1960s Music: Artists & History

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  • 0:04 Music of the 1960s
  • 0:30 Rock & Roll
  • 3:59 Protest Music
  • 5:27 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Kelly Bryan

Kelly has taught English in four different countries, mostly recently at Dongguk University in South Korea. She has a master's degree in teaching English as a second language.

The music of the 1960s not only revolutionized many genres and even produced some new ones, it also captured the heated spirit of the era's political movements: opposing the Vietnam War and fighting for civil rights.

Music of the 1960s

Summarizing the music of the 1960s is almost impossible because there's just so much of it. Try to name the five most influential bands of the era and you'll instantly think of five more, then five more, and, well, you get the idea. This is because the 1960s is when our modern conception of popular music emerged. It was a period of creative explosion, of loud, proud voices, and of fearless innovation.

Rock & Roll

Rock and roll, the music of rebellious youth, came into its prime during the 1960s. While there were rock bands in the 1950s, the 1960s is the decade that defined rock music.

The British Invasion

By the end of the 1950s, American rock music seemed like a passing fad, until a new sound from overseas swept the nation. The British were coming!

While Great Britain had tried to produce rock acts in the 1950s, no group gained traction in the U.S. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a new crop of bands emerged, often heavily influenced by African American music such as R&B and the blues. The fusion of rock music with these other genres facilitated the British Invasion, or the British bands that created a new sound that caught on on both sides of the Atlantic.

No band better represents the British Invasion, or 1960s music as a whole, than the Beatles. With hits like ''I Want to Hold Your Hand,'' the Beatles began as an early version of a boy band. They largely appealed to teenage girls, whose ecstatic screaming would sometimes drown them out. Their enormous fame allowed them the freedom to grow and evolve as artists. The Beatles would go on to create classic albums such as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album, ambitious genre-hopping works that still define rock music.

Blues Rock

The Beatles were not alone, however. American blues music heavily influenced British bands like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. While the Beatles with their floppy haircuts and matching suits appealed to teen girls in the early 60s, the Stones were sexy at a time when many mainstream music acts were squeaky-clean. This comes through in songs like ''Satisfaction'' and ''Honky Tonk Woman.''

Blues music influenced American artists as well. Janis Joplin left her mark on the music of the late 1960s with powerful blues-inspired vocals. Joplin is best remembered for her performance at Woodstock, an historic music festival held in upstate New York in 1969. Joplin's legendary career was short lived, as she died from a drug overdose the following year.

Folk Rock

Folk music also played a big role in 1960s pop culture. Artists like Pete Seeger and Joan Baez entertained and enlightened crowds. No 60s folk singer's influence and popularity has been more enduring than Bob Dylan's, though. Dylan gained fame through his unique nasal vocal style and political folk ballads. His influence as a folk singer was so great that when he decided to switch to electric guitar in 1965, it was a major scandal among folk aficionados of the time. Following Dylan's lead, folk rock is still a popular genre today.

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