The 1960's were a time of upheaval in society, fashion, attitudes and especially music. Before 1963, the music of the sixties still reflected the sound, style and beliefs of the previous decade and many of the hit records were by artists who had found mainstream success in the 1950s, like Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Dion, and The Everly Brothers. In 1963 and the years to follow, a number of social influences changed what popular music was and gave birth to the diversity that we experience with music today. The assassination of President Kennedy, the escalation of the war in Vietnam and the forward-progress of the Civil Rights Movement all greatly impacted the mood of American culture and the music began to reflect that change. The "British Invasion" also began around 1963 with the arrival of The Beatles on the music scene and the type of rabid fandom that followed them would change the way people would view and interact with music and musicians forever. In this section we will cover the history of the "British Invasion", Motown and R&B, Folk and Protest music, and the large amount of variation that emerged in Rock music throughout the sixties.

Popular Music Genres of the 1960's
British Invasion
Motown/R&B
Surf Rock and Psychedelic Rock
Roots Rock and Hard Rock
Folk Rock and Protest Music
The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Cream, The Yardbirds, Donovan, Manfred Mann, The Kinks, Herman's Hermits, Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield, The Animals The Marvelettes, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, The Drifters, The Temptations, The Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight & the Pips, The Spinners, Aretha Franklin The Beach Boys, The Ventures, The Champs, The Doors, The Grateful Dead, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jefferson Airplane, Jan and Dean, The Kingsmen, The Trashmen Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Steppenwolf, Roy Orbison, Procol Harum, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Animals, The Band, The Troggs Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, The Mamas & the Papas, Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Byrds, The Turtles, Gordon Lightfoot, Peter, Paul and Mary

British Invasion

The "British Invasion" is the name given to the period of time in the early to mid-1960's, during which many British rock bands and pop artists found mainstream success in the United States and worldwide. Many of these bands first started by covering American songs and showcasing an American Rock 'n' Roll and R&B influence in their sounds. As these bands gained popularity, many of them ventured into new music territory and created their own unique styles. The one band that comes to mind when speaking of the British Invasion is The Beatles, who first broke into the US music scene in 1963, but really became popular in 1964 after appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. The Beatles dominated worldwide charts from that point in time until they broke up in 1970. The phenomenon that surrounded them was known as Beatlemania and many up and coming music acts emulated their "Liverpool Sound". The band holds many musical records to this day reflecting album sales and number one singles and they're music remains some of the most popular of all time. They can be easily described as the most influential group of the 1960's. Some other notable British Invasion acts include The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Who, Herman's Hermits, Tom Jones, and Donovan, some of whom reached comparable success levels to the Beatles but had different influences on music all together.

The Very Best of Herman's Hermits The Rolling Stones: Hot Rocks 1964 - 1971 The Best of The Animals The Very Best of the Yardbirds

Motown and R&B

The "Motown Sound" and popular R&B music had a major significance in terms of the Civil Rights movement and integration in American society during the sixties. Motown started as a Detroit-based record label in the late fifties and early sixties, but it quickly turned into much more as the acts gained popularity worldwide. Motown records consisted mainly of African-American groups, singers, songwriters and management and their musical and business success proved in breaking down the barriers of segregation and granted African-American performers and musicians a chances to reappropriate much of the success that had been credited to white rock 'n' rollers and pop artists who had success in singing "black music" during the previous decade. Two of the most influential groups to come out of the Motown sound were Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and Diana Ross and the Supremes, both of which had as much chart success as any of the rock groups that dominated the airwaves during the sixties. The success of Motown also paved the way for R&B singers and groups who were not necessarily a part of the movement to also enjoy mainstream success. Some other popular Motown and 60's R&B artists include The Temptations, The Marvelettes, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, and the Jackson Five.

The Definitive Collection: Smokey Robinson and The Miracles The Supremes Gold The Essentials: The Drifters The Very Best of Aretha Franklin: The 60's




Rock and its Subgenres

While rock 'n' roll music entered the popular music spectrum in the 1950s, rock music really came into its own in the 1960s. Rock music dominated the popular music scene during the decade and as the genre grew and changed, many diverse and new subgenres emerged, all tied to original rock but each with their own unique style and purpose. These specific subgenres also had varying levels of popularity throughout the decade and many are still popular today. Quite a few rock bands and musicians oscillated between these genres depending on what was popular at the time and used it as a way to experiment with finding their own true sound. Some of the rock subgenres that we will touch upon are surf, psychedelic, roots, and hard rock. It is important to remember that the specific artists we discuss in these various sections often fall into more than one category and it is up for debate amongst their fans what genre they best represent. We have tried our best to categorize these artists and realize there was much cross-over during the decade.

Surf Rock and Psychedelic Rock

Surf rock began in Southern California as a type of dance music that was mostly instrumental and it became quite popular in the early to mid sixties, until the British Invasion took over the music scene. The subject matter for surf rock was quite literally surfing, however, that expanded as the genre grew in popularity to songs about girls, cars and general teenage antics. The most influential and popular group to come out of the genre were The Beach Boys, whose vocal harmonies and well-crafted compositions came to define the genre. The Beach Boys were one of the only bands to come out of the genre and sustain their success. Some other important surf rock acts include Jan and Dean, The Ventures and The Champs.

The Beach Boys Greatest Hits Volume 1 The Essential Jefferson Airplane Experience Hendrix: The Best of Jimi Hendrix The Best of The Kingsmen

Psychedelic rock was popular during the latter half of the 1960s and reached its peak at the end of the decade. Psychedelic music was associated with the hippie counter-culture and hallucinogenic drug use and it was created with the intention of "enhancing" the experience of listeners who were using LSD or other mind-altering substances. The lyrics were often strange and made reference to drugs and bands would often use instruments that were not usual, like the sitar, tabla, harpsichord and organ. There was much experimentation in the sound and much of it was influenced by Eastern and Indian music. Psychedelic rock along with Folk rock became two of the most recognizable sounds associated with 1967's "Summer of Love" phenomenon. Many popular rock bands experimented with this genre, including The Beatles, The Doors, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jefferson Airplane, Cream, Pink Floyd, and The Yardbirds.

Roots Rock and Hard Rock

Roots rock emerged in the mid to late 1960s as a combination of several genres and subgenres of rock music that were popular at the time. Roots rock combined elements of folk music, blues, country and rock 'n' roll. And, the genre was exemplified by its "back to basics" sound. Bob Dylan is thought to have pioneered the genre with the release of his 1966 album Blonde on Blonde that demonstrated what roots rock was to become. Many of the most popular bands of the time joined the "roots revival" and crafted albums of their own that featured and experimented with a roots sound. Some of the bands that created music in the style of this broad genre included The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Beatles, The Band, and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

The Essential Janis Joplin The Very Best of The Doors The Who: Greatest Hits The Best of The Troggs

Hard rock took the elements of rock 'n' roll and made them heavier as the genre formed in the middle of the decade. The sound is characterized by more aggressive tones and delivery. Hard rock vocalists are identified by their higher range and distinct and often raspy voices. The music was influenced heavily by blues rock, garage rock, and rhythm and blues. This style became associated with rebellious youth and an anti-authority demeanor, with a few acts even destroying their own instruments on stage (like The Who). Due to their hard-partying lifestyles, many musicians that were a part of the hard rock scene developed drug and alcohol problems. As a result of these problems, quite a few influential musicians died at a young age from substance abuse or accidents related to substance abuse like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Notable hard rock bands form the 1960s include The Who, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and Steppenwolf.

Folk Rock and Protest Music

Folk rock came onto the scene as a popular genre in the mid-sixties and much of it grew out of the protest movements that were active during those turbulent times. Much of the folk rock and protest movement was born out of the emerging group of singer-songwriters that were influenced by the folk musicians of the 1930s. Bob Dylan became one of the most prominent songwriters of the decade with many popular groups such as The Byrds and Peter, Paul and Mary covering his songs successfully. Dylan even saw success as a solo performer and was recognized by his unusual voice. This genre was characterized by its melodic sound and did not necessarily have to connect to the protest movements at the time, although lyrically a lot of the folk rock contained protest messages.

The Essential Simon and Garfunkel Retrospective The Best of Buffalo Springfield The Essential Bob Dylan The Best of The Mamas and the Papas

Protest music was distinctly different in that it always had a message and was not confined to the sound and style of folk rock. This music was often a reaction to social injustice, cultural changes, and news events. And, in many cases, it brought awareness to the younger generation who would then join the protest, therefore growing the movements. This genre was not necessarily specific to certain artists either, as many mainstream musicians decided to contribute to the cannon with their own feelings. For example, R&B and Soul singer Same Cooke wrote and recorded "A Change Is Gonna Come" in 1963, a song that became an anthem for the Civil Rights movement in America, along with others like Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" and James Brown's "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud" from 1963 and 1968 respectively. Another issue that protest music was used to address was the war in Vietnam and its escalation during the decade. As more and more American troops were being sent to Vietnam with virtually no progress being made, an anti-war movement began to gain steam in the mid-sixties and protest music accompanied it. Some examples of anti-Vietnam songs were Pete Seeger's "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy from 1967, The Door's "The Unknown Soldier" from 1968, and Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" from 1963. Both folk music and protest music were connected to the "hippie" movement at the time and greatly influenced and were influenced by the feelings of freedom, love and peace that characterized the hippies. Some examples of folk rock and protest musicians from the 1960s include Peter, Paul and Mary, Cat Stevens, Buffalo Springfield, Simon and Garfunkel, and Pete Seeger.

Music Festivals and Their Influence

The sixties was a decade in which music festivals flourished, especially at the end of the decade. The Monterey Pop Festival took place in 1967, and featured some of the most popular rock musicians of the time and was one of the first heavily attended rock festivals. Many of the most popular acts of the decade had their first major American appearance at this festival like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and The Who. The Woodstock Music and Art Fair of 1969 represents one of the most iconic events of the sixties and is thought of as the culmination of the social revolution that took place during those times. It was a free concert that lasted for three days and showcased some of the most iconic musicians of the time. It is thought to have exemplified the popularity of the hippie counter-culture with an estimated 500,000 attendees reveling in free love, peace and rock music.

Top Songs of the 1960s

Popular songs from the Sixties Decade, arranged by year but in no particular order. Do you remember listening to these songs on the radio?

1960 1961
  • The Twist- Chubby Checker
  • It's Now or Never - Elvis Presley
  • Georgia On My Mind - Ray Charles
  • Teen Angel - Mark Dinning
  • Save the Last Dance For Me - The Drifters
  • Cathy's Clown - The Everly Brothers
  • Walk, Don't Run - The Ventures
  • Stand By Me - Ben E. King
  • Blue Moon - The Marcels
  • Please Mr. Postman - The Marvelettes
  • The Wanderer - Dion
  • Calendar Girl - Neil Sedaka
  • At Last - Etta James
  • The Lion Sleeps Tonight - The Tokens
1962 1963
  • Surfin' Safari - The Beach Boys
  • Sherry - The Four Seasons
  • Return to Sender - Elvis Presley
  • You've Really Got a Hold On Me - The Miracles
  • Love Me Do - The Beatles
  • Green Onions - Booker T. & the M.G.s
  • I Can't Stop Loving You - Ray Charles
  • She Loves You - The Beatles
  • Louie Louie - The Kingsmen
  • Surfin' USA - The Beach Boys
  • It's My Party - Lesley Gore
  • Be My Baby - The Ronettes
  • Hey Paula - Paul & Paula
  • Ring of Fire - Johnny Cash
1964 1965
  • Twist and Shout - The Beatles
  • House of the Rising Sun - The Animals
  • I Want to Hold Your Hand - The Beatles
  • Oh, Pretty Woman - Roy Orbison
  • Where Did Our Love Go? - The Supremes
  • The Way You Do the Things You Do - The Temptations
  • You Really Got Me - The Kinks
  • Like A Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan
  • (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction - The Rolling Stones
  • My Generation - The Who
  • My Girl - The Temptations
  • The Sound of Silence - Simon & Garfunkel
  • Mr. Tambourine Man - The Byrds
  • Help! - The Beatles
1966 1967
  • Good Vibrations - The Beach Boys
  • Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby - The Beatles
  • When A Man Loves A Woman - Percy Sledge
  • Wild Thing - The Troggs
  • Uptight (Everything's Alright) - Stevie Wonder
  • Monday, Monday - The Mamas and the Papas
  • These Boots Are Made for Walkin' - Nancy Sinatra
  • A Whiter Shade of Pale - Procol Harum
  • For What It's Worth - Buffalo Springfield
  • I'm A Believer - The Monkees
  • Light My Fire - The Doors
  • All You Need Is Love - The Beatles
  • Happy Together - The Turtles
  • Somebody to Love - Jefferson Airplane
1968 1969
  • All Along the Watchtower - The Jimi Hendrix Experience
  • (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay - Otis Redding
  • Chain of Fools - Aretha Franklin
  • What A Wonderful World - Louis Armstrong
  • Piece of My Heart - Big Brother & The Holding Company (Janis Joplin)
  • Hey Jude - The Beatles
  • White Room - Cream
  • Sugar, Sugar - The Archies
  • In The Year 2525 - Zager and Evans
  • Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In - The Fifth Dimension
  • My Way - Frank Sinatra
  • Whole Lotta Love - Led Zeppelin
  • Space Oddity - David Bowie
  • Bad Moon Rising - Creedence Clearwater Revival