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

20Space Oddity

We were sure Rick Wakeman wouldn’t make it anywhere near this list, but here he is, sat behind the Mellotron for Bowie’s classic early single. “Ground control to Major Tom” it begins, introducing the world not only to the first of his many characters but in many cases to the man himself. An evocative, inventive and timeless masterpiece.

19A Whiter Shade Of Pale

Hammond organs, Milton-inspired lyricism (“trip the light fandango”) and nods to Bach might not seem the perfect recipe for a hit, but 1967 was a more forgiving place than 2012, and Procul Harum’s debut single was a mega, mega hit. Since covered over 1,000 times, it’s the most played song in public places as well as the most played song on British broadcasting ever.

18I Want You Back

Originally planned as a backing track for Gladys Knight and the Pips, this slice of songwriting perfection caught the ears of Motown producer Berry Gordy as the ideal vehicle to catapult his new group into the world. And from the opening piano slide onwards introductions don’t come much better.

17These Boots Are Made For Walking

With the backing of The Wrecking Crew (including the twin electric and double bass lines of Carol Kaye and Chuck Berghofer that give the track its distinctive sliding runs), Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood created a classic. Since covered by everyone from Megadeth to Jessica Simpson.


While Otis Redding originally had a hit with this track in ’65, it would take two years, a phenomenal soul voice, some backing “sock it to me”s and a formidable "R-E-S-P-E-C-T” breakdown to really set the track on fire. Two Grammys and countless covers later and it’s entered our musical lexicon as shorthand for girl power, soul power and, well, respect.

15I Wanna Be Your Dog

Has disenfranchisement ever sounded as guttural, raw, and downright cool as this? Heavily distorted guitars, incessant piano stabs and of course Iggy’s desperate drawl combine on one of the most visceral tracks laid to acetate. Throbbing, pounding, and dripping with latent energy it epitomises the lurid appeal of The Stooges at their very best.

14Paint It Black

On which pounding drums, Jagger drawl and the first sitar to feature on a Number One record combine for an indie disco favourite for now and all time. One of the few tracks composed by Nanker – Phelge, which was the collective pseudonym the Stones used when all five of them – Jagger, Jones, Richards, Watts and Wyman – contributed to the writing (and more importantly shared the royalties).

13Whole Lotta Love

Is there a track in the world as gloriously filthy as this? The writhing and riff heavy opener to Led Zeppelin’s best album ('Led Zeppelin II') never received a UK single release but shifted millions of copies in the US. Theremins, drum solos, saucy sex-obsessed gasps – on paper in shouldn’t work. But this is Led Zep, so of course it does.

12God Only Knows

This song fires twin darts at your heart from the beginning. A maudlin French horn heralds the start before those timeless words “I may not always love you” pin you to the wall. You’re at Brian Wilson’s mercy from then on as he tips out tumbling drums and sweet harmonies relentlessly for the next three minutes. Simon from Biffy Clyro has the lyrics tattooed across his chest and it’s Paul McCartney’s favourite song, which say it all.

11California Dreamin'

It’s a simple idea, really. I live in New York, which is cold and sucks, and I’d be warm in LA. As with all great pop, though, it’s the way you express it, and with the help of producer Lou Adler (and an additional flute break) The Mamas and Papas turned a wistful thought into one of the greatest pop tunes ever.

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