Born in 1950 I turned 13 in late Summer 1963, and the Sounds of the Sixties were the soundtrack of my teens. Musically it truly was a great time to be young. And we were ‘young’. Make-up was deemed unsuitable for school and clothes for the masses were generally unremarkable. Television was not in every home, and colour wasn’t introduced until the end of the decade. So even when we could watch pop music programmes that were aimed at ‘us’, all the world was still in black and white. There were no films, no special merchandise, nor few leisure activities that we could relate to.
Conversely, until the early 1970s the school leaving age was 15 – then straight onto the job market. Some stayed on another year to sit ‘O’ levels, a minority stayed on to sit ‘A’ levels at 18, with just a handful going off to University or College. Although many may have been earning a wage, within society we were bit players. Wages were low and much of it was expected to go into the ‘family pot’.
What happened in the sixties? Music happened!
Listening to the new music was an easy and cheap form of rebellion – against parents, teachers, the older generation, society. It made us different by giving us a voice, and an escape from the mundane. Change did not come about with a fanfare, but slowly yet surely it settled into our consciousness. Over the course of the 60s the music scene evolved into a genre only connected to the previous decade by a thread.
Using the ‘100 Top Singles’ to be sold Worldwide (1960 – 1969) as my source, this is my take on how this revolution came about.
Out of the 100 ‘top’ singles 8% were released in 1960, 11% in 1965, and 15% in 1969.
In 1960 there were 7 solo/duo artists, no groups, and 1 big band; in 1965 there were 3 solo/duos, 8 groups, and no big bands; by 1969 there were 4 solo/duos and 11 groups.
What were the new trends?
sales of singles doubled over the period
the purchasing power of young people may have increased along with better job prospects
it could have been that more singles were bought (Elvis had been at the top of the charts in the 1950s and ‘Are you Lonesome Tonight’ stands in 6th position for the 60s, possibly because his initial fan base was getting older with more disposable income
hearing the music of the day encouraged more people to want to own that sound
while this ‘new’ music wasn’t played by the BBC, with cheap transistor radios coming onto the market it was relatively easy to tune into Radio Luxemburg or to the Pirate Radio Stations that anchored offshore in the mid- to late- sixties
record shops were on many High Streets, some with listening booths
dedicated magazines came onto the market
New Musical Express published the latest on music in general
fanzines were produced for individual groups – you could find out everything about your music idol from their star sign to what they liked for breakfast
a new TV genre that featured ‘manufactured’ bands like The Monkees was the ultimate sales pitch
by 1969 groups far outsold (or perhaps out-produced) solo and duo artists
the big bands had completely gone out of favour
groups introduced their own look along with their distinctive sound and fan bases grew and remained resolutely loyal
female artists did not share this success
despite the big female names from the 60s – solo artists and groups – there are relatively few represented in the top 100 sellers; of the seven only Aretha Franklin is known today and even she only holds the 89th position
How did music, and our response to it, change?
I believe the most significant response to the music scene was through dance. Even in the early years of the decade young people only had the option of the nearest ‘dance hall’ to dance along to the latest songs. For me that was a long bus ride away – to the Ilford Palais – and once inside all expectations were quashed by the bright lights beaming down on to a large empty space, devoid of character. It was built as a ballroom and retained the presence of generations of starched and coiffured automatons. No place to let rip along to Chubby Checker’s ‘The Twist’.
But that was about to change. The Discotheque arrived! We didn’t want to dance with a partner as our parents did. We danced as if we were going into freefall. In the rock’n’roll era the message was “if you can’t find a partner use a wooden chair”; we didn’t even need a chair. As long as they played our music we could move.
When Chubby Checker sang “The Twist” (1960) and introduced a revolutionary dance move – we didn’t look back. There’d been music and dance combos throughout the centuries – but this was new because you could dance without a partner. This was revolutionary in our eyes. The following year “Let’s Twist Again” sold and sold, attaining the 21st position in the Top 100.
1964 was the last year that a record you just ‘listened to’ made it onto the top 100; that was Louis Armstrong’s ‘Hello Dolly’ and it came in at number 100. From then on the most purchased music was to dance to, chill out to, or to love to. It soundtracked our waking moments.
And that wasn’t all. New fashion designers revolutionised what we could wear. By the time I was 16 I could swap between midis, maxis, minis, and trouser suits; I could choose plain, block, floral, psychedelic, tie-dye; pretty soon there’d be hot pants and dungarees, chisel toes, platform soles, and knee-high boots. I had pink-tinted octagonal prescription specs and tiny rectangular sunnies that I bought in Carnaby Street. And everywhere was the music.
The folk / protest songs of musicians like Joan Baez spawned themes of social and political comment and unrest, and reaction against war evolved through ‘flower power’, magic mushrooms and the hippie lifestyle. There was upbeat music about surfing, youth culture, grabbing the good life; yet alongside was fearful uncertainty about the future, the inevitability of loss, destruction of nature, sometimes prophetically so.
I want to thank PoojaG (LifesFineWhine) for inspiring me to re-live my music memories. Her super-eclectic Blog had a recent post about music of the 60s and 70s that she’s been studying. Also check her out if you’re into Korean food – or fancy trying it – as she’s posted some great recipes.
Thank you for reading my musical post, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Please like, share, and tell me about any music memories you have in the Reply box below.
Stay well and safe.