The 60s are considered one of the greatest eras in music. Three movements prompted such progressive creativity: The Civil Rights Movement, a continued battle for women’s rights, and an anti-war era.
Desires to oppose the current culture moved artists to advocate for peaceful change. The African American community, in specific, released multiple albums symbolic of this aspiration.
If you aren’t already versed in these masterpieces, keep reading for a list of the best 60s black albums.
Live at the Apollo (1963)
Live at the Apollo was James Brown’s first live album. The record was cut from a performance by Brown and The Famous Flames at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem.
Although initially rejected by his recording label, the track received great acclaim and supported Brown’s status as the Godfather of Soul. It spent 66 weeks on Billboard’s top album chart and ranked as the greatest live album of all time.
Most impressively, it’s listed on Congress’ National Recording Registry, proving its historical and cultural significance. Give the legendary track a listen, and you’ll travel back in time to America’s most energized era and region.
I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (1967)
Written and released by the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You was her first album with Atlantic Records. The gold-certified track contains Franklin’s notorious take on Otis Redding’s “Respect.”
Rolling Stone describes the record’s slow southern soul to powerfully communicate the feeling of Americans during The Civil Rights and Women’s Rights Movement.
More than a collection of creative songs with varying levels of depth, the album is an emblem of Franklin’s independence and determination. Hence the reason Franklin became a leader in the fight for women’s rights.
Lady Soul (1968)
Lady Soul is another favorite amongst Aretha Franklin fans and is considered one of the greatest soul albums.
Lady Soul contains international hits like “Chain of Fools” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”—the song that moved President Obama to tears at the Kennedy Center’s Honor Ceremony.
The sounds of Lady Soul continue to incite feelings of boldness and freedom in women across the globe. Although I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You and Lady Soul were Franklin’s best of the 60s, her brave spirit and creative aptitude would connect with the masses for the duration of her life and well after.
At Last! (1960)
A combination of jazz, R&B, and pop, At Last! was Etta James’ remarkable debut album. The globally-cherished ballad “At Last” may be James’ most popular song of all time. However, the album includes many other hits that elevated her to stardom.
It contains singles such as “All I Could Do Was Cry” and powerful renditions on classics like “A Sunday Kind of Love” and “I Just Want to Make Love to You.” James’ vulnerability expresses love and heartbreak through her impressive voice control, evident in each song’s drastically changing notes.
Gold-certified and full of passion, Current R&B artists adore the At Last! collection to this day. Renowned artists like Beyonce and Lauryn Hill proudly cover many of these songs, keeping James’ spirit alive.
Night Beat (1963)
Night Beat is a blues album released by the notorious Sam Cooke. The track got its name from the few late-night Los Angeles studio sessions it took to record.
The setting in which Cooke recorded the album is also the best setting to experience it in. Most fans recommend popping in an earbud for a late-night stroll or unwinding with a glass of wine as it plays in the background.
Cooke’s gentle voice is the star of each song. However, he collaborated with a group of well-known musicians to craft the collection, including Ray Johnson and Billy Preston, who was only 16 years old at the time.
Ain’t That Good News (1964)
Ain’t That Good News was the last album Sam Cooke ever released. He wrote the track throughout the six months following his 18-month old son’s drowning. So, while the immense passion in each song did not surprise his fans, it did move them.
The songs ranged from pop to soul to jazz. Most people believe this broad creativity was encouraged by Cooke’s new record label. “A Change Is Gonna Come” is recognized as the album and Cooke’s most moving song.
Because the soulful number evokes both sorrow and passion, it quickly gained popularity amidst the Civil Rights Movement.
Otis Blue (1965)
Otis Blue is considered Redding’s greatest and most versatile creation. This is impressive, considering he recorded the track in a mere 24 hours. Aside from “Ole Man Trouble,” “Respect,” and “I’ve Been Loving You too Long,” the album consists of popular blues, rock and roll, and R&B covers.
Redding’s recount of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” quickly became a fan favorite as he complimented Cooke’s passion with an energized and determined spirit.
Throughout the album, talents from Booker T. and the M.G. ‘s, The Mar-Keys, The Memphis Horns, and Isaac Hayes accompany Redding’s stirring voice. Most describe the album as the perfect representation of the blues.
The Temptations Sing Smokey (1965)
The Temptations found great success when they released “My Girl”—written and produced by Smokey Robinson. In turn, the group released an album written entirely by the legendary Robinson.
Robinson originally wrote some of the songs for his group, The Miracles, and Motown star, Mary Wells. However, The Temptations and Robinson were a force to be reckoned with. The album contains soulful hits like “You Really Got a Hold On Me” and “Baby, Baby I Need You.”
These successes granted The Temptations Sing Smokey an impressive 18 weeks at number one on the Music Billboard’s R&B charts.
Top 60s Black Albums, Final Thoughts
Not only did these 60s black albums set a competitive standard of creative prowess, but they expressed their hope for a brighter future through each impassioned lyric.
Most importantly, they set a new precedent. After reveling in a few of these tracks, you’ve probably noticed their influence on music today.
Vulnerability, passion, relatability, and celebration–all became a norm and expectation amongst the very best artists. It’s no surprise the 60s are known to be a time of music revolution.