The 1960s : Revolutions in Music

1st September 2019

The 1960s was a time of great creativity: of free jazz, avant garde music, and the birth of many of the musical genres that we’re familiar with today. Forget the lazy narratives of those who dismiss this all as tripped out music by stoned hippies. Of course there were musicians then taking all kinds of substances, but what do you suppose musicians do today for recreation ? Far more Americans are drug users today than was the case 50 years ago; the drugs themselves are likely to be purer and more dangerous; and the number of deaths from drug abuse is many times higher than it was when Hendrix and Joplin fell victim.

While some ended up becoming prisoner of the drugs that they were taking, for others it offered, at some point in their lives, a way to release their creative imagination. While the drugs played some part in their journeys, the creative explosion would have happened anyway. The primary inspiration came from new cultural influences in music, art and film; here I will just be concentrating on the musical ones. As you’ll see, there’s a range of musical styles represented, and this is important. Rock musicians weren’t just listening to other rock groups – they were listening to jazz, to new folk, perhaps even to Indian music. And as they expanded their listening horizons, their own music changed. So if what you just want to listen to all your favourite psych rock bands, maybe you should go somewhere else, because you know what – in the 1960s the last thing that musicians wanted to do was to impose those kind of boundaries, so who am I to disagree.

Allah Jilai Bai – Jhalo Masoo Diyo Na Jaye (1960)

In the Indian sub-continent musicians had been making mind expanding music long before the 1960s. This is a fabulous piece of devotional music from Rajasthan.

John Cage – 26’55.988″ for 2 Pianists and a String Player (1961)

Yoko Ono guests on this live performance. The musicians are David Tudor, Toshi Ichiyanagi, and Kenjo Kobayashi.

Ornette Coleman – Free Jazz (Part 1) (1961) 

“I don’t know what he’s playing, but it’s not jazz.” – Dizzy Gillespie to Time magazine, June 1960

Albert Ayler Trio – Spirits (1964)

“If Ornette Coleman is Muddy Waters, then Albert Ayler is Howlin’ Wolf. He’s really raw, and he understands how to harness that rawness.” – Darius Jones

Prince Buster – One Step Beyond (1964)

In Jamaica in the early 60s ska music went hand in hand with the emergence of sound systems. These developments would soon provide the foundation for further musical revolutions.

James Brown – Papa’s got a brand new bag (1965)

In America it wasn’t just middle class white hippies who were experimenting. James Brown was a black kid from the wrong side of the tracks whose musical innovations from the 1960s have been a fertile source of inspiration ever since, not just to musicians in America and Europe, but also throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Roland Kirk Quartet – Slippery, Hippery, Flippery (1965)

“The first time I heard Rahsaan, it felt much the same way those Hendrix records felt, that he was blowing the rules wide open and was just playing music. In my mind it seemed that Rahsaan and Hendrix came from the same far-off planet – like superheroes.” – Derek Trucks

13th Floor Elevators – Thru The Rhythm (1966)

“Everyone else had only gone to 12. The music was so new that we called it the 13th floor.” – bassist Benny Thurman

Cream – I Feel Free (1966)

“I can walk down the street, there’s no one there / Though the pavements are one huge crowd” – lyrics by Pete Brown, music by Jack Bruce

The Fugs – Doin’ All Right (1966)

“We were not the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. We were not The Beach Boys. We were The Fugs. And we had our own pizazz and energy and elan, especially early on. Those old records just scream and steam with fun and joy and raising our fists to the sky to demand a new type of American reality.” – Ed Sanders

The Beatles – Strawberry Fields Forever (1967)

To ask the question ‘what was John Lennon on when he wrote this’ is to miss the point. There’s so much more going on here. No other Beatles song required so much studio time and groundbreaking studio work as this. And the addition of the mellotron was genius.

Leonard Cohen – The Stranger Song (1967) 

I’m sat here asking myself, how can I do a feature on 60s music and not include the most inspirational songwriter of them all, Bob Dylan ? But Cohen feels like a better fit here. Songs of Leonard Cohen was a unique album that blurred the lines between song, poetry and prose, and which drew you in and entranced you with its depth and elegance. It felt like a new kind of music – but no one else could write songs quite like this.

Dizzy Gillespie – Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac (1967)

Not his most important work or even close, but I absolutely love it. It’s like a bunch of musicians jamming and having lots of fun; it’s full of ideas, it’s off the wall, and you’ve no clue what’s coming next.

Pearls Before Swine – Drop Out! (1967)

The album, with cover art taken from a surrealist painting by Hieronymus Bosch, and esoteric instruments such as the celesta, finger cymbals, autoharp and the Nepalese sarangi, sold 200,000 copies. A few years later though, Tom Rapp quit music after being swindled by a producer and ending up broke. He died of cancer in 2018.

Sun Ra and his Myth Science Arkestra – Moon Dance (1967)

“The album Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy – or at least its title – may have originated when Sun Ra’s manager Alton Abraham arranged a performance for patients at a Chicago psychiatric facility. The group of patients assembled for this early experiment in musical therapy included catatonics and severe schizophrenics, but Sunny approached the job like any other, making no concessions in his music. While he was playing, a woman who it was said had not moved or spoken for years got up from the floor, walked directly to his piano, and cried out, ‘Do you call that music?’ Sunny was delighted with her response and told the story for years afterwards as evidence of the healing powers of music.” 

The Velvet Underground – I’m Waiting For The Man (1967)

Surely one of the most revolutionary rock songs of all time: the dark, insistent bassline, Lou Reed’s matter of fact vocals, and the shocking subject matter. And it was in Warhol’s Factory, where rules and conventions were there to be broken, that the Velvets found their calling.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Still Raining, Still Dreaming (1968)

“We went off to America to record Disraeli Gears, which I thought was an incredibly good album. And when we got back, no one was interested because Are You Experienced had come out and wiped everybody else out, including us. Jimi had it sewn up. He’d taken the blues and made it incredibly cutting-edge. I was in awe of him.” – Eric Clapton

The Incredible String Band – Witches Hat (1968)

Robin Williamson, Clive Palmer and Mike Heron started out as a more or less traditional Scottish folk group before going through an astonishing musical evolution. “By the time of The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (1968) Heron has picked up sitar, Hammond organ, hammered dulcimer and harpsichord. Williamson, more the cultural magpie, contributes bowed and bass gimbri, guitar, flute, sitar, tamboura, drums, rattles, oud and mandolin to 5000 Spirits, and diversifies with pan pipe, Jew’s harp and water harp on Hangman’s Daughter.” Robert Plant is one of many who’ve acknowledged the huge influence of the band at the time.

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band – Pachuco Cadaver (1969)

Trout Mask Replica is one of the strangest rock albums ever made. It’s certainly not for the faint hearted. This, I would say, is one of the more accessible tracks.

Cromagnon – Toth, Scribe I (1969)

A bleak, industrial soundscape. Probably about the last thing that you’d associate with the 1960s. The band made just one album, Orgasm, then vanished off the face of the earth. Thirty years later, the album was reissued under the rather less eye-catching title Cave Rock.

Camarón de la Isla – Al Verte Las Flores Lloran (1969)

Paco de Lucia – “We were at a fiesta, all night long and the next morning and until four or five in the afternoon. That day I knew that Camarón was the best artist ever born into flamenco.” Camarón was then just 16; Paco was three years older. The two boys soon became inseparable, closer than brothers. Paco’s guitar playing on this track is exceptional, but the vocals of the teenage Camarón are nothing less than life transforming.

The Harry J All Stars – The Liquidator (1969)

One of the first songs released on Trojan Records, which started out in 1969. Future Wailers Aston Barrett, Carlton Barrett and Alva Lewis played on the track, but the real magic ingredient was to be Winston Wright’s Hammond organ.

Tèshomè Meteku  – Hasabe (1969)

And this was one of the first songs on Amha Records, which also started out in 1969. Over the next decade, the music released by Amha in Ethiopia was to be every bit as remarkable and groundbreaking as the music that Trojan was putting out in Jamaica. This gives a spicy flavour of what was to come.

The Stooges – I Wanna Be Your Dog (1969) 

“Later on, you start to encounter things that are really different… that are coming from a place that you didn’t know existed. And one of the groups that were doing that was the Stooges. To me, this music, it was emotional, pure id, outburst, but it was also very clever, and consciously and creatively done. The name of the song is I Wanna Be Your Dog; which although there’s nothing particular in the song that says this, you realise there’s a hint of another kind of sexual world that’s being implied.” – David Byrne, Desert Island Discs, 2018

Watts Prophets – Falstaff (1969)

Years before the invention of hip hop, the Watts Prophets and the Last Poets were putting spoken word on disc, and giving a new form of expression to the black urban working class.



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