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by Seth Colter Walls

April 30, 2014

The 50 Best Songs of 1960

by Seth Colter Walls  |  April 30, 2014

Welcome to The 50, a Rhapsody scheme in which we attempt to compile the biggest, best, most historically remarkable songs of every year. Our list of 50 tracks -- presented here in no particular order, ideally flowing like a time-traveling DJ set -- has been argued over and (grudgingly) agreed upon by our full editorial staff. Please enjoy.

As a new decade dawned, there was hardly a dominant force on the field of pop. Elvis, back from Army duty, was still able to command chart-topping positions, seemingly at will. But despite the charms of a track like "Stuck On You," it's clear (at least in retrospect) that he wasn't setting the zeitgeist's agenda the way he had in the '50s. Rock 'n' roll abhors a vacuum, though, which is why we have a great sampling of one-off jams in our mix from 1960. "Money (That's What I Want)," sung here in its first widely popular version -- performed by Barrett Strong -- was released four years before the song was covered by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. (Clearly, the song rocked from the beginning of its history.) "Shakin' All Over" would, of course, later be memorably interpreted by The Who -- though in 1960, it was served plenty well by the likes of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates. Instrumental jams -- like The Ventures' surf-happy "Walk Don't Run" and The Shadows' "Apache" -- also contributed to a backbeat culture that was still looking for its decade-defining vocalists.

The dawn of the 1960s saw striking early efforts from figures who would only grow more powerful in later years (and decades). A young Aretha Franklin scored a minor hit with the majorly affecting "Today I Sing the Blues." Loretta Lynn belted out a career-forming thesis statement with her debut single, "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl." And the newly named act of Ike & Tina Turner made a chart impression with "A Fool in Love." Meantime, Dr. John -- still going by the name Mac Rebennack -- was churning out blues-drenched grinders like "Storm Warning." (R&B currents were also ably served by the likes of Ray Charles, Brook Benton and others.)

Over in the jazz and classical worlds, some of the prior decade's bold-faced names were still riding early waves of success. Glenn Gould continued his traversal of Bach's piano music. (In our mix, we've sequenced Gould's performance right before Aaron Neville's "Over You," which starts out by quoting some Chopin piano music.) John Coltrane entered his "sheets of sound" period with his classic composition "Giant Steps," a chord-changing obstacle course that's still a rite of passage for young jazz musicians. Ornette Coleman continued his ascent with the finger-snapping modernism of "Ramblin'." And a young Eric Dolphy went Out There with cuts like "The Baron," in addition to appearing on the fiery, independent LP Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus.

From Howlin' Wolf and Sam Cooke to teen-pop classics like "Stay" and "Lonely Teenager" to the first recording of Charles Ives' Symphony No. 2 (by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic), we've got a panoramic look at the sound of 1960, right here. So click play on our mix, and get started with Chubby Checker's "The Twist."

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