17 Greatest Hippie Songs of the 1960’s and 1970’s

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez during Civil Rights March on Washington D.C., 1963
Bob Dylan and Joan Baez during Civil Rights March on Washington D.C., 1963 | Source

There is nothing so stable as change.

— Bob Dylan

Music is inextricably woven into the spirit of human nature, we can often identify a song with only a few notes, and with those notes, find ourselves taken back in time, swept away by a memory and feelings. Music has the power to take us places through our senses. The music of the 60’s and 70’s offers an excellent example of this kind of experience. Music of this period represents a unique connection between music and history. We are again and again drawn to this unique music for both its quality and reflection of one of the most profound social changes in our history. Other than the Civil War and the Great Depression, it is difficult to recall any other period when such great forces were at work. During just over a decade, the United States was confronted with two history altering changes: The Vietnam War and the rise of the civil rights movement. It was a time in which young people began to examine, and in many cases, reject life as their parents and grandparents had known. From hair styles, to free love, to the music itself, everywhere could be seen the signs of social change and a kind of exhilaration which represented a new kind of freedom from authority itself.

It seems that music has always been a basic part of human life; it is amazing to think that archaeologists have discovered instruments made of bone, dating back to between 35,000 to 40,000 years ago. Music not only goes way back in human history, but can remind us of our own past experiences. Looking back at the music of any period in history offers us a sense of life as it was and a peak into that slice of time. The music of the 1960’s and 1970’s offers not only a kind of view with regards to music, but also a unique political current that was punctuated and driven by the music.

The music worked to speak as the voice of anti war protests and the civil rights movement, inviting people to come together through the lyrics and energy of a given song. Bob Dylan wrote many of the greatest songs in these years, and interestingly, later denied that his intention was to write protest songs. Hippies of the time paid little heed to Dylan’s remarks and deemed some of these songs not only protest songs, but anthems to the 'movement'. The truth is that music, even music which appears to be a protest written in order to give voice to some cause, in the end, is interpreted by the individual based on how it affects them personally. What may be a protest song to one person, is a haunting and beautiful ballad to another. No matter how a song was interpreted, there is no denying that the music of the 60's provided an unstoppabble momentum, a kind of Pied Piper of Hamelin effect, calling on the people to follow.

Bob Dylan and The Band touring in Chicago, 1974
Bob Dylan and The Band touring in Chicago, 1974 | Source

Today, these songs continue to work magic in the hearts of listeners looking for music with grit, honesty, and soul. Music that lacked the auto tune sound that has regrettably and destructively become so prevalent in current popular music.

Thanks to radio, television shows, soundtracks, an endless number of movies, and of course being readily available for download, these songs continue to recreate the mood of the 60’s and 70’s. Simply put, these songs, their messages, carry on as they were meant to, reminding us of the times in which they were born and that they have a connection to a time and truth that should not be forgotten.

Blowin in the Wind – Bob Dylan

“Blowin in the Wind” is considered one of the greatest songs of all by Rolling Stone Magazine. This song, written and sung by the poetical, Bob Dylan, interestingly gained popularity through a cover version by Peter, Paul and Mary in 1963 and has been covered by many other artists as well, and in particular, Stevie Wonder, the year before, in 1962. Many consider this song the quintessential protest song of the time, while Bob Dylan himself stated "This here ain't no protest song or anything like that, 'cause I don't write no protest songs." The ambiguous answer within the lyrics of this song reveals that “the answers are blowin in the wind.”

Lyrics to watch for:

How many years must a mountain exist

Before it is washed to the sea?

How many years can some people exist

Before they're allowed to be free?

Blowin in the Wind - Stevie Wonder

Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything there is a Season) - The Byrds

Written by folk singer and activist Pete Seeger, the lyrics are a nearly exact adaption from the Book of Ecclesiastes. In a moment of exasperation over his inability to write a song, he turned to the bible, in jest and penned down this widely recognizable favorite. This 1965 international hit has been covered many times by artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Dolly Parton and Tori Amos, to name a few.

Lyrics to watch for:

A time of love, a time of hate

A time of war, a time of peace

A time you may embrace

A time to refrain from embracing

Imagine – John Lennon

A soft gentle sounding song with a strong revolutionary intent, this was a favorite hippie anthem during the 60’s and 70's and is still very popular today both in the original version and with an endless number of covers. John Lennon wrote the profound and evocative lyrics accompanied by one of those rare tunes that seem to stay with us forever. The song was written in 1971. Yoko Ono, when interviewed about it, said she watched John compose the entire song, lyrics and all, while seated at a grand piano, and did it all in one session. Music has to power to facilitate change and this song’s continued popularity is not only a testament the it's enduring beauty, but that even today, the need for us to 'Imagine' is still there.

Rolling Stone magazine praised “Imagine” as John Lennon’s “greatest musical gift to the world.”

Lyrics to watch for:

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world...

Love the One You're With – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

Stephen Stills wrote this song while missing his girlfriend who was far away at the time, though the broader, underlying message within the lyrics touches on finding peace in your life and accepting those things that you cannot change.

Lyrics to watch for:

Well there's a rose in a fisted glove

And the eagle flies with the dove

And if you can't be with the one you love, honey

Love the one you're with

The Sounds of Silence – Simon and Garfunkel

Songwriter Paul Simon stated “Really the key to 'The Sounds of Silence' is the simplicity of the melody and the words, which are [about] youthful alienation.” Unlike some other 1960’s hits on this list, this song has not been successfully covered by other artists. Although written in 1964, it's obvious that the meaning of “The Sound of Silence” remains as relevant today as it was in the 1960’s.

Lyrics to watch for:

Hear my words that I might teach you.

Take my arms that I might reach you.

But my words like silent raindrops fell

And echoed in the wells of silence

For What It's Worth 1967 - Buffalo Springfield

Written by Stephen Stills in 1966 in response to a law that being introduced in Los Angeles, which would set a curfew for clubs like The Whiskey A-Go-Go, where Stills and Buffalo Springfield were performing (featuring David Crosby and Neil Young, the Buffalo Springfield were an early incarnation of Crosby, Still, Nash and Young). Riots broke out between protesters and the police outside the club, which is what Stills wrote about. Historically though, most people believed that this song was a response to the anti war movement, and specifically, the shooting, by the National Guard, of students at Kent State, although that didn't happen until 1970, more than 3 years later.

Lyrics to watch for:

There's battle lines being drawn

Nobody's right if everybody's wrong

Young people speaking' their minds

Getting so much resistance from behind

Let it Be – The Beatles

“Let it Be” is a ballad that directs the listener to be inwardly peaceful by accepting things ‘as they are’. Paul McCartney mother, whose name was Mary, passed away when he was 14, wrote this song based on a dream he had in which his mother shared this wisdom with him. Many people believe that the ‘mother Mary’ in the song has a biblical connotation. “Let It Be" is widely considered to be one of the greatest popular ballads of all time.

Lyrics to watch for:

And when all the brokenhearted people

Living in the world agree

There will be an answer, let it be

California Dreamin - The Mamas and the Papas

Written as a kind of ode to the hippie, and alternative lifestyle movement springing up in Los Angeles and San Francisco, this song, written by John Phillips, a prolific songwriter, who wrote nearly all their songs, can also be interpreted as longing to be somewhere else, somewhere warmer, or metaphorically about seeking something better in terms of a new moral and cultural paradigm.

Lyrics to watch for:

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.

I've been for a walk on a winter's day.

I'd be safe and warm if I was in L.A.;

California dreamin' on such a winter's day.

Peace Train – Cat Stevens

Peace Train was considered an anthem of peace for the hippie movement. Referring to the song years later, singer and songwriter Cat Stevens stated “There is a powerful need for people to feel that gust of hope rise up again.”

Lyrics to watch for:

Oh, I've been smilin' lately,

Dreamin' about the world as one

And I believe it could be;

Some day it's going to come

Teach Your Children – Crobsy, Stills, Nash and Young

Children are the future and as parents, educators and role models it is our duty to teach them about the possibility of peace. This song was inspired by an image or a child holding a toy weapon. Songwriter Graham Nash wrote the song to highlight the negative messages that can be given to children about war, either through images or unconscious behavior.

Lyrics to watch for:

And you, of the tender years can't know the fears that your elders grew by,

And so please help them with your youth, they seek the truth before they can die.

If I Had a Hammer – Peter, Paul and Mary

The first big hit by Peter, Paul and Mary, this song was recorded in 1962. It is about the power each individual has to promote change in the area of justice; it is considered a freedom song. The song was written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays in 1949 and has been covered many times by artists and even translated into other languages such as Italian, Bulgarian and Arabic.

Lyrics to watch for:

It's the hammer of justice

It's the bell of freedom

It's a song about love between my brothers and my

sisters

"This Land is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie

Written as a parody to “God Bless America” this song became a protest anthem about the need for equal rights. Guthrie used a ‘borrowed’ tune and added his deceptively simple sounding, yet profound lyrics. Along with the clear message of peace, the song works so well because it is catchy and invites listeners to sing along. Although the song was written way back in 1944, the song experienced a rebirth when Bob Dylan and other artists recorded new versions of the song in the 1960’s.

Lyrics to watch for:

As I went walking I saw a sign there

And on the sign it said "No Trespassing"

But on the other side it didn't say nothing

That side was made for you and me

Both Sides Now – Both Sides Now

Originally written and recorded by Joni Mitchel with a bluesy sound, Judy Collins reinterpreted the song not long after, giving it a Celtic folk sound, which made it a pop hit and Grammy Award winner. This song, which sits at #171 on the billboard top 500 songs of all time, has been continuously covered by many artists since it was written in 1967. This song was even published as a book for children in 1992. “Both Sides, Now” is a reflective journey about expectations, dreams and reality, but in a broader sense the song can be interpreted in many ways.

Lyrics to watch for:

I've looked at love from both sides now

From give and take and still somehow

It's love's illusions I recall

I really don't know love at all

Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles

In referring to “Here Comes the Sun” fellow musician Tom Petty stated that "No piece of music can make you feel better than this. It's such an optimistic song, with that little bit of ache in it that makes the happiness mean even more." The song was written by George Harrison of the Beatles about the joy of spring after a long winter in England.

Lyrics to watch for:

Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter

Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun

And I say it's all right

Time Of the Season – The Zombies

Although failing to gain any commercial success after its release in the U.K. in 1968, this song became a huge hit single in the U.S. in 1969. “Time of the Season,” by the Zombies, has carried on through its use in television and movies to represent the late 1960’s. The song was even used by the New York Mets during their 2006 playoff home games.

Lyrics to watch for:

To take you in the sun to promised lands

To show you every one

It's the time of the season for loving

Break on Through – The Doors

“Break on Through” was the first single released on the debut album of The Doors. The song was not as popular at the time as some of the band’s other songs, but in later years has become one of the band’s most popular and recognized songs. Similar to many other songs on this list, this song is used in movies and even video games. The song’s implied reference to the use of drugs has been an issue of contention.

Lyrics to watch for:

You know the day destroys the night

Night divides the day

Tried to run

Tried to hide

Break on through to the other side

Opening ceremony at Woodstock, 14 August 1969
Opening ceremony at Woodstock, 14 August 1969 | Source

© 2015 Tracy Lynn Conway

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8 comments

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 20 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Wonderful. Thank you for putting this together and presenting it in such a beautiful way. All the songs mean something to me and it was a pleasure thinking about them,


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 20 months ago from USA

Love The one You're With is one good song. I'm no hippie, but I sure can appreciate good songs.


Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

Tracy Lynn Conway 20 months ago from Virginia, USA Author

Eric,

I am glad this collection brought back such good memories for you. Your positive comment means a lot to me. Thank you!

Best, Tracy


Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

Tracy Lynn Conway 20 months ago from Virginia, USA Author

Hi Flourish,

Yes, music is universal, glad you enjoyed it!

Best, Tracy


Danny Cabaniss profile image

Danny Cabaniss 16 months ago from Shawnee, Oklahoma

Beautiful! That's a great list! Thank you so much for putting this together!


Bob Smith 0114 profile image

Bob Smith 0114 8 months ago from Plymouth, MI

This is an interesting group of songs that I would call Utopian Songs of the 1960s and 1970s. My view of hippies is probably less positive than yours. Your songs might be better associated with flower children, who were more hopeful, less self-indulgent versions of hippies.


Boomer Music Man profile image

Boomer Music Man 5 months ago

I love these songs. I am a boomer and these songs have lots of meaning. Thanks for writing about these songs.


Boomer Music Man profile image

Boomer Music Man 4 months ago

Love your songs . It's just a great list of songs.

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