Styles & Forms | Sixties | Rock

Popular music’s most influential decade saw British and American rock develop in parallel, the creative torch passing across the Atlantic to The Beatles, then returning as the West Coast rock boom reflected the influence of drugs on music.

In rock, guitar was now the undisputed focus of the music with ‘axe heroes’ like Clapton, Hendrix, Townshend and Page all inspiring a generation of followers. Meanwhile, soul music was enjoying halcyon days thanks to the twin crucibles of Motown in Detroit and Stax in Memphis both delivering dancehall-filling music.

The recording studio itself became an instrument, being used to complement the music created and add new dimensions to it. Producers like Phil Spector and George Martin became celebrities in their own right thanks to their respective work with The Beatles and West Coast girl groups like The Crystals and The Ronettes.

Of the various tribes that existed, the hippies and their ethos of ‘peace and love’ was the most widely reflected in music. Major festivals created a sense of community: the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967 allowing Otis Redding access to a white audience and Jimi Hendrix the chance to impress his fellow Americans. Woodstock, held two years later, entered legend thanks to a feature film, but the optimism of the era was fast evaporating even then.

Sources & Sounds

It was the decade that began with a whimper and ended with a bang. The 1960s saw rock not only come of age but also become the pre-eminent cultural force, its impact and importance outstripping anything the worlds of fashion, film, art and literature could muster and, in turn, informing all of them.

By 1960–61, the original rock’n’roll explosion had lost its impetus. Elvis had emerged from the US Army bound for Hollywood, while the energy and excess of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis had given way to softer, more harmonious sounds from industry created stars. But the 1960s would peak in an explosion of energy, colour and creativity that has never been equalled since as figures like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Mick Jagger reclaimed rock as a vibrant, fiercely anti-Establishment force.

Stateside Influence

Throughout the 1960s a number of scenes co-existed around the world, all of which would feed into each other to create a ‘big bang’ effect in youth culture. In Southern California, the surf craze owed its soundtrack to Dick Dale, Jan and Dean and, most importantly, The Beach Boys. Led by Brian Wilson, the family-based group took Chuck Berry rhythms, harmony pop and twanging guitars and moulded them into a glorious West Coast sound, which they would then develop into something more complex.

Five thousand miles from sunny California, the dingy clubs of London saw young bands influenced by American jazz and blues began to develop their own exciting style of music. A crop of new groups emerged from under the wing of older players like Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner; The Rolling Stones, The Pretty...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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