Against a backdrop of political turmoil and protest, some of the nation’s most iconic moments in music took place in the 1960’s. The decade was defined by hope, heartbreak, and an explosion of colorful rebellion often in the form of hit singles, music festivals, and revolutionary albums. Up until this point, popular music had been nothing more than a disruption to the culture of the times––a blunt distraction from national and global events. However, the 1960’s introduced the idea that music should be a youthful, vibrant response to the reality of the country––an expressive source of inspiration to change our reaction to current events. Here are the most iconic music influences of the 1960’s.

MOST ICONIC MUSIC INFLUENCES OF THE 1960’s

Elvis’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show

You can’t create a list of the most iconic influences of the 1960’s without mentioning the moment the King of Rock and Roll himself took over our TV sets and our hearts. Even though this first moment in history that influenced the 1960’s actually took place a few years before the decade itself, Elvis Presley’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in September of 1956 attracted over 80% of the television viewing audience across the country and set the stage for the following decade. The craze that surrounded Elvis gained momentum on this September night, and continued to revolutionize the musical culture in America in the years to follow.

The Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show

The Ed Sullivan show didn’t stop influencing the American audience there. The Beatles appeared on February 9, 1964. The team of four musical revolutionists appeared on screen with their signature shaggy haircuts playing their mesmerizing chords, and over 70 million sets tuned in watch their debut. A week later the group of four appeared again playing their redefined rock, and their back-to-back appearance sent a message across the country. The message signaled that music was changing because American youth wanted, or perhaps needed, something new––a fresh musical energy to define the next generation.

R&B and soul music increased popularity

Although soul music and R&B was around for years prior to the 1960’s, it was really the result of popular record companies like Chess, Stax, Atlantic, and Motown that brought this kind of music to the forefront of America’s musical consciousness. With an increased awareness of R&B and Soul Music, these record label companies built momentum and increased the influence of soul artists across the country, so that it was able to establish a presence in the history of American music.

Revival of American folk music

Likewise, American Folk music had also been around for decades, but it was driven off the scene in the 1950’s because of the strong left-wing associations it represented. The 1960’s, however, reintroduced folk music back onto the American music stage with the rise of Greenwich Village throughout the early to mid 1960’s. Greenwich Village represented a rebellious attitude, where musicians and artists united together to spread awareness and create music and art about the radical social upheaval that was taking place during this time. Primarily, folk music served as a platform to rally people together to promote peace and harmony as a source of passive protest. The music and art that came out of Greenwich Village became a beacon of hope for an entire generation.

The British Invasion

Although the British Invasion is not a single moment in history, but rather a collection of moments that influenced American culture, American rock and roll would never have been the same if it weren’t for the influence of bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and other influencers from the United Kingdom. These musical groups took hold and made a profound impact on the states, and changed the entire course of American musical history. This phenomenon established British influences as a viable source of music, art, and creativity and effectively took America’s pop culture by storm.

The year 1967

1967 was perhaps the most pivotal year in the 1960’s in terms of music because these 12 months saw a completely revolutionized style of teen music, and by 1968 trending music was wildly different. For example, the Summer of Love started in San Francisco and across the West Coast, the Beatles came out with the “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album, and The Beach Boys released “Pet Sounds”. All of this and more sent messages across the country that this youthful culture had arrived and was here to stay.  

Woodstock

No list documenting the most iconic influences of the 1960’s would be complete without Woodstock. Kicking off on August 15, 1969, this 3-day music event was the single-most defining music festival of the 20th century. Woodstock was held on a dairy farm in New York and attracted over 400,000 hippies, rock and roll junkies, rebels, and just about everyone in between. It was a unifying moment for the progressive youth in America, and there has never been anything quite like it since. These seven influential moments in the 1960’s saw the evolution of a new way of life, a new kind of music––America’s rock and roll––in all of its iconoclastic glory.