Jared Feldman: Hello and welcome to this edition of our entertainment through the ages series on the Entertainment Bureau. Today myself and Jay Sage are tackling the extremely broad and difficult task of compressing the importance of 1960’s music into a readable few thousand words rather than a lengthy dissertation. Jay I leave it to you to try to start us.
Jay Sage: Wow, “broad topic” is actually an understatement here. The fingerprints of the icons of 60s musicians are simply everywhere. Where’s modern Rock n Roll without the British Invasion, or if you prefer All-American, the Beach Boys? Where’s modern R & B without the soul stylings of Aretha Franklin? Or how about one of the most influential songwriters ever, Bob Dylan? His ripples are still traveling through the musical time space continuum at a rapid pace. Let’s start with the Beatles, though, as we often do. What made them so enormous?
Feldman: They just had such an indescribable ability to entertain. The Beatles really did musical fame the smart way, combining catching tunes with technical proficiency. It’s impossible to truly gauge their effect, but from their first album Please, Please Me, to their rooftop concert in 1969 they were pop and rock music.
Sage: Truly gods of the industry in their day. They also established the ownership of an album, not just a single, as a status symbol of taste. Back in those days, a young person who didn’t own a copy of Revolver just wasn’t with the times. And album sales were a crucial element for The Beatles’ popularity, because they scarcely toured. I think that ultimately, their success was 50% the inexplicable zeitgeist of popularity and 50% the music itself. They merged popular stuff with provocative experimentation in perfect quantities.
Feldman: Given the vast proliferation of recording capabilities, we will never see a more popular or influential band in our lifetimes. That’s not to say other groups didn’t have a massive impact on music either. Staying in the UK, we must mention The Rolling Stones, who took a more old school approach to music, utilizing classic blues rock styles and incorporating them into the modern rock scene. Though they might not have been the first, they were arguably the best, one reason they’re still going and just announced a 50th anniversary tour.
Sage: It’s the age old question. Beatles or Stones? Sometimes I think it doesn’t even bear mentioning, because in many ways they just complement each other in rock history. The Beatles didn’t tour, whereas the Stones were perhaps most famous for their shows with Jagger and Richards’ antics. Then again, none of their albums were ever quite as successful because the tracks were more hit and miss. But if you’re putting together a “Greatest songs of the 60s” list? I think that Gimme Shelter sits right at the top.
Feldman: It’s an argument that can’t be settled easily. Rolling Stone Magazine’s top 500 songs of all time had the Stone’s Satisfaction at second, and The Beatles Hey Jude at number eight. The top song provides a perfect transition for us, Like A Rolling Stone by Robert Zimmerman aka Bob Dylan.
Sage: Dylan’s songwriting abilities and unique voice are unmistakable behemoths in the annals of music. Speaking particularly of Like a Rolling Stone, I’ll never forget hearing it for the first time and just thinking ‘WOW’. It’s the type of song that can change your paradigms of what music can accomplish. But you can play any Dylan song/album and be blown away. Slow Train Coming is probably my favorite.
Feldman: I think it’s fair to say that Dylan has influenced more artists than any other. Besides his own musical talents, he’s had a major impact on The Beatles in the mid 60’s as well as basically every other folk and rock talent to come out of the United States during that era. He’s one of those artists loved by many and also derided by many for his unique style.
Sage: It’s unfortunate that we don’t have longer to talk on each of these artists, but suffice it to say that Dylan’s critics’ complaints about his nasal voice are well heard but ultimately invalid. Moving back to the British Invasion, let’s talk about a group that often gets left behind in conversation among the Beatles, Stones and The Who – I’m talking about The Kinks. Ray Davies and company had this raw energy that hadn’t yet been heard, an irreverent energy that went on to manifest itself in the punk/grunge movement of the late 80s and 90s.
Feldman: Its interesting to trace the genesis of modern music, which all has legitimate roots in the past. I think the Kinks are one of the those under represented bands that get lumped in as an afterthought with bands like The Who. The Who were a tremendous and ultimately much more talented group than The Kinks, but the Kinks were incredibly important in their own right. They really pioneered the short quick grungy type of music and distortion that is incredibly popular now. While The Beatles did short quick songs as well, The Kinks hit that precursor to hard rock sound perfectly.
Sage: And since we mentioned them, let’s not let a quick note about The Who go by. They occupied their own niche…that is, the incredibly loud niche. Which isn’t to say that they weren’t skilled and proficient on their instruments, but they were probably the band that parents hated the most back then. The “you call this music?!?” crowd.
Feldman: It seems we’re going to spend the majority of our time focusing on Rock music of the 1960’s, which is fine, but I’m going to jump us back across the pond, specifically to Los Angeles home of the Beach Boys, the beginning of American pop music. Surf rock is a very niche market, but in the early 1960’s it was the talk of the town and the country.
Sage: In the US, the Beach Boys lit up the radio dials like absolutely nobody else and their album “Pet Sounds” remains one of the best reviewed of all time. Like The Beatles, the band was rapt with distractions and personal issues so they might not have even reached their potential. Unlike The Beatles, their music comes across as a bit quaint and unassuming these days, especially since surf culture was a passing fad (not in California, but for the rest of the country).
Feldman: They’re really an interesting microcosm in music history. The Beach Boys held a huge part of the American music pantheon during the 1960’s and now are practically an after though, only heard on oldies radio stations and in modern surf movies. Staying in Southern California, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Doors, and their frontman Jim Morrison. The Doors were a completely unmatched group, in terms of musical style and lyrical depth. Jim Morrison was more a poet than a musical artist. Despite that, he’s grown into the true symbol of the American musician.
Sage: To many of that era, Morrison was the embodiment of male sex, an atmosphere that exudes through his vocal stylings. He’s a member of the “27 Club” that you cite quite often, but it would have been interesting to see where his art developed as the years went by. To this day, the Doors’ music remains the choice for many who like to…umm…fly, even if it wasn’t strictly part of the psychedelic genre. Tons of other artists bear mentioning, though we unfortunately won’t touch on all of them. How about James Brown?
Feldman: I feel good, don’t you? He embodied Motown and really championed music in the American midwest. I would argue that Motown took a backseat during the 60’s it was certainly popular but the influx of the British Invasion seemed to push it into the background. A number of prominent artists like Aretha Franklin and the like made big strides throughout the country but couldn’t permeate the international scene as well as rock music.
Sage: The 60s were slightly before collaborative popularity between races in America. Guys like James Brown and Jimi Hendrix helped bridge the gap, but there was a pervading culture on both sides of the aisle that certain music was “their” music and “our” music. Art just holds a mirror to society, though, and as the Civil Rights movement reached a head so did egalitarianism in regards to the music that people consumed.
Feldman: Excellent point to end on. I want to apologize as we’ve merely scratched the surface of the importance of music in the 1960’s but to be sure we’ll touch on this subject as often as possible. It is really impossible to give an accurate representation of music of this era, but we shall press on and try our best. Once again thanks for reading the Entertainment Bureau’s Chat Wrap your home of All Things Entertaining.