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.

The Supremes
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