In the era of 60s black music, performers produced thousands of songs that still get radio play today.
Some songs appeared in popular media and advertising so often that almost everyone knows them over four decades later.
Enjoy this list of nine of the best songs from 60s Black music.
Song Year: 1965
This powerhouse of a song came from Nina Simone’s fourth studio album, “I Put a Spell on You,” which featured a track by the same name that became a popular hit, too.
Songwriter Leslie Bricusse originally wrote the song for the musical “The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd.” Many other artists covered this song in the years since, but Simone’s version is iconic.
When Volkswagen used it in a commercial in 1994, the studio that owned the recording released Simone’s version as a single for the first time, and it hit #40 on the UK singles chart.
Song Year: 1968
Marvin Gaye’s version of this song is the one most people recognize, but he was the third of the 60s Black musical artists to record it. Gladys Knight and the Pips released the song for the first time in 1967, where it became a #1 hit and Motown’s top seller.
The Miracles released it as a single in 1968, before Gaye. When Gaye’s song came out later that year from his album, “In the Groove,” it shot to the top of the charts and stayed there for seven weeks.
Gaye’s version overtook Knight’s and became the top-selling Motown single at that time.
In 1986, the song received a surge of popularity when Sun-Maid used it in their long-running California Raisins ad campaign that spawned numerous commercials, collectibles, and a TV show.
Song Year: 1967
“Respect” was one of Aretha Franklin’s biggest hits and became her signature song for her entire career. Otis Redding, another soul superstar, wrote the track and made it a hit in 1965.
After Franklin released her cover of it in ’67, it won her two Grammys and became one of the anthems of the feminist movement in the 1970s. She became one of the top Black female singers of the 60s.
Her version about a man showing his woman some respect, with some different lyrics than Redding’s original, always appears on round-up lists of top songs of the era and of all time.
Song Year: 1965
Smokey Robinson and two members of The Miracles wrote this song and turned it into a #2 hit the year it was released. Most people consider the song a Motown classic today, alongside other Smokey Robinson hits of the era.
Robinson wrote or co-wrote thousands of songs during his career, and he had 37 songs that achieved top 40 status, with many considered classics of 60s Black music that still get regular radio play on oldies stations.
Rolling Stone magazine named this song the “Greatest Motown Song of All Time” in 2021.
Song Year: 1964
The famous and prolific duo of composer Burt Bacharach and songwriter Hal David wrote this song that became a hit for Warwick, her second one after “Anyone Who Has a Heart” from the same album.
Many artists have covered the song since Warwick’s Grammy-nominated version, but hers remains the classic.
In a list by Rolling Stone of the 500 best songs of all time, this song is the second highest-ranked song by a woman after Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”
Song Year: 1961
Nat King Cole recorded this song three times before producing this hit version that’s still a popular Christmas classic today.
Anyone who’s ever listened to popular Christmas music has undoubtedly heard this song. Dozens of artists have covered it and had hits of their own, like Bing Crosby in the 40s and even pop star Justin Beiber in 2011.
Song Year: 1965
Smokey Robinson wrote this soul song in honor of his wife, and it went on to become The Temptations’ first #1 hit.
The song’s distinctive opening and catchy melody made it one that gets named in all of the “best songs” lists. Multiple artists have covered it in the years since it appeared on The Temptations’ “The Temptations Sing Smokey” album.
Song Year: 1965
This song became a hit for the Motown label after it reached #1 and #2 on the Billboard Pop and Soul charts, respectively.
The Grammy-nominated song still prompts people to put a hand on a hip and hold the other out in front of them in the universal gesture for “stop” as they sing along.
The Supremes consisted of childhood friends Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Diana Ross. Ross went on to have a solo career and become a superstar of soul and pop music.
Song Year: 1960
This soul classic was released from Etta James’ debut album and helped her become an icon of blues and soul. Dozens of artists have covered the song since Glenn Miller first performed it in 1941, but James’ version became a classic.
Most notably, Beyoncé, one of the world’s top-selling musical artists of all time, performed “At Last” for the first dance between newly inaugurated and first Black president Barack Obama and at his inaugural ball in 2008.
These songs only represent a fraction of the best 60 Black music. It would take a volume of books to discuss all the top artists who had hits and who helped define Black R&B, Soul, Rock, and Pop music right up to the present day.
We hope you enjoy these songs and go on to find more great music from these iconic artists that will become lifelong favorites.