In pop music, was 1965-1975 unique?

On a previous thread, young Kathryn scoffed at people my age, suggesting that we think the music that was popular when we were in high school (and I would add, college) was great just because it came along when we were young.

I think people of any age are going to have a special feeling for music that was played when their hormones were raging at their peak. But while I hesitate to invoke an “objective” standard, I think you can demonstrate with some degree of detachment that the period in question for, say, Burl and me (roughly 1965-1975) was one of extraordinary creativity on many popular fronts.

There were so many genres just exploding:

  • British pop groups and their American imitators (what everyone thinks of first). And I’m not going to bother splitting this into its many sub-genres.
  • Folk, evolving from acoustic to electric, in numerous directions (Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel are very different)
  • Varieties of soul, from Motown to Memphis
  • Burt Bacharach — He gets his own category. If you want to create a 60s feel in a movie, you’re as likely to turn to Bacharach as the Beatles — if not more so
  • Latin (Spanish variety), spanning a broad spectrum from Herb Alpert to Trini Lopez to Jose Feliciano (Alpert is as essential as Bacharach to a 60s soundtrack)
  • Latin (Brazilian variety), from Girl from Ipanema through Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66
  • Old folks/Rat Pack-style — Dean Martin and others reached broadest audiences ever on TV
  • Crossover country — spanning a wide spectrum from Glen Campbell to Johnny Cash, enjoying wide popularity not seen before or since
  • West coast beach music (surf music) — Yes, it came along earlier, but there was still a lot going on in the early part of this period (“Wipeout,” the later Beach Boys stuff
  • East coast beach music — This movement started in the 40s, but some of the big hits came along in the early part of this period (“Can’t Help Myself”)
  • Even Broadway show tunes — Almost every show tune I’m familiar with was sung repeatedly on the 60s TV variety shows
  • White blues — big overlap with British groups here (The Animals, Cream, early Led Zeppelin), but Paul Butterfield and others sort of stand alone

Then there are all those bands and individuals that can’t be easily categorized — Warren Zevon, Randy Newman (late in the process), David Bowie, The Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Linda Ronstadt, Elton John, Blood, Sweat and Tears

I just can’t think of a time when so many kinds of music were so huge, and reaching such a diverse audience (in the pre-cable age, everyone was exposed to pretty much the same cultural influences — if it got on TV, the audience was immense), with so much energy and creativity exploding out of every one of them.

Can you?

It wasn't just about guitar groups -- not by a long shot.

35 thoughts on “In pop music, was 1965-1975 unique?

  1. Brad

    Bacharach alone practically eclipses everything that has come since:

    The Look of Love
    Baby, It’s You
    Close to You
    I Say a Little Prayer
    Walk on By
    Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head
    What’s New, Pussycat?
    Always Something there to Remind Me
    What the World Needs Now
    Only Love Can Break a Heart
    This Guy’s in Love with You
    Make it Easy on Yourself
    One Less Bell to Answer
    Any Day Now
    Do You Know the Way to San Jose?
    I’ll Never Fall in Love Again
    The Look of LoveAlfieBaby, It’s YouClose to YouI Say a Little PrayerWalk on ByRaindrops Keep Falling on my HeadWhat’s New, Pussycat?Always Something there to Remind MeWhat the World Needs NowOnly Love Can Break a HeartThis Guy’s in Love with YouMake it Easy on YourselfOne Less Bell to AnswerAny Day NowDo You Know the Way to San Jose?I’ll Never Fall in Love Again

    The Look of LoveAlfieBaby, It’s YouClose to YouI Say a Little PrayerWalk on ByRaindrops Keep Falling on my HeadWhat’s New, Pussycat?Always Something there to Remind MeWhat the World Needs NowOnly Love Can Break a HeartThis Guy’s in Love with YouMake it Easy on YourselfOne Less Bell to AnswerAny Day NowDo You Know the Way to San Jose?I’ll Never Fall in Love Again

    Combine him with the Beatles, and fuhgeddaboudit — you don’t even need all the other examples. But the others were just as much a part of the period.

  2. bud

    I hung out in a Five Points college bar called Don’s. Of course there were plenty of others very similar, Don’s Other Place, The Twilight Lounge, Slaggers and the College Club South. All featured music played on a Juke Box. And it was music to dance to. Of course that was in the mid-late 70s. And it was for fun. There was no great intellectual musings about whether it was creative or socially meaningful. It was about fun, fun, fun whether or not Daddy took the T-Bird away or not. Perhaps the most memorable song (at least to me) from that era was John Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Through The Night”. By that time even JL was just trying to have a good time. Too bad it couldn’t last.

  3. Brad

    Yeah, but he produced (LANGUAGE ALERT) “Woman is the Nigger of the World” at about the same time. You have to consider these things in context.

    The bottom line is, Lennon isn’t much remembered for anything later than “Imagine” (1971) which was really at the tail end of his creative period.

  4. Brad

    And you can’t really compare any of that to the energy he exhibited through the years from “Please Please Me” to “Instant Karma.”

  5. Silence

    Brad, you may be correct about the 1960’s-70’s being unique. Radio and TV markets were probably still fragmented enough that a band or genre could arise locally and take hold, but there was enough national or worldwide media to create the type of pop sensations like the Beatles.
    Any earlier and there might not have been enough national media exposure to attain critical mass. Any later, MTV and radio consolidation took hold, squashing the diversity of styles.
    Of course, you could make the same arguments about the late 1920’s and 1930’s when the original clear channel (not to be confused with Clear Channel) AM stations were broadcasting. They brought regional music to a very wide swath of North America.

  6. Mark Stewart

    The perfect storm of FM radio, color tv and amplification – not necessarily in that order.

  7. Brad

    And don’t even get me started on the novelty songs of the period, arising from a wide variety of styles:

    They’re Coming to Take Me Away
    Little Red Riding Hood
    A Boy Named Sue
    Counting Flowers on the Wall
    Dang Me (OK, technically one year before the period)
    Tiptoe Through the Tulips
    Snoopy and the Red Baron
    Basketball Jones

  8. bud

    “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” was his first number 1 solo single in the US. How can you say he “isn’t remembered for it”?

  9. susanincola

    The period from about 1980-85 there were also a lot of really creative groups who have had a large impact on pop music. The beginning of new wave and punk, as well as the popularization of reggae and ska — Elvis Costello, U2, OMD, Kate Bush, REM and many others. And rap — Grandmaster Flash, for one. I still hear The Message in my head all the time at apropos moments (“It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under”).
    And it was when the mass choir became so huge in gospel music (and a little earlier, the crossover of artists like Andre Crouch).

  10. bud

    I’ve had very similar music/culture-related discussions with my older brother. Like Brad he poo-poos the notion that any popular music that cannot be appreciated for it’s artistic value is just crap. Like Brad he was age-appropriate for service in Vietnam. Hence the connection seems to be clear. (He very reluctantly served in the navy after running out of deferments). If you were of the age to serve in Vietnam then you have a very different attitude about music than someone like me who just missed. And this is all within the so-called baby-boomer generation. It seems to me that the boomers should be divided into two groups since the 46-54 group has such a very different view of culture than the 55-64 group.

  11. Greg

    Much music was seen on variety shows and such, and what you would find was Brasil ’66 and Herb Alpert playing on the same show with The Animals and Cream.

  12. Brad

    Well, I guess we could ask for a show of hands — how many remember think first of “Whatever Get You Through the Night” when you think of Lennon? Or second, or third?

    And Susan, the early days of music video would be the period I’d put in next place after the one in question.

    There were of course many fine things going on even in the unlamented late 70s — punk, Elvis Costello — which continued to flower in the early 80s, with New Wave, Glam, and so forth.

    And the early 90s had grunge. (And since then? Nothing.)

    But I don’t think any of those periods were quite as inventive, or diverse, as the late 60s and early 70s. And frankly, the early 70s were really mostly just coasting from the momentum of the late 60s.

  13. Brad

    And Bud, as for you and your older brother…

    I think I have a picture somewhere around the house of my younger brother in a leisure suit. I need to find it, in case I need it to blackmail him sometime.

  14. `Kathryn Fenner

    Um, what I said was that I was tired of the hump baby boomers (I’m on the tail) acting like their stuff was the best ever, and getting some traction on it largely because there are so many of them. I said pop music did get better post-Beatles, but a lot of that was because it had reached a nadir before them.

  15. Brad

    That may have been what you said and what you meant, but I thought what it inspired me to riff on would still be a fun topic.

    After all, does it really matter what older or younger people think? Isn’t the world, by definition, truly the way that people my and Burl’s age perceive it?


  16. Brad

    In other words, I wasn’t trying to pick on or argue with you — you just got me thinking about some stuff I wanted to share. I was giving you credit, like…

  17. Burl Burlingame

    Radio in pre-playlist days was vital, combined with mass music distribution in inexpensive formats ( it was called vinyl, kids ), plus money in the pockets of teenagers for the first time in history. The market rose to supply the demand. Pure capitalism.

  18. bud

    have a picture somewhere around the house of my younger brother in a leisure suit. I need to find it, in case I need it to blackmail him sometime.

    And that is somehow more embarassing than Sersucker with a bowtie? Isn’t it great to live in a free country where all opinions are valued?

  19. Steven Davis II

    @bud – “(He very reluctantly served in the navy after running out of deferments).”

    So it runs in the family, or at least skips a generation since you reported that your son has joined the Navy. You must be so disappointed.

  20. Brad

    I just thought of an anecdotal example of how eclectic my own tastes were during that period.

    In the summer of 1965, I was 11 years old, and had just come back from 2-and-a-half years in Ecuador — in a virtual cultural vacuum, in terms of what was hot in the States. A little bit of Beatles, and that’s about all I knew.

    That summer, I was drinking pop culture from a firehose (I had been without TV for a long time), and loving ALL of it. But at the end of that summer, I went out and bought 45s of my favorite three songs I’d been hearing at the beach:

    — “It’s Not Unusual” by Tom Jones
    — “I Am A Rock,” by Simon and Garfunkel
    — “Green Grass,” by Gary Lewis and the Playboys

  21. `Kathryn Fenner

    Okay, 1965-1975 was unique, just as any other decade you can posit was unique. The argument you’re trying to make is that it was better.

    De gustibus…

  22. Brad

    If I’d bought a fourth single that summer, it probably would have been “I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops.

    But I was a kid; I wasn’t made of money.

  23. bud

    Actually Steven most everyone I can remember tried to stay out of Vietnam any way they could. That includes George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Mitt Romney. Those that did go, and I know of quite a few, went very reluctantly. That wasn’t a war that most young men went to with great enthusiasm. Actually the last war where the soldiers did march off with great enthusiasm was WW I. We know better now.

  24. Steve Gordy

    In the course of researching one of my book projects, I ran across a real novelty item – “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman,” which I recall as being by a one-hit wonder called Whistling Jack Smith. When I did some further research, I turned up the tidbit that it was (supposedly) based on a vulgar song from the trenches of WWI. I’m doing some digging to see if I can find any lyrics.

  25. Brad

    Looking back at this, I wish I could have communicated better to Bud the difference between “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” and “Instant Karma.” The latter grabbed you by the yarbles; the former did not, oh, my brothers…

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