top of page
  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Many Modes of Expression

The 1960s were a richly diverse decade musically. While rock and roll was undoubtedly the star, other genres made major contributions. At the beginning of the decade Ray Charles revolutionarily combined different genres into his own unique product. He fused soul and pop in his first number one hit, “Georgia on My Mind” (1960). Ironically, Charles was banned from Georgia for a time when he refused to play to a segregated house. “Part of his genius was in taking a song, for example “Take These Chains From My Heart” (1963), that had essentially nothing to do with soul and giving it a soul treatment” (Rielly, 2003, p. 173). He did this with country music as well in his Modern Sounds in Country and Western albums. Charles’s music had a broad appeal and was a moving force in civil rights. Since Charles’s music was created by freely crossing over genre lines, the music’s appeal similarly crossed over racial lines.

The Motown Sound also took off during the 1960s, with such memorable artists as Stevie Wonder, whose 1965 album Uptight topped the pop song, pop album, and R&B charts simultaneously. Other famous Motown artists included Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and the Jackson Five.

Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and James Brown all left their distinctive soulful marks on the decade, and jazz became more improvisational with the advent of “hard bop” and “free jazz” with such virtuosos as John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Miles Davis:

The next step from hard bop was free jazz, also called quite simply, “the new thing.”  A series of 1964 concerts called “the October Revolution” at the Cellar Café in New York City contributed to the spread of the new type of jazz, which included clarinet squeals and saxophone shrieks, a strong sense of the blues, and even more improvisation than hard bop.  The result sometimes seemed more chaotic than musical. (Rielly, 2003, p. 180)

Folk staged a comeback in the 1960s.  Bob Dylan began singing in Greenwich Village coffee houses in 1961 and wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” in 1962, which became the number two hit in 1963 and was sung by fellow folk artists at the March on Washington. Dylan, along with Peter Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, and others combined an idealistic vision of justice and an association with the civil rights movement, their lyrics often talking of freedom.  Another all-time classic, “Puff (The Magic Dragon)," Peter Paul and Mary’s children’s song, “narrates a boy’s loss of youthful imagination and capacity for fantasy as he grows into adulthood” (Rielly, 2003, p. 154); although many think that it alluded to smoking marijuana.

The Beach Boys in California surfed the airways with “Surfin’ Safari” in 1962, creating a wave of hits and a genre of its own, which became known as the “California sound.” Chubbie Checker’s "Twist" became a craze in the early 1960s and so did his “Limbo Rock” (1962). On the more mainstream popular side, Burt Bacharach contributed such motion picture soundtrack classics as “Alfie” in 1966, “The Look Of Love” from the James Bond spoof, Casino Royale in 1967, and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” in 1969 from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Although all of these other genres played their parts, the 1960s was definitely the decade of rock and roll.


bottom of page