THE ROCK ERA

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Introduction

The legacy of aesthetic self-determination and experimentation begun during the First Wave of the British Invasion and the ensuing American Renaissance reached its culmination in the latter half of the 1960s. While more conventional sounds—most notably, the south-of-the-border-tinged pop of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, the easy listening soul of the Fifth Dimension, the bubblegum schlock exemplified by fictional groups such as the Archies, and the Vegas-styled productions of Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck—continued to dominate the charts, more progressive-minded artists increasingly opted for musical eclectism (ranging from Baroque flourishes and basso continuo rhythms to Third World instrumentation and tone colors), greater virtuosity in execution, and creative use of studio techniques like multi-tracking, feedback, and sonic collages. Song structures were expanded and turned inside-out while lyrics reflected a wider range of poetic devices and surrealistic imagery.

The example provided by the recordings of the Beatles cannot be over-estimated; the Fab Four’s commercial ascendancy was firmly established by 1965, when LPs such as Help and Rubber Soul offered early glimpses of their raw talent and predisposition for creative tinkering. The public’s receptivity to even the more difficult fare served up by the band convinced many rock musicians that progressive artistic growth was acceptable—even necessary—in order to achieve long-term success.

The rich diversity of the rock scene owned just as much, however, to the emergence of FM radio. Experimental programming was the order of the day as deejays attempted to discover stylistic formulas likely to generate new listening audiences. As a result, artists who would have previously been consigned either to less lucrative pop music categories (e.g., bluegrass, the blues) or to the underground found a wider form of acceptance translating into significant record sales.

Likewise, the rise of rock festivals—an offshoot of the folk and jazz festivals which had proved popular in the early 1960s—provided a viable alternative to marginal club dates and constricting packaged tours headed by media personalities like American Bandstand MC Dick Clark. The large audiences generated by events at Monterey, Woodstock, and the Isle of Wight not only enabled rock performers to command larger live fees, but to sell significantly larger amounts of records.

As with the socio-political trends of that era, the musical promise embodied in concept albums such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band and the rise of exciting new artists (e.g., Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin) and genres (e.g., Latin rock, big band rock) by soured by the 1970s in the face of a growing corporate ethics—reflected, on the one hand, by beer company sponsorship of tours featuring major performers—as well as the extramusic posturing which dominated heavy metal, funk, glitter rock, and other newly dominant styles.