The ’60s were a pivotal time for music. The decade began with poppy girl groups and crooners and went on to create what we now know as classic rock. And of course, no discussion of the time is complete without Beatlemania and an acknowledgement of how those four lads from Liverpool changed music forever. During a time of both idealism and political unrest, music became a vital part of youth culture, and the diversity of 1960s love songs reflect the creativity and stylistic changes that defined the decade.
From soulful ballads to upbeat pop and rock tunes, the ’60s gave us dozens of unforgettable love songs — songs that have been covered, played at weddings and used in movie soundtracks ever since. Here are 20 of the most romantic songs of the era.
1. “At Last” — Etta James (1960)
“At Last” is one of those standards that feels truly timeless. Originally written in the early ’40s, Etta James covered the song on her debut album, and it soon became her signature, thanks to her powerful voice and the sweepingly romantic musical arrangement.
Decades later, in 2008, Beyoncé covered the song when she played James in the movie Cadillac Records, which helped to introduce the classic tune to a new generation.
2. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” — Elvis Presley (1961)
While Elvis will forever be associated with the 1950s, his ’60s songs are still iconic. “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” which was originally featured in the Elvis movie Blue Hawaii, is a slow-dance classic known as one of the most popular wedding songs.
It’s easy to see why: Lines like “Take my hand/Take my whole life, too” are totally swoon-worthy, especially when sung in Elvis’ inimitably smooth tone.
3. “Stand By Me” — Ben E. King (1961)
While ’80s kids might remember “Stand By Me” from the coming-of-age movie of the same name, the song first came onto the scene in 1961. Co-written by King along with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the duo behind many of Elvis’ 1950s hits, the song was inspired in part by an early 20th-century gospel hymn. No wonder it sounds so inspirational! In 2018, a stirring choral rendition was performed at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, proving once again that the song never gets old.
4. “Then He Kissed Me” — The Crystals (1963)
Girl groups defined the sweet, youthful spirit of the early ’60s. “Then He Kissed Me” is a perfectly upbeat evocation of fairytale-like young love and was unforgettably used in Martin Scorsese’s classic 1990 gangster movie Goodfellas, where it brilliantly captured the time and the feeling of burgeoning romance.
5. “Be My Baby” — The Ronettes (1963)
It doesn’t get more iconic than that opening drum beat. This classic girl group hit, produced by Phil Spector, exemplifies his “Wall of Sound” recording style, with its lush, romantic instrumentation and harmonious, echoing vocals. The song would help set the tone for the decade, inspiring musicians like Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, who said it blew his mind and he listened to it on repeat. In later decades, many other musicians would return to “Be My Baby,” using its classic drum beat in a variety of new ways.
6. “I Only Want To Be With You” — Dusty Springfield (1963)
“I Only Want To Be With You” was British singer Dusty Springfield’s debut single, and it was certainly an auspicious start to her career. The combination of the song’s rollicking beat and Springfield’s shimmying dance moves and impressive blonde beehive hairdo helped define the swinging ’60s style that would dominate in the UK and beyond.
7. “And I Love Her” — The Beatles (1964)
Ah, The Beatles. No list of songs from the decade would be complete without them, and it’s impossible to pick just one great ’60s love song from their catalog. “And I Love Her,” which was featured in their classic movie A Hard Day’s Night, is a dreamy, evocative song that Paul McCartney called “the first ballad I impressed myself with.” The song was inspired by McCartney’s girlfriend, actress Jane Asher, and its beautiful simple yet poetic style has made it a standard.
8. “My Girl” — The Temptations (1964)
“I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day” — What could be a purer expression of true love than that? “My Girl” is a Motown classic written by Smokey Robinson of The Miracles, who was inspired by his wife. The song would be The Temptations’ first number one single, and founding member Otis Williams instantly knew it was special, recalling, “It really sounded like a number one. But… it’s very seldom that you can predict a number one tune. But at that time, we really felt it would be more of a record that would be a number one than the songs we had recorded before then. And luckily enough, it was.”
9. “I Got You Babe” — Sonny & Cher (1965)
Sonny & Cher’s signature song is a jaunty declaration of romance that gains additional power from being performed by a real-life couple. The lyrics speak to embracing a love that others look down on, and they illustrate the defiant spirit of the time while also being fun to sing along with. The combination of instant recognizability and undeniably upbeat tone made “I Got You Babe” the perfect choice for the 1993 comedy Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray, trapped in a time loop, wakes up to the song repeatedly.
10. “God Only Knows” — The Beach Boys (1966)
“God Only Knows” is a gorgeously layered, complex song that’s worlds away from The Beach Boys’ earlier surf pop. The orchestral wonder of the song brings out love’s existential side, and Brian Wilson said the song, which he wrote in just 45 minutes, came to him like a vision and expressed everything he ever hoped to convey in a single song. The romantic power of “God Only Knows” is so strong that none other than Paul McCartney has called it one of his favorite songs of all time.
11. “Cherish” — The Association (1966)
You might love someone, but do you cherish them? The Association’s pop ballad brings the drama, capturing big emotions with its echoey, wistful sound. “Cherish” is a wedding staple, though the song’s singer and writer, Terry Kirkman, admitted that he found this baffling. “Couples by the thousands called it ‘their song,’ in spite of the fact it is so very much about love lost, not victorious love,” he said.
12. “When a Man Loves a Woman” — Percy Sledge (1966)
“When a Man Loves a Woman” is an emotional powerhouse that takes inspiration from gospel. Percy Sledge came from a humble background, having worked as a hospital orderly and playing shows on the side, and the song ended up being his first and biggest hit. In 1991, the song enjoyed a renaissance when it was covered by Michael Bolton, but you can’t beat the original.
13. “I Want You” — Bob Dylan (1966)
Given his propensity for complex, poetic lyrics, it can be hard to say which Bob Dylan songs even count as love songs, but the lustfulness of “I Want You” fits the bill. The song mixes catchy bounciness and straightforward romance (“I want you so bad”) with enigmatic images (from a “guilty undertaker” to a “dancing child with a Chinese suit”) that give it a mysterious edge.
14. “I’m a Believer” — The Monkees (1966)
The Monkees may have been looked down on by some for being a teenybopper TV show band, but their seriously catchy songs are the real deal. “I’m a Believer” is the musical equivalent of a ray of sunshine. The song was originally written by Neil Diamond, and he said he was thrilled by the success the band found with it. The song appeared in four consecutive episode of The Monkees’ TV show and remains one of their greatest hits.
15. “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman” — Aretha Franklin (1967)
No one captured the highs and lows of romance like the Queen of Soul. “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” is filled with big emotions, and while it’s a love song, it has also served as a female empowerment anthem for decades. The song was written by Carole King, Gerry Goffin and Jerry Wexler, and King later recorded the song herself for her classic 1971 album Tapestry. King called Franklin’s voice “one of the most expressive vocal instruments of the 20th century,” and this song shows it off perfectly.
16. “To Love Somebody” — The Bee Gees (1967)
The Bee Gees are often associated with the 1970s, thanks to their soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever, but it would be a shame to overlook this iconic ’60s love song. Originally written for Otis Redding by Barry and Robin Gibb, the harmonizing brothers ultimately recorded it themselves — sadly, Redding died before he had a chance to sing it.
17. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” — Frankie Valli (1967)
The doo-wop of Frankie Valli’s band, The Four Seasons, may have been out of fashion by the time the late ’60s rolled around, but the crooner had a major solo hit in 1967. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” is a big, cinematic ballad that marked a departure for Valli. Known for singing in a falsetto, he said, “I didn’t want to sing like that my whole life,” and used a lower vocal range for this song, which him to show a new side of himself.
18. “Happy Together” — The Turtles (1967)
Let’s face it, it’s hard not to sing along with the “Ba-ba-ba-ba, ba-ba-ba-ba, ba-ba-ba” bridge of “Happy Together.” It’s peak ’60s pop. While the song sounds joyful and bright, some have noted that the lyrics (“Imagine me and you, I do”) could be interpreted as an expression of unrequited love. Whether that’s the case, you can’t help but be happy while listening to “Happy Together.”
19. “Hello, I Love You” — The Doors (1968)
Many of The Doors’ most famous songs were dark and psychedelic, but “Hello, I Love You” is pretty poppy. The song was inspired by other bands of the time like The Kinks and Cream — and The Kinks actually alleged that The Doors stole their tune, but a settlement was eventually reached. While it’s hard to imagine going up to someone whose name you don’t even know to say “I love you,” such is Jim Morrison’s rock star swagger that he can get away with it.
20. “My Cherie Amour” — Stevie Wonder (1969)
Sometimes you feel so romantic you have to use a French phrase, as is the case in Stevie Wonder’s classic “My Cherie Amour.” He wrote the song for a girlfriend he met while attending the Michigan School for the Blind, and the song has all the genuine sweetness and light of a teen romance. The song was so popular that Wonder recorded versions in Spanish and Italian.
Swoon-worthy ’60s love songs
Whether or not you were around in the ’60s, you have to admit the love songs of the era were pretty great. Capturing a wide range of emotions and musical styles, these romantic gems never get old.