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Top 10 Oldies of 1968

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This list was compiled by me, your Oldies Guide at About.com, 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 1968 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!)

1. The Beatles, "Hey Jude" b/w "Revolution"

Apple 2276 (26 August 1968)
recorded 31 July - 1 August 1968, London, England

Another double-sided statement of band personality from the Beatles, but this time the duality comes in the form of PSAs, John gently chiding revolutionaries for losing sight of The Big Picture, Paul attempting to heal the turmoil-stricken world through the power of music (and the most impassioned shouting ever heard in a pop song). Two cultural monoliths that still retain their emotional power in any setting.

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2. Marvin Gaye, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"

Tamla 54176 (November 1968) b/w "You're What's Happening (in the World Today)"
recorded March 1967, Detroit, MI

It had already been recorded four times, and a hit once. But when producer Norman Whitfield's pet project finally appeared as an album track, sheer word of mouth got it on a single so the whole world could hear what one writer likened to "an anthem from the Dark Continent." From one of the soul, anyway; the hurt pride and cuckolded anger in this quietly devastating track have no equal.

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3. The Rolling Stones, "Jumpin' Jack Flash"

London 908 (1 June 1968) b/w "Child of the Moon"
recorded 20 April 1968, London, England

In the history of the Stones, this is where our bad boys become unstuck from the mire of psychedelia and emerge from their paisley chrysalis as antiheroes who would never again be tied down to either roots or trends (although they'd flirt with both). The vicious lyrics are the Stones' own blues mythology, a "Mannish Boy" that reinvents them as monsters. This being rock, it only made them more popular.

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4. Otis Redding, "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay"

Volt 157 (January 1968) b/w "Sweet Lorene"
recorded 6, 7 December 1967, Memphis, TN

Sidelined for six weeks after a vocal operation, Otis Redding spent his downtime on a houseboat listening to the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" album over and over and wondering how to finally make it to the mainstream. Written and recorded by Otis and guitarist Steve Cropper, this somewhat autobiographical song became the answer; when, three days later, Redding's plane crashed, Otis crossed over in more ways than one.

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5. Steppenwolf, "Born to Be Wild"

ABC-Dunhill 4138 (August 1968) b/w "Everybody's Next One"
recorded December 1967, Los Angeles, CA

The quintessential biker anthem (and the first song to introduce the words "heavy metal"), this ripsnorter, outfitted with wicked organ squalls, was actually written by Mars Bonfire, a contemporary of the band (real name: Dennis Edmonton). Few paid attention until its inclusion in the movie "Easy Rider" forever implanted it into the cultural DNA: the sound of a generation breaking free.

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6. Archie Bell and the Drells, "Tighten Up"

Atlantic 2478 (October 1967) b/w "Dog Eat Dog"
recorded January 1967, Houston, TX

"Hi, everybody! This is Archie Bell and the Drells, from Houston, Texas..." This perfect marriage of funk fury, soul polish, and "let's make it mellow" jazz opened that way to refute an anti-Texas DJ. Nothing good comes from Texas? Well, one of rock's most instantly identifiable bass lines did, built around a new dance the group had caught wind of from a friend. The dance never caught on, but the song is forever.

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7. The Temptations, "I Wish It Would Rain"

Gordy 7068 (21 December 1967) b/w "I Truly, Truly Believe"
recorded 22 April, 31 August 1967, Detroit, MI

Many pop songs dealt with rain and the way it covers up the shame of male tears, but the Temps, as always, really made you feel it, helped by producer Norman Whitfield, who was then just coming into his own. (The string solo works even better here than on "My Girl.") Good movies know how to use storms as metaphors for emotional breakthroughs -- or breakdowns. This is one of them.

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8. Tommy James and the Shondells, "Mony Mony"

Roulette 7008 (March 1968) b/w "One Two Three And I Fell"
recorded January 1968, New York, NY

Looking out the window of his apartment one night, Tommy saw the insurance firm Mutual Of New York (MONY); soon, he had an odd but undeniable lyrical hook. What makes this one a classic is its sense of drama: it sounds like several parties building, getting out of control, and grinding to a halt more than once in just 2:49. Which makes it perfect party fodder. Just ignore those idiotic wedding chants.

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9. Diana Ross and the Supremes, "Love Child"

Motown 1135 (30 September 1968) b/w "Will This Be The Day"
recorded 17, 19-20 September 1968, Detroit, MI

The stigma of unmarried pregnancy was very real in 1968, and so this tale of ghetto bastardization through the generations comes on so strong it's almost camp. But it pays for every note of that drama, especially since Miss Ross -- diva incarnate -- knows just how to navigate every one of its heightened emotions: fear, shame, desperation, regret, sorrow. The "Scarlet Letter" of Motown.

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10. Jimi Hendrix, "All Along The Watchtower"

Reprise 0767 (2 September 1968) b/w "Burning Of The Midnight Lamp"
recorded June 1968, New York, NY

A Dylan song reworked by Jimi Hendrix would of course be thought-provoking and emotionally potent, but the guitarist was also able to bleed through Dylan's typically inscrutable lyrics... when he sang "Businessmen, they drink my wine," it came with the thrust of real bitterness. You can't articulate a concrete meaning, but you can -- more so than on Dylan's hushed original -- feel it.

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What do you think?

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