Back in the day, Led Zeppelin held a tag for being “quintessential purveyors,” depicting and oozing a new aura of masculinity and aggressiveness in their sexually-driven rock style of music. During the peak of the band’s career, the counter-norm culture was gathering momentum. The United States Army was withdrawn from Vietnam and the Cold War was gaining as Russia and the United States cooled off interests in weapons development. There were also political tensions in the forms of the Watergate scandal, stagflation and oil crisis. Zeppelin’s music thus came at a point were change was in demand and their infamous “cock rock” vibe sought to describe the influence that the band had on their listeners in a wide array of matters as serious as group’s political views and as amusing as the band’s fashion.
People wasted no time in adopting the bands style and appearance in a bid to reek of sexy. Led Zeppelin pioneered the widespread “big hair” of the ‘80s, and went on to influence other celebrities’ clothes and jewelries, and other fashion accessories. The classic rock legends are the source of inspiration for the tight band T-shirts and hipster flares, side-laced slim jeans, shaggy haircuts, and scarves that ruled during their time. Their unique vestiary style is still adopted by several artists in the rock and roll genre up to present. The Zeppelin impact also inspired many of today’s top musicians to pursue their dreams. Bands like Aerosmith, Guns n Roses, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers and other influential names have admitted to the Led Zeppelin influence in their careers and aspirations. For Led Zeppelin, rock and sound themselves are not enough; the band embodies all the myths surrounding rock all by themselves; from dry ice, lasers, mysterious album covers to mystical lyrics, decadence, rebellion, sex, drugs, epic solos and larger-than-life anthems, Led Zeppelin set their standards for what rock stardom should embody.
With the Beatles came the “Beatlemania”; the four English mop tops had such an impact on the US that their culture and influence opened the way for an influx of other British artists, creating the phenomenon that was dubbed as the British Invasion. At their time of arrival, garage rock had already begun in the US and its concept in rock music was already being embraced. It would, however, take the appearance of the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show to give the movement a ground-breaking exposure as the Fab Four were being watched by a record-breaking 73 million viewing audience. It came at the right smack as America was still mourning over the death of President John F. Kennedy. No more than one week after the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the whole of America had become a huge music stage for the young Americans who began playing guitars and performing in bands. Many began to grow their hair long to match this new “Beatles” hairstyle. The prize gift to win the heart of young boys was non-negotiable – a guitar or nothing. So high was the Beatles’ influence on kids and rock star wannabes that Tom Petty, a rock artist who had played for two garage bands in Florida, once discussed the motivation he received from the Beatles towards joining a band. Petty also recalled the popularity of the Beatles everywhere that one would literally find it impossible to drive through any neighborhood without hearing strains of garage bands playing. For America, The Beatles almost single-handedly rekindled America’s hopes, dreams and aspirations that had been temporarily quenched by Kennedy’s assassination.
Music aside, the Beatles also made a large impression on style and fashion during their heyday. The “mop top,” which was the Beatles’ trademark haircut, was adopted by many who coined the name due to its resemblance to “Arthur” haircut or a mop. It sported a mid-length hairstyle which has a straight cut that spans to a collar length behind and over the ears by the sides with a straight fringe. The mop top was quickly embraced and loved among rock fans especially during the early and the mid-60s, and even became a commercial success that toy manufactures began production of real-hair and plastic-made “Beatle wigs.” The Lowell Toy manufacturers in New York held the license to make what was considered the only original Beatle wig, but it proved to be so popular that many counterfeits had sprung up. Once the mop-top became established, everyone was itching to get a taste of the Beatles; from comedians who wore the wig to easily thrill their audience, to fashion designers who competed to get approval to use the word “Beatle” on everything they made.
While there is no telling how far the influence of the Beatles went, in November 1963 there were endless newspaper reports that made headlines about schoolboys who were expelled because of sporting their long Beatles-style hair. Even apprentices who dared to have the mop-top were not allowed into factories because of their rebellious looks.
In 2003, Mikhail Safonov said that in Soviet Union, mimicking the Beatles hairstyle was a show of strong rebellion. The elders who didn’t particularly dig the hairstyle adopted the tag “hairies” for those who embraced it. So serious was the issue that people who even just fancied to have that haircut were arrested and made to take another haircut at several police stations.
It might seem funny that some sort of long hair could be so much of a big deal, but unlike today, long hairstyles were chiefly associated with a few musical artists that were considered eccentric, as well as highly religious people who would leave their hair (as well as facial hair) to grow in the Jesus Christ style. It was not until the arrival of the Beatles that the style became acceptable, even desirable for men. In 1966, the British men started sporting facial hair and wasted no time in pioneering the explosion of the full-blown hippie trend. The long hair remained a sign of nonchalant consideration for societal norms but as the 70s neared, the movement simply became rather a “hair-do” and lost the immoral “hair-don’t” that it had earlier been branded.
The rebel image that the Beatles put on continued with media interviews and Beatles’ feature films. Unlike the rock and roll darlings like Elvis Presley who had successfully gotten the impressionable young people on board with their rebellious but subtle tones, The Beatles otherwise made it clear that they were a group with free wills. Several interviews where shady questions were thrown at the Fab Four, saw epic responses that contrasted the docile and ever-tolerant responses that pressmen were used to getting from Elvis.
In their first feature film A Hard Day’s Night (1964) the Beatles are depicted to disrespect the authorities with a scene towards the end that shows the police chasing the quartet. Their next film, Help! (1965) played a major role in integrating a new approach to music films in Britain, this subsequently led to the production of many other movies in the same tone and model. The popularity of A Hard Days’ Night and Help! further fueled the explosion of the “swinging London” and British film productions were eager to capitalize on this phenomenon, often with American studios backing them financially. These include numerous spy films such as James Bond movies (which are a significant contribution of the British to world cinema), as well as other films such as The Knack (and How to Get It) (helmed by A Hard Days’ Night director Richard Lester), Darling, Georgie Girl, Blow Up, Alfie, Bedazzled, Joanna, and many others.
Beatlemania was ever more far-reaching than anticipated, that it even caught the scrutiny and interest of sociologists. Even in areas where the group were not allowed to perform like the Soviet Union, a legendary description of their influence is given by sociologist Artemy Troitsky, who said that the Beatles had started a huge movement in the Soviet Union among many “inner immigrants” who lived in the country, while residing elsewhere spiritually and mentally. London Evening Standard published an article on March 4, 1966 entitled, “How does a Beatle live? John Lennon lives like this.” The paper gained notoriety for John Lennon’s remark that sparked widespread outrage: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.” While Lennon’s comment did not provoke any controversy in the UK, in America it was a totally different story. His “more popular than Jesus” remark drew a fiery outrage which quickly spread particularly across in the Bible belt region of America. The affair did very little to shake the Beatles’ popularity but is very much worth mentioning to show the depth and outstanding reach of the Beatles and their damn-the-consequences attitude that led to their unrivaled stance as trendsetters.
During his height of popularity in the 50s throughout the 60s, Elvis Presley presented a self-selling vibe that spread across an appreciable number of age group which mostly consisted of near-teens, early teens and adults. Elvis’ quest to keep a glamorous appearance at all times were quickly mimicked by many of his fans. In his time, Presley sported a unique ducktail hairstyle; his fashion tastes included loose open neck shirts with black slacks and boot-cut pants. It didn’t take long for fans to adopt the new clothing fashion and hairstyle.
The cultural impact that Elvis Presley left is something that cannot be underestimated. His popularity triggered a staggering demand from teenagers – even kids as young as ten years old – to buy his records. His sense of fashion also prompted a demand for “ducktail” haircuts, black slacks, blazers, and loose shirts among teen boys and young male adults. This led to numerous stores to introduce a new clothing line for men. Teenage girls, who had been enamored with Presley’s music, voice and good looks, would beg their parents to buy them pink portable 45 rpm record players for their own bedrooms. More and more American teenagers started to buy portable transistor radios to listen to rock and roll music no matter where they went.
Elvis’ influence, as a result, led to the heavy investment in the youth generation and his success paved the way for teens to assert more independence, which caused their parents and elders to raise their eyebrows. Elvis’ records, dance moves, fashion sense and personality soon became the everyday norm and embodiment of rock and roll among teens as well as young adults.
Legendary folk singer-songwriter Bob Dylan was one of the earliest influencers who encouraged a counterculture behavior through many social and political unrests. His songs gained fame (as well as notoriety) in the 60s and posed as the “voice” of his own generation whose anthems covered addressed a number of American anti-war and civil rights campaigns.
Dylan, not surprisingly, also courted controversy during the peak of his fame as he “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Armed with a Fender Stratocaster and backed by an electric band, Dylan’s performance drew mixed reactions from the audience. Folk purists roundly condemned Dylan for playing with an electric band, calling him a “traitor” to folk music. They even threatened to cut the power cables with an ax. Other people in the audience were either shocked, or were cheering enthusiastically for Dylan. But there is no doubt about it – the “Dylan goes electric” controversy provided a pivotal moment in the development of the folk-rock genre.
Dylan’s songs were considered unique during his time and had a deeply rooted connection to poetry; for the youths, Dylan was the one thing that brought back a lot of lost interest in poetry and literature as his song writing and musical influence were inestimable. The Beatles were widely influenced by Dylan and his 1960s work that featured most of his introspective and confessional song writing style. Several of his political-themed songs gained ground. In Dylan’s third album titled The Times They Are a-Changin’ (1964), Dylan discusses volatile topics such as poverty and racism; he is also known for writing possibly the world’s first anti-love song “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” Bob Dylan also had major influences on changing what was deemed acceptable in songs, it was not until Dylan released “Positively 4th Street” and “Like a Rolling Stone” — two songs that made nasty lyrics sound beautiful that pop singers and other musicians were afforded a new vista of themes for music and tapped into the lovey-dovey setting.
The Rolling Stones‘ influence has spanned many aspects in their golden era. As for the culture, The Rolling Stones were the embodiment of the “bad boys” look and swag of rock and roll. Initially, the band had to go with the Beatles-esque look with the matching suits and ties. However, they eventually ditched the concept for a look that did very little to show conformity and subtlety. The Rolling Stones managed to successfully eschew comparisons to their peers (and rivals) The Beatles. Soon, they rose to fame with rebellious music and lyrics that fueled counter-cultural ideologies in the youths of America.
The Stones were a direct contrast to the Beatles and did not concur with the peace and love vibe that many had become accustomed to in the 60s. Instead, their lyrics carried themes that were based on the events plaguing the world such as wars, and included topics like sex and violence that were considered too taboo at the time in mainstream music at the time. Every band has its main audience, and The Rolling Stones’ fan base mostly consisted of college kids. Their music, fashion sense, stage presence and even their scandal-ridden lifestyle were emulated by their fans who used their music as a tool for breaking the tide of conformity in the society.
Other than that, The Rolling Stones were also one of the important figures of the blues-rock movement as they helped popularize the genre during the 1960s. However, they also experienced a short period of musical experimentation, as illustrated by their psychedelic album Their Satanic Majesties Request in 1967. They have influenced future acts such as Aerosmith, Iggy Pop and the White Stripes, among others.