There’s something about the sound of a guitar that just screams “1960s”. Maybe that’s the way they’ve been used in so many classic rock songs, or maybe that’s the fact that they’re just so darn cool. Anyway, if you’re looking for some great guitar-driven tunes from the 1960s, look no further than this list of songs.
We have got everything, from simple strumming patterns for beginners to complex solos for more advanced players, so no matter what your skill level, here you will surely find something you will like to play. And if you’re not sure how to play some of the chords, don’t worry – we’ve included lessons for each song too.
So whether you’re looking to play an acoustic guitar around the campfire or shredding on electric, these are the songs of the sixties you need in your repertoire. Just grab your guitar and get ready to rock with some of the coolest songs of the 1960s.
Best Guitar Songs from the 1960s
1. Paint It, Black by The Rolling Stones (Aftermath, 1966)
Stones’ first song written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, “Paint It, Black” was also the band’s third US number one single.
Featuring a distinctive sitar riff courtesy of Brian Jones, the song is a dark and brooding ode to despair, with Jagger/Richards’ collaborative lyrics capturing perfectly the sense of hopelessness.
It’s also a great showcase for Richards’ bolero-style acoustic outro with Wyman’s heavy bass and Watts’ low-pitch drum playing giving the song a unique sound.
2. Hey Jude by The Beatles (Hey Jude, 1968)
“Hey Jude” is one of the Beatles’ most iconic songs, written by Paul McCartney, and is also one of their most popular guitar tunes. With a simple but effective chord progression, the track is perfect for intermediate-level players to learn, and it sounds great on both acoustic and electric guitar.
It’s also a great sing-along song, which is probably why it’s been so popular over the years.
3. California Dreamin’ by The Mamas & the Papas (California Dreamin’, 1965)
This guitar-driven song by The Mamas & the Papas is one of those 60s classic songs that seems to have existed forever. It’s been covered by everyone from the band Beach Boys, America to artists like Jose Feliciano, but it’s the popular version that always stands out as the best.
The guitar part is relatively simple with the use of one barre chord, but it’s the perfect accompaniment to dreamy lyrics about longing for sunny California. Once you have the guitar part down, try to add some of the vocal harmony parts – they are a little more delicate but fantastically sounded when they are done right.
4. Stand by Me by Ben E. King (Single, 1961)
You might not think of guitar when you hear this song, but the simple strumming pattern is the key to your success. And once you know how to play it, you can use it as a template for all sorts of other songs in similar styles.
The song used four chords and a chord progression of I-vi-IV-V, also known as the common progression or 50s progression, which became popular in the doo-wop and rock songs of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
5. Let’s Twist Again by Chubby Checker (Let’s Twist Again, 1961)
An easy, fun song to play on guitar, Let’s Twist Again is a classic party tune that’s sure to get everyone moving. And if you’re looking for a way to show off your guitar skills, try adding in some of the Chubby Checker’s signature “twists” during the solo.
To play this four-chord song, you’ll need to know the following chords: A, D, Bm, G.
6. House of The Rising Sun by The Animals (The Animals, 1964)
You know a song is good when it can be covered successfully by both Bob Dylan and Metallica, and that’s exactly the case with House of The Rising Sun. This traditional folk tune was first popularized by The Animals in 1964 and since then has been covered by artists across all genres.
Many assume that the song’s inspiration comes from a New Orleans brothel or gambling hall or jailhouse. Anyway, it’s a great song to play on guitar, with a simple but catchy riff that everyone will recognize.
7. All Along The Watchtower by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Electric Ladyland, 1968)
All Along The Watchtower was written and originally performed by Bob Dylan in 1967, but it was Hendrix’s 1968 cover that made the song a classic. Not only did Hendrix completely reinterpret the song with his signature blues-rock sound, but he also created one of the most iconic guitar solos of all time.
With its driving bass line and distinctive opening riff (one of the best guitar riffs of the 60s), this song is a must-learn for any guitar player. And if you’re feeling ambitious, try tackling Hendrix’s solo – it’s one of the most iconic solos in rock history.
8. Classical Gas by Mason Williams (The Mason Williams Phonograph Record, 1968)
This is one of those popular instrumental guitar pieces that, it’s hard to believe, were written for classical guitar. Mason Williams’ performance of Classical Gas on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour Show in 1968 helped to launch the song into the stratosphere, and it’s been a mainstay of guitar players’ repertoires ever since.
The song became a surprise hit when it was released as a single, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Then the following year, Williams won three Grammy Awards for the song, including Best Instrumental Composition.
9. While My Guitar Gently Weeps by The Beatles (The Beatles, 1968)
Written by George Harrison, this beautiful ballad features one of the most moving solos in the entire Beatles history, courtesy of Eric Clapton. The song is widely regarded as one of Harrison’s most popular songs, with many cover versions recorded by other artists.
The song’s lyrics are often interpreted as about the pain of loss and the struggles of life. Despite the somber tone of the song, there is also a sense of hope and resilience that comes through in the final verse.
10. Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison (Blowin’ Your Mind!, 1967)
Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl is a classic song that anyone who knows how to play the guitar will probably learn at some point. And it’s easy to see why – the chord progressions are simple and catchy, you don’t have to use barre chords and the melody is incredibly singable.
The guitar chords are relatively simple, and the song can be played with only a few basic open chords. The guitar part is rhythmically complex, and it can be challenging to keep up with the speed of the song.
As a result, many guitarists find that this is a great song to practice their timing and rhythm.
11. The Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel (Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., 1964)
If you’re looking for easy guitar songs from the ’60s, this is a great one. The original version of The Sound of Silence was actually quite different from what we all know and love today – it was released as an acoustic folk tune, where Garfunkel sings the melody and Simon sings the harmony part with guitar accompaniment.
But after the failure of their first album, the producer of the song remixed the song with an electric band, which gave the classic sound of the 1960s that we all know and love. This version features some great guitar work from Al Gorgoni, including a beautiful solo towards the end of the song.
12. Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival (Green River, 1969)
This hit song from Creedence Clearwater Revival is one of the easy songs from the 1960s. It has an easy chord progression and is perfect for beginners to learn. An absolute beginner can play this song only by playing simple chords like D-A-G.
The lyrics speak of a bad omen that is coming, and the song has a very catchy hook. In general, “Bad Moon Rising” is a perfect song for anyone who wants to learn how to play guitar or wants to sing along to a catchy tune.
13. Oh, Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison (Oh! Pretty Woman, 1964)
“Oh, Pretty Woman” is a classic pop rock song by Roy Orbison and the song title was inspired by Orbison’s wife. The lyrics tell the story of a man who is enamored with a pretty woman, and he implores her to stay with him.
The song features a nice riff based on E7 arpeggio and includes interesting key changes from key A to key C. Although the song was covered by numerous artists, including Van Halen and Bruce Springsteen, the original version of Orbison remains the most popular.
14. As Tears Go By by Rolling Stones (Shine a Light, 1965)
“As Tears Go By” was written jointly by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and their band manager Andrew Loog Oldham for an English singer, Marianne Faithfull. Although it’s a much more mellow and acoustic-based tune, that doesn’t mean it’s any less impressive though – just listen closely to those chord changes!
This is a touching ballad that talks about the pain of growing up and finding your way into the world. The classic Rolling Stones song is filled with emotions of sadness, regret and longing, but the song has stood the test of time.
15. Space Oddity by David Bowie (David Bowie, 1969)
It’s no wonder that Space Oddity is often cited as one of Bowie’s best songs – it’s simply out of this world. This acoustic guitar song is certainly complex and guitar chords alone are enough to give any beginner a headache.
Bowie’s unique vocal performance is also a key element of the appeal of Space Oddity. He conveys a sense of wonder and imagination that fits perfectly with the lyrics of the song on the space theme. In short, Space Oddity is a timeless classic that deserves its place in the annals of rock history.
16. The Thrill Is Gone by B.B. King (Single, 1969)
“The Thrill Is Gone” is a classic 12-bar blues song written by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell in 1951. B.B. King recorded it in 1969 and it became one of his signature tunes. This blues standard is based on a minor blues progression and uses open chords throughout.
The song has a simple and catchy melody that keeps the listener hooked. It is a classic example of the blues genre and has been covered over the years by many artists.
17. I Say A Little Prayer by Aretha Franklin (Aretha Now, 1968)
“I Say A Little Prayer” is a classic song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The song was originally recorded by Dionne Warwick in 1967, but the best-known version is Aretha Franklin’s 1968 cover.
The song might be better known as a pop song, but the guitar arrangement is the pure soul of the 1960s. The song would be hard for a beginner to master, as it includes some difficult chords like the minor seventh, dominant seventh and even dominant seventh flat ninth chord.
18. Born To Be Wild by Steppenwolf (Steppenwolf The Second, 1969)
This is the song that put Steppenwolf on the map, and it’s easy to see why. The song is attributed to the popularization of the term “heavy metal”, which was originally used to designate a motorcycle.
The heavy guitar riff will make your head nod from the very first note, and it does not let go. Whether you’re revving up your engine or simply looking to let loose, the song is the perfect anthem for road trips or other activities that require an adrenaline rush.
19. (Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding (The Dock Of The Bay, 1968)
The song is one of Redding’s most well-known and was recorded a few days before his untimely death in a plane crash. It is a timeless tribute to the power of music to transport us to another place and time.
Despite its simple lyrics and melody, (Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay is a complex and emotive song that captures the feeling of longing and nostalgia. You need to know some Barre chords to play this song, especially the F chord.
20. Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond (Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show, 1969)
An all-time classic that’s sure to get everyone singing along, Sweet Caroline is a great acoustic guitar song for beginners to learn because it can be played by using only three chords – E, A, and D.
Sweet Caroline is a perfect example of how a simple guitar part can exert a huge influence on a song. So even if you’re starting, don’t be afraid to give it a go – you might be surprised by how good it sounds.
In conclusion, the 1960s was a crucial time for rock guitar with classic songs and legendary musicians such as Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. Playing guitar has reached new heights, becoming an integral part of the popular music scene. The lasting effect of these songs has been reflected in their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, cementing the 60s as a defining period for rock guitar.
About the Author
Fabian, a Brazilian guitarist now based in Dublin, Ireland, has passionately played the electric guitar since 2003. As a luthier and product specialist, he boasts nearly two decades of collaboration with top musical instrument brands. Fabian is a sought-after expert, sharing his extensive knowledge with fellow guitar enthusiasts.