In the 1960s, pop music continued to evolve and grow in popularity. New genres emerged and older ones expanded their audience with more accessible sounds and subject matter. Simultaneously, new technologies also emerged: transistor radios, affordable tape recorders, and faster methods of mass production all contributed to a decade of explosive innovation for popular music. The decade began with the rise of alienating proto-punk rockers like The Who and The Kinks, who were responding to a world that had been upended by war and economic depression. Artists like Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry were still playing on stage but their songs were becoming more sanitized for general audiences; meanwhile, James Brown was taking R&B in a hypersexualized new direction. By the end of the decade, these trends reached their apex. Psychedelic drugs further loosened social norms while artists like Jimi Hendrix pushed electric guitar as far as it could go. The Beatles led the British Invasion back home, Motown became the preeminent soul label, Bob Dylan went electric and introduced protest music to mainstream audiences, garage rock exploded across America, country gained national prominence thanks to Johnny Cash, gender roles no longer existed in punk rock, disco conquered nightclubs everywhere…and then punk destroyed it all again.
Rock and Roll Continues to Evolve
Rock and roll emerged in the 1950s as an urban and youth-driven sound that was largely informed by jazz and rhythm and blues. Artists like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Bill Haley and the Comets were largely responsible for bringing the genre to the mainstream. By the 1960s, rock and roll had evolved further thanks to musicians like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, The Byrds, and The Doors. Rock music was now a more inclusive genre, drawing on many different styles. The Beatles and The Beach Boys were particularly influential, combining rock with pop and R&B to create a new style of music that was appealing to many different types of people. By the end of the decade, rock had become even more diverse in sound.
Evolution Of Rock Music (1949-2021)
The Rise of Proto-Punk Rock
As rock music became more diverse, a number of more challenging and alienating subgenres arose. These styles were often informed by pop art and the New Frontier, a period of intense optimism that came after the Great Depression and World War II. Proto-punk rockers like The Who, The Kinks, and the Rolling Stones (who had a new, more aggressive sound after the death of founding member Brian Jones) began to experiment with louder, harsher sounds. They borrowed from jazz, blues, and avant-garde classical music and often used experimental audio techniques like distortion and feedback. In addition to the sonic aggression, proto-punk artists also used their music as a means of social criticism and rejection. The Who’s “My Generation” and The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” are both sharp critiques of social norms and expectations.
Before 1976 Revisited: How Punk Became Punk
Psychedelic Rock Takes Center Stage
Many of the musical subgenres that grew out of rock in the 1960s were informed by drugs like LSD and psilocybin, which had recently been made illegal but were still widely used. Psychedelic music drew on these drugs’ tendency to induce hallucinatory and visual experiences. Artists often used guitar effects like overdrive and distortion to create sounds that were electric and mesmerizing. Psychedelic music was also often accompanied by light shows and visual projections that helped audiences achieve a similar transcendent experience to that of taking drugs. A number of new bands emerged whose sound was primarily informed by psychedelic drugs. These included The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and Pink Floyd. As the decade progressed, psychedelic music slowly morphed into a broader style called acid rock. This genre was loosely defined but usually featured longer, more experimental compositions and a more general focus on drugs and psychedelic imagery.
A Trip To Sixties: Psychedelic Rock
Electronic Music Becomes Popular
While psychedelic rock was the loudest and most prominent style of the era, another subgenre of music emerged as the most commercially successful: pop. Artists like The Beach Boys, The Mamas and the Papas, and The Beatles continued to produce pop music that was accessible, melodic, and often featured lush orchestral arrangements. Early pop music was performed almost entirely on acoustic instruments, but by the end of the decade, pop music began to feature more electronic sounds as well. Italian composer and producer Giorgio Moroder began working with pop musicians like Donna Summer, Blondie, and The Cars to create synthesizer-heavy pop music that was heavily influenced by disco.
1969 World's First Electronic Pop Song
More Women Enter the Recording Studio
As rock music became more popular and accessible, women were increasingly welcomed as musicians. Grace Slick and Janis Joplin were two of the most prominent rock stars of the era, while R&B was enjoying mainstream success thanks to artists like Aretha Franklin and Mary Wells. While women remained in the minority as musicians, they began to play a more prominent role in pop production as engineers and producers. Carole King and Carly Simon were two of the most prominent women who entered the studio to create pop hits, while other genres welcomed women as well.