Defining Music of the 1960s—Its Characteristics and Great Songs From the Era
“The thing the sixties did was to show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn't the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility.”— ― John Lennon
What our favorite Beatle, John Lennon, says in the quote sums up accurately what the music of the exciting era of the 1960s was. He, of course, having been one of the pioneers of its fascinating, unique and catchy music.I am not a child of the sixties, mine being the Guns and Roses and the later Bon Jovi era. Yet it is the edgy but lyrical quality of some of its music that prompts me to appreciate it the most.
The sixties was a time when excitement ran rife in the music scene. Expressive, lyrical tunes, hip gyrating pieces, and numbers that provoked the thoughts of all who heard were produced. It was a time when social issues were daringly broached.
Let me take you on a journey of its music, reminisce with you on some of the issues of the time and refresh your memories of some of the greatest artists of the era.
Breaking convention and opposing causes
The societal change of Flower Power came about, with many taking the idea of “make love, not war,” at its literal premise. Ideas surrounding sexuality became more liberalized and accepted, though it remains contentious as to whether that is a change for the better.
Though avant-garde and definitely edgy, the Flower Power movement had the altruistic intent of bringing about peace in the wake of the heavy wars that were fought in the 20th century.
Womens’ rights became more pronounced. Feminism, as it is also known, is a collection of ideologies aimed at promoting equality in the economic, political and social rights of women and there was no better time to enforce them than in the 1960s when liberation in many forms was present.
The Civil Rights Movement
The movement sought equality for all and was instrumental in achieving that aim. An outstanding tenet of the movement was that the freedom of the individual was to be cherished and protected from any form of infringement. It was essentially a protest against any form of discrimination of another human being.
Martin Luther King summed up the movement best in his famous I Have A Dream speech:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
For that was the spirit of the movement, which also spawned thoughts on such social issues from the beloved musicians of the time.
The 60s was also a time of birth for environmentalism or addressing environmental concerns. The movement advocates the preservation, restoration and the protection of the natural environment and all its resources. It was also the time when ethical relations to the environment, the land and appreciating biodiversity was highlighted.
Like a rolling stone - Bob Dylan
Music of the 1960s
The defining music of the 1960s was truly varied in terms of genre and and style. We see the birth of forms of rock music, jazz as well as folk revival.
No matter which genre we speak of, all have one thing in common - it has shaped the music that we know and love, to this date.
The sixties was a time when the traditional music of old was given a fresh new look with new compositions written in a traditional style. Appalachian folk saw a new rebirth, and singers like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger emerged as a result of this movement.
The hallmark of this movement was to combine elements of folk and rock. Songs like Mr. Tambourine Man and Like a Rolling Stone gained popularity.
Grateful Dead - Ripple
Psychedelia was the name of a group of people who used psychedelic substances. This, combined with the folk rock revival gave rise to a new form of 60s rock - psychedelic rock.
A pioneer song of this form of rock was the Psychedelic sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators. Groups like the Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish and Jefferson Airplane helped to make the sound popular.
Characterized by being very instrumental, strong reverb on guitars, and lyrics on the surf scene, surf music was popularized by none other than groups like the Beach Boys, The Ventures, The Atlantic, The Surfaris and The Champs. The music was essentially the sound of the Southern California area.
It has two forms: Surf Rock, popularized by artistes like Dick Dale who used strong guitar reverb and Surf Pop popularized by none other than the Beach Boys..
Lies - Knickerbockers
Amateurish rock music released from a garage because popular during this time as well. Composed mainly by students, it highlighted the ins and outs of high school life. It ranged from crude one chord music to near studio quality variations like that performed by the Knickerbockers, the Remains and Fifth Estate.
Leonnie Mack - Safety Susie
Pioneered by guitarist Leonnie Mack, the sound took off in the mid-sixties with performances and record releases by Canned Heat, Janis Joplin, the great Jimi Hendrix and the Allman Brothers Band.
Hendrix’s guitar style came to be one of the most emulated in the 1960s. His band, the Experience, gained wild popularity even though it was only around for a short period of time.
Another Blues rock pioneer who was popular way past the sixties was none other than Eric Clapton, who played blues with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers and earned the name Slowhand. Changing the face of blues well past the sixties, Clapton's Wonderful Tonight and the poignant Tears In Heaven in which he mourns the loss of his son became iconic songs and still are, to this day.
Eric Clapton Slowhand
Let it be - the Beatles - roots rock
Roots rock was a departure from the excesses of psychedelic rock and was exactly what its name said it was—the music of rock and roll going back to its country and folk roots.
Rock music, therefore, took on a more southern flavor, Bob Dylan spearheaded roots rock when he recorded Blonde on Blonde. Solo artists like Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt, and Lowell George also dominated the roots rock scene.
Here's a perennial favorite song grounded in roots rock, The Beatles' Let it Be.
Because - Beatles with harpsichord introduction
Progressive Rock marked a change in the 1960s music scene with musicians employing different instruments as an accompaniment for their music. Famous groups like the Beatles, Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones employed the use of harpsichords in their music from the mid-1960s.
Wind and string introductions were popular among musicians during this time. A good example is Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale
Little Eva Locomotion
Chubby Checker was a pioneer during the pop phase of the time, with his recording of The Twist by Hank Ballard. It started a whole new dance craze.
Gerry Goffin and Carole King influenced pop music as well, writing the first number one hit by a girl group, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. Besides making the Shirelles popular, it also propelled pop to new heights and proved the power of women in music.
Here is a 1962 hit, the Locomotion, performed by Little Eva.
Please Mr Postman by the Marvelettes -true sixties soul, enjoy!
R & B and Soul Music
The era saw the development of Motown as a testament to pop-influenced Soul. It began its long run with songs like Please Mr. Postman by the Marvelettes.
Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and James Brown led the soul movement. We cannot forget to RESPECT Aretha Franklin, with her rendition of the song and numbers like I've Never Loved A Man.
Jim Reeves - I love you because
Country music is evergreen and we will never tire of listening to it. The development of this soothing form of music was marked by conflicting triumphant and tragic circumstances. Although country was at its peak, tragedy marred the circumstances with several top stars losing their lives in plane crashes.
The Nashville Sound characterized the country music of the era. Singers like Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold, Ray Price, Patsy Cline, Floyd Cramer and Roger Miller helped to bring the sound forth with songs like He’ll have to go and I Can’t Stop Loving You.
The sound became more polished in the later part of the decade and became known as Countrypolitan, used mainly by stars like Glen Campbell and Tammy Wynette. Charley Pride became the first African American superstar in country music.
Stars like Dolly Parton, who gained fame in the Porter Wagoner show and Johnny Cash became immensely popular.
World music because a great influence on the popular music of the era, with groups like the Beatles becoming interested in Hare Krishna culture. Ravi Shankar, the famous sitar player, also played in various music festivals.
The music of the sixties is best described as an edgy, eclectic blend of variety. There was something for everyone during this time, which will be cherished in the heart of many.
Here, I would also like to thank the writers who have provided wonderful insights by answering the question “What are the characteristics of music of the sixties?” I am amazed at some of their sharing! Do visit each of their profiles.
© 2013 Michelle Liew