Those of you who have been to one of my gigs will have noticed I play a lot of 60s covers - and indeed a lot of my own songs are influenced by that period. It was a fine era for songs and I love the whole vibe of that scene. But how did the rock n roll phenomenon arise and eventually fall in that decade? I'm gonna try to get to grips with that in the next few minutes.
1) Market forces
Any music historian worth her salt will tell you the importance of social context to any musical era. The young people in the 60s were the first to have any kind of expendable income due to the improving post-war economy. This meant that they could afford to buy records - and eager record company bosses spotted the opportunity in the market and started mass producing vinyl.
2) Teenage rebellion
Like all youths, 60s teenagers were keen to establish their own sub/counter cultures in contrast to the perceived stuffiness of their parent's era. The route was prepared for rock n roll to take the world by storm.
3) The industrial revolution and migration within the U.S.
The core roots of rock n roll lie in American rhythm and blues and jazz music. Both of these genres were forged when previously country-dwelling folks moved to the cities in search of work. This was particularly true of Chicago and New Orleans - at either ends of the Mississippi river. The sharing of ideas in these cities paved the way for new musical forms to evolve that would eventually spring rock n roll as we know it.
The early rock n roll pioneers of America (Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis...) had started churning out the hits, but there was no way for British youngsters to hear their efforts. That was until the sailors working out of Liverpool docks started bringing home the records from their trips across the pond. Eventually some of these records would find their way into the hands of some whipper-snappers going by the names of John, Paul, George and Ringo.
5) The Beatles and the British Invasion
The band who changed everything. The typically British can-do attitude of skiffle, McCartney senior's piano in the front room, John hearing Elvis for the first time. It goes far deeper than that, but these were some of the foundations needed for the Fab Four to make it to greatness. The Beatles demonstrated that you didn't need a formal musical education or a team of experienced songwriters behind you to make it in the music business. You could do it for yourself. The favour was now destined to be returned as Beatlemania swept the U.S. and American artists were directly influenced by the Beatles, along with other British bands like the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and Manfred Mann, to name but a few.
6) Dylan hears the Byrds play Dylan
Bob Dylan's first few New York-made albums were heavily influenced by Appalachian, Scottish and Irish folk tunes, while his self-penned (here we see another pro-genitor to the Beatles) lyrics drew much inspiration from the Beat poets of the 50s. Meanwhile down in L.A. a new sound was emerging in the shape of the Byrds. Their tinny, electric guitar vibe must have really knocked Bob out, because the legend goes that upon hearing The Byrds' version of his very own Mr Tambourine Man, Dylan decided to change his musical course forever - yep, Dylan went electric. And this peculiar turn of events would lead us to....
7) Like a Rolling Stone
The most important song of the decade (foil hat at the ready!). It showed that popular records didn't have to conform to any set form or perceived formula. Some might claim the song sewed the seeds for the prog rock movement. Over in Blighty the Beatles were listening intently as ever to Bob's creative output. Indeed the two forces of nature had already met back in '64 when Bob had introduced our boys to weed. This would set the wheels in motion for psychedelia and the whole flower-power movement of the mid-60s, culminating in the 1967 cultural phenomenon that was the summer of love.
8) The drugs don't work
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and so it was to be for the 60s. Not only was the clock running down but there was an almost innate self-destruction about the whole period. Innocent rebellion leads to corrupting knowledge - this was biblical in essence: with Adam and Eve our 60s teens; the slithering, acidic serpent offering up temptations of material and chemical excess. And so now the world waits for the coming of the next gentle-hearted (wo)man, the prophets and saviours of good old rock n roll: from Jagger to John, Page to Prince, Bolan to Bowie. Who's next?
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