Top Oldies of 1966

This list was compiled by me, your Oldies Guide at, from various sources -- chart positions, sales figures from time of release to the present day, critical standing, and historical importance. Only 45 rpm singles that peaked on the pop Top 40 in 1966 are eligible; artists are only allowed one entry per year in order to give a more balanced view of the cultural landscape. (Click on "compare prices" to find the song on CD, hear a clip of the song, and buy it if you like!)
of 10

The Four Tops, "Reach Out I'll Be There"

Motown 1098 (August 1966) b/w "Until You Love Someone"
recorded June 1966, Detroit, MI

Motown entered its middle period with this epic burst of devotion, created after the legendary songwriting team of Holland/Dozier/Holland decided it was time to inject classical music's sense of drama into pop. The result changed the Top 40 forever, and Levi Stubbs' vocals (he was instructed to sing like Dylan did on "Like A Rolling Stone") turned the Tops from sweet love soulsters to operatic gods.

of 10

The Beach Boys, "Good Vibrations"

Capitol 5676 (10 October 1966) b/w "Let's Go Away For Awhile"
recorded 17 February - 24 August 1966, Los Angeles, CA

Created over half a year using $40,000 and, it seems, every studio and sessionman in L.A., this most famous of Brian Wilson's "pocket symphonies" helped inspire the creation of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" in response. But on it own, it towers as high as any 20th-century work of art, an achievement so large that -- according to some -- it also helped destroy its creator's muse.

of 10

The Beatles, "Eleanor Rigby" b/w "Yellow Submarine"

Capitol 5715 (8 August 1966)
recorded 28-29 April, 6 June, 1966, London, England

The b-side was the Fab Four's most creative distillation of their family-friendly whimsy, but the A was the real story: rock and roll's answer to Bernard Herrmann's classic Hitchcock scores ("Psycho" in particular) wrapped around the kind of storytelling only Paul McCartney can do in three minutes. (Okay, he had lots of suggestions on this one.) An entire worldview summed up in a seven inch piece of plastic.

of 10

Tina Turner, "River Deep, Mountain High"

Philles 131 (May 1966) b/w "I'll Keep You Happy"
recorded April 1966, Los Angeles, CA

Speaking of muses self-imploding. Phil Spector was so distressed at the reaction to this maelstrom of emotion -- deemed too black for whites and too white for blacks -- that he retired, at least for a while. And you can see his point, since the song marries the most poignant of love lyrics to Tina's greatest vocal performance. Created as a magnum opus for a man who deals in sonic indulgence.

of 10

Percy Sledge, "When A Man Loves A Woman"

Atlantic 2326 (March 1966) b/w "Love Me Like You Mean It"
recorded January 1966, Muscle Shoals, AL

Originally a simpler ode to love's labors lost (entitled "Baby, Why Did You Leave Me?") this definition of deep soul was overheard at a live performance and changed to the more familiar, more universal lyrics. And they are universal; they make romantic turmoil as inevitable as "Imagine" does world peace. Sad, but liberating, especially with the emotional grounding of Spooner Oldham's churchy organ.

of 10

James Brown, "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World"

King 6035 (April 1966) b/w "Is It Yes Or Is It No?"
recorded February 1966, Cincinnati, OH

Arguably the first single by James that does in the studio what he'd previously only done live. The intro itself stops time, and from there in JB begins to chart his idea of woman's place in the universe, which some find chauvinistic and others find reflexively complimentary. Placing one gender as the hope of the human race may be dangerous, but if there was ever a case to be made, this ballad is it.

of 10

The Left Banke, "Walk Away Renee"

Smash 2041 (February 1966) b/w "I Haven't Got The Nerve"
recorded December 1965, New York, NY

A true story stranger than fiction: 16-year-old keyboardist hangs out at Dad's studio. Keyboardist meets bassist's girlfriend, becomes smitten, writes a fictional song about their (imagined) relationship ending. Dad helps create "chamber rock" by overdubbing the world's saddest violin chorus. Girl leaves town soon after. (The corner mentioned in the song exists: Hampton and Falmouth in Brooklyn.)

of 10

The Lovin' Spoonful, "Summer in the City"

Kama Sutra 211 (June 1966) b/w "Butchie's Tune"
recorded March 1966, New York, NY

A depature for these lovable, sunny folk-rockers, a gritty look at urban congestion and summertime madness done up with real rock bashing, claustrophobic sound effects, and a plaintive piano walkdown. This being John Sebastian, however, there's a break in the heat, and the chorus: "But at night, it's a different world..." The perfect soundtrack for a sweltering, ever angrier America, even if only in style.

of 10

The Young Rascals, "Good Lovin'"

Atlantic 2321 (March 1966) b/w "Mustang Sally"
recorded January 1966, New York, NY

The Rascals got noticed by being, essentially, the world's greatest bar band. So it makes sense that this song, originally an R&B hit for the Olympics, would be their first smash; right from the "one-TWO-three!" opening, you know you're in for a raveup. And since they also had more soul than any other three white bands combined, the Rascals version beats the original in attitude, not just arrangement.

of 10

? And The Mysterians, "96 Tears"

Cameo 428 (September 1966) b/w "Midnight Hour"
recorded August 1966, Bay City, MI

? and co. were a group of Mexican-Americans transplanted to Flint, Michigan, of all places, where their leader became one of the world's great eccentrics and helped transform a poem called "Too Many Teardrops" into a monolith of garage-band sneer. This song has done more for the Farfisa organ than any other, but ? himself says it was a Vox. Whatever it is, it sounds exactly what it means to sound like: revenge.

What do you think?

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