The Soundtrack of Summer 1963

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You may have to drive a few miles these days to find a station wagon with a surfboard tied to the roof. Drive-in movies have become scarce, computers are no longer the size of a bus, and space travel is soon going to become commonplace (for anyone with enough collateral to buy a ticket, that is).

A lot may have changed in the last fifty years, but at least one rule of American popular culture has stayed the same: a hot summer needs a hot soundtrack. Thanks to the wonders of the internet and vinyl collectors, the tunes that were at the top of the charts in June, July, and August of 1963 are still around to heat up the night.

The hits of fifty years ago that were as swingin’ then as “Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky” are now include soulful ballads, irresistible rock, and an Australian head-scratcher about kangaroos and dying stockmen. They emerged from studios in Detroit and California against a backdrop of historic change both in the United States and abroad—the American Civil Rights movement was at its height, with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” and protests in Birmingham, Alabama, while in Vietnam U.S. involvement was beginning to increase as internal conflict between Buddhist protestors and Communist troops escalated. The artists on this list represent various regions and cultures of the time. Black, white, urban, coastal, and rural, they appeared on Ed Sullivan and American Bandstand, and even played on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for King’s March on Washington. Their listeners were even more diverse, and many are still around to remember what a year it must have been back when a transistor radio cost about three dollars.

Summer is almost over for 2013, but these thirty top picks are here to stay—so strap your surfboard to the roof, roll down the car windows, and hop in for a ride to a generation past.