The 1960s: Rock Music Came of Age

The 1960s rock music reflected the many changes that occurred during this decade. Although Elvis Presley was still “The King,” other genres such as pop began to emerge with a new and lighter sound. Soon after, the British Invasion crashed into the American music scene with bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones quickly dominating the Billboard charts. Classic rock became even more popular as television networks eagerly featured rock bands for the growing base of young viewers.

The Ed Sullivan Show was one of the programs that changed the landscape of television. Originally titled The Toast of the Town, The Ed Sullivan Show initially presented vaudeville to the small screen. But later on, it wasted no time in taking advantage of rock and roll’s nascent popularity (most likely in a bid to attract the younger viewers).

Elvis Presley was, no doubt, the most famous rock and roll star during his time so it is only natural that every television bigwig wanted to get his hands on him. The show’s host, Ed Sullivan, had initial reservations about guesting Presley because he thought of “The King” as “too vulgar.” But after he saw rival Steve Allen beating him in the ratings for guesting Presley, Sullivan changed his mind and made a deal with Presley’s manager, Colonel Parker.

Presley’s eventual infamous third and final appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show had him shown only from the waist up as not to show his suggestive hip gyrations that had earned him the nickname “Elvis the Pelvis.”

Sullivan first got to witness Beatlemania when he encountered a frenzied crowd rushing to greet a plane landing on London’s Heathrow Airport in 1963. When he asked what was all about, he was told it was for the Beatles. ” Not the one to be left behind when it comes to discovering new sensations, he asked again, “Who the hell are the Beatles?” In less than a year he would provide the answer to America who the Beatles really were. And the rest is history – The Beatles made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, and approximately 73 million tuned in to watch the mop tops charming the fans with their new sound and charisma.

After bringing Elvis Presley into every living room in America, Sullivan became the biggest star-maker who opened the door for more rock and roll artists including Buddy Holly, The Beach Boys, The Doors, and other British Invasion acts like the Rolling Stones, The Animals, Herman’s Hermits and others aside from the Beatles. Television greatly afforded new rock acts to show their talent and celebrity potential.

Rock concerts’ popularity also grew. Festivals, such as the Monterey Pop Festival, sold out in 1967 with over 55,000 fans attending during each of the three days. The top bands of this era were The Beatles, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and The Doors. In 1969 the Woodstock concert topped all concerts with over 400,000 people descending on a dairy farm in the Catskill mountains of New York.

During the late 60s, psychedelic rock started to emerge from the UK and drew inspiration from blues rock and other genres. This style of rock was inspired by the growing use of perception and mood-altering drugs. The goal was to embody the emerging counter culture in rock and roll music. Some of the more well-known bands and artists include Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, The Beatles (notably their eponymous 1968 album, aka “The White Album”), Eric Clapton, Deep Purple, Steve Miller Band and many more.

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