Music in the 1960s

If you take a look at the 1960s Billboard magazines, you will notice that they are filled with rock & roll music at every corner. However, back in the 1950s, rock & roll in America indicated disorder: It was the protest of young people, fighting against the disruption brought by wars and quell in the Eisenhower era. The Billboard chart was dominated by musicians like Paul Anka and Frankie Avalon, which seemed to represent the most popular mainstream with their pop and R&B styles. However, after few years, rock music gained its power and even brought cultural and political influence by the end of the decades. How did such a dramatic change happen and how was the “disordered” form of music able to generate cultural revolution of the era?

While the form of rock in 1960s seems very different from R&B, which was the most popular kind of music in 1950s, it provoked the cultural spirits that were abandoned and ignored in the past decade. By the 1960s, a new generation, which is forever remembered as “baby-boom generation” came to the stage. The parents of the new generation worked hard and built peace and security with their hands for their countries and the world. It was their hope that their children could appreciate everything they established and continue to bring prosperity to the new world. Nevertheless, the older generation also left some unpaid debts to their offspring: the fear of nuclear war and the great sacrifice such as racial inequality they have compromised. As a consequence, the new generation started to express their concerns and even question the morality and direction of postwar America through the form of rock & roll.

The most popular idol that the new generation followed was a four-piece ensemble, coming from a paling town Liverpool in the postwar era, called Beatles. Beatles represented the youth’s sense of bringing everything outside to the inner circle and catching everything that was refused before. “Love Me Do” the debut single of Beatles peaked in the British Musical Express chart, along with six other singles in the top 20, which was unprecedented during that time. In 1964, Beatles first appeared to American audience through Ed Sullivan’s TV show and amazingly attracted more than 70 million viewers— the largest TV audience ever at that time. If Elvis had proved that rebellion could be applied into the styles that were acceptable to the world, Beatles showed people how to transfer styles into cultural impact to the society. Within days, the appearance of Beatles in America claimed that not only the most popular music forms were shifting but also people in this country were changing. They offered distraction from wounded ideal of older generation and dreadful assassination of President Kennedy to the light of hope that the country was entering a new era and the youth were free to reformulate themselves in the ways they wanted.

The change that Beatles had brought to the new generation also raises a question: if there was no Beatles, would the soundscape and culture of the world be different from today? Undoubtedly, there were some other artists who contributed to the change and they made music just as meaningful and stylish as Beatles. However, none of them had the same power that Beatles had and none of them influenced the world as much as Beatles. In fact, Beatles, with their unique talents and styles, created their own moments of history, which would never disappear. As Bob Dylan once commented: “They were doing things nobody else was doing.” In 1968, a year of chaos for Americans, when Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were shot, huge violence started and people lost their faith. During that time, Beatles legendary single “Hey Jude” came to the market, which is still considered as one of the greatest songs in Billboard. The song brought comfort and peace to people and more importantly, it showed that rock music did not just raise social problems but could also help people get through hard times like classical songs. During the year of 1968, it stayed as the most popular song in billboard for 9 straight weeks and remained in the chart for almost half of the year. Everyone living in that time heard this song and even nowadays, it is so hard to find someone who has never heard of “Hey Jude”.

Leading by Beatles, American music in 1960s is about rock & roll. It proved that rock is more than just a disruption but is capable of attracting mass audience and bringing social issues on the table. More importantly, it paved the way for future political ventures like racial equality and feminism. During the time of chaos and fears, rock music made an impact to the society, especially to the new generation for encouraging them to pursue what they really wanted. It was heroic to tell people fact of their time that there was no boundaries in society and no direction in life. It led people to embrace the new world with their bravest minds.

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