Music Can Change the World

Woodstock Music Festival 1969

The Folk Revival

“Man, when I was nine, I couldn’t imagine anyone not wanting to be Elvis Presley,” Springsteen remembers.

The first two Elvis Presley albums, both on RCA in 1956, neatly illustrate the basic dichotomy: Elvis Presley shows him onstage, eyes shut and mouth wide open, with his guitar thrust in the air, while Elvis has him seated in a staged pose, strumming his guitar. Here is the musician, they seem to say, and here are his musical instruments, his primary materials: his voice and his guitar.

Read the Article

The Protest Movement in the Sixties

The relationship of popular culture to ideology in the 1960s and into the 1970s has become of interest to academic sociology, although the alarmed interest of politicians has given way to accommodation. The relationship of the entertainment favored by highly visible classes of teenagers and young adults to the behavior of that audience, and especially its use of drugs, is probably now still too current an issue…

Read the Article

Popular Culture in Britain

In the early 1960s British popular culture emerged from the long winter of postwar austerity, rejvenated by the assertive claims to attention of the young working class. Responding to prime minister Harold Macmillan’s 1958 election message, “You’ve never had it so good”, previously unregarded groups began to demand consumer cultural goods designed specifically for them.

Read the Article

Here Comes Beatlemania!

The Beatles were the most influential, groundbreaking and successful popular music group of the rock era. No artists of any sort, with the arguable exception of Elvis Presley, have achieved the Beatles’ combination of popular success, critical acclaim and broad cultural influence. Read More

Read the Article

British Beat Conquers the World

The Beatles-led British invasion of American airwaves and record stores in the 1960s influenced all aspects of the American popular music scene. In Britain and the United States, few towns were without their amateur groups, almost all of whom attempted to write some of their own material.

Read the Article

California Dreamin’

It was to California that the focus of musical attention shifted in the middle of the decade. The state had a laid-back image, at a time when ex-Harvard professor Timothy Leary was extolling the virtues of turning on, tuning in, and dropping out with the aid of hallucinogenic drugs, but this was only partly responsible. The tradition of racially integrated audiences on the West Coast had produced a rich ndercurrent of musical culture, out of which emerged the only “indigenous” music that could rival British beat in its ability to inject nw life into popular music.

Read the Article

Rocking Round the World

‘The Rolling Stones are the biggest rock’n’roll band in the world so to secure a performance from them is amazing. The Stones, who first formed in 1961, August 31, and played their first ever gig outside England in 1963 at the Royal Lido Ballroom in Prestatyn. And although the four remaining members – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood – are now all around 60, they say they are still enjoying performing live.

Read the Article

Soul and Tamla Motown

Soul music was so prevalent by the end of the ’60s that the word itself took on a world of meaning for black America. “Black people identified themselves as soul brothers and soul sisters,” says Nelson George, who has been writing about African-American music and culture for more than 30 years.

As the fervent optimism and vocal intensity of gospel joined with the secular energy of rhythm & blues, a powerful idiom emerged in which individual expression and the social activity of dance combined. The triumph of Soul music meant a lot, signifying a major shift in popular musical taste in America. Songs like Otis Redding’s Respect -especially as performed by Aretha Franklin- or James Brown’s Say It Loud took the music into a more political area.

Read the Article

Rock Festivals: Woodstock, Live Aid

The sixties largest festival took place at Woodstock in upstate New York on 15-17 August 1969, with an estimated attendance of 450.000. In 1969, the combined forces of artists, activists, and passionate teenagers formed the most famous musical performance concert we can remember. It lasted three days and attracted spectators from all over the country. Those who went were there for many reasons.

Read the Article

Rock Festivals: Woodstock, Live Aid and More

Rock Festivals: Woodstock, Live Aid and More

In the mind of the general public the festivals provided clear evidence of the threat posed by a radical youth movement. It was not just their political rhetoric, nor the widespread use of drugs; it was the sheer weight of numbers.

The sixties largest festival took place at Woodstock in upstate New York on 15-17 August 1969, with an estimated attendance of 450.000. In 1969, the combined forces of artists, activists, and passionate teenagers formed the most famous musical performance concert we can remember. It lasted three days and attracted spectators from all over the country. Those who went were there for many reasons.

Some were there because they believed that the music was a path of expression against the Vietnam conflict. Others believed that the music along with drugs was a spiritual path to “a better place.” Others were there for three days of peace, music, and love.

Woodstock raised hopes of a new beginning. But by the end of the year, the “dream” seemed over. Widespread violence occurred at the Altamont Festival in December, and a youth was knifed to death during a Rolling Stones performance. This was taken as an assault on the very spirit of the counter-culture itself.

But in the course of time idealism re-surfaced. Wedded to political causes with wider popular support it shaped a festival where, with the benefit of global communications hook-ups, frustration with the prevailing ideology of self-interest could find positive expression. In this sense Live Aid, the 1985 trans-world concert to raise money to combat famine in Ethiopia, seemed to many the true inheritor of the spirit of Woodstock.

To others it seemed to have inherited the paradoxes of the festivals, and added new ones. In this view the implausibility of rock stars and the music business displaying genuine altruism was compounded by the belief that rock and pop’s very existence as a capitalist phenomenon made it part of the reason for the famine in the first place.

Soul and Tamla Motown

The Supremes and the Tamla Motown

Soul music was so prevalent by the end of the ’60s that the word itself took on a world of meaning for black America. “Black people identified themselves as soul brothers and soul sisters,” says Nelson George, who has been writing about African-American music and culture for more than 30 years.

As the fervent optimism and vocal intensity of gospel joined with the secular energy of rhythm & blues, a powerful idiom emerged in which individual expression and the social activity of dance combined. The triumph of Soul music meant a lot, signifying a major shift in popular musical taste in America. Songs like Otis Redding’s Respect -especially as performed by Aretha Franklin- or James Brown’s Say It Loud took the music into a more political area.

Commercial confidence was vital, too, and no-one showed this better than Berry Gordy, Jr. His Motown company, formed in 1960 and based in Detroit, not only pioneered black ownership in the music business, but operated a system of in-house production which ensured that all stages of a record’s life remained within the company’s control.

The Tamla Motown “sound”, epitomized by the Supremes and the Four Tops, was patronizingly described as “pop-soul”; Motown was too inventive, however, to be constrained as a mere hybrid of black music and white commerce. Soul music has grown and changed and kept up with the times. Today, it seems to be enjoying a revival.

Next Page: Rock Festivals: Woodstock, Live Aid

Rocking Round the World

The Rolling Stones - Rocking Round the World

The Rolling Stones are arguably the biggest rock’n’roll band in the world so to secure a performance from them is amazing. The Stones, who first formed in 1961, August 31, and played their first ever gig outside England in 1963 at the Royal Lido Ballroom in Prestatyn. And although the four remaining members – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood – are now all around 60, they say they are still enjoying performing live.

‘We do enjoy ourselves doing it. Everyone has been saying how can they enjoy themselves, they should be bored to death doing this,’ Jagger said, in an interview from Dallas, Texas. ‘If we were bored to death, we would not be doing it.’

By early 1967, with no small contribution from the news media, the San Francisco area was being celebrated as the center of the new lifestyle. “Flower-power”, that intoxicating antithesis to all that was conventional, attracted would-be hippies from all over, and also had a sweet smell of dollars to a record industry not averse to striking an anti-Establishment stance.

There was a price to pay on both sides. Never before had record companies granted their performers such latitude; never had they laid their own principles open to mockery. Yet for the performer there was no escaping the fact that, try as the companies might to seem streetwise and create the illusion of shining revolutionary ideals, to sing up with a record company was fundamentally to join the “system”.

It was nevertheless intriguing that the major companies went as far as they did. The counter culture was essentially a movement of and for the middle-class male. Its ideas of liberation, especially when crudely understood as “from work, for sex”, struck resonant chords across a broad spectrum of American male society, whose members sought to take advantage of the freedoms being won by the countre-culture.

In the process of cofounding (with a host of other Jamaican musicians) and popularizing reggae, Marley became more than just the Third World’s first musical superstar—a feat that was of course noteworthy in and of itself. In the second half of the 1970s he became widely recognized as one of the region’s preeminent and most highly regarded spokesperson. firiting on Marley as a postcolonial figure, with a particular focus on Africa and a hint of hyperbole, Eusi Kwayama puts this aspect of the reggae star’s status in perspective: “Bob Marley’s music has done more to popularise the real issues in the African liberation movement than several decades of backbreaking work by Pan-Africanists and international revolutionaries.” It is appropriate that in a career filled with stirring shows, from his native Kingston to New York to London, the signal performance of Marley’s life should have occurred in the Third World.

The middle-class nature of the movement is also evident in the development of two closely related ideas and practices: rock music as art, and rock criticism. As musicians’ solos grew more ambitious, and their Iyrics more involved, it became obvious that there was a role for the interpreter, outside the existing trade and fan magazines.

Rock criticism grew out of the “underground pressing most clearly the ideals of the youth movement. As practised in the newly founded journals such as Rolling Stone and Creem, it operated at least partly on a circular argument: rock’s growing seriousness made criticism necessary, and criticism’s existence proved rock’s seriousness. The step from “serious” to “art”was a small one, especially when aided by the wellknown parallel between the esthetics of modern bohemianism and those of the 19th-century Romantics, whose revolutionary achievements in art, politics and life criticism had been enshrined sky-high.

Jimi Hendrix, who came to Britain in 1966 at the behest of Animal Chas Chandler and formed a trio, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, fusing blues, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, and the pyschedelic lyrics, drugs, and instrumental effects with which many British groups, among them Pink Floyd and the Beatles, had been experimenting. Hendrix also jammed with Cream and was an important influence on Clapton.

The academic study of popular music, while often bedeviled by the contradictions implied in much sixties’ rock criticism, owes it many debts. Not least is that of having articulated the links between culture and politics. On the public level, this connection was made most clearly by the responses of the counter-culture to the Vietnam War (and especially to police intimidation of demonstrators) and to the continuing racial unrest. Short lived though these responses were, they pointed to a breakdown of the barrier that had traditionally separated politics from life. “The personal had become political”, and this was a profound achievement for the counter-culture of the 1960s.

Next Page: Soul and Tamla Motown

California Dreamin’

California Dreamin'

It was to California that the focus of musical attention shifted in the middle of the decade. The state had a laid-back image, at a time when ex-Harvard professor Timothy Leary was extolling the virtues of turning on, tuning in, and dropping out with the aid of hallucinogenic drugs, but this was only partly responsible. The tradition of racially integrated audiences on the West Coast had produced a rich ndercurrent of musical culture, out of which emerged the only “indigenous” music that could rival British beat in its ability to inject nw life into popular music.

The relaxed, celebratory nature of “surf music”, as purveyed by bands such as the Beach Boys, seemed deplorably hedonistic beside the tense concern of the “folkies” in New York’s Greenwich Village, but surf music, like British beat, demonstrated the vitality of the country’s musical traditions, and the rich possibilities still within them for the development of distinctive styles. One important feature of the West Coast scene was the role of the record producer. The work of Phil Spector in particular gave the producer unprecendented significance, and created a core of session musicians with a wealth of hard-earned experience. These factors, and the West Coast’s film and entertainment industry (and its dollars) all encouraged the westward migration of American musicians.

The emergence and fate of the counter-culture in California’s two major cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and its spread across much of the nation, has been much discussed. Music as consistently to the forefront of this complex of esthetic, political and social aspirations, where mysticism rubbed shoulders with revolution, where a sharply focused anti-materialism was allied with a much fuzzier, drug-induced belief in the ease of “self-discovery”. And although the counter culture asserted its dislike of commerce, the involvement of music, musicians and record companies soon compromised this stance.

Los Angeles provided the first venue for the familiar encounter between music and business in its new guise. Through a little slow to begin, the city’s record companies soon recognized the market potential of “folk rock”, following the success in 1965 of the Byrds’ distinctive studio-sound version of Dylan’s Tambourine Man. In late 1965 Variety magazine coined a celebrated headline, “Folk+Rock+Protest = Dollars”. The trend was epitomized by the contrived “protest” of the chart-topping single Eve of Destruction by Barry MacGuire in 1965.

Record companies eagerly followed such successes and musicians could begin to look for what they had admired in the Beatles, that combination of creative independence and financial reward. But Los Angeles moguls had other strings to their bows; before long they marketed the Monkees- a family version of the Beatles for television consumption. Concurrent with rock’s growing sense of maturity and independence, the Monkees’ fame was a reminder of the continuing importance of the teenage pop market.

Farther up the coast, meanwhile, San Francisco maintained a certain disdain for the material culture that so exercised Los Angeles. The absence of record-company involvement in the music scene there permitted San Francisco’s music to develop along its own, less market-conscious lines. Crucially, in the words of critic Dave Laing: “The San Francisco musicians worked from a sense that they were part of something more significant than an entertainment industry.”In dances and, especially, in multi-media light shows, music’s sense of community was joined to psychedelia, the visual and aural experiences paralleling those obtained from the newly popular (and still legal, until 1967) drug, LSD.

Next Page: Rocking Round the World