A View From Inside the 1960s Music Revolution

“When did music become so important?” That’s Don Draper from last week’s Mad Men, set in 1966. Later in the episode he turns off “Tomorrow Never Knows,” from the Beatles album Revolver, and walks out of the room.

art: Rick Griffin

There’s something happening here, but you don’t know what it is—do you, Mr. Draper? One year later, Rolling Stone magazine will make its debut, followed soon by Rock and Other Four Letter Words.

Rock, a 250-plus page Bantam paperback, was published in January 1968 and subtitled “Music of the Electric Generation.” It was one of the first books of its kind, chronicling a cultural revolution that was still in the midst of its own creation. Crammed with black-and-white portraits of bands and musicians, it’s part oral history, part visual LSD trip. One of its fold-out spreads has an intricate, circuitlike diagram that connects over a hundred names, from the Butterfield Blues Band, the Beach Boys, and the Byrds to Busby Berkeley, Brubeck, and Bach.

The editor-designer was a writer named J Marks. The photographer for most of the images was Linda Eastman, who went on to work for Rolling Stone and—oh, yes— marry Paul McCartney.

By the sheer force of its graphic presentation, Rock and Other Four Letter Words conveys the mid-1960s music scene’s spirit, vitality, and relevance.

10 thoughts on “A View From Inside the 1960s Music Revolution

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  2. Beth

    Didn’t mean to get so far off-topic! The book is interesting, and designed in a way that reflects the content and the era.
    How did music become so important? If you mean specifically in advertising, it’s incremental and has to do with media. Here’s my understanding. In the 1950s is when youth became a segment to sell to. In the 1960s it was basically the same way, just more expanded. Throughout the 1960s rock was still considered a counterculture thing. Certain pop types of rock became somewhat acceptable during the 1960s, but the trippier and harder stuff was still “underground” and as such was a symbol of rebellion. Advertisers knew this and began to exploit this to sell to youth. (I think Steven Heller writes about this every month or so!) In the 1970s rock was still not mainstream (at least according to the guys at Saturday Night Live) but gaining more acceptance, or at least it was not as unaccepted. So to keep its rebellious status, rock in some genres became more “far out” (more shocking, or more different).Enter MTV and the Walkman in the 1980s, bringing music to a ubiquity in life, both good (more opportunity for consumption of music) and bad (less of a “listening experience” and more background noise). Rock embraces commercialism more, making it less “dangerous”. From that point not much has changed, except that MTV in itself has become less important while other lesser prominent sources became important for discovering (and both new media and MTV itself have made MTV less important.)
    I wish I had some real research to back all that up. That’s off the top of my head, so I’m sure someone will find fault with it.
    Keep in mind that Mad Men, no matter how well groomed visually, is still written by people with a 21st century perspective on the past. So maybe Don Draper might not have asked that question!
    Where the people with cash to spend are, that’s where the advertisers are. It’s not that novel. They just keep finding ways to keep up with young people, who are deemed the important ones by the advertisers. Using pop stars to sell stuff isn’t new either.
    PS: As for Genesis and Phil Collins: he was more “transformative” on the 1980s that the 1970s. If you read the band bio that came out in 2007, they basically say that his fame had a mutual effect on both (his solo albums were noticed because he was the band’s lead singer, and the band got a higher profile because his solo albums sold well.) I could go on about my thoughts on Genesis but only at the risk of irritating everyone else!

  3. Michael Dooley Post author

    Thank you for furthering the conversation, Beth. I agree with everything you say… except I’d place doo-wop, which I love, in the 1950s, and personally, I much prefer Ochs’s singing to Dylan’s caterwauling (sacrilege, I know). 

    But back to the point I was making at the beginning of my column, about Don’s “When did music become so important?” Of course, as Meagan says, it’s always been important. I’d even contend that ’50s rock and roll, with its fusion of country and rockabilly with blues and and r&b, significantly helped further the cause of integration in this country. And as for Genesis… I’m sure Phil Collins was enormously transformative to 1970s culture in some way, I just can’t think of an example right now. 😉 

    But again, seriously: the kids of the “youth revolution” listened to and learned from 1960s music in a much more direct and deliberate way than ever before. To see what I mean, click on any of the above spreads so you can read the enlarged versions of the book’s texts. And then tell me what you think.

  4. Beth

    Dooley: Actually, I didn’t realize how important the 1970s were to music until I was in college, when I had a friend (whose father was a DJ) who showed me that there was way more to the 1970s than disco. And it was right around that time I was listening to some of those bands on my own (especially Pink Floyd!) In high school I was strictly an alt-rock listener (though I branched out a little at the end). And I grew up listening to Genesis in its new wave rock iteration.
    In fact, I never said there was anything wrong with 60s music. Paper Acrobat said that the 60s were overrated musically. I would say that it was more overhyped than overrated. And that is generational and cyclical. I remember when 50s music was lionized. There are some aspects I can’t stand in 60s music, specifically Doo-Wop and Dylan (or maybe not so much Dylan himself as everyone who thought they could be him). And I love certain Beatles songs and hate certain other Beatles songs because they were just that prolific. There were many subpar psychedelic bands too. But I wouldn’t dismiss a whole decade.
    Ultimately it doesn’t matter, especially if the songs hold up musically and conceptually many years later.
    Can’t join you on the dance floor, unfortunately: “Oh, IIIII can’t dance/IIIII can’t talk/The only thing about me is the way I walk”

  5. Michael Dooley Post author

    Well, I still think my 1960s music can beat up your 1970s music.

    Seriously, though, Beth: thanks for the post. And although I was raised on girl groups and British Invasions, Phil Ochs and those folks, the Fillmore East and the Electric Circus, and all the rest of that restless decade, these days I’m completely immersed in 1940s and 1950s music.

    Yeah, room for everyone on the floor, so c’mon: let’s dance!

  6. Beth

    Michael Dooley: Progressive Rock and Glam Rock (not the same thing) were highly important in the development of rock. Progressive, a mainly English keyboard-driven genre, brought longer-format songs and odd time signatures (like 9/8) to rock. Glam gave rock more of a pomposity of image and a larger-than-life status. If it wasn’t for these, Punk (a descendant of of Garage Rock) would have had nothing to rebel against. New Wave (an art rock version of punk and dance), more identified with the 1980s, actually emerged at the end of the 1970s. R&B had a big influence on rock at this time, and yes, even disco (more on the electronic side).
    Major ROCK artists of the 1970s: Genesis, Yes, ELP, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, The Clash, The Ramones
    Just keep in mind: there’s room for everybody in music!

  7. Michael Dooley Post author

    Yes, Paper Acrobat, you are the only person who thinks that ’sixties music is overrated as compared to the ’seventies. Now take your funky disco ball and get outta here.

    Seriously, though, PA: what musical artists from your era would rate as more groundbreaking and influential than the top players among the abovementioned musical revolution? Punk, perhaps?

  8. Paper Acrobat

    Am I the only person in the world who thinks the sixties and especially the Beatles were overrated as a musical era. I think much more acclaimed artists came out of the 70’s…
    Interesting post though!