We’re approaching the end of our entire list dedicated to the big names in 1960s music. This final stretch takes us to explore the top songs of 1968, with well-known names for those who have read previous years but also surprises and unique and unforgettable artists, just like the first one opening this year, which also appeared in the previous year.
On the other hand, we’d like to remind you that we’ve already finished the list of 100 songs from the 1950s. If you want to go back in time and discover the pioneers of rock and roll, we invite you to explore our selection of tracks.
In parallel with the development of this decade, we’re also compiling a list of 500 songs from the 1970s. So, if you prefer to look ahead rather than backward, that’s your entry point to discover the best of those years. In any case, right now, we’re revisiting the best songs of 1968 in English, and that’s where our focus is. Unforgettable, unique, and irreplaceable songs.
Top Songs of 1968 in English: 55 Songs for Free Love
Before we delve into what 1968 had to offer in terms of music, it’s worth recalling the context that the majority of young people were experiencing. The hippies, despised by punks and young people of the late 1970s, were the most popular trend about 10 years earlier, as reflected in the songs of 1968, a prelude to what the following year would signify as the culmination of the free love movement in popular culture.
We’re talking about Woodstock, although we’ll discuss this event and its flower-clad attendees in the 1969 English music list. In the meantime, let’s show you our favorite English music from 1968. Not forgetting how significant these last years were, both in terms of musical quality and the experiences lived during that time. Many of these great artists passed away at a young age due to various reasons during the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Aretha Franklin – I Say A Little Prayer
We begin with Aretha Franklin, who, thanks to the film “The Blues Brothers,” experienced a resurgence in the music of the 1980s, but her greatest successes were in the ’60s. Just a year earlier, we saw her perform “Respect,” as you probably recall from last year’s entry. As for “I Say A Little Prayer,” there’s probably nothing more to say about it; it’s a song with long-lasting and worldwide fame, much like its singer.
B.J. Thomas – Hooked On A Feeling
The most famous version of “Hooked On A Feeling,” especially after its appearance in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” soundtrack, belongs to the group Blue Swede. However, it’s not the original version. Nevertheless, we have to give it credit for adding a touch of originality beyond a mere cover. In any case, the version with B.J. Thomas’s voice is definitely worth revisiting and listening to many times.
Big Brother And The Holding Company & Janis Joplin – Piece Of My Heart
Janis Joplin, a talent we can never praise enough, was one of those young promises who became a reality but disappeared too soon. Her voice often appears in TV commercials, whether it’s to advertise cars or encourage you to open a bank account that claims not to be affiliated with any political ideology.
We don’t know how well such stories would sit with the singer, but what we can say is that “Piece Of My Heart” is one of those great love songs that owe their success to both the personality of the singer and the era in which they were created.
Since we’re unlikely to mention Janis Joplin further, it’s worth highlighting her career with songs like “Me And Bobby McGee,” “Cry Baby,” “Summertime,” or “Mercedes Benz.” The last one has nothing to do with Benjamin Biolay’s “Dans la Merco Benz,” but its chorus was sampled for a G-Eazy song back in 2011 when his rap was more classic than modern.
Canned Heat – On The Road Again
If “On The Road Again” stands out for anything, it’s the prominent use of the harmonica, as well as the distinctive voice of Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, who would tragically pass away in 1970, at the age of just 27, the same year and age as Janis Joplin and, yes, Jimi Hendrix.
Cream – White Room
We return to psychedelic rock with Cream, whom we discussed when we reviewed the best English music of 1967. As we mentioned back then, this band was a supergroup without even realizing it. Formed by Jack Bruce on vocals and bass, Eric Clapton on guitar, Ginger Baker on drums and timbales, and Felix Pappalardi, the group’s producer, on violas.
Even back then, ahead of Bon Jovi and the other bands that would later copy their sound in many ’90s songs, Clapton played his guitar through a wah-wah pedal to achieve a “talking effect.”
Gary Puckett & The Union Gap – Young Girl
And now, after a different tone, it’s time for “Young Girl,” a much more classic song. So much so that if someone had said it was a classic from 1959, I would have believed it without hesitation.
Despite the contrast it presents compared to the songs we’ve been listening to earlier, this was a genuine hit in 1968. Gary Puckett & The Union Gap reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks, second only to Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” (which also appears on this list).
Harry Nilsson – Everybody’s Talkin’
This is another song that has appeared in dozens of commercials and has left an indelible mark on our collective memory, especially after Berto Romero on “Nadie Sabe Nada” drew our attention to that high falsetto that sounds like a cat in heat.
Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
Speaking of more recent references to songs from the past, many might recall the scene from “The Simpsons” where Bart changes the hymn’s sheet music, and the church organist in Springfield plays the 17-minute version while the attendees sing along with the lyrics of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” my baby, you’ll see how much I love you. It’s impressive how the radio version was less than 3 minutes long.
Jimi Hendrix – All Along The Watchtower
Another artist who passed away in 1970 at the age of 27, and whose influence on music still resonates, is Jimi Hendrix. Here, he presents a version of Bob Dylan’s original song, transformed by his unique style and guitar solos. For many, he’s the world’s best guitarist, undoubtedly one of the most important famous guitarists. His iconic figure in photos and videos still captivates interest today, often in a way that’s both bewildering and completely understandable, given his extraordinary way of playing.
Louis Armstrong – What A Wonderful World
The release of “What A Wonderful World” marked the return and at the same time the farewell of Louis Armstrong. We talked quite a bit about him when discussing the music of the 1940s, with timeless classics that have endured through the ages. But this one is probably the most remembered from his discography.
I don’t know if you’ve had the opportunity to see him in action beyond his performances. There’s a video on the internet of an old American TV show where anonymous individuals had to guess the guest’s identity by asking questions to the host. It’s quite heartwarming to see Louis Armstrong on “What’s My Line?” starting at the 16-minute mark.
Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston – It Takes Two
If we know of an artist capable of turning musical duets into an art form, it’s Marvin Gaye. In this case, he’s not teamed up with his usual partner, Tammi Terrell, but with Kim Weston. “It Takes Two” is another milestone for the Motown singer, although his sound evolved over the years, embracing themes ranging from classic love stories to ecology and the fight against racism, ultimately becoming one of the most famous singers known for musical eroticism.
Nina Simone – Ain’t Got No, I Got Life
As an heir to the greatest in music, Nina Simone, though unique, has an enormous number of musical hits that still sound fresh today. This is one of those classics, also used in dozens of commercials, which may somewhat trivialize the profound message behind the piano and the precious voice of the North Carolina artist.
Otis Redding – Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay
This is one of those serene songs that bring joy to any happy moment in life. A bit like when you listen to “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” but with a voice that perhaps has a little more soul. In every sense, of course, because Otis Redding was and will always be one of the greatest in soul music.
Rolling Stones – Sympathy For The Devil
One of the rock groups that has consistently dominated the charts in every decade of the second half of the 20th century since their emergence in the ’60s is the Rolling Stones. Their return to ’90s music was particularly noteworthy, as their distinct sound set them apart in the trend, leading to high sales of singles and albums, just as they did in their earlier years. They toured the world even more extensively than before, even considering all the time that had passed.
It’s quite an achievement when you think about it. In reality, the same amount of time has passed from the ’60s to the ’90s as from 1990 to 2020. Many bands from that era are now experiencing a revival and filling up festival tents and individual concerts, particularly now that they attract audiences with their past works. However, it’s one thing to attract the public with your past work and another to maintain the same level with new material.
Scott Walker – Jackie
We actually dedicated a post to Scott Walker and “Jackie,” taking the opportunity to revisit both this version and Jacques Brel’s original. “Jackie” may not be as well-known as most of the songs on this list, but it’s one of our favorites. The lyrics, instrumentation, and Scott Walker’s singing make “Jackie” a unique song, even though it’s a cover.
Simon & Garfunkel – Mrs. Robinson
Despite “Robinson” being a last name, for this blog, “Mrs. Robinson” is one of the most famous songs with a woman’s name in history, even if it’s by her last name. Of course, without hearing the lyrics or seeing the movie “The Graduate,” guessing the gender based on the title would be truly difficult, but with these clues, we took the guess.
Anyway, what can we say about Simon & Garfunkel, the most important folk duo in music, with numerous hits, many legends about their relationship, breakups, and compositions, and a style that’s been copied a thousand times but never replicated with the same high level of artistry that Paul and Art brought.
Small Faces – Itchycoo Park
Although released as a single in August 1967, “Itchycoo Park” belongs to the album “There Are But Four Small Faces,” which was released on March 17, 1968.
The fact is, this song isn’t Small Faces’ first hit, but it’s our favorite. And we’re not alone, as while it had more hits in the UK, it was their only big hit in the United States, reaching number sixteen on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1968.
Since then, the song has been covered by various artists, with the most famous being the one by the English band M People in 1995. Their dance version reached number eleven on the UK charts.
Steppenwolf – Born To Be Wild
After a few lighter songs, perhaps designed to let you catch your breath, comes one of the oldest songs that’s still widely listened to today. It sounds modern, or rather, fresh, and of course, it’s endlessly featured in commercials for cars from any well-known brand. Along with “Radar Love” by Golden Earring, it’s also one of those songs that seems to sound best while driving.
The Band – The Weight
If you don’t know who The Band is, which is very unlikely considering the documentary about Robbie Robertson and the rest of his band, as well as their involvement in many Bob Dylan tours and recordings, now you know a bit more about them. It’s true that they haven’t stood out for their big hits, but they are one of the most recommendable musicians in terms of their discography.
This song serves both as a tribute and as a testimonial of their importance in music from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Their legacy is quite extensive, but considering the limitation of 250 English songs that we’ve set for the 70s, adding just one is what’s appropriate.
The Beatles – Hey Jude
During these years, The Beatles had already stopped giving concerts due to the hysteria they generated (and the lack of necessity). The record label preferred the band to keep recording and selling albums, while their insecurity about playing live seemed to grow. Considering the subsequent events related to John Lennon, it seems they were not off track, unfortunately.
The Beatles – Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da
This Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da is one of the most hated songs in The Beatles’ career. Belonging to the White Album, for many fans of the British band, it’s a total turning point in their career. For some, it’s a denigrated work, for others, it’s the classic of one of the greatest bands in history. Either way, its fame precedes it, and its presence seemed unquestionable when making this list of English music from 1968. It doesn’t matter if it now sounds more suitable for young children than adults; in the end, it’s catchy for everyone.
The Equals – Baby Come Back
Although this list was created to talk about music from 1968 in English, we could easily have called it “Songs by Musical Groups with Names Starting with The.” A trend that came back in the early 2000s and broke away from the previous trend of adding a number at the end of the band’s name, especially in punk.
Anyway, The Equals were a band from North London, and “Baby, Come Back” is a mix of rock and roll and beat, which largely reflects the London sound of the 1960s, with the Guyanese accent of one of the singers, giving the single a distinctive sound compared to others in its genre.
The song was first released in 1966, a year after the formation of the band, but it didn’t make it to the charts. However, after impressive sales in the rest of Europe (reaching the top 10 in Belgium and the Netherlands), the song was reissued in the UK on May 1, 1968, and reached number 1 on the UK singles chart on July 3. Hence our choice for its presence in this year rather than two years earlier.
The Foundations – Build Me Up Buttercup
You’ve heard this song before reading these lines, haven’t you? What are the chances that you thought “Build Me Up Buttercup” was a more modern song? Perhaps its appearance on the soundtrack of “There’s Something About Mary” made it so revived that it no longer felt like a 60s song, but the truth is its sound is pure 60s, and for us, it’s perfect as music to start the day in a good mood.
I don’t know if you, reader, are a hip-hop lover, but if you are, maybe you’d be interested in knowing the sampled version as romantic rap made by Ol’ Dirty Bastard, a prematurely deceased member of the Wu Tang Clan. We don’t think it improves on the original version, but we also can’t deny its ability to make us feel very good and happy. Probably a virtue of The Foundations.
The Human Beinz – Nobody But Me
Used by Quentin Tarantino, an expert in reviving songs that are not so remembered today, the lifespan of the song “Nobody But Me” is a bit longer than it was a few years ago. The truth is that when heard alongside the other songs by bands that start with “The,” this one by The Human Beinz sounds great, but somewhat similar to others. Nevertheless, it’s obvious that this is a great tune that deserves to be on this list.
The Mamas And The Papas – Dream A Little Dream Of Me
The song Dream A Little Dream Of Me is a classic song that we’ve talked about several times in the past. First, because it’s a version sung by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, but also because it was the first one on the list of the top 50. There’s not much more to add about this great song.
The Monkees – Daydream Believer
Although there’s a belief that The Monkees were a fake band, a marketing product derived from a television show, there was some truth in them. We don’t know how much because we’re not experts in the band’s career, but we do know some details related to their work and compositions.
According to The Monkees’ Wikipedia page, at the beginning, the four actors and musicians had very few permissions when it came to recording their albums. They lacked creative freedom and authorship, so to speak. However, this only lasted for a few months over the 5 years the band was together.
Furthermore, this was partly due to the amount of time needed to film the TV series. Still, Michael Nesmith, a member of the group along with Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork, was allowed to compose some songs from the beginning, and Tork contributed some guitar work (although limited) in the sessions produced by Nesmith. This limited involvement eventually led them to fight for the right to collectively oversee all the musical production under the band’s name, acting as actors, musicians, singers, composers, and producers, in pursuit of song rights.
The Zombies – Time Of The Season
We finish our selection of 27 English songs from 1968 with “Time Of The Season” by the English band The Zombies. One of those songs for making love to without even caring about what the lyrics say. High-quality psychedelic rock, with some very special arrangements, improvisations, and sometimes wild additions that make this song the best way to end any music list, any bar, and any wedding. It works for everything.
(Madrid, 1987) Novelist by vocation, SEO specialist by profession. Music lover, cinephile and reading lover, but in “amateur” mode.