The year 1963 was one of the best ones for surf rock music, the California Sound, and retooling older works into big pop hits. In this article, we’ll take a look at Billboard’s year-end rankings to determine the 35 best songs to come out in 1963.
1. Surfin’ U.S.A. – The Beach Boys
Surfin’ U.S.A. is actually a rewritten version of Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen, with completely new lyrics laid over the same tune. It served as the opening title track of The Beach Boys’ 1963 album and was almost emblematic of the California Sound we know today. It was also the biggest hit of the year in 1963, launching them even further into stardom and cementing their place as one of the most iconic groups of all time.
While it peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and Cash Box Top 100, the track ended up being the best-selling single of the year and would eventually be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.
2. The End of the World – Skeeter Davis
The End Of The World was written by Arthur Kent and Sylvia Davis for Skeeter Davis, and her recording of the song was again one of the biggest hits of the year in 1963. Likening the climactic end of a relationship to a literal apocalypse of the heart, the track quickly rose on the US charts to peak at number two on the Hot 100. It then went on to become a top-five hit on other US charts, including the Easy Listening, R&B, and Hot Country Singles rankings.
3. Rhythm of the Rain – The Cascades
Rhythm Of The Rain was performed by The Cascades and was originally released at the end of 1962. The song became an international hit, rising to number three on the Hot 100, spending two weeks on top of the Easy Listening chart, and peaking within the top five in the UK, Canada, and Australia. Their original recording of the track was the one used in the 1979 film Quadrophenia.
4. He’s So Fine – The Chiffons
He’s So Fine turned out to be a big hit single for several different artists, but the first and most successful version of the track was recorded by The Chiffons. Theirs is still one of the most recognizable oldies songs in existence and was the renowned track in the famous plagiarism case against George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord single. It spent a total of four weeks on top of the Hot 100 in 1963 and would eventually become a top-10 hit for Jodi Miller in 1971 as well.
5. Blue Velvet – Bobby Vinton
Blue Velvet was inspired by a trip to the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond Virginia and was originally written by Bernie Wayne in the 50s. The first version of the song came from Tony Bennet who scored a top-20 hit with it. Among the other tracks on this list, this one may be the most recorded single, but it was Bobby Vinto who found the most success with it. In 1963, his version of the song rose to the top of the Hot 100 and Cash Box Top 100 charts.
6. Hey Paula – Paul & Paula
Hey Paula was a pop standard of the 60s and one of the most successful love songs of the era. By February of 1963, it had risen to the pinnacle of the Hot 100 and R&B Singles charts. The original writer of the track, Ray Hildebrand, based the lyrics on himself and the daughter of the owner of the boarding house where he lived.
7. Fingertips – Stevie Wonder
Fingertips was one of Stevie Wonder’s earlier songs and is still one of his best-known arrangements. While the lyrics of the track are mostly improvised, the instrumentals were designed to showcase his talents on both the harmonica and bongos. It was released in 1963 as a two-part single, with the second serving as the encore of the song on the B-side of the tape. It eventually reached the top of the Pop Singles and R&B Singles charts.
8. Can’t Get Used to Losing You – Andy Williams
Andy Williams was the artist who first popularized Can’t Get Used To Losing You back in 1963. His original version peaked at number two on both the US Billboard Hot 100 and the UK Singles Chart that year. The Beat would later cover the song in a reggae arrangement that rose to number three on the UK Singles Chart two decades later.
9. My Boyfriend’s Back – The Angels
The Angels’ version of My Boyfriend’s Back was originally meant as a demo tape for The Shirelles but ended up being the biggest hit The Angels would release. The single spent three weeks on top of the Hot 100 and peaked at number two on the R&B chart. Numerous covers would be released over the years, including two by rival girl groups The Chiffons and Martha Reeves & The Vandellas the same year the original came out.
10. Sukiyaki – Kyu Sakamoto
Sukiyaki was first released in Japan in 1961, but it took until 1963 for it to become a major hit in Western markets. It of course rose to the top of the Hot 100 and was an international mega-hit that topped the charts in numerous other countries. When all was said and done, it sold over 13 million copies and became one of the best-selling singles of all time.
11. So Much in Love – The Tymes
The Tymes’ original version of So Much In Love is regarded as one of the most fondly remembered soul singles of all time. It became their first hit single, rising to the top of the Hot 100 and spending one week there while peaking at number four on the R&B Singles chart. It was also one of the few songs of the era to have a music video produced for the single.
12. Puff, the Magic Dragon – Peter, Paul & Mary
Puff, The Magic Dragon is a song steeped in history, interesting stories, and a bit of controversy. You can read all of that in my article explaining the meanings behind the track though. But in this article, we’ll just look at how big a hit it was for Peter, Paul & Mary. The song was a charming folk tune that reached number two on the Hot 100 and Cash Box Top 100 charts while also taking the top spot on the Billboard Middle-Road Singles chart.
13. Blowin’ in the Wind – Peter, Paul & Mary
Blowin’ In The Wind was written and first recorded by Bob Dylan. It remains one of the most enticing protest songs of all time and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and included on several iterations of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. Peter, Paul & Mary recorded the most commercially successful version of the track in 1963, with it rising to number two on the Hot 100 and number 13 on the UK Singles Chart en route to earning the trio two Grammy Awards.,
14. Wipe Out – The Surfaris
Wipe Out is another one of the best early surf rock singles, and The Surfaris were the first group to record and find success with it. It was their first issue on independent labels and would go on to be used in numerous other forms of media and cover versions. Their version rose to number two on the US Hot 100 and number five on both the Cash Box Top 100 and UK Singles Chart.
15. I Love You Because – Al Martino
I Love You Because became a hit single for quite a few artists, with recordings coming from the likes of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Al Martino’s version of the song was one of the most successful versions commercially, rising to number three on the Hot 100 and taking the top spot on the Adult Contemporary chart for two weeks.
16. Wild Weekend – The Rebels
Wild Weekend was another instrumental song that a lot of artists released versions of over the years. The most notable one came from The Rebels who used it as the title track of their 1962 album. That version rose to number eight on the US Hot 100 and number 28 on the R&B chart, a ranking good enough to secure its place as one of the best-selling singles of the year.
17. You’re the Reason I’m Living – Bobby Darin
You’re The Reason I’m Living was the title track of Bobby Darin’s 1963 album of the same name. It spent two weeks at number three on the US Hot 100 and rose as high as number nine on the R&B chart. Elvis Presley would record a live version of the song for his 1975 Live In Las Vegas release.
18. Walk Like a Man – The Four Seasons
Walk Like A Man became The Four Season’s third overall number-one single and spent three weeks in total on top of the Hot 100 in 1963. It also peaked at number three on the R&B chart and inspired quite a few cover versions to come out shortly afterward. While you may not have heard the original back then, the song was featured in several films like Mrs. Doubtfire in 1993 and Sleepers in 1996.
19. Mockingbird – Inez and Charlie Foxx
Mockingbird was a song based on the famous lullaby Hush, Little Baby that we all know and love. The original recording of the track was credited to Inez & Charlie Foxx and is mostly considered a novelty song. In 1963, their version reached number seven on the Hot 100, number two on the R&B chart, and a 1969 reissue would reach number 33 on the UK Singles Chart.
20. I Will Follow Him – Little Peggy March
I Will Follow Him originated as an instrumental arrangement by Franck Pourcel in 1961 titled Chariot. Little Peggy March would be the one to record the most successful version of the song, adding English lyrics to it in 1963. Her version spent 14 weeks on the Hot 100 and peaked at number one, a spot it held onto for three weeks. At the time, she was 15 years old, which made her the youngest female artist to have a US number-one single.
21. Pipeline – The Chantays
Pipeline was another great record that capitalized on the surf rock craze of the year. The Chantays produced the best version of the track and integrated a distinctive sound that was mixed differently than most of the other rock songs of the day. It ended up reaching number four on the Hot 100 and number 16 on the UK Singles Chart.
22. Surf City – Jan & Dean
Surf City was the very first surf rock song to become a number-one hit in the US, and it’s all about a fictional surf spot. Initially, Jan & Dean wanted to record Surfin U.S.A., but that song had already been given to The Beach Boys. The track topped the Hot 100 and made it to number three on the R&B chart.
23. It’s My Party – Lesley Gore
It’s My Party is another one of the iconic songs to be released in 1963 and be almost ubiquitously known in the modern day. It served as the lead single for Lesley Gore’s debut album and topped the Hot 100, R&B, and Cash Box Top 100 charts.
24. Blame It on the Bossa Nova – Eydie Gormé
Blame It On The Bossa Nova was Eydie Gormé’s biggest hit in the US. It rose to number seven on the Hot 100 in 1963, which was incredible since she purposely tried to give a poor performance during recording to avoid releasing it as a single.
25. You Can’t Sit Down – The Dovells
The Dovells’ You Can’t Sit Down was originally recorded in 1959 by The Bim Bam Boos. Their later version reached number three on the Hot 100 and number 10 on the R&B chart in 1963.
26. Heat Wave – Martha Reeves & the Vandellas
Martha Reeves & The Vandellas’ version of Heat Wave was a huge R&B hit in the US. It spent four weeks on top of that chart and rose as high as number four on the US Billboard Hot 100.
27. Denise – Randy & the Rainbows
Denise started out as a big pop hit that was released by the doo-wop group Randy & The Rainbows. Their 1963 version of the song peaked at number 10 on the Hot 100 and number 18 on the R&B chart. A later version from Blondie reached number two on the UK Singles Chart as part of the new wave movement.
28. Walk Right In – The Rooftop Singers
Walk Right In was originally recorded as early as 1929 by Cannon’s Jug Stompers. Eventually, the song fell to The Rooftop Singers, who retooled the track and turned it into a hit during the 60s. Their 1963 version of the song reached the top of the pop charts in the US and broke into the top 10 of the UK Singles Chart.
29. If You Wanna Be Happy – Jimmy Soul
Jimmy Soul’s rendition of the calypso single If You Wanna Be Happy brought Caribbean influences to the mainstream music world. In 1963, the song ended up breaking into the top 30 of the year-end charts.
30. If I Had a Hammer – Trini Lopez
Pete Seeger and Lee Hays were the original writers of If I Had A Hammer, one of the most iconic protest songs of all time, and were inspired to compose it during the Progressive movement of the late 40s. Trini Lopez recorded a version of the track in 1963 that ended up reaching number three on the Hot 100 a year after Peter, Paul & Mary’s version broke into the top 10.
31. Easier Said Than Done – The Essex
Easier Said Than Done was a number-one hit in the US in 1963. All the members of The Essex were active-duty members of the US Marine Corps, and their recording of the short song topped all of the US charts it was eligible for.
32. Ruby Baby – Dion
Numerous artists have covered Ruby Baby over the years since The Drifters recorded the original version of it in 1956. One of the most notable versions came from Dion, ranking at number two on the Hot 100 and number five on the R&B chart.
33. Our Day Will Come – Ruby & the Romantics
Ruby & The Romantics found an incredible hit pop song with Our Day Will Come. After releasing it as a single in December of 1962, the track climbed all the way to the top of the Hot 100 the following year.
34. Hello Stranger – Barbara Lewis
Hello Stranger was one of the most successful crossover singles of the year. It spent two weeks on top of the R&B chart before crossing over to the pop rankings and peaking at number three on that chart.
35. Be My Baby – The Ronettes
Be My Baby remains the biggest hit The Ronettes recorded. It rose as high as number two on the US Billboard Hot 100 and broke into the top five of the UK Singles Chart by peaking at number four on that listing.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.