89 Essential Songs from The Summer of Love: A 50th Anniversary Playlist

Image by Bryan Costales, via Wikimedia Commons

The Summer of Love was not just a season of great music and the zenith of the flower child, but the culmination of a movement that started back on a chillier Bay Area day, on January 14, 1967. That was the month of the Human Be-In, and what must have looked like a full on invasion of the counterculture into Golden Gate Park. The backdrop of this outpouring of good vibrations was anything but loving: Vietnam, inner city riots, Civil Rights, and a huge generation gap. The crowd size was estimated at 100,000, and everybody there suddenly realized they weren’t alone. They were a force.

Joel Selvin, interviewed by Michael Krasny for this KQED segment on the Summer of Love (listen here), says that the real Summer of Love for San Franciscans at least, happened in 1966, when it was a local secret. One year later, the hippie movement had become mainstream. And that's when every band on both sides of the Atlantic had turned on to the zeitgeist, and the gates of psychedelic music opened up.




Today, we have a playlist of 89 songs to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that historic summer. (Download Spotify's free software here, if you need it.) If you are coming to this as a music fan, but not somebody who lived through that era, you might think you know all the songs from that period, having had them hammered into your brain over the years from the ubiquitous hits of classic rock radio, and nostalgic movies.

There are of course the stone cold classics from 1967, with not one but two Beatles releases, including the iconic Sgt. Pepper album; the best two songs from Jefferson Airplane; Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”; the Who’s best psychedelic song “I Can See for Miles”; Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?” and “Hey Joe”; the Rolling Stones' move into chamber pop with “Ruby Tuesday” and their own trippy “She’s a Rainbow” and “We Love You”—the last time they ever felt lovey dovey about anything; and the first releases by the Doors.

Soul and R’n’B was also at the height of its mid-60s power, with Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” James Brown’s “Cold Sweat,” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, and Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man” infecting the charts.

“We were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave,” is how Hunter S. Thompson famously put it in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and this playlist might just convince you of that considering how music seemed to fracture so soon after—even the Beatles would be delivering that strange and sometimes frightening trip of a White Album a year later. Vietnam would continue to drag on, and the decade’s metaphorical end at Altamont was looming on the horizon, not that many could see it. (By the way, Joel Selvin just wrote a very good book on that dark, decade-ending concert.)

Enjoy the playlist and argue over what’s missing in the comments. (No “Waterloo Sunset”? “I Second That Emotion”? “Gloria”? Hmmph!)

Related Content:

Rare Footage of the “Human Be-In,” the Landmark Counter-Culture Event Held in Golden Gate Park, 1967

Jimi Hendrix Opens for The Monkees on a 1967 Tour; Then After 8 Shows, Flips Off the Crowd and Quits

Paul McCartney Admits to Dropping Acid in a Scrappy Interview with a Prying Reporter (June, 1967)

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.


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  • Greg munford says:

    What a great time it was, what a great weekend in Monterey. Proud to be a small part of it.: Singer of #15.

  • Greg Munford says:

    What a great tie it was, what a great weekend in Monterey. Proud to be a small part of it.
    Singer of #15

  • Steve says:

    You missed Bob Dylan! How could you?

  • ruari says:

    The Move I can hear the grass grow
    Pink Floyd See Emily Play
    The Kinks Waterloo Sunset
    Traffic Hole in my shoe
    The Small Faces Itchycoo Park

  • Henry says:

    Hey buddy take the velvet underground off this Lou reed and company wanted nothing to do with hippie shenanigans and hated most of the bands on this list

  • Stephen says:

    As far as the Beatles…Sgt Pepper album was released during the Summer of Love. Magical Mystery Tour album wasn’t released until November 1967.

  • Gill says:

    Is it me or does San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) appear twice?

  • Gill says:

    Gimme Some Lovin’ shows up twice as well.

  • Zorro Astriasm says:

    Sort of missed all the great Bay Area Groups – Santana, Moby Grape, Quicksilver, Big Brother, The Dead, The Sons…. Damn! And about 20 great garage bands from the east bay and Marin Co. Shame on you!

  • Anne says:

    You’ve got the wrong version of “Everlasting Love” in the playlist. You want Robert Knight. Carlton’s version is from 1974.

  • Brian says:

    No Stooges?! Pfft.

  • John says:

    Reed,Warhol and others in that scene were not part of the psychedelic breakthrough that was happening. They were junkies.

  • john says:

    Unforgivable!

  • john says:

    And Country Joe and the Fish.

  • john says:

    No Country Joe and the Fish? Unforgivable!

  • mike says:

    if you can remember it, you probably weren’t there. however, there is one glaring omission: the youngbloods, get together.

  • Karen says:

    What’s missing is the Monkees “For Pete’s Sake” from their album Headquarters. Unfortunately it wasn’t released as a single (should have been) so not as well known. But nothing could be more Summer of Love than its lyrics.

    Love is understanding
    Don’t you know that this is true?
    Love is understanding
    It’s in everything we do
    In this generation (in this generation)
    In this lovin’ time (in this lovin’ time)
    In this generation (in this generation)
    We will make the world shine
    We were born to love one another
    This is something we all need
    We were born to love one another
    We must be what we’re goin’ to be
    And what we have to be is free
    In this generation
    In this lovin’ time
    In this generation
    We will make the world shine
    We were born to love one another
    This is something we all need
    We were born to love one another
    We must be what we’re goin’ to be
    And what we have to be is free
    Love is understanding, we gotta be free (in this generation)
    Love is understanding, we gotta be free (in this generation)
    In this generation
    Love is understanding, we gotta be free (in this generation)
    We gotta be free (in this generation)
    We gotta be free (in this generation)
    We gotta be free (in this generation)

  • Karen says:

    I just learned the interesting history of that song! You not being with SAC at the time you recorded the vocals, Ed King being involved, you being 16, etc. How cool that must’ve all seemed at the time :)

  • john says:

    MMT album was a collection of singles released earlier in the year and the MMT EP which apparently was put on an album instead in the US

  • Dan says:

    This list certainly takes some liberties with the time frame. I expected to see songs that were out during the Summer of Love. While the majority are correct, this list has a number of songs from 1965, 1966, 1968 – it’s all over the place.

  • Pier Paolo says:

    No Beach Boys,no Good Vibrations,Heroes And Villains,etc et all the Beach Boys psychedelic era classics,including Smiley Simile?!

  • S. Marsh says:

    Sorry. Like Dan said the list is not just 1969
    songs and since A Day in the Life isn’t
    Ranked no. 1 the ranker doesn’t really
    know good music.

  • S. Marsh says:

    1967 I meant.

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