1969 was one of the great years for pop music. I remember it particularly well, because as a highly-impressionable seven year old I was just becoming aware of music as a cultural phenomenon. That summer my family took a two month, round trip, cross country road trip. We listened to one small-town radio station after another through the Southwest, South, East Coast, Midwest, and Rocky Mountains. In all we passed through more than 30 states, from California to Georgia to New York and back across the Midwest and Rockies, often on state roads because the Interstate Highway System was still incomplete.
The summer of 1969 was also a particularly newsworthy few months—the nation was transfixed by Vietnam, men landing on the moon, and Sen. Ted Kennedy’s incident in Chappaquiddick. We listened to the news reports of these events transpiring in between some of the greatest pop music ever recorded.
If you remember 1969-- or you want to help someone remember it-- this is the ultimate 1969 playlist. There are notes on each song, and comments on how each song fits in the context of the artists’ careers and their subsequent legacy. If you’re looking to make a birthday or anniversary gift of songs from 1969, this list of songs is the place to start. The songs are arranged in groupings to help you assemble your own 1969 playlist according to the taste of the listener.
The Inescapable, Iconic Songs of 1969
These are the songs that were EVERYWHERE in 1969, and when you hear them today bring you back to that time and where you were then.
The Archies – “Sugar, Sugar”
In terms of radio airplay, sales success, and the fact that The Archies are a one hit wonder, this is one of the inescapable song of 1969. It was #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for four weeks from September 20-October 11, and because of sales and airplay it placed #1 on Billboard’s Top 100 of 1969.
Zager & Evans –“In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)”
Written in 1964 and recorded in 1968, this folk-rock anthem on a small record label exploded on radio in the weeks leading up to the moon landing, as some Americans were feeling uneasy about the pace of scientific advancement.For 6 weeks-- from July 12, 1969 to August 16, 1969—the Lincoln, Nebraska duo held the #1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100. In spite of its chart success and ubiquity during the Summer of 1969, it rated only #26 on Billboard’s Top 100 of 1969.
The Fifth Dimension – “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In”
A double Grammy winner-- for Song of the Year and Group Contemporary Vocal-- this song capitalized on hippie spiritualism and soft psychedelia, packaged in a smooth, soulful, highly-produced toe-tapper.The song held the Billboard Hot 100 #1 spot for six weeks, from April 12 through May 17, and ranked #2 in Billboard’s Top 100 of 1969.
Tommy Roe – “Dizzy”
Tommy Roe had a #1 song with his debut as a 19-year old in 1962 with “Sheila,” but in spite of a prolific career through the middle 1960s, wasn’t able to re-create is chart-topping success until he put out the bubblegum-pop infused “Dizzy” in 1969.Roe grew up in Atlanta, and layered a distinctly Southern flavor into to his straight-ahead pop songs.“Dizzy” topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts for four consecutive weeks in March and April 1969 and ranked #6 on the Billboard Top 100 of 1969 thanks in large part to its mammoth success in the South and Canada.
Credence Clearwater Revival --“Proud Mary”
Although considered a brilliant song by many (it was subsequently recorded by dozens of other artists and ranked #155 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time), “Proud Mary” only reached #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100, peaking in February and March of 1969.Credence Clearwater Revival probably suffered commercially from the fact that they were a Bay Area act singing Southern Blues on a small Bay Area label, Fantasy Records.The classic song only reached #19 on Billboard’s Top 100 of 1969, but its legacy and cover versions make it one of the essential songs on any 1969 playlist.
Blood, Sweat, & Tears – “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”
Blood, Sweat & Tears -- "Spinning Wheel"
Blood, Sweat, & Tears’ second album yielded three Top 20 hits, won the Grammy for Album of the Year, and created a new strain of pop and soul music with a heavy brass section—a sound that was capitalized upon by acts like Chicago, Tower of Power, and Earth Wind and Fire.“You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” reached #2 in March, and “Spinning Wheel” hit #2 in June.Both songs became standards in the pop lexicon, recorded by dozens of artists.“Wheel” ranked #27 on Billboard’s Top 100 of 1969, and “Happy” ranked #45.
The Cowsills were a Rhode Island family musical group that first hit the charts in 1967 with their #2 hit, “The Rain, The Park, and Other Things.”They are probably most well known today for providing the inspiration for the TV series “The Partridge Family.”In May and April 1969 they had a massive #2 hit with the title song from the 1968 hit Broadway musical “Hair.”
The Isley Brothers – “It’s Your Thing”
The Isley Brothers had been hit makers since the early 1960s when they burst on the scene with their hit “Twist and Shout.”Throughout the 1960s, they could only muster one other song to make the Billboard Hot 100—“This Old Heart of Mine” reached #6 in 1966. But in 1969, they began recording for their own record label, T-Neck, and switched their musical focus to a funkier style reminiscent of James Brown.Their first single on T-Neck was “It’s Your Thing,” which reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in April 1969, and began a string of 11 Top 5 R&B hits for the group over the next 14 years.The song won a Grammy for R&B Vocal Performance by a Group. Overall, “It’s Your Thing” ranked as #21 on Billboard’s Top 100 of 1969, but has become an iconic song that launched a distinct and successful R&B style over the past 40 years.
Tommy James & The Shondells—“Crystal Blue Persuasion”
Tommy James was an unlikely-looking musical prodigy from Western Michigan who had a number of infectious hits in the late 1960s, including “Hanky Panky,” “Mony Mony,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and “Crimson and Clover.”But in July 1969, he came out with a psychedelic-infused Blue-Eyed soul hit-- “Crystal Blue Persuasion”—that presaged the success of groups like Hall & Oates, Steely Dan, and the Michael McDonald era of The Doobie Brothers. “Persuasion” hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1969, and did especially well in urban markets like Chicago and Los Angeles, where it hit #1 on KHJ/Los Angeles and WLS/Chicago.It ranked #12 on the Billboard Top 100 for 1969, two spots below the more forgettable “Crimson and Clover.”
Johnny Cash—“A Boy Named Sue”
You could win a whole lot of money with the correct answer to this trivia question: “What was the biggest Billboard Hot 100 hit of Johnny Cash’s 50+ year musical career?” The correct answer, far and away, is 1969’s “A Boy Named Sue,” which was his only Top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hit, reaching #2 in August 1969.“I Walk The Line,” “Ring of Fire,” and other classic Johnny Cash songs never cracked the Top 10.“Sue” won a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance, and came in at #36 on Billboard’s Top 100 of 1969.
Steam— “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)”
Originally written in 1961, Kiss Him Goodbye was the B-side of a single by a front band called Steam, actually a front for aspiring artist Gary DeCarlo.A disc jockey in Georgia accidentally played the B side of the single, and the song exploded. Today, the song is often played at sports venues.“Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)” hit number one for two weeks in December 1969. Due to its success late in the year, it did not rank in Billboard's Top 100 of 1969.
Chart Toppers of 1969
“I Can’t Get Next To You” by The Temptations (#1 for 2 weeks on Hot 100, #3 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“Honky Tonk Women” by The Rolling Stones (#1 for 4 weeks on Hot 100, #4 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“Everyday People” by Sly & The Family Stone (#1 for 4 weeks on Hot 100, #5 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley (#1 on Hot 100, #18 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“Get Back” by The Beatles (#1 for 5 weeks on Hot 100, #25 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“ Wedding Bell Blues” by The Fifth Dimension (#1 for 2 weeks on Hot 100, #40 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
Essential Hits of 1969
“Hot Fun In The Summertime” by Sly & The Family Stone (#2 on Hot 100, #7 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“Build Me Up Buttercup” by The Foundations (#3 on Hot 100, #9 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“One” by Three Dog Night (#5 on Hot 100, #11 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“Get Together” by The Youngbloods (#3 on Hot 100, #16 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“Grazin' In The Grass” by The Friends Of Distinction (#3 on Hot 100, #16 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond (#4 on Hot 100, #22 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“Time Of The Season” by The Zombies (#3 on Hot 100, #39 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“Love (Can Make You Happy)” by Mercy (#2 on Hot 100, #42 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“ Good Morning Starshine” by Oliver (#3 on Hot 100, #43 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
"These Eyes” by The Guess Who (#6 on Hot 100, #44 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“Put A Little Love In Your Heart “ by Jackie DeShannon (#4 on Hot 100, #46 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“More Today Than Yesterday” by Spiral Starecase (#12 on Hot 100, #50 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“Lay Lady Lay” by Bob Dylan (#7 on Hot 100, #52 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“Everybody's Talkin'” by Nilsson (#6 on Hot 100, #73 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969, Grammy winner)
“The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel (#7 on Hot 100, #76 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
"Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White (#8 on Hot 100, #16 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“Ramblin' Gamblin' Man” by Bob Seger (#17 on Hot 100, #86 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
“Oh Happy Day” by The Edwin Hawkins Singers (#4 on Hot 100, #93 on Billboard Top 100 of 1969)
More Significant Songs of 1969
“My Cherie Amor” by Stevie Wonder (#4 on Billboard Hot 100, part of 10-year streak of Top 10 hits)
“The Isrealites” by Desmond Dekker and the Aces (#9 on Billboard Hot 100, first reggae Top 10 hit)
“Morning Girl” by The Neon Philharmonic (#17 on Billboard Hot 100, #2 on WLS/Chicago and #5 on KHJ/Los Angeles)
“Pinball Wizard” by The Who (#19 on Billboard Hot 100, lasting part of popular culture)
“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Stills & Nash (#21 on Billboard Hot 100, included in film Woodstock, group won Grammy for Best New Artist in 1969)
Think there are additional songs that need to be added? Include them in the comments!
Sherry Hewins from Sierra Foothills, CA on December 12, 2012:
I was 13 in 1969, and this list takes me right back to listening to the radio down there in Long Beach, California. Thanks so much, voted up and shared.
John C Thomas (author) from Chicago, Illinois, USA on August 09, 2012:
Thanks for the suggestion, theframjak. I've added "The Boxer" to the list!
T4an from Toronto, Ontario on August 07, 2012:
Great hub, I love these songs. Thank you so much for sharing. It brought back wonderful memories.
Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on August 04, 2012:
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Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on August 03, 2012:
Great hub. I was in college at this time and listened to many of these songs over and over and over. This was a great walk down memory lane. It was quite a time to be a young person not long from setting out on my own. pinned.
theframjak from East Coast on August 03, 2012:
Thanks for the hub e-five. I just heard "Age of Aquarius" the other day and marveled at Billy Davis Jr's vocal in the second half of the song. "The Boxer" by Simon & Garfunkel is another great song from '69.
Linda from Texas on July 28, 2012:
I know most of these songs!! I was 6 in '69 and I'm an avid music lover. This was very interesting, thanks for posting!