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"Ground control to Major Tom." The ominous opening line of David Bowie's signature song has become iconic in itself. But the song's trippy, otherworldly melodies, punctuated by lyrics that belie an existential sadness, perfectly capture the fascination with space exploration that defined the '60s. And it's still making history today: In 2013, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield filmed himself performing the song from the International Space Station, thus creating the first music video shot in space.
Though "Ring of Fire" was originally written by June Carter Cash and recorded by her sister Anita, it's her husband's cover of the song (with a mariachi horn flourish) that is most remembered today. The song was the biggest hit of the Man in Black's career, and stayed at No. 1 on the country charts for seven weeks after its release. "Ring of Fire" was also one of the first songs to bridge the gap between rock and country, with cover versions later being released by bands including Eric Burdon & the Animals and, decades later, punk outfit Social Distortion.
This tune was Inspired by Cooke and his band getting turned away at a "whites only" Holiday Inn in Louisiana and subsequently being arrested for disturbing the peace. Cooke's mournful insistence that "a change is gonna come" provided the perfect soundtrack for civil rights activists in the 1960s. In 2007, the song was one of 25 recordings deemed worthy of preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress because of its cultural and historical significance.
A worldwide smash for Bob Dylan, "Like a Rolling Stone" catapulted the folk hero into full rock star status. (Ironically, the song was influenced in part by Dylan's weariness after touring in England.) The song's six-minute length and cynical lyrics were groundbreaking as far as radio singles were concerned, but didn't stop it from reaching No. 2 on the charts. In 2014, Dylan's original handwritten lyrics to the song were sold at auction for a record-setting $2 million.
Decades before it was commonplace for Broadway singers to cross over into the world of pop and vice-versa, The 5th Dimension scored a chart-topping single (and Grammy Award winner) with this medley of two songs from the 1967 musical Hair. A sonic representation of the psychedelic "tune in, drop out" culture of the time, "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" truly reflects the "peace, harmony and understanding" mindset of the counterculture during the Vietnam War era.
Nearly 50 years after it's original release, it's impossible to hear "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" in a public venue without someone finishing the line, "Find out what it means to me!" Though "Respect" was originally written and recorded by Otis Redding, it's Aretha Franklin's version that has been revisited in countless movies, weddings and advertisements ever since. An R&B standout that's also a feminist and civil rights anthem, "Respect" has a message that's timeless - and more importantly, catchy. In 1987, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and was added to the National Recording Registry in 2002.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience's cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," which was released just six months after Dylan's original version, became the only Hendrix track to crack the Top 20 of the Billboard charts. The electric reimagining of Dylan's folk song features more than a dozen guitar tracks layered over each other, and a blistering solo that could only come from Hendrix himself.
With her powerhouse vocals, Etta James breathed new life into Glenn Miller's song nearly 20 years after it was originally recorded. Her signature song also became a bona fide hit in both the R&B and pop worlds and is a staple at weddings even today. "At Last" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
In 1967, Aretha Franklin's older sister Erma recorded the original version of "Piece of My Heart," but it was just a year later that Big Brother and the Holding Company, led by singer Janis Joplin, turned the song into the immortal anthem it is today. With bluesy guitars and pounding drums backing Joplin's sandpaper-y vocals, the song is a timeless call to arms for anyone who's ever been scorned.
Featuring a chord progression that went on to define many doo-wop songs in the 1950s and '60s, "Stand by Me" has been recorded by more than 400 artists, including John Lennon, Otis Redding and Imagine Dragons. Twenty-five years after its original release, "Stand by Me" was used as the theme song for the iconic film of the same name. In 2015, weeks before King's death, the Library of Congress selected the song for induction into the National Recording Registry.
Led Zeppelin's breakout single (which went on to become their only top 10 song in the U.S.) was an unlikely hit, featuring jarring, distorted guitar riffs, a jazz-like interlude, and a lengthy drum solo. But while it may not have fit in with some of the softer sounds of the late '60s, there's no doubt "Whole Lotta Love" was, to say the least, ahead of its time. Jimmy Page's guitar work and Robert Plant's orgasm-imitating vocal inflections were an early harbinger of the brash, sexually-charged rock music that would soon come to dominate airwaves. In 2007, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Though Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" will always be associated with The Graduate, the insanely catchy song is emblematic of the greater folk sound that defined the '60s. With its popularity buoyed by use in the film, and references to "Joltin' Joe" DiMaggio, the song topped the charts in America, but also cracked the Top 10 in several other countries. In 1969, it also became the first rock song to win the Grammy Award for Record of the Year.
A No. 1 hit for then-husband-and-wife team Sonny and Cher in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, "I Got You Babe" is considered one of the greatest duets of all time. Touching in its simplicity, the pop-tinged waltz came to be one of the defining songs among the hippie movement in the early years of the Vietnam War era.
"Good Vibrations" was initially recorded during the sessions for what would become The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds," but the band ultimately decided to release it as a standalone single. Though at first listen, it sounds like a run-of-the-mill catchy pop song, closer inspection reveals that the song is actually a product of singer Brian Wilson's notoriously intricate, obsessive producing style that was dubbed a "pocket symphony" by the band's publicist. At the time, "Good Vibrations" was the costliest song to ever be produced, comprising 17 different recording sessions, four studios, and an array of instruments including a theremin, a cello and a jaw harp. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994.
Written by Paul McCartney for John Lennon's son Julian during John and Cynthia Lennon's divorce, "Hey Jude" was the first single released from the Beatles' Apple Records label. At more than seven minutes long, with a full orchestra and gospel-like chorus at the end, it was the longest single to ever hit No. 1 on the U.K. singles chart, and was also the longest-running chart-topper for The Beatles in the U.S., spending nine weeks at No. 1. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001.
The Doors burst onto the music scene with their self-titled debut album in 1967, which was punctuated by lead single "Light My Fire." The chart-topper encompasses what would come to be The Doors' signature elements: singer Jim Morrison's brooding vocals, heavy keyboard instrumentation, and a catchy chorus. And it made television history on The Ed Sullivan Show, when Morrison defied producers' requests and refused to censor the line "Girl, we couldn't get much higher" during a live performance.
Another pop-R&B crossover hit courtesy of the Motown label, "Reach Out I'll Be There" is the most popular hit from The Four Tops, thanks in no small part to the emotional chord struck by singer Levi Stubbs' pained vocals. The song includes signature soul elements of Motown, and was also instrumental in introducing Motown to the U.K., where it also hit No. 1.
Even today, the opening notes of The Jackson 5's debut single have the power to draw people to the dance floor. Michael Jackson's adorably earnest vocals (he was just 11 years old when the song was recorded) proved to be an early indicator of his musical appeal. It's no surprise the song shot to No. 1 and propelled the five siblings into the mainstream. In 1999, "I Want You Back" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
You might not know all (or, really, any) of the verses to The Kingsmen's version of "Louie Louie," but everyone knows the chorus, and that's really all that matters, right? Decades before three-chord instrumentation became the standard for punk and alternative rock, The Kingsmen kept things simple for their cover of Richard Berry's 1955 song, which was recorded in one take and cost the group $50. Singer Jack Ely's unintelligible lyrics even became the subject of an obscenity investigation by the FBI, which never produced charges.
A huge influence for punk bands that would emerge in the decades to come (not to mention Van Halen), The Kinks' power chord-driven single "You Really Got Me" stood out among the folk and R&B songs that dominated the charts in the early 1960s. And, perhaps even more importantly, after topping the UK charts, the song traveled stateside and was one of the tracks that paved the way for the ensuing British Invastion into the American airwaves. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
Is there any guitar riff more recognizable than Keith Richards' fuzzy opening chords on "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"? A perfect embodiment of young male angst, the song solidified singer Mick Jagger's signature sneer and proved once and for all that the Rolling Stones were the bad boy version of The Beatles, who were still singing about wanting to hold a crush's hand. It was added to the National Recording Registry in 2006.
For a clear-cut example of Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" production technique, look no further than the breakout single from The Ronettes, which features a full orchestra as well as backup vocals from the likes of Darlene Love and Sonny & Cher. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and into the National Recording Registry in 2006.
"Where Did Our Love Go," the first in a string of five No. 1 hits for The Supremes in the United States, was written specifically for the girl group and became one of Motown's biggest singles. Released in the time period that coincided with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the assassination of President Kennedy, it also provided a poignant, pessimistically nostalgic soundtrack for the hopeful first half of the decade, which was quickly giving away to cynicism about the Vietnam War. The song was memorably resurrected in 1981, when it was sampled in Soft Cell's dance hit "Tainted Love."
Though it peaked at No. 2 in their native Britain, The Troggs' cover of The Wild Ones' "Wild Thing" hit the top of the charts in the States. One of the most frequently covered songs in rock music, "Wild Thing" remains a singalong staple in dive bars around the world to this day. Like The Kinks and The Kingsmen, The Troggs' escapist anthem was a harbinger of the escapist punk ethos that would emerge in the 1970s.
Arguably The Who's signature song, "My Generation" was the highest-charting song for the group in their native England, reaching No. 2. Though it was never a bona fide hit in the States, there's no shortage of American R&B influence in the track, which features call-and-response style vocals between singer Roger Daltrey and the rest of the band. A rebellious anti-establishment anthem written by guitarist Pete Townshend, the song is a musical symbol of the youthful frustration that plagued England and the United States during the latter half of the decade.