Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist... Published author (https://www.amazon.com/Sins-Fathers-S-Gepp-ebook/dp/B07XBDP2RF/) & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published May 13th 2020
Where the 60s began obviously
In my honest opinion, the decade that produced the highest proportion of good songs, either recorded or written, was the 1960s. The early 70s gave us some fine music, punk in the late 70s was not too shabby, and, of course, the 80s, being my teenaged years, were filled with greatness. The 90s had their moments, then came the turn of the millennium and… well, the 1960s gave us a lot of really good music.
But, truth be told, the best music of the 60s didn't really hit hard until 1963, once The Beatles had released their first album, Dylan released The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, the first stirrings of bands like the Rolling Stones were coming in live venues, and the Beach Boys had found their feet. What would follow in the next seven years would be an explosion of music, with genres mashing and merging flawlessly, with the rise of musicians and artists writing and performing their own songs, with the literacy level of songs increasing exponentially, with music going beyond the standard patterns heard before. The sixties were exciting times, and I wish I was alive to enjoy it first-hand.
So, really, 1960 was no more than an extension of the 1950s. My parents were both teenagers in 1960, and at school, and my mother told me she didn't notice a change in music until the Beatles emerged.
My father's gramophone! Still in working order…
However, 1960 still had a large number of songs that were really quite good. Maybe not many matched what was to come just a few years later, but they are still really good tracks. So… ready? Honourable mentions! Deep breath now: 'A Rockin' Good Way' by Brook Benton & Dinah Washington (later famously covered by Shakin' Stevens & Bonnie Tyler in 1984); 'Alley Oop' by Hollywood Argyles; 'Are You Lonesome Tonight?' by Elvis Presley; 'Because They're Young' by Duane Eddy; 'Brontosaurus Stomp' by The Piltdown Men (close call); 'Cathy's Clown' by Everly Brothers; 'Clap Your Hands' by The Beau-Marks; 'Come On And Take My Hand' by Johnny O'Keefe; 'Corinne, Corinna' by Ray Peterson; 'Cradle Of Love' by Johnny Preston (nothing to do with the Billy Idol song); 'Georgia On My Mind' by Ray Charles; 'G.I. Blues' by Elvis Presley; 'Goodness, Gracious Me! ' by Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren (possibly not politically correct nowadays); 'He'll Have To Go' by Jim Reeves (another close call); 'Hen-Pecked' by Col Joye's Joy Boys (a guilty pleasure song); 'I Fought The Law' by The Crickets (the original, later made awesome by the Bobby Fuller Four); 'It's Now Or Never' by Elvis Presley; 'Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini' by Brian Hyland (just a little too twee, really); 'Let It Be Me' by Everly Brothers; 'Let's Have A Party' by Wanda Jackson (originally by Elvis from the film Loving You, but Jackson does a better version); 'Mr. Custer' by Larry Verne; 'New Orleans' by Gary U.S. Bonds; 'Please Don't Tease' by Cliff Richard; 'Ready For You' by Johnny O'Keefe; 'Rubber Ball' by Bobby Vee; 'Shop Around' by The Miracles; 'Spanish Harlem' by Ben E. King (really close); 'Spoonful' by Howlin' Wolf (later outdone by Cream); 'Swingin' School' by Bobby Rydell; 'Teen Angel' by Mark Dinning (maybe from 1959? it's really hard to tell); 'Tell Laura I Love Her' by Ray Peterson (teenage death songs, such a staple of the time); 'The Twist' by Chubby Checker; 'Three Steps To Heaven' by Eddie Cochran (a posthumous release); 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport' by Rolf Harris; 'True Love Ways' by Buddy Holly (another posthumous release); 'Walk, Don't Run' by The Ventures (surprisingly, a cover, but another one which really overshadowed the original); 'Wild One' by Bobby Rydell (not the J'OK song, later covered by Iggy Pop); 'You're Sixteen' by Johnny Burnette.
Already you can see how many really good songs were released in 1960. Yes, many of them are of their time, but the sheer number of great songs released over subsequent years makes even this list feel short. And that's because the 1960s were the best.
All right, that brings us to our list. 15 songs to represent 1960. Get ready for a lot of black and white videos… and a lot of videos portrayed by images of the 45 disc. Please be aware that these are my favourites, plus one extra (you'll see), and your mileage could well vary, and you might find songs in my honourable mentions list above are more to your liking. That's cool; my mother disagrees with me as well and she was there! Two rules, though: only one song per artist, and the song had to be released in 1960, not merely charted in 1960. Let's go!
'Apache' by The Shadows
The Shadows started life as The Drifters, but would change their name when they discovered a US group with the same name. And they also started life as the backing band for one Cliff Richard, the only artist to have a number one hit in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Seriously. In the USA he is known for exactly one song ('Devil Woman', 1976) but in the UK and Australia he is the longevity champion. Sorry. The Shadows. The Shadows had hits on their own, with some of the most recognisable instrumental tracks of the early years of rock. This track is one of the best rock instrumentals recorded, Hank Marvin is an incredible guitarist and the track is just so amazing.
'Beatnik Fly' by Johnny and The Hurricanes
Another instrumental. Not the best Johnny and the Hurricanes song (that would be 'Red River Rock') but still a great track. Led by that driving organ with nice saxophone and guitar breaks, it was used in a few movies and TV shows of the time. It's just a great track that really sets the foot tapping.
'Calendar Girl' by Neil Sedaka
This is the "one extra". Why? It's my mother's favourite song. She had this on 45 (it was broken over the intervening years) and I remember hearing it often as a kid. Look, it's not a bad song, don't get me wrong, but it just didn't really resonate with me. As I've got older, I have come to appreciate it more, but this is still my mum's song. She said she just liked the way the song sounded, and the way Sedaka uses the months of the year was different to a lot of other songs at the time. So, for my mum, it's Neil.
'My Old Man's A Dustman (Ballad Of A Refuse Disposal Officer)' by Lonnie Donegan
I have this track by "the king of skiffle" on three different albums, and the title in parentheses is on one of them, so I included it because it suits. This is a comedy track, pure and simple, filled with garbage collector jokes, and interspersed with other jokes as interludes. It's basically an excuse to tell bad "dad" jokes. The garbo jokes in the song were obviously an attempt to do a George Formby ("…when I'm cleaning windows…"); Formby was better. Still, this is great. And skiffle is not known much outside of England, yet its influence on 1960s British music is huge. The Beatles, Jimmy Page and Rory Gallagher all had skiffle influences in their early careers. I actually quite like UK skiffle. And this track is just silly and funny. And the video is filled with very different jokes and different verses to the version on the album!
'Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien' by Edith Piaf
What? I'm allowed to love this song. It's more jazz/caberet than rock/pop, sure, but that voice, and the way she sings this gorgeous song makes this worthy of inclusion on any great songs list. When I first heard this track – and I would have been at high school – it made me go out and actually buy a cassette of Edith Piaff (long since worn out, I'm afraid). In fact, doing this list has made me decide to add an Edith Piaff album to my 'to be bought' list. But this track is simply beautiful. There is a reason she is so highly regarded.
'Only The Lonely (Know The Way I Feel)' by Roy Orbison
Roy Orbison was at the start of his run of great, emotional songs that lasted throughout the 1960s, then came back in the 1980s before his tragic death. Orbison was one of the greatest voices ever in the history of popular music. Orbison, Del Shannon, Frankie Valli, Lou Christie and Robert Plant are probably the best 5 singers. In. My. Opinion. Anyway, this is one of my favourite of Orbison's 1960s' songs and it is beautiful. Great voices in 1960. The video, by the way, is from A Black And White Night, a 1988 concert by Roy Orbison and friends, which I used to own on VHS. Still a cool rendition.
'Peter Gunn' by Duane Eddy and The Rebels
This is the last instrumental, don't worry. But this theme from a TV show redone by the "Master of Twang" is such a classic piece of guitar playing. Henry Mancini wrote one incredible piece of music that really set the tone for the PI TV series it came from. In fact, it was one of the first songs I was taught on the guitar – it might not be that hard to play, but to play it like Duane Eddy is almost impossible. Even his later re-recording with the Art Of Noise was great. Eddy is almost forgotten these days; the man is one of the greatest rock guitarists ever.
And just because, here's the 1987 version:
'Poetry In Motion' by Johnny Tillotson
All right – admission: this is one of my favourite songs. While it is not even my favourite from 1960, it is still a song I really, really like. Yes, it does remind me of a person (regular readers are probably rolling their eyes about now), and her name was Sandi and we never even dated. Apart from the personal connection, the song is such a great celebration of seeing some-one, using a unique metaphor that still works. So long as the poem isn't an Edward Lear limerick…
'Save The Last Dance For Me' by The Drifters
The Drifters (the ones that forced the name change on The Shadows) recorded a large number of wonderful songs, their vocal harmonies perfectly matched, the songs themselves often heightened by their voices. This is my favourite song by the band, and I even used it as the basis for a paranormal romance story. It is actually a little sad, when you listen to the lyrics. It doesn't matter, though – the song is really good.
'Shakin' All Over' by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates
Probably better known for its numerous cover versions over the years, the original still has that charm of innocence that comes through in the way the song is performed. It's just a song about a guy either getting nervous when he's dancing close to his girlfriend, or she inspires in him some great dance moves. Later versions would make it seem like a drug song, but not this one. It's pretty darn cool, really.
'She's My Baby' by Johnny O'Keefe
I said 'Poetry In Motion' was not my favourite song from 1960. No. That would be this one. This is also one of my favourite songs ever and one of my favourite Australian songs, certainly in my top 10. Seriously. Another song I heard on 45 first, then my dad bought me a cassette copy of Johnny O'Keefe's greatest hits, and I have since bought a greatest hits CD. This song is simple and maybe simplistic, but I just love it. Back when I was 11 years old, in year 7, my final year of primary school, I had a crush on a classmate named Jody, and this song described her wonderfully; later in 1987 it also described Barbara as well. Did the song attract me to girls with short black hair and brown eyes? Considering I prefer girls with longer hair personally, I'd say, "Yes. Yes it did." It's all JO'K's fault.
Quick note – my single is date-stamped 1960, which is what I am going by, but the chart sites indicate it was released in December 1959. So if there is some confusion, sorry, but this is a 1960 song.
'Stay' by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs
Another song far better known for its cover versions (The Four Seasons, Lou Christie, The Hollies, and Jackson Browne to name but a few), the original has the distinction, I believe of being the shortest ever single to top the Billboard charts, at a whopping 98 seconds of music. Still, despite its brevity, it is such a wonderful track and the Zodiacs give Williams (who wrote the track) great support.
'When Will I Be Loved' by Everly Brothers
Tough call deciding which Everly Brothers song to include on this list, but I went for this one because I think I like the sentiment more than anything else. The Everly Brothers had amongst the best harmonies ever in the history of rock and pop music duos. They complemented one another so perfectly. And when they hit it on this song, it is flawless. There's a country vibe about it, it's not too slow and it just flows along smoothly. The Everly Brothers are considered musical greats by those music nerds like me; today they have fallen by the wayside. Very unfair. They were amazing.
'Will You Love Me Tomorrow' by The Shirelles
One of the first songs by the girl groups that dominated the early 60s until the British Invasion conquered all in its path. Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, I believe this was their first number one single. Carole King would later record it herself (magnificently). And I have a great punk rock cover by Me First & The Gimme Gimme Gimmes. This song is so well written that it actually fits a genre as separate from girl group doo-wop as guitar-based punk rock. The voices of the Shirelles are marvellous, the orchestration does not overwhelm, and the whole is a beautiful question that resonates with teenagers to this very day.
This song, for what it's worth, was the first true 60s song. This is not about liking some-one or dancing – this is about actually spending the night with some-one then asking them in the morning if it meant anything. This was territory that had never been broached in popular music like this before. It made no secret that kids were sleeping together. The influence of this song lyrically cannot be underestimated. This one track was an absolute game-changer.
'Wonderful World' by Sam Cooke
And finally a song that is just a song of love and joy. A guy is not doing well at school but that doesn't matter because he loves a girl and being with her makes everything wonderful. So simple, and yet so well done. A part of it is Cooke's glorious voice, and a part of it is, again, the fact that even today teenagers could probably relate to it, in their innocent little way. I'm not denigrating teenagers – I was there, I felt this way, I know what it means – but that to kids this is what matters. I wish the world remained so innocent as we got older.
There you have it, 15 songs from 1960. Sixty years ago this year as I write this (my mum didn't want me to make a big deal about that). The 60s were off to a strong start. The fact it would only get even better as the decade progressed is simply awesome. Even if, like me, you weren't born in 1960, you cannot deny how good these songs were. The voice was considered a true instrument; song-writing was starting to get more sophisticated, and the clarity of the songs was right there.
I was born 6 days into 1960. Being a teenager in the 70s you would think that decade would be my fav music , but no. I love 60s music with a passion. Possibly my parents influence helped a bit as they played a lot of it which rubbed off on me. Here’s to the 1960s.