The Number One Singles of 1968: Those Were the Days

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This ad for the Rascals’ third career #1 appeared in the July 13, 1968, issue of Record World

We’ve recently introduced another way of looking at the most popular music for a given year. The topic, as you know by the headline is singles and while we have done stories on the biggest hits of the year, this series slices things a bit differently. Here, we look at the year’s #1 pop hits in the U.S.—in this case, 1968—according to Record World, a competitor of Billboard.

Earning a #1 single is an achievement that goes on an artist’s permanent biography. And in the classic rock era, Top 40 radio programmers were still playing rock music alongside pop, R&B, country, and other genres.

In 1968, five songs stayed at the top for four weeks or more. And thus, “only” 23 singles reached #1 that year. (That’s in contrast to 1966, when as many as 37 songs topped the chart.) While we’re not going to write about all of them, they’re all listed below. Our recap begins in reverse, and alphabetically by artist, starting with the nine that grabbed the top spot for a single week. (Note: Many of the chart numbers will differ with those compiled by Billboard.)

1968 was a great year for number one singles…

1 Week

American Breed – “Bend Me, Shape Me”

What a great way to begin this survey! Those horns… the hand claps… great vocals… the instrumentation… It all adds up to two and a half minutes of pop perfection. The band from Illinois had started a decade earlier. Two years after this hit, many of its members formed the band Rufus.

Archie Bell & the Drells – “Tighten Up”

This early funk song begins autobiographically. Let’s let Mr. Bell do the honors… “Hi everybody, I’m Archie Bell & the Drells, of Houston, Texas. We don’t only sing, but we dance just as good as we walk…”

The Doors – “Hello, I Love You”

The same week they topped the chart in August, Jose Feliciano’s unique cover of their “Light My Fire” was also in the Top 5.

Marvin Gaye – “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”

There have been many wonderful recordings of this Norman Whitfield-Barrett Strong composition. Though choosing your favorite may be like choosing your favorite kid, it’s hard to top Gaye’s version, particularly when he hits that note on “some other guuuuy…”

The Lemon Pipers – “Green Tambourine”

The song features sitar, vibraslap, and an echo to give it that psychedelic vibe we all apparently sought.

1910 Fruitgum Company – “Simon Says”

Gary Puckett and the Union Gap – “Young Girl” and “Lady Willpower”

The former is kinda creepy as the singer realizes that his girlfriend had “kept the secret of your youth” from him. Four months later – on the charts, anyway – he finds someone more age-appropriate.

Stevie Wonder – “For Once in My Life”

Wonder’s uptempo version, at age 17, was recorded at the same time as the Temptations’, who sang it as a ballad. Point, Stevie.

2 Weeks

The Beatles – “Hello, Goodbye”

This one gets an asterisk because the Nov. ’67 release topped the chart for the last two weeks of that year before beginning ’68 on top.

John Fred and His Playboy Band – “Judy in Disguise”

The group from Baton Rouge, La., scored their only hit with a song derived from a misheard lyric in a Beatles song. (See the ad for their single and album below.)

The Monkees – “Valleri”

This is another case where the so-called industry bible, Billboard, didn’t award them a #1. Record World‘s chart department made this the Monkees’ fifth to top the chart in less than two years.

The Rascals – “People Got to Be Free”

The third #1 pop single by the popular blue-eyed soul hit machine was a plea for tolerance.

Dionne Warwick – “(Theme From) Valley of the Dolls”

The song was actually the B-side of her Nov.-Dec. ’67 hit, “I Say a Little Prayer.” When the film became a hit in early January, the label began to plug the flip side, which became her first pop #1. (The song is inexplicably omitted from her Wiki discography.)

3 Weeks

Hugh Masekela – “Grazing in the Grass”

The jazz trumpeter, who soloed on the Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star” a couple of years earlier, scored a big instrumental in the middle of the summer. The single won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Pop Performance—Instrumental.

Related: Our feature on the unlikely pop star

Paul Mauriat – “Love is Blue”

This ad appeared in the Jan. 27, 1968 issue of Record World

The instrumental single from the French orchestra leader proved to be so popular that its album not only reached #1, it stayed there for the entire month of March and into early April.

Jeannie C. Riley – “Harper Valley PTA”

The narrator of the song, written by Tom T. Hall, “socked it to” the hypocrites at the local junior high school for telling her that she was an unfit mother.

Simon and Garfunkel – “Mrs. Robinson”

Film director Mike Nichols had been listening to the duo’s music before, during and after filming his movie and invited Simon to submit a few songs for the soundtrack. The nonsense lyrics, “coo-coo-ca-choo,” were a nod from Simon to The Beatles.

Related: The #1 albums of 1968

4 Weeks

Herb Alpert – “This Guy’s in Love With You”

In which the legendary trumpeter also showed his vocal chops.

The Beatles – “Hey Jude”

The A-side of one of the coolest double-sided singles of all time. (Here’s the B-side.)

Mary Hopkin – “Those Were the Days”

Once upon a time there was a tavern, the song begins. The Welsh folk singer was just 18 when her smash hit immediately followed “Hey Jude” at the top, beginning Oct. 26, thus giving Apple eight consecutive weeks at #1.

Diana Ross & the Supremes – “Love Child”

This smash became the third straight single that autumn to stay at the top for four weeks. If you knew that this singing group has more #1 pop hits – 12 – than any other American group, raise your hand.

5 Weeks

Bobby Goldsboro – “Honey”

Go figure… The song with the most weeks at #1 in 1968 is the worst of the batch.

Other notable 1968 hits that were blocked from the very top by these songs include, surprisingly, Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Mony Mony,” Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman,” Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” and The Beatles’ “Lady Madonna.”

Related: Another way of looking at 1968 – See how the songs ranked for the year

Greg Brodsky

4 Comments so far

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  1. David
    #1 David 3 September, 2020, 02:33

    Thanks for sharing the Record World charts here, good to have a slightly alternative view of the charts!

    Reply this comment
  2. Ron
    #2 Ron 4 May, 2021, 07:51

    The line is, *We dance just as good as we WALK!” in “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell and the Drells.

    Reply this comment
  3. Mel
    #3 Mel 15 January, 2022, 01:17

    Thanks for bringing back memories with the different #1s for certain years. Love it!

    Reply this comment
  4. SuperSoarEye
    #4 SuperSoarEye 3 August, 2023, 22:18

    For sure. The best. Bought them all as 45s. Blew my and my brother’s mind, for real. Not that Those were the days one, though. Shoplifted probably half of ’em.

    Reply this comment

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