Pitchfork’s 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960′s

Posted in music, reviews at 10:03 pm by danvk

Go check out Pitchfork’s 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s. I always wished they’d do a Sixties album list in the same style as their 1970′s, 1980′s, 1990′s and 2000-04 lists. That won’t happen now, but a Singles list is a pretty good consolation prize. I already knew a fair number of the songs on the list, and I suspect that anyone else who went to High School in the English-speaking world can say the same.

Here’s my initial take on the top 21. Eight of them were new to me. If you want to listen to any of them legally, iTunes will have most, and the Pitchfork version of the list has info on what CDs to buy. If you lack scruples, you can just get in touch with me.

21. Beach Boys / Good Vibrations (1966)
Lots of fun, and everyone’s heard it. Not everyone knows the story, though. Beatles release Revolver. Beach Boys one-up with Pet Sounds. Beatles one-up with Sgt. Pepper. Beach Boys prepare to one-up that, and this will be the smash single. But then Brian Wilson loses his mind while recording it.

20. The Shangri-Las / Out in the Streets (1965) – new to me
This song sounds wonderful, and the story is edgy enough to make me buy a placement this high. How many songs like this feature a girl singing about how she needs to break up with her boy so he can be a bad guy in a gang again? Very cool.

19. Tomorrow Never Knows / The Beatles (1966)
I always liked this song, even before I liked The Beatles. It’s so exotic, so different, but not in an academic, unlistenable way like a 15-minute long “single” by Steve Reich elsewhere on the list…

18. Then He Kissed Me / The Crystals (1963) – new to me
This song is super-sweet, and it’s fine, but I don’t understand why it’s ranked so highly. There’s only the slightest hint of anything outside a cookie-cutter life here (“and then he kissed me in a way that I’d never been kissed before”). Instead of taking her to his home to MEET his parents, couldn’t they do that when the parents aren’t around? Be just a little edgy, please!

17. Fortunate Son / CCR (1969)
“I ain’t no Senator’s Son!” What a hook, what a song. I wish we had protest songs this tight and scathing now, not John Mayer singing this crap about waiting for the world to change.

16. I Wanna Be your Dog / The Stooges (1969) – new to me
I guess the song is OK, it’s just the “1969″ that sticks out at me. This sounds like something from the eighties. It reminds me a little bit of Sonic Youth.

15. Think / Aretha Franklin (1968)
“Freedom,” that’s the chorus that gets sampled all over the place. But thinking’s a good idea too. Can’t argue with that, Aretha.

14. Don’t Worry Baby / The Beach Boys (1964) – new to me
This is cool, and it makes me want to listen to more Beach Boys beyond Pet Sounds and “Good Vibrations”. It’s a fun love song, but it’s got a cool gender-role reversal thing going on. The guy is pretty submissive and insecure here, but his girl’s got all the answers. The car line is priceless: “I guess I shoulda kept my mouth shut when I start to brag about my car. But I can’t back down now because I pushed the other guys too far.”

13. The Weight / The Band (1968)
I knew the opening bit from a commercial. Having listened to the rest of the song, they chose the right part to sample. I’ve had “Southern Rock Bad” pounded into me just a bit too hard to enjoy this on its own terms.

12. Gimme Shelter / The Rolling Stones (1969)
Here’s one that really jumps out at you. It sure jumped out at me the first time I heard it as a freshman riding to school way back in the day. Go look at the picture of the Stones on Pitchfork. GOD he’s got a big mouth.

11. Dazed and Confused / Led Zeppelin (1969)
Ah Zeppelin. I don’t know that I would have chosen this as their best single of the 1960′s, but it’s certainly up there. Honestly, how many people can scream “The soul of a woman was creaaated belooooooooooooooow” to an audience of millions and still get as much action as Robert Plant? Now that I think about it, this song is pretty awesome. I can’t complain.

10. Israelites / Desmond Dekker (1969) – new to me
I’ve never liked Reggae much, so I guess this song is Great in that it helped start a genre, but I’m not so convinced it’s a great song.

9. I Can’t Explain / The Who (1965)
Yeah, this is solid. It’s The Who, it sounds like The Who, and The Who Are Cool.

8. Folsom Prison Blues (Live at Folsom Prison) / Johnny Cash (1968)
I’m so sick of Johnny Cash. Cool setting, cool song, sure, but I skip this one.

7. Wouldn’t it Be Nice / The Beach Boys (1966)
This song might be my #1. It’s certainly my favorite Beach Boys song. Anyone who dated in High School will be able to relate instantly. This was the song that sold me on Pet Sounds and made it one of my favorite albums.

6. Be My Baby / The Ronettes (1963) – new to me
Oh fine. I’ll be your baby if it’s really that important to you. This song is super-sweet, but w/o Pitchfork’s description I wouldn’t have known the technological/music history reason that it was ranked so highly. According to them, it’s the first single that was impossible to reproduce outside of the studio. Meh.

5. A Day in the Life / The Beatles (1967)
I’ve never understood the Best Beatles Song Ever label that it often gets. I’d rate Tomorrow Never Knows higher than this. That being said, it’s a good and tremendously interesting song. It has an incredible sense of resignation all about it.

4. Like a Rolling Stone / Bob Dylan (1965)
The sound of someone “kicking open the door to your mind.” I always worry that people feel obliged to pay lip service to Bob, so I’m skeptical of all such airy statements. Go listen to it yourself. It’s an incredible song that should send chills down the spine of anyone who’s recently moved out into the real world. (note: Google is not the real world). Bob looks so young in the Pitchfork picture.

3. A Change Is Gonna Come / Sam Cooke (1964) – new to me
“Ah was bawwwwn by the rivuh…” This was the real winner of the list for me, the most fantastic song that I would never have found on my own. No white man has ever had a voice so incredible as Sam Cooke’s. I’m almost embarassed to sing along. The song is filled with depressing anecdotes, but it always gets back to that chorus, that a change gonna come.

2. I Want You Back / The Jackson 5 (1969)
I’m so happy that PItchfork made this #2. Who doesn’t love this song? What scares me is that MJ must have been around my little nephew’s age when he first sang this. What’s that like to be outclassed by a ten year-old?

1. God only Knows / The Beach Boys (1966)
“The world could show nothing to me, so what good would living do me? God only knows what I’d be without you.” I think Pitchfork is picking this song because it hits so many Sixties themes. It’s the sweet sort of love song that seems typical of the early 60′s. But as they say, it’s a song riddled with anxiety and dependance. Having the “Wouldn’t it Be Nice” feeling is most certainly a good thing, but you don’t want to feel like “God only Knows,” and in that way, I suppose it’s a more nuanced song than #7. But if anxiety’s what they want, where’s “Caroline No”? I love this song, but I wouldn’t put it at number one. I like numbers 2, 3 and 4 better right now, but this choice may very well grow on me.


  1. anna k said,

    December 18, 2006 at 8:53 am

    A little late to comment, I guess, but check out Otis Redding’s version of ‘A Change is Gonna Come’… I go back and forth between which I like better.

  2. tgodd said,

    June 7, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    The Band are from Canada lol. They rule ps.

  3. jacopo said,

    May 25, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    I would like to have the link to download the whole 200 songs if its possible, great music