Revolution of Music
Music has continued to change throughout each decade, but the 1960s was the most influential decade in the history of music. Starting in the early 1950s, rock music was first introduced. Major record labels were releasing new “cover songs” which were originally made by black artist, but now by white artist (Rock and Roll). These cover songs changed a few lyrics from the original songs to avoid copyright issues and to also make the song more appropriate for the white listeners. The biggest star of the 1950s was Elvis Presley, who was known as the “King of rock n’ roll”.
Post World War II there was a new generation known as the “baby boom” generation. The arrival of this new generation called for new entertainment (Rock and Roll). Music of the 1960s was the new entertainment for the baby boom generation and impacted America by: starting new trends in genres of music, opening diversity of artists, counterculture movements, and music festivals.
Music tends to follow the trends of its listeners; genres come and go with popularity. Rock and roll was considered to have its golden era in the 1960s (Rock and Roll). It stood out with unforgettable performances by Sly and the Family Stone, The Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Grateful Dead, Santana, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin (Rock and Roll). The Beatles were one of the top rock and roll bands. It is said that their music “combined the distinct sounds of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and others which shaped a sound that dominated the sixties with its creativity and style” (Holland 105). Jimi Hendrix brought a new style of music called “acid rock”. He changed the way music was played by experimenting with different melodies, different chords, and by distorting his guitar by hand (Holland110).
Another popular genre was folk music which focused its music on sending a message. Popular folk artist gave their own opinions on war, racism civil rights, justice, and the “establishment” through their music (Holland107). The suggestion of rebellion interested the baby boom generation. Two of the top folk artists from the 1960s were Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. Joan Baez was referred to as a political singer/activist and she was known as the “Queen of Folk music” (Joan Baez). Bob Dylan created plenty of politically based songs that directly warned specific areas of politics, like congressmen and senators, who wanted to stop the civil rights and peace movements (Holland 107-108).
Lastly there was the genre Motown which hit its peak of popularity in the 1960s. It brought a new rhythm called the “back beat” that was enjoyed because it was easy to dance to. Berry Gordy Jr. started the Motown Company in 1962 and brought up artists like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Little Stevie Wonder, The Jackson Five, and Diana Ross and the Supremes (Holland 109). All of these artists are well known and still listened to today.
The racial diversity of mainstream music in the 1960s was widely spread, which is why this was such a significant decade for music. There was a so called “British invasion” that took place roughly between 1964 and 1966. British bands like the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Animals, the Beatles, and many more came to America bringing their version of rock music with a British twist (British Invasion). The music that theses bands brought over significantly impacted the growth of the baby boom generation. (Holland 106).
The Beatles brought a new genre to America which was referred to in Britain as the “Mersey boat”. It was named after a river that runs through Liverpool, the hometown of the Beatles and other British groups (British Invasion). The Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand was released in America while the band was still in Britain. It was said that “the single sold at the rate of 10,000 records an hour in New York City alone” (Martin 129), that’s 240,000 records sold in one day. When the Beatles first arrived in the states, the baby boom generation went into frenzy. It is said that, “The Beatles were the first British group to make it to number one on the U.S. charts” (Martin 129), which is a huge step in the diversity of music.
Also making there way into mainstream music were Latin influences. Hispanic artist like Joan Baez and Santana made their first big debut in the 1960s. The band Santana is still popular today. It is led by guitarist Carlos Santana, the rest of the members were constantly changing. Santana is remembered for a “show stopping performance” at the Woodstock festival in 1969 (Santana). Carlos Santana was born in Autlán de Navarro, Mexico (Santana). He took up guitar at a young age and was inspired by other guitarist like B.B. King. He and his family moved to San Francisco, California in 1961 and by 1967 he formed the band Santana (Santana).
Lastly, Black influences came into play in the 1960s. The first successful black record label, which directly put blacks into mainstream music, was the Motown Company in 1962. Black music has always been covered and remade, by white artists, into popular songs. Even the Rolling Stones were known to make cover music of black rooted music (Holland 105). After the success of the Motown Company, it is said that “the generation often passed the white music, as they were “supposed” to buy, to get to rhythm and blues, soul, and other black music” (Holland 103). White people listening to what was considered blacks only music was not a common action.
One of the most important terms from the 1960s was counterculture. It was more than just a movement, it was a lifestyle. During the late 1960s, the counterculture movement exploded and was defined by an author as “expressed alienation of mainstream life through movements, music, fashion, and rebellion” (Dudley 193). The movement called for a rejection of commercialism and materialism. It connected to the large problems in America like civil rights and ending the Vietnam War. The supporters were viewed as idealists seeking to establish a more “equitable and loving world” (Hippies and Counterculture). It is said that to media, “they were a good story: hippies, flower children, and the love generation” (Hippies and Counterculture). However, the police and government viewed the counterculture supporters as “a nuisance or threat”, which in contrast encouraged the supporters (Hippies and Counterculture).
The supporters of the counterculture movement listened to artist like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Grateful Dead. An article says that “They favored artistic styles that included vibrant, psychedelic designs of album covers and posters” (Hippies and Counterculture). The artist who supported the movement based their music on it, which attracted the young generation. These artists include Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and many others. Joan Baez became friends with Martin Luther King Jr., and in 1963, she performed at the March on Washington where he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. According to Baez, “King, more than any other public figure, helped her to solidify and act upon her beliefs” (Joan Baez). Counterculture kept the baby boom generation running counter to the mainstream culture (Hippies and Counterculture).
The baby boom generation attracted plenty of old and new supporters of the counterculture movement to music festivals, a place where they could be at peace and just enjoy good music. In the summer of 1969, the Woodstock Festival ended the decade with a bang. The festival was promoted as three days of peace and music for all the “hippies” to join together and enjoy themselves. The festival took place outside of the small town Bethel in the Catskill Mountain’s area of New York. A local farmer named Max Yasgur offered his land to the organizers to hold the event (Dudley 212).
Despite that only fifty thousand were expected to show, close to half a million people showed up for the festival leaving the organizers no choice but to let the crowd in for free. Traffic jams forced people to get out and walk to the campsite leaving their cars abandoned, which made the highways impassable and shutdown for the first time. (Dudley 212) To make matters worse, it rained enough to turn the fields into mud pits. The organizers ran short of food, drinking water, toilet paper, and supplies in general. The organizers were forced to bring in trucks of water to help take care of the crowds needs (Holland 109-110). Everything that could have gone wrong during the festival did go wrong but yet there was no violence, riots, and only one accidental death reported (Holland 110).
In an article in the Saturday Review of September 27, 1969, Ellen Sander summed up the event by saying, “What happened was that the largest number of people ever assembled for any event other than a war lived together, intimately and meaningfully and with such natural good cheer that they turned on not only everyone surrounding them but the mass media, and, by extension, millions of others, young and old, particularly many elements hostile to the manifestations and ignorant of the substance of pop culture”(Hippies and counterculture). Sander could not have summed up the festival more perfectly. To this day, the Woodstock festival has been attempted to be created, but never can be without violence or riots. It was truly a once in a life time moment.
The 1960s revolutionized music by creating a decade of peace, love, and rebellion. The baby boomers were responsible for this great revolution. Music was not just melodies; it now had a greater meaning to it. It was open to racial diversity, which built the diverse music we now have today. With out the 1960s, music would not be the same. To this day, the music is still very popular and will be for many more generations to come.
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