50 Songs That Dominated the Charts 50 Years Ago
1969 sure had one killer soundtrack.
The last year of the 1960s was truly historic. Richard Nixon campaigned his way into the Oval Office. Neil Armstrong left his footprints on the moon. And Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid skyrocketed to the top of the box office. But 1969 was also a massive year for music—possibly the best of the 20th century. From the smash hits (like "Sweet Caroline" and "Proud Mary") to the era-defining festivals (hello, Woodstock), those 12 short months were transformative for the world of music. Here, according to Billboard's Hot 100 Singles chart for the year, are the top 50 songs that led the charge.
"Sugar, Sugar" by The Archies
It's hard to believe a fictitious rock band would earn the top spot on a Billboard Hot 100 chart, but The Archies did just that in 1969. The band came courtesy of The Archie Show, an animated TV adaptation of the Archie Comics, which premiered in 1968. The band had a couple of hits during the show's run, but their most famous was "Sugar, Sugar," written by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim, with Toni Wine and Ron Dante singing lead vocals on the track.
"Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" by The 5th Dimension
The song "Aquarius" actually comes from the hit musical Hair. As Fred Bronson revealed in his book The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, The 5th Dimension was invited to see the musical and all the members were so taken with the opening number, "Aquarius," that they knew they had to record it. Producer Bones Howe, however, was less than impressed with "Aquarius," which he thought sounded more like an intro than a full-length track. So, they decided to make it a two-song medley, pairing it with another song from the musical, "Let the Sunshine In."
"I Can't Get Next to You" by The Temptations
"I Can't Get Next to You" was The Temptations' second single from their 1969 album Puzzle People. Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, the tune flew to the top of the charts and has since been covered by enough copycats to fill a Spotify playlist. Most notably is Al Green's 1970 cover, but it's also been redone by Annie Lennox and Toto, and sampled by Lil Wayne, among others.
"Honky Tonk Women" by The Rolling Stones
The song "Honky Tonk Women," which was originally called "Country Honk," was written by Keith Richard and Mick Jagger while they were hanging out on a ranch in Brazil, according to Ian Fortnam of Louder Sound. It was released in the U.K. the day after founding Rolling Stones member Brian Jones died. And it reigned supreme at the top spot on British charts for five weeks.
"Everyday People" by Sly & the Family Stone
Not only was "Everyday People" one of the most popular songs of 1969, it was Sly & the Family Stone's first song to chart in the top five on the Billboard Hot 100. This ditty about how everyone is more similar than they think helped popularize the catchphrase "different strokes for different folks."
"Dizzy" by Tommy Roe
A pioneer of "bubblegum pop" music, Tommy Roe wrote "Dizzy" with Freddy Weller. The song—Roe's second and final No. 1 hit (following "Sheila," in 1962)—was a true musical feat. Genius notes that, over the course of the song, the key changes not once, not twice, but 11 times.
"Hot Fun in the Summertime" by Sly & the Family Stone
"Hot Fun in the Summertime" was Sly & the Family Stone's second big hit of 1969. Written and produced by Sly Stone, the song was released shortly after Woodstock, where the band's smash hit performance bolstered their fanbase. Rolling Stone even included "Hot Fun in the Summertime" on their roundup of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
"I'll Never Fall in Love Again" by Tom Jones
Written by Lonnie Donegan and Jimmy Currie, "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" was originally released by Donegan as a single in 1962. However, you probably recognize the tune because of Tom Jones' 1967 cover. Jones rereleased the cover with his hit "Love Me Tonight" in 1969, and that's when it finally cracked the top 10 on Billboard's Hot 100.
"Build Me Up Buttercup" by The Foundations
"Build Me Up Buttercup" is The Foundations' most famous song, and their only track to break the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Written by Mike d'Abo and Tony Macaulay, the song has since been used across the gamut of pop culture, from film (There's Something About Mary) to sports (the Los Angeles Angels love it).
"Crimson and Clover" by Tommy James & The Shondells
Written by Tommy James and drummer Peter Lucia Jr., "Crimson and Clover" was intended to be a change-up in the group's sound. "'Crimson and Clover' was so very important to us because it allowed us to make that move from AM Top 40 to album rock," James said in a Songfacts interview. And it worked! Pitchfork even listed the song among their 200 Best Songs of the 1960s.
"One" by Three Dog Night
"One" is a Harry Nilsson cover from Three Dog Night's self-titled 1968 album that reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. But the band took the original to new heights. (It was also later famously covered by Aimee Mann for the 1999 movie Magnolia.)
"Crystal Blue Persuasion" by Tommy James & The Shondells
"Crystal Blue Persuasion" was Tommy James & the Shondells' second major hit of the year, after "Crimson and Clover." But it's a favorite of James'. As he told Hitch magazine in 1995, "I took the title from the Book of Revelations in the Bible, reading about the New Jerusalem. The words jumped out at me, and they're not together; they're spread out over three or four verses. But it seemed to go together, it's my favorite of all my songs and one of our most requested."
"Hair" by The Cowsills
"Hair" was the title track of the eponymous 1968 musical that also made "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" famous. In 1969, the Cowsills, a sibling group from Rhode Island, covered the song, and it became one of their biggest hits—peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in May.
"Too Busy Thinking About My Baby" by Marvin Gaye
"Too Busy Thinking about My Baby" was originally recorded by The Temptations for their 1966 album Gettin' Ready, but it never charted as a single. As a follow-up to his highly successful 1968 hit "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," Marvin Gaye released his cover in 1969 and it quickly became his second biggest hit of the 1960s.
"Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet" by Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini was a prolific film composer, writing the scores for films ranging from Breakfast at Tiffany's to The Pink Panther. After seeing Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 big screen adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, Mancini was inspired to arrange and record his own version of a song from the movie's score. Mancini never intended "Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet" to compete against popular artists of the time, but the public decided differently, and ate it up alongside the best of the best in 1969.
"Get Together" by The Youngbloods
The Youngbloods recorded their version of "Get Together" in 1967, but it didn't take off until two years later. In 1969, it was used in a public service announcement for the National Conference of Christians and Jews, according to NPR. And when listeners started calling radio stations to ask about the song, one exec at RCA, The Youngbloods' record company, saw an opportunity.
"Augie Blum, the head of promotion at RCA, went to his boss and said, 'I want this song again. Now's the time for it.' And they told him, 'Now Augie, we don't do that. You know we released it once. That's it.' And he said, 'You release a song again or I'm out of here.' He was too valuable for them to lose," The Youngbloods' lead singer Jesse Colin Young told NPR. "So they put it out again, and he was right, of course. The country was ready."
"Grazing in the Grass" by The Friends of Distinction
"Grazing in the Grass" began as an instrumental record by trumpeter Hugh Masekela in 1968. The Friends of Distinction frontman Harry Elston was inspired to record his own version with his band, but the song needed lyrics, so he wrote them himself. Soon enough, "Grazing in the Grass" became the group's first and biggest hit, peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1969.
"Suspicious Minds" by Elvis Presley
"Suspicious Minds" was first written and recorded by Mark James in 1968. However, after James' version failed to chart, Elvis Presley released his own cover, which became an undeniable hit. As Rolling Stone notes, the song has since become incredibly popular to cover, with Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, Billie Jo Spears, Dwight Yoakam, and thousands upon thousands of karaoke singers doing their own renditions.
"Proud Mary" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Released as a single from Creedence Clearwater Revival's second album, Bayou Country, "Proud Mary" was an instant hit, reaching No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March 1969. It was also later famously covered by Ike & Tina Turner in 1971.
"What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)" by Jr. Walker & The All Stars
This collaboration by Motown's Johnny Bristol, Harvey Fuqua, and Vernon Bullock was first cut in 1967 before being made available on Jr. Walker & the All Stars' 1969 album, Home Cookin'. Seeing as it had strong sax riffs—thanks to saxophonist Junior Walker—it's no surprise it was later covered by the most notable pop music saxophonist of all time, Kenny G.
"It's Your Thing" by The Isley Brothers
"It's Your Thing" was the first hit The Isley Brothers wrote and produced themselves, following their departure from Berry Gordy's Motown label in late 1968. The song was an instant hit and even won the group a Grammy award in 1970, for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.
"Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond
"Sweet Caroline," one of the most famous songs of the '60s at large, was written by Neil Diamond and released as a single in 1969. But, who exactly is this Caroline? Despite the rumor that the hit song is about Caroline Kennedy, Diamond says the name choice was merely a matter of convenience. "I needed a three-syllable name," he told Today in 2014. "The song was about my wife at the time—her name was Marsha—and I couldn't get a 'Marsha' rhyme." And the rest, as they say, is history.
"Jean" by Oliver
Written by Rod McKuen, "Jean" was originally recorded for the 1969 movie The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. American singer William Oliver Swofford (professionally: Oliver) released his own version of the film's theme song, which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in October of that same year.
"Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
As the story goes, Creedence Clearwater Revival lead singer John Fogerty had cold feet about producing another hit after the runaway success of "Proud Mary." So he was hesitant to present the next song he wrote, "Bad Moon Rising," to the rest of the band. However, according to Henry Yates of Louder, the recording of the song went off without a hitch, and it became one of the biggest hits for the group.
"Get Back" by The Beatles feat. Billy Preston
Co-written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, "Get Back" came out during the twilight of The Beatles' magnificent run. According to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Billy Preston, the so-called "Fifth Beatle," was brought in by George Harrison during the recording session to alleviate tensions. "Get Back," which peaked at No. 1 in May of 1969, was one of The Beatles' final charting hits.
"In the Year 2525" by Zager & Evans
The first and only hit from pop-rock duo Zager and Evans (Denny Zager and Rick Evans) was 1969's "In the Year 2525." It peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July of that year and the one-hit wonders were never heard from again.
"Spinning Wheel" by Blood, Sweat & Tears
Written by the band's lead vocalist, David Clayton-Thomas, "Spinning Wheel" is from Blood, Sweat & Tears' 1968 album of the same name. Not only did the song put the band on the charts (along with No. 45 on this list), it also landed them three Grammy nominations in 1969. They went on to win Album of the Year at the 1970 ceremony.
"Baby, I Love You" by Andy Kim
"Baby, I Love You" was originally recorded by The Ronettes in 1963, reaching No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 the following year. Andy Kim recorded his own version of the song, making it the title track of his 1969 album, Baby I Love You. Kim's version cracked the top 10 on the charts, peaking at No. 9.
"Going in Circles" by The Friends of Distinction
Written by Antia Poree and Jerry Peters, "Going in Circles" appeared on The Friends of Distinction's 1969 debut album Grazin'. While their version reached No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100, it's also been covered by Luther Vandross and sampled by Jay-Z on "ManyFacedGod."
"Hurt So Bad" by The Lettermen
"Hurt So Bad" was originally recorded by Little Anthony & The Imperials in 1964. The following year, it reached No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Then, the song was rerecorded by The Lettermen in 1969. While their version only reached No. 12, it spent a solid 21 weeks on the charts.
"Green River" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Yes, 1969 was a quite the year for CCR; "Green River" was their third smash hit that year alone. The song, also written by Fogerty, was released as a single for their 1969 album of the same name. But the lyrical origins might not be as deep as you'd imagine.
"'Green River' is really about this place where I used to go as a kid on Putah Creek, near Winters, California," Fogerty told Rolling Stone in 1993. "The actual specific reference, 'Green River,' I got from a soda pop-syrup label. You used to be able to go into a soda fountain, and they had these bottles of flavored syrup. My favorite flavor was called Green River."
"My Cherie Amour" by Stevie Wonder
"My Cherie Amour" (that's French for "My Dearest Love") was written by Stevie Wonder, Sylvia Moy, and Henry Cosby, and became a huge hit in 1969. Originally titled "Oh My Marsha" (it was written for Wonder's girlfriend at the time), the song peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1969.
"Easy to Be Hard" by Three Dog Night
"Easy to Be Hard" is another popular song of the year that came from the rock musical Hair. Three Dog Night was the first band to cover the song, which was released on their 1969 album, Suitable for Framing. Their version peaked at No.4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September of that year.
"Baby It's You" by Smith
Smith's "Baby It's You" climbed all the way to the No. 5 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969. The song was first recorded and released as a single by The Shirelles in 1961, and then covered by The Beatles in 1963, but Smith had the highest-charting version.
"A Boy Named Sue" by Johnny Cash
Did you know "A Boy Named Sue" was actually originally written and recorded by Shel Silverstein, the famous poet and cartoonist? In 1969, Johnny Cash decided to record his own version of the song at San Quentin—and it reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
"Baby, Baby Don't Cry" by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
"Baby, Baby Don't Cry" was co-written by The Miracles frontman and the famous Motown artist Smokey Robinson. Despite being four minutes long, the song still managed to resonate with the public. It spent 14 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it peaked at No. 8, in March 1969.
"Only the Strong Survive" by Jerry Butler
"Only the Strong Survive" was originally released by Jerry Butler in 1968 for his album The Ice Man Cometh. While it's been covered by several artists since—from Elvis to Billy Paul—it remains Butler's most successful song, peaking at No. 4 on Billboard Hot 100 in April of 1969.
"In the Ghetto" by Elvis Presley
"In the Ghetto" was released by The King in 1969, but he had some hesitation about this one. The song, which was written by Mac Davis, was his first with a "message." According to Goldmine, Elvis's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, "had always drilled into his head, 'Don't do message songs. If you do a message song, it's just like taking a political side. Whatever side you're gonna take is gonna offend the others.'" But the song went on to crack the top three on the Billboard Hot 100, so it seemed to resonate with most people, at least!
"Time of the Season" by The Zombies
"Time of the Season" was recorded by British rock band The Zombies for their 1968 album, Odessey and Oracle. It made a splash in the United States and ultimately reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969. And, in 2012, NME named it one of the 100 Best Songs of the 1960s.
"Wedding Bell Blues" by The 5th Dimension
Following the tremendous success of "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In," The 5th Dimension also released "Wedding Bell Blues" in 1969. The song was originally written and recorded by Laura Nyro in 1966, but the group's version took it to new heights. It peaked at the very top of the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1969.
"Little Woman" by Bobby Sherman
"Little Woman" was Bobby Sherman's first song to chart. It spent 13 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 3 in October 1969.
"Love (Can Make You Happy)" by Mercy
Written by the band's guitarist and vocalist, Jack Sigler, Jr., "Love (Can Make You Happy)" was Mercy's first chart-topping song. It peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in May of 1969, and was also included on the soundtrack for the 1969 crime thriller Fireball Jungle.
"Good Morning Starshine" by Oliver
Another smash hit from Hair! Oliver's 1969 cover of "Good Morning Starshine" was his second-biggest song of the year. During its 13 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, the track peaked at No. 3 in July of that year.
"These Eyes" by The Guess Who
"These Eyes" was co-written by The Guess Who's lead guitarist, Randy Bachman, and lead singer, Burton Cummings. It was originally released on their 1969 album, Wheatfield Soul. It was the band's first charting song on the Billboard Hot 100, where it peaked at No. 6 in May 1969.
"You've Made Me So Very Happy" by Blood, Sweat & Tears
"You've Made Me So Very Happy" was originally released in 1967 as a single by Brenda Holloway, one of the song's co-writers. While Holloway's version barely cracked the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, the 1969 version by Blood, Sweat & Tears reached the No. 2 spot.
"Put a Little Love in Your Heart" by Jackie DeShannon
"Put a Little Love in Your Heart" was Jackie DeShannon's highest charting song—reaching No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1969. Another famous version of the song was recorded in 1988 by Annie Lennox and Al Green.
"Do Your Thing" by Charles Wright and The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band
Written by Charles Wright, "Do Your Thing" was recorded and performed by Wright and The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band for their 1968 album, Together. It peaked just shy of the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in April 1969, reaching the No. 11 spot.
"I'd Wait a Million Years" by The Grass Roots
Written by Gary Zekley and Mitchell Bottler, "I'd Wait a Million Years" was one of the singles from The Grass Roots' 1969 album, Leaving It All Behind. It reached the No. 15 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in September of 1969.
"Touch Me" by The Doors
"Touch Me" was written by Robby Krieger and released on The Doors' fourth album, The Soft Parade. It ultimately reached the third spot on the Billboard Hot 100, and was the group's last single to break the top 10.
"More Today Than Yesterday" by Spiral Starecase
Written by Pat Upton, "More Today Than Yesterday" was released on Spiral Starecase's 1969 album of the same name. The band's version reached No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, and acts from Sonny & Cher to Nick Carter have recorded their own versions in the years since. And if you're looking for some more classics, here are The 100 Best Breakup Songs of All Time.
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