The Music of The 60s

The 1960s decade refers to the years from the beginning of 1960 to the end of 1969. However, the term also refers to an era more often called The Sixties, which denotes the complexity of inter-related cultural and political trends in the west, particularly United States, Britain, France, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Spain, Italy, and West Germany. Nevertheless, political turmoil was not limited to these countries, but also included nations like for example Japan and Mexico.

The Sixties as they are known in popular culture in the United States, is a term often used nostalgically to describe the counter-culture and social revolution; and pejoratively to describe the era as one of irresponsible excess and flamboyance. Also the decade has been labeled the Swinging Sixties because of the libertine attitudes that emerged during this decade. Experimental drug use became tightly associated with the counter-culture of the era, as pointed out by Jefferson Airplane co-founder Paul Kantner: “If you can remember anything about the sixties, you weren’t really there.”

There is no doubt the 1960s have become synonymous with all the new, exciting, radical and subversive events and trends of the period, which continued to develop in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and beyond. Also in Africa the period was an important one as considerable political change was brought about. Altogether 32 countries gained independence from their European colonial rulers during this period.

By some commentators it has been pointed out that this era was a classical Jungian nightmare cycle since a rigid culture, unable to contain the demands for greater individual freedom, broke free of the social constraints of the previous age through extreme deviation from the norm. A vivid example is the rise, success, fall/nightmare and explosion in the London scene of the 1960s. However, as pointed out, this does not alone explain the mass nature of the phenomenon.

During this period in time rock music became the most popular way of defining the new hippie aesthetic, and the style that arose with the stark, swirling colors and hallucinogenic imagery was coined with the term psychedelic. Among others Bob Dylan demonstrated that expressive songs with surrealist imagery could be merged into popular music. Dylan though was one of few artists that did not jump on the psychedelic bandwagon. However, his efforts at the time inspired countless bands that did. The first psychedelic bands came from San Francisco, and some of these were the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company. Nevertheless, it did not take long before the psychedelic aesthetic spread musically to other places such as New York, where band like The Fugs and the Velvet Underground, Sly and the Family Stone and the Chambers Brothers were inspired and in England bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, among others, began producing the same kind of music.

During this period music entered and era of “all hits”, as an abundant number of artists released recordings beginning in the 1950s, as 45-rpm singles, and the radio stations most of the time only played the most popular of the large number of records being made. Also, bands most of the time only recorded the best of their songs to have a better shot at getting radio play. Among the best examples of American listeners expanding from the folksinger, doo-wop and saxophone sounds of the 1950s and evolving to include psychedelic music is the developments of the Motown Sound, “folk rock” and the British Invasion of bands from the U.K.

There is no doubt that the rise of the counterculture, particularly among the youth created a huge market for rock, soul, pop, reggae and blues music produced by drug-culture influenced bands like the The Beatles, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, Deep Purple, The Who, Sly and the Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix Experience also was helping to create folk rock.

The sixties are today celebrated by some of the people, who remember the freedom and good times they had during this time in history, but the period is also widely celebrated by younger people all over the world, who have made the period an important part of their life by adopting the aesthetics, buying the records, wearing the clothes and approaching life with the open and free attitude which characterized this period.

Thomas Stenumgaard writes about sixties music and vinyl records. For more information check out the Essential
Garage Rock Selection at Nylvi .

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