This blog post is, again, a different animal. I haven’t been able to get out birding much this year so I’ll try to entertain you with a list of my all-time favorite popular songs. I think we all have our favorite music, particularly from the era we grew up in and the country where we were born. Most of my favorite songs are from the 50’s and 60’s, with a few thrown in from earlier and later. My list includes country and folk music as well because great songs come from everywhere.
The 50’s and 60’s was my time in music. On the other hand, I’ve found that most of the songs on my list have become classics (at least oldies but goodies) and many are timeless. I tend to lean toward guitars as you will see but that’s what early Rock and Roll, folk and most country music was built on.
I haven’t included any classical music on my list because people like Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and other classical composers were obviously aliens that came down to earth to show us how to create music. No human can write music like they did.
A very few performers are on my list more than once but their places are richly deserved. I’ve not only tried my best to list the songs in descending order but for each one I’ve given a short justification as to why it’s on my list. I’ve put my absolute favorites in the beginning so you don’t have to read the whole list. To be fair, I’ve included a list of honorable mentions that nearly made the list.
Some songs are on the list because of their extraordinary lyrics, some because of great guitar work, some for the singer(s) voices and some for memorable melodies. Sometimes I just don’t know why a song captured me. It’s amazing that you can find nearly all these songs on YouTube!
Here’s what I want my readers to do: After checking out my Top 50 songs, tell me which of your favorite songs I am delinquent in not including or that I’ve overlooked because of a faulty memory or misplaced allegiance. Take your time but I’d love to hear from you. This could be fun. Here we go……
- Burning Love – This song is said by many to be Elvis’s greatest song. I certainly think it is and I’ve put it where it belongs on my list. Elvis, in my opinion, had the finest untrained voice in Rock and Roll history. Two of his other great songs, of which he had many, are Suspicious Minds (also on my list) and Jailhouse Rock. Arlyne and I are lucky to have seen Elvis once in Lake Tahoe and once in Las Vegas, to packed houses.
- Windmills of Your Mind – Introduced to the world in the Steve McQueen movie “The Thomas Crown Affair”. This song won an Oscar for best original song and was sung by Noel Harrison in the movie but Jose Feliciano’s arrangement, however, is truly fabulous. He is an incredible singer and guitar player and he’s blind. He brought a unique Latin flavor to many popular songs.
- Here Comes the Sun – George Harrison of the Beatles wrote this wonderful song. Not a typical Beatles song. It’s timeless. With a little bit of research, I found that at least one music critic said this song put Harrison in the same songwriting league as McCartney and Lennon. The critic went on to say that “Here Comes the Sun” is, in many ways, one of the best songs ever written. I can play a simple version of this tune.
- California Dreaming – This tune was written by Michelle Phillips and John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas. AFTER I put this song on the list, I found that Rolling Stone Magazine included it as No. 89 on their list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. Bonus: If you want to hear something beautiful, look up Sungha Jung (Korean) on YouTube and hear this kid play an acoustic guitar version of this song. It’s fantastic.
- Bad Moon Rising – Creedance Clearwater Revival will be in the top rung of rock and roll forever. This Creedance song was used to great effect in the movie “An American Werewolf in London.” John Fogerty is a magical singer with an unforgettable voice. Another Creedance classic was “Proud Mary”, also on my list. This group showed that not every Rock and Roll song had to be about young love.
- Do You Believe in Magic – It’s no wonder the Lovin’ Spoonful was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I just don’t understand how this kind of music has faded and been replaced by hip-hop, rap and heavy metal. Maybe it’ll come back one day (fat chance). The Spoonful also recorded “Summer in the City” which I really like.
- Suspicious Minds – It starts with a great guitar intro that leads into terrific Presley singing. One of his absolute best, I used to hear it played a lot on the radio, back when we listened to music on the radio.
- Light My Fire – Originally written by the Doors. Robbie Krieger wrote most of the lyrics and Jim Morrison apparently wrote the 2nd verse. Krieger said he just wrote the song (which was quite popular) but further said it was Jose Feliciano who made it a tremendous hit. Both versions are good but I put Feliciano’s version on my list. The Doors’s Light My Fire was virtually an anthem of young people at the time.
- Smoke Gets in Your Eyes – A classic love song that the Platters sang like nobody else could and probably never will. Smooth and mellow and superb. The Platters was really the first black group that hit the big time in rock and roll – well deserved. Another of their hits was “The Great Pretender”, also on my all-time list.
- Dancing Queen – I have two Abba songs on my list and felt that “Dancing Queen” should rank a bit higher. “Fernando”, however, based on a folk song, is very close in my mind. I was able to see Abba perform this and their other hits in San Diego. At their peak in popularity, Abba made more money in Sweden than Volvo and the Swedish Government.
- Sherry – A movie (The Jersey Boys) was made about the Four Seasons and Frankie Valli, the lead singer. His high-pitched voice was truly special. The songwriter for the group was incredibly imaginative, giving us unforgettable classics. Sherry is considered (by me) as one of the group’s best. The movie is great and so is the stage musical if you get a chance.
- That’ll be the Day – Buddy Holly is a towering Rock and Roll legend. He said that his first and possibly most memorable song was based on a line from a John Wayne move where Wayne says “That’ll be the day”. I can hear Wayne saying that line today and people will listen to this song for 1000 years. Too tragic that Holly died so young. We won’t be able to hear all the other great songs he had inside. That was the day the music died.
- Sweet Caroline – This was certainly one of Neil Diamond’s greatest songs and one that practically everyone remembers even today. In addition, I will certainly have to put “Forever in Blue Jeans” in the Honorable Mention category.
- Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys have (and continue to have) terrific songs. This group took over the pop music world for a long time and epitomized California living and the beach. We get to hear great vocal harmony from these guys. No list is complete without the Beach Boys.
- Classical Gas – Mason Williams is enshrined in music history with this great piece. He has dedicated fans today that insist this song can never be topped in originality. If you don’t know it, find it and listen. He is a prolific musician, songwriter, comedian, etc., etc.
- Blowin’ in the Wind – a true acoustic original by Bob Dylan, this is virtually his signature song even if I’m the only one who thinks so. Generations come and go, music comes and goes…..but this song from the great Bob Dylan will always be remarkable. I recently found out that Bob Dylan’s daughter owns a candy store in Los Angeles. I bought some candy there just so I could say I did.
- Walk Don’t Run – A standout instrumental hit, no question. The Ventures got together not too long ago, as older men, and recorded this song again. It’s wonderful to hear. The Ventures was one of the few great rock and roll groups that I was able to see live. I played this song once in a very, very brief stint with a little rock band during college.
- Take Five – Written by Paul Desmond and played by the Dave Brubeck Quartet “Take Five” was truly innovative because it was played in 5/4 time. It’s quite a wonderful piece to hear all the way through. Partly, the song was designed to show off the drummer’s (Joe Morello) mastery of the unusual timing.
- I Just Called to Say I Love You – This Stevie Wonder number was a rocket. It won an Oscar for best original song. Wonder received numerous awards and the song still holds records today. For example, it remains the biggest-selling single in the UK for Motown Records.
- Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton wrote this song in remembrance of his young son who died in a fall from a hotel window. Sure, he’s a professional musician but you can hear the passion in the words and music of this sweet song. Other musicians have performed this tune beautifully as well but it’s hard to capture the original sentiment.
- I Heard it Through the Grapevine – Marvin Gaye made this terrific song famous. It’s a soul classic. It has made it on all kinds of “best” lists, including mine.
- Bury Me in Bluegrass – Kate Campbell has written several songs about growing up in the South. This particular song speaks to me because it has a great story that comes close to what I experienced growing up myself. She’s an incredible songwriter who deserves far more accolades.
- Universal Soldier – written by the hugely talented Buffy Saint Marie, who also wrote “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” The lyrics are incredible. I particularly love Donovan’s version.
- Bye Bye Love/All I Have to do is Dream – The Everly Brothers took the Rock world by storm in the 50’s and 60’s. It seems that many R&R and country groups started out as very young kids singing and playing together, including the Beach Boys. The Everly brothers are no exception. They had so many hits when I was young that I had to create a tie between “Bye Bye Love” and “All I Have to do is Dream”.
- The Great Pretender – The Platters again…..this song reached No. 1 in 1955 but I still remember it and still hear it once in a while. The Platters were just what was needed to bridge music from big bands into early Rock and Roll, even by singing standards from the earlier era.
- Car Wheels on Gravel Road – My son introduced me to Lucinda Williams and I was hooked. This early song shows off her breathiness and ability to drawl off lyrics with ease. I like several of her other songs as well. They titled one of Lucinda’s albums after this song. It’s a story song with a bit of mystery thrown in.
- Bojangles – This is a great song written about a (somewhat) mythical person. Some people say he really was a street dancer in New Orleans but maybe not. Jerry Jeff Walker will always, always be connected to this song of his, no matter who performs it. David Bromberg does a terrific version of this song.
- Different Drum – Linda Ronstadt sang this beautiful sing when she was part of the Stone Poneys. I’ve always liked Linda Ronstadt and this song is probably one of her best. She was just starting out. Hey, this was way back in 1967! Where has all the music gone?
- Walk Right In – This is a simple but highly successful song by the Rooftop Singers. Included in this group was Eric Darling, who would later find legendary status on his own, including making it onto my list. It’s based on a 1929 song.
- Fernando – This is Abba’s bestselling single (remember those?) of all time. I’ve heard it was based on a Swedish “folk” melody converted to English. I can’t confirm that however. It’s a haunting song about two former revolutionaries of the war between Texas and Mexico. It’s sung by Anni-Frid Lyngstad.
- I’m a Believer – The Monkees was originally formed for a TV show about an imaginary band that wanted to be the Beatles. (credit: Wikipedia) They eventually became a real band that outsold the Beatles. This is a fabulous song and although it wasn’t their official theme song, it’s my favorite.
- Dawn – I particularly like the phrasing (or cadence) or whatever you call it in this song by the Four Seasons. I credit the songwriter for his imagination. It’s rare to find lyrics where a young man tells a young girl to “go away, I’m no good for you”. That’s what makes this song so great.
- Tambourine Man – I first heard this song performed by Bob Dylan, who wrote it. The Byrds, however, probably have the better version of it. Very melodic. I picked the Byrds rendition for my list.
- Great Dream From Heaven – An old gospel song, played by several people including legendary fingerpicker Joseph Spence. I never heard Spence play it but Ry Cooder’s beautiful fingerpicking arrangement is an all-time classic. Tons of people try to cover it on YouTube but it can rarely be done. I sometimes try to play it myself because I like it so much.
- Imagine – John Lennon of the Beatles wrote this sweet song about the state of the world that still resonates today. Some critics call it syrupy but listen to it. It’s simple but quite compelling.
- Foggy Mountain Breakdown – Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs brought bluegrass into popular culture. This great song is “owned” by this duo. It’s probable that not many people even know that Earl Scruggs invented the 3-finger banjo style that made bluegrass music faster and more inventive. Flatt and Scruggs were giants of country music. Lester died back in 1979 but Scruggs not until 2012. Foggy Mountain Breakdown appeared in the movie “Bonnie and Clyde”.
- Proud Mary–I love the driving guitar work and the overall tone of the lyrics. Their music was great to dance to back in the day. Fogerty did it again in this song. Fine backup guitar work. Creedance music will last a long, long time.
- To All the Girls I’ve Loved before– I struggled to search through Willie’s songs (in my mind) to find one that sits on top. So many of them. Willie was a very good singer of standards and ballads before he went western, where he has found huge fame. Arlyne and I both like this one because Julio Iglesias sings with Willie. Just understand that I like damn near all of this songs.
- Fire and Rain – James Taylor apparently wrote this song in remembrance of someone he knew who was killed in a plane crash. Just mention the song “Fire and Rain” and people will remember who wrote and sang it. This is another song I used to play a little bit because I like it so much.
- Moonglow/Theme from Picnic – This is from the movie Picnic, starring Kim Novak and William Holden. Lyrics were written by Steve Allen. This is actually a medley of two songs, but I’m counting it as one because it’s often played that way. Moonglow was made into a hit by the McGuire Sisters. Again, this is an old song from a bygone era. My kudos to Steve Allen for such great, great lyrics.
- True Religion – Eric Darling is truly famous in the folk music genre. He was a giant. Anyone who knows his music is fortunate. His arrangement of “True Religion”, coupled with his incredible guitar work (I can’t believe a 12-string can sound like this) is a singular delight. Darling had a haunting, high-pitched voice that can’t be replaced.
- Tzena Tzena Tzena – I’m always impressed by the ability of musicians to translate a song from one instrument (piano, for example) to another. This happened a lot as guitar players arranged early ragtime piano music for guitar. Chet Atkins arranged this Eastern European song into a fabulous guitar piece, with some Atkins magic thrown in. It’s of course a wonderful tune, especially hearing it from a prodigious talent like Chet. This song is probably viewed as a folk song but I don’t think there are any folk songs. All songs come from professional musicians.
- Afternoon Delight – The Starland Vocal Band is actually quite famous as a group that was truly a one-hit wonder. As fun and sexually suggestive as this song is, they never to my knowledge followed it up with anything comparable. This tune is a delight, though.
- Dueling Banjos – This song was performed in the movie “Deliverance”, a great movie that included Burt Reynolds. For me, just hearing this entertaining song brings up memories of the movie and the funny little man who played the banjo part. Find the song or see the movie to get the context if you’re not aware of it. A great folksy arrangement that is unforgettable.
- Gentle on my Mind – Glen Campbell is a prolific songwriter, an excellent guitar player and has a wonderfully natural singing voice. I like many of his songs but chose this unique one after hearing it so many times in his TV appearances a long time ago.
- Everybody Loves a Clown – Gary Lewis and the Playboys. Sure, this is a teenage (pre-teen?) little ditty, like this group’s other songs but I think their recordings struck a nerve with me because they seemed like the kids next door, weren’t pretentious and made us think we could put together a band just like them. “Diamond Ring” was another of their hits. As far as fame goes, they had the Beatles to contend with in the 60’s. Gary Lewis is comedian Jerry Lewis’s son.
- Bridge Over Troubled Waters – A wonderful song from the talented Simon and Garfunkel. “The Sound of Silence” is another one. Hard to pick just one of their songs for my Top 50 but this is it.
- Walk the Line – This was a standout hit by Johnny Cash. There are two other Cash songs that I really like; “I Still Miss Someone” and “Jackson”, with June Carter. I Walk the Line, however, is Cash’s breakout hit and perhaps his signature song. I like them all and I felt another country song on my list couldn’t hurt.
- Summertime Blues – This Eddie Cochran song is considered American Rockabilly. A thumping great dance tune. The first time I saw my son dance as a teenager was to this song. I was blown away…..I didn’t know he could dance. Summertime Blues, it turns out, is at 73 on Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest songs of all time. I’m thinking it belongs on my list. Cochran’s voice makes the song.
- Kentucky Rain – I’ve always liked this story song about searching for someone and asking people if they’ve seen her. Elvis Presley did his usual masterful treatment of this song. It’s way good enough to make it in my Top 50 and probably should be higher but this is already the third time that Presley is on my list.
- Get Back – When this Beatles song came out, it was a bit different from the other songs in that period of their careers and I was quite caught up in it.
- Forever in Blue Jeans – I read a comment on YouTube about Neil Diamond. It went something like this: “Once in a while chromosomes align just right and you get someone like Neil Diamond.” I have to agree.
- Don’t – This is an early Presley song that I just don’t hear much anymore, even on the Presley channel. I’ve always liked it. Listen to his original recording and you can hear how his voice remained marvelous over his lengthy career. He really was the King.
- Tequila – This instrumental by the Champs has a Latin flavor even though they were a U.S. band. Tequila is a classic that is still talked about today. Sometimes an instrumental is just the ticket.
- Diamond Ring – Many Gary Lewis and the Playboys tunes were a little bit different from other groups and had a driving quality to them for such a small band. I like to listen to them and they’re not played much at all.
- Johnnie B. Goode – Rock and Roll pioneer Chuck Berry came up with a groundbreaking beat that took the music world by storm. I hate to leave him out of the Top 50 but there you go. Rolling Stone had him ranked 5th on their list of 100 greatest artists of all time. It’s taken me nearly a month to develop my list. How long did it take Rolling Stone?
- Every Day – This Buddy Holly song is still quite popular with a lot of people. Linda Ronstadt covered this song and you can find people playing it all over YouTube, some quite well. It’s simple but hey, it’s Buddy Holly, and that makes it precious.
- Old Time Rock and Roll– Bob Seeger’s song was, of course, the song that Tom Cruise danced to in Risky Business, one of his early movies. It’s one of the catchiest songs ever written, especially seeing that it talks about old time rock and roll music.
- Try to Remember – This was done by the Brothers Four, the Kingston Trio and others. All versions are fabulous. I fell in love with the voice of Bob Shane singing in the Kingston Trio version. It’s a beautiful ballad.
- Malaguena Salerosa – This is a traditional Mexican love song but Bud Dasheill and Travis Edmondson (Bud and Travis) accomplished something extraordinary with their version of this song. They could sing equally well in both English and Spanish. Maybe this song has been played and sung 40,000 times but the Bud and Travis rendition has to rank in the top two or three ever. I saw these two early folk singers up close in the 60’s. Their version of La Bamba is priceless. They were around a long time, which was good for us fans. I can’t believe I put this song in the honorable mention category, but there are hundreds of other songs that didn’t make it at all.
- Jackson – Johnny Cash and June Carter sang this song together before they were married. The song was featured in the movie “Walk the Line”. I love the up tempo and lyrics that suggest going to Jackson may help rekindle a love affair.
- Love is Strange – To be accurate, this is actually a Rhythm and Blues song by Mickey and Sylvia that became a mainstream R&R song. The song is a bit different with Mickey and Sylvia talking back and forth. Their haunting guitar work is quite special.So, there you have it.What are Your Favorite Songs of the 50’s and 60’s (or any era you wish)?
Thanks again, Bob and Arlyne Draper