The Singing Sixties: a musical rebellion

Modern Britain was in no doubt shaped and drastically altered by the 1960s as a decade. In ten years, Britain became a new nation, filled with the progressive and liberal freedoms which we so commonly see in our society today.

The Swinging Sixties linger as one of the most defining and influential periods in modern British history, representing a change in Britain from being a conservative and traditional nation to becoming one of the most diverse and accepting countries on Earth. Nothing quite represents this major curb in British society like the music industry, with some of the most famed and celebrated artists producing songs reflecting this new-found freedom and liberty.

Music became a key way for the youth to have their say and express their new-found voice in wider society, and artists of the time took advantage of this by producing songs which talked of rebellious teens and significant changes taking place in the format of communities across the country. The Beatles rightfully appear by far the most famous and well-renowned band of the era, taking advantage of a crazed fan base amongst the younger generation to popularise their message of liberation in a post war, peaceful society. The notion of peace was a popular one among the new generation, who were in the aftermath of a deadly war which claimed millions of lives in its entirety, and so messages such as the prominent Beatles’ lyrics “all you need is love” and “give peace a chance” resonated greatly with their listeners, who were far too wised up to want to enter another world of endless conflict and brutality.

Music not only represented the views of the youth, it also gave them a voice and a form of communication with their elders and the establishment. It became a way for teenagers and youngsters to tell the political and social elite that it was their turn to revolutionise the communities they lived in with a refusal to accept things they were told or the rigid societal groups which many felt they couldn’t identify with. Just look at the majorly famed song by The Rolling Stones, ‘Satisfaction’ in which they claimed they “can’t get no satisfaction” by inflexibly squeezing in to the accepted and traditional beliefs and views of an outdated and obsolete society in need of reform. Within the same song, the artists also moaned of “the man [who] comes on the radio, he’s tellin’ me more and more about some useless information”. The unwelcome advice and futility of elders in society as shown here demonstrates the youth and their refusal to accept the status quo. The frustrations of pressure to abide to societal conformity were prominent emotions associated with the Golden Sixties generation, and music seemed the easiest way to reject such formalities and ensure a more free and tolerant society was open for all.

The late and legendary singer David Bowie even carried through these revolutionary musical attributes through to his song ‘Changes’, released in 1971 perfectly marked the effect and product of a decade absorbed by transformation and alteration. The fundamental and most eye-catching line was when Bowie begged the older generation to “turn and face the strange” in which he supremely summarised the need for the establishment and traditional view-holders to become more accepting and tolerant of a changing and evolving society where nothing could be labelled abnormal and everybody was acknowledged for who they wanted to be. He also told the older generation “don’t tell them to grow up or out of it”, further depicting a sense that preventing such expressionism and imagination could have an adverse effect.

The elders sat up and took notice, and how lucky we are that they did. In many ways, the new generation was a fresh influence on the world, and with their ideas of peace and inclusivity came music which will never be forgotten.

by Niall Shaban

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