Popular Songs of 1969

Aquarius album cover by the Fifth Dimension, May 1969

1. Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond
2. Get Back – Beatles
3. Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In – the 5th Dimension
4. In The Ghetto – Elvis Presley
5. My Cherie Amour – Stevie Wonder
6. Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley
7. My Way – Frank Sinatra
8. Stand By Your Man – Tammy Wynette
9. Something – the Beatles
10. Leaving On A Jet Plane – Peter Paul and Mary
11. Sugar Sugar – Archies
12. Hooked On A Feeling – B.J. Thomas
13. Lay Lady Lay – Bob Dylan
14. Hey Big Spender – Peggy Lee
15. Build Me Up Buttercup – Foundations
16. Traces – Classics IV & Dennis Yost
17. You’ve Made Me So Very Happy – Blood, Sweat and Tears
18. Come Together – the Beatles
19. Spinning Wheel – Blood Sweat and Tears
20. Is That All There Is – Peggy Lee
21. Wedding Bell Blues – The 5th Dimension
22. And When I Die – Blood, Sweat and Tears
23. Hawaii 5-0 – Ventures
24. A Boy Named Sue – Johnny Cash
25. The Boxer – Simon & Garfunkel
26. Down on the Corner – Creedence Clearwater Revival
27. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes – Crosby, Stills and Nash
28. Son Of A Preacher Man – Dusty Springfield
29. Proud Mary – Creedence Clearwater Revival
30. Hot Fun In The Summertime – Sly and the Family Stone
31. Everybody’s Talkin’ – Nilsson
32. Yesterday, When I Was Young – Roy Clark
33. Worst That Could Happen – Brooklyn Bridge
34. I’m Gonna Make You Love Me – Supremes and Temptations
35. Someday We’ll Be Together – Diana Ross and the Supremes
36. This Magic Moment – Jay and the Americans
37. Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday – Stevie Wonder
38. Love’s Been Good To Me – Frank Sinatra
39. Hello, Dolly – Barbra Streisand
40. Put A Little Love In Your Heart – Jackie DeShannon
41. I’ve Gotta Be Me – Sammy Davis, Jr.
42. Crystal Blue Persuasion – Tommy James and the Shondells
43. But You Know I Love You – The 1st Edition
44. These Eyes – Guess Who
45. Grazing In The Grass – Friends of Distinction
46. Seattle – Perry Como
47. Winter World of Love – Englebert Humperdinck
48. First of May – The Bee Gees
49. Holly Holy – Neil Diamond
50. I Can Hear Music – Beach Boys

If you’re looking at this list on PopularSong.org for the first time, be advised that this is not a list based on sales, radio play, or original popularity. It is a list of the songs from 1969 that have shown the greatest longevity, and are most familiar to today’s fans of American Popular Song. Songs that are considered purely “rock and roll” or “country” are not included on this list. The songs must be considered “pop” and potentially “pop standards.” The order and ranking change from time to time as songs become revitalized in movie soundtracks, cover versions, etc. For example, #43 “But You Know I Love You” wasn’t even on the list until Dolly Parton’s cover version gave the song new impact. #7 “My Way” wasn’t even a big chart hit in 1969, but ongoing popularity has seen it rise far beyond other songs that originally charted much higher. So if you are looking for a chart to definitively settle arguments, this list definitely isn’t it. If you’re trying to pick something out for your parents’ wedding anniversary, believe it when we tell you that “Sweet Caroline” is the 1969 song that the majority of folks have the most vivid memories of.

* * * * *

Ah, 1969…a year of turmoil and confusion. Let’s look a little closer:

Three songs are conspicuous by their absence on this list. First, and most obvious, is “Honky Tonk Woman” by the Rolling Stones, second would be “In the Year 2525” by one-hit wonders Zager & Evans, and third is “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam. This is where the line between “popular song” and “rock and roll” is blurred.

Two of the three are easily dismissed. The Zager & Evans tune was a massive hit at the time; today it is little more than a folky, post-apocalyptic novelty song reserved for CD collections sold on TV infommercials. Consider it a quirky footnote in music history, regardless of the fact that it was one of the biggest hits of the year.

The Steam song is also a throwaway, even though it lives on and on at sports events around the country. Despite its popularity, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” is more or less a rock and roll song, hard to imagine a “standards” singer working it into a repertoire.

But the obvious question is, why is “Get Back” considered a pop standard, yet “Honky Tonk Woman” is considered rock? When “Get Back” debuted via the filmed performance on the London rooftop, the Beatles’ generally ratty appearance and the driving rock beat were hardly the stuff of a pop standard. Over time, however, the song has been repeatedly covered and stylized such that it has attained a place in the Great American Songbook. And “Honky Tonk Woman” is on its way; give the tune a couple more decades and it will be completely whitewashed.

At the very top of the list is “Sweet Caroline,” even though it peaked at #2 on the Billboard charts in 1969. “Get Back” out-charted and out-sold it; so did “Sugar, Sugar” for that matter. But because of a few cover versions, a dance/party DJ remix, and Neil Diamond’s uncanny commitment to touring and devotion to his fans, “Sweet Caroline” is currently the most-beloved song from 1969. Diamond’s touring and high visibility are also the reason that #49 “Brother Love’s Travelin’ Salvation Show” is on the list. In fact it’s his repeated use of that song in concert and on live albums that has made the song what it is. Otherwise, most songs that barely cracked the top 30 in 1969 have long since been forgotten. This same effect puts two songs right around it; the ongoing popularity of the Bee Gees and Beach Boys has made #48 “First of May” and #50 “I Can Hear Music” into mid-level standards — despite the fact that these songs more or less stiffed back in 1969.

If you remember the summer of ’69, you might remember that “Spinning Wheel” was unavoidable on both pop, rock, and adult contemporary radio. The song mixed blues, jazz, pop…a much more complex and musically-advanced number than “Sweet Caroline” — or any of the 17 songs listed higher on the above list. Time, however, hasn’t been kind to “Spinning Wheel.” It’s still a terrific song, surely a standard, but it just doesn’t get the attention it did in 1969.

Much like our 1968 list, this list is supposedly American Popular Song, yet here we are talking about the likes of The Beatles, Dusty Springfield, The Guess Who, and the Bee Gees. Again, for the purist’s definition of Traditional American Pop, this is a sticking point. But the point is that these songs define pop music in the USA as it was in 1969, and it really doesn’t matter where they were written, or in the case of “Suite Judy Blue Eyes,” that the song was written by an Englishmen, and sung by that same Englishman with two Americans.

The biggest seller and “song of the year” (in case you need to settle an argument) was indeed the 5th Dimension with “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In.” In 1969 that song was monstrously stronger than the ones listed above it, but the ensuing years have not been as kind. Ask today’s teenagers to sing “Sweet Caroline” and most can hum a few bars — at least to the “bum bum bum” part. Ask the same of “Aquarius” and you’ll get strange looks from most. What’s incredible about that is not how much “Aquarius” has dimmed, but how “Caroline” is arguably more popular after a half century than it was when it was released!

You may also notice how strongly Elvis Presley ranks on this chart, and wonder if that’s because of his lasting popularity. That’s probably part of it; the two songs he’s parked solidly in the top ten here were massive hits in 1969, and if anything, Elvis was as big in 1969 as he was in 1959. “Suspicious Minds” was in fact the 5th best-selling song of the year. If anything, his two songs might even be higher on the chart if they weren’t so closely associated with the King.

A few more notes…

Sammy Davis Jr. was one of the best-known entertainers in the world during the 1960s, so it’s hard to believe that “I’ve Gotta Be Me” is one of his few songs to appear on these annual rosters. It’s also hard to believe that the song has lost ground over the years. Unlike Sinatra and Presley, Sammy never sold a huge amount of records, and never built that big base of fans who simply liked to listen to him. He was such a powerful “visual” entertainer, and it seems that since his death, the impact and presence of his songs have diminished.

Another song that was an instant standard is “Yesterday, When I Was Young.” If this list had been produced in 1979 instead of 2009, that Roy Clark hit would’ve been near the top of this chart. It was unavoidable on adult contemporary stations throughout the 1970s, both Clark’s version and countless covers. For some inexplicable reason it just isn’t as well known today, and really doesn’t do so well on this list.

A dozen notches below is a song that was something of a hit for Perry Como in 1969, it topped some Adult Contemporary and radio airplay charts, but barely dented the top 30 on the Billboard Hot 100. In fact “Seattle” was a bigger pop hit for teen heartthrob Bobby Sherman, who also starred in the forgotten TV show for which it was the theme song. (that was Here Come the Brides) Sherman went top ten with the tune, but believe it or not Como has since outsold him, and Perry’s version is regarded as the standard.

Look just inside the top 30 and you’ll see “Proud Mary” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. This was a rock and roll group (basically John Fogerty) that is slowly but surely seeing its songs become standards. Imagine that. “Proud Mary” would rank higher, but Tina Turner’s version has steadily become the standard over the years. Yes, a standard. So shouldn’t “Proud Mary” rank higher?

Truth be told, we don’t know what to do with some of these songs.

For example, “Skyline Pigeon” by Elton John. (It’s not on the list, don’t look for it.) The song is an obvious classic, surely regarded as a standard…however Elton has stopped performing it, and all but his most avid fans don’t even know the song. If this 1969 list were assembled in 1979, “Skyline Pigeon” would be top 20, maybe top 10. The song is still fabulous, still highly regarded by the cognescenti, yet your parents won’t recognize it if you play it at their 40th wedding anniversary in 2009. So it’s off the list.

Hey, these “standards” are tough to define. 1969 remains a difficult year to figure out. In fact the only one we’re sure about is “Sweet Caroline;” right now that’s solidly #1. If you want to scramble, add to, or in any way change the next 49, be our guest!

What are your memories of this musical journey?