The 1960s was a time of change for the United States. It was known as the era of counterculture and changes were seen in clothing, beliefs, education and entertainment – especially in the music of the decade.
The United States during the 1960s
After the post-war economic recovery during the 1950, the 1960s held so much promise for most Americans, who believed that they were standing at the dawn of a golden age. Especially when a young and charismatic senator from Massachusetts named John F. Kennedy became president in early 1961. He took office with an announcement that the torch of American idealism had been passed to a new generation. He and his administration further urged fellow Americans to join forces with them to fight “tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”
But these promises were all shattered by his assassination on November 22, 1963, which sent millions of Americans and people around the world into shock and grief. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson automatically assumed the presidency and strove to continue Kennedy’s mission. Of course, not everyone agreed with the government’s policies. Segregation was still implemented and defended, and many people questioned the government’s services as being too costly. As a result, civil disobedience and protests by students emerged. Although the student protestors were labeled as self-indulgent and lacking in life experience, they did contribute to the changes of the times. They helped to bring an end to the Vietnam War, the advancement of the civil rights (especially among African-Americans who clamored for more equality), and the transformation towards the culture of American colleges.
The 1960s are referred as the era of counterculture, where people began a revolution in social norms regarding clothing, dress, music, drugs, sexuality, formalities, and education. This decade is referred to as the “Swinging Sixties” due to the fact that the people started to trash taboos (or at least relaxed some of them) especially relating to sexism and race.
The fashion of the 1960s was marked by opposite extremes and diverse trends. During the early to mid 1960s, pillbox hats, miniskirts, printed dresses, low-heeled pumps, high gloves were prominent among women. Bouffant and pixie cuts were the popular hairstyles for women during that decade. Since becoming famous, the Beatles were also noted for their style — from suits to drainpipe pants to mop top hairdo. Other British Invasion and American acts followed suit. Young men tried to imitate that style and hairdo as also a form of rebellion. The Mod style originated in the UK and became popular among British lads. For the first time, it was London, not Paris, which became the center of the fashion world.
From the mid- to late-1960s changes in fashion were drastic. As the psychedelic era ushered, styles that reflected the era were bold, bright, vivid, colorful, and more uninhibited. Women wore shorter skirts, grew longer hair in its natural state (e.g., not treated), and showed more skin than ever before. Men, on the other hand, grew much longer hair, sported moustaches and beards. Among African-American men, the “afro” became not only a style but also a symbol of their racial pride. The most important note in the late 1960s style is how men’s and women’s fashion came to resemble each other. For instance, both men and women began to wear flared trousers (or pants), and tie-dyed shirts; both sexes sported long straight locks.
From about 39 million households who owned a television in 1955, by the early 1960s that number jumped to about 52 million. The most famous shows during the 1960s include musical variety shows such as the Ed Sullivan Show, The Andy Williams Show, and The Dean Martin Show. Sitcoms like The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and I Dream of Jeannie were popular. Sketch comedies such as Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, and dramas such as Gunsmoke and The Fugitive also held Americans attention. Johnny Carson ruled the late-nights with his Tonight Show, while the animated series The Flintstones became a rock-solid hit among kids and adults.
The Beatles’ first live US appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964 became one of the milestones in American television history. It was watched by over 73 million viewers or about 34% of the American population.
Films in the 1960s still had a very much similar trend of filmmaking as in the 1950s. Epic historical dramas were still popular (Cleopatra and Lawrence of Arabia, for instance), while comedies became more elaborate in nature, or interspersed with drama and/or dark elements. The 1960s saw the birth of the spy films, thanks to the James Bond movies starting with Dr. No in 1962.
Psychological horror films replaced the stereotypical monster films — Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is a prime example of that. Science fiction and fantasy films improved as they employed a wide range of more advanced special effects and more sophisticated sets. Musical films were still popular, as evidenced by The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, and My Fair Lady. The Beatles’ comedy-rock musical film A Hard Day’s Night became the precursor of modern music videos like those on MTV in the 1980s.
Music of the 1960s
The 1960s is a decade that saw many remarkable and major changes in society, beliefs, fashion, attitude, and most of all, music. How can you recall the Sixties without thinking and mentioning its phenomenal music scene?
Before 1963, much of the music still reflected the style of the previous decade. Many artists who initially found mainstream success during the 1950s were still enjoying big hit records during the early 1960s. These included Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, Ray Charles, and Dion. There were also some artists, such as Patsy Cline, who started their careers in the 1950s but only got to taste big commercial successes early the following decade.
In 1963 and the years that followed, several social factors and influences changed what popular music was. President Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam War, and progress of the Civil Rights Movement all lent a great impact on the American culture and especially the musical direction during this remarkable decade. Although 1950s stars such as Elvis Presley continued to score hits in the early part of the 1960s, music continued to expand and diversify. Many newer styles and trends were introduced and made an impact on the early part of the decade — surf music, the folk revival, the Brill Building sound, Phil Spector’s “The Wall of Sound,” and girl groups. Motown, Stax and Atlantic Records in particular brought more African-American artists to prominence on the pop charts.
In the United Kingdom, the rock and beat scene exploded during the early 1960s; it was led by the Beatles. Like many other British bands, the Beatles had been influenced by American music such as soul, R&B, surf music, and of course, rock and roll. Initially, these British combos mostly did interpretations of American hits, but gradually they began incorporating original material into their repertoire. Not surprisingly, they slowly emerged with more complex musical ideas and a sound that was distinctive that they could truly call their own. In mid-1962, bands such as the Rolling Stones started as one of the acts that were increasingly exhibiting blues influence, along with other bands such as the Animals and the Yardbirds.
1964 is a particular a turning point in the music scene during this decade. This is where the British rock scene broke through to mainstream popularity in the United States, starting with the historic arrival of the Beatles in January that year. Their single “I Want to Hold Your Hand” became the Fab Four’s first No. 1 hit on the Billboard pop chart. More importantly, the hit single set the tone to the global phenomenon known as the “British Invasion.” By 1964 the Beatles and other UK acts like the Rolling Stones were sharing the top spots on the Billboard charts with the US acts. Throughout the 1960s the Beatles practically lorded over both the singles and albums charts, scoring six of the Top 10 albums as well as 21 of the Top 100 singles of the decade.
American garage bands derived their inspiration from the British Invasion sounds, and started to make noise (also literally) on the music scene.
Songwriting in the 1960s remarkably evolved from the simple lyrics of puppy love to themes that included social consciousness and political statements. From the mid- to the late 1960s psychedelic music flourished, mirroring the hippie culture. The radio-friendly bubblegum pop, on the other hand, generated several successful hit singles on the chart. Album sales were starting to gain significance, and hard rock entered the scene and would eventually give birth to heavy metal.
Television also played a major role in rock music as networks were vying to attract the younger audience. American Bandstand, which started in the 1950s, continued to promote the clean-cut side of rock and roll, whereas prime time variety shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show started to promote rock bands. Those TV networks also included musical variety series such as Shindig and Hullabaloo which catered to teenage fans.
Towards the end of the decade outdoor concerts and festivals became the trend, starting with the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. This three-day concert event drew about 55,000 spectators per day. The Woodstock Festival in the summer of 1969, on the other hand, attracted 500,000 fans per day to a three-day concert.
Major musical movements of the 1960s
1. The British Invasion
You cannot recall the 1960s without mentioning the British Invasion. This phenomenon engulfed and entranced America from the early to mid 1960s. It came just at the right time when America was still mourning from Kennedy’s assassination, and at the same time, American teens were beginning to get tired from the same music they heard every day. The Beatles’ triumphant arrival in the States in 1964 triggered this phenomenon, and following the Fab Four’s success many other British acts came to America and enjoyed many hit singles on the Billboard charts. The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield, Peter and Gordon, Donovan, Lulu, Manfred Mann, The Kinks, The Who, The Zombies, and many others vied for high positions with American artists on the charts. The British Invasion was significant in the rising counterculture in much of the Western world. Even though the British Invasion has long gone, it still has a profound influence and inspiration especially for present-day British artists who hope to make it big internationally.
2. Folk and Protest Music
Throughout history mankind has been making and singing protest music and protest songs. Songs and music have always accompanied us in most major social upheavals like oppression and wars. There were such songs in the past as “Yankee Doodle” that were sung to keep the spirits alive during the dark times of the American Revolutionary War, or the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” during the Civil War. But the 1960s came to be known as the era of protest due to many factors such as the Vietnam War and the civil rights movements for the African-Americans. That’s why people created these protest songs as anthems and their voice. Bob Dylan was one of the major forces behind this movement, along with other folk/folk-rock singer-songwriters and groups such as Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds and others.
Motown, of course, is the name of a legendary recording label established by Berry Gordy in 1959 in Detroit, Michigan. Motown is not just a recording company; during the 1960s it was a cultural icon. Motown became popular and successful in bringing African-American artists to the pop charts, and the label’s spectacular and historic success reflected the racial integration of popular music. And aside from being a record label and a 1960s cultural icon, the term “Motown” is also applied to a musical style consisting R&B and soul carrying distinct pop flair — the formula of the label’s astounding commercial and cultural success in the 1960s. In the 1970s the label still managed to bring in hits, thanks to the popularity of funk and disco. Through Motown, many African-Americans became recognized and embraced by both black and white audiences, and became legends on their own: Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and The Supremes (the original line-up), The Jackson 5, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Tammi Terrell, and a lot of others made their mark in the 1960s music scene.
4. Psychedelic music (mostly psychedelic rock)
This genre found its roots in the US and the UK during the mid-1960s. As the name implies, it was inspired by the psychedelic culture that promoted the use of psychedelic or recreational drugs. The use of these drugs had a direct effect on how artists created music way back then. Psychedelic music’s stylistic origins were diverse, ranging from blues rock to Indian music. Psychedelic rock reached a peak from 1967 to 1969 along with the music festivals such as the Summer of Love and Woodstock. It was largely linked with widespread counterculture during the decade. Among the pioneers of this genre were the Beatles, The Byrds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and others. Psychedelic rock also gave birth to psychedelic pop and psychedelic soul.
5. Sunshine pop
Originating in California during the mid-1960s, sunshine pop enjoyed a mainstream popularity in the latter part of the decade. This kind of pop is characterized by cheerful themes, light and upbeat music, warm and vibrant sounds, vocal harmonies, and slick production. It could be tied to psychedelic rock/pop, surf rock as well as baroque pop (or classical pop) although of course they have noticeable differences. Many music historians see sunshine pop as form of escapism from the turmoil during the time. Sunshine pop uses light and buoyant themes such as colors and balloons as typified by the songs “My Beautiful Balloon” and “Yellow Balloon.” Groups that performed sunshine pop included the Beach Boys (from mid to late 60s), The Association, The 5th Dimension, The Yellow Balloon, The Buckinghams, The Lovin’ Spoonful, and dozens of other acts.
6. Music festivals
Towards the end of the decade, it was where music festivals flourished, starting from the three-day concert Monterey Pop Festival in California in 1967. Monterey became some sort of a prototype for future festivals (including Woodstock): open-air, large-scale, heavily-attended, running on a number of days, and featuring some of the most popular rock and pop acts. Monterey is generally regarded as the onset of the “Summer of Love.” The Woodstock Music & Art Fair was held in New York, in 1969. Also known as Woodstock Festival or simply Woodstock, this three- (or four-) day music festival is regarded as one of the most iconic music events of the 20th century. It is seen as the embodiment of hippie counter-culture and as the culmination of the social revolution that occurred during that time. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Ravi Shankar, the Mamas and the Papas, Otis Redding, Santana, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joe Cocker, Creedence Clearwater Revival and of course The Grateful Dead, among others, had historic performances at those mentioned festivals and other large-scale music events during the time.
7. Surf rock
When you think about “surf rock,” you’d automatically think of the Beach Boys, who were at the forefront of this genre. Like the Beach Boys, surf rock originated in California. Surf rock gained in popularity from the early to mid-1960s until the British Invasion took over. The initial subject matter of this genre was literally surfing and the beach, but as its popularity was increasing the subject was expanded to girls, cars, and teenage life. Surf rock is mostly known for their twanging guitars and vocal harmonies; although many surf rock works are also instrumental in nature. “Hot rod” music is another type of surf rock, whose topic was all about cars and songs were added with sound effects of car noises. The Beach Boys were one of the few “surf rock” bands to sustain their success, even after the decline of the genre as the band explored other avenues. Other bands that came out of this genre include Jan and Dean, The Ventures, The Shadows, and the Hondells, among others.
8. Blues rock
Blues rock is basically a fusion of blues and rock music. Blues rock relies on the chords/scales and instrumental improvisations (typically over twelve-bar blues). This fusion originated in the US and the UK from early to mid-1960s. Many proponents of blues rock at that time were the white artists who experimented with music from African-American bluesmen such as Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, and the “Three Kings” (Albert King, Freddie King and B.B. King). Blues rock’s sound is sometimes characterized by distortion as a result of the electric guitars being amplified through a tube amplifier. By the 1970s, blues rock’s long and involved improvisational nature was being gradually replaced by heavy riffs, so the line between blues rock and hard rock were all but a blurry one. The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Animals, Butterfield Blues, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers were among the pioneers of blues rock in the 1960s.
Top-selling artists of the 1960s
1. The Beatles
Founded: 1960 in Liverpool, England
The band was also known as The Fab Four.
There is no doubt about it — the Beatles are not only the best-selling act of the entire decade, but they are in fact the best-selling act of all time. Alternatively known as the “Fab Four,” The Beatles are also regarded as the greatest and most influential artists ever. The band composed of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. Initially building their reputation at local clubs in their hometown Liverpool, England and Hamburg, Germany, manager Brian Epstein took them in and molded them as a professional act. Producer George Martin, on the other hand, came to refine the group’s sound and bolstered their potential musically.
The group became a major force of the British rock and beat music scene when it exploded in the early 1960s. In 1964, the English group successfully conquered the United States (and soon the rest of the world), igniting an overwhelming phenomenon called Beatlemania.
Starting from the pop ballads and simplistic chords in the early 1960s, the Beatles later experimented with several genres that ranged from Indian music and psychedelic rock to classical elements in innovative and complex fashion. Their sophisticated and more mature musical direction, consolidated by the songwriting of the legendary Lennon-McCartney tandem, elevated the Beatles’ position from pop darlings to an embodiment of the 1960s counterculture.
After their breakup in 1970, each of the ex-Beatles launched his own solo career, attaining success of varying degrees. Lennon was assassinated in 1980, and Harrison succumbed to lung cancer in 2001. The surviving members McCartney and Starr remain active up to the present.
During their heyday, the Beatles enjoyed several chart-topping singles and albums. At the end of the decade, they had scored six of the Top 10 albums as well as 21 of the Top 100 singles. During the 1990s, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr as well as producer Martin reunited for their successful Anthology album series.
Highest-charting singles (US Billboard Hot 100 only):
- I Want to Hold Your Hand
- She Loves You
- Do You Want to Know a Secret?
- Love Me Do
- P.S. I Love You
- A Hard Day’s Night
- I Feel Fine
- She’s a Woman
- Eight Days a Week
- Ticket to Ride
- Day Tripper
- We Can Work It Out
- Nowhere Man
- Paperback Writer
- Yellow Submarine
- Penny Lane
- Strawberry Fields Forever
- All You Need Is Love
- Hello, Goodbye
- Lady Madonna
- Hey Jude
- Get Back
- The Ballad of John and Yoko
- Come Together
- Let It Be
- The Long and Winding Road
- Got to Get You into My Life
- Free as a Bird
2. The Beach Boys
Founded: 1961 in Hawthorne, California
Originating in Hawthorne, California, the Beach Boys were also prominent during the 1960s music scene. The band’s original and classic lineup consists of the Wilson brothers — Brian, Dennis and Carl — their cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine. During the early part of the decade, the Beach Boys rose to prominence as a surf rock band, carving out enduring hits such as “Surfin’ USA,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “I Get Around,” “California Girls,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” and “Barbara Ann.” Often, the Beach Boys were the American answer to the British Invasion, more particularly the Beatles, who were the band’s arch-rivals.
In the mid-1960s leader Brian Wilson began experimenting with several different genres (including classical music and psychedelic rock) and spent more time on producing and arranging songs in the recording studio. That resulted in one of the most revered pop albums in history, Pet Sounds, and the single “Good Vibrations,” both released in 1966. However, after that the Beach Boys struggled to reclaim their old commercial glory, although their following albums were mostly well-received by critics. Since the 1980s, the band members have been embroiled in a much-publicized legal dispute over songwriting credits, royalties, and use of the band’s name. Despite this, members would reunite on very few occasions, and mostly for only a brief time. Dennis drowned in 1983 while Carl succumbed to lung cancer in 1998.
The Beach Boys are often heralded as “America’s Band.” With over 100 million records sold worldwide, over eighty charted singles, and a lofty place on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” list, the Beach Boys are assured of a rock legendary status.
- Surfin’ USA
- Surfer Girl
- Be True to Your School
- Fun, Fun, Fun
- I Get Around
- When I Grow Up (to Be a Man)
- California Girls
- Barbara Ann
- Sloop John B
- Wouldn’t It Be Nice
- Good Vibrations
- Rock and Roll Music
3. The Rolling Stones
Founded: 1962 in London, England
The Rolling Stones are seen as one of the greatest rock bands ever, and also the most enduring. The band’s personnel has changed since their formation, but the classic lineup consists of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts. Jones drowned in the swimming pool at his home in 1969.
Considered one of the vanguards of the British Invasion in the early 1960s, the Stones (as they are also called) were seen as the complete opposites of the Beatles. While the Beatles were adored for their clean-cut and “cute” image, the Stones otherwise cultivated a rough and rebellious reputation on- (and also off-) stage. Like many other British bands of their time, the Stones also started their careers doing mostly covers of American hits, until they started writing their own material. Their composition “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” released as a single in 1965, became the Stones’ breakthrough hit.
Making headlines for their stormy, much-publicized personal lives as well as for their music, the Rolling Stones were instrumental in making blues a part of rock and roll. However, the London lads were also experimental at one point, blending diverse musical influences and weaving them into a sound that they called their own (as evidenced by their 1967 LP Their Satanic Majesties Request).
The Stones continued to churn out several critically-acclaimed and commercially successful albums and world tours throughout the 1970s and 1980s. And despite easing down their activity in the recording studio from the 1990s onwards, the Stones have continued to be a huge live attraction, filling stadiums to full capacity. Throughout the trials that they faced, the Rolling Stones survived them all. Being the living legends of rock that they are, the Stones are still on the roll up to the present.
Highest-charting singles (overall; US):
- Time Is on My Side
- The Last Time
- (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
- Get Off of My Cloud
- As Tears Go By
- 19th Nervous Breakdown
- Mother’s Little Helper
- Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?
- Ruby Tuesday
- Jumpin’ Jack Flash
- Honky Tonk Women
- Brown Sugar
- Tumbling Dice
- Fool to Cry
- Miss You
- Beast of Burden
- Emotional Rescue
- Start Me Up
- Undercover of the Night
- Harlem Shuffle
- Mixed Emotions
4. Elvis Presley
Born: January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi
Died: August 16, 1977 in Memphis, Tennessee
Elvis was also known as: The King of Rock and Roll, The King.
The late Elvis Presley was the King of Rock and Roll in the 1950s. During the early 1960s he still managed to churn out high-charting singles such as “It’s Now or Never,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” and “Surrender.” When the British Invasion led by the Beatles (who idolized Presley), dominated America, Presley’s music career took a back seat. During that time he devoted much to making Hollywood films (and their accompanying soundtracks) which were roundly derided by critics. After a seven-year break from live performances, Presley staged a successful comeback in 1968 via a televised special Elvis, which led to successful and hugely profitable tours. From the late 1960s up to his death in 1977, his later years produced one of his most widely-imitated and iconic images.
Highest-charting singles in the 1960s:
- Stuck on You
- It’s Now or Never
- Are You Lonesome Tonight
- I Feel So Bad
- Little Sister
- Can’t Help Falling in Love
- Good Luck Charm
- She’s Not You
- Return to Sender
- (You’re the) Devil in Disguise
- Bossa Nova
- Crying in the Chapel
- In the Ghetto
- Suspicious Minds
- Don’t Cry Daddy
5. Bob Dylan
Born: Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota
The legendary folk singer-songwriter and musician is regarded as one of the iconic figures in the American music history. Dylan’s most celebrated career occurred during the 1960s where he wrote songs that chronicled social issues such as war and civil rights. He was considered as the artist at the forefront of this movement that spawned folk and protest songs, although Dylan himself has repudiated that he was a spokesman for his generation. His accomplishments as a singer and musician have been central to his career, but Dylan’s songwriting is his biggest and most defining contribution. He is also one of the best-selling artists of all time and has received numerous awards.
Highest-charting hits (US):
- Subterranean Homesick Blues
- Like a Rolling Stone
- Positively 4th Street
- Rainy Day Women
- Lay Lady Lay
Note: Dylan’s first single “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” one of his most defining songs, was never released in the US, but in the UK where it reached #9 in 1965.
6. Frank Sinatra
Born: December 12, 1915 in Hoboken, New Jersey
Died: May 14, 1998 in Los Angeles, California
Also known as: Ol’ Blue Eyes, Chairman of the Board
Ol’ Blue Eyes didn’t get to enjoy a string of hits as he had done during the 1940s and the 1950s (see Music of the 1950s). But he still more than just retained his commercial appeal above the water in the midst of rock and British Invasion. The 1960s in fact gave him his most critically and commercially successful album, Strangers in the Night, released in 1966. The album sold over a million copies and went platinum. Needless to say, it also reached #1 on the Billboard 200, marking his successful return on the pop album charts. The title song was also a chart topper: on the US Billboard pop and easy listening charts, and on the UK charts as well. Because of the success, Sinatra garnered two Grammys: Record of the Year for “Strangers in the Night” single, and Best Male Vocal Performance for the same song. Truly, “Strangers in the Night” is one lovely song, a classic Sinatra ballad that still resonates today.
Sinatra’s Top 40 hits in the 1960s:
- Ol’ MacDonald
- Pocketful of Miracles
- Softly, As I Leave You
- Somewhere in Your Heart
- It Was a Very Good Year
- Strangers in the Night
- Summer Wind
- That’s Life
- The World We Knew (Over and Over)
- My Way
7. Cliff Richard
Born: Harry Rodger Webb on October 14, 1940 in Lucknow, British India
Although he never achieved large-scale success in the United States, British pop singer and musician Cliff Richard is otherwise regarded as a superstar in his own country the United Kingdom, as well as elsewhere. Richard is the third top-selling artist in UK’s pop music history, only behind The Beatles and Elvis Presley; he also has sold over 250 million records worldwide. Along with the backing group The Shadows, Richard was originally poised as a rebellious rock and roll artist during the pre-Beatles era. From 1958 to 1964, Richard amassed 29 UK Top 10 hits, including nine number one hits. But as time went by, he was more involved in his Christian faith; his image and his music also mellowed. By the 1970s and 1980s Richard achieved his first US Top 10 hits with “Devil Woman,” “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” and “Dreamin’.” Although he would never achieve that feat again, Richard has still retained a following in the UK, parts of Europe, Asia, and Australia.
Richard’s US Top 40 hits:
- Living Doll
- It’s All in the Game
- Devil Woman
- We Don’t Talk Anymore
- A Little in Love
- Daddy’s Home
8. The Supremes
Formed: 1959 in Detroit, Michigan
The Supremes are really supreme in their own right. Even up to now, they remain undisputed as America’s most successful vocal group (of any era, race or gender), thanks for the girls’ 12 number one singles on the Billboard pop chart. Formed in 1959, the group was originally a four-piece, but by the early 1960s it went to the classic line-up consisting of Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, and Mary Wilson. During the 1960s, The Supremes became the premiere act for the Motown label. Soon enough, they became famous not only in the United States but also worldwide; they even rivaled the Beatles in terms of popularity at one time. Most of the group’s biggest hits were penned by the respected songwriting and production team Holland-Dozier-Holland. The Supremes’ success opened doors for future African-American artists who hoped to make it big someday. After Ross’ departure from the group in 1970, she pursued a successful solo career.
The Supreme’s Top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hits:
- Where Did Our Love Go
- Baby Love
- Come See About Me
- Stop! In the Name of Love
- Back in My Arms Again
- I Hear a Symphony
- My World Is Empty Without You
- Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart
- You Can’t Hurry Love
- You Keep Me Hangin’ On
- Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone
- The Happening
- In and Out of Love
- Love Child
- I’m Livin’ in Shame
- Someday We’ll Be Together
- Stoned Love
Technological advancements and breakthroughs in music during the 1960s
- Audio cassette – Is an audio cassette pretty recent invention? Actually, it was invented way, way back. In 1962 Phillips invented the compact cassette medium for audio storage. Phillips named the device as a “Compact Cassette” which the company also made it as a trademark name. Despite many magnetic tape recorders coming out of the market, Phillips remained dominant in the cassette tape market. The company also released what would be the first cassette player/recorder, the Norelco Carry-Corder 150, in 1964. As with other audio medium, the first cassettes’ sound quality was inferior but remarkably improved over the years.
- Compact disc – The CD may be popular in the 1980s, but it actually first came out in 1960s. American inventor James Russell has been credited as the inventor of the compact disc in 1965. He applied for the patent of his invention in 1966, and was granted with the patent in 1970. However, the compact disc wasn’t used commercially until the 1980s (which we will cover later on Music of the 1980s). And of course our modern technology for headphones like you find at Headphone Palace wasn’t even thought of yet.
The 1960s was a distinctive, colorful, and involved era due to the many revolutionary events — from politics to music — that shaped the future of the society. From a time of innocence and conformity to the norms in the past decade, the 1960s became an era where people, especially the oppressed and discriminated, spoke out and defied conventions just to defend their rights as well as to promote peace and equality. This culminated into the progress of the civil rights movement and protests against the Vietnam War and many other tensions that pervaded during the decade. The remarkable social changes also reflected in the styles and most especially the music of the decade, where artists became more expressive as well as introspective. In the 1960s, it was the younger generation who mostly dictated the tempo. They broke free of the constraints of the past decade and struggled to create an all-encompassing and tolerant social landscape.