It’s the continuation of my year by year best of lists and we arrive at 1966, an absolutely pivotal year in the evolution of music.
75. Johnny Rivers – Secret Agent Man
Sounding very much like a knock off Bond theme, it is actually the theme music for a tv spy series of the time called Danger Man. Written by P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri, Johnny Rivers recorded it for the opening titles of the US broadcast of Danger Man (which was a British television show). It’s a really catchy and fun piece and has since been used in a number of films, either this version or in the form of a cover, including, unbelievably, one by Bruce Willis!!
74. The Buckinghams – Kind Of A Drag
Uptempo pop song, full of great harmonies and reminiscent of the kind of Beatles inspired hits that were commonplace at the time. This has a great use of horns and Hammond organ to give it a different flavour and was a big hit, reaching number one on the Billboard top 100.
73. Donovan – Season Of The Witch
Far more blues based than his more folky tracks, this showed that this Scottish artist was prepared to experiment with his sound, which he did throughout his career. It has a psychedelic feel that was becoming more prominent in the music around at the time, this track forming part of the basis for the growing scene. It’s rumoured that Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, in their pre-Led Zeppelin session musician days, played on this track but it’s never been confirmed.
72. The Shadows Of Knight – Gloria
Debut single from this American band is a cover of the classic by Them. It’s a less raw version than the original but is otherwise faithful to Van Morrison’s original template. It’s just such a strong song that across the years it’s been covered by a number of artists, this version being the most successful but not the best (check out Patti Smith’s version for the definitive take).
71. Jacques Dutronc – Et Moi, Et Moi, Et Moi
Great debut pop single from this French singer songwriter. It has a Kinks/Small Faces feel which made it popular on the Mod scene. Sung entirely in French and a big hit in it’s native country, it has been covered in various languages, the English version being recorded as ‘Alright, Alright, Alright’ by Mungo Jerry.
70. The Association – Along Comes Mary
Really slick pop song from this American group. Full of great harmonies and really cool use of organ and flute in the instrumentation sets this apart and gives it a sophistication that’s quite remarkable for a band on only their second single. It’s long been said that the ‘’Mary’’ of the title refers (of should that be reefers!!) to marijuana but was never confirmed by the songs writer, Tandyn Almer.
69. The Capitols – Cool Jerk
Catchy as hell r’n’b pop song, this was the second single and only hit by this American group. Named after the dance craze of the time, the jerk (steady now!!), it’s an upbeat slice of fun, perfect for moving around to, regardless of whether you know the moves. It’s rhythm is tight and immaculately played, which isn’t surprising as the backing band on the track is none other than The Funk Brothers, Motown’s crack team of studio musicians.
68. The Yardbirds – Happenings Ten Years Time Ago
Brilliant psychedelic pop rock song, this really showcased the band expanding their horizons and moving away from their more blues based style. It features superb guitar playing from both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones played the bass on this recording as a studio session musician. The production is great, giving the song a spaced out and trippy vibe, creating another stepping stone in the formation of psychedelia.
67. Jimmy Ruffin – What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted
Big soul ballad from the brother of The Temptations David Ruffin. Released to great success on the Motown label and featuring an impassioned vocal performance and brilliant instrumental backing from The Funk Brothers, this was his only real hit. He later moved to the UK where in the 1980s he became a fundraiser to help the miner’s strikes and an anti-drug advocate following the death of his brother from an overdose.
66. Wilson Pickett – Mustang Sally
Brilliant bluesy soul record originally written and recorded by Mack Rice. Wilson Pickett’s vocal is raw and powerful and doesn’t sound like the voice of a 25 year old (which he was at the time of recording). The song was brought back into the public consciousness when it was heavily featured in the film The Commitments (1991), where it was covered, alongside a host of soul classics, by the films’ group of the same name.
65. The Supremes – You Keep Me Hangin’ On
Classic Motown pop, written by Holland-Dozier-Holland, this was released at the height of the groups success. It was another number one hit at a time when that was almost an inevitability for the ladies and is one of their most enduring songs. It has a great pace and some interesting production tweaks (speaker panning in the intro, double tracked Diana Ross vocals) that keep it sounding fresh.
64. Billy Butler – Right Track
Excellent soul track with an uptempo beat and great use of strings built upon a nagging guitar riff. This wasn’t a hit at the time but became popular on the Northern Soul scene of the 1970s and has since found the acclaim it deserves. Billy Butler didn’t achieve a great deal of success as an artist and turned his hand to writing and producing for others for the remainder of his career.
63. The Kinks – Dead End Street
Standalone single from The Kinks, continuing their move away from the rock sound of their earlier releases and towards the storytelling style Ray Davies would become renowned for. Great production from Shel Talmy and cool use of horns really work well to compliment the nature of the lyrics – the misery of poverty and the need to help others less fortunate.
62. The Troggs – With A Girl Like You
Tremendous pop rock song from the pen of band leader Reg Presley. It was a number one smash on only their third attempt, helped greatly by the popularity of their previous single ‘Wild Thing’. The thing that sets it apart from most ballads of the time is the rawness of the guitar, giving it an edge most love songs are not associated with.
61. The Music Machine – Talk Talk
Awesome garage rock debut single from this little known American group. This is pretty heavy and undisciplined for the time and definitely can be seen as a precursor for the punk bands that emerged in the 1970s. The band only released two albums and were very much ahead of their time, all but forgotten after they disbanded until the inclusion of two of their tracks on the Nuggets box set in 1998 garnered renewed interest.
60. Bobby Hebb – Sunny
Maybe a bit cheesy to some these days, I’ve always liked this song since I was a kid. Easygoing soul pop with a jazzy inflection, Bobby Hebb’s vocal is smooth but passionate and complimented by a musical backing including string, horns and some strong drumming. This was his only hit despite supporting The Beatles on tour in the year of it’s release.
59. Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich – Hold Tight!
Absolutely terrible name for a band that makes them sound like a joke, this is actually an awesome pop rock song. It’s worth listening to for the intro alone, the banging snare beat introducing one of the most distorted guitar lines of the 60s!! It then morphs into a catchy pop jingle with on point harmonies and an absolute earworm of a chorus. If only their name didn’t sound like characters from a low rent pantomime performance of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, then I believe they would be held in higher regard!!
58. Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels – Devil With A Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly
Superb garage rock/soul medley of two covers – the first half originally a blues number by Shorty Long; the second by Little Richard. This absolutely rips, keeping the energy up throughout and containing an excellent drum performance from Johnny Badanjek, only a teenager at the time, that just about stops itself from forcing the band to go faster than they would have even thought possible.
57. The Monkees – (Theme From) The Monkees
Such a brilliant pop song, manufactured of course for the tv series The Monkees but nevertheless creating an everlasting hit. The members of the group did not contribute anything musically to this track (nor did they on their debut album as a whole), they only provided vocals. This was the opening track on that debut and also a shortened version was used for the opening titles of the tv show. I used to love watching re-runs (yes, re-runs!! I’m old but not that old!!) of the show as a kid and this song captures it’s pure madcap, smile on your face joy, perfectly.
56. The Merseys – Sorrow
Originally starting out as The Merseybeats, they shortened the name and produced this excellent pop song, a cover of a track originally by The McCoys. More uptempo than the original, with the addition of a horn section bringing a more soulful feeling, this is the definitive version. David Bowie’s 1973 cover from his Pin Ups (1973) album is also more than worth a listen.
55. Lorraine Ellison – Stay With Me
Massive soul ballad with an incredible vocal performance from Lorraine Ellison. The production by Phil Ramone is just huge, utilising a full 46 piece orchestra to wring every last bit of emotion out of the song. It’s been covered numerous times but nobody has ever been able to come close to this version. Amazingly it wasn’t a hit and despite possessing such an incredible voice, Lorraine Ellison never had a hit single in her career.
54. Four Tops – Reach Out I’ll Be There
Massive pop/soul track from the Holland-Dozier-Holland writing and production team, this is the most well known Four Tops song and one of the most famous in the Motown back catalogue. It has an interesting musical feel with prominent use of flute and piccolo and a typically brilliant and impassioned vocal from Levi Stubbs that verges on the point of pure shouting to hammer his emotional point home at times.
53. Lee Dorsey – Get Out Of My Life Woman
Really cool sounding rhythm and blues song written and produced by Allen Toussaint. It has a great groove and a drum intro that has been sampled by many hip hop artists. Lee Dorsey, who’d been releasing records since the late 1950s, gives a brilliant and unique vocal performance, sounding wounded and defiant at the same time.
52. Paul Revere & The Raiders – I’m Not Your Stepping Stone
Awesome track, this is a garage rock song with an attitude that was definitely not the norm in the mid-60s. It retains a pop edge but contains a snarling vocal performance from Mark Lindsay and some superb fuzz guitar and has a couple of double time breaks that are just incredible for the time. This was covered to great success by The Monkees and even the Sex Pistols did a cover for their The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle (1979) album.
51. The Young Rascals – Good Lovin’
This cover of a song originally by The Olympics is so upbeat and sunny in it’s disposition that it’s impossible not to like. This has a quick pace compared to a lot of the pop songs of the day and gives it a fresh, live feel that helped propel it to the top of the Billboard chart. Everyone sounds like they are having the time of their lives and that infectiously resonates with the listener.
50. Frank Sinatra – That’s Life
From one of the all time great vocalists and performers and a man who just had the knack for interpreting other people’s work and making it his own, this came at a time where Sinatra’s career was reflective of the theme of the song. After having a string of hits throughout the 40s and 50s he began to find those hits drying up in the 60s. Alongside ‘Strangers In The Night’, this revived those fortunes, if only for a brief period.
49. The Beatles – Rain
The b-side to ‘Paperback Writer’, this is an awesome song written by John Lennon and including some incredible bass playing by Paul McCartney. It has a psychedelic pop vibe, lush harmony vocals, Ringo filling every space with snare rolls and some backwards tape loops towards the songs end. You can hear the huge influence this song had on Oasis, who actually began their career as The Rain.
48. The Creation – Making Time
Hard hitting debut single from this English band, you can hear the influence of The Who from the opening chords and huge drum fills. It shares the producer of that band, Shel Talmy, so it shouldn’t really come as too much of a surprise. It’s one of the first songs to ever have someone play the guitar with a violin bow, giving it an experimental feel that must have been a lot for listeners to get their heads round at the time.
47. The Supremes – You Can’t Hurry Love
Perfect pop from the moment that opening bassline hits, it never lets up from then on. Holland-Dozier-Holland were the masters of this kind of style at the time and had a real affinity with The Supremes, gifting them many of their biggest and most enduring hits. Diana Ross is in good vocal form on this track, really letting the emotion of the verses come through in a breathless performance which matches the vitality of the music.
46. Simon & Garfunkel – A Hazy Shade Of Winter
The fastest Simon & Garfunkel song, whilst retaining their folky side, it absolutely rips with an almost proto-punk riff and uptempo pace. This is the toughest they ever sounded and it suits them, marking this standalone single as one of the most interesting in their whole catalogue.
45. The Seeds – Pushin’ Too Hard
Psychedelic garage rock song from another band that are pioneers of the harder sound to come, this was their only hit single. Written and produced by the bands’ vocalist, Sky Saxon, this takes an R&B template and increases the tempo, giving it a edgier feel that set it apart from the more pop-oriented acts of the day. Another track that formed part of the original Nuggets compilation, that album is a must for anyone interested in the dawn of garage/psychedelic rock.
44. Carla Thomas – B-A-B-Y
The daughter of blues/soul singer Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas didn’t experience the levels of success she deserved, with this classic slice of soul/pop only reaching no. 14 on the Billboard hot 100. It was written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter and has the signature Stax Records sound of soulful horns and rolling bass that really drive this, housing a sensuous vocal performance from the main lady.
43. The Monkees – I’m A Believer
Everybody knows this song but there’s no denying it’s sheer catchiness and pure joy. Their second single (and second no. 1), it was written by Neil Diamond. Like most of their material, it only featured the members of The Monkees on vocals, with the music being recorded by a team of session musicians including Neil Diamond himself on acoustic guitar.
42. Donovan – Sunshine Superman
The coolest and best song recorded by Donovan, this captures his folky psychedelia perfectly. Mickie Most’s production pushes the acoustic guitars to the fore, creating an almost distorted sound at points. This allows the mystic, psychedelic guitars and bass to do their thing in the background giving it a jazz inflected, trippy vibe. Both Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones played on this in their pre-Led Zeppelin session musician days.
41. Paul Revere & The Raiders – Kicks
Brilliant psych pop/garage rock record. The band had been going for a few years before landing this record, written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, that had been turned down by The Animals. Paul Revere & The Raiders ran with it and crafted their biggest ever hit in the process. It’s considered to be one of the earliest examples of an anti-drug song, something that went against the feelings of much of the youth of the time.
40. The Standells – Dirty Water
Another Nuggets compilation gem, this is a gritty slice of garage pop, with a vocal that could be described as proto-punk. It has a blues based riff, harmonica solo and swinging beat but just enough edge to make it stand out. It’s gone on to have a life of it’s own as the song that’s played when both the NHL’s Boston Bruins and the MLB’s Boston Red Sox win a home game.
39. The Byrds – Eight Miles High
The Byrds at their most psychedelic and one of the first true examples of a rock band incorporating psychedelia into their sound. This retains the lush harmonies of their previous material but everything else is a big leap forward. The time structures are unconventional, the drumming has an almost jazz feel and the guitar playing by Jim McGuinn is other worldly, aping the sitar style of Ravi Shankar but played on a 12 string guitar. It’s amazing and must have sounded so fresh to ears of the time.
38. Wilson Pickett – Land Of 1000 Dances
Awesome upbeat soul/dance track, originally by Chris Kenner. This version is the definitive take and absolutely rips. Everything is super tight and played so ferociously, you can hear the speakers distorting trying to contain the sound. The ‘’na, na, na, na, na’’ chant along section is one of the most famous and infectious parts in music, later sampled by Ini Kamoze for the 1993 hit ‘Here Comes The Hotstepper’.
37. The Beatles – Eleanor Rigby
Amazing song, written by Paul McCartney and showcasing the risks the band were willing to take. Containing only Paul’s vocal accompanied by an orchestral backing, this couldn’t be further from the bands’ earlier guitar based style and opened up their appeal even wider. Incredibly it was issued as a double a-side with ‘Yellow Submarine’, I’m not sure there has ever been another release with two such polar opposite songs!!
36. Percy Sledge – When A Man Loves A Woman
One of the all time great soul ballads, this tells the story of what a man would do for the person he loves. The sentiment of the lyrics allow for Percy Sledge to put on a tremendous vocal performance, one in which you feel every bit of what he is trying to convey. Coupled with a slow, waltzing beat and an iconic organ riff, this had surefire hit written all over it.
35. Nina Simone – Lilac Wine
Beautiful, heartbreaking song, this was originally performed by Hope Foye for the musical Dance Me A Song. It has been covered by many artists (including a great version by Jeff Buckley) but never as good as this. Nina Simone is in perfect control of her voice throughout this record, soft and on the verge of breaking at points, then confident and soaring in others, it’s a fantastic performance. Never a hit, it was only an album track but has gone on to be recognised as one of her best.
34. The Kinks – Sunny Afternoon
One of the most famous Kinks songs and indicative of the storytelling style of Ray Davies. Lyrically it’s about the annoyance felt by the writer at the high levels of tax he was expected to pay at the time but musically it’s relaxed and breezy and encapsulates perfectly the feeling on a day in the summer, kicking back and relaxing without a care in the world.
33. Simon & Garfunkel – Homeward Bound
Brilliant acoustic track with the always sumptuous harmonies of messrs Simon & Garfunkel. Written about the feeling of wanting to return home whilst on tour, you can hear the joy in their voices when describing how good it will feel when they get there. This was released after ‘The Sounds Of Silence’ had made them stars and you could already hear the sense of exhaustion that goes along with being successful musicians in the words of this song.
32. Los Bravos – Black Is Black
Debut single from this Spanish band is a beauty. It was their only hit in a short career that lasted just three years and the same amount of albums. It has a funky garage rock feel but with the addition of a horn section really filling out the sound and giving it a soulful edge. They were the first Spanish band to ever have an international hit single.
31. Small Faces – All Or Nothing
Superb rock ballad written by the bands’ Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane. This was a UK number one and the biggest hit of their career. Musically tight but allowing for individual expression (especially the incredible drumming of Kenney Jones) and containing a wounded but assured vocal performance from Steve Marriott, it’s the power of the group vocals in the chorus that really lift this song to anthemic status.
30. The Temptations – Get Ready
Absolutely fantastic slice of soul/pop. This has a great pace, big bass line and a tremendous falsetto vocal performance from Eddie Kendricks, it works perfectly in getting you moving. Written and produced by Smokey Robinson, it wasn’t quite the hit that it deserved to be but has remained one of their most popular tracks. It’s also worth checking out the 1970 cover version by Rare Earth, who give it a bit of a rock spin.
29. The Walker Brothers – The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore
Massive pop ballad, originally performed by Frankie Valli but transformed into an epic by producers Johnny Franz and Ivor Raymonde. Full of fantastic vocal harmonies, beautiful orchestration and huge drums in the Phil Spector wall of sound vein, topped off with Scott Walker’s deep baritone vocal. It’s a sumptuous listen, just huge sounding in every way. It was a worldwide hit (number one in the UK) but was to be their last real taste of chart success, especially in America where they never truly broke through. Just to clear things up, the three members were not brothers and none were born with the surname Walker, they just liked the name!!
28. Count Five – Psychotic Reaction
Awesome garage rock song from this American band, this was their only hit and was taken from their sole album of the same name. It has a really cool change of pace part way through, adding a bluesy psychedelia to proceedings. Another band that were rediscovered later and are now regarded as pioneers of the garage rock movement.
27. The Blues Magoos – (We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet
Brilliant blues based garage rock stomper with an enduring riff and gang vocals that formed the genesis of ‘Black Night’ by Deep Purple. Like so many bands of their ilk this was their only hit and after releasing a handful of albums, by 1970 their career was over.
26. The Beatles – And Your Bird Can Sing
From one of their best albums, Revolver (1966), comes this guitar driven beauty written by John Lennon. The earworm of a guitar riff is played by George Harrison and Paul McCartney and is one of the best in their career. Backed by the usual excellent bass playing of Paul and a solid Ringo beat, this showcases the band at their playful, uptempo best.
25. The Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice
Opening track of one of the best albums of all time (Pet Sounds (1966)), it’s also one of their best known and most enduring songs. Absolutely huge sounding, full of instrumentation, wonderful harmonies and great lead vocals from both Mike Love and Brian Wilson, this song showcased just how rapidly Brian was developing as a writer, arranger and producer – it’s a far cry from the surfing songs of old.
24. Sam & Dave – Hold On, I’m Comin’
Funky soul track from the Stax records label and written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter. It’s full of the trademark Stax horn blasts, has a great uptempo beat, strong vocals from Sam Moore and Dave Prater, a chorus that sticks in your head and superb backing from Booker T & The M.G.’s – what more could you ask for from a soul record.
23. The Temptations – Ain’t Too Proud To Beg
I love the vocal performance by David Ruffin on this song, it’s so raw and emotional and almost verges on cracking at certain points. Written by Norman Whitfield and Edward Holland Jr. and produced by Whitfield, it continued The Temptations move away from the slick pop sounds of their Smokey Robinson helmed material and would see them expand even further as the decade would progress.
22. Aaron Neville – Tell It Like It Is
Pop/Soul ballad featuring an incredibly smooth vocal performance from Aaron Neville. It feels like it could have come out in the 1950s and probably sounded a bit old fashioned even in 1966 but the quality of the writing just can’t be denied. It was a huge hit for him on only his second single release and he never came close to achieving the same success again as a solo artist but was involved in some important records once the 70s rolled round.
21. ? & The Mysterians – 96 Tears
Absolutely superb garage rock song, containing some memorable organ work from Frank Rodriguez. Incredibly it was only going to be the b-side to their debut single before the decision was made to reverse that, leading to the song reaching number one on the Billboard chart. As you can probably guess, it was their only hit!!
20. Brenton Wood – Gimme Little Sign
This is such a great soul/pop song, one that was a hit at the time but tends to fly under the radar a bit these days. It’s upbeat and happy sounding, despite the lyrics not being reflective of that feeling and has a chorus that will stick in your head for days. It’s taken from his debut album Oogum Boogum (1967), which is well worth a listen. Incredibly it was covered by Peter Andre in the early 90s – I haven’t subjected my ears to that version but I don’t think it’s going to make my list of the best tracks of 1992!!
19. Cream – I Feel Free
Brilliant psychedelic blues rock track, the band hitting a home run on just their second single. Even though it was released in the same month as their debut album, it wasn’t included on it. The band were seen as a supergroup, featuring the talents of Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker and their material certainly lived up to that moniker.
18. The Isley Brothers – This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You)
This classic soul track was written and produced by Holland-Dozier-Holland and was The Isley’s first recording for Motown. It wasn’t to be a very successful or long stay on the label, this track being the only hit single produced. They’d been making music since the late 50s and them joining the world’s most popular soul label seemed like a perfect fit. It wasn’t to be but didn’t stop the band from having further hits in the 70s and 80s.
17. The Easybeats – Friday On My Mind
Superb upbeat stomper of a track from these Australian rockers. Containing George Young (brother of Angus and Malcolm of AC/DC fame) and Harry Vanda, who went on to produce the first five albums in the career of AC/DC, this was a big hit at the time and the only real success they achieved outside of Australia. It’s worth checking out David Bowie’s cover version from his Pin Ups (1973) album to.
16. The Lovin’ Spoonful – Summer In The City
Brilliant pop song, it has a bit more of an edge to it than their earlier material, perfectly capturing the feeling laid out by the lyrics. This was a huge hit and is the best song they produced in their career, which was unfortunately over by the end of the decade. Their leader John Sebastian went on to have a successful solo career throughout the 1970s.
15. The Rolling Stones – Paint It, Black
Anyone who’s ever seen a film based on or set around the time of the Vietnam war is sure to have heard this song!! It hasn’t diminished it’s power any though. An uptempo rock track, it has an air of mystique due to the sitar parts played by Brian Jones, an instrument that was becoming increasingly more used by western bands (including very famously by The Beatles). The song was the opening track on their Aftermath (1966) album for it’s US release but was issued as a standalone single in the UK.
14. Ike & Tina Turner – River Deep – Mountain High
Towering!! That’s the word I’d use to describe this. Everything is huge!! The production by Phil Spector is the best of his career and captures his Wall Of Sound style perfectly. It was co-written by Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich and at the time was the most expensive song ever created due to the sheer amount of musicians involved in the track and the amount of time it took to get it just right. Despite the incredible vocal performance by Tina Turner and how iconic the song now is, it wasn’t actually a hit when first released in the US!!
13. Otis Redding – Try A Little Tenderness
To me, this man is the king of soul. His voice is just unbeatable, not silky smooth like a Marvin Gaye or Sam Cooke but with a rough edge and power that works equally as well fronting a soul belter or a tender soul ballad. This falls into the latter category but when it hits that moment of release towards the songs end, he really gets to soar and let every ounce of emotion pour out. This song is actually a cover of a track from 1932, originally performed by the Ray Noble Orchestra. Without ever having to hear it you can be sure that it’s a million miles removed from this definitive version!!
12. The Beatles – Here, There And Everywhere
One of the most beautiful Beatles songs, it’s Paul McCartney at his most gentle and delicate best. Featuring a restrained lead vocal backed up by sumptuous harmonies, this showed that the band could still write a good old fashioned love song without all the experimentation and still be the absolute best at it. Never released as a single, it’s further evidence that even The Beatles album tracks produced some absolute all time greats.
11. The Spencer Davis Group – Gimme Some Lovin’
An absolutely irresistible uptempo pop classic, supposedly this was conceived in 30 minutes by the band whilst rehearsing!! It goes to show that sometimes the best songs don’t need overthinking!! The band had been using reggae musician Jackie Edwards as a songwriter but after the disappointing lack of success for their previous single the band decided to go it alone. It was a great choice, giving them the biggest and most enduring hit of their career.
10. 13th Floor Elevators – You’re Gonna Miss Me
Brilliant slice of psychedelic garage rock from these Texan sonic adventurers. It was the band’s debut single and their only moderately successful song. It’s stood the test of time as a classic, one of the most important records in the formation of psychedelic rock music and it’s inclusion on the Nuggets (1972) compilation helped convey it to plenty more eager sets of ears. The band only lasted three years before their leader, vocalist Roky Erickson was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and sent to a psychiatric hospital. Once released he continued to write, record and tour his music over the years up until his death in 2019.
9. The Rolling Stones – Under My Thumb
This is the Stones at their poppiest/Motown soul esque peak. Iffy subject matter aside, this is one of their catchiest ever compositions, signified by the fact that it’s one of their most popular songs without ever being released as a single. It has a great use of fuzz bass and marimba to give it a unique sound and slinky feel. Unfortunately this was the song the band were playing at their ill-fated Altamont gig when a fan was stabbed to death by the Hells Angels who were acting as security.
8. James Brown – It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World
The master of funk was also the master of the soul ballad. In stark contrast to the previous song on this list, this is a celebration of a woman’s worth and importance in the world. It was written by Brown and his then girlfriend, Betty Jean Newsome and produced wonderfully by Brown himself. The band is super tight (as you would expect) but it’s the addition of the string section, arranged by conductor Sammy Lowe, that gives the song it’s beauty. The strings are lush sounding and arranged so they feel like a blanket wrapping itself around you and enveloping you inside it’s warmth. On top of this, James Brown gives a passionate, non-showy vocal performance that when combined with the music, makes this a show stopper.
7. The Beatles – Tomorrow Never Knows
This is The Beatles at their most forward thinking, their most futuristic and really showcases just how experimental they were willing to be. It’s so far removed from the traditional vocal/guitar/bass/drums set up they started with, that just a mere four years after their first single, it’s hard to believe it’s the same band. It’s a John Lennon composition but it’s the contributions of recording engineer Geoff Emerick and producer George Martin that set this apart. Containing sampling, tape loops, reversed guitar parts, vocal effects, syncopated drum patterns – this was dance music years before that even became a thing. Just listen to this and then play Dig Your Own Hole (1997) by The Chemical Brothers and see how influential it was even 30 years later.
6. The Beach Boys – Good Vibrations
The pinnacle of Brian Wilson trying to create what would be described as a ‘’pocket symphony’’, it was due to be included on the Smile album that, whilst recording, saw him succumb to a mental breakdown and wasn’t finished until 2004. It was released as a single and included on the Smiley Smile (1967) album and is widely regarded as one of the greatest pieces of music ever recorded. The composition, arrangement and recording of the song was unlike anything anyone had attempted before and involved hundreds of takes, lots of session musicians, four different recording studios and over 90 hours of tape for Brian Wilson to create a song from. Miraculously he managed to make a 3 and a half minute, experimental but catchy and appealing classic that many regard as his ultimate triumph.
5. Ennio Morricone – The Ecstasy Of Gold
From what is arguably the greatest western of all time (The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (1966)) and what is undoubtedly the greatest composer of said genre, comes this atmospheric, epic piece. You can’t listen to this without picturing wide open plains, galloping horses and six shooters gleaming in the sun. It’s guaranteed to simultaneously make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and get the blood pumping, anyone who’s ever seen Metallica live will know exactly the feeling I’m describing, that band using this piece as their intro music for every gig they’ve played since 1983.
4. Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth
Buffalo Springfield were a bright light that burnt out fast, they were over and done in just two years. This is their most well known and best song and was originally released as a standalone single before it’s success led to it being included on their self titled debut album. It’s gone on to be known as a protest song and features in many Vietnam based war films. The band contained the incredible talents of Stephen Stills and Neil Young who went on to even more successful careers either as solo artists or as members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
3. Love – Seven And Seven Is
Amazing garage rock song, this is one of the fastest and heaviest songs of the 60s up until this point. Written by band leader Arthur Lee, it really has a vicious streak that showed that punk rock was being created 10 years before it became a thing. The drumming on this track is incredible, absolutely relentless, taking over 30 takes and both drummer Alban Pfisterer and Arthur Lee intermittently taking turns in capturing what they wanted. It’s taken from their second album, Da Capo (1966) which contains far more psychedelic blues based material than this pumped up rocker would have you think. Amazingly it actually reached number 33 in the US, signifying that audiences were willing to embrace the new sounds that were emerging.
2. The Beatles – Paperback Writer
One of the all-time great Beatles tracks, written by Paul McCartney and released as a standalone single. Beginning with a chorus of harmonised vocals before unleashing one of the finest riffs in their whole catalogue, backed up with some phenomenal bass playing from Paul himself and a groovy beat from Ringo. The bass playing on this and the single’s b-side (‘Rain’) is McCartney at his very best, showcasing just how incredible a player he was/is. There is some dispute as well over who played the main guitar riff – Paul or George Harrison. It may not be one of their most lyrical or meaningful song but it packs a real punch and never fails to put a smile on my face.
1. The Beach Boys – God Only Knows
Up there as one of the greatest songs ever written, this is undoubtedly Brian Wilson’s masterpiece. Both musically and lyrically incredible, taken as a whole it’s a thing of beauty. Brian floods the track with a smorgasbord of instruments including sleigh bells, clarinets, flutes, French horn, harpsichord – even plastic juice cups!! The sheer amount of musicians and sounds never overwhelm the track and each part compliments the song perfectly. The lyric, written by Tony Asher and sung with so much fragile passion by Carl Wilson, was daring for the time, it’s inclusion of the word God in the context of the song being unlike anything that had been attempted before. It was a top 10 hit around the world, apart from in America, where it was only issued as the b-side of ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, mainly due to the worry that it wouldn’t be played on the radio due to it using God in it’s narrative. It’s the centrepiece of their greatest album Pet Sounds (1966) and is absolutely essential listening for anyone remotely interested in music of any form or genre.