Welcome to the second of our ‘Decades’ series, this time focusing maybe the most talked about and revered of all recent decades, the 1960’s. It was a time when the world seemed to go from black & white to colour, where fashion and politics fused, where teen culture ‘grew up’ and ‘turned on’, and where music itself went through some radical changes in a very short space of time.
Culture, fashion and film
The ‘summer of love’ in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969 were the epitome of the counterculture movement. Psychedelia and LSD dominated the scene with Timothy Leary´s famous “Turn on, tune in, drop out”. Psychedelia influenced music, artwork and films and there was a growing interest in Eastern religions and philosophy. Free love was just around the corner and times were going to change.
Movies began to tackle social taboos suck as sex and violence. It was the beginning of the “New Hollywood” and the industry was forever changed (it was the decline and end of the Studio System). Popular films included Doctor Zhivago, Breakfast At Tiffany’s, The Graduate, Valley Of The Dolls, and The Sound Of Music. It also saw the beginning of The Pink Panther films starring comic genius Peter Sellers, who also turned in a multi-role performance in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove. Sean Connery starred in the first of the series of James Bond films, kicking off the series that survives to this day, and Clint Eastwood played ‘The man with no name’ in a series of Sergio Leone ‘Spaghetti’ westerns culminating in the epic The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. The big counter-cultural film was Easy Rider starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper as two pot-smoking bikers living high and free, a film which also saw a young actor named Jack Nicholson make his film debut.
In television, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, The Flintstones, I Dream Of Jeanie, Bewitched and Gilligan´s Island were on America´s TV sets, with some of these shows reaching audiences of around 40 million viewers. Meanwhile in Britain Dr Who was born, and other popular shows included The Avengers, The Prisoner, Z-Cars, and it saw the start of Coronation Street, the world’s longest running soap opera which bought gritty, working class drama in to people’s homes.
In fashion another revolution took place: the birth of the bikini paralyzed men and women around the planet. The Hippie movement with it´s bell bottoms and colorful prints and, of course, the mini skirt. Hairdo´s were all about Bee hives and later in the decade, pixie cuts like Mia Farrow and Twiggy were all around and of course, the ALWAYS cool Afro.
Science and Technology
The decade was marked by the space race. The United States almost lost their mind when the Soviets sent the first man to space: Yuri Gagarin. The US raced and by 1966 they were crushed again when the Russians launched the first space probe, but in 1969 the US managed to put the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, taking one small step for him but a giant leap for mankind. Apollo 11 fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s goal of reaching the moon by the end of the 1960s, which he had expressed during a speech given before a joint session of Congress on 25 May 1961: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
In other scientific developments, and with a far more tangible impact, the female birth contraceptive was developed. It changed culture and our way of life.
Satellite communications were initiated and developed, the first computer game was invented (Spacewar!). The first super computers were being used although they were quite literally the size of a small house. The first home video recorder was produced, audio cassettes were introduced and the eight track tape player was also popular. These revolutionised things by allowing listeners to record and re-record their own choices of music as they pleased for the first time.
Global politics and events
The 60´s was an extraordinary decade for politics in the USA. Televised debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were the first of their kind and signaled a new era of politics. Kennedy was victorious and became the youngest man ever to become President at age 43. Unfortunately, he was assassinated in November 1963 in Dallas, Texas whilst parading in an open top car. Lee Harvey Oswald, the man arrested and charged with his murder was himself shot and killed 2 days later by nightclub owner Jack Ruby. Kennedy´s assassination would become the subject of numerous conspiracy theories, documentaries, and feature films, and the full facts behind the event seem set to remain obscured.
A few months previously Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech (a young Bob Dylan was also in attendance that day, but more of that later) which would prove to be a powerful rallying call for all who supported his call for racial equality and his non-violent approach to protest, although in 1968 King himself would be assassinated. In 1964 the new President Lyndon B. Johnson would sign the Civil Rights Act in to law banning racism and ethnic discrimination.
The backdrop to this was the ongoing ´Cold War´ with it´s battleground being the ongoing Vietnam War. A large anti-war movement eventually sprang up in response to the war as part of the wider so-called ´counter-culture´ movement, an umbrella term for a leftist social and political feeling that was concerned also with issues relating to materialism, gender inequality, sexual revolution and the advocacy of mind altering drugs such as marijuana and LSD. Elsewhere in the world 1966 would see the beginning in China of the ten-year long Cultural Revolution spearheaded by Communist party leader Mao Zedong (who would become known simply as Chairman Mao).
In Europe the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 by East German forces, dividing Germany in two. The wall would remain in place for nearly 30 years. In Latin America the legendary revolutionary Ernest ‘Che’ Guevara was captured and executed by Bolivian forces in 1967, immortalizing him amongst leftists and turning him in to an iconic figure and object of a never/ending line of posters and t/shirts.
To say that the 60´s was an important decade for music is something that is almost impossible to overstate. The fact is that the reverberations from this watershed time in popular music of all forms are still being felt today and the musical developments of that heady, creative time have achieved permanence through the sheer power of their impact on musicians and music lovers alike. This was the decade when rock and roll, the music that so indelibly marked the decade before, grew up and became known simply as rock as the form expanded both it´s sonic palette and it´s range of influences from other styles of music.
A very large part of this was due to one band – The Beatles. In the wake of The Beatles rise came a flurry of British groups and singers such as The Kinks, The Animals, The Who, Herman´s Hermits, The Troggs, Donovan and The Rolling Stones who along with many others would become part of what was known in America as the ´British Invasion´. This movement would have a profound affect on the US music scene where the first few years of the 60´s were marked by the left-wing folk music scene which spawned the likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton and Odetta.
Whilst the Fab Four revolutionized the sound of pop records it was Dylan more than anyone else who revolutionized the song itself as a form of expression with a dazzling poetic intelligence and creativity. Dylan became a darling of the political left and songs like ‘Blowing In The Wind’, ‘A Hard Rain´s Gonna Fall’ and the searing ‘Masters Of War’ became rallying cries for a generation who saw him as their voice, embodying the spirit of the times.
The other major British contribution to American music was the British blues revival which saw artists such as John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac and The Yardbirds lead a revival of a music which had in the wake of rock and roll largely been forgotten. The Yardbirds were particularly important in that they threw up 3 genuine guitar legends in Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page who along with Jimi Hendrix would completely transform the role and style of the lead guitarist in rock music with the use of extended improvised solos and dynamic use of distortion, echo and feedback a heavy sound which was also developed in the US by the likes of Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. Other important rock groups of the time included The Byrds, The Hollies and Buffalo Springfield, members of who would form the first rock ‘supergroup’ Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young or CSNY for short.
The 60’s was also the age when the music festival was born, and in the summer of 1969 the most famous festival of them all took place. Woodstock featured a string of legendary performances from the likes of The Who, Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Canned Heat, Santana, Richie Havens, Janis Joplin, Country Joe and The Fish and many more. Whilst reports on the numbers of people who attended vary greatly it was in the hundreds of thousands, and over three days people got high, dropped acid, went without sleep and food, and had the mother of all parties. A hugely successful film captured much of the spirit and many of the performances from the legendary weekend.
And finally… The Playlist!!!
5 of our favourite 60’s songs:
The Beatles- A Day in the Life
In music things also changed a lot, but there is no way we can continue talking about the 60´s without talking about THE BEATLES. Formed in 1960, the band became the most influential band of the rock era, and our personal favorite. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Star changed history, whether you agree with that statement or not, it´s true, its a fact. They took their influences, mastered them and outdid them. They were amateurs, then musicians, then amazingly talented craftsmen and then they were artists. They pushed every boundary at the time and were so innovative we are still taking about them 50 years later. They did all this before turning thirty, and there are countless books and will always be so much to read and learn from them. From their first album to their last they blew everyone´s head and stole almost everyone’s hearts.
We chose this song because it is genius and we love it, but also because it is a great example of what they achieved. First, the song is the final track on one of the most important albums of all times, St. Pepper´s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album that would change music and records and artists forever. It was written by both, in the sense that Paul McCartney wrote a song, John Lennon wrote another one and they were merged together, so it shows different styles of writing and their individual genius but how good they were together at the same time, the orchestral arrangements are fantastic and the final chord is the most famous final chord in history.
Like a Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan
In the wake of the Brit invasion Bob Dylan would seek new artistic territories and move away from so-called ´protest´ songs and in to more surreal and expansive lyricism as well as adding an electric backing band and embracing a heavier sound. The first time he unveiled this new sound has become a legendary moment in music history as he headlined the Newport Music Festival receiving loud and persistent boos from an audience who considered he had betrayed them and their ideology. Dylan himself would go on to make a flawless trio of electric albums – Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde – which would revolutionize rock music and become touchstone records for serious music fans.
The pivotal song from this time is ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, 6 minutes plus of Dylan at his very best, lyrically, vocally and musically. It also provided him with his most successful single to date giving fuel to those who accused him of ‘selling out’. Certainly it’s lyrical refrain of “How does it feel to be on your own?” was a marked contrast from the socially conscious tone of the songs from his first few albums. It was initially deemed too uncommercial for a single release yet after copies were leaked to DJ’s in New York it quickly became a radio hit and would soon reach number 2 in the Billboard charts turning the already famous singer in to a superstar on a level with The Beatles (who were at number 1 at the time with ‘Help!’).
Get Off of My Cloud -The Rolling Stones
The Stones were and will always be the only band to ever tolerate being compared with The Beatles. Their rivalry is mainly a marketing strategy but still many people around the world will divide themselves into either Beatles or Rolling Stones fans. Formed in 1962, they were key players in the British invasion, the 60´s counterculture movement and making blues a fundamental part of rock and roll. Led by Mick Jagger, the ultimate frontman, and Keith Richard, who pretty much defined what it is to be a rock and roll guitarist, the Stones were the original bad boys of music, their dangerous, sexually-charged image starkly contrasting with the more wholesome, clean-cut Beatles.
‘Get Off My Cloud’ was the follow up to the single ‘I can´t Get No Satisfaction’ (their most successful and controversial song, having even FBI agents listening to the lyrics to see if there were sex references involved). The song was written by Jagger and Richards, and it was released in September 1965. It was written to rebel against their success with Satisfaction and people´s expectations of them. In our opinion, the perfect way for an artist to rebel is to make one of their greatest works.
I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Marvin Gaye
Gaye was an American singer song writer also known as “The Prince of Motown” and “The Prince of Soul”. He was the first artist to break out of his record´s tight grip and would go on to have hits into the 70´s and early 80´s. He began to sing with his family in church and then started started to perform in a vocal quartet called The Marquees. The group started early in their run to preform with Bo Diddley but even though it was signed to a label never had much success. Gaye went on to form other groups and also started working as a drummer before he actually got his break and got singed as a solo artists. He was influenced by jazz music and crooners like Frank Sinatra, and he himself wen on to influence artists such as James Taylor, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. Unfortunately, he was a drug addict who started having paranoia attacks and became violent, and in one of music´s most tragic turn of events, he was shot dead by his own father who claimed no contest to a voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to probation. He was a talented musician with a unique voice and sound, smooth, groovy and foremost SEXY!
The song was his biggest success in the 60´s. It was written for Motown by writers Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, it makes a reference to the way black slaves communicated during the U.S. civil war (humans carried news instead of the telegraph).
I’m Waiting For The Man – Velvet Underground
If you went back in time to the late 60’s and mentioned the name Velvet Underground to music lovers most of them would probably be unfamiliar with either the band or their music. Their debut LP sold a mere 30,000 copies initially yet over the course of time it would be seen as a classic, often featuring highly on lists of the greatest albums of all time. Indeed, they are pretty much the definition of an ‘alternative’ band and their musical influence can now be seen to be as great as any of the other acts mentioned here. Formed by Lou Reed and John Cale, and managed by legendary pop artist Andy Warhol their songs were dark, abrasive, dissonant and yet full of melodic beauty and genuinely ahead of their time.
This track is a perfect example with it’s drugs-related lyrical theme and stomping proto-punk guitars and drums, and would subsequently be covered by a diverse range of artists including David Bowie, Cheap Trick, UK Subs, O.M.D and Beck.