The swinging 60s might be more than half a century ago now, but their revolutionary impact still remains to this day. Whether you were Team Beatles or Team Stones, the two bands still stand as arguably the biggest this country has ever produced, but there were more to these years than just John and Jagger. From the hit machine and conveyor belt of in-house stars produced by Motown to the burgeoning, melon-twisting dawn of psychedelia, it was a decade of exploration and experimentation. Here are the tracks that defined it... Words by Matthew Horton, Tim Chester, Priya Elan. 100 best tracks of the '60s - Spotify playlist

60The Shirelles, Will You Love Me Tomorrow?

Imagine how racy this was in 1960, with a young girl considering whether to get it on with her boyfriend in an age of prurience yet to be wholly swept away from rock'n'roll. Its power and frankness – as well as it being a splendid song from the supreme pair of Carole King and Gerry Goffin – took it to the top in the US and kickstarted the girl group era.

59Dance To The Music

'Dance To The Music' is a day-glo riot of pulsating horns, fuzzed-up guitars and zany organ, dressing up what's essentially an "introducing the band" mid-concert jam. But the musicianship and full-force funk makes it transcend the throwaway, as Sly Stone, guitarist Freddie Stone, bassist Larry Graham and hornsmith Cynthia Robinson all get a go on lead vocals and sweep the world up in the fun.

58River Deep Mountain High

Phil Spector put his all into this signature Ike and Tina effort – considering it his best work – only to see it flop in the States. The shock saw him bow out of the music industry for a couple of years, but 'River Deep Mountain High' still stands up as a formidable chunk of rock-soul, introducing Tina's colossal pipes to a mainstream audience and doing tidy business in Europe even if it stalled at home.

57Summer In The City

New York proto-hippies The Lovin' Spoonful achieved a US No.1 with this epic, whipping up some urban heat with close, minor-chord verses before bursting free with a tingling chorus. It was actually written by non-member Mark Sebastian (brother of TLS singer John) along with bassist Steve Boone and was treated to a vast cover from Isaac Hayes in 1995.

56What A Wonderful World

A UK No.1 single in 1968, 'What A Wonderful World' found a new, memorable lease of life in the 1987 Robin Williams movie vehicle Good Morning, Vietnam – but it so nearly never fell into Louis Armstrong's hands. The veteran bandleader and jazz trumpeter was second choice to Tony Bennett, but he 'made it his own', delivering a song of hope to a backdrop of domestic upheaval.

55In My Life

Is it a harpsichord? Is it a half-speed electric piano? Is it… actually, yes, it's a half-speed electric piano. One of George Martin's few purely musical contributions to the Beatles canon adds a strange, but successful, touch to John Lennon's understated piece of whimsy about his childhood – in Lennon's view, the most mature piece he'd written by that point.

54(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

That towering riff – for one thing, it came to Keith Richards in a moment of clarity after briefly coming round from an alcoholic stupor; for another, Richards always planned to replace it with a horn section. In the meantime he hepped up his riff with a fuzzbox to keep it warm until the real players came along. Well, thank goodness they never did.

53Bad Moon Rising

Creedence Clearwater Revival's sprightly Cajun blues was apparently a bit of soothsaying inspired by recent political occurrences. Singer John Fogerty claims he wrote it the day Richard Nixon won the presidency, and that it was designed to reflect the unease in the air. Prescient indeed. Over here record buyers saw it as a jolly pop tune and sent it to No.1.

52Psychotic Reaction

Teenage garage rock crew The Count Five used to stride out on stage dressed as Count Dracula (geddit?) before laying waste to their output including this seminal tune. Based around the dirtiest of fuzzy riffs and piercing harmonica, 'Psychotic Reaction' moves from glam stomp to psych wig-out and was highly regarded enough for rock critic extraordinaire Lester Bangs to name a book after it.

51People Get Ready

Featuring Curtis Mayfield on glorious lead vocals and sparing, funky guitar, 'People Get Ready' is a calm and spiritual call to join the fight – be it for civil rights or simple religious salvation. Trading lines with Mayfield is tenor Fred Cash, and there are strings and brass arranged by Chicago soul producer Johnny Pate to create a gorgeous love train that's leaving today.

Share This

Don't Miss
Latest Tickets
NME On Social
NME Store