The Sixties are often cited as the era when rock music was created. Rock Music is defined as a group of related music styles that have dominated popular music in the West since about 1955. Rock music began in the United States, but it has influenced and in turn been shaped by a broad field of cultures and musical traditions, including gospel music, the blues, jazz, country-and-western music, classical music, folk music, electronic music, and the popular music of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The term 'rock music' commonly refers to modern popular music styles that emerged after 1959. Major rock-music styles include rock and roll, a term 'appropriated' by white musicians in the 60s, and rhythm-and-blues music, influenced mainly by Afro-American musicians. Each of these major genres encompasses a variety of sub styles, such as heavy metal, punk, reggae, alternative and grunge. While innovations in rock music have often occurred in regional centres such, as New York City, Kingston in Jamaica, and Liverpool in England, the influence of rock music is now felt worldwide.
1954, six years before the decade of the sixties would begin, a man named Elvis Presley fused Black American rhythm and blues with Southern USA country ballads. Idol in the Fifties, legend in the Sixties and Seventies and, after his premature death, and icon of god-like stature, he remains the undisputed King of rock’n’roll. When rock first reared its rebellious head in the sneering shape of Elvis Aaron Presley, competition simply didn’t exist. Presley’s arrival at Sun Studios in Memphis was an event that lit blue touch paper and signalled the start of the rock revolution. Elvis, along with others such as Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, had for the first time narrowed the generation gap of musical taste.
It scared people that young men, with their flashy cloths, their electric instruments and their loud pent up sound, could make their children, as well as themselves, get up and dance. A new creative platform had been formed and it wasn’t going to be dislodged as an integral part of American modern culture. Across the Atlantic it was also taking root in Britain and wasn’t long before Britain, as America had been, would become the ‘leader of the pack.’
The Beatles were quite simply phenomenal. They changed lives; they changed rock music; they changed the world. In 1963, their single Please Please Me topped three of the UK’s music charts. 12 more number one singles and a nation wide tour followed it. In 1964 the Beatles travelled to New York City to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, and launched the so-called ‘British Invasion’. Influenced by American recordings, British pop bands of the period invigorated the popular music mainstream and confirmed the international stature of rock music. Soon several British groups had developed distinctive styles. The Beatles combined the guitar-based rock and roll of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly with the artistry of the Tin Pan Alley style. The Animals blended blues and R&B influences. And the Rolling Stones joined aspects of Chicago blues to their intense, forceful music.
As with early rock and roll, the major American record companies did not take the British bands seriously. The Beatles' first hit singles in the United States were released through small, independent record companies. It did not take long for the British bands to break that reception down – they were too hot. Many American musicians reacted by developing their own distinctive look and sound. In 1965 Bob Dylan performed live and in-studio with a band that played electric instruments, alienating many folk-music purists in the process. The folk-rock style was further pioneered by the The Byrds, who had a number-one hit on the Billboard magazine music charts with a version of Dylan's song “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The short-lived group Buffalo Springfield formed in 1966, blending aspects of rock and country-and-western music to create country rock. The point at which rock music emerged as a genre distinct from the mainstream pop scene is difficult to define but after 1964 music was created with less with a view to financial reward and more with an eye to artistic fulfilment.
Centres of rock music became permanent fixtures and are still standing beacons of artistic expression such as London, Chicago and New York. Another important centre of rock music in the 1960s was Los Angeles, where Jim Morrison formed the group the Doors and guitarist and composer Frank Zappa developed a unique blend of bizarre humour and complex jazz-influenced songs with his group The Mothers of Invention. San Francisco rock or psychedelic rock emerged around 1966 and was associated with the use of hallucinogenic drugs such as Lysergic Acid Diethylamide or LSD. Bands such as Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead experimented with long, improvised stretches of music called jams.
Drugs are still very current issues in modern rock because of the experimentation of the Sixties. In 1967 the Beatles were in Abbey Road Studios putting the finishing touches on their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. At one point Paul McCartney wandered down the corridor and heard what was then a new young band called Pink Floyd working on their hypnotic debut, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. He listened for a moment, then came rushing back. "Hey guys," he reputedly said, "There's a new band in there and they're gonna steal our thunder." With their mix of blues, music hall influences, Lewis Carroll references, and experimentation, Pink Floyd was one of the key bands of the 1960s psychedelic revolution.
In the late 1960s hard rock emerged, focusing on thick layers of sound, loud volume levels, and virtuoso guitar solos. In London, American Jimi Hendrix developed a highly influential electric-guitar style. His fiery technique gained exposure at the first large-scale rock festivals in the United States such as the Monterey Pop festival (1967) and Woodstock (1969). In 1966 the first so-called power trio was formed in London, the band Cream, which showcased the virtuosity of guitarist Eric Clapton, and erstwhile jazzmen, bassist Jack Bruce, and drummer Ginger Baker.
In the late 1960s new styles emerged in the United States, including southern rock, pioneered by the Allman Brothers Band. Jazz rock was beginning to be played, including Latin rock (a blend of Latin American music, jazz and rock influences, and R&B styles), exemplified by the music of Santana. The big Brit bands of the 70s, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple came on the scene. The Beatles' 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - the first rock concept album - had established new standards for studio recording and helped to establish the notion of the rock musician as a creative artist.
The Sixties were groundbreaking because so many talents emerged and amazing techniques and styles were created. From Elvis and Buddy Holly to the creative pop rock of the Beatles and Jefferson Airplane the voices of rock emerged. Modern folk rock might not be around but for the experimentation of Bob Dylan and The Band. The groundbreaking work of Jimi Hendrix on guitar has inspired many modern bands and virtuoso guitarists. Purple Haze by Hendrix is one of the most unforgettable riffs in rock, a ferocious two-note guitar march scarred with fuzz. And it launched not one but two phenomena, late 60’s psychedelia and the unprecedented genius of Hendrix. Every modern band has influences from the sixties. Bands such as the Strokes were influenced by the Velvet Underground and the Vines, who were influenced by the Beatles and so it goes…
Heatley, M, The encyclopedia of rock, Grange Books. London 1997. Captures all the most influential moments and makers of the most popular music of the century
Microsoft® Encarta® Reference Library 2003 © 1993-2002 Microsoft Corporation. Lots of contributors adding information about their chosen field of expertise
Jim DeRogatis, Kaleidoscope Eyes: Psychedelic Rock from the '60s to the '90s, 1996, looks specifically at the music and traces its strands to the 1990s.
Multiple Rolling Stone editors, Rolling Stone “500 Greatest Songs of All Time,” issue 637 March 2005. A celebration of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time