55 Facts About The Songs Of The '60s
The sixties had it all. War. Cigarettes. People wearing suits. Uh ... we don't actually remember the '60s because we weren't there. But never fear, the music lives on!
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1. "Brown Eyed Girl"
Originally, Morrison’s song was about an interracial couple and was called "Brown-Skinned Girl." The title changed due to Morrison just slipping up, and then rolling with it. The final version does sound slightly less Buffalo Bill-ish
2. "What a Wonderful World"
The song was written during a period of civil unrest, because that’s just kinda been the general vibe for most of human history. Vietnam, riots, protests ... all of it led to Louis Armstrong’s song, created to promote “love, baby, love.”
3. "Louie Louie"
"Louie Louie," like most good songs, has somewhat nonsensical lyrics. Unlike most good songs, though, it was investigated by the FBI because they were worried about it promoting obscenity.
4. "Ode to Billie Joe"
"Ode to Billie Joe" is a beloved song, in part due to the vagaries surrounding what happened. Bobbie Gentry alone knows what was thrown off the bridge, and has never told a soul.
5. "The Girl from Ipanema"
You know the elevator song, but did you know it’s originally from a musical, about Martians? And the girl in the song is a real girl who used to walk by a cafe in Ipanema when she was 17, which is definitely not a creepy age for a girl that you write a song about.
6. "The Sound of Silence"
The opening line, “Hello darkness my old friend,” was surprisingly literal. Paul Simon used to go sit in the dark of his bathroom, alone, to have quiet, and to write songs.
7. "Ring of Fire"
"Ring of Fire," about the pain and unbearable passion of love—comparing it to, of all things, literal actual hell—was written by Johnny Cash’s future wife, about the boorish man himself. Shakespeare wrote sonnets, June Carter wrote this.
8. "God Only Knows"
There was worry when this song came out due to the fact that it had the word God in the title. The band feared it wouldn’t even get any airplay—or, conversely, would get The Beach Boys labelled fuddy-duddies, due to all those darn atheists.
While the Aretha Franklin version is more famous, the original by Otis Redding still owns. The original, however, is about a man who travels a lot saying it’s fine if his wife sleeps around just … like … not while I’m he's there? Please? Hey, babe, please? All I’m asking for is a little respect.
10. "Whole Lotta Love"
Wow, honestly, it seems like Led Zeppelin has potentially never written a song of their own, and that includes "Whole Lotta Love" off of Led Zeppelin II, which was stolen from Willie Dixon … along with "Bring It On Home," off the same album. When Robert Plant asked his guitarist about it, Jimmy Page said “shut up and keep walking.” Which didn’t really help them that much when Dixon sued them for a second time. Maybe they should’ve run.
11. "I Heard It Through the Grapevine!"
The phrase “heard it through the grapevine” grew in popularity after this song, but the first recorded use of it was in reference to how slaves came to learn about what was going on up North—through the human grapevine.
12. "Fortunate Son"
Despite being a song about how if your dad is rich, you don’t need to go die pointlessly at war, Wrangler thought it would work well to sell jeans—which, to be fair, are also not for rich people. John Fogerty was interviewed about it, and after he expressed disdain, Wrangler actually dropped the song from their ads.
13. "I’m a Believer"
Despite featuring actual instruments, performers, singers, and talent, The Monkees were never a real band. Much like Big Time Rush and Hannah Montana, they were made for TV.
14. "Purple Haze"
While “Purple Haze” seems to be a song about drugs being just so cool, dude, it’s actually about aliens, because in the '60s, nothing was what it seemed. While drugs and aliens go together like drugs and aliens, the song was actually inspired by a science fiction novel that Hendrix read (while presumably stoned) and the purpleish haze from the story.
15. "California Dreamin'"
Does everyone plagiarize? It turns out "California Dreamin’" sounds a lot like another song—but the original song is closer to Jesus than The Beatles on the timeline. Yeah, turns out the opening riff of "California Dreamin’" is remarkably close to a recovered song from around the age of Plato. Nothing new under the sun, indeed.
16. "Blowin’ in the Wind"
It's been said that all of their best music in the '60s that was sung by white people originally came from Black people. That includes "Blowin’ in the Wind," which was almost ripped entirely from an "old Negro spiritual," something Dylan to his credit openly admitted.
17. "Born to Be Wild"
This song—prominently featured in Easy Rider, a movie about how motorcycles are cool and cocaine is cooler—also featured the first appearance of the term “heavy metal” in a song. It's considered one of the first heavy metal songs, ever. Despite that, there is a Muppets cover, which we of course are including here.
18. "Sweet Caroline"
The song, featuring lyrics such as “Warm, touchin’ warm, reaching out, touching me, touching you,” is named after and inspired by JFK’s daughter, 12-year-old Caroline—specifically a photo of her with her family, “dressed to the nines” and ready to ride a horse.
19. "Dazed and Confused"
Ah, Led Zeppelin, you’ve done it again. Yes, this is one more stolen song, but the most interesting about this one is that when Zeppelin included it on their album, it was credited to … no one. Which is better at least than crediting it to someone who didn’t write it, maybe? A kid named Jake Holmes wrote it and performed it when opening for Jimmy Page’s old band The Yardbirds, and Page must’ve loved it enough to remember the song, but not who wrote it—even after Holmes sent him a letter asking for credit.
20. "Come Together"
"Come Together," the catchy Beatles song about how a flatop moves slowly and joo-joo eyeballs bring Coca-Cola, started out as a campaign song for Timothy Leary, who was running against Ronald Reagan for Governor of California. It was based on Leary’s slogan—“Come Together, Join the Party.” But then Leary was arrested for weed and Lennon decided it’d work as a Beatles song.
Yeah, we're talking about "Respect" again, the Aretha version this time. Her additions of “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” and “Take care of … TCB” became so inseparable from the song that Otis Redding started adding them in when he played his version. And TCB? Oh, that means taking care of business—which, yes, means exactly what you think. (Sex. It’s sex.)
22. "Good Vibrations"
The song cost about $100,000 to make. In 1960s money. See, around that time, Brian Wilson was redoing how he wrote songs, and combining that with the innovative (read: weird) way they were recording, they used over 90 hours of tape to make the song. Adjusted for inflation, it cost roughly $900,000. Still worth it.
23. "Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You"
Though it was recorded by someone straight, this incredibly moving anthem is as gay as the Stonewall Riots. Bob Crewe, the gay lead creative for The Four Seasons, wrote it after staring at his naked lover lounging on a bedspread—it’s the gay equivalent of that scene in Titanic where Jack paints Rose like one of his French girls.
24. "These Boots Are Made for Walking"
It’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone aside from Nancy Sinatra singing this song. Well, Nancy Sinatra or Jessica Simpson. Okay, Nancy Sinatra, Jessica Simpson, or Miss Piggy. But it was written by a man, for a man. However, when Sinatra heard it, she said it came off too harsh from a man, but would be perfect for a woman—and the rest is history.
25. "White Rabbit"
The song, featured most prominently in every movie ever, including The Matrix Resurrections, mocks parents who wonder why their children grow up to do drugs after reading fantasy stories. “They also seemed unaware that many books they read to us as kids had drug use as a subtext," said the band. "Peter Pan uses fairy dust and can fly, Dorothy and her friends in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz cut through a poppy field and wind up stoned and fast asleep.” Oh, and speaking of the Matrix? "Matrix" was also the name of the first club Jefferson Airplane ever performed in, before they even had a name themselves.
26. "My Way"
Everyone hated it. While the song is undeniably great, the original writer wrote it as a selfish, tough-guy act that he derided, and even Frank Sinatra came to see it as boasting and annoying.
27. "My Generation"
Pete Townshend, an insane person, used to own a hearse. One day, the Queen Mother—the mother of Queen Elizabeth—saw it and had it towed because it reminded her of the one that her husband was buried in. Pete had to pay more to get it out of impound than it had cost to buy in the first place. So, pissed, he wrote this song that at one point wasn’t even played on the BBC due to fear of offending stutters—with the famous “fff … fade away” line, which itself was Townshend’s own actual stutter, exaggerated because it made him sound like he was on pills.
28. "Be My Baby"
"Be My Baby" was apparently one of Beach Boy Brian Wilson's spiritual touchstones, and he was obsessed with it, once saying "it was like having your mind revamped." He had to pull over to the side of the road the first time he heard it, just to analyze the chorus, and he called the album it came from the best record he had ever heard.
29. "The Twist"
What do Chubby Checker and Mariah Carey have in common? “All I Want for Christmas is You” would become the first song to reach number one on the charts and stay there multiple times since “The Twist” did it in 1960 and 1962.
30. "Please Mr. Postman"
Due to the failure of his debut album, Marvin Gaye decided to take up as a studio musician—during which time he played drums on this song.
31. "Sunshine of Your Love"
This was a love song for Jimi Hendrix. Cream’s bassist went to see Jimi one time and fell in love, writing the bass riff as a dedication to Jimi, and the rest of the song wrapped itself around that one riff. Jimi Hendrix would pay Cream back by jamming with them, making everyone cream.
32. "Happy Together"
Everyone rejected this song at first, with its demo being called “abysmal.” But The Turtles loved it and kept working on it for eight months until it became the song we know today.
33. "Season of the Witch"
"Season of the Witch" was recorded using a few local musicians from local clubs, and two of them might have been from Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were both session musicians who played on other Donovan songs, but while it does sound like they played on it, no one knows for sure.
34. "When a Man Loves a Woman"
You have always heard the wrong version. See, when it was being made, the version that was recorded had the horns out of tune, so they went back and did a new version with horns that were actually in tune. But due to a mix-up, the original version was sent out.
35. "Ain’t No Mountain High Enough"
This song was considered a “golden egg” by its creators, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, who held onto it despite Dusty Springfield wanting it for her own. And it worked out, getting them signed with Motown.
36. "Stand By Your Man"
Hillary Clinton derisively viewed this as a song about letting your man walk all over you—at least, according to her interview during the first presidential campaign. And yet it's sort of just about overlooking the flaws of those you love, with a neat little diss at the end of him being “just a man.”
37. "Sugar Sugar"
This song was originally meant for The Monkees, but when they fought back, insisting they have some control over what music they played, Don Kirshner moved on and used the The Archies, a cartoon band, who wouldn’t argue, given they were cartoons. The song went on to be a bigger hit than almost any Monkees song ever. From one fake band to the other!
38. "California Girls"
The song was recorded during Brian Wilson’s first ever acid trip. To combat the stress and fear he had, he went to his piano, started thinking about music from cowboy movies, and just banged the song out “pretty fast.”
39. "House of the Rising Sun"
While the best-known version of the song seems to imply that the main character’s woes are related to a casino and money, the original version was more bleak—it was about a woman working as a sex worker, and not having a great time of it. The House was a brothel.
40. "Twist and Shout"
This oft-covered song is revered today, but the original version was a mess. The song's writer hated producer Phil Spector's version of it and re-recorded it with the Isley Brothers. Literally everyone since has chosen to ignore the previous version.
41. "Here Comes the Sun"
Think accountants suck? Then you’re just like George Harrison. A mix of a personal issues (marijuana arrest) and issues with The Beatles (him quitting) led to Harrison having a bad time. One day after having to deal with accountants, he was walking around Eric Clapton’s garden, and the joy of not having to see pencil pushers led to him writing this hit song.
42. "I Got You Babe"
One night, Cher woke up to hear Sonny Bono playing some boring-ass song, went down to tell him it wouldn’t be a hit (despite it being written for her), and then went back to bed. Years later, it would become one of their most popular songs and even led to greater interest in their back catalog. Eh, no one ever said Cher had good taste.
43. "Rice Krispies"
This song by The Rolling Stones is one of those underground hits you only hear if you’re super cool. Or lived in the UK in the '60s. Because that’s when this song, which was written and only exists as a commercial, was aired.
44. The Doctor Who Theme
The history of this song is incredibly weird. While it may sound like synths are used, it was actually created before they even existed. Manipulating analog tape, messing with oscillators, using white noise generators, and a big ole steel drum, they made a bunch of different sounds and then played all of the pieces of it together at once leading to the song we know today.
You know the one. The song was co-written by Paul Francis Webster and J. Robert Harris. Webster was nominated for 16 Academy awards for music and won three of them. Harris' only other claim to fame is writing the theme for Lolita.
46. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"
This catchy tune was written in Keith Richards’ sleep. He woke up with the song in his head, recorded about 30 seconds of it, and fell back asleep. He then forgot it even existed until he relistened to it in the morning.
47. "I Fought the Law"
And the law won, apparently. The lead singer was found dead shortly after this song was released, and while his death was ruled a suicide, the majority of people who knew him believed it was a murder.
48. "Never Learn Not to Love"
This Beach Boys hit has a somewhat odd writer: Charles Manson. Yes, just like Hitler before him, this cult leader wanted to be an artist, a musician specifically. He adored The Beach Boys and wrote this song (with slightly different lyrics and a darker title: Cease to Exist). The Beach Boys said, “Ah, killer,” and he went, “Sure.”
49. "Palisades Park"
This song was written by Chuck Barris, the host of The Gong Show and The Dating Game. He was also a spy for the CIA and assassinated many people ... at least, according to him.
50. "Say A Little Prayer"
Aretha Franklin’s hit song about how praying is fun (hey, Sister Act wouldn't lie, would it?) is actually about Vietnam. The little prayer is for her boy to not get blown to shreds or stabbed.
Sometimes, songs just come to you, and then you realize you’ve plagiarized them entirely. When Paul McCartney came up with "Yesterday," he was so convinced it was someone else’s, he didn’t want to use it. He went around and checked with everyone he knew to make sure he hadn’t cribbed someone else’s work.
52. "All Along the Watchtower"
Some have theorized that this song—written shortly after Dylan got into a motorcycle accident and largely about his feud with businessmen—is actually told in reverse order. That's entirely true, according to Bob Dylan (who is the song’s original performer and writer). Of course, though he came up with it, it was Hendrix who perfected it. Dylan even says he borrowed from Hendrix’s version when he played and that playing it after, “I always feel like it’s a tribute to him in some kind of way.”
53. "White Room"
This Cream song about … something … uh, what is this song about? Well, originally it was going to be called "Cinderella’s Last Goodnight," but that sucked, so they threw it out. The next set of lyrics came from an eight-page poem and ended up being just about someone’s new, empty apartment. It’s basically a Zillow ad with music.
54. "River Deep – Mountain High"
Producer Phil Spector, a notorious perfectionist, made Tina Turner sing the song over and over, leaving her so tired and sweating she ended up singing in just a bra. Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who sat in, was left transfixed and never once said a word. Whether that’s because of the song or Tina Turner in a bra, is a little unclear. This song was one of the Wrecking Crew’s—a name for an infamous group of musicians who created the majority of pop music around that time (or at least performed on their albums).
55. "Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay"
The beautiful song about wasting your time away, relaxing, on a dock … was never finished. The whistling end of the song was a placeholder that Otis Redding meant to come back and sing over, but he died right after recording it, before he got the chance. It’s a fitting last song for one of the best musicians of all time.
Top image: EMI