Having listened to thousands of songs in my life so far and with the majority of them being available at the touch of a screen on streaming services, I have decided to take on the task of creating my top 75-100 tracks for each year, starting at 1965.
I have chosen this as my starting point as this was the year where artists started to concentrate more on releasing quality full length albums and not just singles. This means there are more songs to choose from and prevents the lists from becoming chockablock with lots of tracks by the same artists. That’s not to say there’s not some amazing stuff pre-1965 and I would have a great time creating that list (which I may yet do).
As always, these lists are my own personal view and have not been shaped by sales, chart positions, importance or other peoples opinions – if I like it, it makes the list.
Let’s start shall we…
75. The Knickerbockers – Lies
Like an American take on The Beatles, this could have come from either of their first two albums and not sounded out of place. It’s so good a pastiche that I often think The Beatles did a cover (they didn’t). This was the only hit for The Knickerbockers and by 1968 they were no more.
74. Maxine Brown – Oh No Not My Baby
Great soul record written by the classic songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin and originally performed by The Shirelles. This version is the definitive take, giving the song more sophistication and class. This was the last hit Maxine Brown had before her career wound down by 1970.
73. The Supremes – My World Is Empty Without You
Worth the inclusion for the intro alone, this soul/pop track is more subdued than their big hits of the time. Written by the Motown masters Holland-Dozier-Holland, this song didn’t hit number one, which was a rarity for The Supremes but comes off better for not being played to death like many of their hit singles have been.
72. The Lovin’ Spoonful – Do You Believe In Magic?
Joy. That is the feeling you get listening to this debut single from The Lovin’ Spoonful. The lyric talks about the magic of music and how happy it can make you and what’s being described is brilliantly captured within the harmonies and upbeat nature of the song.
71. Bert Jansch – Needle Of Death
Remarkable folk song from late great Scottish singer songwriter Bert Jansch. This was taken from his solo debut album and is about turning to drugs (heroin, cocaine) in the face of depression and the ultimate price to pay that this path can lead you down. Written after the death of his friend, this is a heavy subject matter nowadays but must have been a real shock to the system in 1965.
70. Bob Dylan – Positively 4th Street
Standalone single from Dylan, released after the Highway 61 Revisited (1965) album and continuing his move away from the acoustic folk of his earlier stuff. The song feels like a response to the criticism he was receiving at the time from the more traditional folkies and he uses this as a platform for his fullest most band-oriented sound yet.
69. The Yardbirds – I’m A Man
This Bo Diddley cover, taken from their second studio album, Having A Rave Up With The Yardbirds (1965), captures what made these guys special – a dirtied up blues sound with a quicker pace and some excellent guitar playing. This version has Jeff Beck on lead guitar but they have also performed it live with Eric Clapton.
68. The Preachers – Who Do You Love
Another Bo Diddley cover, this time with an even dirtier garage rock feel and awesome screaming/shouting harmonies. This is ahead of it’s time and unfortunately so were the band – they only released three singles before disbanding and going on their separate trails.
67. Them – Here Comes The Night
What Van Morrison did before solo super stardom (and before becoming increasingly curmudgeonly). Great pop/soul track, written by producer Bert Burns, it features an excellent vocal performance and a couple of twists and turns musically that set it apart.
66. Four Tops – It’s The Same Old Song
Musically upbeat, lyrically down hearted, with a powerful vocal from the irrepressible Levi Stubbs, this Holland-Dozier-Holland song was originally written with The Supremes in mind. It suits the Four Tops style far better and allows the crack team of Motown musicians to conduct a harder hitting sound.
65. The Righteous Brothers – Unchained Melody
Unfortunately forever linked to Ghost (1990) and Patrick Swayze’s phallic pottery, this is actually an incredible pop ballad. Beautifully composed and orchestrated with one of the most towering and amazing vocal performances ever by Bobby Hatfield. The song was originally written for a 1955 film called Unchained and had been recorded by a number of artists over the intervening years before this definitive version saw the light of day.
64. The Who – The Kids Are Alright
Taken from their debut album My Generation (1965), this contains all the elements that made The Who such an exciting prospect. Super-tight harmonies, pulsating bass from John Entwistle and Keith Moon drumming up a storm, this wasn’t one of their bigger hits (it didn’t actually come out as a single until the following year) but is an enduring Who anthem that raises a smile with every listen.
63. Barbara Lewis – Baby, I’m Yours
Lush sounding pop ballad with a great vocal, this was written by Van McCoy (who had a twist to his career in the 70s as a disco performer) and produced by Bert Berns (Them). 1965 was the last year of success for Barbara Lewis and her career was over by 1970.
62. The Bobby Fuller Four – I Fought The Law
Probably most well known by The Clash’s cover, this version is a cover itself. The original was actually by The Crickets and came out in 1960. Who would have thought The Crickets would play a part in the punk movement!! This version has a more garage rock feel than the original and forms the basis of what the later punk bands would riff on. The Bobby Fuller Four only released a handful of singles and two albums before the untimely death of Bobby Fuller in 1966 (by suicide, though some say he was murdered), just as they were starting to gain success after the release of this single.
61. Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders – The Game Of Love
Garage surf pop brilliance, this has a great sounding drum beat/bass intro with awesome backing vocal harmonies throughout. The Mindbenders only managed two albums and a handful of singles before Wayne Fontana left mid-gig and branched out into a solo career.
60. The McCoys – Hang On Sloopy
Debut single from these guys written by Wes Farrell and Bert Burns (yeah, him again!!). This is a great mixture of the British Invasion style, surf pop and soul beat. Strong vocals and harmonies and a beefed up production make this a better version than the original released by The Ventures in 1964, getting this to number one in the US. As with a lot of these bands the success didn’t last and they had split by 1970.
59. James Brown – I Got You (I Feel Good)
Dulled a little by it’s constant presence in films and tv, this is still a great track from the Godfather Of Soul himself. Showcasing the step away from the more traditional soul songs of his earlier years towards the funk that would take him to another level once the 70s rolled around, backed with an exquisitely well-drilled band, this is James Brown the leader, the conductor, rather than James Brown the vocalist. Originally written by Brown for his back-up singer Yvonne Fair as ‘I Found You’, he took the song for himself creating his biggest ever hit in the process.
58. The Kinks – Till The End Of The Day
More garage rock goodness from The Kinks, following ‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ in 1964. This showcases a touch more sophistication with poppier melodies and great backing vocals and harmonies building to a nice little double time thrash-out at the songs end. They rivalled The Who for the UK’s heaviest band at the time, helped in no small part by both bands sharing Shel Talmy as a producer.
57. The Beatles – Wait
Rubber Soul (1965) album track, one of the rare compositions at the time that were an actual Lennon-McCartney co-write (although Lennon declared he ”couldn’t remember” working on it). This has a good pace, nice vocal harmonies and great bass and drums throughout. It’s also not been played into the ground which helps keep it fresh.
56. The Yardbirds – Heart Full Of Soul
Brilliant garage rock/blues track, the first Yardbirds song to feature Jeff Beck on guitar, who had replaced Eric Clapton. This was written by Graham Gouldman, who went on to greater fame as part of 10cc. The Indian inspired guitar riff really makes this stand out and is one of the earliest examples of that style of influence appearing in a rock song.
55. The Impressions – People Get Ready
Beautiful soul song written by group member Curtis Mayfield. The vocal harmonies are what make this song so special, each voice complimenting each other perfectly. Coupled with lyrics that were taking a more real life/political stance, rather than the love songs so prevalent in soul music previously, this is an important track that’s legacy has prevailed, being covered by some of the biggest names in music (Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan).
54. Tom Jones – It’s Not Unusual
I dare say some would argue this shouldn’t be this high on the list or included at all!! I’m a sucker for it’s cheesiness though, it can’t help but put a smile on my face. On only his second single, Tom Jones reached the UK top spot and got to showcase his powerful voice and charm that made him such a loveable rogue. Plus, it’s got Jimmy Page on guitar (yes, that Jimmy Page). And as an added bonus it was the only song capable of stopping an alien invasion in Mars Attacks! (1996), so it’s culturally important too!!
53. The Beatles – You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
John Lennon’s most obvious Bob Dylan influence shines through on this song. The Beatles do folk – and it’s a good fit. Obtaining the acoustic folky sound but with enough pop smarts to make it catchy, this was a prime example of the band stepping out of their comfort zone and beginning the experimentation that would reward them so tremendously in the years to come.
52. The Spencer Davis Group – Keep On Running
Brilliant garage soul cover of reggae singer Jackie Edwards’ song (released the same year), both tracks were produced by Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records. This is much faster and upbeat than the original, with a brilliant vocal performance from Steve Winwood and the instant classic bassline from his brother Muff (not his real name!!). This is a real floor filler and still sounds razor sharp today.
51. Sir Douglas Quintet – She’s About A Mover
Debut single from these Texan garage blues aficionados. Upbeat 12 bar blues is punctuated with sharp blasts of organ giving this an almost psychedelic feel without losing it’s pop sensibility. This was the only real hit of their career but they continued on in various states into the 90s until founding member and bandleader Doug Sahm died in 1999.
50. James Brown – Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag
The first real example of James Brown adding what would become known as funk into his soul sound, this locks into a groove and stays there. Allowing himself and his band to riff and shine across the songs duration it even mixes in a touch of jazz on the sax solo towards the end.
49. The Rolling Stones – Get Off My Cloud
Released as a non-album single to capitalise on the success of ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ hitting number one on both sides of the Atlantic, this follow up achieved the same feat. Driven along by Charlie Watts snare fills and having an upbeat but aggressive undertone to the music, it suited the lyrics which had Jagger already beginning to tire of the adoration and expectations that came with being a star.
48. The Byrds – Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)
As was wont for the band at the time, they took an older folk song (originally by Pete Seeger) and made it their own. The 12 string guitars and beautiful harmonies carry this song to a relaxing, dreamlike space. Interestingly, this is one of the only songs to take lyrics directly from the Bible and still manage to be a chart hit.
47. Nancy Sinatra – These Boots Are Made For Walkin’
The daughter of Frank Sinatra, she had made an inauspicious start to her career, far from the success enjoyed by her old man. It took a team up with country singer songwriter Lee Hazlewood to create this song, becoming the biggest and most enduring hit of her career. It’s almost become seen as a bit jokey (thanks to it’s inclusion in Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery (1997)) but it’s a damn good pop song and when those boots start walking at the end of the song you’ll be sure to start moving.
46. Four Tops – I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)
Excellent soul song, it encapsulates the earlier Motown sound, especially that created by the songs’ writers/producers Holland-Dozier-Holland, perfectly. This was the band’s first number one and captures what makes the band so good – an upbeat rhythm with Levi Stubbs incredible voice soaring over the top, singing lyrics that are open and honest and declaring his love for someone, a formula that worked so effectively for many years.
45. The Walker Brothers – Make It Easy On Yourself
Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David in 1962 for Jerry Butler, this cover is the definitive version. It’s the production that wins the day on this one – it’s huge!! Like Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound without the madman himself at the helm, it’s beautifully orchestrated, crystal clear in sound and topped off with Scott Walkers deep and powerful vocal gliding over the top effortlessly. Perfect classic pop.
44. Unit 4 + 2 – Concrete And Clay
Complete one hit wonder, what sets this apart for me is the Latin feel to the song. Great shuffling rhythm and some brilliant acoustic guitar work which gives it such a fresh feel to anything else being released at the time. The band contained a guy called Russ Ballard on guitar for a while who went on to write some big pop/rock hits in the 70s and 80s.
43. Shirley Ellis – The Clapping Song (Clap Pat Clap Song)
Irresistible soul track. This is basically an instructional dance song interspersed with nursery rhyme lyrics/chants but so damn funky you can’t help but move. Shirley Ellis had a couple of hits but her career was over by 1967 and she slipped into early retirement.
42. Nina Simone – I Put A Spell On You
Superb cover of the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins 1956 original (which is also a must listen), this takes that track and creates a soul classic. The wonderfully orchestrated backing allows Nina Simone to let her unmistakable voice steal the show, producing a goosebump inducing moment when she really lets rip. This song has been covered many times but no-one has done it as well as this.
41. The Yardbirds – For Your Love
Moving away from their garage rock/blues sound and incorporating a more pop sensibility and experimental elements (harpsichord/bongos), this became a big hit. Whilst ushering in a sound that was to bring them success, it didn’t sit well with Eric Clapton, the groups guitarist at the time. Unhappy with the deviation in style he left the group before they released their debut album, replaced by Jeff Beck. Clapton only appears on this song in the middle part when the pace changes but it doesn’t deter from this track being the best of their career.
40. The Beatles – Yesterday
The most covered song of all time; even if you don’t think you’ve heard this, you probably have!! It was actually considered quite a risk for the band to take at the time as effectively it is a Paul McCartney solo performance with a string accompaniment. More sophisticated than anything they’d recorded previously, it wasn’t released as a single in the UK until 1976 (as it was felt it didn’t fit with their image), however, in the US the song was another number one hit.
39. Stevie Wonder – Uptight (Everything’s Alright)
Hello Stevie!! Shaking off the Little Stevie Wonder tag of being a child prodigy, this is the song where Stevie Wonder the artist stepped out into the light and started his path to superstardom. Still only 16 years old when he recorded this single, this was the first song he’d released where he was involved in the writing, creating the riff and giving it an uptempo feel, fleshed out by the incredible Motown house band The Funk Brothers.
38. The Kinks – A Well Respected Man
One of the The Kinks best songs, this continued Ray Davies’ movement away from the rockier sounds of their first releases, towards a more lyrical, story telling style. It was originally refused a single release by their record label as they didn’t get the direction they were heading but luckily for the music world the band eventually won out, paving the way for the style they would adopt for much of their remaining career.
37. The Beach Boys – California Girls
Brilliant pop song, one of the biggest hits of their career, this has all the ingredients that make The Beach Boys so amazing – incredible vocal harmonies, the ability to make you feel happy and put a smile on your face and superb production from Brian Wilson. This track perfectly bridges the earlier ‘surf’ songs and the more complex material to come. It encapsulates the brightness surrounding the band at the time and showcases just how accomplished Brian Wilson was becoming as a writer and arranger. It is also the point where that strive for perfection (coupled with the use of drugs – this song was written after the first time he took acid) would lead to his mental breakdown.
36. The Beatles – Day Tripper
Part of a double A-Side single, this was John Lennon’s contribution to the release and is one of The Beatles coolest sounding songs. Mainly in part due to the absolutely infectious riff, it also works so well as Lennon gives it an R&B feel, setting it apart from the Beatles sound of the time. Experimenting with drugs (particularly acid), this release can be seen as the beginning of the band’s leap from perfect pop stars to fully fledged artists who were looking to push the musical envelope as far as they could. Lennon and McCartney were competing with one another to see who could create the best song and on this occasion McCartney would win out (as we’ll see later in the list.)
35. Nina Simone – Feeling Good
Amazing song, this has been covered so often but never done better than this. Originally written as part of a musical called The Roar Of The Greasepaint – The Smell Of The Crowd in 1964, that was almost completely forgotten once Nina Simone released her version the following year. Her vocal on this record is incredible, from the acapella intro to the steady build throughout, culminating in the soaring final verse and chorus, this is a showstopper. Never released as a single in her lifetime, it’s a prime example of just how great the song is that it’s that so well known without the help of radio play.
34. Aretha Franklin – One Step Ahead
Beautiful pop/soul song with an eloquent vocal performance from the Queen Of Soul. This was released as a standalone single and never appeared on any of her albums. It was actually quite a rare track until it showed up on the A Bit Of Soul compilation many years later. It’s now most recognised as being sampled on Mos Def’s ‘Ms. Fat Booty’ and more recently ‘Remind Me’ by High Contrast, both of which utilise it’s vocal brilliance to create two awesome tracks.
33. The Beach Boys – When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)
Not one of their bigger hits, this has always been a favourite of mine since first hearing their 20 Golden Greats compilation many years ago. Vocally excellent and coupled to an upbeat and full sounding backing, it’s one of the best songs for capturing the feeling, the questions, the anxieties of growing up. It has elements that everyone has experienced/can relate to and also captures the growing up point the band had reached and the uncertainties of what lay ahead. Musically it’s another step on their evolutionary journey, full of tempo shifts, key changes and complex chord structures but still a hook filled pop song, it showcases just how far they had come in such a short space of time.
32. Otis Redding – I Can’t Turn You Loose
Ah, Otis Redding. The greatest soul voice ever (in my opinion). While not as smooth or vocally dexterous as the Marvin’s, Sam’s or Stevie’s of the world, his gruff, raw, REAL vocal style is the true epitome of soul music – you believe and feel everything the man sings. This song was only a b-side (to ‘Just One More Day’) but is one of the best in his arsenal. A great pace built around a circling, nagging guitar riff and full blooded horn section, this is an Otis floor filler, guaranteed to get you moving.
31. The Sonics – Have Love Will Travel
Covered many times over the years and used across film/tv soundtracks, this version of the Richard Berry 1959 original is the best. The riff is instantly recognisable and hooks you straight in and then the wild scream from Gerry Roslie ushers in a dirty garage rock sound way ahead of it’s time. The drums are huge, the vocals are raw and the attitude is punk rock years before that became a thing. This is taken from their debut album Here Are The Sonics (1965) and is a must listen.
30. Jr. Walker & The All Stars – Shotgun
Awesome soul track, a dancefloor banger, this showcases the impassioned vocal of Junior Walker and more importantly his incredible saxophone skills – when he lets rip the song is taken to the next level. Produced by Berry Gordy, Junior was a part of Motown without being on the Motown label imprint and had contributions from the Funk Brothers to back up his stellar talents.
29. Them – Gloria
Amazing garage rock song written by the bands’ vocalist Van Morrison, incredibly it was only ever released as a b-side to the ‘Baby, Please Don’t Go’ single before appearing on their debut album The Angry Young Them (1965). It’s a blues song but with a rougher sound that helped shape the garage rock style to come. Them wouldn’t be around for too long after this, releasing one more album in 1966 before Van departed for his solo successes.
28. The Kinks – Tired Of Waiting For You
My favourite Kinks song, it captures the midway point between the distorted garage rock of their first album and the more intricate and measured songwriting of the material to come. Much more mature and downbeat lyrically, they still managed to keep a rockier edge via Dave Davies’ lead guitar work and powerful drums, all captured to perfection by producer Shel Talmy (who had great practice with this kind of thing whilst producing The Who).
27. Martha & The Vandellas – Nowhere To Run
Brilliant pop/soul song with huge production from Motown’s golden team, Holland-Dozier-Holland. Super tight musicianship from the Funk Brothers allows Martha Reeves vocal to soar over the top and the pace of the rhythm means it sounds great at any party. They had a couple more hits after this but never again reached the heights of their early sixties output.
26. The Who – I Can’t Explain
Debut single from these guys (not including ‘Zoot Suit’ as The High Numbers) and what a way to start! Setting out the Who template perfectly, this has the feel of a band ready to take on the world. Pete Townshend’s stabbing riff coupled with humongous bass from John Entwistle and the unmistakable ‘lead’ drums of Keith Moon, this is an opening statement that’s hard to beat. Cool backing vocals too courtesy of British vocal trio The Ivy League.
25. The Mamas & The Papas – California Dreamin’
Superb pop song with some of the greatest harmony vocals ever put down on record, this was written by the band but first recorded by Barry McGuire. This version is obviously definitive and is the most enduring and best of their career. After a wonderfully moody acoustic guitar intro we are blessed with a sea of voices that all intertwine and compliment each other perfectly, carrying the song to an uplifting climax (after a pretty trippy flute solo!!).
24. Frank Wilson – Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)
This is such an excellent soul record, perfectly paced with a strong beat and great production, it was a huge hit with the Northern Soul clubs (in particular the Wigan Casino). Amazingly though it was only recorded as a demo by Motown, with 250 copies being produced and then promptly destroyed (as Berry Gordy didn’t like the vocal performance). Only two known copies survived (but rumoured to actually be five) making it one of the rarest records in the whole soul genre. It’s popularity in the soul clubs of the 70s led to it getting an official release in 1979.
23. The Animals – We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place
The best song of their career, this was written by songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and originally intended for The Righteous Brothers but ended up in the hands of producer Mickie Most, who gave it to The Animals to record. A brilliant bass intro from Chas Chandler (the man responsible for bringing Jimi Hendrix to the UK and also later managing Slade) leads to an impassioned vocal from Eric Burdon – you can hear the sentiment of the title echoing true for this working class British band looking to move on to bigger and better things.
22. Nina Simone – Sinnerman
This is the pinnacle of her recorded career, ten minutes of pure brilliance built around a piano riff that just grows faster and more manic as the song progresses. It has a gospel feel with call and response vocals and then has a soul/jazz breakdown leading to a handclap section that is just awesome, allowing the band and Miss Simone to pick the pace back up to a frantic conclusion. The song is a traditional African American spiritual piece that had been recorded a number of times in the 1950s before this defining version was unleashed on the world.
21. Bob Dylan – Like A Rolling Stone
Quite often voted Dylan’s best song and even voted the greatest song ever made on occasion, it’s neither of those things in my opinion but it is brilliant. This track is the perfect point where Bob Dylan the acoustic folk singer became Bob Dylan folk rock star. It still retains the core elements of his sound but is much more full bodied, rounded out with the memorable hammond organ work from Al Kooper. It was a hit despite the backlash from certain sections of Dylan’s fanbase and the length of the track – over 6 minutes, a big no-no for radio singles.
20. Simon & Garfunkel – The Sound Of Silence (Electric Version)
Originally recorded acoustically for their debut album, it wasn’t until this version, basically a remix by producer Tom Wilson, overdubbing electric guitars and adding drums, was released that it became a hit. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were unaware of the ‘remix’ until it was released but it’s success saved their career (their debut album had flopped). It’s a beautiful song with a menacing undertone but sung so delicately that it’s almost hymn-esque. The additional instrumentation really does bring the song to life and was a game changer for them.
19. Fontella Bass – Rescue Me
Such a great pop song, this has the sunniest sound to it musically even though lyrically it’s pretty downbeat! Strong vocals, great harmonies and a brilliant bassline make this stand out from the pack. Perhaps the reason those elements are so good is that the backing vocals were done by none other than Minnie Ripperton and the bass and drums were handled by Maurice White and Louis Satterfield, who went on to form Earth, Wind & Fire – what a backing band for Miss Bass. Whilst not a one hit wonder, her career was short and only lasted until the early seventies.
18. The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man
Originally recorded by Bob Dylan for his Bringing It All Back Home (1965) album, this is one of the best cover versions of all time. This was their debut single as The Byrds and what a start. Performed in a folk rock style as opposed to the acoustic version by Dylan and truncated down to just over two minutes in length, it has a much more immediate, pop sensibility and is all the better for it. The 12-string Rickenbacker guitar chimes beautifully and is the perfect accompaniment for the lush harmonies of Jim McGuinn, Gene Clark and David Crosby. This would form the template for their style for the next few years before a switch to a more country feel.
17. The Rolling Stones – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
One of those songs that everyone knows and you sometimes forget just how good it is!! Their second number one single and really the start of their path to superstardom, this has a driving beat and a killer riff, played by Keith Richards, that was originally supposed to be replaced by horns! On it’s release it wasn’t played on UK radio as the lyrics were considered to be too sexual but due to it’s success on pirate radio and the bands’ burgeoning fanbase it became a mega hit anyway.
16. The Who – My Generation
Another classic track that everyone knows, this still sounds huge today. The star of the show is Entwistle’s bass playing, his solo midway through the track still sounds so cool and was something totally different for the time. Of course, Keith Moon was not to be outdone, his drumming is wild and the fills and destruction of his kit at the songs end, coupled to Townshend’s feedbacking guitar, give this a dangerous edge that set them apart from their contemporaries. The stutter of Roger Daltrey’s vocal is also timeless, not the first to do it on record but definitely the most recognisable. When he almost drops an f-bomb before singing ”fade away” it must have been a shock to listeners at the time!
15. Wilson Pickett – In The Midnight Hour
Pure soul. Co-written and produced by Booker T & The M.G.’s guitarist, Steve Cropper, this showcases Wilson Pickett’s gruff, soulful vocal style but is all about the horn section. From the intro to the midsection when the songs most famous riff is blasted out, they keep the song moving forward. Coupled to the regular Stax records rhythm machine makes this a soul dancefloor anthem.
14. The Beach Boys – Please Let Me Wonder
Beautiful pop ballad with the most tremendous vocal harmonies, this shows the band growing up and tackling more intricate and complex sounds. Never released as a single, it’s taken from the album The Beach Boys Today! (1965), which is their first truly great full length release and a must listen. A bit of a recurring theme with Brian Wilson – he wrote this after trying a drug for the first time, on this occasion marijuana. It may have helped him produce some incredible music but he would unfortunately come to pay a heavy price.
13. Bob Dylan – Ballad Of A Thin Man
Now this is the song I consider to be one Dylan’s best. Over an instrumental set up not too dissimilar to ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ but much darker and menacing sounding, I can envision his folky followers jumping ship in their droves at this point!! You can feel the anger in every sneering lyric, it’s an attack on the media of the time who were often critical of Dylan and the fact they were stuck in the past and not supportive of forward thinking artists. To be able to get this message across atop the most complex musical creation he’d made at that point and still make it completely listenable is what makes him so good.
12. Otis Redding – I’ve Been Loving You Too Long
What a vocal performance!! As much as I love Otis when he is belting it out to an uptempo soul backing, when he does slow down and lets his voice stretch out then there is no better sound in soul music. Co-written by Jerry Butler (The Impressions) and produced by Steve Cropper, it’s a beautiful piece of music, a slow sensual, almost waltz-like pace, allowing everything to breathe and letting every note make an impact. The band on this are an incredible collection of talent, including Booker T and Isaac Hayes on keyboards and piano.
11. The Beatles – Nowhere Man
Brilliant Lennon written song, the harmonies on this are some of the best of their career. Released as part of the Rubber Soul (1965) album, this is the sound of The Beatles growing in sophistication. The whole sound of the song is huge – layers of vocals, layers of guitars and some really good drumming from Ringo, this was a big indicator of the leaps they would take in the next eight months before the release of the seminal Revolver (1966)
10. Gloria Jones – Tainted Love
Glorious soul stomper from the former wife of Marc Bolan (T. Rex). This, the original version of a song that has been covered a number of times (most famously by Soft Cell in 1981), is undoubtedly the best. Originally written and recorded in 1964, it wasn’t released until 1965 and then only as a b-side (to ‘My Bad Boy’s Comin’ Home’). It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that it gained any kind of recognition as it was being played in the Northern Soul clubs of the time but even then did not become a chart hit. Only with the advent of the Soft Cell cover did the interest in this track grow and now it’s rightfully regarded as one of the great soul records.
9. The Castaways – Liar, Liar
Awesome garage rock/pop song, this has a really unique sound for the time. Over a great organ based backing, their guitar player Robert Folschow contributes a falsetto vocal unlike anything being done in 1965. Despite being a one hit wonder (no.12 in the US) this is an influential record on the scene to come, despite still being quite under the radar. It was included on the Nuggets (1972) compilation which is essential listening for anyone with an interest in 60s garage/psychedelic pop/rock.
8. The Sonics – Psycho
Probably the heaviest sounding track released in 1965, this is a garage rock, almost punk-like update of the 1950s rock’n’roll sound. Huge drums, distorted guitars, horns and throat ripping screams, you can see why this would have been too much for the general public of the time to embrace and make a success. However, the people that were listening would take this sound and run with it, leading to all manner of offshoots and new genres. Influential to say the least.
7. The Moody Blues – Go Now
A superb cover of the soul song by Bessie Banks, originally released in 1964. This version sounds so huge, the piano playing by Mike Pinder is tremendous and really powers the song but everything on here is on point. A raw sadness from Denny Laine on vocals is complimented by wonderful harmonies and the bass and drums capture the soulful feel of the song perfectly whilst also giving it more rock-oriented style, making the track their own.
6. Otis Redding – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
What a cover this is! How to take an already great record and make it even better! Keeping the guitar riff intro but then having the horns blast in sets this version off at a great pace, transforming it into an absolute soul banger. Otis is on magnificent form as always, his vocal adding a sense of frustration but also an edge of anger not evident in the original. Taken from the album Otis Blue (1965), give the whole thing a spin and you won’t be disappointed.
5. The Beatles – We Can Work It Out
I mentioned earlier that Paul McCartney won the battle of the double a-side (see ‘Day Tripper’) and here is that winner. One of my favourite Beatles songs, it’s not as cool sounding as ‘Day Tripper’ but is an excellently written and composed pop song. The lyrics have an element of sadness to them that are conveyed perfectly by Paul’s vocal melodies, with the music echoing the sentiments, slower in the verses and then picking up tempo and brightness for the optimism of the chorus. One of McCartney’s greatest Beatles contributions.
4. The Temptations – My Girl
I have to make a confession – this was actually released on December 21st 1964 but I’m including it as that’s pretty close!! I’ve always been a big fan of this song ever since I heard it as a kid and even bought the 7” single when it was re-released as part of the soundtrack to the film My Girl (1991). I love it so much my beautiful wife and amazing boys even had the original 7” single framed for me for Father’s Day one year. I’ve even (badly) attempted it at a karaoke!! The song was written by Smokey Robinson and there is a version by him and The Miracles but it pales in comparison to this definitive take. Awesome guitar riff, a relaxed sound that is fleshed out with horns and orchestration without being overwrought and smooth as silk vocals from David Ruffin (his first lead vocal for The Temptations) make this one of the finest pop/soul songs ever.
3. Bob Dylan – Subterranean Homesick Blues
This might be a bit of an obvious choice but damn, this song is so good and still sounds incredible to this very day. A faster tempo that a lot of Dylan’s stuff, very much blues-based and far less folky than what he had done before, this is a style that suits him perfectly. His vocals are almost like a prototype rap, a stream of consciousness flow of poetry that you’re not quite sure of the meaning of but contains so many stand out lines and couplets. This was Bob Dylan announcing to the world that he was more than just a folk singer with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica and I don’t think you can make a greater impact or statement than coming out of the gate swinging (Track 1, Side 1) on your latest album than with this beauty.
2. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – The Tracks Of My Tears
Absolutely pure class, this song showcases Smokey Robinson’s songwriting at it’s most formidable. His beautiful falsetto vocal sings words that are so heartfelt, so poignant, that you feel the emotion in every line. Wrapped in brilliant production by the man himself, this is very much in contention for the greatest ever release on Motown. Surprisingly not a number one smash hit (UK no. 9, US no. 16), the sophistication of the song has allowed it to grow in stature over the years to take it’s place as a bonafide classic.
1. The Beatles – In My Life
Here it is, my number one song of 1965 and to be honest it was only ever going to be this track. I acquired a cassette copy of Rubber Soul (1965) at a young age and thought it was brilliant, full of great songs and a perfect snapshot of the growth and changing styles of the band. The song that stuck out to me and made me hit the rewind button (those were the days!) was this one – my favourite ever Beatles song and Lennon’s masterpiece. Nowhere near their most adventurous or groundbreaking record, what I truly feel is special about it is how evocative it is in it’s sense of love for people, places, the past but also looking to the future and the pure love he has for the person he’s with in the here and now. Totally beautiful record, it even has a piano solo sped up to sound like a harpsichord – perhaps it’s more adventurous than I give it credit for!!
Here’s the full Spotify playlist –