The Protest Movement in the Sixties

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 for full perspective and confident judgment.

The sense of possessing qualities equal to but set apart from those of established culture was an important element in the counter – culture of the later 1960s. But as increasing store was set by poetic texts, however radically they might be interpreted, the music was in danger of being cut off from its source of inspiration.

As singers became prized for originality, and originality led to complexity, complexity negated the political point (just as it negated the symbolic simplicity of the singer-and-his -guitar). The history of popular music suggests that it is very unlikely that musical entertainment can induce new behavior, or even introduce new ideas to the audience it must court in order to sell itself.

Though popular music has been blamed in the past for undermining community standards or otherwise damaging society, it is a new phenomenon for popular music to have the pervasive presence that prosperity and the portable radio and tape deck have given it lately, and for such conspicuous economic power to be vested in a youth audience.

The history of popular music that is now happening cannot be fully schematized and managed by the patterns of earlier popular music. Its development has always been contingent, surprising, and even discontinuous except when we rationalize it with hindsight, and it is continuing that unpredictable development now.

A second major contribution of the folk revival was the creation of an audience whose members identified themselves as a community. Until now, even the most committed notions of audience solidarity had centered on sharing the status of being deviants from the social norm; milder forms of teenage commonality had been limited largely to tastes in entertainment. The audience for Dylan, Joan Baez and Phil Ochs began to see their music as the first, essential step in the forging of a whole way of life.

A basic tenet of this lifestyle was antipathy to “commercialism” and the trappings of mass consumerism. Here the political contradictions soon became apparent – contradictions that dogged the fully-fledged counter-culture later in the decade.

As rock has evolved in the last quarter of a century and brought, among other things, self-conscious seriousness to popular music, it has prompted an immense volume of reportage and analysis, much of it empty but some perceptive and judicious. The attention that rock has demanded has occasioned the first widespread, serious critical attention to the popular arts in general.

Many adherents found themselves torn between the desire to spread a cultural and political message, via folk music, and the fear that the channel used to do so – the communications market – place – would taint the musical tradition through commercial exploitation. Successful dissemination brought with it the risk of betrayal: “ Folk music,” wrote Sing Out editor Irwin Silber in 1964, “ is the voice and expression of generations of ordinary folk who were on familiar terms with hard work. Success is the `American Dream’, the middle-class confusion of illusion and reality.”

Dismayed by the appearance of the personality cult, that most hated aspect of “rat-race culture”, diehards saw no gains in the coming together of folk and commerce: “ The fundamentally healthy content of the folk music tradition (is) lost in the caverns of Tin Pan Alley”. From the perspective of popular music, rather than folk, however, the encounter was significant: it marked the beginning of a “creative space” or division between art and image, or between the artist’s authentic voice and the product that reached the market-place. Later musicians would find this space a fruitful area in which to explore and dispute meanings.

To younger folk-revival musicians – and perhaps to Dylan especially – by 1964 the limitations of the idiom, of its audience, of its saleability, had become too clear to overlook. Wholly unexpectedly, the impetus to switch direction and absorb the sounds of rock (as rock `n’ roll had now come to be known) came from a country that, according to critic Charlie Gillett, “had made no previous significant contribution to popular music in the 20th century”. Nostalgia, publicity promotion, and the university environment of a part of the proprietary audience of rock have contributed to the growing critical and scholarly interest in popular music of the past as well as the present. We are in the process of discovering a heritage; it is certain to contribute to the understanding of our own culture.

Next Page: Popular Culture in Britain

The Emergence of the Teenager

The Emergence of the Teenager

Discovering the Teenagers

Until 1950 the term teenagers had never before been coined. The word “teenage” had first appeared in the popular press in the 1920s, but the idea that there was a time of life between childhood and adulthood that could be isolated, and that had its own peculiar characteristics, belongs largely to the 1950s. Children were known as girls and boys were known as youths once they displayed signs of puberty. Then young people were grown up at 18 and fully adult legally at 21 when they often married and set up a home of their own, even if it was a rented room.

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Billboard, Melody Maker and Rhythm & Blues

Melody Maker, published in the United Kingdom, was, according to its publisher IPC Media, the world’s oldest weekly music newspaper. It was founded in 1926 as a magazine targeted at musicians; in 2000 it was merged into “long-standing rival” (and IPC Media sister publication) New Musical Express. As the commercial possibilities of a teenage readership became apparent, magazines such as Melody Maker began addressing a younger audience directly, offering a disturbed paternalism alongside the Top 20.

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The Birth of Rock’n’ Roll and Arrival of Elvis Presley

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.

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Rock Music, Jukeboxes and Top 40 Programming

Rock and roll, which the industry learned to ride to a staggering new sales volume, also jarred that industry into new patterns: new companies, new small-group recording economics, new audience definitions, and new relationships to radio broadcasting. Some of the story can be told in terms of technical innovations. Television as the surging home entertainment medium turned radio stations toward the disc jockey format of record programming. New sizes, speeds, and materials for the records themselves may have had wide implications.

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Rock Music, Jukeboxes and Top 40 Programming

Rock Music, Jukeboxes and Top 40 Programming

Rock and roll, which the industry learned to ride to a staggering new sales volume, also jarred that industry into new patterns: new companies, new small-group recording economics, new audience definitions, and new relationships to radio broadcasting. Some of the story can be told in terms of technical innovations. Television as the surging home entertainment medium turned radio stations toward the disc jockey format of record programming.

New sizes, speeds, and materials for the records themselves may have had wide implications. Belz makes an interesting analysis of the cultural meaning of the shift from 78 to 45 rpm records, as streamlining the experience of recorded music toward casualness, especially for young audiences, while their parents bought the more substantial 33 longplaying records that emerged at the same time in the early 1950s. The later movement of rock and its audience into long-playing records reflects the triumphing cultural and economic power of the same young generation, along with a growing seriousness and self-confidence of the makers of rock music.

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 for full perspective and confident judgment.

The history of popular music suggests that it is very unlikely that musical entertainment can induce new behavior, or even introduce new ideas to the audience it must court in order to sell itself. Though popular music has been blamed in the past for undermining community standards or otherwise damaging society, it is a new phenomenon for popular music to have the pervasive presence that prosperity and the portable radio and tape deck have given it lately, and for such conspicuous economic power to be vested in a youth audience. The history of popular music that is now happening cannot be fully schematized and managed by the patterns of earlier popular music. Its development has always been contingent, surprising, and even discontinuous except when we rationalize it with hindsight, and it is continuing that unpredictable development now.

As rock has evolved in the last quarter of a century and brought, among other things, self-conscious seriousness to popular music, it has prompted an immense volume of reportage and analysis, much of it empty but some perceptive and judicious. The attention that rock has demanded has occasioned the first widespread, serious critical attention to the popular arts in general. Nostalgia, publicity promotion, and the university environment of a part of the proprietary audience of rock have contributed to the growing critical and scholarly interest in popular music of the past as well as the present. We are in the process of discovering a heritage; it is certain to contribute to the understanding of our own culture.

At the same time, vested interests knew that the teenage market was now too valuable to be put in jeopardy. Part of the answer was Top 40 programýning, which came to the fore in the later 1950s. Besides coping with the separate problem of disk jockeys’ so-called “play-for-pay” deals with record companies, the Top 40 system introduced a measure of control into the music being heard over the air. By a very neat twist, hard promotion turned that controlled segment of available records into something that the teenage market found irresistible.

Next Page: Hollywood and the Cold War

The Birth of Rock’n Roll, Arrival of Elvis Presley

The Birth of Rock'n Roll, Arrival of Elvis Presley

“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.

In the 1960 songs in which women are part of the continuing love relationship, the male is clearly the dominant figure. Elvis Presley in “It’s Now or Never” best exemplifies this theme:

It’s now or never.
Come hold me tight.
Kiss me, my darling.
Be mine tonight.
Tomorrow will be too late.
It’s now or never.
My love won’t wait.

Alan Freed and others only played original black rhythm & blues /r ock’n’ roll, but most disk jockeys gave the cover version for more exposure, usually omitting to mention the original. Covers by leading white perforrners such as Pat Boone consistently outsold the originals over the country as a whole.

To same people only the original black music had the necessary connotations of non-conforrnity, but for many middle-class teenagers clean-living Pat Boone’s perfectly enunciated version of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally offered enough assertiveness without too much risk of overstepping the social and moral mark.

The lyrics of Sh-Boom were unaltered in the Crew Cuts’ cover version, but that was an exception; in many cases wholesale changes were made to cope with lyrics of unaccustomed frankness and innuendo. The music of the covers was also often toned down. These changes, undertaken partly to avoid incurring society’s wrath, partly to ensure good sales, could not disguise the fact that penetration of the mainstream by black and black-derived approaches was taking another, decisive step. The interplay between the offbeat and heavy, insistent rhythm were different from anything the white popular music scene had heard before. In introdueing new elements, mostly derived from the blues, cover versions unwittingly helped to prepare a wider audience for the music that foilowed.

The cover version remained the basis of the white rock’n’ roll of Bill Haley, Elvis Presley and others, but a different approach can be detected between these and the version of the Pat Boone school. In place of the attempt to divert rhythm & blues into more broadly acceptable channels of sound, the country-bred musicians and their producers sought to develop a new style, based on a dynamic encounter between black and white.

Notice that Blood Sweat and Tears and the Ides of March have names that come at the end of a quotation, so that to get it you have to know the first part as well. Since almost all American kids have to read Julius Caesar in high school, that Shakespearean tag is especially indicative. Furthermore, these names as well as that of Big Brother promise something threatening. Music was so loud and so heavy that it did have an aggressive quality—so that it is no surprise that in 1969 a group formed that called itself War.

This use of high culture came from the fact that a new socio-ethnic group entered popular music in the years 1964-69: middle-class white kids who had gone to good suburban high schools as well as college. Aside from the Motown groups, Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, and a few others, the major rock acts were white. Let’s take the personnel of the following sixties bands: Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, The Doors, Iron Butterfly, Jefferson Airplane, the Lovin’ Spoonful, and the Mamas and the Papas.

In the specific case of the Buffalo Springfield, the group consisted of: Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richle Furay, Dewey Martin, and Bruce Palmer. No ethnic names there at all. In fact, there are only three ethnic names in all of these groups put together: Zal Yankowski of the Lovin’ Spoonful (Jewish); Ray Manzarek of The Doors (Czech); and Norma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane (Finnish).

Most of these WASP kids had not only gone to good high schools, they had also gotten into good colleges, where they dropped out after listening to the Beatles. Janis Joplin dropped out of the University of Texas, as Grace Slick had dropped out of Manhattanville College, where she had taken classes with Tricia Nixon. Jim Morrison dropped out of two schools, Florida State and UCLA, and, remarkable as it may seem, John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas, had dropped out of West Point! While people often said that these kids were rebelling against American society, they were in fact too much a part of it to rebel in any consistent way. They just wanted to re-define it a little, and they did.

The question of what Jewish musicians did for rock in the sixties is an interesting one. While Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Art Garfunkel are clearly of major importance, they didn’t make mainstream rock, music you could dance to, and after them, there’s only two short-lived groups, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and the Blues Project, also known as the Jewish Beatles.

On the other hand, the role of Jews in entrepreneurial roles increased. More than any other non-performer, Bill Graham made San Francisco what it was in the late sixties. Clive Davis, as president of Columbia Records, signed up Big Brother and other West Coast acts after Monterey Pop. Jerry Wexler produced Aretha Franklin’s legendary sessions at Atlantic and Lou Adler managed the Mamas and the Papas. Meanwhile, a group of articulate writers, most of whom worked for Rolling Stone, were creating the new genre of rock criticism. They included Jonathan Eisen, Jon Landau, Greil Marcus, and Robert Cristgau.

Next Page: Rock Music, Jukeboxes and Top 40 Programming

Billboard, Melody Maker and Rhythm & Blues

Billboard, Melody Maker and Rhythm & Blues

Melody Maker, published in the United Kingdom, was, according to its publisher IPC Media, the world’s oldest weekly music newspaper. It was founded in 1926 as a magazine targeted at musicians; in 2000 it was merged into “long-standing rival” (and IPC Media sister publication) New Musical Express. As the commercial possibilities of a teenage readership became apparent, magazines such as Melody Maker began addressing a younger audience directly, offering a disturbed paternalism alongside the Top 20.

In the wider social arena the war had emphasized the hypocrisy of participating ina crusade in the name of democracy and anti-racism, while at home blacks were the victims of systematic discrimination. Race riots in Detroit demonstrated the depths of black disaffection, but in the aftermath of the war blacks found that most of what little they had gained was transient.

Black music was being more widely heard, but it was still produced and marketed principaliy for a black audience. Segregation not only remained an acceptable marketing strategy, it also enabled most of the companies to maintain a system of exploitation (tested by others in earlier years), under which the companies themselves assumed the rights, for a token fee, of the music recorded by black musicians.

Nevertheless, in the 1950s black music once again provided the catalyst for change. In the century’s recurrent musical cycle of challenge and compromise, the challenge was now stronger than ever and the eventual compromise involved an irreversible shift in the balance of the musical culture, and the society that supported it.

Swing had appropriated elements of black jazz, but it had paid little heed to the blues. The blues tradition, meanwhile, had continued to develop a variety of styles “growing up to express the experience of a switch to urban life. Searching for a new catch-all term with which to sum up the various styles of contemporary black music in its now inappropriately named “race” chart, the magazine Billboard introduced the description “rhythm & blues” on 25 June 1949.

This happy choice of phrase covered many varieties of music, from big band shouters and Chicago’s updated Mississippi style to the “sepia Sinatras” of the West Coast’s racially integrated bars. Two styles began to predominate in the early 1950s. “Jump bands” played small combo dance music derived from blues, with a boogie-woogie bass, rhythmically infectious and with an obligatory saxophone “break” halfway through. Vocal groups mixed strong gospel influences with a discernible pop song input. This music had a ghetto street-corner association, both for its musicians and for its audience of black urban youth. lts lyric content mixed adolescent emotion, often humorously treated, with sexual themes heavy with ‘double entendre’ .

The growing number of radio stations catering to a black audience (270 by 1953) meant that rhythm & blues became the first undiluted black music to be readily available to those who were prepared to look for it. Those exploring the radio dials were very often teenagers. Their elders were by now listening to the radio less. The growing lure of television shared responsibility for this with the fact that network radio, with its reliance on safe mainstream white taste, was rapidly surrendering the airwaves to the independent stations, whose musical output was often beyond the understanding of many older listeners.

Adult white musical tastes were increasingly being catered for by the newly arrived long-playing record or LP (originaliy developed by CBS in 1948); the equally new-fangled seven-inch 45rpm single (produced as a rival by RCA) seemed tailor-made to give the younger market its identity badge.

The ending of the war brought a decline in the following of the big bands; this was partly because their music was associated with a prewar world which had gone, but an important contributory factor was a change in the laws requiring licences for public dancing.

Black radio stations attracted considerable white teenage audiences, particularly in the South and on the West Coast. In 1952 one Los Angeles record store reported that 40 percent of its black music sales were to white audiences. The West Coast’s tradition of mixed audiences allowed teenagers there to go beyond the first excitement of discovery into a region of experience that was often (as had been the case with jazz) spoken of in terms echoing religious conversion. But wherever white, particularly working-class, teenagers identified with rhythm & blues, a lifestyle rapidly grew up centered on same kind of outlaw or deviant status.

Next Page: The Birth of Rock’n’ Roll and Arrival of Elvis Presley