beatles
5. These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ by Nancy Sinatra
For the complete list of Top 100 songs for 1966, click here.
A Year in Music -1967
The Monkees’ second single “I’m A Believer” was the initial #1 single of the year, heading a Top 40 of pop records from a diverse group of genres. There was a pair of novelty 45s (“Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron” and “Winchester Cathedral”). Other adult contemporary singles from Nancy and Frank Sinatra (“Sugar Town,” “That’s Life”), Lulu (“To Sir With Love”) and The Seekers (“Georgy Girl”) ranked. Meanwhile, several slices of soul by Aaron Neville, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and The Supremes are included. Lastly, there was a psychedelic-tinged offering from Donovan and the rockin’ “Good Thing” and “Devil With A Blue Dress On & Good Golly Miss Molly.”
This potpourri of pop singles set the tone for the rest of the year.
Interestingly, two of the most important contemporary music events in 1967 had little to do with the Top 40.
The first occurred on June 2 when the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in the US. This new album from The Fab Four stunned the world: conceptually, musically, lyrically, instrumentally, and aurally. It boldly went where no LP had gone before, and it swept the globe.
On the album list, Sgt. Pepper’s held down the #1 spot on the Billboard Top (200) LP’s chart for 15 weeks, bested that year only by The Monkees, whose three long-playing releases spent 24 weeks on top.
Historically, American rock ’n’ roll albums were designed as a promotional vehicle for the artist’s latest single(s). Not so with Sgt. Pepper’s, from which no tracks were pulled as 45s. The Beatles released “Penny Lane” b/w “Strawberry Fields Forever” in February, “All You Need Is Love” b/w “Baby You’re A Rich Man in July,” and “Hello Goodbye” b/w “I Am The Walrus” in November. Unsurprisingly, they were all million-selling smashes.
The other musical event of note was the Monterey International Pop Music Festival, which took place from June 16 to June 18. This was the public “coming out” of hippies and the Flower Power movement, and is generally seen as the beginning of “The Summer Of Love.”
Musically, it marked the American debut of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Who, the first major appearance of Janis Joplin, and the breakout of R&B’s Otis Redding to a mass white audience.
Joining these exciting newer acts were big draws such as Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Simon & Garfunkel, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and The Mamas and The Papas.
The unofficial anthem of the Monterey Festival was “San Francisco (Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)” by Scott McKenzie. Written by Papa John Phillips and released in early May, it was climbing the national charts on the festival’s weekend. To the dismay of many San Franciscans, young people from all over America took Scott at his word and poured into the city by the hundreds.
If “San Francisco,” was the Summer Of Love anthem, Sgt. Pepper’s was its soundtrack.
That summer was notable for its varied and excellent pop singles. As the seasons turned, The Young Rascals’ gorgeous, laid-back “Groovin’” set the stage for a youthful paradise of music and love. Fresh, fun hit singles were abundant, including the horn driven “Don’t You Care” by The Buckinghams, the breezy “Windy” sung by The Association, soul lite “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie” by Jay and The Techniques, and pop perfection “Mirage” from Tommy James and The Shondells (who, with “I Think We’re Alone Now” earlier in the year, had reinvented themselves as the consummate AM radio band).
Among all this Top 40 fun was the breakthrough single from art-school band The Doors with literary pretensions courtesy of lead singer Jim Morrison: “Light My Fire.” Destined to become one of the favorite album acts of the emerging counterculture, the group was one of the few such artists who also performed well on the Hot 100.
One of the surprise successes of 1967 was “Ode To Billie Joe” by Bobby Gentry from Chickasaw County, Mississippi. Gentry’s tale of Billie Joe MacAllister and the mystery of what occurred on Choctaw Ridge and his subsequent suicide still intrigues people today, although the singer has maintained that what actually happened is not the point: it’s the casualness with which her characters eat and nonchalantly talk about this tragic event. It was a monster hit, unlike any other record on the radio.
Soul music from Motown continued to make a strong showing with one of its newer signings — Gladys Knight & The Pips — scoring a big hit. Memphis R&B also held its own with solid offerings from Sam & Dave and Booker T. & The M.G.’s.
But the biggest R&B breakout artist was Aretha Franklin. She kicked off 1967 with the first of four smashes that year, three of which went gold. The most riveting one was Lady Soul’s reworking of Otis Redding’s “Respect” into a woman’s anthem for the ages.
The year closed as it had begun: a little bit of soul, a touch of psychedelia, and sophisticated contemporary standards. It had been a good year for The Turtles and the debut of the Bee Gees as consistent Top 40 contenders. And there were some new faces on the scene, such as The Cowsills and The Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett.
Contemporary music was perched on a fence with radio-friendly Top 40 on one side and edgier, more experimental album fare on the other. Which way it went was anybody’s guess.
Record of the Year: Up, Up, and Away by 5th Dimension
Album of the Year: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles
Song of the Year: Up, Up and Away by Jimmy L. Webb
Best New Artist: Bobbie Gentry
Top Songs of 1967 based on the Nolan Method
1. I’m a Believer by The Monkees
2. Light My Fire by The Doors
3. Windy by The Association
4. Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry
5. Can’t Take My Eyes off You by Frankie Valli
For the complete list of Top 100 songs for 1967, click here.
A Year in Music – 1968
The opening weeks of 1968 saw the continuation of 1967’s variety of Top 40, radio friendly singles from The Beatles to Motown to Adult Contemporary and everything in between. Records rose and fell on the charts, with no clear pattern of genre preference, as had happened in 1964 when 45s by British acts were the clear choice of pop radio listeners and consumers of music.
If anything, despite the rise in popularity of topics and sounds coming out of places such as San Francisco, there was an obvious softening of the top hits, such as the piano driven instrumental “Love Is Blue,” the syrupy story song “Honey,” and the easy listening ballad “This Guy’s In Love With You,” which spent a total 14 weeks at #1 in the first half of the year.
There were some notable departures in Otis Redding’s soulful swan song “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” and Simon & Garfunkel’s jaded portrait of “Mrs. Robinson,” yet these also went down with American adults.
Behind the Top 40 chart rankings, however, two significant movements took place in 1968.
With the success of Sgt. Pepper’s, record labels realized there was much money to be made off a format that had to-date been used to offer a hit single or two plus 10 or so innocuous “filler” tracks.
An artist’s creative horizon expanded accordingly: most or all of the tracks on an album could be of similar good quality.
Tracks were no longer limited in length to the traditional three minutes for popular music on 78 and 45rpm discs, and creators were able to utilize rapid improvements in music recording technologies to realize their visions.
Also, in the beginning of 1967, an FCC rule restricting duplication of a radio station’s programming content between an AM and an FM outlet went into full effect. In place of classical or so-called “beautiful” music or jazz, FM stations began programming contemporary popular music.
The format of these stations, such as KMPX in San Francisco, became known as “freeform” with the disc jockeys playing back-to-back tracks from multiple genres in ad free sets, and speaking with the audience in an intimate, one-to-one style. As the number of markets with such stations increased, it changed the way in which younger listeners were exposed to new music and expanded the types of music they heard.
Although more restricted in signal coverage than the AM stations, FM offered far better, static-free sound: attributes that played well to the advances in recording.
Ultimately, AM Top 40 and FM freeform radio would compete for listeners: some portion of which chose one or the other, while some sampled both.
The impact of these changes showed up first on Billboard’s album chart. Apart from The Beatles and Magical Mystery Tour, the #1 LPs through July were by modern folkies Simon & Garfunkel, and adult contemporary artists Paul Mauriat and Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.
Then, the floodgates opened and harder, envelope-pushing acts stormed to the top, starting with Cream in August, followed by The Doors, Big Brother & The Holding Company (fronted by Janis Joplin), the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and The Beatles with the “White Album” and their most mind-blowing music yet. The only exceptions were a greatest hits collection from The Rascals and a studio album by Glen Campbell.
Cream’s album produced two Top 10 45s (“Sunshine Of Your Love” and “White Room”), The Doors long-player spun off a #1 single (“Hello, I Love You”), Big Brother reached #12 with “Piece Of My Heart,” whereas the two smash Jimi Hendrix albums resulted in just one #20 with “All Along The Watchtower.”
These, however, were outliers on the Hot 100 and Top 40 radio: singles buyers were not on board with these exciting new sounds.
That’s not to say that Top 40 AM singles were not good. In fact, ’68 produced many classic records. The Beatles had their biggest single hit ever with “Hey Jude.” Tommy James and The Shondells reached back the raucous rock records of Gary (U.S.) Bonds for “Mony Mony”: still a must-play at weddings and parties. And newcomers Sly & The Family melded psychedelia and soul into a new kind of funk with “Dance To The Music.”
For the tweens, there was a new genre of pop called bubblegum. The opening shot was “Simon Says” followed by “1, 2, 3, Red Light,” both by the 1910 Fruitgum Co. Production team Kasenetz and Katz who quickly built a cottage industry on bubblegum, creating hits by Crazy Elephant and Ohio Express.
Ultimately, fans of this genre would expand what they considered bubblegum to include artists and records that definitely were not, but there’s no denying the far-reaching impact of what K&K wrought.
In the year 1968 America was shaken by turmoil and change: assassinations, student protests, race riots, and political unrest.
Yet, one wouldn’t know that by looking at the Top 40. Like many tumultuous periods during our nation’s history, when times get tough, people find solace in lighthearted, fun movies and music.
Five of the final Top 10 singles of the year came from the Motown hit making machine. Three others were the easy-on-the ears “Wichita Lineman” (Glen Campbell), “Spooky” (Classics IV), and “I Love How You Love Me” (Bobby Vinton). Stax Records in Memphis was represented by Johnny Taylor “Who’s Making Love” and from Dion came the heartfelt tribute to “Abraham, Martin and John.”
And so 1968 ended with different sounds competing for attention. It remained to be seen which, if any, would dominate the Top 40 going forward.
Record of the Year: Mrs. Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel
Album of the Year: By the Time I Get to Phoenix by Glen Campbell
Song of the Year: Little Green Apples by Bobby Russell
Best New Artist: Jose Feliciano
Top Songs of 1968 based on the Nolan Method
1. Hey Jude by The Beatles
2. Love is Blue by Paul Mauriat
3. (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding
4. Honey by Bobby Goldsboro
5. People Got to Be Free by The Rascals
For the complete list of Top 100 songs for 1968, click here.
A Year in Music – 1969
At the opening of 1969, the Motown group of labels was having one of its strongest weeks ever, holding down the top three spots on the Hot 100 plus two more in the Top 10.
All told Motown would land 14 singles in the Top 10 in 1969: The Supremes and The Temptations alone accounting for 12 Hot 100 chart hits.
Most striking was the change in the sound of The Tempts from love songs to the harder psychedelic soul productions of Norman Whitfield on compositions written by him and Barrett Strong: “Cloud Nine,” “Run Away Child, Running Wild,” and “I Can’t Get Next To You.”
On the rock and pop side, 1969 saw notable breakouts by several bands. Creedence Clearwater Revival, after its debut 1968 side “Suzie Q. (Part One),” opened the new year with the first of four monster hits — “Proud Mary” — and followed it up with three double-sided, million-sellers: “Bad Moon Rising” b/w “Lodi,” “Green River” b/w “Commotion,” and “Down On The Corner” b/w “Fortunate Son.”
Blood, Sweat & Tears — impressed by the brassy arrangements that James Guercio had come up with for The Buckinghams — brought him on board for their second long player. The result was a dramatic change in sound from the group’s first album (one quickly categorized as jazz-rock), that catapulted them into multi-platinum sales territory and gave them three gold 45s: “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “Spinning Wheel,” and “And When I Die.”
The third group hailed from Canada. The Guess Who had first charted in America in 1965, after which their next seven singles bombed. They finally hit their stride in 1969 with “These Eyes,” and “Laughing” b/w “Undun.”
Rock ’n’ roll and the counterculture conquered Broadway and the Hot 100 when the groundbreaking, controversial musical Hair opened in April of 1968 and ran for almost 2000 performances. In 1969, pop artists climbed the charts with songs from the show: “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The 5th Dimension),” “Easy To Be Hard (Three Dog Night),” and the title tune (Blood, Sweat & Tears).
That year also saw the ascendence of a couple of highly talented songwriters. Jimmy Webb broke through in 1967 with “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and “Up-Up And Away,” then had a banner year in ’69 with hit songs such as “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” and “Worst That Could Happen.”
Singer/songwriter Laura Nyro didn’t court celebrity, yet it found her anyway due to her strikingly original songs. The 5th Dimension scored in 1968 with her “Stoned Soul Picnic” and “Sweet Blindness,” and brought Laura a platinum disc for “Wedding Bell Blues” in 1969. Three Dog Night scored with “Eli’s Coming” and BS&T did likewise with the aforementioned “And When I Die.” Late November 1969 found these three 45s in the Top 10 during the same week.
Nineteen sixty-nine saw the AM/FM, 45/LP audience split widen further, most evidently on the album chart, where the #1 spot was held by rock or R&B artists for all but four weeks. The rise of more experimental non-pop music would be fed by artists that performed at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, held at Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, NY on August 15-18. Some, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and Jefferson Airplane, were already well known, while others were new to the half million attendees. For many acts, the exposure at Woodstock led to record deals and sales success in 1970, especially after the release of the Woodstock movie.
One act that turned down an invitation to perform at Woodstock was Tommy James and The Shondells for whom 1969 was a banner year. “Crimson And Clover” gave them street cred with the FM/counterculture crowd — something none of their Top 40 contemporaries achieved — which was further cemented by the hits “Sweet Cherry Wine,” “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” and “Ball Of Fire.”
Meanwhile, the Vietnam War raged on and more and more people took to the streets in protest around the world. Surprisingly musical expressions against the war — with the exception of “Give Peace A Chance,” “Fortunate Son,” and “Something In The Air” — were largely absent from the Top 40.
In fact, the #1 single for the entire year was the top bubblegum record of all time: “Sugar, Sugar” by television cartoon band The Archies.
Mention should be made of The Beatles, who placed four singles in the Top 10, including the chart-toppers “Get Back” and “Come Together,” and The Rolling Stones, whose “Honky Tonk Women” spent four weeks at #1.
The final Top 10 of 1969 included offerings from three superstars of the coming decade: “Leaving On A Jet Plane” (written by John Denver), “I Want You Back” (by The Jackson Five), and “Whole Lotta Love” (Led Zeppelin’s breakout single). What else would the new year bring musically?
Record of the year: Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)
Album of the year: Blood, Sweat, and Tears by Blood, Sweat, and Tears
Song of the year: Games People Play by Joe South
Album of the year(Classical): Switched-on-bach
Top Songs of 1968 based on the Nolan Method
1. Sugar, Sugar (#1) The Archies
2. Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (#1) The 5th Dimension
3. Crimson and Clover (#1) Tommy James and the Shondells
4. Honky Tonk Women (#1) The Rolling Stones
5. I Heard It Through The Grapevine (#1) Marvin Gaye
For the complete list of Top 100 songs for 1969, click here.