Music and Society in the 1960s

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The Sounds of the Times

Music and Society in the 1960s

Dana Gioia

Student # 3314995

MA Thesis, American Studies Program

Utrecht University

August 14, 2009


Very special and profound thanks to my stellar thesis advisor and professor, Damian Pargas, for his guidance, council and editorial suggestion.


Thanks to my American Studies professors, Rob Kroes, Derek Rubin and Jaap Verheul, for their contributions to my development as a scholar.

Table of Contents

Introduction------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 4

Chapter 1

The Civil Rights Movement: Rockin’ For Rights---------------------------------------------- 14

Chapter 2

The Anti-Vietnam War Movement: Voices Against Vietnam-------------------------------- 29

Chapter 3

The Counterculture Movement: Psychedelic Sounds------------------------------------------ 44

Discussion and Conclusion------------------------------------------------------------------------ 59

Appendix A

Chapter 1 Songs------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 69

Appendix B

Chapter 2 Songs------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 74

Appendix C

Chapter 3 Songs------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 77


I. Discography--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 81

II. Published Sources------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 82


"We are all, as were those in whose footsteps we follow, shaped by the influence and examples of countless others - parents, grandparents, friends, rivals.  And by those who wrote the music that moves us to our souls.”

David McCullough1

“Come mothers and fathers/ Throughout the land/ And don’t criticize/ What you can’t understand/ Your sons and Daughters/ Are beyond your command/ Your old road is/ Rapidly agin’/ Please get out of the new one/ If you can’t lend your hand/ For the times they are a-changin’.”

Bob Dylan2

The Topic

People were fighting for equal rights. People were going to off to war. People were taking drugs and touting free love. These were the times; these were the 1960s. Through it all there was rock ‘n’ roll music aligning itself with every movement and event, becoming the voice of a generation who were striving to change their lives and the world—and both reflecting the times and influencing the times. With the cultural upheaval of the 1960s and into the early 1970s, rock ‘n’ roll soon took on a central role in the changes that were occurring.3 As Bob Dylan, one of the generation’s most popular artists sang, “the times they [were] a-changin’.”4 At this point rock and roll, and its emergence onto the world stage, was still a relatively new phenomenon. In the scant decade since its inception, however, rock ’n’ roll evolved from a relatively unknown genre into the music of choice for the generation of baby boomers that stirred up the 1960s and 1970s.5

When looking back at this era it becomes clear that a correlation existed between the major events of the time and rock ‘n’ roll music. People used this music as their outlet to vent how they were feeling and what they believed in. Rock ‘n’ roll did much more than simply reflect what was happening in society, however. It allowed the youth to gain a powerful, nationally heard voice for what they believed in and use it to incite cultural change.6 Rock ‘n’ roll acted as a catalyst, bringing about broader awareness of several major movements of the time to Americans with a particular emphasis on the youth population.7 These movements -- including the civil rights, anti-Vietnam War and counterculture movements -- and rock ‘n’ roll had reciprocal effects, with each influencing and encouraging the other. Rock ‘n’ roll was not limited to narrow areas of society, such as counterculture hippies; rather it was crafted to support a wide range of cultural shifts, ranging from the demand for civil rights to the use of psychedelic drugs.8 Obviously these differed markedly in both aims and ideals; yet, rock music was considered an appropriate genre for both to convey their messages. Nor was the genre limited by race. African-American youth, for example, were deeply involved in everything from the civil rights movement to the antiwar and counterculture movements, with rock ‘n’ roll music serving as anthems for each movement. Indeed, American youth in general—black or white, student or not-- were the movers and the shakers of the times, becoming passionately involved with a variety of social issues.9 In this period everyone was assumed to stand for something and rock ‘n’ roll both reflected and conveyed this passion-- through society’s input into the music and the music’s output into society.

This thesis will examine the correlation between music and several important societal movements during this era of cultural and political change, arguing that rock ‘n’ roll and the social movements of the 1960s and early 1970s had a profound influence on each other—the tenor of the times clearly influenced the content of the music, however, rock ‘n’ roll music became not only the voice of the generation, but also an instrument of influence that affected the tenor of the times, as well. Specifically, this study will analyze the reciprocal influences between both the music and society especially with regard to three major movements, namely: the civil rights movements, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the counterculture movement (with an emphasis on psychedelia). How did different groups pressing for change appropriate rock ‘n’ roll to voice their sentiments and further their agendas? What messages did various artists intend to convey through their music, and how was it received and interpreted by the public? How did music on the one hand, and the various movements and cultural changes on the other, mutually influence each other? Examining the songs themselves provides the most direct evidence of a movement-to-music connection. Analyzing the lyrics, accounting for when and where the song was written, and contemplating how the public at large then interpreted it, will constitute the basis for this paper. It will also consider the scholarly work that has been published since the 1970s to place the music in a larger cultural context.

Academic Discussion and Methodology

Studies on rock ‘n’ roll music are by no means scarce, but surprisingly few academics have actually acknowledged, let alone analyzed the reciprocal nature of rock ‘n’ roll music and cultural changes. In his work The Age of Great Dreams David Farber indirectly alludes to the reciprocal connection between rock ‘n’ roll music and the movements.10 Farber’s focus is not on the music, however, but rather on the movements themselves in the context of the times. Yet, because the music is woven throughout the events of the 1960s and 1970s, his discourse implies the reciprocity that this thesis will strive to establish. Although Farber concentrated on the era itself, requiring some recognition of the music, several other authors approach the era from the rock ‘n’ roll perspective. Paul Friedlander, James Harris and David Szatmary with their books Rock and Roll, Philosophy at 33 1/3 rpm, and Rockin’ in Time respectively, address classic rock ‘n’ roll with the history as a secondary factor, analyzing the movements only to the extent that they intersect with the music.11 Just as with Farber, mutual influence is implied because each of these authors heavily utilizes the history of the movements to shape their analysis of rock ‘n’ roll. In all four of these books, however, what is lacking is an acknowledgement of the reciprocity that each scholar implies. It is an assertion that is never clearly articulated in the text and thus is never academically explored or verified.

Those few studies that have considered the link between social movements and rock music appear to fall into one of two categories: those that view this link primarily as a one-way street, and those that imply mutual influences (albeit without adequately demonstrating such reciprocal influence). An example of the first category is Reebee Garofalo’s book Rockin’ Out.12 Despite contending that “popular music is… a social and political indicator that mirrors and influences the society in which we live.”13 Garofalo’s analysis focuses most heavily on the appearance of cultural phenomena within the rock songs of the era. She shows, for example, how the song “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young was penned and released just weeks after the Kent State Massacre as a reaction to the shootings by the National Guard that killed four protestors of the Vietnam War at Kent State University.14 She primarily chronicles the history of the music through its cultural context, citing major events and movements as the primary influences to the music. Garofalo also looks at the influence of the music on pre-existing movements, but this analysis is limited. In her discussion of Donovan’s “Mellow Yellow,” for example, Garofalo tells us that the audience assumed that the song was a drug reference, spawning a “short-lived and highly unproductive banana smoking craze,”15 even though smoking banana skins was not the intention of the song. Here the music contributed, however unintentionally, to the fledgling psychedelic movement.

An example of the second approach is Ron Eyerman and Andrew Jamison’s analysis of aspects of the reciprocal relationship between rock ‘n’ roll and the movements of the 1960s in their book Music and Social Movements.16 Like Garofalo, Eyerman and Jamison spend a large portion of the book on the more easily demonstrated relationship of the movements’ influence on the music. Eyerman and Jamison, however, take their analysis one step further than Garofalo when looking at the converse proposition, that the music influenced the movements. Although Garofalo showed rock ‘n’ roll’s influence on pre-existing movements, she did not delve deeply into the subject of rock ‘n’ roll’s influence on the expansion of these movements. The high-profile nature of the music during this era, however, helped to spread the word about a myriad of different movements within American society. Eyerman and Jamison note this factor in asserting that, “it has been perhaps primarily through music and song that social movements have exerted their main influence on the wider American culture as well as on the rest of the world.”17 Nevertheless, these authors make only broad statements about the mutual influence without showing the evidence for their assumptions.

This study will draw from arguments put forth by both scholars such as Garofalo on the one hand, and Eyerman and Jamison on the other. Crucially, however, it will reject the view that the link between music and the movements of the 1960s and 1970s was uni-directional. This underscores the central proposition put forth by Eyerman and Jamison that “social movements and popular culture can be reciprocal and mutually reinforcing. Rather than representing two distinct modes of activity, social movements and popular culture can interact with each other in synergetic ways and thus contribute to wide-ranging and long-term processes of cultural transformation.”18 Eyerman and Jamison, however, are missing a vital piece in their analysis. They repeatedly assert their claim that the music and movements have a mutually influential relationship, but these authors fail to clearly demonstrate the argument that they make with evidence showing the relationship between historical events and the content of the music itself.

These prior works made the reciprocal argument (movements  music) mainly in general terms without adequate scholarly analysis or support. The main purpose of this thesis is to offer more finely drawn connections between the songs of the times and the tenor of the times. The demonstration of the give-and-take between these two aspects contributes to areas beyond the music alone. This analysis holds good prospects for cultural historians, particularly in the area of popular culture, because it opens up a new avenue for the study of the events of the 1960s and 1970s. Demonstrating the power that the music and the movements held over each other in these years of cultural turmoil allows history to take a different view of how changes in a variety of movements occurred, shaping the outcome of the decade, and the music.

Regarding methodology, this study will also draw from various techniques of inquiry. Evidence of society’s influence on the music is readily obvious and relatively easy to demonstrate. When a movement becomes popular, such as the anti-war or civil rights movements of the 1960s, and songs subsequently emerge about the same topics, it is usually clear where the inspiration originated. Music’s influence on society, however, is rather more difficult to demonstrate. Garofalo and Eyerman and Jamison serve as a point of departure for this analysis, but more extensive social theory is required to arrive at a more comprehensive portrayal of the music/society interrelationships. This study will contribute to the existing academic literature, particularly with regard to the ways in which music influenced social movements, by applying two important concepts from the social sciences, namely “structuration theory” and the “Thomas Theorem.”

Anthony Giddens’ theory of structuration offers an approach to account for the underexplored music  society link. In articulating his theory Giddens states that, “neither subject (human agent) nor object (‘society’, or social institutions) should be regarded as having primacy.”19 The key idea behind this theory is that of “duality” rather than “dualism” (i.e., two phenomena are viewed as mutually influential, rather than acting uni-directionally or independently). As Lars Bo Kaspersen explains it, “[social] structure no longer determines individuals’ actions. Conversely, the social structure is not simply the sum of the individuals’ actions. Society is viewed as a structuration process, whereby human actions simultaneously structure and are structured by society.”20 That is, existing social structures can and do influence the attitudes and actions of people, but the attitudes and actions of individuals and groups also can and do influence the character of social structures. This theory is an essential component of the main argument of this thesis because it allows rock ‘n’ roll to be seen in terms of actions by human agents (i.e., singer/songwriters) without being solely reliant on the movements as governing structures. This approach implies that structure/agency (i.e., structurational) relationships are most effectively viewed as reciprocal and mutually influential, rather than uni-directional. Simply put, this approach allows for understanding that if a song was written that related to a movement, then that movement is acknowledged as assisting in the creation of the song, but the song could then in turn help to further the movement itself in a reciprocal fashion.

In addition to rock ‘n’ roll analysis via structuration theory, this study will also apply another principle that should be acknowledged when addressing the question of whether and/or how society and music reflected and influenced each other. This phenomenon is best characterized by a famous quote from W.I. Thomas in his 1928 book The Child in America, which has become known as the Thomas Theorem. It states: “if men define their situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”21 This theorem is consequential for the analysis in this thesis because it implies that the way that people interpret situations, events or words, is what they treat as “reality,” which in turn implies that people respond to their own interpretations, not necessarily those intended by, for instance, political leaders or songwriters. The Thomas Theorem allows us to look beyond the initial intent of a song and analyze the actual responses to it by listeners. In many cases artists wrote songs intending one meaning, or not attaching meaning to it at all, and then had their work interpreted in an entirely different way by the listener. Using “Mellow Yellow” as the example again, we see that Donovan did not intentionally write a drug song: yet, because people thought it was about getting high from smoking dried banana peels it became a drug song to them.22 The audiences’ reaction thus changed the meaning of the song and consequently its impact on society. This is a recurring theme throughout 1960s rock ‘n’ roll, showing up in the music of everyone from the Beatles to Jimi Hendrix.23 New interpretations lead to new consequences for society, thus, changing the role that rock ‘n’ roll played in the eyes of the fans.

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