The wonderful thing about the 1960s was the smorgasbord of musical styles and blended genres.
After awhile, it was hard to tell one style from another. Is it rock or pop or R&B or folk – or a combination? Sure, the difference between Herman’s Hermits and The Yardbirds is obvious, as is the difference between Cream and The Association. But the difference between The Rascals and The Association or Gary Puckett and the Union Gap or The Hollies? Minor differences. Bright melodies, expert musicianship, strings and horn embellishments, smart harmony vocals – remember this was AM radio and 45 RPM record territory. Three minutes or less. Intro, verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus, verse, chorus, fade out.
Many of the songs on the radio were built in the studio with hired gun musicians, often submitted from songwriting teams, and shaped by a handful of craftsman producers. The Beatles and Beach Boys broke the mold, writing their own songs, but even the Beach Boys used The Wrecking Crew in the studio.
The list below admittedly is absent soul or R&B, but do not worry, that genre will be the focus of an upcoming list. I also stayed away from the “super groups” of the 1960s and focused more on performers known more for their vocal arrangements. You will not find The Kinks or The Who or Simon & Garfunkel or Elvis or Tom Jones in this group.
Lets remember some of these groups from the 1960s that supplied pop-rock hits for our youthful soundtrack. Enjoy.
The Hollies. “Bus Stop”, “Look Through Any Window”, “On a Carousel” “Carrie Anne” and “King Midas in Reverse” their big hits in the 1960s before Graham Nash departed. They continued on and put a few more songs on the chart. They were typical of the tight, bouncy harmony vocal songs coming out of England at the time.
The Rascals. You tend to forget about this group because they stopped having hits in the late 1960s and broke up after that, but what a run they had: “Good Lovin'” (#1 1966), “Groovin'” (#1 1967), and “People Got to Be Free” (#1 1968), “How Can I Be Sure?” (#4 1967), “A Beautiful Morning” (#3 1968) and “A Girl Like You” (#10 1967).
The Association. Known for both bouncy pop and deeply romantic songs, The Association used intricate layered vocals on their songs. Studio musicians often played on their recordings. Their heyday was between 1966 and 1972, releasing seven studio albums. Their first hit was “Along Came Mary” (#7) followed by “Cherish” (#1), “Windy” (#1), “Never My Love” (#2) and “Everything That Touches You” (#10). The band underwent massive turnover through the years, but a version still performs.
The Mamas and Papas. Active from 1965 to 1968, releasing four albums. A seminal musical force, blending folk music with layered male and female harmony vocals. “California Dreamin'”, “Monday, Monday”, Dedicated to the One I Love”, “Words of Love” and “Dream A Little Dream of Me” were the highest charting songs. There was usually some dramatic tension in the group, between all of the members, which led to the group breaking up.
Herman’s Hermits. Between 1965 and 1971, the group released seven albums in America, and landed 22 songs on the charts. “I’m Into Something Good”, “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat”, “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”, “I’m Henry VIII, I Am”, “Leaning On the Lampost”, “This Door Swings Both Ways”, “Dandy”, “No Milk Today”, “East West” and “There’s A Kind of Hush.” These were upbeat, Beatlesque songs, which matched their squeaky-clean image and Peter Noone’s boyish good looks.
Paul Revere and the Raiders. Active since the early 1960s, their successful recording career was from 1965 to 1971. “Just Like Me” was their first major hit in 1965, followed by “Kicks”, “Hungry”, and “Good Thing” in 1966. “Him Or Me, What’s It Gonna Be?”, “I Had a Dream” and “Peace of Mind” in 1967. “Too Much Talk”, “Don’t Take It So Hard” and “Cinderella Sunshine” in 1968. “Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon” and “Let Me” in 1969, and a number one hit in 1971 with “Indian Reservation.” Paul Revere and the Raiders evolved from a garage band to the house band for Where the Action Is and Happening 68 television shows, and along the way they wore their Revolutionary War uniforms, until they ditched the costumes and just called themselves The Raiders to be taken more seriously at the end of the 1960s.
The Youngbloods. Known for their version of “Get Together” and lead singer Jesse Colin Young.
The Turtles. Their main period from 1965-1970, and their biggest hit was “Happy Together” (#1 1967). Other decent hits included “It Ain’t Me Babe”, “She’d Rather Be With Me”, “You Know What I Mean”, “Eleanor” and “You Showed Me.” Vocalists Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman later became Flo & Eddie, and lent their vocals to a variety of projects, including members of Frank Zappa’s band.
The Fifth Dimension. Between 1967 and 1972 they charted 19 top 40 hits. “Up – Up and Away” and “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In” were Grammy Records of the Year. Producer Bones Howe used The Wrecking Crew to record the music, songs often provided by Laura Nyro, Bacharach/David, Ashford/Simpson and Jimmy Webb. Other top songs were “Wedding Bell Blues”, “Sweet Blindness”, “Blowing Away”, Love’s Lines, Angles and Rhymes”, “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get to Sleep At All” and “I Could Reach You.” The vocal arrangements were lush and heavenly.
Dave Clark Five. DC5 released 17 top 40 hits in America, and for awhile, were serious pop rivals of The Beatles. Dave Clark played drums and contributed vocals, produced the recordings and managed the group. “Glad All Over”, “Bits and Pieces”, “Do You Love Me”, “Can’t You See She’s Mine”, “Because”, “I Like It Like That”, “Catch Us If You Can”, “Over and Over”, “Try Too Hard” and “You Got What It Takes” were the highest charting singles.
Blood Sweat & Tears. The big hit period was from 1968 to 1971, which coincided with the David Clayton-Thomas years as lead vocalist. The first BS&T album was a funky jazz effort led by Al Kooper. He left and the band was produced by James William Guercio (Chicago, Beach Boys), with more pop driven songs. This album won the Album of they Year Grammy and had three top five hits: “You Make Me So Very Happy”, “Spinning Wheel” and “When I Die.” The next two albums yielded minor hits before Clayton-Thomas left the band.
The Animals. Between 1964 and 1969, The Animals had 18 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100. Their greatest recording is the iconic “House of the Rising Sun” a number one hit. “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (#15), “We Gotta Get Out of This Place (#13), “Don’t Bring Me Down (#12), “See See Ryder” (#10), “San Franciscan Nights (#9), “Monterey” (#15) and “Sky Pilot” (#14) were other big hits.
Boyce & Hart. Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart started out as songwriters for other performers. They wrote and produced a number of songs for The Monkees “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”, “The Monkees Theme” and “Last Train to Clarksville”. The duo went on to record their own songs including “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight” (#8), “Out and About” (#39) and “Alice Long” (#27). They wrote and produced music for television and films before they went their different ways.
The Buckinghams. Scored chart hits with “Kind of a Drag” (#1 1966), “Don’t You Care” (#6 1967), “Mercy Mercy Mercy (#5 1967), “Hey Baby (Their Playing Our Song)” (#12 1967), “Susan” (#11 1967). Their success was fairly brief, as they changed members, left their record company in 1968 and did not chart any additional songs.
The Cowsills. Five brothers, one sister and their mother. They released five albums between 1967 and 1970. “The Rain, the Park & Other Things” reached #2 on the charts, “We Can Fly” (#21), “Indian Lake” (#10), “Poor Baby” (#44) and “Hair” (#2) were their highest charting singles. The Cowsills were the inspiration for The Partridge Family television show. After they broke up in the early 1970s, some went on to solo careers, occasionally the surviving members of the family have regrouped.
Dino, Desi & Billy. Dean Paul Martin, Desi Arnez, Jr. and Billy Hinsche, all Hollywood friends, started this band in 1964 when the lads were barely old enough to drive. “I’m a Fool” made the Top 20 in 1965; “Not the Lovin’ Kind” got into the Top 30 a few months later. They released four albums of their own and contributed to a film soundtrack before they ended in 1970. Their first album was for Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records.
Gary Lewis & the Playboys. Their main success was 1965-1968. Led by Gary Lewis (son of Jerry Lewis), the group was originally hired to play at Disneyland. Their first single, “This Diamond Ring” went to number one. Their first seven singles all were top ten hits. The last top 20 song was “Sealed With a Kiss” (1968) before their fame faded.
Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. From 1967 to 1969, the group, which wore Civil War uniforms as their thing, scored hits with “Woman, Woman”, (No. 3 in Cashbox, No. 4 in Billboard), “Young Girl” (No. 1 in Cashbox, No. 2 in Billboard), “Lady Willpower” (No. 1 in Cashbox, No. 2 in Billboard), “Over You” (No. 5 in Cashbox, No. 7 in Billboard), and “Don’t Give in to Him” (No. 15). Tired of recording songs written by others, the group broke free, but their success dried up.
The Grass Roots. “Where Were You When I Needed You”, “Let’s Live For Today” “Midnight Confessions”, “I’d Wait a Million Years” and “Sooner Or Later” were their big charting songs. The Grass Roots were one of the few 1960s bands to make it into the next decade still charting songs, even though the line-up was changing and P.F. Sloan left the group.
Jay & the Americans. Active for the entire decade of the 1960s, the band charts a number of songs, the most successful being “Come A Little Bit Closer” and “This Magic Moment.” Over the course of time, there were actually three different lead singers named “Jay”.
The Lovin’ Spoonful. Like Gary Lewis & the Playboys, this group’s first seven singles were top ten hits. “Do You Believe in Magic” (#9), “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice” (#10), “Daydream” (#2), “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?” (#2) and “Summer in the City” (#1), “Rain on the Roof” (#10) and “Nashville Cats” (#8). Led by John Sebastian, the Spoonful lasted from 1965 to 1969.
The McCoys. Led by guitarist Rick Derringer, their biggest hit was “Hang On Sloopy” (#1 1965). Trapped with the “bubblegum” label, the band tried to break free and record trippier material but never found big success. Derringer would join Edgar Winter’s band and later enjoy a successful solo career.
Small Faces. Formed by Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane and Kenny Jones, and later joined by Ian McLagan, the group was much more successful in England than in America. In 1969, the group broke up, with Marriott joining Humble Pie and the others recruiting Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood from The Jeff Beck Group to form The Faces.
Spanky & Our Gang. First active from 1965-1969, the band, led by Spanky McFarland, “Sunday Will Never Be the Same” (#9 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in the summer of 1967), followed by “Making Every Minute Count” (# 31) and “Lazy Day” (reached #14). “Sunday Mornin'” (# 30 on February 10–17, 1968), and “Like to Get to Know You” # 17 on June 8, 1968). McFarland went on to a solo career.
Tommy James & the Shondells. From 1965 to 1970, this band released some really terrific songs: “Hanky Panky” (#1), “I Think We’re Alone Now” (#4), “Mirage” (#10), “Mony Mony” (#9), “Do Something to Me” (#38), “Crimson and Clover” (#1), “Sweet Cherry Wine” (#7), “Crystal Blue Persuasion” (#2), and “Ball of Fire” (#19). The style went from pop to bubblegum to psychedelic to power pop.
The Zombies. Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone led the band. Their first big single was “She’s Not There” (1964), which reached #2 in America. “Tell Her No” reached #6 in America in 1965. “Time of the Season” (1968) was released as the band broke up, becoming a hit a year after it was recorded. It was a song from Odessey and Oracle, the group’s second album, which was released after they disbanded. The album is revered by critics and ranked by Rolling Stone as #100 of the best 500 albums of all time.