From the Summer of Love to the summer of Woodstock, the winds of change that blew through America in the Sixties always seemed to pick up speed between June and September. Whether it was the British Invasion arriving on our shores or the Beach Boys hitting the waves, the decade was dominated by sizzling platters that could be as cartoonish at the Archies or as as poignant as “People Got to Be Free.” Here are the biggest hits of the era’s summer months, ordered by length of chart peaks. Also we’ve went ahead and excluded all the ballads and more unseasonably mild hits – so our apologies to Bobby Vinton, Dean Martin and others.
In 1969, “Where Did Our Love Go” was the first song to put the Supremes at Number One on the Hot 100, and it was a spot they dominated for the next year, topping the chart for a total of 11 weeks with their first five singles. It also became part of a summer jam again in 1982, as a medley with “Tainted Love” on Soft Cell’s synth-pop smash.
Less a song than a meme, “The Twist” became the biggest dance craze of the dance crazed early Sixties, topping the Hot 100 at first in the summer of 1960 and again in the winter of 1962, all the while spawning sequels and spinoffs like “Peppermint Twist” and “Let’s Twist Again.” While twist aficionados may prefer Hank Ballard’s original, it’s the Chubby Checker version that remains a pop culture monument.
This cut from Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius was, naturally, the first Number One hit for the future legend. But it was also the first concert recording to top the Hot 100, as well as the first time a young Marvin Gaye – then a Motown Session musician playing drums – appeared on a Number One record.
The Supremes‘ seventh Number One record, hitting only two years after their first, was one of Motown’s most wizened hits, tempering the dizziness of teenage love with motherly advice. It didn’t have quite the same magic when Phil Collins brought the song back to the Top 10 in the early Eighties, riding a wave of boomer nostalgia.
“Hot Fun In The Summertime” was released as a non-album single in August 1969, capping an incredible summer for Sly & The Family Stone that included a standout performance at Woodstock and the success of the landmark album Stand! It also ended up effectively signaling the end of the band’s carefree early days: That fall, the band relocated to Los Angeles and began to descend into drug addiction and infighting.
The title song of the Beatles‘ goofy, satirical second film, “Help!” is one of the last driving anthems of the band’s initial burst of hits before more inward-looking, less rock-oriented songs like “Yesterday” started appearing. But in a 1980 interview, John Lennon confessed that the song was a direct result of his anxiety about stardom, a subconscious cry for, well, help.
One of the biggest hits penned by Songwriters Hall of Fame husband and wife team Gerry Goffin and Carole King, “The Loco-Motion” was a summer jam in three different decades. Little Eva’s original 1962 recording remains the definitive version, but Grand Funk Railroad reigned on the charts with it again in 1974, as did Kylie Minogue in 1988.
Cream‘s first and biggest U.S. hit was hatched in a moment of inspiration one night when Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce came home from a Jimi Hendrix Experience concert. A few months later, Hendrix would return the compliment, making his own arrangement of “Sunshine of Your Love” a live staple for much of 1968 and 1969.
In 1967, as LPs were becoming the ultimate medium of rock & roll expression, a gulf began to widen between poppy singles acts and serious album artists. With their breakthrough hit, the Doors split the difference with a seven-minute psychedelic masterpiece driven by Ray Manzarek’s exploratory keyboard solos, as well as a killer 2:52 radio edit that turned Jim Morrison into a teen idol overnight.
Pop’s poet laureates of the summer, the Beach Boys appropriately topped the Hot 100 for the first time in July 1964 with this single from the album All Summer Long. From there on out, it was all sand and surfboards.
A 1958 song that was re-released as the B-side to his 1962 single “Ebb Tide,” this instrumental rocketed to Number One on the pop charts and subsequently soundtracked every striptease scene you’ve ever seen in a movie or TV show. Before Juicy J was born, this was what people had to settle for as strip club music.
Four summers after “Satisfaction,” the Stones continued to rule the summer like no other band of the Sixties. In the busy, bittersweet first week of July 1969, the band released “Honky Tonk Women,” their first single with new guitarist Mick Taylor.
It was perhaps the most important nap in rock history: Keith Richards nodding off and snoring into his tape recorder for 40 minutes after laying down the riff for the Rolling Stones‘ first U.S. chart-topper. Of course, the riff wouldn’t become famous until he ran it through a Gibson Maestro fuzzbox, emulating the horn section Richards imagined hearing the riff in but never did get around to recording.
With Big Star, Alex Chilton became one of rock’s great cult heroes in the Seventies. But before that, he was the shockingly gruff 16-year-old singer on the Box Tops’ chart-topping blue-eyed soul hit.
The same lovely, bittersweet chords that made “Where Did Our Love Go” by The Supremes a smash in 1964 came back the next summer for another Holland-Dozier-Holland hit. But this time it took on a harder, more urgent sound, with Levi Stubbs shouting over one of Motown’s great stompers.
No band – real or cartoon – has made a more iconic bubblegum 45.
No song summed up the tense summer of 1968 that followed the assassinations of MLK and RFK better than “People Got To Be Free,” a catchy and optimistic tune that also felt like a desperate plea for peace and liberation.
Bob Gaudio’s songwriting and Frankie Valli’s incredible voice made pop magic several times throughout the Sixties. But it was “Sherry” that took the Jersey boys to Number One for the first time and started it all, nearly a decade after Valli’s first solo single.
When Elvis returned from the army, he brought back with him a song he’d heard while stationed in Germany, Tony Martin’s “There’s No Tomorrow,” which took its melody from the Italian standard “O Sole Mio.” When he returned to America, Presley enlisted songwriters to write another English language hit based on the same lilting tune.
“Tossin’ And Turnin'” ruled the Hot 100 for seven weeks of sleepless nights in July and August of 1961. Ironically, the only thing that saved Lewis from being deemed a one hit wonder was “One Track Mind,” his only other Top 10 hit.