Top 10 Greatest Hits of 1965

The Rolling Stones leaning on a wall in London
The Rolling Stones leaning on a wall in London.

Evening Standard / Getty Images

Experience a blast from the past with reviews of the top 10 best hits from 1965. This list was compiled from various sources—chart positions, sales figures from the time of release to the present day, critical standing, and historical importance. Only 45 rpm singles that peaked on the pop Top 40 in 1965 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!)

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The Rolling Stones, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"

London 9766 (5 June 1965) b/w "The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man"
recorded 10-13 May 1965, London, England

A famous fuzztone riff straight out of Motown's book wrapped around a treatise on consumerism; most pop had been concerned with the pursuit of dreams and the disappointment of missed chances, but this 45 was perhaps the first to suggest that satisfaction was ultimately unattainable. Any wonder ​it became the anthem for a generation, and one of the world's most popular songs?

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Bob Dylan, "Like a Rolling Stone"

Columbia 43346 (20 July 1965) b/w "Gates Of Eden"
recorded 15-16 June 1965, New York, NY

A record which shattered the conventions of rock and roll radio, not just in its length (6:09!) but its very structure—Bob Dylan had electrified his rambling folk epics, and the result was, well, electriying, especially since his lyrics were turning bitter commentary (here, possibly directed at Edie Sedgwick) into actual poetry. It led Dylan to boast that he had killed Tin Pan Alley. He was right.

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Sam Cooke, "Shake" b/w "A Change Is Gonna Come"

RCA 8486 (22 December 1964)
recorded 30 January 1964, Hollywood, CA

The A-side, the hardest soul Sam had ever cut, is intriguing in suggesting where Sam Cooke might have gone musically had he not been shot mysteriously on December 11, 1964. But it's the B-side that takes your breath away—a ballad that uses Cooke's elegant voice and beatific persona to suggest segregation's end was a moral inevitablity. Frankly, it beats the hell out of "We Shall Overcome." If only we could have heard more.

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The Byrds, "Mr. Tambourine Man"

Columbia 43271 (12 April 1965) b/w "I Knew I'd Want You"
recorded 20 January 1965, Hollywood, CA

The ringing tones of Roger McGuinn's 12-string Rickenbacker were a clarion call to larger consciousness in 1965, or maybe just a gorgeous sound heralding the purest mix yet of folk and rock. Either way, the sheer presence of that sound, harmonies and guitar work alike, cannot be denied: to say it defines the era is absolutely correct but, given its timeless beauty, almost a backhanded compliment.

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The Beatles, "Ticket to Ride"

Capitol 5407 (19 April 1965) b/w "Yes It Is"
recorded 15 February 1965, London, England

Not a band to ignore trends, the Fab Four tailored their love-gone-wrong laments to the new folk-rock sound, and the result, while not as beautiful as the Byrds or as lyrically fecund as Dylan, rocks harder than either. Ringo's off-time drums would later become a staple of Beatles adventurousness, but John's bluesy lament is the emotional center. A Beatle, feeling discontent? Surely something was in the air.

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Otis Redding, "I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)"

Volt 126 (19 April 1965) b/w "I'm Depending On You"
recorded March 1965, Memphis, TN

It's no surprise that Otis Redding picked up this song from Jerry Butler, who sang it backstage for Redding. Butler's "For Your Precious Love" already appears on this list, and the quiet, painful desperation in that song gets put through the soul wringer here, with Otis and his natural sense of drama wringing out every last drop of pathos from the lyrics. The result may be the most heartbreaking ballad in rock history.

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James Brown, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag - Part 1"

King 5999 (June 1965) b/w "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag - Part 2"
recorded 1 February 1965, Cincinnati, OH

This 45 lays fair claim to being the first funk record, although you have to listen hard to hear the groove back off the two and four in favor of the one and three. As James Brown himself knew, this list of dance crazes had the rhythmic punch and air of liberation to make it irresistable to a new generation: "This is a hit!" he claimed on the original track. That turned out to be an understatement.

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The Temptations, "My Girl"

Gordy 7038 (21 December 1964) b/w "(Talking 'Bout) Nobody But My Baby"
recorded 25 September 25, and 10, 17 November 1964, Detroit, MI

On the other hand, Motown was always very good at providing cool balm in the middle of emotional unrest, and the Temps brought this one home by featuring, for the first time, David Ruffin on lead. The song was especially written for him by Smokey Robinson, which should tell you something about the beauty of Ruffin's voice. The calm center of '65's impending storm.

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The Supremes, "Stop! In The Name Of Love"

Motown 1074 (8 February 1965) b/w "I'm In Love Again"
recorded 5,7,11 January 1965, Detroit, MI

Meanwhile, the Supremes continued to perfect their craft, beginning to move towards a more dramatic and less sugary version of their sound. Would the group have begun one of its '64 hits with such a forceful declaration? Surely not. In fact, songwriter Lamont Dozier's girlfriend actually threw this phrase at him during an argument, proving that truth really is stranger than musical fiction.

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The Lovin' Spoonful, "Do You Believe in Magic?"

Kama Sutra 201 (August 1965) b/w "On The Road Again"
recorded June 1965, New York, NY

The first of many summery idylls from these Greenwich Village folkies turned pop hitmnakers, this one set the standard: the rock and pop equivalent of that giddy feeling you could previously only get from jug-band music. John Sebastian's songwriting persona dwelt in a place where even romantic drama seemed infused with the sheer joy of being alive, but here, the music matched the message as well.