Team Beatles or Team Stones? To this day the 60s' biggest two stars are still seen as music's high watermarks, but there were more to these years than just John and Jagger. This was the decade when Motown shimmied in and produced a raft of in-house superstars, where the first wave of psych bubbled up and twisted young minds and where global megastars like Johnny Cash reigned supreme. Here are the tracks that defined the most swinging years of them all... Words by Matthew Horton, Tim Chester, Priya Elan. 100 best tracks of the '60s - Spotify playlist


70Crazy

It's hard to believe the (slightly craggy) Peter Pan of country Willie Nelson was around and writing this old standard at the start of the 60s, but there he was and here was Patsy Cline delivering the performance she'd end up remembered for, a raw, honest but understated turn that came just two years before her death in a plane crash.

69Alone Again Or

This mysterious, mariachi horn-drenched kickstarter from fantastic 1967 album 'Forever Changes' was almost not on it at all. Bryan MacLean worked it up for Love's 1966 debut album, but didn't get around to completing it for another year or so – and this time he barely appeared on it, finding his vocal wiped in favour of Arthur Lee's harmony lines.

68A Change Is Gonna Come

Sam Cooke said 'A Change Is Gonna Come' came to him in a dream, but it was a natural product of the times too – in particular Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, delivered just a few months before Cooke recorded the song. Whether it inspired Cooke or not, 'A Change Is Gonna Come' is infused with the belief and determination of the civil rights movement.

67I Can't Explain

The Who's debut single – if we gloss over The High Numbers' 'Zoot Suit' – is built on a clean, metallic riff that has cropped up time and again in rock (and dance) music. Influenced by The Kinks' 'All Day And All Of The Night', Pete Townshend's choppy guitar has inspired The Clash and The Hives, while the song has been covered by David Bowie.

66River Man

Not released as a single until 2004, 'River Man' was, in the troubled Nick Drake's eyes, the centrepiece of his debut album 'Five Leaves Left. It's presented in a jazzy 5/4 time and with string arrangements by bandleader and arranger Harry Robinson – a composer of horror film scores and Lord Rockingham's XI's No.1 single 'Hoots Mon' –is exquisite and haunting.

65The Tracks Of My Tears

Smokey Robinson was the quite the Motown mogul, becoming a VP after encouraging Berry Gordy to set up the label in the first place, then piling on hit after hit as a writer/producer and lead singer of The Miracles. 'The Tracks Of My Tears' is one of their most enduring songs, a chest-bursting ballad that somehow failed to make the US Top 10.

64The Sound Of Silence

Sometimes 'The Sounds Of Silence', sometimes 'The Sound Of Silence', depending on which year you're standing in, Simon And Garfunkel's first US No.1 started life on the flop debut album 'Wednesday Morning, 3am' before being retooled for success without the duo's permission by producer Tom Wilson. They didn't complain about the results, and the song found its true resonance in 1967's The Graduate.

63Fire

Steamy and frantic, this funky cut from 1967 debut album 'Are You Experienced?' is just about as pop as Jimi Hendrix ever got. He lays on the lasciviousness, works up some groovy licks and spouts the smut while drummer Mitch Mitchell earns his wage with a clatter of rolling fills and general rabid hastiness. Covered in 1988 by Red Hot Chili Peppers, who could hardly have resisted.

62House Of The Rising Sun

'The House Of The Rising Sun' was only The Animals' second single but it made their name, topping the charts at home and in the US. Producer Mickie Most had selected this traditional New Orleans folk song – an unusual choice for a consolidating hit, but one which was handled in style by the weathered howl of Eric Burdon and Alan Price's ebbing and flowing Hammond organ.

61Unchained Melody

Hard to wipe that image of Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and the potter's wheel in 1990's Ghost, but 'Unchained Melody' was almost a cliché even as far back as 1965, having been subjected to numerous versions already. This is the lasting take though, pretty much a solo performance by Bobby Hatfield while the other Brother Bill Medley produced (although Phil Spector took the credit).

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