Freedom Summer: If MTV Had Existed in 1964

On the 50th anniversary of the voting-rights movement, we look back at some of the music that moved the country.

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The Supremes

YouTube screenshot  

Someone got the bright idea in 1981 to create an entire channel devoted to music videos and called it Music Television, or MTV—but showing artists performing on TV to sell records has been going on practically since rock and roll, and TV, were invented.  

As we were looking at ways to mark the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer—the time when blacks and whites from across the country descended on Mississippi to help secure voting rights for blacks—we also wanted to look back at the music of that era. Thanks to the Internet, we were able to curate a selection of the top pop hits that would have been blaring out of car radios—or showing up on our make-believe version of MTV—that summer.

1. “Dancing in the Street,” Martha and the Vandellas

It’s fairly easy to say that Berry Gordy’s Motown Records defined the music not only of that summer but also of the decade. This signature song, about the simple joys of summer, would take on a new meaning as the decade grew more turbulent and young black people took to the streets to protest for civil rights.

2. “No Particular Place to Go,” Chuck Berry

Rock-and-roll legend Berry may have invented the idea of cruising with this tune about a guy and girl driving around in a car with nowhere to go.

3. “My Guy,” Mary Wells

This Motown hit, which would peak at No. 1, was written and produced by legend Smokey Robinson.

4. “Under the Boardwalk,” the Drifters

The Drifters understood perfectly well that summer heat provides the best excuse for an escape to a secret hideaway to chill with a loved one. 

5. “Chapel of Love,” the Dixie Cups

And thus a wedding song was born.

6. “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss),” Betty Everett

Everett’s hit song gave teenage girls all the advice they needed to know if he was truly “the one.”

7. “Walk on By,” Dionne Warwick

This Warwick classic about pain and heartbreak has been covered by a wide range of artists, including Isaac Hayes, the Average White Band, Cyndi Lauper and Seal. Hayes’ funked-up 12-minute version, from his iconic Hot Buttered Soul album, plays more like a seduction, completely smoothing over all the melancholy of the original.  

8. “Where Did Our Love Go,” the Supremes

The Supremes’ first No. 1 single—another Motown classic—would soon be followed by four more No. 1 hits in a row:  “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Back in My Arms Again.”

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