Music in the 1960’s

The British Invasion

A musical movement of the mid-1960s, the British Invasion was composed of British rock-and-roll and beat groups whose popularity spread rapidly to the rest of the English-speaking world, especially the United States which, from the beginnings of rock-and-roll music in the late 1950s, had nearly a monopoly on the genre.

Though generally not credited with starting the “Invasion”, Dusty Springfield was one of the first British artist to have significant success in the U.S., with her hit single I Only Want to Be with You”, released in November 1963. She appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in early 1964 singing the popular hit. Throughout the rest of the decade she continued to have several U.S. hits.

The Beatles’ triumphant arrival in New York on February 7, 1964, is widely credited with truly throwing open America’s doors to a wealth of British musical talent, and officially beginning what would soon come to be called the second British Invasion. 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 #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, starting the British Invasion of the American music charts. 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.

Other British bands soon tried to replicate the beats and suggestive lyrics of American rock and roll, but many failed. Many of the bands lacked the original sound of rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and county music. Scottish-born Lonnie Donegan was mainly a drummer less, acoustic guitar and banjo ensembles, similar to jug bands, who most often sang traditional American folk songs.

By 1966, some British teens developed a real feel for the rock-and-roll and American blues idioms. Blending that with such local traditions as music hall, pop, and Celtic folk, they formulated original music they could claim, play, and sing with conviction. Young groups with electric guitars began performing and writing up-tempo melodic pop, fiery rock and roll, and Chicago-style electric blues.

The rebellious tone and image of American rock and roll and blues musicians also deeply echoed with British youth in the late 1950s, influencing all the British Invasion artists. Within a year or two of the initial British onslaught, a new wave of American musicians had already laid the groundwork for the creative renaissance in popular music during the latter half of the 1960s.

Psychedelic rock

Typical psychedelic style poster icon

Psychedelic rock is a style of rock music that is inspired or influenced by psychedelic culture and attempts to replicate and enhance the mind-altering experiences of psychedelic drugs. It often used new recording techniques and effects and drew on non-Western sources such the ragas and drones of Indian music. Major features of psychedelic rock are electric guitars, often used with feedback, wah wah, and fuzzboxes, extended instrumental solos or jams, elaborate studio effects, such as backwards tapes, long delay loops and many more features. A sitar was used much early on with recordings of the genre. The sitar is a plucked stringed instrument used mainly in Indian classical music.Powerful drugs such as LSD, mescaline, peyote and mushrooms were being combined with marijuana and alcohol as a means to disconnect from reality. While under the influence of these substances, musicians and artists felt as if they had entered a higher sphere of awareness. Psychedelic rock musicians felt free to break out of the pop music mode and perform longer pieces based on free-form jazz and blues models. Lyrics were no longer required to make linear sense because they could reflect an altered reality of the drug experience.

It was established by many musicians including The Beatles, The Byrds, and The Yardbirds, emerging as a new genre during the mid-1960s, along with folk rock and Blues rock bands in the United States. Two of the most successful and influential acts of the era, Bob Dylan and the Beatles, were among the first to experiment with such references. Dylan’s song “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (1965), which may have taken its title from a Kerouac novel included the line, “Johnny’s in the basement, mixing up the medicine”, and his “Mr. Tambourine Man” (1965) After being introduced to cannabis, members of The Beatles began experimenting with LSD in 1965. The Beatles introduced audiences to many of the major elements of the psychedelic sound during this period, with guitar feedback in “I Feel Fine” (1964). Drug references soon began to appear more and more in their songs.

Psychedelic rock reached its height in the last years of the decade. 1967 saw the Beatles release the double A-side “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”. It reached its peak between 1967 and 1969 with the Summer of Love and the Woodstock Festival. By the end of the 1960s psychedelic rock was in retreat. LSD had been made illegal in the US in 1966.


The Folk Revival

The folk revival of the 1960s is often the starting point of attraction with the style for many contemporary folk fans.

There were a lot of things combined to influence the folk music revival of the 1960s, but there are three major influences. One; during the early 20th Century, folklorists headed out across the country in hopes of documenting the musical styles traditional to various communities. Two; the release of the “Anthology of American Folk Music” featured artists ranging in banjo playing and folk-blues recordings. It exposed this style of music that was native to be heard around the country. Three; the work of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and “Almanac Singers “in the 1940’s and 50’s helped create groups that spun off an influence of interesting songwriting during the hard times of the 1960’s.

A result of the folk revival was the proliferation of bluegrass music and the popularization of old timers’ music. In a lot of ways, there were two schools during the folk revival: the singer/songwriters, who wrote their own words to traditional melodies and in some cases, began writing entirely new melodies; and the old timers, who simply stuck to traditional songs and styles. Many traditionalists believe that writing their own material diluted the very definition of folk music, while revivalists look at it as just another turn in the evolution of the genre.

For many people when they hear the words “folk music,” the first two people that come to mind are Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. They were the biggest stars of the 1960s folk craze. When 19-year-old Bob Dylan arrived in Greenwich Village in January 1961, Joan Baez had long been crowned the “Queen of Folk,” but within two short years, Dylan would ascend the throne as King of this musical monarchy, with the two wowing audiences from coast to coast with their live duets. Both Dylan and Baez did their fair share in the Civil Rights Movement; they both participated on the March to Washington where they both preformed for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Many of Bob Dylan’s songs are anthems to the Civil Rights Movement. For example, the song “Only a Pawn in their Game” is about the assassination of the Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers. Baez not only sang at the March on Washington but worked closely throughout the early 1960s with her good friend Martin Luther King Jr. marched arm in arm with him in Selma and other cities, sang at rallies in churches throughout the South to support civil rights activists,

Surf Rock

Surf rock was a short lived music phenomenon associated with surf culture found in Southern California and largely apart of Orange County. It was often confined to an isolated region, but had worldwide appeal Surf rock celebrated not just catching the perfect wave, but such carefree adolescent phenomena as the sun, beach, parties, girls and hot rods. This is not to state that all surf music came from the area of the US; on the contrary, there were some very popular groups who adopted the sound as their own from various locations in the US and the world. The musical genre was an extension of rockabilly and 1950s rhythm and blues compositions. It has two major forms: one is instrumental surf rock with an electric guitar or saxophone playing the melody, and the other is vocal surf pop with strong vocal harmonies, including ballads and wild dance music.

Surf rock most popular surf music was recorded between 1961 and 1965 soon making it to mainstream media in the mid 1960’s. Bands that hit the mainstream national audience were Dick Dale, The Chantays, the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, Ronny and the Datonas and the Ventures. The group that is most popular within the genre is the Beach Boys. The Beach Boys introduced mass market pop vocals to surf music. They were the ultimate surf band for many listeners, simply because they put the appeal of the beach and surfing into words instead of conveying it with loose music. The beach boys first 3 albums have the word “Surfin” or “Surfer”. However, it is Southern California guitarist Dick Dale who is often acknowledged as the ‘Father of Surf Music.’ In the late 1950s, he developed the genre defining ‘reverb sound’ which enabled music lovers to hear the melody lines played on the low end of the strings of a Fender Stratocaster guitar which in turn gave it a wet, dripping-like sound; which was supposed to capture the feel of actually riding the waves.

Once the British invasion hit the American shores, surf music disappeared from the major charts, but has remained popular in local clubs and venues in some regions. Surf music has influenced many artists.

Now a days surf bands are often seen performing in conjunction with classic car shows, and the genre still gets a fair amount of airplay on Oldies and some Classic Rock radio stations. From the early foundations of surf music either surf rock or instrumental, the impact can still be heard in today’s rock and roll music.


The Woodstock Festival was a three-day concert that involved lots of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll – plus a lot of mud. Other names for the festival are Woodstock Music Festival, an Aquarian Exposition, and, Three Days of Peace and Music. Michael Lang, John Roberts, Joel Roseman and, Artie Kornfeld were the organizers of this event which was held through August 15-18, 1969. It was held at Max Yasgur’s 600 acre farm in Catskills after its late venue change from Mills Industrial Park in Wallkill, New York only a month away from the date. The change was due to the townspeople did not want a bunch drugged out hippies in their town. Only anticipating around 50,000 people would attend the festival, the facility could not handle the 500,000 people who actually showed up. With this huge event there were only reported 3 causalities. Two of which were from overdoses and the one was ran over by a tractor while he was in the fields. There were also 3 births during the festival. Over 20 artists preformed over the three day period, including the Incredible String Band and Jimi Hendricks.
As disaster strikes
As so many people drove to the festival on Wednesday, August 13 (2 days before the festival) many of the security gates had not been set up around the farm 50,000 were camped out in front of the stage, and people saw the concert for free. As soon as this news got out thousands of people rushed to the site to see a free concert. What began as a paid event drew so many viewers from across the world that the fences were torn down and it became a free concert open to the public. Highways became huge parking lots, as spectators left their cars and walked the rest of the way to the festival. With the huge amount of numbers the organizers soon hired helicopters to shuttle performers from their motels to the stage. With huge amount of people who came there were not enough resources waiting in line for water was about a 30 minute wait, and at least an hour long wait to use a toilet. Another huge dilemma was the rain, people become covered in mud and there was nowhere to escape the rain. Even throughout the bad times the Woodstock Music Festival of 1969 has become an icon of the 1960s hippie counterculture. The Woodstock Festival became the most popular music event in history.



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