A great deal of profound worldwide change blossomed in the 1960s. One could summarize the 1960s with a careful selection of just three words: War, love, and culture. The Cold War forged that of gross genuine global disaster; people protested against the wars in the name of peace and love; and the synchronous nature of music and drugs was the backbone of expression and social change. I have a deep appreciation for the 1960s, not only because it is the generation my parents grew up in, who thus acquainted me with constant Beatles music, groovy tie-dye fashion, and respect for civil rights, but also as Mark Kurlansky, my history professor, myself, and many others may agree that the 1960s was the most transparent and epically transformative time in world history that ultimately shaped our modern day world more than any other decade has. The 1960s brought to light a slew of issues, most of which were innately concerned with civil liberties. Most significantly, this decade of vast metamorphism highly impacted the music scene, spurring festivals in celebration of the folk, pop, rock and roll, blues, and soulful sounds that acoustically exemplified the changing times.
After subsequent analysis of 1960’s critical historical circumstances, we can gain an enhanced understanding of how its wars, Civil Rights, drugs, and ambience of love supremely influenced the music culture. These overarching themes are represented in the following top 5 most influential songs of the 1960s: “Revolution” by the Beatles (1968) , “ (I can’t get no) Satisfaction” by the Rollings Stones (1965) , “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” by the Four Tops (1965) , “Purple Haze” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967) , and “My Generation” by the Who (1965) .
1) The rampant protests against the Vietnam war inspired John Lennon to write “Revolution.”
The Vietnam war was a long and expensive loss of more than 3 million lives. In the song “Revolution” by the Beatles (1968), the first stanza reflects the popular demand among Americans for an end to the wars and its destruction as expressed in the line “But when you talk about destruction don’t you know that you can count me out.” The second stanza unveils the lies that the “people with minds that hate,” or the US government, spewed in efforts to misuse the war as a “real solution” to halt communism. In the last stanza, the line “you better free your mind instead” challenges the “minds that hate” to resolve conflicts with love and peace as opposed to the war. Lastly, the line “But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow” refers to American’s disapproval of China’s Communist leader Mao Zedong who imposed the Cultural Revolution in 1966 to hazardously enforce his authority and communist regime.
One could argue that the Civil Rights Movement began centuries far before the 1960s. At the Lincoln Memorial in June of 1963, President Kennedy proposed the Civil Rights Act that was passed in 1964. In his speech addressed to seeking equality and freedom for all Americans, he professed that “One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free.” The Civil Rights Act outlawed public segregation and racial discrimination in employment and education. The Civil Rights Movement was depicted in the numerous efforts of civil rights activists like Rosa Parks in the Montgomery Boycott, Martin Luther King Jr's famous “I Have A Dream” speech in the March on Washington, and activists in uprisings like the Watts Riot of 1965. The most prominent civil right fought for in the 1960s was the right for African-Americans to vote. In light of civil rights boycotts, marches, and riots, Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act opened opportunities to women, non-black minorities, disabled individuals, and other victims of discrimination.
2) The song “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones (1965) reverberates the unsettling dissatisfactions of victims of all forms of discrimination.
In the 1960s, Americans were dissented by the variety of struggles towards enacting civil rights, ending the wars, and promoting greater freedom of expression. This dissent is emulated by the lines in the first stanza, “ ‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try I can’t get no, I can’t get no.” The second and third stanzas, which include the mentions of “the man” on the radio and a man on TV telling the audience about “useless information” and “how white my shirts can be,” cast the brutality that law enforcers administered to rebels in attempt to deny citizens of their right to fight for their satisfaction. “The man” used in these stanzas, characterizing the US government, is posed as the main obstacle Americans faced in their righteous endeavors to procure their civil rights and justices for all.
Despite the bleak outlook for an end to the Vietnam War and resolutions to the pressing racial and gender disparities, in stark contrast to this cold stagnancy was the powerful ambience of love that permeated the air of the 1960s. Young Americans retreated to the optimism that was revered in the nation's campuses, the Summer of Love in Golden State Park, San Francisco, and the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in Bethel, NY. The 1960s is most recognized for its Hippie Counterculture Movement. A “hippie” was typically a young individual whose primary tenet was the pursuit of peace, love, and happiness for all. Hippies generally rejected the US government's institutions, referring to it as “the establishment” and “the big man.” Dressed in brightly colored tie-dye shirts, peace sign necklaces, flower tiaras, and bare feet, Hippies opposed middle class values, nuclear weapons, and the Vietnam war by embracing their own counter culture founded on psychedelic rock, the sexual revolution, drugs such as marijuana and LSD, and vegetarianism. The concept of free love was in full swing all around, as the sexual revolution became a hot topic. As drugs loosened their inhibitions, the 1960s generation openly experimented with sex which contrasted the conservative puritan views of their parents. As Abbie Hoffman put it, “The 60’s are gone, dope will never be as cheap, sex never as free, and the rock and roll never as great.”
3) In the song “I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops (1965), the lyrics capture the apparent inability for youth to resist from loving each other.
In other words, the participants in the sexual revolution could not help themselves. The lyric “It starts the flame burning in my heart tearin’ it all apart no matter how I try my love I cannot hide” indicates the “free love” that was revolutionarily exchanged in plain sight. “Sugar pie, honey bunch” probably refers to the love explicitly shared between the many who engaged in the sexual revolution and the encouragement for women by their male counterparts to take part in the new contraceptive pill and enjoy the “free love.”
4) The title of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” (1967) refers to a strain of marijuana that was popular amongst those who experimented.
Marijuana’s blissful effects are not only portrayed in the big smiles people made as they danced, swayed, and “tripped” to the music, but also in the lyrics in the first stanza. When Hendrix sings “Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why excuse me while I kiss the sky” in relation to the euphoric hallucinogenic high produced by the marijuana, the drugs disorienting repercussion is exposed. In addition to marijuana’s bewildering effects, the lyric “Am I happy or in misery? That girl put a spell on me” denotes the hooking nature that marijuana, also referred to as Mary Jane, can have on a user. The broad experimentation with drugs in the 1960s could be expanded to the overall concept of the 1960s being a collective experiment.
5) Lastly, the song “My Generation” by The Who (1965) reflects all of the major themes that conclude the 1960s.
The first line, “People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ‘bout my generation),” relates to the oppressive force of the US government that put down or inhibited the freedoms of activists, hippies, artists, and individuals alike. The second line, “Just because we get around (Talkin’ ‘bout my generation),” discloses the ample “free love” people of the sexual revolution shared as they were just trying to get around with each other. The third line, “Things they do look awful see-see-cold (Talkin’ ‘bout my generation),” reveals the cold war's awfully devastating horrors for not just Americans, but for the lives of those lost in Vietnam and in other communist countries. In the next stanza, the line “Why don’t you all f-fade away (Talkin’ ‘bout my generation)” delineates the fade or haze effect that the drugs delivered, in addition to the stuttering effect of all the lines that emphasizes the fade.
The 1960s could be seen as a large scale experiment. Americans not only experimented with drugs, but also experimented with practically all other aspects of the decade, including war and nuclear weapons, protests and riots supporting civil rights, “free love” and the advertisement of birth control, politics and the conflicts between developing parties, and ultimately life as it was known. The 1960s was unlike any other decade, with more change to the dynamic of social systems and cultural change that embodied its poignant times, thus taking a special place in the timeline of world history.