50 Excellent International Pop Songs From the 1960s

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The documentary Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock ‘n’ Roll debuts in theaters today, exploring the country’s rich music history that emerged concurrently with a period of strife. Influenced by Western and European rock and pop during the 1960s, Cambodian musicians combined traditional sounds with modern beats. “But as Cambodian society — young creative musicians in particular — embraced Western culture and flourished under its influence, the rest of the country was rapidly moving to war,” explain the documentarians. “The film is a celebration of the incredible music that came from Cambodia and explores how important it is to Cambodian society both past and present.” Inspired by the unique sounds of Cambodia, we took a trip through the international pop scene of the ‘60s in all its forms — from the American rock-inspired bands that imitated the Beatles to the yé-yé girls of France.

Françoise Hardy — “Tous les garçons et les filles”

This 1962 single from Françoise Hardy’s self-titled debut album, about a young girl pining for love, sold 500,000 copies that year.

Sylvie Vartan — “Est-ce que tu le sais?”

Bulgarian-born yé-yé star Sylvie Vartan found her first hit with this track in 1962 — a cover of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.”

France Gall — “Les sucettes”

French provocateur Serge Gainsbourg wrote this track for yé-yé hit-maker France Gall — although he failed to clue her in to the sexual references (the title translates to “Lollipops”) in the lyrics: “When the candy stick with anise flavor goes down Annie’s throat, she is in heaven.“ A video featuring dancing lollipops (aka giant phalluses) was also released.

Marianne Faithfull — “Summer Nights”

English singer Marianne Faithfull met Andrew Loog Oldham at a party in 1964. The manager and producer of The Rolling Stones helped Faithfull launch her first major release, “As Tears Go By,” written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Oldham. This single came out the following year.

Rita Pavone — “La partita di pallone”

Rita Pavone was a child performer, but got her first big break after winning the Festa degli sonosciuti talent contest and landing a contract with RCA. Her 1963 hit single “La partita di pallone” made her an international star when she was just a teenager. Pavone had a modern, rock swagger that set her apart from the crowd.

Mina — “Il cielo in una stanza”

Italian superstar Mina and her amazing set of lungs dominated the charts of the ’60s. Nicknamed the “Queen of the Screamers” (“urlatori”), Mina combined traditional Italian ballads with a modern sensibility — and her stage persona was just as cutting-edge. As her career blossomed, she shaved her eyebrows, smoked, drank, danced provocatively on stage, and did everything a good Italian girl wasn’t supposed to do. “Il cielo in una stanza” was Mina’s biggest hit of 1960.

Adriano Celentano — “24 mila baci”

The Italian pop icon was influenced by ‘50s American rock and worked for a time as a Jerry Lewis impersonator.

Brunetta — “Baluba Shake”

An Italian beat classic from ’66.

Perpetual Langley — “Surrender”

Born in Belfast, Perpetual Langley’s second release showed a lot of promise, yet the singer remains underrated.

Bonnie St. Claire — “Tame Me, Tiger”

Garage-pop singer Bonnie St. Claire’s 1967 debut solo single has a very addicting, Troggs-esque hook.

Patricia Paay — “Tambourine Girl”

Patricia Paay tried her hand at disco in the ’70s, but in the 1960s she was all pop melodies melded with traditional Dutch folk tunes.

Boudewijn de Groot — “Welterusten, meneer de President”

Dutch pop + rock = Nederbeat. From writer Andrew Khan:

With the Beatles having outgrown their early sound by the mid-60s, it was only a matter of time before the Dutch Nederbeat scene they inspired did the same – turning away from British influences and looking towards the US. For Shocking Blue and the George Baker Selection that meant raw garage rock, for Boudewijn de Groot it was the folk-pop template set by Bob Dylan. The barbed lyrics and controlled anger of Vietnam protest classic Welterusten, Meneer de President skewered Lyndon B Johnson with a surgical precision equal to anything produced on the other side of the Atlantic.

Helen Gamboa — “Bang-shang-a-lang”

This is the title track featured in the 1968 film Bang-shang-a-lang, starring Filipina actress and singer Helen Gamboa.

Ronnie Villar and The Firedons — “Mi Corazon”

Hailing from the Philippines, Ronnie Villar and the Firedons were marketed as the “hottest teenage combo.”

Betina — “Entre los dos”

Barcelona-born Betina gained fame at Eurovision for covering France Gall, but this track was probably her biggest hit.

Sarolta Zalatnay — “Jajj a matek”

Finders Keepers on the Hungarian pop star:

If you were to tear a hundred pages from Pamela Des Barre’s ‘I’m With The Band’, a fistful of anecdotes from ‘The Abba Story’, and the most titillating tales from Marianne Faithfull’s biography and staple them all together you may well find a mutant monograph which is brave enough to hold a flickering candle to the story of Sarolta Zalatnay.

The Quests — “Shanty”

More on famous Singapore band The Quests:

By the mid-1960s, The Quests were one of the most popular bands in Singapore. The band was in great demand for regular stints at dance halls and night clubs like the Golden Venus, stage performances at venues like the Singapore Badminton Hall, and on television programmes such as Dendang Ria and Pop Inn.

Chew Yen with The Stylers — “Follow You”

Chew Yen and The Stylers bring the “meow” in full force.

Conny Froboess — “Zwei kleine Italiener”

Conny started her career in the ’50s, but the success of this Deutsch pop anthem brought her into the ’60s.

Claudine Longet — “L’amour est bleu”

The French singer and actress put a melancholic pop spin on this Paul Mauriat easy listening classic.

Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’66 — “With a Little Help from My Friends”

More on the bossa group Brasil ’66:

Sergio Mendes’ group, Brasil ’66, created some of the best jet set pop ever heard. For much of the last thirty years, Brasil ’66 albums gathered dust in thrift store racks alongside several million copies of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’ Whipped Cream and Other Delights. Then, in the mid-1990s, the lounge music movement and compilations like In Flight Entertainment reminded us what wonderful sounds were locked up in these forgotten records.

Equator Sound Band — “Pole Musa”

American-style pop harmonies from a prominent Kenyan group.

Fadhili William and The Jambo Boys — “Malaika”

A well-known ballad from Kenya, performed by Fadhili William — the first musician in East Africa to perform with an electric guitar.

The Seekers — “I’ll Never Find Another You”

An Australian quartet with a folksy pop sound.

Normie Rowe — “Shakin’ All Over”

A chart climber from young Aussie Normie Rowe, here channeling his inner Elvis.

Angélica María — “Eddy Eddy”

The Mexican teen idol starred in the telenovela Cartas de amor and released a self-titled 1962 album. “Eddy Eddy” was the LP’s hit track.

Massiel — “La, la, la”

The song that won Spain the Eurovision Song Contest in 1968.

Raphael — “Amo”

The Guardian writes of pioneering Spanish musician Raphael:

His plaintive balladry might have paved the way for nine tenths of the most boring music Spain would produce over the course of the next 50 years but Raphael deserves to be remembered as much more than a precursor to snooze-inducing crooners such as Julio Iglesias and Alejandro Sanz. Songs such as 1966’s Amo, on which his tremulous voice is paired with understated organ and guitar, updated traditional folk themes with a crispness that his saccharine imitators have rarely come close to matching.

Marisol — “Corazón contento”

On singer, actress, and flamenco dancer Marisol, Andrew Khan writes:

A singing, dancing screen superstar since the age of 11, few performers captured the buoyant mood the Franco government was desperately trying to impose on the nation like Pepa “Marisol” Flores. Working within the ye-ye style Spain had imported from France, the strutting Corazón Contento contains enough unrestrained joy to compete with anything the neighbours across the Pyrenees were producing at the time. Flores, a lifelong socialist, despised Franco and is reported to have donated all awards he gave her to the Communist Party of Spain for auction.

Michel Polnareff — “La poupee qui fait non”

AllMusic on the French singer-songwriter: “Known for his eccentric nature, French pop songwriter Michel Polnareff created a buzz for himself in the early to mid-’60s when his debut single, ‘La poupee qui fait non,’ rocketed to the top of the French charts.”

Claude François — “Belle belle belle”

France Gall’s former boyfriend and a major French pop star. The Independent writes: “Claude François was, in several ways, ahead of his time. He ran his career with the energy and care of a successful business executive. He was one of the first pop artists to make small films to go with his songs.”

Jacques Dutronc — “La fille du Père Noël”

A pop track about seducing Santa’s daughter. Yep.

Facon — “Ég er frjáls”

Icelandic pop from the ’60s is as weird as you think it is.

Sofia Rotaru — “Mama”

More on the folk-inspired singer, whose first pop hit was “Mama”:

Sofia Rotaru is a Russian, Ukrainian, Moldavian and formerly Soviet pop singer-songwriter, record and film producer, dancer, actress and fashion icon. She is often called the Queen of Pop. For the strength of voice Sofia was called “Nightingale from Bukovina”. She was the first female pop singer in history to receive the award “People’s Artist of the USSR” in 1986.”

Equipe 84 — “Resta”

A cover of Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs’ “Stay” by Italian pop group Equipe 84.

Pooh — “Vieni fuori”

Bologna pop-rock guy group Pooh formed in ’66 and have sold over 100 million records in the decades since.

The Forminx — “Jeronimo Yanka”

Greek musician Vangelis, famous for his film scores for movies like Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire, formed the pop band The Forminx during the 1960s and had a huge teen following.

Super Eagles — “Viva Super Eagles”

The Gambian band combined Afro-Cuban beats, pop, Congolese rumba, Ndaga, and soul.

M. Osman & Orkes Nirwana — “Kisah Disampang”

Pick up Pop Yeh Yeh: Psychedelic Rock From Singapore and Malaysia 1964-1970: Vol. 1 to learn more about the yeh yeh movement. M. Osman was one of the earliest yeh yeh performers:

The Pop Yeh Yeh era, which took place roughly between the years of 1964 to 1970, coincided with the rapid modernization happening at the time in Singapore and Malaysia. . . . Pop Yeh Yeh artists instinctively cross-pollinated electric sounds of the West with Malay melodies, and added their own local poetic voice to the lyrics they wrote — sung in Malay and sometimes Bawean. The Pop Yeh Yeh musicians started out playing in styles inspired by Western groups like The Beatles and Cliff Richard, but they eventually succeeded in creating a sound all their own — a sound that is not only accessible to the Western ear, but also retains an undeniable Malay personality.

Johnny Guitar — “Fawn Ngeo”

Check out Thai Pop Spectacular: 1960s-1980s for a primer on the country’s early pop music scene:

Thai pop history has been largely ignored and neglected by the international musical community for far too long. By the late 20th century, Thai pop music had developed as many faces as localized roots music such as molam or styles like luk thung or luk krung (each with their own respective pop-sectors).

Tilahun Gessesse — “Min Taregewalesh”

We’re slightly cheating here — but Ethiopian music icon Tilahun Gessesse is too good to pass up. This song is probably from the ’70s, as you can hear by the striking jazz and funk notes the country was known for during that time (more on that here). Tilahun Gessesse’s ’60s output had more of a pop fusion sound, but finding a track proves tricky.

Los Teen Tops — “Buen rock esta noche”

Los Teen Tops was one of Spain’s biggest pop-rock groups. Enrique Guzmán was the band’s Mexican singer, born in Venezuela, but the musical influence was all American.

Cliff Richard and The Shadows — “The Young Ones”

British teen idol Cliff Richard’s record sales rank with the best of them, including Elvis. The King also inspired Richards’ band The Shadows, who played pop, rock, and surf hits before legions of screaming fans. The group appeared in the British musical film The Young Ones (that had a popular title song to go with it), which is where the ’80s television series The Young Ones got its name.

Tülay German — “Burçak Tarlası”

Renowned singer Tülay German performed what is considered the first Turkish pop song, “Burçak Tarlası,” in 1964.

Annie Philippe — “C’est la mode”

Philippe was often compared to France Gall due to her youthful voice.

Jenny and the Rascals — “You Told Me a Lie”

A garage-pop band with soulful vocals from Holland.

Johnny Hallyday — “Laisse les filles”

We wrote about pop-rocker Johnny Hallyday, nicknamed the French Elvis, in our “Field Guide to 1960s French Yé-Yé Pop“:

Hallyday was undoubtedly the most famous male singer of the yé-yé era — he was married to Sylvie Vartan, and the two were quite the iconic couple in the 1960s and 1970s, starring together in a movie entitled D’où viens-tu Johnny? (“Where did you come from, Johnny?”) and also recording an album together in Nashville. Some over half a century later, Hallyday remains as successful as ever — he’s sold some 110 million albums over the course of his career, despite never really cracking it outside France. While he was never really seen as part of the yé-yé scene — largely because most of the singers were female — his Francophone take on American sounds totally fits the criteria as far as we’re concerned.

Skaldowie — “Prześliczna wiolonczelistka”

The Guardian writes of the Polish popsters:

At the same time as the Beatles were under investigation by the FBI for alleged leftist sympathies, they were banned, or severely restricted, in Eastern Bloc states as bourgeois capitalists. With the British invasion repelled, enterprising Polish bands such as Czerwone Gitary and Skaldowie filled the void, offering an imitation of Merseybeat so faithful it wouldn’t sound out of place in Mojo magazine’s “best new music” section today. Skaldowie’s charming 1969 hit Prześliczna Wiolonczelistka sits alongside the best of the Monkees as evidence that ersatz Lennon and McCartney was often just as enjoyable as the real thing.

Salvatore Adamo — “Inch’Allah”

Andrew Khan on Adamo:

The modern pop-chanson of singers such as Lara Fabian remains one of Belgium’s biggest exports but nobody has ever been able to replicate the extraordinary commercial success of Sicilian-born Salvatore Adamo — almost unknown in the UK despite selling a reported 100m records worldwide. Conceived as a plea for reconciliation after the Six Day War, at a time when most of Europe’s floppy-haired troubadours were preoccupied with Vietnam, Inch Allah was as powerful a ballad as the 60s peace movement delivered. As it was widely banned throughout the Middle East for being perceived as too sympathetic to Israel, the effectiveness of its message was presumably limited.

Fabrizio de André — “Amore che vieni amore che vai”

A ballad from the Italian singer-songwriter known for his disdain for the Catholic Church and his folksy pop output.