The 20 best songs of 1965

13 September 2023, 13:46 | Updated: 18 January 2024, 10:43

1965's best songs, ranked
1965's best songs, ranked. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Tom Eames

The year 1965 was a remarkable one for music, as it saw the emergence of new genres, styles, and stars.

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From the British Invasion to the Motown sound, from folk rock to soul, from protest songs to pop classics, 1965 had something for everyone.

Here, we will explore some of the best songs of 1965, and how they reflected or influenced the mood of the times.

Whether you are a fan of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Supremes, Bob Dylan, or any of the other great artists of 1965, you will find something to enjoy in this musical journey through one of the most exciting years in music history.

  1. Barry McGuire - 'Eve of Destruction'

    Barry McGuire - Eve Of Destruction (1965)

    In 1965, during a period of social and political upheaval in the United States, Barry McGuire released 'Eve of Destruction', a song that would become an anthem of protest and reflection.

    Written by P.F. Sloan, this powerful folk-rock ballad captured the anxieties and tensions of the era with vivid lyrics and a raw, emotional delivery.

    'Eve of Destruction' is a searing critique of the state of the world, addressing issues such as war, racism, social injustice, and political instability. The song's lyrics paint a bleak picture of a world on the brink of chaos and destruction.

    Barry McGuire's passionate and gravelly voice lent an air of urgency and authenticity to the song's message. His delivery was characterized by a sense of frustration and despair that resonated deeply with a generation searching for answers in a tumultuous time.

    It sparked both controversy and acclaim. Some critics and radio stations initially banned it due to its confrontational lyrics, while others praised its unflinching social commentary. Regardless of the initial reception, the song struck a chord with a generation of young Americans who were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the status quo.

  2. The Seekers - 'The Carnival is Over'

    The Seekers - The Carnival Is Over (1965) 4K

    'The Carnival is Over' is a song by the Australian folk pop group The Seekers, written by Tom Springfield, who also wrote their other hits 'I'll Never Find Another You' and 'A World of Our Own'.

    The song was released in 1965 and became the Seekers' signature recording, as well as one of the best-selling singles of the decade. The song is based on a Russian folk song from circa 1883, adapted with original English-language lyrics.

    The Russian song tells the story of Stenka Razin, a Cossack leader who threw his Persian princess lover into the Volga river to appease his rebellious comrades. The Seekers' version changes the setting to a carnival and the theme to a farewell between lovers who know they will never meet again.

    The song was a huge success, reaching No.1 in the UK, Australia and Ireland, and selling over 10 million copies worldwide. It also prevented The Who from reaching No.1 with 'My Generation' in the UK.

    The song is also considered a classic of Australian music and culture, and has been used in various films and TV shows.

  3. The Animals - 'We Gotta Get Out of this Place'

    The Animals "We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place" on The Ed Sullivan Show

    Released in 1965 as part of their album Animal Tracks, this track quickly became an anthem for a generation, capturing the restlessness and desire for escape that many young people felt during the turbulent 1960s.

    The song's gritty, bluesy sound, led by Eric Burdon's distinctive vocals, gave it a raw and powerful edge that resonated with listeners. The lyrics, penned by the prolific songwriting duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, struck a chord with its themes of yearning for a better life and breaking free from the confines of a small town.

    It found particular resonance among American soldiers during the Vietnam War, who adopted it as an unofficial anthem of their desire to return home.

    The Animals' rendition of this song embodies the rebellious spirit of the 1960s and remains relevant today.

  4. Donovan - 'Catch the Wind'

    Catch the Wind Donovan FULL SONG HiQ Hybrid JARichardsFilm

    By the mid-1960s, a fresh and poetic voice emerged in the folk music scene, captivating audiences with heartfelt melodies and introspective lyrics.

    Donovan, a Scottish singer-songwriter, burst onto the scene with his debut single 'Catch the Wind' in 1965, a song that would become a timeless classic and an emblem of the folk-pop genre.

    'Catch the Wind' is a tender and earnest ballad that encapsulates the essence of young love and the bittersweet beauty of fleeting moments. Donovan's distinctive voice possesses a gentle, lilting quality that perfectly complements the song's wistful lyrics.

    Donovan's fingerpicking guitar style provides a gentle backdrop to his emotive vocals. The song's stripped-down arrangement allows the listener to focus on the raw emotion conveyed through both words and melody.

    Donovan's influence extended beyond his music, as he played a pivotal role in the folk revival of the 1960s. His ability to combine poetic lyrics with accessible melodies paved the way for a new wave of singer-songwriters who explored deeper emotional landscapes.

  5. The Supremes - 'Stop! In the Name of Love'

    The Supremes - Stop! In The Name Of Love

    'Stop in the Name of Love' is a classic Motown song that was recorded by the Supremes in 1965. It was written and produced by the legendary team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, who were responsible for many of the Supremes' hits.

    The song was the fourth consecutive number one single for the group on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and it also reached number two on the R&B chart.

    The song is about a woman who pleads with her lover to stop cheating on her and give their relationship another chance. She warns him that he will regret breaking her heart and losing her love. She uses the metaphor of a traffic cop to tell him to stop in the name of love, before he breaks her heart.

    The song has a catchy chorus and a distinctive rhythm that makes it easy to dance to. The Supremes' choreography for this song involved one hand on the hip and the other outstretched in a stop gesture, which became iconic and widely imitated.

  6. The Beatles - 'Ticket To Ride'

    The Beatles - Ticket To Ride

    In the spring of 1965, The Beatles unleashed 'Ticket to Ride' upon the world, forever altering the landscape of rock music. This iconic song, penned primarily by John Lennon but credited to the Lennon-McCartney songwriting duo, represents a pivotal moment in the band's evolution, transitioning from their earlier pop sound to a more mature and experimental style.

    'Ticket to Ride' is a striking blend of rock and pop, with a distinctive guitar riff and an unforgettable drumbeat provided by Ringo Starr. The opening guitar notes, played by George Harrison, are instantly recognizable and set the tone for the entire song. McCartney's pulsating bassline provides a driving force that propels the track forward.

    Lyrically, the song is open to interpretation but is often considered a reflection of strained relationships and the desire for independence. Lennon's distinctive vocal delivery, with its raw and raspy quality, convey a mix of melancholy and determination.

    'Ticket to Ride' became an instant chart-topper on both sides of the Atlantic.

  7. The Rolling Stones - 'Get Off of My Cloud'

    The Rolling Stones - Get Off Of My Cloud (Official Lyric Video)

    'Get Off My Cloud' was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as a response to the pressure and expectations they faced after the success of their previous hit, '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction'.

    The song expresses the band's desire for freedom and privacy from the intrusive demands of the media, fans, and society in general.

    The song begins with a drum intro by Charlie Watts and twin guitars by Brian Jones and Richards, creating a bluesy and energetic sound. Jagger sings in a defiant and sarcastic tone, telling various people to 'get off of my cloud', a metaphor for his personal space and happiness.

    'Get Off My Cloud' is a classic rock song that reflects the mood and spirit of the 1960s. It showcases the Rolling Stones' talent and charisma as one of the most influential bands in music history. It also conveys a universal message of individuality and independence that resonates with listeners of all generations.

  8. The Beatles - 'We Can Work It Out'

    The Beatles - We Can Work it Out

    'We Can Work It Out' is a song that showcases the creative collaboration and contrasting perspectives of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, the main songwriters of the Beatles.

    The song was released as a double A-side single with 'Day Tripper' in December 1965, and was recorded during the sessions for the band's Rubber Soul album. It became the Beatles' sixth single in a row to top the US charts, and won the Ivor Novello Award for the top-selling A-side of 1965 in Britain.

    The song is composed of two distinct sections: the verses and chorus, written by McCartney, and the middle eight, written by Lennon. McCartney's lyrics are optimistic and conciliatory, expressing a desire to work out the problems in a relationship, while Lennon's lyrics are impatient and realistic, acknowledging the brevity of life and the futility of fighting.

    The song is a rare example of a Lennon–McCartney collaboration from this period in the Beatles' career, as they usually wrote songs separately or with minimal input from each other.

  9. James Brown - 'Papa's Got a Brand New Bag'

    James Brown "Medley: Papa's Got A Brand New Bag, I Got You (I Feel Good), It's A Man's World & more"

    'Papa's Got a Brand New Bag' is a song that marked a turning point in the career of James Brown, the Godfather of Soul.

    It was released as a two-part single in 1965, and it became his first song to reach the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number eight.

    The song is widely regarded as one of the first funk songs, a genre that Brown would pioneer and dominate for the next decade. Brown sings about an old man who has a new interest in dancing and having fun. The phrase 'brand new bag' means a new way of doing things, or a new attitude.

    'Papa's Got a Brand New Bag' is a song that celebrates the joy of music and dancing, and the power of change and innovation. It is a testament to the genius and legacy of James Brown, who changed the face of music with his brand new bag.

  10. Sonny & Cher - 'I Got You Babe'

    Sonny & Cher - I Got You Babe (Official Video) [HD] - Live on Top of the Pops, 1965

    In the summer of 1965, the airwaves were graced by the enchanting harmonies of Sonny & Cher in their iconic hit, 'I Got You Babe'. This enduring classic remains a symbol of love and unity, not only in the realm of music but also in the hearts of fans across generations.

    'I Got You Babe' is a tender and heartfelt duet, with Sonny Bono and Cher's voices blending seamlessly to create a magical musical connection. The song's simple, yet catchy melody, combined with the duo's unmistakable chemistry, captures the essence of romantic devotion and the assurance that love conquers all.

    Cher's distinctive contralto voice complements Sonny's tenor beautifully, creating a harmonious blend that resonates with listeners on an emotional level.

    'I Got You Babe' was not just a musical success; it also catapulted Sonny & Cher to stardom. Their unique blend of folk, pop, and rock elements in this song reflected the changing times of the 1960s and resonated with the youth culture of the era.

  11. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles - 'Tracks of My Tears'

    Smokey Robinson & The Miracles - Tracks Of My Tears

    This ballad was written by Smokey Robinson, Pete Moore, and Marv Tarplin, who were members of the Miracles, a vocal group signed to Motown Records. The song was released as a single in 1965 and became one of the Miracles' most successful and acclaimed songs.

    The song is notable for its poetic lyrics, which use the metaphor of tears leaving tracks on the face to show the hidden sadness behind a smiling facade. Smokey admits that he is still in love with his former partner, who has left him for someone else. He tries to act happy and normal in front of his friends, but he cannot hide his true feelings from himself or from his ex-lover.

    The song features a distinctive guitar intro by Marv Tarplin, inspired by a classical piece by Johann Sebastian Bach. It is also backed by a lush orchestration and a tight rhythm section, typical of the Motown sound.

  12. Tom Jones - 'It's Not Unusual'

    Tom Jones "It's Not Unusual" (April 21, 1968) on The Ed Sullivan Show

    In the mid-1960s, the music world was graced by the charismatic presence and unmistakable voice of Tom Jones, and one of his most iconic hits, 'It's Not Unusual', became an instant sensation.

    Released in 1965, this song catapulted Jones to international stardom and remains an enduring classic to this day.

    The song is a vibrant and infectious tune that effortlessly blends elements of pop, rock, and soul. The song's arrangement is a fusion of horns, catchy rhythms, and Jones's powerhouse vocals. From the very first notes, it's impossible not to tap your feet and feel the urge to dance along.

    'It's Not Unusual' became a defining song of the 1960s and solidified Tom Jones's status as a musical icon. Its popularity has endured over the decades, and it remains a staple at weddings, parties, and dance floors worldwide.

  13. The Righteous Brothers - 'Unchained Melody'

    Righteous Brothers -- Unchained Melody (Live, 1965) (Picture and Sound Restored)

    'Unchained Melody' is one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century, with over 1,500 versions by more than 670 artists in multiple languages.

    The song was originally composed by Alex North and written by Hy Zaret for the 1955 prison film Unchained, where it was sung by Todd Duncan. The title refers to the longing of a prisoner for his lover, who is waiting for him outside.

    The song became a hit in 1955, when three different versions (by Les Baxter, Al Hibbler, and Roy Hamilton) reached the top 10 in the US charts. However, the most famous and enduring version of the song was recorded by The Righteous Brothers in 1965, as a solo by Bobby Hatfield.

    The duo were known for their blue-eyed soul style, blending R&B and pop vocals with orchestral arrangements. Hatfield changed the melody in the final verse, giving the song a more dramatic and emotional climax.

    The Righteous Brothers' version of 'Unchained Melody' was produced by Phil Spector, who used his signature 'Wall of Sound' technique to create a rich and powerful sound. The song was initially released as a B-side to 'Hung on You', but it soon became more popular and reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also topped the UK charts twice, in 1965 and 1990.

    The song's popularity was revived in 1990, when it was featured in the romantic film Ghost, starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. The scene where the couple makes pottery while listening to the song became iconic and boosted the sales of the song.

  14. The Who - 'My Generation'

    The Who - My Generation

    This is one of the most iconic songs of the 1960s, expressing the rebellious spirit and frustration of the youth culture at the time.

    The song was written by Pete Townshend, the guitarist and main songwriter of The Who, who was inspired by various influences, such as the Queen Mother, who allegedly had his hearse towed away, Mose Allison's 'Young Man Blues', and the Mod subculture that he belonged to.

    The song features a distinctive vocal style by Roger Daltrey, the lead singer, who stuttered on some words to create a sense of urgency and defiance. The song also showcases the powerful rhythm section of John Entwistle on bass and Keith Moon on drums, who added a dynamic and explosive sound to the song.

    The song ends with a feedback noise created by Townshend's guitar, which was one of the earliest uses of this technique in rock music.

    The song's lyrics are a simple but effective statement of youthful rebellion, challenging the older generation and their values. The most famous line of the song is 'I hope I die before I get old', which reflects the attitude of living fast and dying young that many young people adopted in the 1960s.

  15. The Byrds - 'Mr Tambourine Man'

    The Byrds "Mr. Tambourine Man" on The Ed Sullivan Show

    The Byrds' iconic rendition of Bob Dylan's 'Mr. Tambourine Man' remains a cornerstone of the folk-rock genre, and its unforgettable mark on the cultural tapestry endures to this day.

    Released in 1965, 'Mr. Tambourine Man' was not merely a cover; it was a reimagining that transformed Dylan's acoustic ballad into a shimmering, psychedelic masterpiece. The ethereal harmonies and jangling 12-string Rickenbacker guitar, played by Roger McGuinn, introduced a new sonic dimension to folk music, giving birth to the genre known as "folk-rock."

    Lyrically, the song is a poetic journey into the whimsical and surreal, as the narrator implores the mysterious 'Mr. Tambourine Man' to play a song that will transport him away from the troubles of the world.

    What truly distinguishes The Byrds' rendition is their harmonious vocal blend. The three-part harmonies of McGuinn, Gene Clark, and David Crosby create an otherworldly atmosphere, evoking a sense of transcendence and euphoria.

    'Mr. Tambourine Man' became an anthem of the 1960s, capturing the spirit of a generation searching for meaning and escape in a rapidly changing world. It encapsulated the era's yearning for liberation, both from societal norms and the constraints of everyday life.

    The song's influence reverberated throughout the music industry, inspiring countless artists to explore the fusion of folk and rock. It marked the beginning of a folk-rock revolution that would give rise to iconic bands like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and the Eagles.

  16. The Beatles - 'In My Life'

    In My Life (Remastered 2009)

    From the Rubber Soul album, this song was written primarily by John Lennon and credited to Lennon–McCartney. George Martin contributed the piano solo bridge, which was actually a piano recording played at double speed.

    The song is considered one of the Beatles' finest and most personal songs, as it reflects Lennon's nostalgia for his childhood and his love for his friends and family. According to Lennon, the song was inspired by a remark from English journalist Kenneth Allsop, who suggested that Lennon should write songs about his own life.

    Lennon then wrote a long poem based on a bus route he used to take in Liverpool, but later revised it to make it more general and universal.

    The song has a simple melody and a gentle rhythm, with Lennon's vocals conveying a sense of warmth and sincerity. The lyrics express gratitude and affection for the people who have been part of his life, some of whom are dead and some are living. The song also acknowledges that things change and life goes on, but the memories remain in his heart.

    The song is also one of the most popular choices for weddings and funerals, as it expresses a deep and lasting love for the people who matter most in one's life.

  17. The Mamas & the Papas - 'California Dreamin''

    The Mamas & The Papas - California Dreamin' (Official HD Video)

    This song was written by John Phillips and Michelle Phillips, who were members of the group and a married couple at the time. The song expresses their nostalgia for the sunny and warm California, where they had lived before moving to New York City in 1963.

    The song also reflects their dissatisfaction with the cold and dreary winter in New York, as well as their longing for a more free and adventurous lifestyle.

    The song begins with a distinctive guitar intro by PF Sloan, followed by Denny Doherty's lead vocal, which is accompanied by the harmonies of John, Michelle, and Cass Elliot.

    The lyrics describe a scene where the narrator walks on a winter's day and stops into a church to pretend to pray. The preacher knows that the narrator is not sincere and is only there to escape the cold.The song also features an alto flute solo by Bud Shank, which adds a melancholic and exotic touch to the song.

    The song was not an immediate hit when it was released, but it gained popularity after being played by a radio station in Boston. It also became an anthem of the emerging counterculture movement, as it represented the ideal of escaping from the conventional society and pursuing one's dreams.

  18. Bob Dylan - 'Like a Rolling Stone'

    Bob Dylan - Like a Rolling Stone (Official Audio)

    'Like a Rolling Stone' is one of the most influential songs in the history of rock music. It was released in 1965 by Bob Dylan, who was then a young folk singer who had just switched to electric guitar and band.

    The song marked a radical departure from his previous acoustic style, and challenged the conventions of popular music at the time.

    The song tells the story of a wealthy woman who falls from grace and becomes a homeless outcast. The lyrics are harsh and sarcastic, mocking her former lifestyle and asking her repeatedly, "How does it feel?"

    The song is notable for its musical structure and innovation. It is over six minutes long, which was unusual for a single at the time. It has no chorus, but four verses and a bridge that vary in length and rhyme scheme. It features a distinctive organ riff by Al Kooper, who improvised it during the recording session.

    The song had a huge impact on the culture and music of the 1960s and beyond. It was ranked as the number one song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine in 2004 and 2010.

  19. The Beatles - 'Yesterday'

    Yesterday (With Spoken Word Intro / Live From Studio 50, New York City / 1965)

    'Yesterday' by The Beatles is a song that has become a classic in the history of popular music. It is a melancholic ballad about a man who regrets losing his lover and wishes he could go back to the past.

    The song was written by Paul McCartney, who claimed that he dreamed the entire melody one night and then composed the lyrics and arranged the music with the help of producer George Martin.

    The song was released in 1965 as part of the album Help! in the UK and as a single in the US, where it reached number one on the charts. It was also the first Beatles song to feature only one member of the band, as McCartney sang and played acoustic guitar accompanied by a string quartet.

    The song has been covered by more than 2,200 artists, making it the most covered song ever recorded. Some of the notable versions include those by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, and Bob Dylan.

  20. The Rolling Stones - 'Satisfaction'

    The Rolling Stones - (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (Official Lyric Video)

    'Satisfaction' by The Rolling Stones is a timeless rock 'n' roll anthem that was released in 1965. Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, this song has left a memorable mark on the music world.

    The opening guitar riff, crafted by Keith Richards, is instantly recognizable and sets the tone for the entire track. Jagger's distinctive vocals, full of raw energy and passion, deliver lyrics that convey a sense of restlessness and desire.

    The song's rebellious spirit and provocative lyrics made it an instant hit and a symbol of youth counterculture in the 1960s. 'Satisfaction' became an anthem for a generation that was questioning the norms and seeking something more in life.

    'Satisfaction' by The Rolling Stones is not just a song; it's a cultural phenomenon. Its powerful combination of rock, blues, and social commentary continues to resonate with audiences of all ages, making it a song that will forever be cherished in the annals of music history.