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20 Biggest Songs of the Summer: The 1960s

Motown and moptops provide the enduring summer jams of a thrilling, turbulent decade

Best Songs of Summer 1960 Listen

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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. By Al Shipley

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9. The Rolling Stones, “Honky Tonk Women”

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.

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8. The Rolling Stones, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”

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.

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7. The Box Tops, “The Letter”

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.

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6. Four Tops, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)”

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.

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4. The Rascals, “People Got To Be Free”

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.

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3. The Four Seasons, “Sherry”

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.

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2. Elvis Presley With the Jordanaires, “It’s Now Or Never”

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.

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1. Bobby Lewis, “Tossin’ And Turnin'”

“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.

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