Rock Emerges: The 1960s
In the 1960s, rock would drop its “roll” and mature into a whole range of substyles. Artists such as Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Doors, and The Beatles were on the forefront of this emerging music.
In 1964, with the arrival of The Beatles on American shores, rock music took on a new, arguably deeper, meaning in popular culture. No other band has influenced the course of modern musical history more than “The Fab Four.” To this day, The Beatles remain the most significant rock/pop group of our time. In truth, they have become something of a musical institution.
The Beatles were active from 1960–1970. Band members included John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. Former members included Stuart Sutcliffe (bass) and Pete Best (drums). The Beatles hailed from a city in Northwest England called Liverpool. They are the originators of the “Merseybeat” sound. In the late 1960s, they were also pioneers of “psychedelic rock.”
In the early 1960s, The Beatles borrowed from 1950s rock 'n' roll. They were very influenced by Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Carl Perkins, Little Richard, The Everly Brothers, and Elvis Presley. However, they soon developed a unique sound, quickly copied by their contemporaries. Moreover, their songwriting genius can be heard as early as 1963 on the album With the Beatles.
In their later period, The Beatles found inspiration in the music of Bob Dylan and The Beach Boys' seminal album Pet Sounds. However, it was The Beatles who were ultimately defining the sound of their generation. Today, The Beatles continue to influence—both directly and indirectly—the music of many genres, and it's unlikely that their influence will ever cease. Albums such as Revolver, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The White Album, and Abbey Road were among the most important albums of the 1960s, if not the latter half of the twentieth century.
Despite this, the “British Invasion” was not limited to The Beatles. The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Who, and The Rolling Stones were some of the English bands that swept the United States and Canada in the mid-1960s. This musical cavalcade would embrace 1950s rock 'n' roll and blues, but with an eagerness to experiment and combine styles at will. For example, The Rolling Stones drew heavily from bluesman Muddy Waters. However, they were also influenced by Eastern music, as evidenced by the song “Paint it Black” from the record Aftermath (1966).
The United States also produced some legendary rock musicians in the 1960s. For example, Jimi Hendrix revolutionized rock with his blues-influenced guitar pyrotechnics. The renegade folkie, Bob Dylan, became one of the first singers to bring deep, poetic meaning to a decade of turbulence and civil unrest. When he “went electric,” recording and touring with a backing group in the mid-'60s, his music crossed over into rock.
The Woodstock Music and Art Fair (August 1969) was a pivotal event in rock. Promoted as “Three Days of Peace and Music,” Woodstock was the gathering place of some of rock's finest artists, including Carlos Santana, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, The Band, Jimi Hendrix, and many others. Nearly 500,000 people attended the festival.
West Coast artists The Doors and Janis Joplin also had an impact on rock in the 1960s. The Doors were a mercurial, yet arty, group that featured Jim Morrison's poetic lyrics and Ray Manzarek's pulsating Vox Continental organ. The jazzy drumming of John Densmore and the guitar leads of Robby Krieger completed this band's wholly unique vibe.
Janis Joplin was another important trailblazer in this decade. Joplin was one of the first female rock singers to be recognized during the 1960s. Joplin's brand of raspy blues singing changed listeners' perceptions of women in rock. Her vocal style stood in stark contrast to dulcet folk artists Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and Judy Collins. Unfortunately, Joplin's life was cut short in 1970—at the age of twenty-seven—due to a drug overdose. The Doors' front man, Jim Morrison, also died at age twenty-seven due to a self-destructive lifestyle. Additionally, Hendrix's life was cut short due to a lethal combination of alcohol and sleeping pills. Like Joplin and Morrison, he was also only twenty-seven.