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Summer Songs of the '60s

What do they say — if you remember the sixties you weren't there? Not true. Recall the sounds we heard as the world changed.

  • Top summer songs of the 60s: Theme from A Summer Place
    Courtesy Everett Collection

    1960: 'A Summer Place'

    Percy Faith
    Many of 1960's summer hits, like "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," would have been at home in the previous decade. Even the summer's biggest song, orchestra leader Percy Faith's "Theme from A Summer Place," was a gentle, breezy, string-laden piece of easy listening. Matters were considerably weightier in the movie A Summer Place, where teen idols Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee deal with an unplanned pregnancy. Fun Fact: The birth-control pill was approved for public use in June 1960.

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  • Top Summer Songs of the 60s: Ricky Nelson
    Hulton Archive/Getty Images

    1961: 'Travelin' Man'

    Ricky Nelson
    Even though television was famously declared "a vast wasteland" by FCC chairman Newt Minow in 1961, TV heartthrob Ricky Nelson's "Travelin' Man" found a home in every road trip soundtrack this summer. America loved this song so much that it actually hit No. 1 in May and then again in June.  Fun Fact: Another piece of harmless good-looking popular culture debuted in 1961 — the Ken doll.

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  • Top Summer Songs of the 60s: Ray Charles
    Bob Parent/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

    1962: 'I Can't Stop Loving You'

    Ray Charles
    As the civil rights movement gained traction in protests across the country, Ray Charles took a country song and infused it with soul and R&B style. His lush and longing "I Can't Stop Loving You" spent the entire month of June lilting out of AM radios — and into the hearts of millions. Fun Fact: America became increasingly color-conscious in 1962: Polaroid introduced color film, and ABC started color broadcasting.

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  • Top Summer Songs of the 60s: Surf City
    Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis

    1963: 'Surf City'

    Jan and Dean
    Even though the bikini was invented in 1946, it didn't become a fashion craze until millions of teens spied Annette Funicello filling one out in the summer movie Beach Party, co-starring Frankie Avalon. Also premiering in 1963 was Jan and Dean's "Surf City" (co-written by Beach Boy Brian Wilson), the first surf-rock song to hit No. 1. Fun Fact: Two of Bob Dylan's most influential songs — "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are a-Changin'" — were released in 1963. Neither one made the Billboard Top 200.

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  • Top Summer Songs of the 60s: The Beatles
    Popperfoto/Getty Images

    1964: 'A Hard Day's Night'

    The Beatles 
    The biggest hits of summer 1964 showed an America in transition: "Chapel of Love" by girl group The Dixie Cups; "I Get Around" by the Beach Boys; blazer-wearing vocal group The Four Seasons' "Rag Doll", and "Where Did Our Love Go?" a Motown groove from the Supremes. Ultimately, 1964 belonged to the Beatles — after occupying the No. 1 slot for four months earlier in the year, they continued their chart invasion with "A Hard Day's Night" in August. Fun Fact: Also released in 1964 was The Kinks' "You Really Got Me," which is widely regarded to be the first "heavy metal" song because of the distorted guitar sound (achieved by guitarist Dave Davies slicing the speaker of his guitar amp with a razor blade).

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  • Mick Jagger and Mary Poppins Diptych
    J. O'Gready/The Sydney Morning Herald/Fairfax Media/Getty Images

    1965: '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction'

    The Rolling Stones
    The generational battle lines were becoming more distinct by summer 1965. The best-selling album of the year was the Mary Poppinssoundtrack, but the song parents most wanted to disappear was the teen anthem "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" from the provocative and vaguely threatening Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger has called "Satisfaction" an indictment of the consumer culture that was starting to run wild in the U.S. Fun Fact: Britney Spears recorded a cover of "Satisfaction" in 2000, saying "I was just like, 'I like this song.'"

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  • Top Summer Songs of the 60s: Lovin Spoonful
    Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

    1966: 'Summer in the City'

    The Lovin' Spoonful
    Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night" hitting No. 1 in July seemed liked a last gasp from the old guard when it ceded the top slot first to the Beatles' "Paperback Writer," then to "Wild Thing" by grungy garage rockers the Troggs. One of the best songs ever recorded about summer — The Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City" — scorched up the charts in August. Fun Fact: Singer John Sebastian had another No. 1 hit in 1976 with "Welcome Back" — the theme song to Welcome Back Kotter.

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  • Top Summer Songs of the 60s: The Doors
    Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis

    1967: 'Light My Fire'

    The Doors
    The Summer of Love saw the counterculture in full bloom as more than 100,000 people flocked to the hippie epicenter of San Francisco for peace, love, drugs and the music of Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. The Doors' "Light My Fire" reflected the darker and more rebellious side of rock, especially after singer Jim Morrison refused to change the song's most controversial line ("Girl, we couldn't get much higher") for the band's live performance on the The Ed Sullivan Show. Fun Fact: Buick offered the Doors $75,000 to use "Light My Fire" in a TV ad for its new Opel. Morrison said if they did, he'd smash an Opel onstage with a sledgehammer.

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  • Top Summer Songs of the 60s: The Rascals
    National Archives/AFP/Getty Images

    1968: 'People Got to Be Free'

    The Rascals
    Riddled by assassinations, civil rights strife and the military's ever-escalating involvement in Viet Nam, 1968 was one of the country's most turbulent years. The hottest part of the summer was cooled by a funky message of togetherness and hope: "People Got to Be Free" by the Rascals. Practicing what they preached, the all-white band refused to play any concert gig that did not also feature an African American band. Fun Fact: The band was originally called The Young Rascals to avoid confusion with The Harmonica Rascals, a 10-piece harmonica band from the 1930s and '40s.

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    NASA/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

    1969: 'In the Year 2525'

    Zagers and Evans
    As Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon on July 21, the No. 1 song was "In the Year 2525." Far from a joyful celebration of peace and monumental achievement, it was an ominous warning of the perils of technology, pollution and conformity, and perhaps a prescient foreshadowing of the 1970s, which were only months away. Fun Fact: The No. 1 song of 1969, "Sugar, Sugar" was recorded by a band that did not exist. The Archies were the studio creation of rock impresario Don Kirshner, who earlier produced the Monkees but grew tired of trying to make the flesh-and-blood band members conform to his directions.

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