It was quite a time. As the decade began, Elvis Presley still held reign as the “king of rock and roll,” but from the late 1950s to 1964, there were many princes competing for the throne. As this music form became successful and a HUGE financial powerhouse, record companies that had previously dismissed it began an earnest search for new singers,which brought forth the teen idols.
True vocal ability wasn’t necessarily required to be a teen idol (Fabian Forte,for example). Being young, male, (there were a few female exceptions), Causasian, and good-looking were. This group made rock and roll acceptable and safe to many white households,who were initially appalled by it and horrified that their children were enjoying THAT music. But the teen idols ALSO brought a commercialized blandness to the form, though there were a few gems in the mix.
Help was on the way.
The “Girl Group Sound” has often been overlooked until recently. It deserves its full recognition and respect. Some of rock’s most memorable songs and talent came from this phenomeon(The Shirelles, The Chantels, Darlene Love, Phil Spector, etc).
A go-getting Detroit entrepreneur, songwriter, and ex-boxer, Berry Gordy,was about to make major music history with the start of Motown Records in 1959. The roundup of future stars under one roof was astounding: The Marvelettes, Mary Wells, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Martha and The Vandellas, Barrett Strong, “Little” Stevie Wonder, The Contours, The Supremes, The Four Tops, The Temptations, among so many others. The songwriters, producers, and eventually the musicians, would also achieve legendary status: Holland-Dozier-Holland, Smokey Robinson, Norman Whitfield, Thomas “Beans” Bowles, Benny Benjamin, James Jamerson, Janie Bradford, Nick Ashfordand Valerie Simpson, etc.
Other songwriter/production teams blossomed and flourished: Bachrarach and David, King and Goffin, Sedaka and Greenfield, Greenwich and Barry, Weill and Mann, Curtis Mayfield, Gamble and Huff, Luther Dixon, among others.
The advent of Beatlemania and the British Invasion brought a new(though somewhat recycled in the beginning)sound, caused a cultural revolution, and forever changed rock and roll, while rendering obsolete some of its established forms.
But not Motown.
Not only did this company hold its own,it prospered and brought about its OWN cultural revolution, paving the way for other regional accents such as The New York, San Franciso, Memphis, Philadelphia, and Chicago sounds. There was even a second Detroit sound!
Surf and beach music became popular and folk-rock began emerging. The late 60s were a perfect marriage of the latter to current events. Civil rights, the Vietnam War, and many social changes were at the forefront.
Rock and roll was one of those changes. From strictly “Dreamy young teen, will Johnny take me to the prom or marry me, He’s a bad boy, but I still love him, Does Cindy Lou love me, I can’t live without Cindy Lou, Hey,everybody, let’s dance” sentiments, rock and roll had grown and evolved into a galvanizing force that addressed the war (“Universal Soldier”)or injustice (“Blowin In The Wind” and “Eve Of Destruction”)or changing American culture (“Love Child”, “Does Your Mama Know About Me?”, “Society’s Child” (which was banned on many radio stations!).
Psychedelic music (or “drug rock”)also became promenient; rock festivals became the “thing”.
In spite of all this, there was still room on the table and a popular market for the Bubblegum Sound (Simon Says”) and just good old-fashioned “hey, everybody, let’s dance” music (“Boogaloo Down Broadway”).
AM Top 40 radio ruled the airwaves, and several regional DJs and stations achieved national fame: “Cousin” Brucie Morrow,Dick Biondi,WABC in New York,CKLW in Windsor/Detroit,and KDKA in Pittsburgh,for example were “must listen to” programns.
FM radio was also born during this decade, with progressive, free-form, and album-oriented formats. The music only was the main focus, rather than the DJ here. But let’s not forget that rock and roll wasn’t the only music that charted during the 1960s. There was a variety of easy-listening or “middle-of-the-road” music that was successful. Some considered it “square” or “grown-up, old folks’ music.” Nevertheless, MOR was a hit! And this market also bought movie soundtrack albums in record-setting numbers, such as “The Sound Of Music”, “Exodus”, “Camelot”, and “West Side Story.”(And instrumentals-Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass and their sound-alikes, The Baja Marimba Band, for example.)
The 1960s may well be the most memorable and outstanding decade of the 20th century(It’s probably the most turbulent), for its events AND music that still reverberates throughout our culture today.
Classic Motown and the Beatles’ music are revered and played regularly. The words of Martin Luther King Jr. are often quoted by several politicans. And his image was used in a recent commercial. The Beach Boys play to sellout crowds. “American Dreams” was a critical and ratings (for a while) success. Dick Clark is still America’s oldest teenager! Mini-skirts are back (in a different style, but they’re still mini-skirts),as are culottes(now called skorts; same thing!). Malcolm X, who was considered an inflammatory radical, now has his words and image on hats and T-shirts and is regarded as a visionary, ahead of his time. The Rat Pack is retro-cool.(In some circles, they never stopped being cool.)
The sheer musical diversity and talent of the era may be unequalled before or since.
Return to where to all began; welcome back to 1960s music.