A short history of 1960’s America through Rock Music

A short history of America
A short history of America

When Elvis Presley returned home from being drafted into the army, he had no idea how much the music industry, as well as the world was about to change. During the 1950’s most pop artists, including, Elvis Presley, either had their music written for them or they would steal the songs the black blues players had written. 

In the 1960’s this would change and bands writing their own music would soon become the norm. In 1959, Jan and Dean began a new form of music in America Called Surf music. It seemed America would soon forget rock and roll and surf music would reign supreme.

Motown forms in 1959. It incorporates in 1960.  They represent the R&B and black music scene. It would see 79 records in the top-ten of the billboard hot 100 between 1960 and 1969. Artists included: Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, The Four Seasons, The Four Tops, The Jackson 5, The Supremes including Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Marvelettes, The Miracles, The Temptations, The Contours, Martha and The Vandellas.

As a side note: Stevie Wonder signed with Motown at the age of 11. He had been blind since shortly after his birth. A child prodigy. He is one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful musical performers of the late 20th century, and has continued his recording career into the 2010’s. He has recorded more than 30 US top ten hits and received 25 Grammy awards and has sold over 100 million records worldwide.

In 1960 Barbara Streisand would start her recording career and would move to film soon after that. She is one of the best selling artists of all time and the best selling female artist.  With 53 gold albums, 31 Platinum albums and 14 multi-platinum albums in the united states. She has sold more than 68.5 million albums in the US and a total of 150 million albums world wide. 

America Likes “Ike”
Republican president and World War II general Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower entered office on January 20, 1953 and left it on January 20, 1961. Early in his presidential career, Eisenhower helped end the Korean War. During the ensuing Cold War, Ike pursued a moderate domestic policy and maintained a balanced national budget. Eisenhower left America with a strong economy, progressive science and aerospace programs and gains in education and civil rights.

In 1961 The Beach Boys were formed following the formula of surf music.  They became one of the most popular bands of all time. In 1962 and 1963 The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean dominated the charts. Songs like Surfin Safari, Surfin USA, Surfer Girl, Little Deuce Coup, etc for the Beach Boys and Surf City, Little Old Lady from Pasadena for Jan and Dean.

Kennedy’s Tragedy
President John F. Kennedy succeeded Eisenhower on January 20, 1961. He was a spirited Democrat. In 1962, the 43-year-old Kennedy led the United States through the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy focused on progressive issues including civil and human rights and the arts. He also founded The Volunteer Peace Corps. On November 22nd, 1963, Kennedy’s presidency ends when an assassins bullets find him in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. This was the third year of his term.

In 1962, Dick Dale entered the music scene with his instrumental version of Surf Music. He continued through 1964. He could be the precursor of heavy metal guitar playing today.

1n 1962, Booker T and the Mg’s released the instrumental “Green Onions”. It would go on to hit number 1 on the billboard R&B chart and number 3 on the pop charts and sold over one million copies.  It has been used in numerous movies including American Graffiti.

In 1962 Columbia records signs Neil Diamond. His career would see 38 songs in the top 10 and sales o over 100 million records worldwide.  His number one singles include: Cracklin Rosie, Song Sung Blue, Longfellow Serenade, IF You Know What, Desiree, You Don’t bring me Flowers, America, Yesterday’s Song and Heartlight.

In 1963 Bob Dylan had his breakthrough album. His songs Blowin in the wind and the times they are a changing  became anthems for the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti War movement, making him a reluctant voice of a generation.  In 1965 he went electric recording the 6 minute single like a rolling stone, enlarging the scope of music.

In 1963 Columbia Records signs Simon and Garfunkel. They achieved mainstream breakthrough and success in 1965 with ‘The Sounds of Silence”. And became counter culture icons of the social revolution.  They have won 10 Grammy Awards. Their album Bridge over Troubled Water is one of the worlds best selling albums reaching 51 on Rolling Stones 500 greatest albums of all time.  They have sold more than 100 million records and are among the best selling music artists of all time.

In October of 1963, the first news of The Beatles began to surface in America. Surf music continued to thrive until 1967 when Jan from Jan and Dean had a near fatal car accident where he recovered from brain damage and partial paralysis. 

In 1963 the Yardbirds formed which would bring three of the greatest guitar players of the 1960’s. Eric Clapton 1963 – 1965, Jef Beck 1965 and1966 and JimmY Page 1966 – 1968.

On November 22nd, 1963 John F. Kennedy, one of the most beloved presidents of all time, is shot and killed during a motorcade through Dallas Texas. This was to mark the start of one of the most tumultuous times in America’s short history and would become one of the countries most changing decades.

Transitioning with Johnson
John F Kennedys democratic Vice President Lyndon B Johnson is sworn in the day of Kennedys assassination. Johnson continued Kennedy’s work by passing new civil rights legislation. He also attacked poverty with “Great Society” programs such as Medicare and urban renewal. His decision to draw America deeper inot the Vietnam war was met with widespread protests. Johnson saw the country through most of the 1960s, leaving office on January 20, 1969.

In 1964, Brian Wilson, who was the leader and main song writer of The Beach Boys suffered a panic attack. In 1965 left the band. He delved into the Los Angelas “hip” scene and began experimenting with LSD, Marijuana, Desbutal and the drugs of the time. In 1966 the band released the hit single Good Vibrations that followed the psychedelic theme the bands at the time were following. Surf music would soon come to an end.

On February of 1964, The Beatles arrived in America. Soon after they made their debut on a television program called the Ed Sullivan Show. They played five songs in two sets. The first set included “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” and “She Loves You”. In the second half of the show, they played “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”  

The British Invasion, as it is known in America, had begun. Rock would soon dominate the music scene once again. This first wave of this musical invasion included The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals (House of the Rising Sun), The Troggs (Wild Thing), The Dave Clark Five (glad all over), Herman Hermits (Mrs. Brown, you’ve got a lovely daughter), The Searchers, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Peter Gordon (A world without love) to name a few. 

On June 20th, 1964, The Rolling Stones emerged, doing their first American tour.  The rolling stones only wanted to keep the blues alive and reintroduce it to America.  For this reason, their first tour was all old blues copy songs.  The set List included Not Fade Away, Talkin Bout you, I Wanna Be Your Man, Hi Heeled Sneakers, Route 66, Walking the Dog, Tell Me, Beautiful Delilah, Can I Get a Witness, I Just Want to Make Love to You, and I’m Alright.  Soon after they began writing their own songs. “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” became one of the theme songs of the decade.

Although his career began in 1958, Roy Orbison put in the Americans contribution to 1964 when he released “Pretty Woman.”

In 1964, the Velvet Underground, led by Lou Reed, is formed.  They were a favorite of Andy Warhol who was an artist, director and producer and was part of the Pop Art Movement of the 60’s.

In 1964 the song Everybody Loves Somebody, sung by Dean Martin beat out the Beatles “A Hard Days Night” for the number one spot in the United States.  Dean Martin Started his career in 1949 and recorded more than 100 albums and 600 songs.

In 1964 the civil rights acts passes.

Malcom X, an American Muslim minister and human rights activist is killed on February 21st, 1965. Malcom X was an advocate for the rights of blacks and indicted white America for its crimes agains black Americans. This would compound civil unrest among the black community and spearhead the civil rights movement. 

On august 11-16 1965 the Watts Riots occurred in Los Angeles.  An African American, who is on parole for robbery, is pulled over for reckless driving on August 11th. A fight broke out and escalated into a fight with the police. During this 6 day race riot, 34 deaths are reported and over 40 million dollars in property damage is inflicted.

Although the Viet Nam war stated in November of 1955, the First American troops were not deployed until march of 1965. The Hippie age of Free love, drugs and music was going strong by this time and the protests and drug culture would continue to dominate the era. 

The Haight-Ashbury district became popular with the hippies in the early 1960’s.  Hippies sought it out to constitute a community based upon counterculture ideals, drugs and music.  The neighborhood offered a gathering spot for like minded people to create a social experiment. It would soon spread through the nation. In 1966, the first ever “Head Shop” opened on Haight Street offering hippies a place to purchase marijuana and LSD, which was essential to hippie life in the district. 1967 was known as the summer of love. Slogans such as “Make love not War” were the mantra of the day.

Hunter S Thompson labeled the district Hashbury, in a reference to the drug hashish. The activities in the area were reported by the New York Times Magazine almost daily. Hunter S. Thompson was  a famous writer at the time and author of fear and loathing in Las Vegas.  Fear and loathing in Las Vegas was an in-depth look at the drug culture in America. Its still a cult classic today.

Timothy Leary was one of the Drug cultures (counter-culture) most prominent figures in the 1960’s. He was an American psychologist and writer. As an exploration of their therapeutic potential, he started experimenting with psilocybin Mushrooms and LSD in 1957.  He had many catch phrases such as “Turn on, tune in, drop out” and think for yourself and question authority.  Although not a musician, his use, teachings and beliefs of LSD would have a profound effect on the music being written during the 1960’s.

In 1965 Demonstrators burned draft cards.

The first protest to the Vietnam war started in 1965 and they would continue well into the 1970’s. The Vietnam war was sold to the public as a war where a sophisticated and ultra wealthy super-power would easily defeat a Third World nation. In 1965, Body bags increased and the draft was instituted sparking the riots. This was the first war that America had fought where they were not fighting to win. When the north Vietnamese took over Saigon in 1975 it was a war America had clearly lost.

Most of these protests were peaceful and were in the form of sit ins, teach-ins or marches.  They involve all races of students as well as hippies. Martin Luther King gives his endorsement.  However, at Ohio’s Kent State University in 1970, protests turn violent when a university building is burned to the ground. The National Guardsmen fired live rounds into the crowd killing 4 and wounding 10 others.

Canned Heat release it hit “Goin Up to the Country” in 1965.

Tom Jones releases its not unusual, in 1965, beginning his illustrious career and making him one of the most popular vocalists of the British Invasion.

In 1965, Country Joe and the fish,  a psychedelic Rock Band, formed in Berkeley California.

Although Tommy James and the Shondels formed in 1964, it wouldn’t be until 1966, with the release of Hanky Panky, that they would become known.  Thier follow up hit Crimson and Clover was released in 1969.

In 1966, Eric Clapton formed another band after doing one album with John Mayall and the blues breakers. This album is known as one of the greatest blues recordings of all time. Cream would distribute 4 albums in 1966,67,68 and 69. They are known as the first super group. Their third album is the world’s first platinum selling double album. Some of the songs written and recorded by cream include crossroads, spoonful, born under a bad sign, strange brew, I feel free, sunshine of your love, white room, etc.

In 1966, Frank Zappa releases his first album and music would never be the same.  His career spanned an impressive 30 years during which time he recorded 60 albums.

In 1966, The Grateful Dead had their first show recorded by one of their fans. In 1967 Warner Brothers Records release their first album. They would go on to fame in the 1970’s and continue playing today.

In 1966 the television show the monkeys debut and lasted until 1968. The monkees career would last until 1971. They offered up a string of hits such as Daydream believer and last train to clarksville.

In 1966 Buffalo Springfield forms in Los Angeles.  Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay. After various drug related arrests the band broke up in 1968.

1967 would be a big year for new artists and would start the second wave of the British Invasion. 

Although The Who formed in 1964, it wasn’t until 1967 that they would enter America playing the Monterey pop festival. I can’t explain hit the top 10 in the UK in 1965. It’s followed by a string of singles that include My Generation, Substitute and Happy Jack. I Can See for Miles would become a US top ten single in 1967

In 1967, Janis Joplin with big brother and the holding company made their first appearance at the Monterey pop festival. She is one of the most successful and widely known female rock stars of her era.  She recorded three albums during her lifetime. Two with big brother and the holding company 67 and 68 one with the cosmic blues band. She became a part of the 27 club when she died Oct. 4th, 1970.  An entire anthology has been released posthumously. Songs include Down on me, Piece of My Heart, Cry Baby, Me and Bobby Mcgee.

In 1967 The Doors release their first album. Jim Morrison would soon find himself part of the 27 club when he died in 1971. The Doors embodied the hippie counter culture with  songs like Light My Fire, Love Me Two Times, Love Her Madly, and Touch Me to name a few. Music critics and fans alike regard Jim Morrison as one of the most iconic and influential frontmen in Rock history.

In 1967 The Jimi Hendrix Experience does their first concert in London.  Their first album are you experience the same year. Jimi Hendrix is well renowned as the greatest rock guitarist of all time. His influence is still felt in music today.  His songs Purple Haze, Hey Joe and The Wind Cries Mary reach number one in the UK, changing the way rock guitar is played forever. Other notable songs from Jimi Hendrix are Manic Depression, Foxy Lady, Wait Until Tomorrow and Are You Experienced. Jimi’s version of The Bob Dylan Hit All Along The Watch Tower became a favorite theme song for Hollywood movies depicting the 1960’s and the Hippie counter culture. Jimi also became a member of the 27 club when he died September 18, 1970.

On Sunday July 23rd, 1967 in Detroit Michigan, one of the deadliest  and most destructive race riots in American history.  It begins when an unlicensed, after hours bar was raided by police.  The Riot  was mainly confrontations between black residents and the Detroit Police Department.  It lasted five days with 43 dead, 1189 injured, over 7200 arrests and 2,000 building destroyed.

Arlo Guthrie – In 1967, Arlo Guthrie release  Alice’s restaurant Giving him voice to the antiwar movement.  Arlo’s father is woody Guthrie. 

In 1967, Cat Stevens releases his album Matthew and Son in the UK, reaching the top 10. 

In 1967, the Bee Gee’s, who formed in 1958, had American tours in 1967 and 1968.  They would achieve critical acclaim in the 1970’s during the disco phenomena.

In 1967, Blood Sweat and Tears release their first album.  The second album would follow in 1968.

In 1967, The Jeff Beck Group, (A British band) started gaining prominence in the United States. Jeff Beck would go on to an instrumental career. He would become one of the most influential lead guitarists in rock.

In 1967, Vanilla Fudge releases “Keep Me Hanging On.”

In 1967, Captain Beefheart , a high school friend for Frank Zappa, would release their first album. After two separate record labels drop them, they sign to Frank Zappa’s Straight Records. They released 1969’s trout Mask Replica. Critics and fans describe it as unlistenable, a joke, and a masterpiece. Later it would rank 58th in rolling stone magazines 500 greatest albums of all time.

In 1967, the Moody Blues release days of future past. They formed in 1964. 

In 1967 Traffic releases their first three hits. Paper Sun, Hole in My Shoe and Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. This launches Steve Winwoods Long and illustrious career. Traffic disbanded in 1969.

in 1967, the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs play in The first Super Bowl.

By 1968, the psychedelic blues rock of Cream and the Jimi Hendrix experience was enormously popular.

Marin Luther King Junior is assassinated on April 4th 1968.

June 06, 1968 Robert (Bobby) F Kennedy (John F Kennedy’s Brother) was assented.

In 1968, Joe Cocker releases his hit single. Little help with my friends.

Jan 31 1968. The tet offensive occurred, weakening public support for the Vietnam war.

In 1968 the Amboy Dukes, led by a 20 year old Ted Nugent, scored their only hit with Journey to the Center of the Mind.  Ted Nugent would go on to be a legend in the 1970’s during his solo career.

In 1968, Creedence Clear Water Revival release’s its version of “Suzy Q”. They would go on to sell 26 million albums in the United States alone and disbanded in 1972. 

In 1968 Steppenwolf released its hits “A Girl I Know” and “Sookie Sookie”. Soon after, they release the hit “Born to be Wild”, and their version of Hoyt Axtons “The Pusher”, rocketing them to worldwide fame.  They have sold 25 million Records worldwide.

Led Zeppelin forms in 1968. In 1969, They release their first album. Each of their nine studio albums placed in the top 10 of the Billboard album chart. Six of them reached the number-one spot. They achieved eight consecutive UK number-one albums. Rolling Stone magazine described them as “the heaviest band of all time”, “the biggest band of the Seventies”, and “unquestionably one of the most enduring bands in rock history”.

In 1969, The Allman Brothers Band release their first album.

Blind Faith, led by Eric Clapton’s guitar playing releases its first album in 1969.

In 1969, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young release their first album

Grand Funk Railroad releases its first album in 1969

In 1969 Humble Pie releases its first album

Although they formed in 1967, Jethro Tull would start to see success in 1969.

Woodstock New York, aug. 15-18 1969. 400,000 attended 3 days of peace and music.

The Controversial Nixon
Richard M. Nixon served as the last president of the 1960s, beginning his term on January 20, 1969. Nixon’s accomplishments included improved rapport with both China and the U.S.S.R., the end of the draft and strong environmental policies. As the 1960s ended and the ’70s began, the United States reached a goal set during the Kennedy administration and put men on the moon. Nixon laid the groundwork for an end to the Vietnam War. However, Nixon was the only president in U.S. history to resign, ending his second term on August 9, 1974 due to his involvement in the Watergate scandal.

Other notable happenings in the 1960’s:

In 1964, Alice Cooper forms but will not see success until 1970

In 1964 Bob Marley and the Whalers release their first album.  Bob Marly would become the premier Reggae singer of his time, introducing Reggae to a generation of people in 1970’s in America.

The Guess Who forms in 1965 and would find fame in the late 60’s and early 70’s

Carlos Santana forms his first band in1966, but won’t rise to prominence until the 1970’s

In 1967 Three Dog night forms finding its success from 1969 – 1975

The band Chicago forms in 1968.  They would find Fame in the 1970’s

In 1968 Deep Purple formed becoming one of the most prominent bands of the 1970’s

In 1968 Black Sabbath formed releasing their first album paranoid in 1970

1969 would also mark the first time an American walked on the moon.

Country Western Acts of the 1960’s:
The Flying Burrito Brothers – Country rock band best known for their influential 1969 debut album “The Gilded Palace of Sin”

Buck Owens – Started with a Radio show in 1945. 1963 started to be famous with Act Naturally. 1969 television show Hee Haw.

Loretta Lynn –  signed with zero records in 1960; grand ole opera in 1962; Reached number 1  with Don’t Come Home A Drinking(With Lovin on Your Mind) in 1967. Has sold more than 45 million albums worldwide. 24 number one hit singles and 11 number one albums. The most awarded female country recording artist and the only female ACM artist of the Decade of 1970.

Johnny Cash – February 26th, 1932- September 12, 2003. Sold more than 90 million records world wide. In1954 he auditioned at sun records. In 1955 he made his first record. 1957 brought Folsom prison blues. Songs include I walk the line, ring of fire, Folsom prison blues, A boy named Sue, Jackson.

Glenn Campbell April 22, 1936 – August 8th, 2017.  First hit in 1965 with Gentle on my mind. 1967 By the Time I Get to Phoenix. 1968 Wichita Lineman. 1968 Dreams of the Everyday Housewife. 1969 Galveston. 1975 Rhinestone cowboy. Released over 70 albums in five decades, 45 million records worldwide. Twelve gold albums, four platinum albums and one double platinum album.

Merle Haggard April 6 1937 – April 6th, 2016 Went to San Quentin Prison in February 21, 1958.  Released from san Quentin on parole in 1960. Started recording in 1962.  Had a national hit with sing a sad song in 1964. 1965 first national top 10 with (My friends are gonna be) Strangers. 1967 recorded lonesome fugitive with the strangers. 1969 Okie from Muskogee and the Fightin side of me.  During the 1960’s to the 1980’s he had 38 number one hits on the US Country charts.

Merle Travis November 29 1917 – October 20, 1983  1937 started playing with Georgia wildcats. 1943 he and Grandpa Jones recorded together. 1946 became famous. A form of guitar finger picking, called Travis Picking is credited to him. 

Patsy Cline – September 8 1932 – march 5 1963. Died at 30 in private plane crash. Hits pagan in 1957. With Alan Blocks Walkin’ After Midnight. Hank Cochrans and Harlan Howard’s I Fall to pieces. Hang Cochrans She’s Got You. Willie Nelson’s Crazy, and ended in 1963 with Don Gibson’s Sweet Dreams.

Roy Clark April 15, 1933 – November 15, 2018.  Hosted Hee Haw from 1969. Was probably one of the greatest guitar players of all time. His styles included classical guitar, country music, akin mush, bluegrass and pop.

Willie Nelson – born April 29, 1933. Shotgun willie 1973. Red headed Stranger 1975 and stardust 1978 made him one of the most recognized artists in court music. 1962 recorded his first album.  Wrote “Crazy” Hello walls, funny how time slips away, pretty paper in late 1950’s.  He has recorded 68 studio albums. 12 live albums. 42 compilation albums. Two Christmas albums. The soundtracks of the electric horseman and honeysuckle rose. As well as 34 collaboration albums.  He has sold more than 40 million albums in the united states alone. He has written at least 342 songs and had 33 number one hits.

Blues of the 1960’s
BB king 1949- 1990 was playing during those times.  Born Sept 16 1925 died May 14 2015

Bo Diddly 1943 started playing juke joints -Born Dec 30 1928 Died June 2 2008. Success in the 1950’s

Elmore James born jan. 27 1918, died May 24, 1963

Muddy Waters born April 4 1913 died April 30, 1983

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