Events and trends in popular music during the 1960s

Written by on 26th May 2016

In North America and Europe the decade was particularly revolutionary in terms of popular music, as it saw the evolution of rock. At the beginning of the 1960s, pop and rock and roll trends of the 1950s continued; nevertheless, the rock and roll of the decade before started to merge into a more international, eclectic variant known as rock. In the early-1960s, rock and roll in its purest form was gradually overtaken by pop rock, beat, psychedelic rock, blues rock, and folk rock, which had grown in popularity. The country- and folk-influenced style associated with the latter half of 1960s rock music spawned a generation of popular singer-songwriters who wrote and performed their own work. Towards the decade’s end, genres such as Baroque pop, sunshine pop, bubblegum pop, and progressive rock started to grow popular, with the latter two finding greater success in the following decade. Furthermore, the 1960s saw funk and soul music rising in popularity; rhythm and blues in general remained popular, and this style was commonly associated with Girl groups of the time, whose fusion of R&B and Gospel with rock and roll enjoyed success until the mid-part of the decade. Aside from the popularity of rock and R&B music in the 1960s, Latin American as well as Jamaican and Cuban music achieved a degree of popularity throughout the decade, with genres such as Bossa nova, the cha-cha-cha, ska, and calypso being popular. From a classical point of view, the 1960s were also an important decade as they saw the development of experimental, jazz and contemporary classical music, notably minimalism and free improvisation.

In Asia, various trends marked the popular music of the 1960s. In Japan, the decade saw the rise in popularity of several Western popular music groups such as The Beatles. The success of rock music and bands in the Japan started a new generation, known as Group Sounds, which was popular in the latter half of the decade.

In South America, genres such as bossa nova, Nueva canción and Nueva ola started to rise. Rock music began leaving its mark, and achieved success in the 1960s. Additionally, salsa grew popular towards the end of the decade. In the 1960s cumbia entered Chile and left a long-lasting impact on tropical music in that country.

Music in the United Kingdom developed during the 1960s into one of the leading forms of popular music in the modern world. By the early 1960s the British had developed a viable national music industry and began to produce adapted forms of American music in Beat music and British blues which would be re-exported to America by bands such as The Beatles and Rolling Stones. This helped to make the dominant forms of popular music something of a shared Anglo-American creation, and led to the growing distinction between pop and rock music, which began to develop into diverse and creative subgenres that would characterise the form throughout the rest of the twentieth century.

Beat music

In the late 1950s, a flourishing culture of groups began to emerge, often out of the declining skiffle scene, in major urban centres in the UK like Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London. This was particularly true in Liverpool, where it has been estimated that there were around 350 different bands active, often playing ballrooms, concert halls and clubs. Beat bands were heavily influenced by American bands of the era, such as Buddy Holly and the Crickets (from which group The Beatles derived their name), as well as earlier British groups such as The Shadows. After the national success of the Beatles in Britain from 1962, a number of Liverpool performers were able to follow them into the charts, including Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Searchers, and Cilla Black. Among the most successful beat acts from Birmingham were The Spencer Davis Group and The Moody Blues. From London, the term Tottenham Sound was largely based around The Dave Clark Five, but other London bands that benefited from the beat boom of this era included the Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds. The first non-Liverpool, non-Brian Epstein-managed band to break through in the UK were Freddie and the Dreamers, who were based in Manchester, as were Herman’s Hermits and The Hollies. The beat movement provided most of the bands responsible for the British invasion of the American pop charts in the period after 1964, and furnished the model for many important developments in pop and rock music.

The British Invasion is a term used mainly in the United States to describe the large number of rock and roll, beat and pop performers from the United Kingdom who became popular in the U.S.A. from 1964 to 1966. After first running a story on 10 December 1963, CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite on 7 February 1964 ran a story about The Beatles’ United States arrival in which the correspondent said “The British Invasion this time goes by the code name Beatlemania”. A few days later they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Seventy five percent of Americans watching television that night viewed their appearance thus “launching” the invasion with a massive wave of chart success that would continue until they broke up in 1970. On 4 April 1964, the Beatles held the top five positions on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, the only time to date that any act has accomplished this feat. The Dave Clark 5 followed the Beatles the very next week on the Ed Sullivan show, and appeared on the Sullivan show more than any other British band, 18 times. During the next two years, The Dave Clark 5, The Animals, Petula Clark, Manfred Mann, Peter and Gordon, Freddie and the Dreamers, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Herman’s Hermits, The Rolling Stones (had 8 #1 Billboard Hot 100 hits in the 60s and 70s), The Troggs, and Donovan would have one or more number one singles.

Other acts that were part of the invasion included The Who, and The Kinks. British Invasion acts influenced fashion, haircuts and manners of the 1960s of what was to be known as The Counterculture. In particular the Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night and fashions from Carnaby Street led American media to proclaim England as the centre of the music and fashion world. The success of British acts of the time caused American garage rock bands subsequently to change their sound and style. The influence continued on subsequent groups such as Big Star, Sparks and Todd Rundgren amongst others. The emergence of relatively homogeneous worldwide rock music styles about 1967 marked the end of the “invasion”

Beatle music

In the late 1950s, a flourishing culture of groups began to emerge, often out of the declining skiffle scene, in major urban centres in the UK like Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London. This was particularly true in Liverpool, where it has been estimated that there were around 350 different bands active, often playing ballrooms, concert halls and clubs Beat bands were heavily influenced by American bands of the era, such as Buddy Holly and the Crickets (from which group the Beatles derived their name), as well as earlier British groups such as the Shadows. After the national success of the Beatles in Britain from 1962, a number of Liverpool performers were able to follow them into the charts, including Cilla Black, Gerry & the Pacemakers and the Searchers. Among the most successful beat acts from Birmingham were the Spencer Davis Group and the Moody Blues. From London, the term Tottenham Sound was largely based around the Dave Clark Five, but other London bands that benefited from the beat boom of this era included the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds and the Kinks. The first non-Liverpool, non-Brian Epstein-managed band to break through in the UK were Freddie and the Dreamers, who were based in Manchester, as were Herman’s Hermits. The beat movement provided most of the groups responsible for the British invasion of the American pop charts in the period after 1964, and furnished the model for many important developments in pop and rock music.

The British Invasion

By the end of 1962, the British rock scene had started with beat groups like the Beatles drawing on a wide range of American influences including soul music, rhythm and blues and surf music. Initially, they reinterpreted standard American tunes, playing for dancers doing the twist, for example. These groups eventually infused their original rock compositions with increasingly complex musical ideas and a distinctive sound. In mid-1962 the Rolling Stones started as one of a number of groups increasingly showing blues influence, along with bands like the Animals and the Yardbirds. During 1963, the Beatles and other beat groups, such as the Searchers and the Hollies, achieved great popularity and commercial success in Britain itself.

British rock broke through to mainstream popularity in the United States in January 1964 with the success of the Beatles. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was the band’s first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, starting the British Invasion of the American music charts. The song entered the chart on January 18, 1964, at No. 45 before it became the No. 1 single for 7 weeks and went on to last a total of 15 weeks in the chart. Their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show February 9 is considered a milestone in American pop culture. The broadcast drew an estimated 73 million viewers, at the time a record for an American television program. The Beatles went on to become the biggest selling rock band of all time and they were followed by numerous British bands.

During the next two years, Chad & Jeremy, Peter and Gordon, the Animals, Manfred Mann, Petula Clark, Freddie and the Dreamers, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Herman’s Hermits, the Rolling Stones, the Troggs, and Donovan would have one or more No. 1 singles. Other acts that were part of the invasion included the Kinks and the Dave Clark Five. British Invasion acts also dominated the music charts at home in the United Kingdom.

The British Invasion helped internationalize the production of rock and roll, opening the door for subsequent British (and Irish) performers to achieve international success. In America it arguably spelled the end of instrumental surf music, vocal girl groups and (for a time) the teen idols, that had dominated the American charts in the late 1950s and ’60s. It dented the careers of established R&B acts like Fats Domino and Chubby Checker and even temporarily derailed the chart success of surviving rock and roll acts, including Elvis Presley. The British Invasion also played a major part in the rise of a distinct genre of rock music, and cemented the primacy of the rock group, based on guitars and drums and producing their own material as singer-songwriters.

British blues boom

In parallel with Beat music, in the late 1950s and early 1960s a British blues scene was developing recreating the sounds of American R&B and later particularly the sounds of bluesmen Robert Johnson, Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters. It reached its height of mainstream popularity in the 1960s, when it developed a distinctive and influential style dominated by electric guitar and made international stars of several proponents of the genre including the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, the Yardbirds, Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin.

A number of these moved through blues-rock to different forms of rock music and as a result British blues helped to form many of the subgenres of rock, including psychedelic rock and heavy metal music. Since then direct interest in the blues in Britain has declined, but many of the key performers have returned to it in recent years, new acts have emerged and there have been a renewed interest in the genre.

British psychedelia

British psychedelia emerged during the mid-1960s, was influenced by psychedelic culture and attempted to replicate and enhance the mind-altering experiences of hallucinogenic drugs. The movement drew on non-Western sources such as Indian music’s ragas and sitars as well as studio effects and long instrumental passages and surreal lyrics. Established British artists such as Eric Burdon, the Who, Cream, Pink Floyd and the Beatles produced a number of highly psychedelic tunes during the decade. Many British psychedelia bands of the 1960s never published their music and only appeared in live concerts during that time.

North America, Rock

Roy Orbison was one of rock’s famous artists who wrote ballads of lost love.

By the 1960s, the scene that had developed out of the American folk music revival had grown to a major movement, utilizing traditional music and new compositions in a traditional style, usually on acoustic instruments. In America the genre was pioneered by figures such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and often identified with progressive or labour politics. In the early sixties figures such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez had come to the fore in this movement as singer-songwriters. Dylan had begun to reach a mainstream audience with hits including “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1963) and “Masters of War” (1963), which brought “protest songs” to a wider public, but, although beginning to influence each other, rock and folk music had remained largely separate genres, often with mutually exclusive audiences. Early attempts to combine elements of folk and rock included the Animals “House of the Rising Sun” (1964), which was the first commercially successful folk song to be recorded with rock and roll instrumentation. The folk rock movement is usually thought to have taken off with the Byrds’ recording of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” which topped the charts in 1965. With members who had been part of the cafe-based folk scene in Los Angeles, the Byrds adopted rock instrumentation, including drums and 12-string Rickenbacker guitars, which became a major element in the sound of the genre. By the mid-’60s Bob Dylan took the lead in merging folk and rock, and in July ’65, released Like a Rolling Stone, with a revolutionary rock sound, steeped in tawdry urban imagery, followed by an electric performance later that month at the Newport Folk Festival. Dylan plugged an entire generation into the milieu of the singer-songwriter, often writing from an urban point of view, with poetry punctuated by rock rhythms and electric power.

By the mid to late ’60s, bands and singer-songwriters began to proliferate the underground New York art/music scene. The release of The Velvet Underground & Nico in 1967, featuring singer-songerwriter Lou Reed and German singer and collaborator Nico was described as “most prophetic rock album ever made” by Rolling Stone in 2003. Other New York City based singer songerwriters began to emerge, using the urban landscape as their canvass for lyrics in the confessional style of poets like Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. In July, 1969, Newsweek magazine ran a feature story, “The Girls-Letting Go,” describing the groundbreaking music of Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Lotti Golden and Melanie, as a new breed of female troubadour: “What is common to them are the personalized songs they write, like voyages of self discovery, brimming with keen observation and startling in the impact of their poetry.” The work of these early New York based singer-songwriters, from Laura Nyro’s New York Tendaberry (1969), to Lotti Golden’s East Village diaries on Motor-Cycle her 1969 debut on Atlantic Records, has served as inspiration to generations of female singer-songwriters in the rock, folk and jazz traditions. Dylan’s adoptation of electric instruments, much to the outrage of many folk purists, with his “Like a Rolling Stone”  succeeded in creating a new genre. Folk rock particularly took off in California, where it led acts like the Mamas & the Papas and Crosby, Stills and Nash to move to electric instrumentation, and in New York, where it spawned singer-songwriters and performers including the Lovin’ Spoonful and Simon and Garfunkel, with the latter’s acoustic “The Sounds of Silence” being remixed with rock instruments to be the first of many hits.

Folk rock reached its peak of commercial popularity in the period 1967-68, before many acts moved off in a variety of directions, including Dylan and the Byrds, who began to develop country rock. However, the hybridization of folk and rock has been seen as having a major influence on the development of rock music, bringing in elements of psychedelia, and in particular, helping to develop the ideas of the singer-songwriter, the protest song and concepts of “authenticity”

Pop

Chubby Checker during the early 1960s popularizes the enduring dance craze the Twist with his hit cover of Hank Ballard & the Midnighters’ R&B hit “The Twist”.

Gerry Goffin and Carole King become a very influential duo in pop music, writing numerous number one hits including the first song to ever reach number one by a girl group, the Shirelles “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and the 1962 number one hit, “The Loco-Motion” which was performed by Little Eva.

“Sugar Sugar” becomes a big hit for The Archies, defining the bubblegum pop genre.

The Monkees were a made for TV band, inspired by the antics of the Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night. Under contractual reasons, the group were not allowed to play their own instruments, which led to many feuds between the bandmates and music supervisor, Don Kirshner.

R&B and Soul

The Detroit-based Motown label develops as a pop-influenced answer to soul music. The label begins a long run of No. 1 U.S. hit singles in 1961 with “Please Mr. Postman” by the Marvelettes. The label would have numerous No. 1 Billboard hits throughout the decade and into the 1990s. Notable Motown acts included the Supremes, the Miracles, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye and the Jackson Five, who debuted in 1969.

Soul music develops popularity throughout the decade, led by Sam Cooke, James Brown and Otis Redding, among many others.
Funk begins later in the decade with James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone having early hits.

You Keep Me Hanging On uses a fast tempo which would prove innovative in the development of disco music.

Aretha Franklin’s 1967 recordings, such as “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”, “Respect” (originally sung by Otis Redding), and “Do Right Woman-Do Right Man”, are considered the apogee of the soul genre, and were among its most commercially successful productions.


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