Fads of the 1960s: More Than Just Great Tunes

November 21, 2008

One of the greatest things about music is that it is a social and cultural expression of the people. It records history in a way that no history professor could ever make more interesting to their students. Baby Boomer’s musical choices reflected the political and social disturbances of the time, including an unpopular war, the assassination of a president, civil and women’s rights movements, and free love. This music remains a lasting symbol of what their generation not only stood for, but openly worked towards.

In the early and mid ‘60s Bob Dylan hit the scene of the rock movement and helped start the development of folk rock, along with Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young, which brought protests songs to a wider public. Songs like “Blowin in the wind” by Bob Dylan influenced youth and exposed them to the social problems facing America, such as the Civil Rights Movement. The Rascals' “People Everywhere Just want to be Free”, Joan Baez’s “We shall overcome”, and Dylan’s “The times they are a changin", were message songs that helped start the surge of politically driven music that inspired a revolution and a generation. Songs of the decade reached for the semantic, the spiritual, and the poetic, to better pinpoint the mood of the times.

Psychedelic rock also started in the folk rock scene. In England, Pink Floyd developed a kind of underground psychedelic rock and when the Beatles released their album Revolver, which had psychedelic rock in “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Yellow Submarine”, people went crazy for it. Psychedelic rock, though it replaced more of the acoustic-centered sounds of the ‘60s, paved the way for hard rock and heavy metal.

Soul music and Motown became a driving force by the black artists who fought for equality. Songs by James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Curtis Mayfield expressed the attitudes of the times. James Brown’s “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” offered support to the subjugated black youth. Aretha Franklin’s song “Freedom” was written after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. It inspired the world to “think about what you are trying to do to me, think, let your mind go and let yourself be free, ooh freedom, freedom, I said freedom.” Motown music was a great supporter for the Civil Rights Movement, and was the first African-American owned label. They supported peaceful integration and recorded speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rock music was constructing a connection across the racial divide; black guitarist Jimi Hendrix was a star of the times and a huge appeal at the Woodstock music festival. The feminist movement also surged during the 1960s. Inspired by singers like the Supremes, Aretha Franklin, Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin, women all over the United States began to fight for equality. Janis Joplin made a statement every time she went on stage. She held nothing back. She was a big, if not bigger influence than many of her male rock counterparts of the day.

Music provided a support for a young generation during the increasingly turbulent times in the '60s. They found a way to express themselves and made their voices heard, even by those who didn’t want to hear what they had to say. Finding an outlet in song, the '60s generation expressed their need for personal freedom and societal peace. “Give peace a chance!” they screamed and in the end, through the smoke of Vietnam, through Civil Rights, through the assignations, their music was heard and lives on in today’s youth as well as in the hearts and minds of those who experienced it.

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