rock music

The Late 1960s and Early 70s—Rock's Golden Age

Folk Rock

An important transformation of rock occurred in 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival when Bob Dylan, noted as a composer and writer of poetic folk songs and songs of social protest like "Blowin' in the Wind," appeared, playing electric guitar and backed by an electrified rock band. A synthesis of the folk revival and rock subsequently took place, with folk groups using rock arrangements and rock singers composing poetic lyrics for their songs (e.g., the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood,""Eleanor Rigby"). The Byrds' arrangement of Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" is a folk-rock classic. Performers like the Mamas and the Papas; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Donovan; and the Lovin Spoonful sang a kind of music designated "folk rock."

Protest Songs and the Drug Culture

In the 1960s music mirrored the tensions of the Vietnam War era and played an important role in American culture. The verbal content of rock songs turned toward rebellion, social protest, sex, and, increasingly, drugs. Many groups, among them Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, tried to approximate in music the aural experience of psychedelic drugs, producing long, repetitive, occasionally exquisite songs with surreal lyrics (known as "acid rock" or "hard rock").

In 1967 the Beatles again made history with their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which, in addition to including drug-oriented songs, presented a body of interrelated pieces that constituted an organic whole. This is considered the first "concept album." Subsequent products of this trend were rock musicals such as Hair (1968) and rock operas like Tommy, composed and sung by the Who.

Rock Comes of Age

By the late 1960s rock was widely regarded as an important musical form. Musicians such as Miles Davis and John McLaughlin and groups like Traffic or Blood, Sweat, and Tears tried to fuse rock and jazz, while such disparate artists as Leonard Bernstein and Frank Zappa attempted to connect rock and classical music. Groups featuring virtuoso guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, and Jimmy Page continued to perform variations on classic blues themes using the traditional instruments of rock 'n' roll.

From 1967 onward, the rock festival was regarded as the ideal context in which to hear rock music, and thousands of fans attended. The most successful and peaceful rock festival, Woodstock, was held near Bethel, N.Y., in Aug., 1969. Later, however, a similar event, featuring the Rolling Stones, was held at Altamont, Calif., and was marked by several violent incidents caught on film, including a murder. By 1970 several of rock's top performers—Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix—were dead from substance abuse. The dangerous, androgynous quality projected by the Rolling Stones was taken to extremes by performers such as Alice Cooper and David Bowie, who were perhaps as famous for their sexual ambiguity and outrageous behavior as for their music.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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