The “Swinging Sixties” was a decade of new developments changing ideals that ranged from women’s movements, to “the New Left,” and to the musical scene of Rock ‘n’ Roll. These important progressions began the counterculture and social revolution among the youth in the United States. The counterculture ideals and visions were brought about by the extraordinary explosion of creative thought through music and other forms of art. The music scene, that overwhelmed the country, allowed for the culture’s expression of the social upheavals caused by the events overwhelming the country.
The popular Rock ‘n’ Roll music, along with the bands themselves, during the “Swinging Sixties” had a great deal of influence that affected the counterculture, the psychedelic scene, and the endless concerts/festivals from the beginning of the decade up until the early seventies.
The origin of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which dominated the music scene in the sixties, dates back to the late fifties and early sixties with the underlying roots of folk, rhythm & blues, gospel, country, and jazz.
Rock ‘n’ Roll, along with all types of music during the decade, influenced lifestyles, fashion, attitudes, and language. Furthermore, Rock ‘n’ Roll became a steady underbeat of political activity which offers some acclaim for the help of the civil rights movement along with other movements. Likewise, musical artists were influenced by the political events and the lifestyles of their audience in writing their lyrics. With this sway, Rock ‘n’ Roll became known as a “weapon of cultural revolution” spanning the country from coast to coast.
In the early stages of this new revolution of Rock ‘n’ Roll and early years of the Sixties, the beginning bands were more laid back and relaxed. Taking the Sixties by storm in nineteen sixty-two was the sensation known as the Beatles. In nineteen sixty-four, the Beatles’ influence over the youth reached the United States when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show which followed their transitional move to New York City, New York. The Beatles became “the most popular music group in the United States” with 30 songs reaching the top 10 pop charts and the production of 12 albums.With their popularity, the Beatles generated a strong influence on American culture and the young people, which provoked controversy, influenced style, and the use of psychedelic drugs. Their songs reflected on the events of the Sixties and related to the youth generation that was being affected.
The Beatles work has been recorded and savored in different styles of entertainment media from albums, to posters, to movies keeping their memory alive since their break up in nineteen sixty-nine. The 1st attempt at capturing the Beatles in media was the mock documentary A Hard Day’s Night, created in nineteen sixty-four. The film shows what a day in the Beatles life was like while they prepare for a television appearance. The film became the first “rockumentary” influencing the production of rock movies and videos for the future. This influence has continued to thrive into the 21st century with the production of Across the Universe. This movie allows for the current generation of youth to understand the happenings of the Sixties and the meaning behind the lyrics of Beatles’ songs. The movie goes into detail about the youth’s view on the war in Vietnam, the music scene, drugs, and the rebellious ways.
On the opposite side of the country, the Beastie Boys was another rock band who focused their lyrics on the culture that surrounded them, including the scene of marijuana use. The band originated and got their inspiration from the surfing culture, in which they participated in, in Southern California. The Beastie Boys began their career in nineteen sixty-one but their success and popularity began to spark between the years of nineteen sixty-three to nineteen sixty-five. During this time period, the band produced nine albums that included some of their hit songs “Surfin’ USA”; “Little Deuce Coup”; “California Girls”; and “Good Vibrations” led the Beastie Boys to hit their peak of popularity in nineteen sixty-six. The Beastie Boys continued to be successful with their legacy continuing into the future decades. During the peak of the Beastie Boys and the Beatles, the drug that hit the population was primarily marijuana which in turn led to the psychedelic drugs introduced in the mid-sixties.
During the mid-sixties, the laid back style of Rock ‘n’ Roll evolved into a phase of rock bands that created psychedelic sounds in the San Francisco Bay area, most popularly known as Haight Ashbury, where they hosted free concerts and didn’t record their music. In San Francisco, the music and bands were part of an underground culture where “drugs and rock swim up the same stream”. The culture of music became intertwined with psychedelic drugs among the audiences but also among many of the bands in the area. Many oncert goers began to attend concerts and bands events for the drugs that were normally found at these events. Not all bands were into the drugs, as Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead said “We’re not singing psychedelic drugs, we’re singing music. We’re musicians, not dope fiends”.
The many bands that began their careers in the underground scene of San Francisco consisted of The Jefferson Airplanes, Janis Joplin in the Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jimi Hendrix, and the Grateful Dead. Many of these bands were only known in the Haight Ashbury scene until the Summer of Love in nineteen sixty-seven. In nineteen sixty-seven, the spring and summer months, known as the Summer of Love, became a time when thousands of youths made their way to San Francisco after receiving invitations by the Haight Ashbury Council for Summer of Love. This “pilgrimage” was heavily influenced by the media and music along with the idea of “free love,” drugs, and a new community of young people. On June 16-18, some 100,000 young people gathered at the Monterey Pop Festival organized by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas and the Beatles publicist Derek Taylor.
The festival was advertised as “three days of music, love, and flowers” giving the feel of the original carefree spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. The “hippies” that fled to the scene were enticed with the appearances of their favorite bands and some newly formed bands, such as Jimi Hendrix and The Grateful Dead. The festival gave many of the bands from the Haight Ashbury “underground” national recognition with record deals and fame. Following his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, Jimi Hendrix became famous for setting “his guitar on fire at the end of his set” and the smashing of his guitar.
What became known as the “Jimi Hendrix Experience,” led to his popularity, also the creation of his band, in the United States becoming known as the greatest guitarist in the history of rock music and one of the most important and influential musicians of his era across a range of genres. With his new popularity, the Jimi Hendrix Experience replaced the Jefferson Airplanes as the headliners at the Fillmore widening their popularity. In nineteen sixty-seven, Hendrix’s single, “Purple Haze” became one of the “archetypical psychedelic drug songs of the sixties” and is often cited as one of his greatest songs, and for many is his signature song.
In nineteen sixty-eight, Hendrix received the honor of being named “Artist of the Year” by Rolling Stone for hi showmanship and gift for using distortion and feedback to create a unique guitar sound (208, Columbia Guide). As his popularity grew, Jimi Hendrix and his band, Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, performed a two-hour set at the famous Woodstock festival in nineteen sixty-nine. Hendrix gave a very memorable performance when he did a solo improvisation of the Star-Spangled Banner which is regarded as a special symbol of the decade.
Jimi Hendrix’s career ended just over a year after his performance at Woodstock due to overdosing on drugs. The Grateful Dead, another legendary band that performed at Monterey Pop and Woodstock, was formed in nineteen sixty-five in the San Francisco Bay area. The band became known for their unique and eclectic style of music that they performed live because they lived for the audience that they attracted. At the time, music was not recorded, but many believed that “the Dead’s” sound was like thunder and would not be the same if duplicated into albums.
With the fans that gathered at their concerts, the band became known as the representation of the San Francisco scene and of the counterculture movement. The Grateful Dead shared a three-story house because one of the ideals of the people in Haight Ashbury was the consciousness that people should work and live together (239, Columbia Guide). In nineteen sixty-nine, the Grateful Dead were invited to perform at Altamont but right as they were about to perform, the band decided against it. They felt that the energy of the outing was not that of a typical counterculture event because it had become more rowdy especially when Hell’s Angels arrived.
The fame and influence that the Grateful Dead inflicted on the youth, “their music continues to draw young people more than thirty-five years after the Haight Ashbury summer in which the Dead emerged” (229, Takin’ It to the Streets). The fans of the Grateful Dead decided to call themselves “Deadheads” and followed the band from one concert to another which included the three-day festival of Woodstock. Following the trend of free concerts, the east coast music scene held a three day rock festival in Woodstock, New York.
This extravagant rock concert where 500,000 young people arrived to listen to rock became known as “Woodstock Nation” (257, Columbia Guide). Woodstock was a peaceful event despite the large crowd and inadequate supplies. People came to see performances by Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Jefferson Airplane, Arlo Guthrie, and the Grateful Dead. The bands and the festival exemplified the counterculture and the “Summer of Love” as the followers escaped from the events that were persuading their reasons to rebel. Woodstock was held during a time of war, racial conflicts, which attracted many of the participants.
Among the attendees, many were satisfied and remember the festival for its social harmony, the quality of music, and the overwhelming mass of people. Woodstock has been remembered through movies and texts, but in large part with the attempts to hold festivals similar to the three-day rock festival. The first festival that was attempted to duplicate Woodstock was the concert at the Altamont. The Rolling Stones became known to some as the “greatest rock & roll band in the world” but also became known as causing the end of the hippie counterculture.
The band, originally from England, was formed in nineteen sixty-two and made their way to the United States in nineteen sixty-four when they went on their first U. S. tour. Many of their singles reached the top charts in both the U. S. and England which led to their trans-Atlantic hit in nineteen sixty-six. Along with their fans, the band members were strong followers in the drug scene. In nineteen sixty-seven, three out of the five band members were arrested for drug possession and use, leaving only two of the band members to perform.
While the members were waiting to see what would happen to them, the band created “We Love You,” as a tribute thanking all of their fans for being so loyal. In nineteen sixty-nine, the Rolling Stones staged their own festival similar to Woodstock at the Altamont where all hell broke loose. Although the Rolling Stones made their United States debut in nineteen sixty-four during the “British Invasion,” they have become known for their concert at the Altamont Speedway in Livermore, California.
The concert held on December 6, nineteen sixty-nine, just four months after Woodstock, was the Rolling Stones response to the numerous complaints that their ticket prices were too expensive, which is why they proceeded to give their followers a free concert to end their nineteen sixty-nine tour. Many people of the time “call us Woodstock West, but we are not” while others believe that “if concert isn’t the right word for the day, festival isn’t either” (310, The Portable Sixties Reader).
The concert was advertised as a day full of performances from popular rock bands resembling Woodstock, but as the day progressed, a series of events arose causing havoc. As the gates opened at 7:00 am, 300,000 concert goers took their places to see bands such as Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, and most importantly the Rolling Stones. The enormous crowd seemed to enjoy themselves and the performances of the bands until Hell’s Angels appeared on and around the stage. In their hallucinating states of mind, due to their psychedelic drugs, they experienced a rush of horror and worry as the Angels took their places.
The viewers wonder why the Angels are on the stage, just to be informed that the Rolling Stones hired them to be there security. Seeing as how the concert was flowing smoothly, the Angels grew hungry “for violence mocks our unfocused love of peace; their grim solidarity, our fearful hopes of community” (311, Portable Sixties Reader). Riots began to break out as the Angels used violence in an attempt to calm down the crowd. As tension grew, the Rolling Stones played their song “Sympathy for the Devil” as the crowd and Angels clashed (180, Takin’ It to the Streets).
As the violence continued between the crowd and Angels, a man attempted to escape the riot but was shot by the security. This man’s death, 18 years-old Meredith Hunter, put an end to the concert as the crowd began to scream and panic. The tragic death at the Altamont signaled an end to the promise of the Summer of Love and the Woodstock Nation (180, Takin’ It to the Streets). With the Altamont disaster being viewed as the end of the hippie era and end of Woodstock nation, the world of Rock ‘n’ Roll took a dark turn into drug related deaths.
Throughout the decade, the drug scene evolved from the semi-mind altering drug of marijuana to the psychedelic drugs, such as LSD and psilocybin mushrooms. Psychedelic drugs were used for “mind altering” experiences which were increased through the music, concerts, and poster designs. At the concerts, many bands began to experiment with what was known as “Kool Aid Acid Test,” where they would spike the punch allowing them to incorporate acid experiences into their music. The “psychedelic” posters that encircled the decade, “required concentration” appealed to the hippies because “the state of mind which occurs when high on [marijuana and/or psychedelic substances]” comes with an “intense visual involvement in details”.
The posters were found everywhere from phone lines to concert halls to being the posters representing bands. With the psychedelic scene surrounding the hippie’s counterculture, the rockers from rock bands experimented with the drugs as well. As he psychedelic drug scene expanded, rock bands and their members began to experiment with the drugs. Starting in the later sixties, nineteen sixty-eight and sixty-nine, drugs were taken and used more frequently than in the early years of the decade. In nineteen sixty-nine, the Altamont festivities proved that the use of drugs impaired judgment and was part of the darker side of what had become Rock ‘n’ Roll. Giving the idea that the “Summer of Love” and peaceful ways of the hippies were at an end, numerous members of Rock ‘n’ Roll began to overdose on drugs.
As the sixties came to an end, Rock ‘n’ Roll continued to succeed into the seventies, but “Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Al Wilson suffered drug-related deaths” (294, Columbia Guide). The deaths of these rock idols went hand in hand with their surroundings and lives they decided to live. Since drugs became popular in the music business, rock idols became addicted to the feeling that they received. Bands and rockers, such as Jimi Hendrix, would perform while under the influence of psychedelic drugs.
There is a belief that many members of these rock bands were the most creative while under the influence which caused them to consume drugs and alcohol numerous times throughout the days. Also, Rock ‘n’ Roll had taken up a dark tone after Altamont, which could have inflicted the idols with dark thoughts increasing their wants and needs for drugs. Overall, these idols became addicted to the “psychedelic” drugs and didn’t know their limit until they had overdosed. The music from the “Swinging Sixties” influenced the youth of the decade in their beliefs, their actions, and their emotions towards the events that were happening around them.
The music brought about concerts and festivals, drugs, the counterculture, and a new way of life for the rebellious youth. The hippies and young people were brought together during a time of hardships where they were able to let reality disappear and slip into a different world. This different world was reached with the help of psychedelic drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll and the communities created which brought allowed for a world of peace, freedom, and love. Rock ‘n’ Roll touched the heart of the decade and has continued to teach the current listeners about the wonderful and crazy decade of the Sixties.