The Beatles. Aretha Franklin. The Rolling Stones. Fleetwood Mac. Pink Floyd. Bob Dylan. Tom Jones. The Temptations.
These and more artists exploded onto the music scene in the 1960s, an era that was particularly seismic for pop culture and music. From the progression of folk-rock to rock and its variants to the explosion of Motown and the funk and soul genres, the 1960s was a time where voices were big and hair was bigger.
The culmination of rock to what it is today has a big part to play in how it all started in the ’60s. Bob Dylan’s protest songs reached stratospheric mainstream consciousness with the 1963 hit “Blowin’ In The Wind”. The Beach Boys brought surf-rock forward in the mid-60s with hits such as “I Get Around” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (which is used in your friendly Cadbury commercial — ha, relevance!).
After the explosion of psychedelic rock that culminated in the Woodstock Festival, roots rock was what still endures today — Bonnie Raitt was a big star from that era. Who can forget the classic “I Can’t Make You Love Me”? In the UK, the Rolling Stones is also a big influence in music today: from “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” to “Moves Like Jagger”, the spirit of beat music and rock-and-roll continues to live on in today’s rock acts.
The Beatles, however, was one band that changed the face of popular culture. One of the biggest boybands to break into the scene, the images of girls going wild at the mere glimpse of the quartet aren’t very far off from what one may see at a Justin Bieber concert. From the party atmosphere of “Twist & Shout” to the messaging behind “A Hard Day’s Night” and the melancholy in “Hey Jude”, The Beatles exemplified the essence of what pop music is today: inserting messaging into a song that is radio-friendly and can be listened by a wide group of people who may not necessarily know the language. Through the chord progression and the song arrangement, one can make out what the band is trying to say without even looking at the words. Dive into the text and the hidden meanings and poetic brevity make the song richer, but a macro view instantly makes the song an easy, listenable hit.
Funk and soul also exploded in the 60s, established in the Motown era and Arista Records. In came acts like The Temptations and Aretha Franklin, the latter having played a big part in creating the diva personality that pervades soulful female singers. Classics like “Say A Little Prayer For You” are still referenced — the church choral ensemble still playing a big part in R&B/soul music today. The Jackson Five debuted in the tail end of the ’60s and we all know what happened to that act. The rest is history.
All music in the ’60s also took reference from the counterculture that pervaded the era: from the civil rights movement to the rebellion against authority and government, the sociocultural was found in the lyrical. From the lyrics of Credence Clearwater Revival to the poetry of The Beatles, one thing was evident: back then, music was bigger than itself. It was part of a larger conversation of ideas and emotions. This is what music still is today: the messages behind songs of empowerment and equality staying strong.
Today, these timeless classics are being referenced to in popular music now. The likes of Oasis, Lady Gaga and even Big Time Rush have all taken inspiration from the ’60s in their music.
The carefree nature of music in that era and the tinge of rebellion that accompanied it is probably what you hear in music today: romance and letting your hair down remain key themes in music today. In fact, it forms an essential component in today’s lifestyle. A life of living to the fullest with a touch of sociopolitical awareness — isn’t that what you see in pop culture today? Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is still as relevant today as it was back then. Jeff Buckley, Sheryl Crow, Rufus Wainwright, Bon Jovi and more have all done covers of his eponymous tune. So much so that Leonard even called for a brief halt to new covers of “Hallelujah” in 2009 (Rolling Stones interview), as he felt that the song was overused and overplayed.
The sexy croons by Usher, the anthemic messages from Gaga, even the melancholy of Lana Del Rey: it is clearly evident that even though the surf-rock of the 1960s or the Big Band may not have carried over in today’s world, the message of the ’60s clearly has. And that is more important than producers merely copying ’60s chord arrangements today without any semblance of awareness about the emblems of that era.
Long live the ’60s. Long live Mick Jagger.