Music of the 1960s in the USA – Part 1
Music of the 1960s
The 1960s will always be known as one of the most innovative and chaotic of eras if, for no other reason, than all of the vastly dramatic changes that took place during that time. This was never more apparent than in the radical changes in the music scene. Prior to the year 1963, much of the music in the 60s still sounded a lot like the music from the 1950s. A lot of the musical hits during those first three years were by musicians that began their success during the 1950s. Artists such as Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, and Ray Charles all fell into this category. They began their musical journey in the 50s and effortlessly crossed over into the 60s.
Things started to change drastically in 1963 due to many social influences and the musical diversity that is experienced today was born. Such things as President Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement had a huge impact on America’s mood with the music reflecting that change. In addition, the “British Invasion” started around 1963 when a little band known as The Beatles traveled across the ocean to share their music with America. The people witnessed something that they had never actually seen with the kind of wild fans that followed these four talented young men. It was also these types of fans that forever changed the manner that people viewed and interacted with musicians.
The British Invasion wasn’t the only factor that influenced the music of the 60s. There was also Motown, R&B, Folk, Protest music, Psychedelic Rock, Surf Rock, Hard Rock, and Roots Rock. So many types of music was being played during the 60s that it is little wonder that it is still hailed as one of the most exciting musical eras of all.
The British Invasion
The invasion of the British began in the early 1960s and moved through the middle of the decade when various British rock and pop musicians brought their music to the United States and other parts of the world. Several of these musicians started out by singing American songs while using an American sounding Rock and Roll along with R&B. As they became more popular, many of these musicians produced their own distinctive sounds.
It is impossible to speak this era without mentioning the band that opened the door for fellow British musicians. That band is, of course, The Beatles. They were first introduced to the US in 1963. However, they didn’t become truly popular until they were guests of the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. From then on, they dominated the music scene worldwide until they disbanded in 1970. This band was so wildly popular that they had their own phenomenon named Beatlemania. They were the influence for many new musical acts during that time that wanted to get in on the “Liverpool Sound” that this band’s music held. Even today, The Beatles hold many records in music with number one single records as well as album sales. This music is still widely played worldwide. Clearly, this is the band that was most influential of the 1960s.
Other bands that were part of the invading British were The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, and Tom Jones. The Rolling Stones are still touring today and playing to packed venues. Manfred Mann recorded many songs throughout the 60s, as did The Kinks. Many of those songs remain popular even now.
R&B and Motown
The R&B music known as the “Motown Sound” was quite significant with regards to the American Civil Rights movement during the 60s. Based in Detroit during the late1950s and early 1960s, Motown was a record label that rapidly gained worldwide popularity once it launched the careers of many wildly successful music acts. The majority of these musicians were African-American bands, singers, and songwriters along with their managers. The success of both musicians and businessmen at Motown proved to be vital in crumbling the segregation barriers while offering African-American musicians the opportunity to jump on board with white pop and rock singers who had previously triumphed in the 1950s by performing “black music.”
There were two highly influential musical groups that were a part of this Motown Sound during the 60s. Diana Ross and the Supremes along with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were both chart toppers right beside the rock bands that ruled the radio air play during that time. Their music has withstood the test of time and is still well-known today.
Other R&B musicians that were helped along by Motown included The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops, Aretha Franklin, The Jackson Five and the Marvelettes. Many of these well-known names are still performing to packed houses today.
The Genres of Rock
Even though rock and roll music became most well-known during the 1950s, it wasn’t until the 1960s that it really developed its own popularity. In fact, the musical scene during that decade was virtually dominated by rock music as it changed along the way. The original rock genre spawned many subgenres that were quite unique and diverse. These subgenres carried shifting phases of popularity all through the 60s and several are still around today. Several rock musicians fluctuated between the different genres contingent upon what was getting the most attention at that time as well as using it to experiment in discovering their best sound. That’s why you will often see the same artists appearing in various subgenres.
Psychedelic Rock and Surf Rock
During the early to mid-1960s, Southern California launched dance music called Surf Rock. It was primarily instrumental and was very popular prior to the British Invasion arriving to claim high music scene honors. Surf Rock, of course, was about surfing, but that expanded into other areas such as cars, girls, and other teenage behavior. The most popular and influential band to emerge from this particular subgenre was The Beach Boys. Their harmonies and talented compositions eventually defined this genre. Other significant musicians from Surf Rock were Jan and Dean, The Champs, and The Ventures.
During the second part of this decade, Psychedelic Rock rose to fame and reached a pinnacle of success by the latter part. This music genre seemed to develop as the hippie culture expanded along with the mind enhancing drugs that were used during that era. Psychedelic Rock was created to enhance the overall drug experience of people that were indulging in LSD and other drugs of this sort. The lyrics to this music could be strange and referred to drugs. Who could forget the song “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane and its mantra of “Feed your head?” Many times, these bands would use unusual instruments such as the harpsichord, tabla, organ and sitar. Sounds were the subject of a lot of experimentation with a heavy influence of music from India and the Far East. Psychedelic Rock and Folk Rock were the two most acknowledged and recognized sounds connected with the “Summer of Love” trend of 1967. Several well-known rock bands tried out this genre. Those bands included The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Doors, Cream, Jefferson Airplane, The Yardbirds, and, of course, The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Roots Rock and Hard Rock
Emerging during the middle to late 60s was music known as Roots Rock. This was a mix of various genres of popular rock music at that time. Combining elements of blues, folk, rock and roll and country, Roots Rock was identified by the “back to basics” tone it provided. Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde album in 1966 was believed to have initiated the movement and hinted at the future Roots Rock sound. Popular bands at the time jumped on that particular band wagon and created their own versions of albums that featured the roots sound. These bands included The Beatles, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and The Band.
The mid -1960s is also when Hard Rock was first introduced. Using the base fundamentals of rock and roll and giving them a heavier sound resulted in this new type of rock music. Hard Rock used a more hard hitting tone and delivery. Vocalists of Hard Rock had higher ranges along with very distinct, often rough voices. Heavily influenced by rhythm and blues, blues rock, and garage rock, Hard Rock was often associated with anti-authority, rebelliousness and destruction. A few bands even destroyed their instruments while on stage. Another characteristic of the Hard Rock lifestyle was plenty of partying with many musicians developing substance abuse issues. These issues resulted in several promising musicians dying young such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. Well-known Hard Rock musicians from the 60s include Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The Who, Steppenwolf, and The Kinks.