Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo) - Manfred Mann
Billboard Chart Status: Number 10 - April 13, 1968
Beginning as a track on Bob Dylan's heavily bootlegged "Basement Tapes, "The Mighty Quinn" was covered by Manfred Mann, badly in need of a hit by early 1968. They had exploded into the midst of the British Invasion four years previous with the international number one smash "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" but it had been three years since they had seen the Top 40. "Quinn" leapt to number one in England and elsewhere around the world and reached number ten in the states, motivating Dylan to say he thought Manfred Mann did the best versions of his songs (an obvious dig at The Byrds, until then Dylan's favorite interpreters of his material). Though Mann went on to score a number one hit in the mid-70s with a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Blinded By The Light," many most fondly recall this classic as one of the last times British Invasion jangle pop, laden with vocal harmonies and imaginative lyrics, would be heard across the world.
Tambourine Man - The Byrds
Billboard Chart Status: Number 1 - June 26, 1965
In the midst of Beatlemania and the seemingly unstoppable British Invasion, The Byrds surprised everyone by coming up with the brand new and exciting musical genre of Folk-Rock, perhaps best expressed by the jangly tones of Roger McGuinn's 12-string Rickenbacker along with his "Lennon meets Dylan" lead vocal and the soaring harmonies of David Crosby and Gene Clark. This sonic explosion and instant rock classic leapt to number one all over the world in 1965 and represented the first significant response to the seemingly exclusive sounds from England that had been pouring out of transistor radios all across America for more than a year. With "Tambourine Man," it was obvious that America had regained it's musical position on the world stage and the influence of that magical record can still be heard today in the songs of Tom Petty, R.E.M. and countless others.
Feel Fine - The Beatles
Billboard Chart Status: Number 1 - December 26, 1965
Selecting a best song from the Beatles is necessarily a highly subjective task. The biggest group in history did, after all, release so many "best songs" that fans and rock journalists alike refer to Beatle "eras" more often than specific songs. In many ways "I Feel Fine" was like many other Beatle number one hits: infectiously catchy, exciting to hear, and a delight to the soul. But with this record, the Beatles seemed to finally master the pop single as a contemporary art form. Granted, history may recall "I Want To Hold Your Hand" or "She Loves You" more sharply since those 1964 number ones made powerful first impressions on a nation still recovering from the nightmare of the previous November. But it was with "I Feel Fine" that the task of rising to number one first seemed completely effortless for this amazing Liverpool foursome who calmly set a musical standard higher than will ever again be reached.
Not There - The Zombies
Billboard Chart Status: Number 2 - December 12, 1964
Outstanding music from British groups was everywhere in 1964 but the most sophisticated and haunting single from that period was the Zombies' first and best record. "She's Not There," a tale of heartbreak and disappointment, captivated listeners that winter and was only kept out of number one by, oddly enough, Bobby Vinton's "Mr. Lonely." Though the group went on to further success with "Tell Her No" and "Time Of The Season," it was with this gem that they made their deepest impression.
House Of The Rising Sun - The Animals
Billboard Chart Status: Number 1 - September 5, 1964
The sound of Eric Burdon's snarling lead vocal amidst the moody organ and sharp electric guitar of this single stood starkly apart from most of the other British Invasion hits. There was nothing light and bouncy about this dark tale, ostensibly about a New Orleans bordello, but that didn't prevent it from exciting millions that hot summer and reaching number one all over the world. Eric, Chas, Alan and the boys continued to release a mixture of blues numbers and pop hits throughout most of the decade, but this was their most potent statement.
Billboard Chart Status: Number 1 - September 4, 1965
With this outstanding song, The Beatles showed they were becoming more sophisticated as lyricists. After a year of engaging, but straightforward and relatively simple, love songs, here was a somber note; a literal cry for help, complete with exclamation point. Lennon later said he actually WAS calling out for help in response to feelings of insecurity and uncertainty about his life direction; ironic in light of his position in the world at that time, but further evidence of the often stark contrast between internal reality and external perception. Challenged by a friend to attempt something with a bit more lyrical substance, this was Lennon's response and it remains one of the most affecting and powerful songs in the whole Beatles catalog. Not surprisingly, it was also a Lennon favorite.
Summer In The City - The Lovin' Spoonful
Billboard Chart Status: Number 1 - August 13, 1966
The Lovin' Spoonful arrived in 1965 just after the Byrds and provided the east coast response to the British Invasion. Fun-loving kids but also meticulous musicians, the Spoonful offered a blast of fresh air with their so-called "good time music" that lasted several years. "Summer In The City" was their best and most memorable hit, lodging so deep in the nation's memory that it has become a summer standard. There was little to suggest that such charming and engaging music wouldn't be around forever but psychedelic sounds were approaching and would soon displace the Spoonful and many other groups like them. Beyond psychedelic music, even harder and less interesting rock would eventually dominate the late 60s and early 70s, sadly forever swinging the spotlight away from one of the most impressive and appealing periods in twentieth century American music: 1964 - 1966.
I'm A Believer - The Monkees
Billboard Chart Status: Number 1 - December 31, 1966
On September 12, 1966, as the last echoes of the British Invasion were fading, the Monkees arrived and gladly took up the task of providing charming, catchy, memorable music in the face of encroaching psychedelic sounds. Criticized by many at the time for "impersonating" a rock group, the bandmembers never claimed to be anything other than actors playing rock musicians. In reality, two Monkees actually WERE musicians in the beginning and, in time, all four became legitimate singers, instrumentalists and performers as valid as their often condescending peers. With some of the best songwriters of the era contributing songs to the Monkee machine, not surprisingly, they began to have big hits and alot of them. The biggest of these was "I'm A Believer" which sat at number one for seven consecutive weeks making it one of the best-selling records of all time. The power and appeal of this group was proven two more times by major revivals in 1986 and 1996 initiated by airings of their popular mid-60s tv series which continues to play all over the world to appreciative audiences.
The Sounds Of Silence - Simon and Garfunkel
Billboard Chart Status: Number 1 - January 1, 1966
After the Byrds initiated the folk-rock movement in early 1965, an overlooked folky acoustic number called "The Sounds Of Silence" was remembered by an enterprising producer who, without notifying either member of the duo, added electric instruments and released the song hoping to capitalize on the craze. The plan worked, the tune leapt to the top of the charts and so began the long and impressive career of Simon and Garfunkel. "Sounds" was a haunting, ghostly record which managed to beat the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out" (one of their best) to number one and then displace it a few weeks later to regain the top spot a second time.
My) Soul And Inspiration - The Righteous Brothers
Billboard Chart Status: Number 1 - April 9, 1966
One of the most powerful, haunting and deeply moving singles of the rock era, "Soul And Inspiration" is sometimes overlooked in favor of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" which hit number one for the Righteous Brothers the previous year. Even the songwriters felt this number was little more than a retread of "Lovin' Feelin.'" None of that, however, prevented "Soul" from becoming the bigger hit (3 weeks at number one) and millions are still moved beyond words by the breathtaking depth and intensity of the sound, much less the meaning, of this great record.
**Special Bonus Song**
Liar - The Castaways
Billboard Chart Status: Number 12 - November 23, 1965
One of rock's greatest - and least known - Cinderella stories. Formed in Minneapolis, Minnesota to entertain frat brothers and have fun, the Castaways succeeded before they even started trying hard. Keyboard player James Donna wrote a song called "Liar, Liar," they pressed a few singles, and the next thing you know, they had a nationwide number 12 hit in the summer of '65. Does life get a whole lot better than that? While they did record a few other songs, such as "Sam" (the B side of "Liar"), the Castaways didn't even have enough material for an album and [as Lenny Kaye so accurately put it in the liner notes to the classic "Nuggets" compilation album (long out of print)] " they were promptly never heard from again."