Prepare your best dance moves and get out your platform boots as we take a look at the best hippie songs of all time.
From the height of ’60s counterculture to more contemporary bohemian tracks, this list takes a look at records that made waves during changing times. This list includes songs that either became the voice of a restless community, or simply encapsulate the freedom and joy of the alternative lifestyle.
Here are 20 of the most iconic and best hippie songs that defined the ‘flower power’ era.
1. Gold Dust Woman – Fleetwood Mac
Fleetwood Mac are pillars of the hippie world. With music and fashion that flourished in the ’70s, Fleetwood Mac’s music tells tales of magic and lives less traditional. ‘Gold Dust Woman’ comes from Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumours, one of the most esteemed albums of all time. Its folk-rock ambience comes from the mellow tracks throughout the record, despite the behind-the-scenes turmoil.
‘Gold Dust Woman’ tells the story of a woman getting through a breakup with the aid of less-than-legal substances. The overarching theme of the song is about trying to get on with things and live to your ideals, a cornerstone of the hippie way of life.
2. California Dreamin’ – The Mamas and the Papas
‘California Dreamin’’ is perhaps the ultimate hippie anthem. Released during the height of bohemia, the song discusses the longing for warmth on a winter’s day. ‘California Dreamin’’ led the counterculture charge of the ’60s, an anti-establishment, anti-war cultural phenomenon that spread throughout the west and still exists today. The ongoing Vietnam war paired with the civil rights movement gave The Mamas and the Papas track space to become an anthem for change.
‘California Dreamin’’ came in at No. 420 in Rolling Stone’s ‘500 Greatest Songs of all Time,’ and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in 1966.
3. Time of the Season – The Zombies
Opening with a deep, seductive bassline alongside a satisfied sigh, ‘Time of the Season’ is an ode to summer romance. In amongst the imagery of warmth, you can almost hear the twinkle in Colin Blustone’s eye as he delivers the sultry lyrics.
Where this song really comes alive is within the harmonies featured in the line ‘It’s the time of the season for loving,’ cementing itself as a true hippie song amplified by the psychedelic cover art of the album of which it originates from Odessey and Oracle. The track’s cultural impact has continued on to the modern day with multiple pieces of media using it to reflect the time of its release.
4. Somebody to Love – Jefferson Airplane
Woodstock legends Jefferson Airplane solidified their place in music history with ‘Somebody to Love,’ a psychedelic rock song from the mind of Darby Slick and vocals courtesy of Grace Slick.
The powerful vocals delivered by Slick gives the track an edge, creating an accidental feminist record that captures the idea of love being something you go out an get rather than something you fall into. Despite the free love ideas of the hippie movement, the song champions the idea of monogamy and being with only one.
Rolling Stone ranked ‘Somebody to Love’ at No. 274 on their 500 Greatest Songs of all Time list and was certified gold in the United States.
5. Both Sides Now – Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell has become a voice for women over the course of her career. With albums that tackle grand ideas, Mitchell delivers her life’s perspective through a lens that resonates deep within the souls of many young women.
‘Both Sides Now’ discusses the idea of looking at the world from all perspectives, attempting to separate your opinions from a situation and looking at it impartially. Rejecting generational ideas that you have grown up with, to instead form your own mind is a big characteristic of flower people and why ‘Both Sides Now’ and Joni Mitchell feel so at home within the group. One of the most beautiful hippie songs of all time.
6. Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves – Cher
In her classic ‘Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves,’ Cher describes the life of travellers and the prejudices they often face. The song offers a glimpse into the way in which some groups of people have to operate to sustain their livelihood and asks the listener to leave their judgments at the play button.
The song features a carnival calliope that compliments the lyrics of the song and aids in the setting of the scene. The track teaches the listener about alternative ways of living and earned Cher a Grammy nomination in the Best Female Pop Vocal Performance category.
7. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye’s 1971 album What’s Going On tells the story of the repercussions of the Vietnam war from the perspective of a Veteran. The title track was inspired by one of the songwriters witnessing a police brutality incident and became a symbol of Gaye’s departure from Motown into more personal storytelling records.
‘What’s Going On’ was ranked at No.4 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of all Time in both 2004 and 2010. It has sold over 2 million copies and topped the Hot Soul Singles chart for 5 weeks. Clearly this track hit home for a lot of returning soldiers.
8. Fortunate Son – Creedence Clearwater Revival
‘Fortunate Son’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival challenges the idea of elitism and questions the necessity of the military and fighting as a whole. This peace-favouring record became a firm favourite in bohemian culture as it rejects the concept of our lives being a vessel in which to serve a higher power. The track plays with the idea of class and how poor men have to fight the wars in white rich men start.
In modern media, it has often been used to accompany scenes of the Vietnam war such as in Family Guy, Forrest Gump, and American Dad.
9. Happy Together – The Turtles
Unlike many other songs in this list, ‘Happy Together’ is a much more joyful melody, instead focusing on a potential romance rather than making a political statement.
The Turtles’ hit hallmarks one of the best minor to major key switches in music history with its verses in minor followed by a much peppier major chorus. The upbeat musicality paired with satisfying harmonisation make this song a flower power classic that invites you to get up and dance along.
Critics agree that this tune rises above the bubblegum pop label some stick on it, and recognise it for its groovy, happy-go-lucky nature.
10. Blowin’ in the Wind – Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ has often been regarded as a protest song. It discusses freedom and the way in which war can affect that. It captured the hearts of civil rights activist upon its release in 1963, inspiring artists such as Sam Cooke who went on to write ‘A Change is Gonna Come’
It is still used to this day as an anti-war anthem, regaining popularity during the protests against the Iraq war. Rolling Stones ranked the track at No. 14 on their 500 Greatest Song of all Time list and it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994. One of the legendary hippie songs of the ’60s.
11. Imagine – John Lennon
‘Imagine’ is an iconic hippie anthem. In the song, Lennon images a better world that rejects the idea of materialism – an idea often favoured by the hippie community. Lennon talks about a world without possessions, without greed or the desire to be defined by what you own. Instead, he suggests focusing on connecting with the people around you and ‘the world will live as one.’
The track also discusses the idea of living without borders. Lennon encourages us to think of what a world would be like if we weren’t defined by where we come from but instead valued for our minds and humanity. One of the greatest hippie songs of all time.
12. Mellow Yellow – Donovan
Upon the 1966 release of ‘Mellow Yellow,’ rumours arose that claimed the track was about smoking a hallucinogenic drug which has since been debunked. The song does, however, make reference to a vibrator or ‘electric banana,’ after Donovan saw an ad in the paper for a toy called the mellow yellow.
Whether this track is about a hallucinogenic or the sexual liberation of women, the bohemian community decided that this was a song for them. To this day, this record gets played at many social events when it’s time to sit back and relax. One of the great hippie songs of the flower power generation.
13. Harvest Moon – Neil Young
Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’ is a much more relaxed tune on this list. Steering away from social-political themes, ‘Harvest Moon’ is simply about enjoying a dance with your partner under the light of the full moon.
Although initially sounding like a simple love song, the track alludes to the passing of time. It invites you to the idea of enjoying each moment of each season with those that you love. This idea that even though time goes by, sometimes quicker than we would like, we should fully live in each second and simply dance under the stars.
14. Me and Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin
‘Me and Bobby McGee,’ from Janis Joplin’s 1971 album Pearl,’ tells the story of two people living the life of travellers. The track explores what life was like on the road, trying to make their way across the States using any means possible, including hitchhiking.
The song also talks about the idea of the end of a relationship. By the end of the record, Bobby McGee favours a more settled life and leaves the narrator behind, allowing them to continue their bohemian lifestyle alone. Janis Joplin’s version of the song went platinum and reached No. 1 in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. One of the classic hippie songs of its time.
15. For What It’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield
‘For What It’s Worth.’ released in 1966, is widely considered an anti-war song. Songwriter Stephen Stills was inspired to write the track after witnessing multiple anti-establishment incidents involving the police in Hollywood. ‘For What It’s Worth’ is Buffalo Springfields only hit, highlighting the way it would have touched its listeners and connected with the mood of the time.
To this day, the song is still used in the media when unrest arises. It was used in Forrest Gump during the Vietnam war and, more recently, had a resurgence in 2020 after the civil rights protests in America.
16. All You Need is Love – The Beatles
We couldn’t write this list without including a number from The Beatles. Their 1967 track ‘All You Need is Love’ is one the definitive hippie songs of all time. Released right on the peak of the hippie movement, this track is simple in both message and lyricism.
‘All You Need is Love’ came at the perfect time. The ’60s brought a lot of uncertainty within people and the Vietnam war highlighted how fragile yet beautiful a peaceful life was and is. With the release of a song that proclaimed the need for love and nothing more, The Beatles’ track became the ultimate hippie anthem.
17. The Sound of Silence – Simon and Garfunkel
Perhaps a less cheery addition to this list, Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence’ creates a sombre atmosphere. Although an initial flop, the Library of Congress added it to the National Recording Registry for being ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.’
The folk styling of the track was inspired by Paul Simons’ experience witnessing the counterculture movement in the early ’60s. Although the song has many interpretations, a favourite among listeners is the idea that many would rather be obedient than reject what they’re told and find their own minds. A thought that still holds relevance today.
18. Purple Haze – Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix is arguably the King of Woodstock. For those not in the know, Woodstock is an infamous music festival that took place in the summer of 1969 and featured folk, psychedelic, and progressive rock. Hendrix performed a now iconic setlist including his track ‘Purple Haze.’ The track features his unique and innovative guitar playing and mind-blowing use of the Hendrix chord.
Some interpret the song as a description of a drug-induced high, whereas others are convinced it’s an anti-Vietnam record. Whatever meaning is correct, it clearly struck a chord with the more bohemian members of society and remains one of the legendary hippie songs.
19. Brand New Key – Melanie
‘Brand New Key’ by Melanie is a cute, pop-folk song released in 1971. Melanie performed at the infamous Woodstock festival with a discography that shows the singer’s intelligence and ability to put into words what communities are experiencing. Although the song raised some eyebrows through its potential innuendo, Melanie denies this. She claims it is purely a nostalgic, innocent song about roller skating.
The song uses simple chords overlaid with bongos and maracas that perfectly compliment Melanie’s vocals. ‘Brand New Key’ captures childhood wonder and the cheekiness that goes along with it. No worries, no problems.
20. What a Day For a Daydream – The Lovin’ Spoonful
We’re finishing off this list with a lovely ditty from The Lovin’ Spoonful that throws away the stress of time passing you by and simply enjoying the moment. The nonconformist folk among us, myself included, are fans of focusing on the now rather than the later. ‘What a Day For a Daydream’ hones in on that feeling of relishing something as simple as a walk in the park or falling into your imagination, not caring about the days to come.
The track was so popular, it inspired The Beatles. Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney were fans of the song and it ultimately influenced McCartney’s ‘Good Day Sunshine,’ another classic flower power song.
Header image: Joni Mitchell – Clouds
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