10 Worst Songs of the 1960s

The 1960s were a great time for popular music. The development of recording technology allowed new sounds, and the decade saw the rise of Motown, the British Invasion, and psychedelia. Major artists like Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones began their recording careers. But as in every other decade of recorded music, there was a ton of terrible records as well.

Other decades’ worst lists on this site have documented the songs that I hated on the radio, I didn’t live through the 1960s and the bad stuff had already been erased from playlists. Therefore this list is mostly comprised of weird novelty songs that somehow cracked the big time in the 1960s. As always there’s often a fine line between a well-written hook that’s welcome in your head and an infuriating hook that you want to permanently erase.

#10 – Young Girl by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap

1968
Gary Puckett was born in the mining town of Hibbing, Minnesota, and ‘Young Girl’ is his most successful recording. ‘Young Girl’ is easily my favourite song on this list from a musical perspective, but its lyrics are a relic of a disturbing past. “And though you know that it’s wrong to be/Alone with me/That come on look is in your eyes” is a particularly abhorrent line.


#9 – Puppy Love by Paul Anka

1960
The first wave of 1950s rock and rollers disappeared abruptly from view – Elvis joined the army, Buddy Holly perished in a plane crash, and Little Richard switched to gospel music. The early 1960s witnessed important developments like the launch of Motown, but popular music felt a little toothless. Paul Anka’s gormless ‘Puppy Love’ is a case in point – it was later revived by Donny Osmond in the 1970s.


#8 – They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa! by Napoleon XIV

1965
Record producer Jerry Samuels recorded this novelty single under the pseudonym Napoleon XIV. This odd record with its minimal percussive backing was inspired by the Scottish folk tune ‘The Campbells Are Coming’. The song was pulled from some stations after complaints from mental health professionals, although it still charted at #3. The song’s b-side was simply the original single in reverse, entitled ‘!aaaH-aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er’yehT’


#7 – Puff, the Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul & Mary

1963
New York folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary were huge in the early 1960s, helping to launch Bob Dylan’s career with their cover of ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’. ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ was adapted from a poem written by a fellow student of Peter Yarrow at Cornell University. It was immensely successful but I find its combination of a cheerful singalong chorus and a tragic lyric about a loss of innocence difficult to swallow.


#6 – Speedy Gonzales by Pat Boone

1961
Pat Boone’s early musical career consisted of producing safe covers of R&B songs for conservative music fans. It’s tough hearing a well-heeled white man singing about how a Mexican roof is “leakin’ like a strainer” and “there’s loads a roaches in the hall”. While the cartoon was about the mouse, the song is seemingly about a person and it’s positive that this kind of casual racism now looks dated.


#5 – The Ballad of the Green Berets by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler

1966
It must be tough for conservatives to find pop music to listen to – progressive politics are the norm. ‘The Ballad of the Green Berets’ isn’t quite a pro-war song, but it put a positive spin on the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War. Despite Sadler’s uncharismatic vocals, ‘Green Berets’ was astonishingly popular. It topped the singles chart for 5 weeks in the US, while the accompanying album sold 9 million copies.


#4 – An Open Letter to My Teenage Son by Victor Lundberg

1967
It’s tempting to think that everyone in the 1960s was enjoying the musical genius of Brian Wilson, John Coltrane, and The Beatles. But somehow this boring yet provocative monstrosity reached the US top ten. It’s a plainspoken dialogue that adds an excerpt from ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ to emphasise its patriotic flavour.

I will remind you that your mother will love you no matter what you do
Because she is a woman
And I love you too, son
But I also love our country and the principles for which we stand
And if you decide to burn your draft card
Then burn your birth certificate at the same time
From that moment on, I have no son!


#3 – Honey by Bobby Goldsboro

1968
Bobby Goldsboro enjoyed a string of easy-listening country hits in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s difficult to believe in retrospect, but ‘Honey’ was the highest-selling international single of 1968, beating out ‘Hey Jude’. Its melodramatic lyrics and simpering delivery make Neil Diamond look tough in comparison.


#2 – Yummy, Yummy, Yummy by Ohio Express

1968
Bubblegum pop became popular toward the end of the 1960s, targeting tweens’ pocket money with irresistible pop confections. ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy’ was one of the first bubblegum pop hits, along with the 1910 Fruitgum Company’s ‘Simon Says’. There’s a memorable tune here and the opening chords were later adapted by The Cars into ‘Just What I Needed’. But Joey Levine’s faux-naive, nasal lead vocal is grating, and the lyrics are irredeemably stupid.


#1 – Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp) by Allan Sherman

1963
This novelty record laid lyrics over a famous classical piece – Ponchielli’s ‘Dance of the Hours’ from La Giaconda. Despite its campiness (on multiple levels!) it somehow peaked at #2 on the US singles charts. It was based on the actual letters that Sherman received from his son at school camp. It also namechecks a character named Leonard Skinner, partially inspiring a notable 1970s southern rock band.

Did I miss your most despised 1960s hit?

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Aphoristical
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande.
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57 Comments

  1. Yep, those are bad songs, especially the cringeworthy lyrics of “Young Girl”. But I’ll disagree on “Yummy Yummy Yummy”.

    As for the Lynyrd Skynyrd reference in the number one spot, per Wikipedia:
    “…the group settled on Leonard Skinnerd, which was in part a reference to a character named “Leonard Skinner” in Allan Sherman’s novelty song “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” and in part a mocking tribute to P.E. teacher Leonard Skinner at Robert E. Lee High School (which members of the band attended). Skinner was notorious for strictly enforcing the school’s policy against boys having long hair.”

    • I assume it was mostly inspired by the gym teacher? Then just a coincidence it was in the song.

      I would like to hear Yummy Yummy Yummy with a different vocalist.

  2. That’s a perfect list. How can a reasonable person quarrel with the inclusion of any of these awful “songs”? I disliked Gary Puckett’s music with a passion. He was one of those white bread American artists of the 60s who deserved to be totally displaced by the British Invasion. He wasn’t! In retrospect, it’s not a bad song, except for the unacceptable lyrics.

    • Young Girl is easily my favourite musically, but even as a pre-teen I found those lyrics pretty disturbing. The past is a foreign country.

  3. Well here’s a list I cannot stay away from. Some thoughts:

    -I actually liked Gary Puckett quite a bit. I can see that that song is…. questionable. But back then there were way too many “I dig young girls” songs. Hell, the Stones have one called “Stray Cat Blues.” A then 25-year-old Jagger sings creepily about a 16-year-old groupie.
    -We loved “They’re coming to take me away.” Everybody knew it was stupid but we loved it anyway.
    -I disagree on “Puff.” I wasn’t a particularly big fan of that group but I found that song kind of poignant in its way.
    -Those “open letter” and Green Beret and all those ‘proud to be an American’ songs were the right-wing reaction to hippies and the anti-war movement. Those people are still with us in another from. Dismissible nonsense. ‘
    -I can get under my wife’s skin in three seconds by singing ‘Honey.’ It’s a coin toss between that and ‘Sometimes When We Touch’ which one she hates more. I’ll go with ‘Sometimes’ which is, as always, the one to beat.
    ‘Yummy, Yummy, Yummy is what I was thinking of when discussing bubble gum with one of your followers. That and ‘Sugar, Sugar.’ Execrable garbage.
    ‘I love ‘Hello Muddah.’ The lyrics are great and I quote them all the time. There was a camp around here this summer – I think in New Hampshire – that was so ‘Camp Grenada’ they had to cancel it six days in and send the kids home. They quoted this song.

    • There’s probably a good/bad list about inappropriate underage songs.

      I think part of my dislike of Puff and Hello Muddah is having to sing them at school. We also sang Under The Bridge and Blaze of Glory, so a weird potpourri of stuff. Puff is just so depressing.

      • You had to song them at school??? What the hell kind of a school is that? See, I view Puff as more if a “life is not forever” lesson. I suppose that is kinda sad. But then… Bambi.

  4. I agree on all counts! The Gary Puckett song was one we played a lot and got requests for, but it always got on my nerves. The studio speaker volume was always down all the way when I played it.

  5. “They’re Coming to Take Me Away ” and “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadah” got a lot of airplay on the popular 70s radio programme, The Dr. Demento Show. I found both of those songs amusing but never took them seriously.

  6. Most of these are pretty bad but they’re mostly novelty records, which were never really meant to be good music. I think Honey is an okay tear-jerker, and I like the Gary Puckett.. I think the only way you can find the lyrics disturbing is if you believe that a teenager would never initiate sex. Or that a woman would never initiate sex. Which of course is ridiculous. And Puppy Love is kind of okay for a pre-teen type song. It has a nice melody. And the Green Beret song is really no worse and no sillier than the anti-war songs of the time, which were pretty bad. It’s weird because I just heard yummy yummy today and noticed just like you how terrible the singing and the song are, and how at odds it was with the wild garage type guitars playing in the background. Seems like two completely different records playing at the same time. I never noticed that before. It was so weird.

  7. The 1970s and 2000s have infinitely many more awful songs in my opinion, and I can’t think of very many from the 1960s that I truly loathe. That said, your picks for #s 2, 4, 5, 6 and 8 are pretty horrific.

    “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” was a humorous – and harmless – novelty song, but I can see how having to sing it at school (which I find very odd for New Zealand in the 80s) would make you hate it. “Puff the Magic Dragon” is a sweet song of its time. And though sappy as hell, “Honey” never bothered me much, however, one of my long-time best friends considers it her all-time most hated song.

  8. Young Girl has creepy lyrics but like the melody. I am shocked by #4’s lyrics. I hate #1 on your list. Songs you missed that should have made the list: “Seasons in the Sun” (worst song EVER) and it really shouldn’t be listed as it was released in 1970, but “American Woman” by The Guess Who is one I have despised for a long time. I hope those guys never got another piece of American tail for as long as they lived.

    Graham… I noticed that you created a playlist of your songs. Just asking, but could you do the same with Hanspostcard draft songs for each round???? I know it’s presumptuous to ask, but…. 🙂

    • Seasons in the Sun wasn’t really a big hit until 1974. My 1970s list was more hits that I hated, but I could go back and make a novelty record list sometime I guess.

      • Graham, I wanted to see if you were amenable to it before thinking further ahead. If you’re willing to do it, I’ll email Hans with you on cc and see what he thinks. My thought would be when he does a rounds recap he could include it there. What do you think?

  9. This is a lot of fun Graham. The only one you have that I cannot agree with is Puff the Magic Dragon…I should not admit this on a public forum but the damn song almost makes me cry…but I still love it. That might be the only song that does that to me. The rest of the songs I agree somewhat…they are pretty bad.

    Young Girl never bothered me although I just don’t like the song…it sounds like she tried to trick him into thinking she was older…and now he is saying get away…compare that to Mick’s Stray Cat Blues and it’s a nursery rhyme. Of course the difference is Stray Cat Blues is not burning up the radio.

    My number 1 most hated song of the sixties…no… of all time is a song by a band called The Fireballs in 1962. The name of this monstrosity is…”Sugar Shack.” It makes me cringe because it’s so damn corny and embarrassing. My mental version of hell is this song playing 24/7. I may be the only person who thinks it’s that bad…but Seasons in the Sun is Stairway to Heaven compared to Sugar Shack.

  10. This list absolutely stinks. Well done. I’d never heard of Open Letter before. Horrendous. But then again I am a bleeding heart liberal limey. I can think of a few deserving entries but I’d struggle to find worse than this decimal unit of degradation

    • That’s a lovely compliment, thank you! I think most music bloggers are probably bleeding heart liberals? Open to new music probably equates with open to progress politically.

  11. I love Young Girl. I loved it when I first heard it at nine years old and still love it. Puckett’s voice is great on it. The lyrics have never bothered me.

    I seriously cannot listen to either Puff The Magic Dragon or Honey because they make me cry floods of tears – for real. Crazy that songs should do that but they just do. They upset me as a kid and they still have that effect.

      • Somewhere, I don’t know where, way back in time, I read a similar tale to the one of Puff, but in this one the little boy grows up and eventually returns with his own small son, whose child’s imagination then brings Puff back to his former vitality again. I prefer that ending!

    • I listened to Honey again and it’s really a great song. The way it’s written is elliptical, where the ending is the same as the beginning and it has the effect of making it seem like the guy’s sorrow is just endless and circular and goes on and on. It’s fantastic.

  12. haha, good one. I recognised some of those songs. did not realize they’re coming to take me away was that old. a bad song nonetheless.

  13. Can’t argue with any of these, except maybe “Puff,” which was a staple of early childhood, and we were much too young to understand the “lost innocence” theme. We just liked the dragon imagery and gently melody. All the others are reprehensible, especially the pro-Vietnam War songs.

    Side note: The Ohio Express and “Yummy Yummy Yummy” have a convoluted history. I was neighbors with one of the band members, however none of them either sang or played on the actual song. They were merely hired to promote it, after it was already recorded.

    • Also, I agree with others about “Young Girl.” The melody is pretty catchy, and Puckett’s deep voice has some appeal, but the lyrics are dumb and somewhat disturbing.

    • Yeah, I think that kind of thing happened a bit back then? Before MTV people didn’t really know what band members looked like, I guess?

      • Yep. The most famous example is with The Monkees, who didn’t play instruments on their first two albums. But at least they sang the songs. The members of “The Ohio Express” didn’t even retain their original name. They were actually a group called “Sir Timothy and the Royals.” Talk about a shameless sellout!

  14. Yes, that’s a good description, I know exactly what you mean.

    Also, as Badfinger mentioned, I think, Puckett gets all moral and spurns the Lolita’s advances, so all is above board!

  15. Wow number 4 is an absolute howler – having not long watched Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War though I’m not surprised stuff like this existed.
    I’ll always associate “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” with one of the few scenes in The Simpsons that makes me chuckle just for the pure absurdity of it

    • I like the words of Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh, but it still feels like despoiling a lovely classical piece.

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