“Rock music was never written for or performed for conservative tastes.” This is a quote by Frank Zappa, a popular musician from the 1960’s era. Music has always been a incredibly large part of society, no matter what genre. With music, especially rock and protest music, there comes a sense of rebellion and “something worth fighting for.” The music of the 1960’s was no different, and was probably the era that brought out this sense of rebellion the most in its music. Everything from rock to protest to folk music involved a message telling its listeners to take a stand, think for themselves, and live their lives on their own terms. “Rebellion” is defined as “resistance to or defiance of any authority, control, or tradition.” The music of the 1960’s really is the definition of rebellion. The lyrics, the sound, and the culture that came along with it all send a message to people to stand up to authority and those “in control,” which is exactly what most of the people did.
The decade from 1960-1970 was a decade of “rebellion and counterculture.” The young generation was questioning everything, such as authority, the government, and Corporate America. Folk music, which had been popular in the late 1950’s, was rolling over into the early 1960’s, providing folk music with material that would be remembered for many decades to come. Hundreds of bands influenced this counter-culture with their music. The Beatles, Bob Dyaln, Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, and Jimi Hendrix were all popular artists during “The Sixties.” The messages that they send through not only their lyrics but themselves encouraged many people to follow in their lead and become involved in the ever growing Civil Rights Movement that was happening at this time. Studying the lyrics, the culture, and the fans of these bands helps us understand what the era was like and why it was considered to be so rebellious.
The Beatles, originally a popular music group from the 1960’s, “invaded” the United States in the mid-1960’s. They were not only successful for their catch tunes and handsome looks, but also because of the cultural impact they had on their audience through their lyrics and different musical sounds. The more their popularity grew, the more controversy they caused. Because of the massive following The Beatles found in the United States, younger people began acting more and more like their idols. If The Beatles said something, their audience believed them. The Beatles were major anti-war activists and, because of their outspoken opinions on the war, so were their fans. Young adults began protesting, arranging sit-ins, and speaking up against the war, which most adults in the United States thought to be blasphemous, since most were in full support of the war at this time. They were, in fact, so controversial that even Elvis Presley requested to President Nixon that The Beatles be banned from the United States. A popular song, “Revolution”, contains lyrics such as:
“If you want money for people with minds of hate/All I can tell you is brother you have
“You tell me it’s the institution/Well, you know/You better free your mind instead/
But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao/You ain’t gonna make it with no one
These lyrics not only talk about things like not giving money for “people with minds of hate” which seems to be talking about paying things like taxes and other monies to the government. Another popular song, “Imagine,” sung by John Lennon, one of the lead band members, also contains lyrics about not needing authority, the government, or even jobs.
“Imagine there’s no countries/I wonder if you can/Nothing to kill or die for/A brotherhood of
man/Imagine all the people/Living life in peace.”
This song inspired many people, young and old, to try imagine what the world would be like if there were no wars, no hate, and no need for things like jobs or material things. Both of these previous songs hit a lot of the high points in the rebellion movement of this era because they are about doing your own thing, and not caring what the government, authorities, or even your parents tell you to do. The Beatles gave a major contribution to this era and this movement.
Bob Dylan was another influential artist from the 1960’s. He is not only a folk music artist, but also a poet, songwriter, and activist. “He unofficially became the spokesperson for the counter-culture movement of the 1960’s and many young people looked up to him for their ideas concerning social issues.” (http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/) He wrote not only anti-war anthems but songs celebrating civil rights, not hesitating to include lyrics that were obviously both politically and socially biased towards his opinion. Bob Dylan was not afraid or ashamed to voice his disagreement about the policies and procedures of that time. For instance, his song “Hurricane” was written about a famous African-American boxer of that time, Rubin Carter, who was accused and charged of the murder of three people in a bar that he was never in on the night of the murders. Songs like this touched many young people’s lives, and Bob Dylan is a large part of the reason that so many young people joined the Civil Rights movement.
Jimi Hendrix was also a musician who was a part of the rebellion movement in the 1960’s. He became widely popular in the mid-1960’s not only for his music, but for his wild personality and fashion sense as well. His fascination with Bob Dylan prompted a Dylan-like hairstyle and he was well-known for wearing things like scarves in his hair, rings, medallions, and old vintage-style clothing. He was even seen wearing different types of army jackets. Hendrix, like Dylan, was also a support of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement. However, one of the things that Hendrix is widely known for is the large part he played in the massive lean towards drug use by young audiences. He was associated with the use of hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, like many other musicians of this time (i.e. The Beatles). He has also been recorded as using amphetamines, marijuana, sleeping pills, etc. He drank a lot and often got into fights when he drank too much. Just like in today’s society, teenagers and young adults of this decade looked up to and admired these famous musicians and artists. So, when drug use became popular among celebrities, it was only a matter of time before it became popular with their fans. LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs had a major impact on many lives during the 1960’s. Drugs are without a doubt one of the most rebellious things to come into our society not only because of their illegality (no matter how popular or widely used they are) but also because of the toll they take on a person’s mind and body. His song “Are You Experienced?” spoke of how listeners should let go of their current world and become “experienced,” which could mean something different to everyone.
“I know, I know/You’ll probably scream n’ cry/That your little world won’t let go/But who in
your measly little world are you trying to prove that/You’re made out of gold and –a can’t be
sold./So-er, Are you experienced?/Ah! Have you ever been experienced?/Well, I have.”
As stated previously, “experienced” meant different things to different people, but most thought of the lyrics as meaning experienced in sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The more popular and in the limelight artists like Jimi Hendrix and their lifestyles became, the more that the young generation tried to emulate that lifestyle as much as possible and at all costs.
Janis Joplin was another artist who made alcohol and drug use famous in this decade, but that isn’t her only claim to fame in the rebellion movement. It is also said that Janis’s body art, a wristlet and a small heart on her left breast, were taken as a seminal moment in the tattoo industry and was an early moment in the culture’s acceptance of tattoos as art. She was also popular for her crazy hair style, often worn down, long, curly and completely uninhibited. Her hair was often wildly colored and included accessories, such as beads, scarves, and feathers. Joplin, however, did not condone the use of LSD, calling it “hippie brainwashing.” Janis Joplin was an incredibly powerful singer with a unique voice. She was extremely rough around the edges and not in any way “girly”, but more of a tomboy. Her part in the rebellion movement was also a large one, like most of the musicians and artists of this time. She was uninhibited, loud, and very un-ladylike; definitely not your typical woman. However, she taught her audience, especially the females, that it was okay to do these things. It was okay to “let down your hair” and be “one of the guys.” For Joplin, there was no need to be proper, dressed appropriately, and quiet. She believed in saying exactly what she thought and exactly the way she was feeling, no matter what it was or who it offended. Granted, this angered a lot of people, young and old alike, but the point that Joplin was trying to make was that, no matter who got mad about the things she was saying or singing about, she was still going to say them and sing about them anyway. Ideals such as this gave people the courage and the gumption to stand up for themselves and become free-thinkers, instead of letting their thoughts be controlled by someone else.
Joan Baez was brought to tears the first time she heard a young Martin Luther King, Jr. speak about nonviolence and civil rights. One of the songs that made her popular was “We Shall Overcome,” popularized by Pete Seeger. She would sing it many times after that at marches and other protest demonstrations. During the 1960’s, Baez became incredibly vocal about the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War and her disagreement with it. She endorsed resisting taxes in 1963 and did things like block the entrance of the Armed Forces Induction Center in California, for which she was arrested twice. She was a frequent participant in anti-war marches and rallies. At a free concert in 1967 at the Washington Monument, over 30,000 people came to hear her message against the war. She was increasingly critical of the government and anything political. She also formed her own Human Rights group that focused on oppression wherever it occurred. Even today, Baez continues to be an avid supporter of causes such as gay and lesbian rights, environmental causes, and the war on terror. Joan Baez influenced many people to follow in her lead and get involved in a cause like the Civil Rights Movement. To have over 30,000 come to hear someone speak and sing about a movement like that says a lot for her message and its strength. Baez had an incredible impact on many people in the 1960’s and many of the people who began protesting, demonstrating, and volunteering for these causes were because of her influence on them.
Though the music of the 1960’s was powerful and contained a powerful message, by 1965 the number of folk/protest artists was so great that the music itself had become diluted. This is when folk music and rock music began to fuse together, with much thanks to Bob Dylan. The Beatles moved beyond feelings of teenage love and delved even more seriously into more political and social issues than ever before with songs like “Revolution” and “Imagine” as stated before. Drugs and hedonism also dampened the impact of the folk music revolution. Psychedelic rock and blues replaced the previous acoustic sounds of the mid 60’s, which began to pave the way towards hard rock.
Not only did music and musicians affect the people who listened to them, but they also affected the culture around them. The fashion of this music and these musicians started coming out more and more in society. Skirts kept getting shorter, and some people neglected clothes altogether, instead embracing nudity and the beauty of the human body. People began growing their hair longer and wearing it down, even the men. Men also began to grow longer beards. Tie-dye and other brightly colored clothing became more popular and accessories like scarves, headbands, flowers, and beads started being worn more and more. Most of this was being fueled by musicians and their music. What they wore, what they said and did on stage and off were emulated by their fans, forcing the culture as a whole to grow even bigger than it was.
One of the events that people remember the most when they think about the 60’s is the Woodstock Festival, held in 1969. Thought to be one of the greatest music festivals of all time, artists like Jimi Hendrix and The Who were frequent headliners to the usual half a million crowd of people. This festival usually lasted three days and people shared everything from their campsite to food to drugs. To many, the Woodstock Festival exemplified the counterculture of this era. The festival was a culmination of what the counterculture actually stood for and the bands that played their appealed to this generation’s questioning of American society and where it was headed. It was these bands’ influence on this audience of young people that brought both groups together on this farm in Bethel, New York. Everyone was coming together to celebrate their culture with other people with the same ideals, beliefs, morals, and values. Around 400,000 “hippies” came together to celebrate under a slogan that would be known even in generations that would never attend the festival: “three days of peace and music.” Many of the bands that played big parts in Civil Rights, Human Rights, Anti-War, and other social movements of this decade performed at The Woodstock Festival, including Joan Baez (who was 6 months pregnant), Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane, and Jimi Hendrix. It was a time for the counterculture to come together as one “nation” and a time for the people of this culture to meet others who enjoy the same type of music, fashion, and activism as they do. The power of this music brought all of those people together, where minds could open up to new thoughts and experiences and where people were loved no matter race, sex, or sexual orientation, which is something that this counterculture couldn’t find anywhere outside of a place like Woodstock. The Woodstock Festival in itself was a rebellious movement, bringing all of these rebels together for one cause: peace.
The 1960’s have been an inspiration in so many different ways, even to our society today. The movements that were huge in this decade still exist today, and people are still fighting for them. The 1960’s also had a huge influence on the music of later decades because of artists who weren’t afraid to take a stand against the establishment and who encouraged others to do the same. These artists not only exemplified this ideal of standing up to the establishment, but they made it the most popular thing to do in the 1960’s. Even though all of this existed over 40 years ago, our society today still feels the pull of this rebellious ideal in our music. The music of the 1960’s paved the road for genres like hard rock and heavy metal and even though the sound changed and the music got louder, the message of protest music still rings through in these new formats. The music of the 1960’s had a major impact on the music and ideals of today. Young generations still listen to The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Grateful Dead. They still wear tie dye, they still turn their music up too loud, they still defy authority, whether it be their parents or the government, and they still believe in the same ideals as activists in the 1960’s. This music and these musicians that came out of this influential decade will continue to touch lives and send their message out to young people long after the popular music of today has faded away. Their music will always urge listeners to think for themselves, stand up for what is right, and do whatever it takes to make the world a better place, even if that means standing up against those who try to stop them.
Childs, Marti Smiley. Echoes of the Sixties. New York: Billboard Books. 1999.
Lydon, Michael. Flashbacks: eyewitness accounts of the rock revolution, 1964-1974. New York: