Which tunes belong on a list of the greatest oldies songs? That tough question gets even tougher when you realize you first have to decide what decades count as the source timeframe for oldies songs. Is it just the 50s and 60s? Does classic rock count or is that a different genre? What about the 80s - that music is officially old, but is it really "oldies" music?
Those are the kinds of questions music fans love to quibble over, but whatever your definition of oldies, there are some songs that transcend the debate. These timeless classics deserve a place on any "greatest" music list.
List of the Greatest Oldies Songs
Would these songs make your list of the greatest oldies songs? The tunes here were picked for their longevity, impact, popularity and generally come from the 50s and 60s - the timeframe most oldies stations use to develop their playlists.
Stand By Me by Ben E. King
Like many great songs, there is a measure of fate in the story of Stand By Me. King wrote this song for The Drifters (of Under The Boardwalk fame), but the group declined it. King didn't think the song was appropriate for himself, but had some extra time to kill in the studio one day, so laid it down. The result? The fourth most covered song in music history. His version is still the definitive one, though.
Peggy Sue by Buddy Holly
This song isn't much lyrically, but it is considered to be one of the first (or the first, depending on who you ask) rock and roll songs. It is one of the definitive songs of the 50s and the first rock generation. They don't call the crash that killed Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper "The Day The Music Died" for nothing.
(Sittin' On) The Dock of The Bay by Otis Redding
It is now just an accepted fact that Otis Redding is one of the greatest soul singers ever, but during his life, his career never quite reached the heights he had hoped it would. After listening to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club band, Redding decided to try a few different musical directions and started to pen this song with the help of his frequent collaborator, Steve Cropper. Together, they finished this deceptively poignant and even sad song, which speaks to Redding's struggles to find his way in the industry. The song was recorded in 1967, but Redding died in a plane crash one month before it could be released. It became his first number one song and the first posthumous number one track in US music history.
My Girl by The Temptations
Written by Smokey Robinson, the brains behind a countless stream of 60s soul, this song was the first in a long string of hits for The Temptations and is one of the defining songs of Motown and mid-60s American pop music.
Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers
American Idol contestants love to do their part to keep this song alive, but this song would be in the international pop culture consciousness even if the AI hopefuls left it alone. This orchestral proclamation of love has been covered over 500 times - and counting.
Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry
This number one song from 1967 plays more like a William Faulkner or Flannery O'Connor story than a pop tune. The song tells that tale of a family having lunch and receiving the news that an acquaintance, Billie Joe McAllister, has jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge. The plot thickens with a suggestion that one family member might be closer to Billie Joe than she is letting on. The bridge in question is a real bridge and in fact figures prominently in American history as the site of the murder of Emmett Till - a crime often pointed to as the ignition for the Civil Rights Movement.
The Locomotion by Little Eva
Dance songs were popular during the 60s, and The Locomotion is one of the most enduring songs of the subgenre. Little Eva had the good fortune to be a babysitter for songwriting team Gerry Goffin and Carole King (who of course would go on to have her own successful career as an artist). The pair wrote this song for Little Eva, basing it on a dance she made up to do with their children.
Subterranean Homesick Blues by Bob Dylan
The lyrics for this 1967 track were pure revolution, but the music was pure 50s inspired rock, making it unique amongst the protest music of the decade, which tended to lean heavily towards folk. The song is a wild ride through 60s politics and pop culture, referencing everything from recreational codeine use to the practice of using fire hoses to beat back protesters. The song also has one of the first - and still most recognizable - music videos (which later inspired the video for INXS's Mediate).
Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys
Good Vibrations isn't on The Beach Boys' orchestral pop masterpiece Pet Sounds, but it should come as no surprise that it comes from the same sessions. The song was originally released as a standalone single - it later showed up on Smiley Smile - and is more musically akin to a piece of classical music than a pop song. Brian Wilson considers it one of his greatest masterpieces, and few disagree.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand by The Beatles
How do you pick one Beatles song? This is one is one of their first hits and shows off the Fab Four doing what they do best - delivering simple pop songs better than anyone else can.
What track would make your list of the greatest oldies songs? Leave a comment and share your picks!