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#1 rock songs of the 1960s

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

#1 rock songs of the 1960s

Photo of Del Shannon.

The 1960s marked an unquestionable evolution—and revolution—in rock music. The British Invasion made its mark in this decade, with bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, who were inspired by American artists like Little Richard and Chuck Berry. They, along with their American counterparts, the Beach Boys, incorporated catchy melodies and lyrics to redefine pop music. These bands became more experimental later on, joining groups like Jefferson Airplane and Pink Floyd that incorporated psychedelic experiences in their music.

In the second half of this epic decade in rock came poetic lyrics from Jim Morrison of the Doors, boundary-pushing stage performances from guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, and social activism from folk-rock artists like Bob Dylan. These elements culminated in Woodstock in 1969, encapsulating the decade’s fusion of social and music evolution. Nearly half a million people drove to upstate New York to revel in this now-legendary event held at the cusp of another new decade. Concertgoers sat through three days of rain and lightning to see an all-star lineup including, but not limited to, the Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joan Baez, the Grateful Dead, and Sly and the Family Stone, setting a blueprint for festivals dominating the music industry today.

With so many influential tracks from this time period, Stacker looked at the biggest #1 rock songs of the 1960s that topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks or more, then filtered it down to the rock genre, according to MusicBrainz, an open music encyclopedia via the University of Waterloo.

Jeff Hochberg // Getty Images

Mrs. Robinson

Simon And Garfunkel appear for a performance on the campus of Washington University.

– Artist: Simon & Garfunkel
– Date entered at #1: June 1, 1968
– Weeks at #1: 3

Not only is “Mrs. Robinson” one of Simon & Garfunkel’s most notable songs, it became synonymous with the 1968 classic film “The Graduate.” The catchy melody and lyrics won the duo their first Grammy. Before splitting in 1970, the duo produced numerous hits like “Cecilia,” “The Sound of Silence,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Mark and Colleen Hayward // Getty Images

Hello, Goodbye

The Beatles perform ‘Rain’ and ‘Paperback Writer’ on BBC TV show ‘Top Of The Pops’.

– Artist: The Beatles
– Date entered at #1: Dec. 30, 1967
– Weeks at #1: 3

Released as a nonalbum single in 1967, “Hello Goodbye” became the Beatles’ 15th #1 hit. The song leaves fans polarized—while some praise the pop single, some say due to it being chosen over “I Am the Walrus” for an A-side record, it hampered experimentation for the Beatles and put them on the path for breakup.

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

Soldier Boy

American girl group The Shirelles during one of the ‘Rock & Roll Revival’ concerts at Madison Square Gardens.

– Artist: The Shirelles
– Date entered at #1: May 5, 1962
– Weeks at #1: 3

“Soldier Boy” is written from the point of view of a woman who promises to stay loyal to her boyfriend, who has gone off to war. It’s one of the many Brill Building songs that dominated the charts in the late ’50s and early ’60s. The Shirelles went on to have multiple hits and were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

Bettmann // Getty Images


The Beatles show off their golden records during a news conference for the 1965 film Help!.

– Artist: The Beatles
– Date entered at #1: Sept. 4, 1965
– Weeks at #1: 3

From the same-titled album and movie, “Help!” showed the band’s struggle with fame. Written primarily by John Lennon, he considered it among his favorite Beatles songs. It demonstrated the group’s willingness to dive deep into their emotions, which became a more prominent theme in future work.

John Pratt // Getty Images


British instrumental pop group The Tornados playing in a house studio.

– Artist: The Tornados
– Date entered at #1: Dec. 22, 1962
– Weeks at #1: 3

Named after a telescope, “Telstar” was one of the first examples of electronic rock music. The use of synthesizers and futuristic sounds set a foundation of experimental rock for bands like Pink Floyd and King Crimson. Tornados leader Joe Meek couldn’t collect royalties from the single, as a plagiarism lawsuit blocked him until he died in 1967.

GAB Archive // Getty Images

Hey Paula

Photo of Ray Hildebrand and Jill Jackson with a milkshake.

– Artist: Paul & Paula
– Date entered at #1: Feb. 9, 1963
– Weeks at #1: 3

Paul & Paula hit the top of the charts with their first single, “Hey Paula,” a ballad about a young couple’s relationship. The conversational tune made it a memorable example of ’60s ballads. Ray Hildebrand (Paul), who died in 2023, had decided to step away from the limelight, while Jill Jackson (Paula) still performs.

Georg Göbel // Getty Images

Pony Time

Chubby Checker performs on 29 August 1963 in the Munich circus Krone.

– Artist: Chubby Checker
– Date entered at #1: Feb. 27, 1961
– Weeks at #1: 3

Capitalizing on the dance craze he started with “The Twist,” Chubby Checker released “Pony Time.” Its explicit instructions were unique for a dance song. It was originally written by Don Covay and John Berry to be performed by the former, but Checker’s version established him as a dance floor icon.

Nicky J. Sims // Getty Images

Running Bear

Photo of Johnny performing.

– Artist: Johnny Preston
– Date entered at #1: Jan. 18, 1960
– Weeks at #1: 3

Johnny Preston’s “Running Bear” was written by his friend Jiles Perry Richardson, best known as “The Big Bopper.” Though one of the most notable rockabilly songs, it’s often criticized for appropriating tribal war chants throughout the song.

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Doo-Wop group The Tokens pose for a portrait circa 1965 in New York City.

– Artist: The Tokens
– Date entered at #1: Dec. 18, 1961
– Weeks at #1: 3

Although “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was a sleeper hit in the United States, many younger audiences will recognize it from “The Lion King” soundtrack. It’s an English adaptation of “Mbube,” a Zulu song written and performed by Solomon Linda. The artist’s estate fought American publishers for years to earn royalties for the song.

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

Winchester Cathedral

The New Vaudeville Band performs live at an unspecified venue.

– Artist: The New Vaudeville Band
– Date entered at #1: Dec. 3, 1966
– Weeks at #1: 3

Coming from the British Music Hall era, “Winchester Cathedral” was performed by the New Vaudeville Band, formed by songwriter Geoff Stephens for the sole purpose of recording this song. It won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Rock & Roll Recording in 1967, but many question if it’s a true rock ‘n’ roll song.

Paul Natkin // Getty Images

Blue Velvet

American singer Bobby Vinton performs on stage at Chicagofest.

– Artist: Bobby Vinton
– Date entered at #1: Sept. 21, 1963
– Weeks at #1: 3

“Blue Velvet” was originally written and composed by Bernie Wayne and Lee Morris in 1950 and recorded by Tony Bennett in 1951, but it became a #1 hit when Bobby Vinton sang it in 1963. It’s been covered multiple times, most recently by Lana Del Rey in 2012. Though this was his biggest hit, Vinton continued to have success as a musician and actor throughout his career.

Bettmann // Getty Images

Monday, Monday

“The Mamas and the Papas”, folk rock group, during their guest appearance on the “Ed Sullivan Show” TV Program.

– Artist: The Mamas & the Papas
– Date entered at #1: May 7, 1966
– Weeks at #1: 3

An anthem of Southern California’s Laurel Canyon era, “Monday, Monday” was a hallmark of folk-rock music. The lyrics describe the complexities of daily life and the relationships that come with them. Not only did this song win a Grammy, but it also provided a snapshot of life in the late ’60s in Southern California.

H V Drees // Getty Images

Oh, Pretty Woman

Roy Orbison strumming a guitar on the sofa of his room in the Westbury Hotel.

– Artist: Roy Orbison and the Candy Men
– Date entered at #1: Sept. 26, 1964
– Weeks at #1: 3

Recognized for its catchy guitar intro, “Oh, Pretty Woman” is singer Roy Orbison’s best-known song. It posthumously won Orbison a Grammy in 1991 for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a man, with its pop culture impact going far beyond Orbison—it became popular again in 1990 as part of the “Pretty Woman” film soundtrack.

Fox Photos // Getty Images

I Feel Fine

The Beatles in performance.

– Artist: The Beatles
– Date entered at #1: Dec. 26, 1964
– Weeks at #1: 3

“I Feel Fine” made history in 1964 as the first song to intentionally incorporate guitar feedback in a song. Inspired by song riffs by Bobby Parker and Ray Charles, the song was written by John Lennon between takes of “Eight Days a Week” and was released as an A-side to “She’s a Woman,” becoming the group’s sixth #1 single that year.

Central Press // Getty Images

We Can Work It Out

Beatles At The BBC Television Studios in London.

– Artist: The Beatles
– Date entered at #1: Jan. 8, 1966
– Weeks at #1: 3

Released in 1965 as a double A-side single with “Day Tripper,” “We Can Work It Out” is a true John Lennon-Paul McCartney collaboration, with McCartney’s optimistic verses contrasting with Lennon’s realistic chorus. It’s a popular cover, most notably performed by Stevie Wonder, whose 1971 rendition reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

Light My Fire

Rock group “The Doors” pose for a promotional photos circa 1966.

– Artist: The Doors
– Date entered at #1: July 29, 1967
– Weeks at #1: 3

“Light My Fire” is one of the most familiar songs of the psychedelic rock era. As the Doors’ second single, it became their highest charting hit. Alongside its lyrical content and delivery by frontman Jim Morrison, it’s noted for its structure, with a piano intro and solo by Ray Manzarek. Though Morrison died in 1971, and the group disbanded in 1973, Morrison’s lyrics inspired a new generation of rock stars.

Ivan Keeman // Getty Images

Happy Together

The Turtles On Top Of The Pops.

– Artist: The Turtles
– Date entered at #1: March 25, 1967
– Weeks at #1: 3

“Happy Together” became the Turtles’ first and only chart-topper. Similar in spirit to the love songs performed by boy bands earlier in the decade, it slices in some folk and psychedelic elements that were emerging at that time. The group had a few more Top 40 hits before their dissolution in 1970.

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

Everyday People

“Sly & The Family Stone” Portrait.

– Artist: Sly and the Family Stone
– Date entered at #1: Feb. 15, 1969
– Weeks at #1: 4

Sly and the Family Stone’s impact on popular music can’t be unstated, and their 1969 hit “Everyday People” is no different, becoming an anthem of unity. The song was one of the first to combine funk, rock, and soul elements. Although the original lineup broke up in 1975, Sly and the Family Stone influenced many artists.

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images


Del Shannon recording in the studio at a vintage microphone.

– Artist: Del Shannon
– Date entered at #1: April 24, 1961
– Weeks at #1: 4

“Runaway” established Del Shannon as a one-hit wonder. Shannon’s falsetto voice and keyboard riff make it a popular cover for bands like the Traveling Wilburys and Misfits. Collaborating with numerous musicians until he died in 1990, Shannon was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

PA Images // Getty Images


Tommy Roe at EMI House in Manchester Square.

– Artist: Tommy Roe
– Date entered at #1: March 15, 1969
– Weeks at #1: 4

An international hit, “Dizzy” takes singer Tommy Roe’s bubble pop appeal and combines it with an orchestral arrangement. It’s one of the most famous songs performed by Phil Spector’s Wrecking Crew. After five more hits and nearly five decades of performing, Roe announced his retirement in 2018.

Daily Mirror // Getty Images


The Beatles rehearse ‘I’m Down’ at the ABC Theatre.

– Artist: The Beatles
– Date entered at #1: Oct. 9, 1965
– Weeks at #1: 4

The Beatles’ song “Yesterday” from their 1965 album “Help!” showcased bassist Paul McCartney’s potential as a solo artist. The song is a departure from the group’s rock ‘n’ roll sound, opting for an acoustic guitar and string quartet arrangement. It’s proved popular over time, becoming one of the most covered songs ever.

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

Daydream Believer

The Monkees on TV.

– Artist: The Monkees
– Date entered at #1: Dec. 2, 1967
– Weeks at #1: 4

An upbeat song despite singer Davy Jones’ dismay in its intro, “Daydream Believer” became the Monkees’ third and last #1 hit. Written by John Stewart, it was part of a song trilogy about suburban life. After a string of hits in the 1960s and a sitcom, the group broke up in the 1970s, only reuniting on occasion. As of September 2023, Micky Dolenz is the only surviving member.

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

The Letter

American rock band The Box Tops pose in Central Park.

– Artist: The Box Tops
– Date entered at #1: Sept. 23, 1967
– Weeks at #1: 4

A mix of soul and rock, “The Letter” proved the Box Tops’ first and most successful single. The introduction of an airplane sound bite is one of the first instances of a sample, setting Alex Chilton apart as a songwriting icon. The group broke up in 1970, only participating in a few reunions.

Frank Lennon // Getty Images


The Association in concert.

– Artist: The Association
– Date entered at #1: July 1, 1967
– Weeks at #1: 4

The Association’s “Windy,” released in 1967, was a watershed moment for soft rock music. Ruthann Friedman, a friend of the group, claimed she wrote it in 20 minutes—only so she could pay the rent. Though this was their last major hit, the group continues to tour.

Keystone-France // Getty Images

L’amour est bleu

Paul Mauriat conducting.

– Artist: Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra
– Date entered at #1: Feb. 10, 1968
– Weeks at #1: 5

The French version of “Love is Blue” was originally written by André Popp and Pierre Cour. As a cover of the Vicky Leandros’ hit, Paul Mauriat recorded the popular instrumental version to become the first French artist to top the Billboard Hot 100. Expanding a pop band to a more lush arrangement, it opened the door for other instrumental acts in the 1960s. Mauriat continued touring until his retirement in 1998.

Hulton Archive // Getty Images


Italian-American vocal group The Four Seasons, circa 1963.

– Artist: The Four Seasons
– Date entered at #1: Sept. 15, 1962
– Weeks at #1: 5

The Four Seasons’ “Sherry” cast the Jersey boys into the limelight. Though it’s unclear who group member Bob Gaudio wrote the song for, listeners can relate to the feeling of infatuation. The energetic vocals and doo-wop harmonies landed the Four Seasons in music history and launched frontman Frankie Valli into superstardom.

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

Sugar Shack

Rock band The Fireballs pose for a portrait circa 1959.

– Artist: Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs
– Date entered at #1: Oct. 12, 1963
– Weeks at #1: 5

Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs’ carefree “Sugar Shack” hit the charts in 1963, becoming popular on the dance floor and the radio. Recorded in Clovis, New Mexico, Keith McCormack and his aunt Beulah Faye Voss wrote this song over breakfast. The group members became popular studio musicians for folk artists later in their careers.

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

The Ballad of the Green Berets

Photo of Sgt. Barry Sadler with guitar.

– Artist: Barry Sadler
– Date entered at #1: March 5, 1966
– Weeks at #1: 5

This patriotic ballad proved to be a crossover hit on the easy listening and country charts, “The Ballad of the Green Berets” reflected how many felt during the decade’s social and political climate. Then-Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler wrote the song about James Gabriel Jr., the first Special Forces and Native Hawaiian killed in the Vietnam War.

Art Zelin // Getty Images

Get Back

The Beatles in concert.

– Artist: The Beatles with Billy Preston
– Date entered at #1: May 24, 1969
– Weeks at #1: 5

After years of experimenting with different genres, the Beatles returned to their rock ‘n’ roll roots with 1969’s “Get Back.” Collaborating with legendary musician Billy Preston, the most notable performance of this song was on the roof of the group’s Apple Corps building in London, the group’s last live performance.

David Redfern // Getty Images


Bobby Goldsboro performs ‘Honey’ on Top of the Pops television show.

– Artist: Bobby Goldsboro
– Date entered at #1: April 13, 1968
– Weeks at #1: 5

Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey” topped the pop and country charts in 1968 with its poignant story of the narrator’s loss of his wife. The power of storytelling and personal emotions made this song popular at the time, but it hasn’t aged well. Rolling Stone readers voted it the second-worst song of the 1960s for its outdated love tropes.

Ivan Keeman // Getty Images

To Sir with Love

Scottish singer Lulu performs the song ‘I’m a Tiger’ on TV.

– Artist: Lulu
– Date entered at #1: Oct. 21, 1967
– Weeks at #1: 5

Featured in the film of the same name, “To Sir with Love” became the bestselling single of 1967. The uplifting and emotive vocals proved popular, with lyrics like “But how do you thank someone/ Who has taken you from crayons to perfume?” making the song a symbol for appreciating educators. Lulu has stayed in the spotlight as a musician and actor, earning her a CBE for services to music, entertainment, and charity in 2021.

John Pratt // Getty Images

Hey Jude

The Beatles celebrate the completion of their new album, ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’.

– Artist: The Beatles
– Date entered at #1: Sept. 28, 1968
– Weeks at #1: 9

Released in 1968, “Hey Jude” showcased Paul McCartney’s evolution as a songwriter. Written for bandmate John Lennon’s son Julian, the song departs from a traditional pop structure, ending with a sing-along chorus that clocks the song at seven minutes. The themes of positivity and togetherness have turned this into a classic ballad.

Story editing by Cynthia Rebolledo. Copy editing by Lois Hince. Photo selection by Clarese Moller.

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