Through the decades: pop/rock music in ’68


MaryAnne Shults

While cruising down the PCH in 1968, top down and hair blowing in the breeze, college students were listening to an evolving genre of rock and pop music. One could turn on the radio to hear iconic rockers such as The Doors, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones, or the softer pop sounds of Simon and Garfunkel, Dionne Warwick, or Bobby Goldsboro. Some enjoyed the folk sounds of Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan.

Two major subgenres of pop music hit the scene in the 60s: the California surf music and Motown. OC local Dick Dale showed American teenagers how addicting the sound of a guitar solo could become. Following the instrumental groups like Dale and the Deltones and the Surfaris came the Beach Boys, adding a multi-part vocal harmony to the mix.

The top hits of the year included Hey Jude, The Beatles; The Dock of the Bay, Otis Redding; I Heard it Through the Grapevine, Marvin Gaye; Mrs. Robinson, Simon and Garfunkel; Do You Know the Way to San Jose, Dionne Warwick; Little Green Apples, Bobby Russell; and Light My Fire, newcomer José Feliciano.

In Detroit, Barry Gordy’s Motown was a record label that was taking off. Those cutting records for the label were all black musicians, although not considered mainstream soul. Gordy controlled the musicians’ performance styles, clothing and hairdos. He was grooming them to be “the sound of young America,” seeking a wider audience, specifically white American teens.

The summer of the previous year was nicknamed the “Summer of Love,” with the release of the Beatles’ revolutionary album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The music was full of bizarre, psychedelic effects and lyrics about drugs. According to music historian Jack Madani, “it was the height of flower power, arty progressive music that seemed to influence the social fabric, and of the youth movement’s naive sense that a new age was about to dawn.”

With the tumultuous events of 1968 including the escalating Vietnam War and political environment and the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., college students became more socially aware and active with respect to current events. The use of amphetamines, heroin, and cocaine moved from the underground to the mainstream and led to an increasingly angrier, harsher sound to rock music.

By 1970 several of rock’s top performers-Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix-were dead from substance abuse.

According to Madani, “Creedence Clearwater Revival was the most successful of the roots rock groups, with hits ranging from ‘Green River’ and ‘Proud Mary’ to the ferocious anti-Vietnam song ‘Fortunate Son’. Even mainstream acts like Elvis Presley and the Supremes released protest songs.”

The rise of the Black Power movement helped spur soul music to heights of popularity never before experienced. Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin became major stars. Motown promoted such greats as The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, and more.

By the late 1960s rock was fusing more than ever with jazz, classical and blues. Miles Davis and groups like Blood, Sweat, and Tears tried to fuse rock and jazz, while such contrasting artists as Leonard Bernstein and Frank Zappa attempted to connect rock and classical music.

British bands like Led Zeppelin, a phoenix of the former Yardbirds, with roots in Blues, appeared on the American charts as did Jethro Tull, The Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, and Genesis.

As the 60s decade came to a close, teens and college students were also evolving just as their music; society would later call this an era of counterculture as young men and women became more outspoken.

In her 1992 book entitled “The 1960’s Scrapbook,” Angela Dodson says the music of the late 60s went against traditional values and expressed a more aggressive view of the world, dealing with issues young people were facing, but which the older generation considered taboo: sex, violence, death and drugs.

The musical taste of today’s younger generations has been afflicted by those same taboos. Yet, those who grew up in the rebellious period of the late 60s are now the parents of those who today are drawn to the same stigma: sex, drugs and violence.

This should remind all that music is all about expression, and although the sound may change, the messages are basically still the same as they were 40 years ago.

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