1. Hey Jude – The Beatles
2. Sittin On The Dock Of The Bay – Otis Redding
3. Classical Gas – Mason Williams
4. I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Marvin Gaye
5. Mrs. Robinson – Simon and Garfunkel
6. MacArthur Park – Richard Harris
7. Both Sides Now – Judy Collins
8. Mony Mony – Tommy James & the Shondells
9. Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
10. This Guy’s in Love with You – Herb Alpert
11. Harper Valley P.T.A – Jeannie C. Riley
12. The Impossible Dream – Roger Williams
13. Love Is Blue – Paul Mauriat
14. Do You Know the Way to San Jose? – Dionne Warwick
15. Light My Fire – Jose Feliciano
16. Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell
17. Little Green Apples – Roger Miller
18. A Beautiful Morning – The Rascals
19. Lady Madonna – Beatles
20. Abraham, Martin and John – Dion
21. Susie-Q – Creedence Clearwater Revival
22. Different Drum – Stone Poneys
23. Honey – Bobby Goldsboro
24. Young Girl – Gary Puckett and Union Gap
25. Red Red Wine – Neil Diamond
26. Delilah – Tom Jones
27. Think – Aretha Franklin
28. Take Good care of My Baby – Bobby Vinton
29. Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
30. Turn Around, Look at Me – The Vogues
31. Chain Of Fools – Aretha Franklin
32. Memories – Elvis Presley
33. Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife – Glen Campbell
34. Elenore – The Turtles
35. The Unicorn – Irish Rovers
36. Midnight Confessions – Grass Roots
37. Little Green Apples – O.C. Smith
38. I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You – The Bee Gees
39. Girl Watcher – O’Kaysions
40. D-I-V-O-R-C-E – Tammy Wynette
41. Tiptoe Through The Tulips With Me – Tiny Tim
42. Cry Like A Baby – Box Tops
43. Spooky – Classics IV
44. Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo) – Manfred Mann
45. Sunday Mornin’ – Spanky and Our Gang
46. Valleri – the Monkees
47. Impossible Mission (Mission Impossible) – Soul Survivors
Despite the social upheaval of the late 1960s — Vietnam, hippiedom, race riots and assassinations — or perhaps because of it, the American music scene has seldom been as creative and rich with diverse sounds as it was in 1968. The Doors redefined the American poem. The Beatles pushed the boundaries of pop and rock to new levels. Elvis decided to make a comeback. Top songs included a wacky Jimmy Webb composition sung by British theatre actor Richard Harris, instrumentals by Paul Mauriat and Roger Williams, and vocals by instrumentalist Herb Alpert. Dion defined the times with a folk song that featured an orchestra. Any one of these could get knocked off the airwaves by the bizarro ramblings of Tiny Tim. From Motown to Nashville to Liverpool, the music scene was simply exploding with new and wonderful sounds.
The diversity of the chart above only tells part of the story. The charts on this website are based on “popular song” in the tradition of the great American songbook. In other words, music that enjoys universal appeal across all age groups. If the song could be performed today with equal success at both a grammar school and a senior center, performed by a Frank Sinatra or a Patti Page, it is the very definition of classic American pop. For this reason, a lot of rock, soul, and country music that was extremely influential and popular at the time are not on the chart above. The Doors’ “Hello I Love You,” and a half dozen selections by Eric Clapton’s supergroup Cream are not included; even 40 years later they’re still too “hard” to be considered “pop standards.” Rock standards, certainly, but please keep in mind that this is a “pop” chart.
Since many of you reading this are old enough to remember the times, you might notice an interesting phenomenon at work here. Consider the top song on the chart, “Hey Jude.” In 1968, the average 40-year old probably found the raw vocals, loud chords, and particularly Paul McCartney’s “screaming” at the end were enough to make the song unlistenable. Take that same person — now age 80 — and they are likely to tap their feet, drum their fingers, and perhaps even sway their head as they quietly sing along with the na-na-na-nas. Indeed, if Johnny Mathis were to perform “Hey Jude” in say, 2010, the song would’ve been very warmly received. Many Mathis fans might mistakenly think that Johnny in fact had the hit single back in the day, or at least be hard pressed to remember exactly who sang it. Would it matter? That is the definition of a “pop standard.”
If you have any doubts that “Hey Jude” was anything other than an instant standard, consider the fact that none less than Ella Fitzgerald performed it on The Jimmy Durante Show, January 1st, 1969.
Conversely, Cream’s “White Room” is still too edgy for the pop crowd. Until somebody covers it with a softer version and makes a hit out of it, the song is not in the universe of pop standards. How then is Creedence on the list with the bluesy “Suzie-Q”? Again, the song isn’t too edgy…you won’t see “Fortunate Son” on this list anytime soon, just as the Beatles’ “Revolution” is unlikely to make it.
And what of the fact that this list is supposedly American Popular Song, yet here we are talking about the likes of The Beatles, Richard Harris, Tom Jones, and the Irish Rovers. Agreed, for the purist’s definition of Traditional American Pop, this is a sticking point. But as the USA is a nation of immigrants, isn’t it appropriate that the chart be populated by immigrant songs? (We apologize to Led Zeppelin fans for that one). The point is that these songs define pop music in the USA as it was in 1968, and it really doesn’t matter where they were written, or in the case of “MacArthur Park,” the nationality of the individual who sang them.
The ranking of the songs should also come into question. After all, “Harper Valley PTA” was a number one song on the pop charts, while “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” was merely top ten on the pops. Reason for this is that PopularSong.org interprets this list, filtered by the passage of time, and taking lasting popularity into account. A song like “Heard it Through the Grapevine” has been used repeatedly in hit movies over the years, so it has steadily moved higher and higher up this chart. People who didn’t necessarily enjoy the song in 1968 now feel as if it is a part of their lives, thanks to its continuous exposure on the silver screen. Likewise, “Think” was largely under appreciated after 1968 until The Blue Brother re-introduced it to the American public. Had we constructed this chart prior to 1981, it’s unlikely that Aretha’s classic would even be on it.
So if you are looking for a chart to definitively settle arguments, this chart isn’t it. If you’re trying to pick something out for your parents’ wedding anniversary, believe it when we tell you that “Hey Jude” is the 1968 song that the majority of folks have the most vivid memories of.
The real problem with 1968 is that there are so many, many songs to consider. Paul Mauriat’s “Love is Blue” should easily be in the top five. But which one to drop? It’s a better composition than “Mony, Mony,” without question, and will probably outlast it. But right now the Tommy James number is instantly recognized, while “Blue” isn’t always. In short, 1968 was a banner year for pop music.
Chart Movements — From time to time these charts are reviewed by the editorial board of PopularSong.org to determine if longevity and recent popularity trends warrant movement. In February 2017 after discussing the universal appeal and numerous, continuous public performances by musicians across the country in venues large and small, it was agreed that “Classical Gas” would move up to the #3 position. Similarly, “MacArthur Park” was moved up.