9 Great Garage Rock Songs of the 1960s

Because listicles (articles that are a collection of lists) are so popular, here’s one: a collection of interesting garage rock songs of the 1960s.

Garage rock, if you’re not familiar with the style, contains some or all of the following elements:

  • Guitars (and sometimes an organ, preferably a Farfisa)
  • Energy and enthusiasm
  • Lo-fi production values

It sounds like it was recorded in a garage – hence the name. Now that we have defined our terms, let’s begin!

1. “Louie Louie”, The Kingsmen, 1963

This is the granddaddy of them all – Patient Zero of the garage rock sound, if you will. “Louie Louie” is so famous that:

  • An entire book has been written about it (Dave Marsh’s Louie Louie: The History and Mythology of the World’s Most Famous Rock ‘n’ Roll Song)
  • There is an international Louie Louie Day: April 11, which is “Louie Louie” composer Richard Berry’s birthday
  • The FBI launched an investigation into whether the lyrics were obscene (they decided that they weren’t)
  • Peoria, Illinois, holds an annual Louie Louie Parade and Festival
  • At least one radio station has held an all-“Louie Louie” weekend, featuring nothing but versions of this song, including one version tapped out on a typewriter (tick tick tick, tick tick, tick tick tick, tick tick <ding>))

One thing you might not know is that Paul Revere and the Raiders came this close to having their version of “Louie Louie” become the famous one:

According to Wikipedia, the Raiders’ version was recorded one week after the Kingsmen’s version, in the same studio. Despite the Raiders’ version being more polished, it was the Kingsmen’s version that caught on. The Raiders went on to have a bunch of hits, and the Kingsmen didn’t do as well, so things evened out in the end.

One cinematic footnote: “Louie Louie” appears in National Lampoon’s Animal House, which is set in 1962 – a year before the song was actually released. I suspect that nobody cares about this.

2. “Gloria”, Shadows of Knight, 1965

If I had to explain garage rock using only one song, this would probably be it. It was written by Van Morrison when he was 18 years old, and just about to form the band Them. Morrison went on to have a widely acclaimed career, but had he done nothing other than write this song, he would have a place in rock history.

The Shadows of Knight were from the Chicago suburbs, and didn’t do much else after this song. (There is a version of this song called “Gloria ’69” with extra overdubs; I have listened to some of this version, and you do not have to.) “Gloria” has been covered by a bunch of other people, including Patti Smith, who supplied her own lyrics (“Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine”).

3. “Psychotic Reaction”, Count Five, 1966

The Count Five were from San Jose, California, and this was their only hit. They were teenagers when this was successful, and then went on to go to college and have adult lives and stuff.

4. “Nobody But Me”, The Human Beinz, 1967

The Human Beinz were from Youngstown, Ohio. Wikipedia informs me that their name was originally the Human Beingz, but it was misspelled on their debut release. Because it reached #8, the name never got changed. The Human Bein(g)z didn’t have much success after that. “Nobody But Me” has been covered by George Thorogood, among others.

5. “Dirty Water”, The Standells, 1966

I first heard this song as a cover version by The Inmates, which is a perfectly fine version but lacks the grunginess of the Standells’ version. Apparently, this song is used by a lot of Boston sports teams, which means that it joins “Sweet Caroline” and anything by the Dropkick Murphys (Murphies?) on the list of songs that perhaps I don’t really want to hear any more. Oh well.

Like many of the groups on this list, the Standells didn’t do much after this – they never reached the Top 40 again.

6. “96 Tears”, ? and the Mysterians, 1966

I love the giant banner full of sloppily painted question marks more than words can say.

?’s real name is Rudy Martinez, and he wrote this song, which sold more than a million copies and has brought joy to at least that many hearts. The song would not have been as good had it been a round number of tears, or even 97 Tears. 96 is just right.

? and the Mysterians didn’t have any other substantial hits (this is a common theme of this post). “96 Tears” has been covered by The Stranglers, among others.

7. “Wooly Bully”, Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, 1965

Sam the Sham’s real name is Domingo Samudio, and “Wooly Bully” is apparently about his cat. He had another chart hit in 1966 with “Lil Red Riding Hood”, with a new set of Pharoahs, the originals having left due to a financial dispute. This song has been covered, but not well – who else could sound like this?

8. “Baby Please Don’t Go”, Amboy Dukes, 1967

The Amboy Dukes were from Detroit, and featured a young Ted Nugent, back before he got involved with hunting and conservative politics and stuff. They were best known for “Journey To The Centre Of The Mind”, which reached the charts in 1968.

9. “Demolicion”, Los Saicos, 1965

Los Saicos were from Peru, and were the most successful pop act in that country in 1965. When they stopped being famous, in about 1966, they went back to having normal lives, after having done something awesome. I someday hope to do something as awesome as this.

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About davetill

I'm a writer and occasional web designer. I live in Toronto.
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