07 May How Rock n Roll Shaped a Whole Generation
Rise of rock n roll
Every generation has its particular sound, but none have remained as iconic as the music of the 1960s. Yes, radio had existed for some time but the television had just become popular. And with it, the electronic waves carried through the world, and through the ages, a very real angst, idealism, and hope of a generation.
The birth of the rock and roll culture began in the unlikely small town of Liverpool. Neglected by its citizens, nearly bankrupt and all its factories closing down, the small town gave birth to The Beatles who went on to put it on the map.
In 1962, the city’s most popular group, a troupe of four young men who called themselves The Beatles broke into the coveted Britain’s Top Forty songs list with a folkish rock song, “Love Me Do.” The band’s leaders, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, weren’t the illustrious songwriters that we know now, but song’s momentum shattered American music’s grip on the U.K. pop charts.
By then, youth culture everywhere — not just Britain — had become a subculture in its own right — a byproduct of a large number of children who were part of a post-war population. For them, music wasn’t just entertainment or even a stylized rebellion. For them it was about superseding the values built by the generations before them — values in which the youth had had no say, values that had become outmoded and stale. There’s a lot to thank the teenagers of that era for — an unflinching desire to find out what and why things weren’t allowed and the gall to test these boundaries are some of those things.
Then, two years later, TV legend Ed Sullivan presented The Beatles to an American audience for the first time. Their songs “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You,” had already topped the charts, but Sullivan’s eponymous show drew more than 70 million viewers. It was television’s highest watched show of that time.
Virtually overnight, the Beatles’ became a part of the American consciousness. Their arrival announced not only that the music and times were changing but also that the people, the audience had changed.
While others bands of the same genre such as: The Whos, The Animals, Zombie, Rolling Stone were killing it with their aggressive approach and groovy music. But The Beatles were indeed extraordinary, even when if was about their cool and youth-influencing sense of style.
Dylan moving from folk to rock and roll grooves
Soon after his chart breaking folk tunes about racial suffering and nuclear apocalypse such as: “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” in 1963, Dylan soon moved to rock and roll. On July 25th, 1965, Dylan took the stage with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band at the Newport Folk Festival and played a brief, howling set of the new electric music he had been recording.
He shocked folk purists howled back at him in rage, and for fair reason: The music that Dylan began making on albums like Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited would effectively kill off any remaining notions that folk was the imperative new art form of American youth and confer on rock a greater sense of consequence and a deeper expressiveness.
In particular, with “Like a Rolling Stone” (the singer’s biggest hit and the decade’s most liberating, form-stretching single), Dylan framed perfectly the spirit of an emerging generation that was trying to live by its own rules and integrity and that was feeling increasingly cut off from the conventions and privileges of the mainstream culture.
Beatles and Dylan influence on each other
Combined, the Beatles and Dylan had a seismic effect on popular music and youth culture. They changed the soundscape and ambition of rock & roll in thorough and irrevocable ways that, a quarter-century later, still carry tremendous influence. They also had a sizeable impact on each other.
Dylan also influenced the Beatles in two other important respects. For one thing, he was reportedly the person who introduced them to drugs (marijuana, specifically), during his 1964 tour of England. This brand of experimentation would gradually affect not only the Beatles’ musical and lyrical perspectives but also the perspectives of an entire generation. Indeed, in the mid-1960s, drug use became increasingly identified with rock culture — though it certainly wasn’t the first time drugs had been extolled as recreation or sacrament, or exploited for artistic inspiration.
The other thing Dylan did for the Beatles was help politicize them (in fact, he helped politicize a vast segment of rock culture), inspiring the group to accept its popularity as an opportunity to define and speak to a vital youth constituency. More and more, Lennon and McCartney’s music — and rock at large — became a medium for addressing the issues and events that affected that generation.
Troubled times for rock and rolla
In July 1966, following a triumphant but strenuous tour of England with his storming backing band the Hawks, Dylan suffered a motorcycle accident that broke his neck and would remove him from the recording scene for over a year. And the bad news continued: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones were arrested for drug possession in a series of 1967 busts in London and pilloried by the British press and legal system.
By 1968 — a year in which Robert Kennedy was murdered in Los Angeles, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death in Memphis, and the broken hopes of millions of people erupted in costly, long-term violence (perhaps most famously at the Chicago Democratic National Convention, at which police brutally bludgeoned American youth) — rock & roll had become a field of hard options and opposing arguments. The Beatles seemed dazed and wearied by their role as youth leaders. On one hand, they had recorded two versions of “Revolution,” in which they opted in, and then out, of the notion of violent revolt; then, on the other, they issued “Hey Jude,” their greatest anthem of community and forbearance.