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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?